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The Arabic language was a unifying factor for the religiously, ethnically, and geographically diverse Islamic scientific community. Among them were Arabs, Persians, Indians, Turks, Berbers, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. From the eighth to the fifteenth century, the Islamic world’s most illustrious period of scientific advancement occurred in several locations and hubs, including Ottoman Turkey, India, Central and West Asia, the Near East, and Spain’s al-Andalus.

The language we use in science and mathematics today bears witness to the influence of Arab mathematics and science on Western civilization. Alchemy, algebra, alkaline, antimony, chemistry, elixir, zero, alcohol, algorithm, almanac, azimuth, cipher, sine, and zenith are just a few of the Arabic words that have been translated into English science. Besides, many stars that Arab astronomers have found still have Arabic names. Here, you can find historical information about Muslims and science.

Astronomy and Astrology 

By the ninth century, Islam had spread into areas where understanding the stars and their movements had long been used to calculate time, predict weather and river flooding, and navigate trackless deserts. Under the rule of the first Islamic dynasties (the Umayyads and Abbasids) in the eighth and ninth centuries, scientists built on this knowledge to develop new theories and instruments. An intensive translation program of Greek, Sanskrit, and Pahlavi astronomical texts into Arabic was also supported by court patronage. This practice was critical in preserving this substantial body of knowledge. 

Ptolemy’s Almagest was one of the most influential of these translated works. The treatise, the circular motion of the sun and planets around a fixed earth, became Islamic astronomers’ most essential starting point. They identified discrepancies between scientific models and reality and set out to develop theories about celestial bodies that would address these inconsistencies, aided by their observational records. 

Significantly, astronomical knowledge was helpful in the Muslim world by facilitating proper Islamic ritual practice. Daily prayers are held at times determined by the position of the sun. They are always performed facing the holy city of Mecca, which houses the Ka’ba, Islam’s most sacred shrine. 

The Islamic calendar is lunar, meaning each month begins when the new moon first appears. Precise moon observation is essential for determining holidays and other nine key dates, such as the beginning of Ramadan, when Muslims must fast during daylight hours. Astrology was once considered a branch of astronomy, though it is no longer considered a science. Astrology is primarily concerned with determining how the stars influence earthly events. Astrologers must thoroughly understand the planets’ movement and the stars’ positions. Astrological treatises were written by severe scientists such as Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi (787-886), al-Biruni (973-1048), and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274).

Observatories 

Observational astronomy flourished in the Islamic world, which saw the development of sophisticated observatories and instruments. Observatories were learning and research hubs that also housed libraries with thousands of books. In the ninth century, Caliph al-Ma’mun (reigned 813-33) built Baghdad’s first observatory. His patronage enabled astronomers to produce tables describing the motions of the sun and moon, star catalogs, and instrument descriptions. 

The precision of medieval Islamic observatories and astronomical instruments was astonishing. Famous observatories’ calculations in Samarqand (modern-day Uzbekistan) and Maragha (modern-day Iran) differ by only a fraction of a percent from contemporary calculations. In addition to large stationary instruments at observatories, scientists working under Islamic patronage developed smaller portable tools like the astrolabe (used for mapping and astronomical calculations), the astrolabic quadrant, and the celestial globe. The astrolabic quadrant, shaped like a 90-degree pie segment, was used to record the positions of stars and planets in the celestial sphere, which is the dome-like shape the skies take when viewed from Earth. 

The celestial globe (see 17.190.636, an Austrian example from 1579 in the Museum’s collection) was used for teaching and illustrative purposes, but it was also a desirable decorative object for many. These portable tools made their way into Renaissance Europe over time, assisting European scientists in developing similar astronomical instruments. This can be seen in the astrolabes made by sixteenth-century Italian and Flemish scholars, decorated with motifs and inscriptions identical to those found on Islamic devices. Furthermore, Italian and Flemish scientists and architects created detailed drawings of Near Eastern astrolabes, including refined reproductions of Arabic inscriptions. These drawings and astrolabes demonstrate sixteenth-century European knowledge of Arabic and a keen interest in Islamic instruments.

Geography

Muslim scholars placed a high value on geography. The Muslims’ strong interest in geography stems from their religion. The Qur’an encourages people to travel for God’s signs and patterns. Islam also requires every Muslim to know enough geography to know the direction of the Qiblah (the position of the Ka’bah in Makkah) to pray five times a day. Muslims were also used to traveling long distances to conduct business, perform Hajj, and spread their religion. The Islamic empire allowed scholar-explorers to collect vast amounts of geographical and climatic data from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta are two of the most well-known names in geography, even in the West, for their written accounts of extensive explorations. In 1166, Al-Idrisi, a prominent Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced accurate maps, including a world map depicting all continents, mountains, rivers, and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to create precise color maps. Furthermore, Magellan circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope with the assistance of Muslim navigators and their inventions, and Da Gama and Columbus both had Muslim navigators on board their ships. 

Humanity

In Islam, every Muslim, man and woman, is required to seek knowledge. The Qur’an and Sunnah, Islam’s primary sources, encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars because this is the best way for people to know Allah, appreciate His wondrous creations, and be thankful for them. Muslims were thus eager to seek religious and secular knowledge, and a great civilization sprang up and flourished within a few years of Muhammad’s (PBUH) mission. The result is the spread of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunis and Al-Azhar in Cairo are the world’s oldest existing universities, dating back over 1,000 years. They were, in fact, the prototypes for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg, and the Sorbonne.

Muslims contributed significantly to geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics, and astronomy, among other fields. Muslim scholars introduced algebra and Arabic numerals to the world. Muslim scholars developed the astrolabe, quadrant, and other navigational devices and maps, most notably during Europe’s age of exploration. 

Scholars of Islam studied ancient civilizations ranging from Greece and Rome to China and India. Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid, and other Greek philosophers’ works were translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists then added their creative ideas, discoveries, and inventions to this new knowledge, resulting in the Renaissance. As late as the 17th and 18th centuries, many scientific and medical treatises translated into Latin were standard texts and reference books. 

Mathematics

Interestingly, Islam calls on humanity to learn about and explore space. As the Holy Qur’an reads: “We (Allah) will show you (mankind) Our signs/patterns in the horizons/universe and yourselves until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth.” [Qur’an, 14:53] Muslims were drawn to astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and other sciences by this call to investigate and seek, and they demonstrated a clear and solid grasp of the connections between astronomy, geometry, and mathematics. Muslims created the zero symbol (the word “cipher” is Arabic for “sifr”) and base-10 decimal organization for the numbers. They also made the symbol to represent variables like x, which are unknown quantities. 

Al-Khawarizmi, the first great Muslim mathematician, invented algebra (al-Jabr), which was later developed by others, most notably Umar Khayyam. Through Spain, Al-Khawarizmi’s Latin translation introduced Arabic numerals and mathematics to Europe. The term “algorithm” comes from his name. As seen in their graphic arts, Muslim mathematicians excelled in geometry, and the great Al-Biruni (who also excelled in natural history, even geology and mineralogy) established trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim mathematicians advanced significantly in number theory. 

Medicine

Surviving medical texts bear witness to Muslim physicians’ efforts to comprehend and heal the human body. Physicians in the Islamic world relied on the findings of early physicians such as Galen and Dioscorides (see image 18), which contained information about plant healing properties. Physicians also used pre-Islamic “folk” practices. The Abbasid court’s interest in medical and scientific knowledge led to the establishment of the famous House of Wisdom (Bait al-Hikma) in Baghdad, where scientific texts were translated, studied, and preserved by the late eighth century. These efforts gave physicians access to a large body of medical writings, some in their original language and others translated into Arabic. 

By the end of the ninth century, ideas like Galen’s theory of the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) had been completely integrated into Arab medical theory and practice. When this vast corpus of medical writings became widely available, the need for systematization became even more pressing. Al-Razi (Rhazes in the West), a ninth-century Iranian medical pioneer who was the first to write about measles and smallpox, compiled the corpus of Islamic medical knowledge into a single source—the formidable Comprehensive Book of Medicine. 

Many original innovations in science and medicine were also credited to Islamic scientists. For example, Ibn Al-Haytham, one of the world’s most critical early physicists, wrote a famous and influential treatise on how the human eye works, still serving as the foundation for modern optical theory. By the early thirteenth century, Islamic medical sources (including original writings and translations of classical treatises) were coming to Europe. 

Wrap-Up

Islam is careful to remind us that it is not merely a religion to which lip service is paid; instead, it is an all-encompassing way of life that must be practiced continuously to be considered Islam. The Muslim must follow the basics of Islam,, such as thet includes five pillars and believe in the six articles of faith. Other injunctions and commandments apply to almost every aspect of one’s personal, family, and civic life. Diet, clothing, personal hygiene, interpersonal relations, business ethics, responsibilities towards parents, spouses, and children, marriage, divorce, and inheritance, civil and criminal law, fighting in defense of Islam, relations with non-Muslims, and so much more are examples.