The Muslim Scientists Contributions Cultural Studies Essay


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The concept that the sciences are exclusively the products of Western minds remains unquestioned by most individuals. A review of any of the standard texts or encyclopedias regarding the history of science would support this view. As these books are perused, it becomes evident that the only contributors given significant mention are Europeans and/or Americans. It is hardly necessary to repeat the oft-mentioned names: Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Bacon, Newton, Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, etc. The unavoidable conclusion is that major contributions to the development of the modern sciences by other cultures are minimal. Most texts give little or no mention of the advancements made by ancient Indian, Chinese or, particularly, Muslim scholars.

Western civilization has made invaluable contributions to the development of the sciences. However, so have numerous other cultures. Unfortunately, Westerners have long been credited with discoveries made many centuries before by Islamic scholars. Thus, many of the basic sciences were invented by non-Europeans. For instance, George Sarton states that modern Western medicine did not originate from Europe and that it actually arose from the (Islamic) orient.

Major Inventions of Muslim Scientists:

Muslim geographers and navigators learned of the magnetic needle, possibly from the Chinese, and were the first to use magnetic needles in navigation. They invented the compass and passed the knowledge of its use in navigation to the West. European navigators relied on Muslim pilots and their instruments when exploring unknown territories. Gustav Le Bon claims that the magnetic needle and compass were entirely invented by the Muslims and that the Chinese had little to do with it. Neckam, as well as the Chinese, probably learned of it from Muslim traders. It is noteworthy that the Chinese improved their navigational expertise after they began interacting with the Muslims during the 8th century.

Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain invented, constructed and tested a flying machine in the 800's A.D. Roger Bacon learned of flying machines from Arabic references to Ibn Firnas' machine.

During the 9th century, Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain, according to Will Durant, invented a watch-like device which kept accurate time. The Muslims also constructed a variety of highly accurate astronomical clocks for use in their observatories.

Muslim mathematicians, the inventors of algebra, introduced the concept of using letters for unknown variables in equations as early as the 9th century A.D. Through this system, they solved a variety of complex equations, including quadratic and cubic equations. They used symbols to develop and perfect the binomial theorem.

Muslim astronomers made numerous improvements upon Ptolemy's findings as early as the 9th century. They were the first astronomers to dispute his archaic ideas. In their critic of the Greeks, they synthesized proof that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the orbits of the earth and other planets might be elliptical. They produced hundreds of highly accurate astronomical tables and star charts. Many of their calculations are so precise that they are regarded as contemporary. The AlphonsineTables are little more than copies of works on astronomy transmitted to Europe via Islamic Spain, i.e. the Toledo Tables.

The science of pharmacology was originated by Muslim physicians during the 9th century. They developed it into a highly refined and exact science. Muslim chemists, pharmacists and physicians produced thousands of drugs and/or crude herbal extracts one thousand years prior to the supposed birth of pharmacology.

Mathematicians of the Islamic Empire accomplished precisely this as early as the 9th century A.D. Thabit bin Qurrah was the first to do so, and he was followed by Abu'l Wafa, whose 10th century book utilized algebra to advance geometry into an exact and simplified science.

Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain invented eyeglasses during the 9th century, and they were manufactured and sold throughout Spain for over two centuries. Any mention of eyeglasses by Roger Bacon was simply a regurgitation of the work of al-Haytham (d. 1039), whose research Bacon frequently referred to.

Muslim geographers produced untold volumes of books on the geography of Africa, Asia, India, China and the Indies during the 8th through 15th centuries. These writings included the world's first geographical encyclopedias, almanacs and road maps. Ibn Battutah's 14th century masterpieces provide a detailed view of the geography of the ancient world.

Muslim scholars of the 9th through 14th centuries invented the science of ethnography. A number of Muslim geographers classified the races, writing detailed explanations of their unique cultural habits and physical appearances. They wrote thousands of pages on this subject. Blumenbach's works were insignificant in comparison.

Muslim physicians used a variety of specific substances to destroy microbes. They applied sulfur topically specifically to kill the scabies mite. Ar-Razi (10th century) used mercurial compounds as topical antiseptics.

The Venetians learned of the art of fine glass production from Syrian artisans during the 9th and 10th centuries. Glass mirrors were in use in Islamic Spain as early as the 11th century.

The pendulum was discovered by Ibn Yunus al-Masri during the 10th century, who was the first to study and document its oscillatory motion. Its value for use in clocks was introduced by Muslim physicists during the 15th century.

Cubic equations as well as numerous equations of even higher degrees were solved with ease by Muslim mathematicians as early as the 10th century.

Hundreds of Muslim mathematicians utilized and perfected the binomial theorem. They initiated its use for the systematic solution of algebraic problems during the 10th century (or prior).

Numerous Muslim chemists produced medicinal-grade alcohol through distillation as early as the 10th century and manufactured on a large scale the first distillation devices for use in chemistry. They used alcohol as a solvent and antiseptic.

The concept of quarantine was first introduced in the 7th century A.D. by the prophet Muhammad, who wisely warned against entering or leaving a region suffering from plague. As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians innovated the use of isolation wards for individuals suffering with communicable diseases.

As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians and surgeons were applying purified alcohol to wounds as an antiseptic agent. Surgeons in Islamic Spain utilized special methods for maintaining antisepsis prior to and during surgery. They also originated specific protocols for maintaining hygiene during the post-operative period. Their success rate was so high that dignitaries throughout Europe came to Cordova, Spain, to be treated at what was comparably the "Mayo Clinic" of the Middle Ages.

In the 10th century, Islam's ar-Razi wrote an in-depth treatise on the venous system, accurately describing the function of the veins and their valves.

Timeline of Muslim Scientists from 700 - 900 AD:

8th century:

700s - [petroleum; civil engineering] The streets of the newly constructed Baghdad are paved with tar, coming from the petroleum that oozes in natural oil fields in the region. 

700s - 800s [cosmetics] Ziryab (Blackbird) starts a beauty institute in Spain. 

740 - 828 - Al-Ama'i, Zoology, Botany, Animal husbandry. 

770 - 840 - [mathematics] Kharazmi , developed the "Calculus of resolution and juxtaposition" (hisab al-jabr w'al-muqabala), more briefly referred to as al-jabr, or algebra, gives an idea on the utility of this development: "Algebra was a unifying theory which allowed rational numbers, irrational numbers, geometrical magnitudes, etc., to all be treated as "algebraic objects". It gave mathematics a whole new development path so much broader in concept to that which had existed before, and provided a vehicle for future development of the subject. Another important aspect of the introduction of algebraic ideas was that it allowed mathematics to be applied to itself in a way which had not happened before. 

Al-Khwarizmi's successors undertook a systematic application of arithmetic to algebra, algebra to arithmetic, both to trigonometry, algebra to the Euclidean theory of numbers, algebra to geometry, and geometry to algebra. This was how the creation of polynomial algebra, combinatorial analysis, numerical analysis, the numerical solution of equations, the new elementary theory of numbers, and the geometric construction of equations arose." 

Late 700s - 800 - [musical science] Mansour Zalzal of Kufa. Musician (luth) and composer of the Abbasid era. Contributed musical scales that were later named after him (the Mansouri scale) and introduced positions (intervals) within scales such as the wasati-zalzal that was equidistant from the alwasati alqadima and wasati al-fors. Made improvements on the design of the luth instrument and designed the Luth. Teacher of Is-haq al-Mawsili.

715 - 800 [chemistry] Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan), a Muslim chemist, is considered the father of chemistry, for introducing the experimental scientific method for chemistry, as well as the alembic, still, retort, pure distillation, liquefaction, crystallisation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation, and filtration.He was also the first chemist known to produce sulfuric acid, as well as many other chemical substances and laboratory instruments. His works include The elaboration of the Grand Elixir, The chest of wisdom in which he writes on nitric acid, Kitab al-Istitmam (translated to Latin later as Summa Perfectionis), and many others.

 715 - 800 [alchemy] Geber, also a Muslim alchemist, introduces the first theories on the transmutation of metals, the philosopher's stone, and the artificial creation of life in the laboratory. 

715 - 800 [glass] Geber wrote on adding colour to glass by adding small quantities of metallic oxides to the glass, such as manganese dioxide (magnesia). This was a new advancement in the glass industry unknown in antiquity. 

9th century:

800 - 868 - [biology, language, linguistics, zoology] 'Amr ibn Bahr al-Jahiz wrote a number of works on zoology, Arabic grammar, rhetoric, and lexicography. His most famous work is the Book of Animals, in which he was the first to discuss food chains,and was an early adherent of environmental determinism, arguing that the environment can determine the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of a certain community and that the origins of different human skin colors is the result of the environment. He was also the first to describe the struggle for existence and an early theory on evolution by natural selection.

800 - 873 -Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (Latinized, Alkindus.) Philosophy, Physics, Optics, Medicine, Mathematics, Cryptography, Metallurgy. Worked at the House of Wisdom which was set up in 810. He introduces quantification into medicine in his De Gradibus. 

810 Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) set up in Baghdad. There Greek and Indian mathematical and astronomy works are translated into Arabic. 

820 - [mathematics] Mahani (full name Abu Abdollah Muhammad ibn Isa Mahani - in Arabic Al-Mahani). Conceived the idea of reducing geometrical problems such as duplicating the cube to problems in algebra. 

836 - 901 [anatomy; astronomy; mathematics; mechanics] Born Thabit Ibn Qurra (Latinized, Thebit.) Studied at Baghdad's House of Wisdom under the Banu Musa brothers. Made many contributions to mathematics, particularly in geometry and number theory. He discovered the theorem by which pairs of amicable numbers can be found; i.e., two numbers such that each is the sum of the proper divisors of the other. Later, al-Baghdadi (b. 980) and al-Haytham (born 965) developed variants of the theorem. 

838 - 870 - Tabari (full name: Ali ibn Sahl Rabban Al-Tabari). Medicine, Mathematics, Calligraphy, Literature. 

mid 800s - [chemistry] Al-Kindi writes on the distillation of wine as that of rose water and gives 107 recipes for perfumes, in his book Kitab Kimia al-`otoor wa al-tas`eedat (book of the chemistry of perfumes and distillations).

 850 - 930 [mathematics] born Abu Kamil of Egypt (full name, Abu Kamil Shuja ibn Aslam ibn Muhammad ibn Shuja) Forms an important link in the development of algebra between al-Khwarizmi and al-Karaji. Despite not using symbols, but writing powers of x in words, he had begun to understand what we would write in symbols as.

852 - [aviation, flight] Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firman) made the first successful parachute fall using a huge wing-like cloak to break his fall, near Córdoba, Spain. 

858 - 929 - [astronomy - mathematics] Al-Battani (Albategnius) Works on astronomy, trigonometry etc. 

860 - Al-Farghani (Al-Fraganus) Astronomy, Civil engineering. 

864 - 930 - [chemistry; medicine] Razi (Rhazes) Medicine, Ophthalmology, Smallpox, Chemistry, Astronomy. Al-Razi wrote on Naft (naphta or petroleum) and its distillates in his book "Kitab sirr al-asrar" (book of the secret of secrets). When choosing a site to build Baghdad's hospital, he hung pieces of fresh meat in different parts of the city. The location where the meat took the longest to rot was the one he chose for building the hospital. Advocated that patients not be told their real condition so that fear or despair do not affect the healing process. Wrote on alkali, caustic soda, soap and glycerine. Gave descriptions of equipment processes and methods in his book Kitab al-Asrar (book of secrets) in 925.

 870 - 950 - Farabi (Al-Pharabius): early Islamic philosophy, early Muslim sociology, logic in Islamic philosophy, political science, and musical science. 

875 - [aviation, flight] Abbas Ibn Firnas made the first flight in a hang glider with artificial wings, but his landing was unsuccessful. 

888 - [various] Abbas Ibn Firnas died. Mechanics of Flight, Planetarium, Artificial Crystals. Ibn Firnas investigated means of flight and was apparently injured due to a trial in which he attempted to fly off of a cliff using wings. One of the earliest records of attempts at flight.

 800s - [chemistry; petroleum] Oilfields in Baku, Azerbaijan, generate commercial activities and industry. These oilfields, were wells are dug to get the Naft (or naphta, or crude petroleum) are described by geographer Masudi in the 10th century and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of those wells as hundreds of shiploads. 

10th century:

900s [mathematics; accounting] By this century, three systems of counting are used in the Arab world. Finger-reckoning arithmetic, with numerals written entirely in words, used by the business community; the sexagesimal system, a remnant originating with the Babylonians, with numerals denoted by letters of the arabic alphabet and used by Arab mathematicians in astronomical work; and the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, which was used with various sets of symbols . Its arithmetic at first required the use of a dust board (a sort of handheld blackboard) because "the methods required moving the numbers around in the calculation and rubbing some out as the calculation proceeded." Al-Uqlidisi (born 920) modified these methods for pen and paper use. Eventually the advances enabled by the decimal system led to its standard use throughout the region and the world. 

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