By Zakaria Virk, Toronto
According to traditional western writers, all science and civilization is derived from Greek heritage i.e. 6th centry BC to 2nd century AD. This heritage was lost during the Dark Ages i.e. 5-15th century AD, recovered during the European Renaissance -15-16th centuries, and revived for our modern world.
In order to explain how the heritage was lost for 1500 years, and recovered, it was Muslims who found it, recovered it, preserved it, and added to it from 8th to 15th century. Had the Muslims not preserved this Greek learning, it would have been lost forever. The mathematics, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, mechanics of 16th century bears no resemblance to that left behind by the Greeks.
It was the Islamic civilization, not Greek that invented paper, printing, irrigation, windmills, farming techniques, the compass, industrial production, glass making, cotton production, trade mechanism, system of numerals 1-10, paper money and the cheque. Gardens, flowers, art of living, urban design, personal hygiene, are all products of Muslim thinkers.
Western scholars gained this knowledge after Sicily, Islamic Spain were conquered, and their contact with Muslims during the 11th and 12th centuries. European scholars started translating Arabic books during the 12th century. Thus all Arabic scientific knowledge was transferred into Latin during the next three centuries.
This fact has been acknowledged by many notable historians and scholars. John Glub says: the indebtedness of Western Christendom to Arabic civilization was systematically played down, if not completely denied. A tradition was built up by censorship and propaganda, that Muslim imperialists had been mere barbarians that the rebirth of learning in the west was derived directly from Greek and Roman sources alone, without any Arab intervention”. A short history of the Arab people, London, 1969, p 289
The Greeks and the Roman had no universities in the sense in which the word has been used in the past seven or eight centuries. Universities are the product of Islamic lands of the middle ages.
It is stated that Roger Bacon of England was the first person to draw a diagram for a flying machine, and thought of human flight. Leonardo da Vinci had prepared prototypes of flying machines. The truth is Islamic Spain’s engineer, inventor and aviator Abbas ibn Firnas (d.887) was the first person in history to make a flying machine in Cordoba. He made a glider (or used vulture feathers as wings) with which he flew off a hill in Cordoba and was air-born for few minutes. Upon landing he suffered injuries, because he did not have a tail on the glider, the way birds use their tail upon landing.
It is said in the West that glass mirrors were made in Venice in the 13th century-1291. The fact is that glass mirrors were made in Islamic Spain in the 11th century. People of Venice gained the technical knowledge for glass making from Syria.
It is said that first mechanical clock was made in Milan, Italy which was weight driven. According to Will Durant, first clock was made by Ibn Firnas in Cordoba in 9th century. Clocks were made during the time of Caliph Haroon al-Rashid, who had sent a clock as a gift to King Charlemagne of France. Europeans gain knowledge of clock making from the Latin translations of Arabic books.
It is said Galileo was the first person to have invented pendulum. The truth is that 10th century Egyptian astronomer Ibn Yunus had invented pendulum in Cairo in the 10th century. In his book he had described oscillatory motion. Muslim clock makers used pendulum in their clocks in the 15th century.
Iraqi scientist Yaqoob al-Kindi invented a discipline of medicine called posology which dealt with the dosages of the drugs. Dosages for the drugs were a guessing game in the ancient world. He formulated an easy to use table that pharmacists could refer to when filling out a prescription to when filling out prescriptions.
Al-Kindi (d.866) started frequency analysis in deciphering ancient Greek writings. Therefore he was father of modern cryptology. Yaqoob al-Kindi (d.873) in his most important work on medicine, translated into Latin as De Gradibus demonstrated the application of mathematics and quantification to medicine, Kindi invented a discipline of medicine called posology, which dealt with the dosages of the drugs. Dosages for the drugs were a guessing game in the ancient world. He formulated easy to use table that pharmacists could refer to when filling out prescriptions. By documenting amounts with a mathematical formula that anyone could follow, al-Kindi revolutionized medicine. Drugs could now be formulated according to set amounts with the result that all patients would receive standardized dosages.
Cover page for Ibn al-Haytham’s Book of Optics
Ibn al-Haitham did extensive investigations on light, lenses and camera obscura. In fact he invented the pin-hole camera. It is said that Newton was the first person to have stated that white light consists of various colours. The fact is that this discovery was made by ibn al-Haitham and Kamaluddin Farsi, who prepared an edited version of Kitab al-Manazir, Tanqih al-Manazir. In Newton’s personal library a copy of Kitab al-Manazir in Latin translation was found.
Ibn Sena discussed how to deal with a fracture to the metacarpal bone in the thumb, which modern books describe as “Bennett’s fracture”, named after the man who supposedly discovered it in 1882, nearly 900 after Ibn Sena. (House of Wisdom, page 179, by Jim al-Khalili, NY 2011)
Zakariyya al-Razi introduced controlled experiment and clinical observation in medicine. He carried out the earliest known example of a clinical trial employing a control group . Razi began by selecting two sets of patients, all of whom are showing early symptoms of meningitis . He then treated one group with bloodletting, but not the second. He writes that ‘by doing this, I wished to reach a conclusion (on the effectiveness of bloodletting) and indeed all those of the second group contracted meningitis’. (Jim al–Khalili, The House of Wisdom, , London, 2011 p. 147) He was laying the foundation of what in allopathic medicine will be called controlled studies, which is the favoured way of investigating any therapy in this day and age. Zakaria Vir’s book “111 Muslim Scientist’.
Trigonometry was a theoretical science with Greeks, but Muslims made practical use of this branch of mathematics. Al-Batani in fact invented basic functions such as sine, cosine and tangent. Arabic root for sine is Jaib. Similarly it is said that decimal fractions was first used by Dutch mathematician Simon Stevin in 1589. The fact is decimal fractions were used by al-Kashi in his book Miftah al-Hisab (Key to Mathematics). It is also said that X & Y symbols were first used by French mathematician Vieta in 1591. Algebra was invented by Muslims who used these symbols in finding solutions of cubic equations.
It is said logarithm tables were invented by John Napier in 1614, but this is a Muslim invention.
Omar Khayyam made a significant contribution in mathematics called Binomial coefficients, but in Europe it is called Pascal’s triangle.
Persian astronomer Nasiruddin Tusi developed a mathematical device called Tusi Couple. Zauj-Tusi was used by Nicolaus Copernicus in his reformulation of mathematical astronomy. Al-Urdi theorem was developed by Muay al-din al-Urdi in 1250. The same theorem was found in Copernicus master piece on astronomy.
Al-Battani computed his own zij in 10th century, translated into Latin and Spanish in 12th and 13th centuries. Seven hundred years after it was written, Copernicus will refer to this zij a total of 23 times in his work On the Revolution of heavenly spheres.
Syrian astronomer Allauddin ibn Shatir prepared a model of moon and mercury, which was later found in Copernicus book.
Jabir ibn Aflah was Islamic Spain renowned mathematician. He used trigonometry in solving some very complicated problems. Astonishingly same solutions were found in Johann Mueller book in 1464. This intellectual theft was discovered by Italian mathematician G. Cardano (d1576). After reading Jabin ibn Aflah’s book Islah al-Majisti (Corrections to Majisti), Copernicus criticised Ptolemy’s system of Universe and presented a new model in which sun was in the centre.
Islamic Spain’s foremost surgeon abul Qasim Zahrawi described in his book Kitab al-Tasrif modern clinical techniques I.e for treating a dislocated shoulder (now called Kocher’s method) and simplifying difficult labours (now called Walcher position).
Nasirurddin Tusi developed a special geometrical construction in connection with Euclid’s fifth postulate, which was used by England’s John Wallis (d.1703) in his researches. Subsequently this technique was used by Saccheri (d.1733), but both of them did not give credit to Tusi.
Baghdad’s 9th century mathematician Sabit ibn Qura (d.901) devised a formula to find the amicable numbers. Seven hundred years later Franc’s Pierre Fermat (d.1665) used a similar formula to find second pair of amicable numbers, but did not bother to give credit to Sabit ibn Qurra.
Badi u Zaman al-Jazari (d.1206) invented combination lock, it appeared in England in 17th century. Al-Jazari’s inventions later appeared in Europe, including conical valve, patented in England in 1784. In his monumental book ‘A book of Ingenious devices’ on mechanical devices he mentioned valves and piston. He is considered father of robotics. He invented more than 50 automatic devices. He invented crankshaft which is essential to so many machines. In his water pump to raise water he used pistons, paddles and camshaft, crank connecting rod system, forcing water up through pipes and out to city streets. Crank connecting rod is used in bicycles also.
The Elephant Clock was one of the most famous inventions of Al-Jazari.
Syrian doctor Allauddin ibn Nafis described function of pulmonary circulation of blood in 13th century, 300 years later Michael Servetus (d.1553)and then William Harvey were credited with this discovery.
Persian chemist Zakariya al-Razi stated that characteristics of sulphur, salt and mercury are found in almost everything. The same discovery was made by Paracelsus in Europe.
Ibn al-Haitham stated that when light passed through a medium, it takes the easiest and fastest path to travel. In Europe it was called Fermat’s principle of least time.
German astronomer Regiomontanus wrote a book on Trigonometry- De Triangulus, 4th part of this book is stolen from Jabir ibn Aflah’s (d.1150) book.
I quote the following from Wikipedia: “Much of the material on spherical trigonometry in Regiomontanus’ On Triangles (c.1463) was taken directly and without credit from Jābir’s work, as noted in the 16th century by Gerolamo Cardano. The trigonometry that Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) outlined in the first part of his epochal work De revolutionibus was also apparently inspired by Jābir.
A Muslim scholar from Tunisian who converted to Christianity and took the name of Constantine the African (d.1087) introduced Arabic sciences into Europe. He translated many Arabic books into Latin, and put his name as their author. He outstripped many in plagiarism.
The tides on the Earth are mostly generated by the Moon’s gravitational pull from one side of the Earth to the other, the tidal forces. According to Phillip K. Hitti this was first described by Abu Mashar Balkhi, however the credit is given to Kepler.
Spain’s astronomer Abu Bakr Ibn Bajja (df.1138) discovered law of motion: speed of a moving object is equal to moving force. He also postulated that the force that keeps the planets in their orbits is the same that makes an apple to fall to the ground. Galileo after studying Ibn Baja’s theories rejected Aristotle’s view that speed of a body is proportional to its weight.
It is stated in Wikipedia: “in Islamic physics, Ibn Bajjah’s law of motion was equivalent to the principle that uniform motion implies absence of action by a force. This principle would later form the basis of modern mechanics and have a subsequent influence on the classical mechanics of physicists such as Galileo Galilei. Ibn Bajjah’s definition of velocity was also equivalent to Galileo’s definition of velocity:……….Velocity = Motive Power – Material Resistance
I would like to finish this article by giving a quote from a book :” Razi’s physics consisted, as far as its principles were concerned, of fundamental ideas which, given the different level of scientific knowledge, were similar to surprising extent to those of Newton’s system” ( Arabic Versions of Greek Texts, and in Medieval Scienes by S. Pines, EJ Brill, Leiden, 1986, p 197)
Jim Khalili, The House of Wisdom, New York, 2011
Michael Morgan, Lost History, National Geographic, Washington, 2007
Howard Turner, Science in Medieval Islam, University of Texas, 1995
John Freely, Light from the East, New York, 2011
Zakaria Virk, Muslim Contribution to Sciences, Kitabi Duniya, Delhi, 2011, 553 pages
Zakaria Virk, 111 Muslim Scientists, Niazamana Publications, Lahore, 2013, 663 pages