Contributions to Science
by Huma Ahmad, condensed, taken from Islamic Horizons Jan/Feb 2003

Classical Muslim scholars and scientists preserved, built upon, and translated classical Greek treatises. They also analyzed, collated, corrected, supplemented, and transferred classical Greek science and philosophy to Europe, thereby enabling its Renaissance. During Islam's 200-year Golden Age, great Muslim scientists spread their knowledge through books.

The first hospital was built in Damascus (707 CE) by Caliph Walid ibn 'Abd al-Malik. Muslims made many advances, such as the idea of blood circulation and quarantine. Ibn Sina's (d. 1037 CE) 20-volume The Book of Healing, consisting of The Canons of Medicine, was Europe's chief medical science guide from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. Ibn Sina, the first to describe meningitis, surveyed all available medical knowledge, from ancient and Muslim sources, and made original contributions.

Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873 CE) made advances in medicine, physics, mathematics, astronomy, veterinary science, and ophthalmology. This philosopher, physician, and head of Baghdad's famous school of translators, wrote the first systematic ophthalmology textbook. Al-Razi (d. 925 CE) wrote a 10-volume work on Greek medicine and a 20-volume encyclopedia of medicine, treated kidney and bladder stones, and researched smallpox and measles. He was the first to use alcohol for medical purposes and opium as an anesthetic. Surgeon Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (d. 1013 CE) wrote Al-Tasrif li Man Ajaz 'an al-Ta'lif, Europe's standard university textbook on surgery for 500 years. He was the first to use silk thread for stitching wounds.

Al-Idrisi (d. 1166 CE) made major contributions in cataloging medicinal plants in such books as Kitab al-Jami'li Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. He also made original contributions to topography and wrote geographical encyclopedias, such as Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls.

Botanist Ibn al-Baytar (d. 1248 CE), one of the Middle Ages' greatest botanists and pharmacists, compiled a textbook of over 1,400 medicinal plants. It was translated into Latin and published as late as 1758.

The founder of modern algebra, al-Khwarizmi's (d. 850 CE) Calculating Integration and Equation was used until the sixteenth century as the principal textbook in European universities. He also helped introduce Arabic numerals, the decimal point system, and the concept of zero. Algebra and algorithm are corruptions of his work and name. Under al-Ma'mun, he and his colleagues were the first to map the globe. In algebra, the Muslims continued with Thabit Ibn Qurra's more general equations solved by geometrical arguments. In 901 Abu Kamil, "the Egyptian calculator," established rules for manipulating algebraic expressions. Around 1000, al-Karaji's The Marvelous discussed higher order equations, combing geometry and arithmetic. Al-Samaw'al established the power law x^nx^n=x^(m+n) in 1180. Abu Yunus proved the famous identity cos(a)cos(b)={cos(a+b)+cos(a-b)}/2 and used spherical trigonometry to compute prayer times. Al-Biruni (d. 1050 CE) used spherical trigonometry to find any city's direction. Another outstanding late-fourteenth century mathematician, Ghiyath al-Din al Kashani, worked on number theory and computation techniques. In 1424, he computed a value of 2pi to 16 decimal points. In his The Calculators' Key, he described an algorithm for finding the fifth root of any number.

Omar Khayyam (d. 1131 CE), famous in the West as a poet, was an excellent mathematician who criticized Euclid's theorems, evolved a methodology to solve thrid degree equations, and researched binomials and their coefficients. Methematician and atronomer al-Buzanji's (d. 997 CE) main contribution lies in mathematics, especially geometry, and a sizable part of today's trigonometry can be traced to him. Al-Battani (d. 929 CE) was a famous astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer who is often considered one of Islam's greatest astronomers. He determined the solar year to be 365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes, and 24 seconds - very close to modern estimates. He proved that, in contrast to Ptolemy, the sun's variation of the apparent angular diameter and the possibility of annular eclipses. In 1749, Dunthorne used al-Battani's observations of lunar and solar eclipses to determine the moon's secular acceleration of motion. His most famous astonomical treatise, translated into Latin in the twelfth century, was extremely influential in Europe until the Renaissance.

Physicist al-Khazini studied mechanics and hydrostats and wrote books on physics and astronomy. Geographer, chronologist, mathematician, astonomer, and physicist Al-Biruni's Elements of Astrology remained a textbook for centuries. He also wrote on specific gravity and developed formulas to determine all objects' absolute and specific weights. Ibn al-Haytham (d. 1039 CE), an eminent physicist and the father of modern optics, wrote Kitab al-Manazir on light, worked with mirrors and lenses, reflection, refraction, and magnifying and burning glasses. He discounted Euclid and Ptolemy by discovering that rays originated in the object of vision and not the eye. He discovered the principle of inertia, studied sunrise and sunset, and explained rainbows through the principle of reflection. He was also known for the earliest use of the camera obscura.

Al-Kindi (d. 873 CE), considered the first Arab phlosopher, contributed to physics, optics, specific weights, tides, and metallurgy.

Muslims discovered such new substances as potash, silver nitrate, corrosive sublimate, nitrate, and sulfuric acid, and improved methods for evaporation, filtration, sublimation, calcinations, melting, distillation, and crystallization.

Jabir (d. 815 CE), the father of Arab alchemy, contributed to pharmacology and toxicology. Al-Asma'i (d. 882 CE) contributed to zoology, botany, and animal husbandry. Suri al-Dimashqi researched local plants at different stages of growth. Ibn Majid invented the compass.

Muslims traversed the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans and sailed around Africa. They traded with India, Iran, and Greece, and wrote such books as Reports on India, Reports on China, and Curiosities of India.

Al-Sufi helped build a famous observatory, prepare charts of the heavens with magnitudes, and was the first to mark the Andromeda nebula. Al-Zarqali invented the astrolabe, measured motion's rate, constructed astronomical instruments, and built a water clock. Jabir ibn Aflah, who criticized Ptolemy's heliocentric theory of planetary motion, designed the first portable celestial sphere to explain and measure celestial objects' movements and led the way for spherical trigonometry. Al-Bitruji developed a new theory of stellar movements. Names of many constellations, words like zenith and nadir, and even names of moon craters come from classical Islamic works.

Caliph Harun al-Rashid (d. 809 CE) built a library that contained originals and translations of almost all known Sanskrit, Persian, and Greek scientific works. His son, caliph al-Ma'mun established a library and academy in Baghdad: Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom). Yusuf I (who ruled Granada from 1333 to 1354) founded a university, which is incorporated in the modern-day Universidad de Granada (chartered and given official Papal ratification in 1531, some 40 years after Granada fell to the Christians).

These Muslims drew from pre-Islamic traditions and the civilizations that they encountered. They absorbed and rejected knowledge in accord with Islamic rules. Over the centuries, they developed and shared in the pursuit of knowledge. The Mongols' destruction of Baghdad (1258) did not stop this progress, despite the great destruction of their books and knowledge.