On the Contribution of Muslim Scientists

 — From Science & Islam: A History, by Ehsan Masood

“The Cairo-based physician ibn al-Nafis, for example, discovered pulmonary circulation, the circulation of blood through the lungs, in the 13th century. Andalusian engineer Abbas ibn-Firnas worked out theories of flight, and is believed to have carried out a successful practical experiment six centuries before Leonardo drew his famous ornithopters. And in Kufa, in Iraq, Jabir ibn-Hayyan (translated by Latin scholars as Geber) was among those laying the foundations of chemistry around 900 years before Boyle.

“Moreover, some researchers are now showing that some of the great pioneers of modern science were building directly on the work of scientists from Islamic times. George Saliba from Columbia University, for instance, demonstrates in his book Islamic Sciences and the Making of the European Renaissance how the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus drew on the work of Islamic astronomers for the groundwork to his breakthrough claim in 1514 that the earth moved round the sun.

“Historians of mathematics have also shown how algebra, a branch of maths that allows scientists to work out unknown quantities, was developed in 9th-century Baghdad by Musa al-Khwarizmi, building on work that he had discovered from mathematicians in India. Historians think that al-Khwarizmi would have had access to manuscripts through Islam’s first encounter with India, which happened a century earlier. Modern science depends, too, on the solutions to complex quadratic equations devised by the poet and scientist Omar Khayyam. And much of our understanding of optics and light is built on the pioneering work of Hassan ibn al-Haitham (translated in Latin as Alhazen) in 11th-century Cairo.”


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