Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are
of vital importance in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and the end of the months
in their lunar calendar. By the sun the Muslims calculate the times for prayer and fasting. It is also by means of astronomy
that Muslims can determine the precise direction of the Kiblah, to face the Ka'bah in Makkah, during prayer. The most precise
solar calendar, superior to the Julian, is the Jilali, devised under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Qur'an contains many
references to astronomy.
"The heavens and the earth were
ordered rightly, and were made subservient to man, including the sun, the moon, the stars, and day and night. Every heavenly
body moves in an orbit assigned to it by God and never digresses, making the universe an orderly cosmos whose life and existence,
diminution and expansion, are totally determined by the Creator." [Qur'an 30:22]
These references, and the injunctions
to learn, inspired the early Muslim scholars to study the heavens. They integrated the earlier works of the Indians, Persians
and Greeks into a new synthesis. Ptolemy's Almagest (the title as we know it is Arabic) was translated, studied and criticized.
Many new stars were discovered, as we see in their Arabic names - Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran. Astronomical
tables were compiled, among them the Toledan tables, which were used by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler. Also compiled
were almanacs - another Arabic term. Other terms from Arabic are zenith, nadir, albedo, azimuth.
Muslim astronomers were the first
to establish observatories, like the one built at Mugharah by Hulagu, the son of Genghis Khan, in Persia, and they invented
instruments such as the quadrant and astrolabe, which led to advances not only in astronomy but in oceanic navigation, contributing
to the European age of exploration.
scholars paid great attention to geography. In fact, the Muslims' great concern for geography originated with their religion.
The Qur'an encourages people to travel throughout the earth to see God's signs and patterns everywhere. Islam also requires
each Muslim to have at least enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of the Qiblah (the position of the Ka'bah
in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day. Muslims were also used to taking long journeys to conduct trade as well as to
make the Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of
geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, renowned for their written
accounts of their extensive explorations.
1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a world
map with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to produce
accurate maps in color.
was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good
Hope, and Da Gama and Columbus had Muslim navigators on board their ships.
Seeking knowledge is obligatory
in Islam for every Muslim, man and woman. The main sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's traditions),
encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars, since this is the best way for people to know Allah (God), to appreciate
His wondrous creations and be thankful for them. Muslims were therefore eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular,
and within a few years of Muhammad's mission, a great civilization sprang up and flourished. The outcome is shown in the spread
of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunis, and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than 1,000 years and are the oldest existing
universities in the world. Indeed, they were the models for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg,
and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University.
Muslims made great advances in
many different fields, such as geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics
and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant,
and other navigational devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and played an important role in world progress,
most notably in Europe's age of exploration. Muslim scholars studied the ancient cavitations from Greece and Rome to China
and India. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and others were translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists
then added their own creative ideas, discoveries and inventions, and finally transmitted this new knowledge to Europe, leading
directly to the Renaissance. Many scientific and medical treatises, having been translated into Latin, were standard text
and reference books as late as the 17th and 18th centuries.
It is interesting to note that
Islam so strongly urges mankind to study and explore the universe. For example, the Holy Qur'an states:
"We (Allah) will show you (mankind)
Our signs/patterns in the horizons/universe and in yourselves until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth." [Qur'an,
This invitation to explore and
search made Muslims interested in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and the other sciences, and they had a very clear and
firm understanding of the correspondences among geometry, mathematics, and astronomy.
The Muslims invented the symbol
for zero (The word "cipher" comes from Arabic sifr), and they organized the numbers into the decimal system - base 10. Additionally,
they invented the symbol to express an unkown quantity, i.e. variables like x.
The first great Muslim mathematician,
Al-Khawarizmi, invented the subject of algebra (al-Jabr), which was further developed by others, most notably Umar Khayyam.
Al-Khawarizmi's work, in Latin translation, brought the Arabic numerals along with the mathematics to Europe, through Spain.
The word "algorithm" is derived from his name.
Muslim mathematicians excelled
also in geometry, as can be seen in their graphic arts, and it was the great Al-Biruni (who excelled also in the fields of
natural history, even geology and mineralogy) who established trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim
mathematicians made significant progress in number theory.
In Islam, the human body is a source
of appreciation, as it is created by Almighty Allah (God). How it functions, how to keep it clean and safe, how to prevent
diseases from attacking it or cure those diseases, have been important issues for Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad himself urged
people to "take medicines for your diseases", as people at that time were reluctant to do so. He also said,
"God created no illness, but
established for it a cure, except for old age. When the antidote is applied, the patient will recover with the permission
This was strong motivation to encourage
Muslim scientists to explore, develop, and apply empirical laws. Much attention was given to medicine and public health care.
The first hospital was built in Baghdad in 706 AC. The Muslims also used camel caravans as mobile hospitals, which moved from
place to place.
Since the religion did not forbid
it, Muslim scholars used human cadavers to study anatomy and physiology and to help their students understand how the body
functions. This empirical study enabled surgery to develop very quickly.
Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes,
the famous physician and scientist, (d. 932) was one of the greatest physicians in the world in the Middle Ages. He stressed
empirical observation and clinical medicine and was inrivalled as a diagnostician. He also wrote a treatise on hygeine in
hospitals. Khalaf Abul-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was a very famous surgeon in the eleventh century, known in Europe for his work, Concessio
Ibn Sina (d. 1037), better known
to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era. His famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, remained
a standard textbook even in Europe, for over 700 years. Ibn Sina's work is still studied and built upon in the East.
Other significant contributions
were made in pharmacology, such as Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Shifa' (Book of Healing), and in public health. Every major city in
the Islamic world had a number of excellent hospitals, some of them teaching hospitals, and many of them were specialized
for particular diseases, including mental and emotional. The Ottomans were particularly noted for their building of hospitals
and for the high level of hygeine practiced in them.