Muslims believe that all prophets professed and preached same faith, Islam, and prophet hood starts from Adam (PBUH) and ended with Muhammad (PBUH). In this sense there is no science and technology which can be regarded as to be belonging to a non-Islamic era. However, the popularly termed Islamic Science and Technology refers to the historically recorded contributions by Muslim scientists and technologists after consolidation of a Muslim Ummah by caliphs during a period of about one thousand years (2nd century Hijrah to 10th century Hijrah / 8th Century AD-16th century AD). It is an established fact before impartial historians of science and technology that modern science and technology transferred from Muslims to Europe and the case is not vice-versa. These pages are not meant to validate any claims and enthusiastic readers may go through a well drafted research project of UNESCO under the title “Islamic Technology” by Ahmad Y.al-Hassan and Donald R. Hill. The founder of this website, Bashir Talib, has collaborated in Urdu translation of this book by Professor (Dr.) Naseem Ahmad (University of Kashmir) and has even written its introduction.
Role of Language of Quran
Regarding the genesis of Islamic Science and Technology it should be clear that Arabic language is a well -developed language, rich enough to absorb scientific knowledge and transmit it. Within two centuries after Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it being the language of Quran, Arabic was regarded as sacred and it became common language of Islamic lands from Baghdad (Iraq) to Cordoba (Spain). It replaced all the dominant languages like Coptic, Aramaic, Greek and Latin. It also became language of literature, science and technology and whatever little scientific development was present in these languages, that was translated into Arabic. So a time came when all the people from the East to the West had to learn Science and Technology in Arabic from Muslim scientists and technologists.
Libraries and Science Centers
Islamic Science and Technology didn’t appear all of a sudden. Human civilizations of all origins as India, China, Greece etc. have contributed to development of Science and Technology. It cannot be claimed that Muslims were not benefited by all this. However, separating material science from philosophy and mythology and laying the foundation of experimental science, is definitely a Muslim contribution. It was the result of a coordinated effort of academies, schools, observatories and libraries. One such institution was the “Bayt-al-Hikma” (House of Wisdom) founded in Baghdad by caliph al-Ma’mun whose reign started in 198 AH/813 AD. Before him an important library called “ Khizanat al-Hikma’ (Library of Wisdom) had already been established by Harun al-Rashid (170-193 AH/786-809 AD). Soon in 395 AH/1004 AD, al-Hakim established Dar al-Hikma (House of wisdom) where seminars were held among scientists and other learned men. Then science centers were opened in all mosques and becoming more formal these were separated from mosques to be called as ‘madrasas’. ‘Madrasas’ transformed into universities like al-Azhar in Cairo (10th century AD), the Zautu-niyya in Tunis and Qarawiyy in Fez.
Observatories for astronomy were present in Bait al-Hikma also but one started by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi in Maragha, Ulugh Beg in Samarqand and Taqi al-Din in Istanbul, gained fame. Surely European observatories such as that of Tycho Brahe were developed on Muslim model. Caliphs spent lot of wealth on these centers and scientists were held in high esteem.
Though most of the contribution of Islamic scientists is lost in history but we have enough of material to excite our admiration. Only a few of Islamic scientists with only a small bit of their big contribution are mentioned below.
- Al-Kindi Abu Yusuf Ya’qub (mid third century AH/9th century AD) wrote about mineralogy, metallurgy, geology, physics, pharmacology and medicine.
- Hunayn b.Ishaq (d. 260AH/873 AD) not only translated Greek works in science into Arabic but also composed original works in medicine, geography, meteorology, zoology, religion, linguistic and philosophy.
- Ibn al-Haytham (d. 430 AH/1039 AD) known as Alhazen in the west is one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians of history. One of his works on optics was translated into Latin in 1572 AD. It includes a solution to a complex problem which leads to an equation of the fourth degree (involving x4) by intersection of an equilateral hyperbola with a circle.
- Al-Biruni (d 442 AH/1050 AD) was a great mathematician, astronomer, physicist, geographer, historian, chronologist, instrument maker and astrolabe maker.
- Ibn al-Shatir (d. 777 AH/ 1375 AD) was a great astronomer who studied and explained planetary motion of the Mercury and the Moon. He followed the theory of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi who modified the theory of motion of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn given by Ptolemy. It seems that Copernicus who came two centuries later knew al-Shatir’s work.