At the same time that Western Europe was entering the Dark Ages, Islam experienced an era of innovation in cultural and intellectual achievements. In what is called the “Golden Age of Islam,” which lasted from the 7th through the 13th centuries, Muslims were at the forefront of knowledge. A few discoveries are notable in both their creativity and long-ranging influence on Western society.
A mathematician named Al-Khawaarizmi is considered one of the founders of algebra; in fact, the word “algorithm” is a form of his name or the name of the town in which he was born. He pioneered the use of zero, which led to the decimal system; in addition, he introduced the study of fractions. Omar Khayyaam wrote about and studied geometry and algebraic functions, while Naseeruddeen wrote on quadrilateral trigonometry and geometry. Ibn Moosaa’ trigonometry text was translated from Arabic into Latin; it was used as a major textbook in Europe until the 16th century.
Five of the seven stars in the constellation Ursa Major have Arabic names, evidence of the region's influence on the science of early astronomy. Ibn al-Haytham contributed to the discovery of the modern scientific method with his observation, data-gathering and experimentation techniques. His work on the diffraction of light and optics in Latin translation influenced Isaac Newton. He is also remembered as the inventor of the camera obscura. Ar-Rasheed reportedly gave a water clock to Emporer Charlemagne and invented the pendulum.
Other Islamic scientists are notable for their innovations in chemistry, physics -- the theory of relativity in the 8th century -- and geography. In the 9th century, scientists of the Islamic world concluded that the world was round. A famous physician, Ibn Sina, wrote a book called “Canon on Medicine,” that was the authoritative medical text in Europe for more than 500 years. PBS says that “medieval Muslims revolutionized the science and practice of medicine.”
Papermaking and Publishing
Muslims imported the art of papermaking from China; as early as the 8th century. High-quality paper was manufactured in Samarqand, which is in what is today’s Uzbekistan. By the mid-19th century, Papersellers’ Street in Baghdad had over 100 paper and book shops. The earliest surving paper edition of the Qua’ran dates to 972, and medieval Islamic libraries housed hundreds of thousands of books, far more than a visitor could find in the small libraries in universities and monasteries in the West. The Bayt Al-Hikmah in Cairo was said to have 2 million books, while the library at Tripoli contained approximately 3 million volumes.
- IslamiCity.com: How to Deal with Muslim Predicament in the post-colonial era?
- PBS.org: Islam: Empire of Faith: Algebra and Trigonometry
- Arabic News: Arab contributions to mathematics and the introduction of the Zero
- OnIslam.net: Al-Khwarizmi: The Father of Algebra
- BBC Today: Tom Feilden: The 'golden age' of Arabic science
- Radio Islam: Arab Civilization and Its Impact on the West: Chemistry, Physics, Medicine
- PBS.org: Islam: Empire of Faith: Astronomy
- PBS.org: Islam: Empire of Faith: Medicine
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