The Muslim contribution to science in astronomy
Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are vitally important in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and end of months on their lunar calendar. In the sun, Muslims calculate times for prayer and fasting. It is also through astronomy that Muslims can determine the precise direction of Qiblah, to face Ka’bah in Mecca, during prayer.
The most accurate solar calendar, superior to the Julian calendar, is Jilali, designed under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Qur’an contains many references to astronomy:
“And it is He who created the night and the day, the sun and the moon, all [celestial bodies] in an orbit are swimming”. [Holy Quran 21:33]
These references, and injunctions to learn, inspired the first Muslim scholars to study the heavens. They integrated the first works of the Indians, Persians and Greeks in a new synthesis.
Ptolemy’s Almagest (the title we know today is really Arabic) has been translated, studied and criticized. Many new stars have been discovered, as we see in their Arabic names – Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran. Astronomical tables were compiled, including the Toledan tables, which were used by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler.
Almanacs were also compiled – another Arabic term. Other Arabic terms are zenith, nadir, Aledo, azimuth.
Muslim astronomers were the first to establish observatories, such as the one built in Mugharah by Hulagu, son of Genghis Khan, in Persia, and invented instruments such as the quadrant and the astrolabe, which led to advances not only in astronomy but in ocean navigation. for the European age of exploitation.
Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography. Indeed, Muslims’ great concern for geography originated with their religion.
The Qur’an encourages people to travel across the land to see the signs and patterns of God everywhere. Islam also requires that every Muslim have at least enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of Qiblah (Ka’bah’s position in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day.
Muslims were also used to taking long trips to conduct trade, as well as to do Hajj and spread their religion. The vast Islamic empire has enabled explorer scholars to compile vast amounts of geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, famous for their written accounts of their extensive explorations.
In 1166, Al-Idrisi, a well-known Muslim scholar who served in the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a map of the world with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to produce accurate color maps.
Spain has been ruled by Muslims under the banner of Islam for more than 700 years. By the 15th century of the Gregorian calendar, the ruler of Islam was seated in Spain and Muslims had established centers of learning that commanded respect for the entire known world at that time. There was no “Dark Age” as the rest of Europe experienced for Muslims in Spain and those who lived there with them. In January 1492 Muslim Spain capitulated to Catholic Rome under King Fernando and Queen Isabel. In July of the same year, Muslims were instrumental in helping to navigate Christopher Columbus to the southern Caribbean of Florida.
It was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions that Magellan was able to cross the Cape of Good Hope, and Da Gamma and Colombo had Muslim navigators on board their ships.
Seeking knowledge is mandatory in Islam for every Muslim, male and female. The main sources of Islam, the Quran and Sunnah (the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, May peace and blessings be upon him), encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars, as this is the best way for people to know God (God), appreciate His wonderful creations and be thankful for them.
Muslims have always been eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular, and within a few years of Muhammad missão’s mission, a great civilization emerged and flourished. The result is shown in the expansion of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunis and Al-Azhar in Cairo date back over 1,000 years and are the oldest existing universities in the world. In fact, they were the models of the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg and Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University.
Muslims have made great strides in many different fields, such as geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant and other navigation devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and played an important role in world progress, especially in the era of European exploration.
Muslim students studied the ancient civilizations 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 reference texts and reference books until the 17th and 18th centuries.
Muslim mathematicians excelled in geometry, as can be seen in their graphic arts, and it was the great Al-Biruni (who also excelled in the fields of natural history, even geology and mineralogy) who established trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim mathematicians have made significant progress in number theory.
It is interesting to note that Islam so strongly urges humanity to study and explore the universe. For example, the Holy Quran states:
“We (Allah) will show you our signs / patterns on the horizons / universe and in you until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth”. [Holy Quran 41:53]
This invitation to explore and research made Muslims interested in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry and other sciences, and had a very clear and firm understanding of the correspondences between geometry, mathematics and astronomy.
Muslims invented the symbol for zero (the word “cipher” comes from the Arabic sifr), and organized the numbers in the decimal system – base 10. Furthermore, they invented the symbol to express an unknown quantity, that is, variables such as x.
The first great Muslim mathematician, Al-Khawarizmi, invented the subject of algebra (al-Jabr), which was developed by others, mainly Umar Khayyam. Al-Khawarizmi’s work, in Latin translation, brought Arabic numerals along with mathematics to Europe, through Spain. The word “algorithm” is derived from its name.
In Islam, the human body is a source of appreciation, as it is created by Almighty God (God). How it works, how to keep it clean and safe, how to prevent diseases from attacking it or cure those diseases, were important issues for Muslims.
Ibn Sina (d. 1037), better known in the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era. His famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, has remained a standard textbook, even in Europe, for more than 700 years. Ibn Sina’s work is still studied and built in the East.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself urged people to “take medicine for their illnesses”, as people at that time were reluctant to do so. He also said:
“GOD DID NOT CREATE ANY DISEASE, EXCEPT THAT HE ESTABLISHED A CURE FOR HER, EXCEPT FOR OLD AGE. WHEN THE ANTIDOTE IS APPLIED, THE PATIENT WILL RECOVER WITH GOD’S PERMISSION.”
Since religion did not forbid it, Muslim scholars have used human corpses to study anatomy and physiology and to help their students understand how the body works. This empirical study allowed the surgery to develop very quickly.
Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, the famous doctor and scientist (around 932) was one of the greatest doctors in the world in the Middle Ages. He emphasized empirical observation and clinical medicine and was unmatched as a diagnostician. He also wrote a treatise on hygiene in hospitals. Abul-Qasim Az-Zahrawi was a very famous surgeon in the 11th century, known in Europe for his work, Concession (Kitab al-Tasrif).
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 specific illnesses, including mental and emotional. Ottomans were particularly notable for their construction of hospitals and the high level of hygiene practiced in them.