The Development of Science in the Islamic World

By Dr. Said A. Malik

Today we do not see much scientific developement in the Islamic world (Dar-el-Islam) compared with the non-Islamic world. Yet, once the Islamic civili¬zation produced great works in mathematics, astronomy, phy¬sics, chemistry and medicine. Islamic scientific activities started declining from 9th Islamic century. Modem science gradually penetrated in Dar-el-Islam and Ottoman empire from the 17th century.

Science and the Koran

The significance of the impact of the Islamic science on that of the West is a vast subject for historio¬graphy of modem science. It goes without saying that the Islamic science was greatly influenced by ancient Greek, Egyptian and Indian science. The teachings of Koran and Hadith are very diffe¬rent from that of the medieval Christianity. They encouraged Muslims to develop natural scien¬ce and medicine. Nevertheless, the philosophical framework of Islamic science is clearly distingu¬ishable from that of the modern science.

Arabic numerals

The Koran says that life on earth came from water. In fact, the Koran had helped developed abstract ideas in mathematics. That is why Islamic mathematici¬ans contributed enormously to the different fields of mathematics. Ancient Indian mathematicians had discovered the mathematical zero which Muslims adopted and the famous Arabic numerals were published. (Kitab al-Hisab by Muhammad ibn musa -al-kha¬warzmi. This work was eventually translated into Latin.) Thus, the Europeans came to know of Arabic numerals.


The algebra which today is a great theoretical tool to deduce scienti¬fic theories or economic theories was developed by the Muslims. The very word algebra was rooted in Arabic. The renowned al ¬Khwarzmi produced al-jabral Mukhabal. Later, it was introdu¬ced to Latin. Thus, Europeans came to know of algebra.


Omar Khaiam was one of the great Islamic experts on algebra. The science of astronomy played a sci¬entific role in finding the positions of moon and stars connected with Islamic religious rites. The Muslims, therefore, had develo¬ped the study of heavenly bodies from an early period. The Muslims learnt from the astronomical tra¬ditions of the Greek, the Indians and the Babylonians. "Zij-i Shahriar "was a great book on astronomy in the Islamic world. The Muslims translated the great astronomical book from India called Siddhanta which is known as Sindhind in Arabic. Islamic scien¬ce had also learnt from the Chinese astronomy. The Muslims of China (the Mongols) had contributed to the science of astronomy.

Navigational instruments

The scientific method of observing heavenly bodies was institutionali¬sed by the Islamic scientists. They produced astronomical tables (zij), In Egypt Ibn Yunus wrote Hakimite zij. Another astronomer Nasir al Dinal Tusi wrote Ulugh Beg zij and observed the heavenly bodies from an observatory and calculated their revolutions. Many astronomers observed stars and planets from the minarets of mos¬ques. The Muslims also created observational instruments which were later used by navigators. The Muslim astronomers enormously contributed to the developement of observational instruments wit¬hout which the day European navigation would not have been possible. The Muslim astronomers had criticized the Ptolemic theory of planetary movements. Al Bitruji, Nasir al- din al -Tusi, Kutub al-din at Shiuzi, ibn al- saf¬fir were among them. In Nihayat al Idrak written by Kutub al -Din we find new method for calcula¬ting heavenly bodies. This new method applied vector algebra.

Optics and physics

In the field of optics the Muslim scientists had done eminent works. Kitab al- Manzir bears an example of this. The physics of dynamics was vastly developed by the Muslim scientists. Ibn Sin cri¬ticised Aristotalian theory of motion . Ibn Sin developed the idea of momentum in dynamics, In Spain Ibn Bajjal applied mathematics in his study of motion. Archimede's principle of determining weight and the instrument of weight and the measurement of weight were also studied by the Muslim scien¬tists. Al Biruni and Al Kazani were the important books on the subject.

Biology and alchemy

The scientists in the Islamic coun¬tries (Dar el Islam) did research work in flora and fauna and minerals and zoological science. Kitab al hayawan, Haiat al haya¬•wan etc bear ample proof of their works. It seems most likely that the Arabic word al-Kimya came from Alexandrian Egypt and then beca¬me the Latin word Alchemy. The word alchemy in English today means not chemistry but somet¬hing magical. In the medieval period alchemy was the science of metal. In Islamic period al-kimya was the science of chemistry. Muhammad ibn zakaria al Razi was a great Muslim chemist. Many modern chemical laboratory equipments were created by the Muslim che¬mists. In the early period of Islamic civilization, Jabir ibn Hayan, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq were well-known chemists.

Applied chemistry and medicine

In the field of applied chemistry and medicine the Islamic science was very active. Al-tibb al-nabawl was the foundation of Islamic medicine. The Muslim scientists also studied Persian and Indian medicine and created new medici¬nes by combining these different medicines. Ali ibn Raban Tabaris greatest work was called Firdaus al Hikma. Kitab- Al Maliki by al¬Majusi and al Quam- til tib Sina were the outstanding books on medicine. Many of the latter day Muslim scientists developed new ideas based on ibn Sina's original book. The scientists introduced new methods of diagnosis of dise¬ases. They also prescribed medici¬nes and diets for the patients. The doctors who practise ibn Sina's method today are called the prac¬titioners of Yunani medicine. This method of medical treatment today attract the attention of many practitioners of modern medicine. Modern medicine can give harm¬ful effect on human body. But Yunani medicines are not known to have bad after-effects.