In fact, the world, particularly the western world, owes a great deal to Islam. Muslim thinkers were very keen to learn from what others outside Islam had discovered. When Islam spread outside Arabia, the learning of the Greek philosophers and scientists in the Byzantine lands – that of Iran and the Hindus of India – all were open to them.
Islamic sciences, that is, the sciences developed by Muslims from the second Islamic century onwards, certainly represent one of the great achievements of the Islamic civilization. For some seven hundred years, from the second to the ninth Islamic centuries, the Islamic civilization was the most productive of all civilizations in the field of sciences ranging from medicine to astronomy. Let us begin with the fields of mathematics and sciences.
Mathematics and Other Scientific Fields
Muslims made remarkable contributions to various fields of mathematics
In the field of arithmetic, the most important achievement of Muslims was the adoption of the Sanskrit numerals. The numerals we use today came from the Sanskrit of India. These were taken over by the Arabs who actually introduced the system of numerals to the western world when the Arabs ruled Spain. Before then, Europe had used Roman numerals. It was thanks to the Arab mathematicians that the various branches of mathematics and all the sciences that depend on it began to develop in Western Europe.
The Greeks had done most of the advanced scientific work in the world at that time. But one thing had kept them back. They had a very clumsy way of writing numerals, using letters of the alphabet and they could not express fractions in a convenient way. Trying to do written sums with these Roman numerals was clumsy. Moreover, neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a zero symbol. The Europeans then learnt the new system from the Arabs, which is why, in English the system is called the Arabic numerals.
Major advances in the field of science include the perfection of the decimal system and the development of algebra and trigonometry. Trigonometry is the branch of mathematics that deals with the relationship between the sides and angles of triangles. outstanding among Muslim mathematicians was also the astronomer Umar Al-Khiyyam who improved the calendar.
Algebra, which comes from the Arabic word ‘al-jabr’, is something else which came to Europe from the world of Islam. The term ‘al-jabr’ actually means “making good what is broken, filling in something which is complete.” The English word algebra that comes from the Arabic word ‘al-Jabr was used in the title of a textbook written by an Arab scientist in Baghdad in about 825 CE. His name was al-Khawaarizmee (died 846 CE).
One of our great needs is to be able to measure accurately. The Arab Muslim scientists made great progress in this field. Each day and night Muslims needed to know the direction of Makkah (the qiblah) to be able to perform the five daily prayers in the right direction. Again, the engineers had to know the direction of the qiblah to place the mihrab in the right position in a mosques. Muslims developed special instruments and used them in the Islamic world to help in this field. The need to find the direction of Makkah for the purpose of prayers gave Muslims an
interest in astronomy from the earliest times.
Astronomy is the scientific study of the universe and the objects that exist in space such as the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. An astronomer is a person who studies astronomy. The world’s first time observatory was established at Maraghe in Azerbaijan by Halagu, son of Chenghis Khan in 1259 CE. Here a team of several astronomers made regular observations. Massive observations can also be seen at Samaraand – fitteenth century. It was the Arab Muslim traders who taught the Western Europeans how to keep popular accounts.
Several Arabic-based words commonly used in English testify to the special influence the Arabs had on scientific thinking words like alchemy, almanac, admiral and zero.
Arab Muslim scholars translated scores of learned works from Greek and Latin into Arabic. In this way, the works of such great thinkers as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates or Euclid were preserved.
The story long and interesting. In fact, the full impact of Islamic sciences (the sciences developed by early Muslims) upon Western science has not realy been fully appreciated by the general public as it deserves to be.