Transmission of Islamic science to Europe & Renaissance

By Zakaria Virk, Toronto, Canada    

Zakaria Virk with Dr Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate in Physics, in Wisconsin, USA 1982

Muslim scholars of Baghdad had translated scientific works from Greek, Pahlavi, Syriac, & Sanskrit into Arabic in the eighth and ninth centuries. Similarly Arabic scientific and philosophical works were translated into Latin between twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The twelfth century was an age of revival in European science and philosophy. This cultural phenomenon was, to a large extent, a consequence of the appearance of Latin translations of a number of Greek, Pahlavi, Syrian and Sanskrit works, as well as writings of many Muslims in which Greek science had been incorporated and further developed.

The golden period of Islam (750-1200) was in fact dark period of European history. A cursory reading of any history book on this topic, it becomes evident, that in this period all scientific work was done in Islamic countries mainly because Arabic was the scientific language of the world. This period of Islamic scientific revival is referred to as Islamic science, other than that there is no such thing as Islamic science, Hindu science, Jewish science or Christian Science. Science is universal; it knows no boundaries, no nationalities.

Graeco-Arabic science was transmitted to Europe through Islamic Spain (Toledo, Barcelona, Seville, Tarragona, Leon, Segovia, Pamplona, and Salerno), Sicily (Palermo, Syracuse), France (Narbonne, Montpellier, Marseilles, & Toulouse) and southern Italy. These cities were like beacons drawing the curious to their intellectual lights.

Islamic science was passed to Europe between 11th to 14th centuries. Islamic Spain and Sicily were the main regions for the translations of Arabic scientific texts into Latin. These translations took place in the monasteries such as Catalan monastery of Ripoll, St Benedict monastery of Monte Cassini, and the city of Barcelona. In a distant echo of Baghdad’s Baytul Hikma, Muslims, Jews, and Christian scholars worked together in Toledo in an atmosphere of international cooperation.          

Some of the Greek scholars whose Arabic translations were made into Latin are: Ptolemy, Galen, Plato, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Socrates, Aristotle, & Euclid.

Eminent European translators who took part in this activity were: Gerbert of Aurillac, Constantine the African, Isaac Israeli, Stephen of Antioch, Adelard of Bath, Abraham bar Hayya, Plato of Tavoli, John of Seville, Bishop Michael of Tarazona, Gerard of Cremona, Abraham ibn Azra, Robert of Chester, Roger of Hereford, Alfred of Saraschel, King Frederick II of Sicily & Michael Scott.

Scientific works of following Muslim scientists were translated: Musa al-Khawrizmi, Banu Musa Brothers, Sabit ibn Qurra, Hunain ibn Ishaq, Yaqoob al-Kindi, Ali ibn Abbas, Zakariya al-Razi, Ibn Sena, ibn al-Haitham, Abul Qasim Zahrawi, Ibn Zuhr, Maslama al-Majriti, Jabir ibn Aflah, al-Bitruji.

Just as the Muslim scholars had Arabized Greek names, names of Muslim authors were Latinized i.e. Abû l-Hasan ‘Alî ibn Abî l-Rijâl as Haly Abenrajel, Ibn al-Jazzar as Algizar, al-Idrissi as Dreses, Ibn al-Haytham as Alhazen, Ibn Sena as Avicenna, Zakaria al-Razi as Rhazes, Yaqub al-Kindi as Alkindus, Maslama al-Majriti as Methilem, Nur al-Din al-Bitruji as Alpetragius, Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi as Abulcasis, Abu Ishaq al-Zarqali as Arzachel, ibn Zuhr as Avenzoar, Ibn Rushd as Averroes etc. Latinized Islamic names are found in all the Latin translations.

Toledo, Spain at sunset – The Alcázar on the left and Cathedral on the right dominate the skyline

Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars took part in the renaissance of 12th century.  These translated books were mainstay in the monasteries and libraries of Europe through which European claimed their classical heritage. The way Baghdad was the centre of translation movement from Greek, Sanskrit & Pahlavi  into Arabic in the 8th & 9th centuries; similarly Toledo was the centre of translation movement from Arabic into Latin. Now a days in Toledo the palace of King Peter I, a 14th century Mudejar building, is the teaching centre of Arabic and Hebrew.

The process of translation varied from translation to translation. Sometime it was a team helped by a local person with Arabic as their mother tongue. He read the text aloud to an assistant who also knew Arabic and was expert in Spanish. The Spanish translation was made into Latin. Some translators could work alone as they had full grasp of all three languages, Greek, Latin, & Arabic. More than 2500 manuscripts of Latin translations made in Toledo are still stored in Toledo cathedral archives. [1].

Following are the biographies of those European scholars who were instrumental in the transmission of Graeco-Islamic science to Europe.

Sylvester II (Gerbert of Aurillac 945-1003) One of the early Catholic high official who recognized the importance of Islamic science was Sylvester II, who later became the first French pope (999-1003). Sylvester was an educator and a mathematician. He is believed to be the first scientist who introduced Arabic numerals, armillary sphere, and the astrolabe into Europe. He studied Arabic mathematics and astronomy in Catalonia, northern Spain for three years 967-970. The teaching at Catalonia monastery of Ripoll was based on Arabic science and its library included Latin translations from Arabic. He wrote treatises on mathematics, astronomy, geometry, music besides a treatise on astrolabe De astrolabia. In the cathedral of Rheims he used to lecture on astronomy. His disciples became teachers at 8 cathedral schools in northern Europe. As a pope he replaced Roman numerals with Arabic numerals which gained widespread use in the 15th century.

Hermann of Reichenau (1013-54) – Long before the movement of making Latin translations of Arabic works, it was Hermann of Reichenau whose father was Count Wolferat of Althausen, Germany. Hermann introduced into Europe 3 astronomical instruments from Spain i.e. astrolabe, portable sundial and  a quadrant. All three instruments were widely used in Europe. In his book De mensura astrolabii many Arabic words written in Latin and coordinates of 27 stars were given in the star table.  of this book. He authored a primer on multiplication.

Constantine the African (1017-1085) Hassan later Constantine was a converted Arab Muslim from Tunis who is considered first translator of medical texts from Arabic into Latin. He was born in Carthage. Tunis was called Ifriqiya by the Arabs during the Middle Ages, hence his name the African. In the first part of his life he was a merchant travelling between Tunis and Italy. During his visit to Salerno he noticed there was a lack of medical books, so he decided to return home to concentrate on study of medicine in Islamic countries.

Qayrawan hospital was built in 830, the professors at this teaching hospital had written scholarly works on medicine. Ibn al-Jazar (d.980) was a famous Tunisian medical writer and a physician of this hospital. Constantine was a bibliophile. It is said that Constantine returned to Salerno in 1065 with many Arabic medical works, many of whom he would translate into Latin. He translated Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s Ashr Maqalat, and Elaj al-Ayn but claimed authorship to himself. Later he was appointed professor at this school. After his conversion to Christianity he became a monk at Mount Casino monastery, southeast of Rome. Here under the auspices of Pope Victor III he translated Razi’s Kitab al-Hawi, ibn Maskawiya, ibn Ishaq Suleyman books on pulse and urine, Ishaq ibn Imran book on melancholy, Ali ibn Abbas Kitab al-Malaki (Pantegni), and ibn al-Jazar Zad al-Musafir wa qut al-Hadhir.  These translations are preserved in the libraries of Belgium, Germany, France and the UK. These translations were used as text books from the middle ages to 17th century in medical colleges of Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna, Paris and Oxford. The reputation of medical school of Salerno was built on these translations. [2]

Stephen of Antioch or Pisa (12th century) was a translator from Pisa, Italy. He travelled to Antioch to visit his uncle who was a Roman Catholic cleric there. After learning Arabic in Antioch he translated al-Majusi’s Kitab al-Malaki as Regio Dispositio. Even though Constantine had translated this work, but according to Stephen it was deficient and incomplete. In Latin translation he provided meaning of difficult words in 3 columns Arabic, Greek and Latin so it will be easier to understand materia medica of Dioscorides. He translated al-Majesti, an old manuscript is preserved in Landesbibliothek, Dresden.

Adelard of Bath (1080-1152) – was an English scholar who travelled first to Tours (France) then to Salerno (Italy), Turkey, Syria, Palestine returning to Islamic Spain in 1126. In Spain he disguised himself as a Muslim to avoid detection.

Front page of Adelard of Bath translation of Elements.

He is considered one of the pioneers of Western translation movement. He translated astronomical tables (Zij) of Musa al-Khawrizmi which were revised by Maslama b. Ahmad al-Majriti (d.1008). This was of crucial importance because European astronomers learned for the first time how to use astronomical tables. It introduced into Europe Islamic trigonometry, especially sine and tangent functions. He was the first one to translate Euclid’s Elements, which became foundation for European mathematical studies. He translated two astrological works, one of them being Abu Mash’ar’s Kitab al-madkhal al-saghir. He was himself a scientist and ardent follower of Arabic science. His book Questiones naturales consisting of 76 questions and answers is in fact compendium of Arabic science. All in all he translated 15 Arabic treatises into Latin. He prepared an edition of Mappae Clavicula, a collection of recipes on the preparation of colours and industrial chemical products. This work was instrumental in the transfer of Islamic technology to Europe.

Latin translation of Canon of Medicine, 1484

Archbishop Gundissalinus (1110-1190) was a Spanish scholastic philosopher and first director of Toledo school of translation. This school was active in the 12th and 13th centuries housed in  the library of Cathedral of Toledo. He translated books of al-Kindi, al-Farabi, ibn Sena and ibn Rushd with two colleagues Abraham ibn Daud (Avendauth) and John of Seville who mastered the Arabic language. He authored five books on philosophy whereby Neo-Platonism was introduced into Europe. In his book De Divisione Philosophae philosophical systems of Aristotle, al-Farabi and other philosophers were presented. With ibn Daud’s assistance he completed translations of ibn Sena’s Kitab al-Nafs, with Johannes Hisplanes Yanboo al-Hayat of ibn Gabirol, and Maqasid al-Filasfa of Imam Ghazali.

Plato of Tivoli (fl. 1132-46) was an Italian mathematician, astronomer and translator. In Spain he lived in Barcelona from 1116-38. In his translations he was assisted by a native Spanish Jew Abraham bar Hiyya (d1136). He translated Arabic & Hebrew books into local languages. They translated a book on practical geometry in 1145 into Latin called Liber Embadorum. This was in fact first book published in Europe on algebra and trigonometry. Fibonacci made use of this to write his own Practica Geometriae in 1220.  Both scholars translated books of Ptolemy, al-Battani (Zij al-Sabi, opus  astronomicum), Ali b. Ahmad al-Imrani, Abu Ali al-Khayyat (Kitab al-Mawalid- Book of Nativities, English trans. 2008), and Maslama al-Majriti. Besides this he did seven more translations all on his own mostly astrological. Plato dedicated translation of Majriti’s book on astrolabe to John of Seville.

Ali ibn Abbas Kitab al-Malaki.  1208 

John of Seville (fl. 1133-42) was a well-known translator, a Mozarab who lived in Toledo. In collaboration with Gundissalinus between 1135-53 he translated a large number of Arabic books on astrology into Latin at the Toledo school of Translation. This included al-Farghani’s Ilm al-Nujum , Mashallah’s Mawalid al-Kabir, and Abu Mash’ar’s Kitab al-Madkhal al-Kabir ila ilm ahkam al-Nujum. He also translated Qusta ibn Luqa’s (820-912) Fasl bayn al-Ruh wal-Nafs, which was included in a list of ‘books to be ‘read,’ or lectured on, by the Masters of the Faculty of Arts, at Paris in 1254, as part of their study of Natural Philosophy. He translated abu Ali Khayat’s book on astrology Kitab al-Mawalid, an English translation was printed in 2008 from USA. His famous translation is medical section of pseudo-Aristotlian work Sir al-asrar which was originally translated from Greek into Chaldean, then Chaldean into Arabic by Yahya ibn Batriq (d.940). He translated a book on gout for Pope Gregory III, and a book by Qusta ibn Luqa (d.912) on medicine. He mentioned positional notation of Arabic numerals in his Book of Algorithms on Practical Arithmetic.

Hugo of Santalla (fl 1145) was a famous translator of 12th century who translated Arabic books on chemistry, astronomy, astrology and geomancy. It is said he was catholic priest of Tarazona who was sponsored by Bishop Michael of Tarazona. Prepared an abridgement of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblios called Centoliqium. He translated al-Farghani’s books; manuscripts are in Bodleian library, Oxford, especially a commentary by al-Biruni on Jawamay fee ilm-al-Nujum. His commentary on Khawrizmi’s Zij was translated by E. Millas and published from Madrid 1963.

Arabic version of Euclid’s Optics 

Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187) nicknamed ‘The Master’ was the dean of translators in Toledo. He was for European science what Hunayn ibn Ishaq was for the Islamic. Hunayn translated 90 books while Gerard 87. George Sarton (d1956)  in his Introduction to history of Science has listed 87 books translated by him into Latin[3]: Zahrawi’s 30 volume medical encyclopedia al-Tasrif; plus a number of medical treatises of al-Kindi, al-Razi, ibn Sarafiyun, al-Wafid, and Ali ibn Ridhwan, and Qanun fil Tibb, an encyclopedia of Greek and Arabic medicine, as well as ibn al-Haytham’s voluminous Kitab al-Manazir, al-Kindi’s treatise on geometrical optics,  and Banu Musa’s book of geometry. Besides Arabic versions of Greek authors he translated works of al-Kindi, al-Khawrizmi, Banu Musa, Mashallah, Abu Ma’shar, al-Razi, Ibn Sena, Thabit ibn Qurra, Farabi, Farghani, Qusta ibn Luqa, Jabir ibn Hayyan, Zarqali, Jabir ibn Aflah, His 87 translations included 30 works on astronomy and mathematics, 22 on medicine, 22 on logic and philosophy, 4 on physics, 2 on chemistry, 7 on astrology and geomancy. The amazing thing about him was  that he did not have full grasp of Arabic, instead he head to work with local Mozarabs (Arabized Christians – musta’rab) and Spanish. His Latin translations influenced giants of European science like Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Copernicus.

European depiction of the Persian physician Rhazes, in Gerard of Cremona’s “Recueil des traités de médecine” 1250-1260. Gerard de Cremona translated numerous works by Arab scholars

Rabi Abraham ibn Ezra (1086-1164) was a contemporary of Gerard of Cremona in Toledo who excelled in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, poetry and linguistics. To avoid persecution of the Jews by Almohads he travelled North Africa, Egypt, Israel, Italy, France and England. He travelled to various European countries and introduced Islamic and Hebrew culture.  He went to London and Oxford in 1158 and introduced astrology. He translated Biruni’s commentary on Khawrizmi’s Zij into Hebrew, the original Arabic is lost. He wrote original books in mathematics, chronology, astrology and astrolabe. His commentary on the Bible was praised by Spinoza.

Kitab al-Jabr of al-Khawrizmi

Hermann of Carinthia or Dalmatia (1100-1160) was a Croatian author, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. He had a perfect knowledge of Arabic and Latin languages. He visited Damascus and Constantinople (1135-38) and took note of Islamic science of that period. During his stay in Spain he was one of the five team members who translated Islamic religious works. He took part in the first Latin translation of the Glorious Quran which was printed in 1543. His name stands out as one of the pioneers in the transmission of Islamic astronomy into Europe. Majriti’s edition of Ptolemy’s Planisphaerium was translated by him into Latin in 1143. This translation was important for the European science as it provided theoretical basis for the construction of astrolabe. He translated Khawrizmi’s Zij (astronomical tables) in 1143, a commentary on Euclid’s Elements, and authored scores of books on astronomy and astrology. Many translations were carried out in cooperation with Robert of Chester.                            

Robert of Chester (Fl. 1140-50) was an expert mathematician, chemist, & translator. His outstanding achievement is translating some historical books. Robert and his friend Herman the Dalmatian worked together in southern France and Toledo. Robert completed the first translation of the Glorious Quran into Latin in 1143. Jabir ibn Hayyan’s treatise on chemistry was translated by him Liber de compositione alchimiae which was the first work on chemistry in Europe. In 1145 he translated Khawrizmi’s book on algebra Liber algebrae et almucabala which was ground breaking as it introduced algebra into Europe. Trigonometric function sine originated from this translation. He translated a treatise on astrolabe, and prepared a translation of Khawrizmi’s astronomical tables according to latitude of London. His countryman Robert of Hereford prepared translations of various Islamic books for ten years 1170-80, one of the book started with Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim. Robert was sponsored in his work by King Ferdinand I who was a great admirer of Islamic science.

Alfred of Sarashel was a 12th century English scholar. He had learnt Arabic in Islamic Spain. During his stay at Toledo school of translation he translated many works of Aristotle and their commentaries most of which were written by Ibn Rushd and extant up to 17th century. Through his translations Aristotle’s natural philosophy and metaphysics were introduced into England.

Mark, canon of Toledo (fl. 1196-1216) was a Hispanic physician, canon and translator. He was patronized in his work by Archbishop of Toledo. He produced a Latin translation of Quran while working at Toledo of Translation. He translated many medical works including HippocratesDe aere aquis locis, & Hunayn Ibn Ishaq‘s (d.873) versions of four of Galen‘s treatises.

Transmission from Sicily – when Roger I (1040-1101) conquered Sicily in 1091 and expelled Muslims, it had been ruled by Muslims for nearly 200 years. In the capital city of Palermo Greek, Latin and Arabic were commonly spoken. King Roger included in his civil service many Muslims as well as drew his infantry from the Muslims. Successive Kings in the 12th and 13th centuries attracted scholars irrespective of their religions or languages. His son King Roger II (1095-1154) was considered the most enlightened monarch in Europe. Under his patronage scores of works were translated.

Last page of Razi Kitab al-Havi

Roger instructed his royal science advisor Abu Abdu Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi (d.1166) to prepare a silver globe for which material was drawn from Ptolemy’s Geography, Arabic books, Kings Ambassadors and tourists. This globe is lost but its details are given in his monumental book Nuzhatu al-Mushtaq. During the middle ages this book was a geographical encyclopedia. In Europe it was used as a text book and numerous abridgements were produced; first one in 1592. It was translated into Latin 1619 and a French version was composed in two volumes in 1830.

Eugene the Amir of Palermo flourished under King Roger II and William I (r.1154-1166). He was a mathematician, astronomer and translator from Greek into Arabic into Latin. In 1154 he translated from Arabic into Latin Optics of Ptolemy, and took part in the translations of Almagest and Kalila wa Dimna.

Some of the distinguished Jewish translators who took part in the Arabic to Hebrew translations were Judah ben Moses, Isaac ibn Sid, Abraham of Toledo, Dins, Solomon ibn Ayyub, Shem-tob ben Isaac, Zechariah Gracian, Moses ibn Tibbon, Jacob ben Mahir, Jacob ibn Abbasi, & Samuel ben Jacob.

Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) was a patron of science with great thirst for knowledge and learning. He spoke six languages. At his coronation his red silk mantle bore Arabic inscription. Muslims were allowed to build mosques and enlist in the army. In 1224 he founded University of Naples, the world’s oldest state sponsored institution. Its library comprised mainly of Arabic books. He was called Baptized Sultan. In his royal court there were scholars of all religions like Michael Scott, Theodore of Antioch, Fibonacci. These scholars translated for him books on philosophy, zoology, medicine, mathematics, cosmology and mechanics. He donated translations of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd to Universities of Paris and Bologna which were carried out at his request. He wrote a treatise on falconry which contained his personal observations.

Manfred (1266) King of Sicily was son of Emperor Frederick II. He continued his interest in Arabic learning shown by his father. He directed the translation of Book of Apple into Hebrew.

There were two Spanish translators of lesser importance. Stephen of Saragossa who in 1233 translated Ibn al-Jazzar treatise on simple drugs. Bishop Peter Gallengo translated Aristotle’s treatise on animals from an abridged Arabic version. Jacob Anatoli translated into Hebrew in 1231 summary of Almagest by ibn Rushd.

Leonardo Fibonacci or Leonardo of Pisa (1180-1250) was the greatest mathematician of middle ages. His revolutionary Liber Abaci had a lasting impact on Europe. He gained knowledge of Indian numerals in Bougie (now Bejja, Algeria) where his father was a Pisan ambassador. His father sent him to Sicily, Egypt, Syria and Turkey on a trade mission where he had access to Arabic mathematics, and the use of Arabic numerals common among merchants. He introduced Arabic number system into Europe (0-9 and place value). His book Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation) completed in 1202 showed how to do arithmetic in decimal system. It described in Latin rules for adding numbers, subtracting, division, and multiplying accompanied by problems to illustrate the methods. Arabic numerals were applied to book-keeping, weights and measures, interest calculation. Liber Abaci was an instant hit; it made possible all later mathematical discoveries possible, like Newton’s calculus and Einstein’s theory of relativity. In his Practica geometriae he explained application of geometry in surveying (ilm al-misaha) as it was used by Muslim engineers.

Michael Scott (1175-1232) was born in Scotland and educated in Oxford and Paris. He was a proficient philosopher, mathematician, astrologer and a prolific translator from Arabic. As court astrologer of King Frederick II he re-translated books of Aristotle and revised Arabic commentaries written by Ibn Rushd. For King Frederick he prepared Aristotle’s De Animalibus, and composed a hefty book on astrology. In 1209 he went to Toledo and became aware of famous Muslim philosophers. Here besides translating various books of astronomy and astrology, he translated many book of Ibn Rushd on philosophy. Philosophy of Ibn Rushd (1198) was introduced into Europe through these revised translations. His book Abbreviatio Avicennæ came out in 1210. In 1217 he prepared translation of al-Bitruji’s Kitab al-Hay’ah (De motibus celorum). Upon his return to Palermo in 1220 he wrote several works on astrology, alchemy, physiognomy, and the occult sciences. In 1230 he returned to Oxford and brought back with him commentaries on physics, mathematics and Aristotle. In his translations he was assisted by Arabic speaking Toledans.

Alfonso X El sabio (1252-1284) was King of Castile and Leon who played a sterling role in the transmission of Islamic science to Europe. Sarton has rightly called him “the founder of Spanish science”. [4] He established a college in Seville in 1254 where Arabic and Latin were taught. His crowning achievement was the establishment of an institute for the translation of astronomical/ astrological works from Arabic into Spanish, thereby works of Ptolemy, al-Battani, Abdur Rehman al-Sufi, Qusta ibn Luqa, al-Nairizi, al-Zarqali, Ali ben Khallaf Ansari, ibn al-Sama’a, ibn al-Haytham, Isaac bin Sid, Ubaid Allah, and Ghalib al-Ansari of Cordova (fl.1019) were rendered into Latin. As he was an accomplished poet, jurist, musician, historian, & astronomer he wrote prefaces to these works.  His noteworthy treatise on astronomy is Libros del saber de astronomi (Books of the Wisdom of Astronomy), and compilation of Alfonsine Tables under his direction to replace Toledan Zij. First national history of Spain in Spanish was compiled derived from Arabic sources. He was also founder of Spanish scientific language.

Although hundreds of Arabic books stored in Toledo Cathedral were burnt to ashes, there are still 2500 manuscripts preserved in the archives dating back to 12th century.

Albert the Great (1193-1280) wrote a work in 1256 against Averroism as requested by the Pope. In alchemy his knowledge was drawn from Arabic sources. In genealogy and mineralogy his sources were Aristotle and Ibn Sena. In astronomy he diffused al-Bitruji’s theory. His theories on natural history were derived from Ibn Sena although he quoted Galen, Razi and Ibn Rushd. In medicine he made use of Gerard’s translation of al-Qanun.

Roger Bacon (1214-92) was an influential English scientist, encyclopaedist, and a philosopher. He was inspired by works of Aristotle and Ibn al-Haytham. His magnum opus Opus Maius draws heavily on works of al-Kindi and ibn al-Haytham. His research in optics was primarily oriented by the legacy of ibn al-Haytham through a Latin translation of Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) on which he had written a commentary.  His medical treatises were derived from Arabic sources. His treatise on calendar quoted a large number of Muslim authors.

Translations in France & Italy:  Giovanni Campano revised in 1254 Adelard of Bath’s translation of Elements. Banacosa translated Kitab al-Kulliyat into Latin in Padua in 1255. Abraham ben David translated Kitab al-Kulliyat into Hebrew while Moses ibn Tibbon rendered it into Hebrew verse in 1260. The French translation of Kulliyat by Solomon ben Joseph appeared from Beziers in 1261. Another Latin translation was carried out by Armenguad ben Blaise in 1284. Arabic text with Latin was printed in 1778 in Oxford.

Jewish physician Faraj ben Salem (d1285) translated in 1279 Razi’s Kitab al-Havi (Continens manuscript in Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, No. 6912) as well as Taqwim al-abdan of Ibn Jazla, Ali ibn Abbas and Hunayn ibn Ishaq.  Simon of Genoa, physician to Pope Nicholas IV translated materia medica of Kitab al-Tasrif of Zahrawi and Kitab al-Adwiyya al-Mufrida of Ibn Sarafion. Simon prepared a dictionary of material medica containing 6000 articles mainly from Arabic sources. In 1280 Paravicius translated Ibn Zuhr’s Kitab al-Taysir.

Steinschneider had compiled a list of names of authors whose Arabic works were translated by unknown translators. There are 86 authors with several translated works for each of them.

Transmission from Montpellier:  Montpellier is in the south of France. In the 13th century the main centre of medical education were Salerno and Montpellier. Arnold of Villanova and Raymond Lull were professors at this university. Armengaud son of Blaise translated Arabic version of Galen’s book, Ibn Sena’s Urjuza fil Tibb with Ibn Rushd commentary on it, & two medical treatises by Ibn Maimun. John of Brescia translated al-Zarqali’s treatise on astrolabe in 1263. Robert the Englishman (1276) wrote three treatises derived from Arabic sources, one on astrolabe, one on a popular book on astronomy, and one on the quadrant. Stephen son of Arnold translated Qusta ibn Luqa’s Kitab al-amal bil-kurra al-falakiyya and Fee Tadbir al-abdan. Zucchero Bencivenni translated from French into Italian writings of al-Farghani and al-Razi in the 14th century. King Dinis (d.1325) of Portugal ordered the translation of many Arabic books into Portuguese. Joannes Jacobi translated two ophthalmological treatises from Arabic into Catalan.

One of the most influential scholars of Islam al-Biruni (d.1048) was a contemporary of Ibn Sena, whose works were never translated into Latin; hence he had no influence on the development of science in Europe.

European revival had two essential elements i.e. translation of scientific works into Arabic and founding of colleges and universities which were modelled after the Nizami madrasa in Baghdad. Like the madrasa system European universities were teaching liberal arts, philosophy and theology. The teaching material in all the universities Paris, Oxford, Naples, Prague, Salamanca, Cracow, Padua, and Vienna was either Latin translations of Arabic books discussed in this article or texts based on these translations. The classification of sciences followed al-Farabi’s classification in which four basic sciences were geometry, astronomy, music and arithmetic. Three books were the basis for the European mathematics al-Khawrizmi’s Arithmetic, his al-Mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr and Elements of Euclid.

In the words of E.J. Holmyard: During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there was a scientific renaissance in Europe, and scholars from Christian countries journeyed to Muslim universities in Spain, Egypt, Syria and even Morocco in order to acquire knowledge from their foes in religion but friends in learning. Arabic science soon began to filter through, and by the middle of the thirteenth century the trickle had become a river.

Arabic was taught in academies and schools in Spain, Italy and France that were established for missionary purposes, but it served other fields of knowledge.

George Sarton points out that the amount of knowledge which had reached Europe through the translations of Arabic works by the end of 12th century was so large that systematic methods of education became necessary. [5]

European medical writers started composing medical texts after Islamic medical works had been translated into Latin. Kitab al-Havi, Canon of Medicine and Kitab al-Tasrif were standard texts in European medical colleges. In Vienna in 1522 and in Frankfurt the entire curriculum consisted of works of Razi and Ibn Sena. The first medical book that was printed in Europe was Ferrari de Gradi commentary on Kitab al-Mansuri. In the 15th century 16th edition of Canon of Medicine were printed and in the 16th century 20 editions. Portraits of Razi and ibn Sena hang in the hall of Paris Faculty of Medicine. The stained glass of a window in Princeton Institute church is decorated with a portrait of Zakariya Razi.

Ibn Rushd (Averroes), name is carved on one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) building along with names of other famed scientists Isaac Newton, René Descartes and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. “Averroes was the one who brought scientific rationality into such sharp focus that he became, in a sense, the intellectual father of Renaissance,” according to Dr Hoodbhoy. [6]

When Newton said that he had seen farther than his predecessors ‘by standing on the shoulders of giants’ he was in fact giving credit to his Greek, Muslim and European scientists.


1. Salim al-Hassani, 1001 Inventions, National Geographic, Washington DC 2012
2. A.Y. al-Hassan, Sc & Technology in Islam, UNESCO, volume 4, part 1, 2001, pp 133-164
3. Howard Turner, Science in Medieval Islam, U. of Texas, Austin, 1995
4. Aziz Ahmad, Islamic History of Sicily, Edinburgh University Press 1975
5. Sarton, Introduction to Hist. of Science, Volume II, Florida, USA 1975
6. Dictionary of scientific biography, volume 3, 1970 NY
7. Sa’ad Andulasi, Tabaqat al-Umam Urdu, Shibli Academy, Azamgarh, India reprint 2005
8. National Library of Medicine, Maryland, USA – see list of medical manuscripts
9. Robert L. Benson, Renaissance and renewal in 12th century, Cambridge, MA, USA 1982
10. Zakaria Virk, Muslim contributions to sciences- Urdu, Dehli 2011, 550 pages
11. Zakaria Virk, Biography of Ibn Rushd- Urdu, Nia Zamana, Lahore 2009
12. John Freely, Light from the East, New York, 2011                                                   


[1] Salim al-Hassani, 1001 inventions, Washington DC, 2012, page 83).

[2] Dictionary of scientific biography, volume 3, 1970 NY

[3] Sarton, Introduction to History of Science, Volume II, pp 339-344.

[4] Sarton, Introduction to History of Science, Volume II, part II p 835.

[5] Science & Technology in Islam, UNESCO, Vol 4. P 158.           

Categories: Europe, ISLAM, Muslim Heritage

4 replies

  1. The glory of the scientists in Islamic History is a proof that Islam and Science are not opposed to each other. We now pray that once again Muslim Scientists will dominate research. May Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam be the first in a long line of modern scientists!

  2. Thanks for this posting which makes an absorbing reading into the details of transmission of the Islamic sciences to Europe, which enlightened the then dark continent with the new lights of knowledge and renaissance in the 12th and 13th centuries. And when I read about the distant ECHO of Baghdad’s ‘Baytul Hikma’, where Muslims, Jews and Christian scholars worked together in Toledo in an atmosphere of international cooperation, I was really pleased to recall the similar efforts/attempts, successfully made by Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam, the Nobel prized physicist of Pakistan, who established his prestigious institution, called ICTP, in Trieste, Italy, to which he used to invite world famed scientists from all over the four corners of globe,which had with different political system and divergent ideologies, whose rulers/governments in the capital cities of Washington, London, Moscow , Beijing and Tokyo would quarrel and fight with each other as political/ideological’foes’.But at ICTP,(Center of Science Excellence, brain-child of Dr. salam), scientists from all the mutually hostile nations would happily visit here, come and sit together to discuss the involved knotty issues of various sciences,in peaceful, free, frank and friendly atmosphere. Such a achievement of creating a healthy meeting place of scientists for mutual global cooperation was taken as the most amazing performance of ‘unity in diversity’ by this saint scientist,theoretical physicist,Dr.Abdus Salam, (1926-96)of Jhang town of Pakistan. He regarded science as a common heritage of all mankind. Science is universal and it knows no boundries, no nationalities. How true and right he was? May God bless his soul, Ameen. And finally thanks are due to Mr. Zakria Virk, for his untiring,’labor of love’ publications on and of Dr. Salam in Urdu and also about the contributions of Muslim scientists for the noble cause of using science for the betterment of Muslim Umma, too, by the grace of God Almighty.Please continue this noble ‘pen-jehad’as far away as possible, Jazakallah. And now beg your leave with happiest feelings and congratulations,Wassalm. Prof.M.S.Khalid,Jhang,Pakistan.

  3. Endorsing the views of Mr. Khalid, this humble corresponding would like to add that Dr. Salam had a dream-like vision of making his motherland a great country through the advancement of Science & technology and for this noble purpose he asked the Government to grant him permission to establish the proposed International Center of Theoretical Physics (ICTP). But the Islamabad rulers knew not the importance of this institution and therefore said ‘no’ to this brain-child scheme of Dr. Salam. Reluctantly he took his scheme to the United Nations Organization and the UNESCO, where he was able to convince all the big powers as well as the smaller, poor Third World Countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America about the need and necessity for such an institution and for which the fresh air of help and financial cooperation of Italy and the facilities of the city of Trieste, had great positive attraction, due to which Dr. Salam was able to establish the prestigious institution of ICTP, whose students and teachers will get together to learn the latest know-how of modern SC. & Technology. Many years after some one asked the then government of Pakistan as to why Dr. Salam was not allowed to create such a universally useful institution?’ The reply was that permission was not granted because in that case the jewish elements (students and teachers) from Israel would have found a way to enter and stay in Pakistan and that would have not been in the interest of the country. One could laugh at such shameful, painful excuses for the refusal of establishing such a prestigious institution in the country. But what we read above that in Baghdad the ‘Baitul Hikma’ was the center of attraction and get-to-gether of all and apart from Muslim scientists, Christian, jews and Pagan scholars/scientists from all parts of the world used to come,live and worked together for the promotion of new scientific knowledge and learning, what a great global cooperation, worthy to be carried further by all the Muslim countries into the period of future centuries.

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