Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Muslim Scientists and Their Contributions

In the history of science, Islamic science refers to the science developed under the Islamic civilization between the 8th and 15th centuries, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. It is also known as Arabic science since most texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these names, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, contributing to science in the Islamic civilization.

During the early Muslim conquest, the Muslim Arab forces, led primarily by Khalid ibn al-Walid, conquered the Sassanid Persian Empire and more than half of the Byzantine Roman Empire, establishing the Arab Empire across the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Iberian Peninsula. As a result, the Islamic governments inherited the knowledge and skills of the ancient Middle East, of Greece, of Persia and of India.

The art of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners at Battle of Talas (751), resulting in paper mills being built in Samarkand and Baghdad. The Arabs improved upon the Chinese techniques using linen rags instead of mulberry bark.

Most notable Arab scientists and Iranian scientists lived and practiced during the Islamic Golden Age, though not all scientists in Islamic civilization were Arab or Muslim. Some argue that the term “Arab-Islamic” does not appreciate the rich diversity of eastern scholars who have contributed to science in that era.

The number of important and original Arabic works written on the mathematical sciences is much larger than the combined total of Latin and Greek works on the mathematical sciences.

Introduction of Scientific Method by Muslim Scientists:

Muslim scientist placed a greater emphasis on experimentation than previous ancient civilizations (for example, Greek philosophy placed a greater emphasis on rationality rather than empiricism), which was due to the emphasis on empirical observation found in the Quran (Muslims Devine Book) and Sunnah ( Doings of Holy Prophet Mohammad, PBUH )  , and the rigorous historical methods established in the Science of Hadith (Sayings of Holy Prophet Mohammad, PBUH). Muslim scientists thus combined precise observation, controlled experiments and careful records with a new approach to scientific inquiry which led to the development of the scientific method. In particular, the empirical observations and experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) in his Book of Optics (1201) is seen as the beginning of modern scientific method, which he first introduced to optics and psychology. Rosanna Gorini Writes:

“According to the majority of the historians al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method. With his book he changed the meaning of the term optics and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field. His investigations are based not on abstract theories, but on experiments evidences and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.”

Other early experimental methods were developed by Geber (for chemistry), Muhammad al- Bukkhari (for history and the science of hadith), al-Kindi (for the Earth sciences), Avicenna (for Medicine), Abu Rayhan al- Biruni (for Astronomy and Mechanics), ibn-Zuhr (for surgery) and ibn khaldun (for the social sciences). The most important development of the scientific method, the use of experimentation and quantification to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, was introduced by Muslim scientists.

Ibn al-Haytham, a pioneer of optics, used the scientific method to obtain the results in his Book of Optics. In particular, he combined observations, experiments and rational arguments to show that his modern intromission theory of vision, where rays of light are emitter from objects rather than from the eyes, is scientifically correct, and that the ancient emission theory of vision supported by Ptolemy and Euclid (where the eyes emit rays of light), and the ancient intromission theory supported by Aristotle (where objects emit physical particles to the eyes, were both wrong. It is known that Roger Bacon was familiar with Ibn al- Haytham’s work.

Ibn-al Haytham developed rigorous experimental methods of controlled scientific testing in order to verify theoretical hypotheses and substantiate inductive conjectures. Ibn al-Haytham’s scientific method was similar to the modern scientific method in that it consisted of the following procedures:

1.    Observations
2.    Statements of problem
3.    Formulation of hypothesis
4.    Testing of hypothesis using experiments
5.    Analysis of experimental results
6.    Interpretation of data and formulation of conclusion
7.    Publication of findings.

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