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Islam & Science

Muslim Contribution to Science and Culture (III)

Islam not only bound the nomadic tribes of Arabia in a common bond of brotherhood, it gave them a book, the Qur’ān which taught them how to lead a life of purity and righteousness.

IN THE foremost rank of mathematicians of all times stands Muhammad Ibni Musa Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 A.D.). He composed the oldest works on arithmetic and algebra, now unfortunately lost in the original Arabic. They were the principal source of mathematical knowledge for centuries to come both in the East and the West. The work on arithmetic first introduced the Hindu numerals to Europe, as the very name algorism signifies, and the work on algebra (Hisab Al-Jabr wal-Muqabalah) not only gave the name to this important branch of mathematics in the European world, but contained in addition to the usual analytical solutions of linear and quadratic equations (without of course, the conception of imaginary quantities) graphical solutions of typical quadratic equations. It was revised by Abu Kamil Shuja Ibni Aslam in the first half of the tenth century. Al-Khwarizmi’s “Zij” (consisting of astronomical tables) was also very popular and remained a standard until revised by Maslamah Al-Majriti (of Madrid) in the second half of the tenth century. These tables included values of trigonometrical sine and tangent functions also, as was the fashion among early writers before trigonometry became a definite subject by itself. He prepared also a map of the earth in collaboration with a number of scientists of Al-Mamun’s time for his book “Surat-al-Ard”.

The greatest of Sabian astronomers and one of the most original investigators in Islam, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibni Jabir Al-Battani (between 877 A.D. and 918 A.D.) was a Muslim scientist well known to the Latin world as Albategnius. On comparing his own observations with those of Ptolemy he discovered the motion of the sun’s apogee and the arrived at a more correct value for precession of the Equinones (54.5″ per annum) and initiated the use of sines in trigonometrical calculations. It was from a perusal of his dissertation on the apparent motion of the fixed stars that Hevilius discovered the secular variation of the moon.

Muhammad Ibni Kathir Al-Farghani

Before him Abu Al Abbas Muhammad Ibni Kathir Al-Farghani, (Latin Alfraganus, 840 A.D.) adorned the Dar-ul-Hikmah of Al-Ma’mun and took part in the measurements for the degree of terrestrial latitude. His book “Harakat al-Samawiyah wa Jawami illm unl-Nujum”, in which he follows Ptolemy but substitutes more accurate figures based on local observations, enjoyed (in its Latin version known as the “Scientia Stellarum”) great popularity among European scientists of the Middle Ages. Most of Dante’s astronomical data were derived from this book. Al-Farghani built also a milometer in Fustat for Al-Mutawakkil( Ibni Usaibiyyah, Vol. 1, Pg. 207). Abu Ma’shar (Latin Albumasar) though better known to Europe as an astrologer was the first to explain the tides as influenced by the moon (a fact unfortunately ignored by Kepler as savoring of astrology).

The Arabs were keen students of medicine
Harun-Ur-Rashid was the first caliph to endow a public hospital in Baghdad. The tradition was continued by his successors. Al-Muqtadir appointed Sinan Ibni Thabit Ibni Qurrah to conduct a regular examination of medical practitioners in Baghdad in 931 A.D. and over 800 candidates were thus awarded certificates to practice in their profession. Sinan further instituted traveling hospitals and inspected prisons, administering appropriate treatment to ailing prisoners. As a result of this activity no less than 34 hospitals were founded in the Muslim world in the course of a few years. (Contd.)

M.A.R Khan