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The Intellectual Legacy of Islam

The intellectual movements which ushered Europe in the new era of scientific development owe its debt to Islamic Spain.


“Islam” which means “submission to Almighty Allah”  is not just a religion but much more than this, which emerged in Arab and changed the course of human history forever.

Islam brought revolutions in almost all spheres of human life, liberated humanity from oppression ignorance, raised the status of human beings so high that they prostrate before the supreme creator only. Intellectual life too was rejuvenated under Islamic influence, the tradition like “Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise.” Continued to inspire believers to seek knowledge.

Within a few years of Muhammed’s mission, a great civilization flourished from Spain to Sindh, with vibrant metropolitan cities like Cordoba, Damascus, Baghdad to Samarkand and Bukhara. A series of universities were established throughout the Muslim world from Al-Zaytunah Tunis, Al-Azhar in Cairo to the House of Wisdom that is Baghdad. Muslims as seekers of knowledge travelled to the East and West alike, incorporated intellectual contents from ageing civilizations like the Greek, Roman and India; translated works of Aristotle and Plato and Aryabhatta into Arabic and then transmitted to Europe.

Islamic civilization, when reached the pinnacle of development, Muslims made great  advancement in so many fields of human endeavours like geography, physics, medicine, pharmacology, linguistic to astronomy and today’s scientific development owes much to the splendid services of mathematician Al-Khwarizm, physician Ibn-e-Rushd, scientist and philosopher Ibn-Sina geographer like Al-Damishqi and Al- Idrisi, Historian Khaldun.

Without any doubt, today’s western scientific civilization is the product of enlightenment and renaissance. These intellectual movements which ushered Europe in the new era of scientific development owe its debt to Islamic Spain.

Cordoba (capital of  Muslim) in the 10th century was the most civilized city in Europe with street lightening, running water facility, huge libraries were a peculiarity of Cordoba. Traits to which Europeans are proud of came from Muslim Spain like diplomacy, free trade, techniques of academic research, anthropology, fashion medicine, hospitals. All these originated from Cordoba which was once an epitome of glory and splendour.

Seeds of Renaissance were shown by Muslims magisterial work and ideas which slowly and steadily Europe absorbed. All this culminally ended European stagnation. But west always underestimated the contribution of 1000 years of Islamic society and culture.

So, here is a glimpse of some magisterial work of scientist, geographer, etc. which changed the course of scientific discoveries.


Zafar Muhammad  Musa- al- Khwarazm was not only a great mathematician but also an astronomer and geographer. However, he is mostly associated with mathematics and Algebra.

Title of Algebra has been taken from his magisterial work “ Hisab al Jabra wa al Muqabla. This book was twice translated into Latin, by Gerard of Cremona and Robert of Chester in the 12th century.

He also contributed immensely in the field of astronomy, covered calenders, calculated the position of Sun, moon, and other celestial bodies. Tables of sines, tangents, Spherical astronomy, astrological tablets and eclipse calculation.

One of the most significant contributions in the field of mathematics was the concept of Algorithm. He also contributed to Geography, corrected Ptolemy’s research in geography using his own findings in “Surat al- Ard’ ( The shape of the earth).

He also supervised geographers to create a map of then “ Known World”. He further improved the theory and construction of Sundials. Consequently, his sundial was universal and was placed on mosques to determine the time of prayer.

Another major invention by Khwarizm was “Shadow square” , an instrument used to know the linear height of an object in conjunction with the alidade of angular observation.


IbneSina, popularly known as “Avicenna’ in the west was an important polymath of the medieval Islamic era, who immensely contributed in medicine, Psychology, Pharmacology to Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Philosophy to Geology.

This erudite scholar was born in 980AD, in a village of Afshana near Bukhara. Just at the age of 14, he overtakes his teacher and at the age of 18, he was reputed Physician of his era.

IbneSina was first to describe bacteria and viral organism, first to describe the anatomy of the human eye, along with detailed description of eye affliction such as cataracts.

Kitab al Shifa, a voluminous scientific and philosophical encyclopaedia, which deals with Geology, Natural sciences, Psychology, Quadrivium (geometry, mathematics, astronomy and music). In this book, he described about geology, detail about the mineral kingdom, analysed the structure of meteor, explained the formation of sedimentary rocks, the role of earth quack in mountain formation, formation of metals etc..

“Canon medicine”( Kitab al-Qanun fit Tibb) –The canon of medicine is five volume medical encyclopedia that was considered as standard medical text at many medical universities in the Islamic world as well as Europe up to 18th century.

It was a recapitulation of the medicine of that time. It was written in five books: Book 1- General Principles, Book 2-Materia medica; Book 3- Disease of the individual organs, Book 4-General disease, Book 5- Formula for remedies. It was most systematic and logical medical book of his time, with references to books of previous physicians.

It is to be believed that he had authored around 450 books, out of which 240 survived, including 150 on philosophy and 40 on medicine.


Al Farabi, whose full name was Abu NasraMuhammed Al Farabi, born in 870 AD, at farayb, was great Muslim intellectual of the muslim era. He played a significant role in transmission and synthesis of Pluto, Aristotle to the muslim world. Because of his excellency in Philosophy, Sociology, Logic, Music and language, he was considered as “Mallim e Sani, or Second teacher. He was first to separate theology from philosophy.

He also contributed to political theory and continued to influence the thinking of medieval philosophers. He wrote notable books on early Muslim sociology, and on music titled ‘Kitab al Musiqa’( The book of Music).

Farabi was first who dealt with therapeutic effects of music on the soul. He also invented several musical instruments as well as contributed in the knowledge of musical notes.

The great polymath dead in Damascus in 950 AD.


Al Damishqi’s full name was Shams al-din – Ansari, a great medieval Arab geographer, and historian born in 1256. He mostly wrote about his native land, the greater Syria (Bilad as a sham), upon the complete withdrawal of Crusaders.

Al damishqi provided a valuable account of Island in Maritime Southeast Asia, its inhabitant’s flora and fauna, customs and tradition. He has mentioned about the country, Champa, Khmer also called Malay Island. Al damishqi’s writing on Syria was published in St. Petersburg in 1886 by M.A.F Mehren.

AL BATTANI (850 AD-929 AD)

Al-Battani, full name Abu Abdullah Muhammedibn Jabir ibnSinan al-Raqqi al-Harrani -as –sabi –al Battani (Albatenius) was Arab astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician. Al-Battani accurately length of solar year that is 365 days 5 hour 46 minutes and 24 seconds. He also calculated the annual precession of equinoxes and for the inclination of the ecliptic.

His magisterial work was Kitab al-Zij (Demotustellarum) which greatly influenced European astronomy.He contributed to numeric tables, such as a tablet of Toledo, used by astronomers to Predict the movement of sun, moon, and planet across the sky. Later on, Copernicus used some of his Astronomical Tablets.


Ibn al Haytham also known as Al Hazen, was an Arab astronomer and mathematician who contributed immensely to the development of the principle of optics. He experimented to explore the nature of light and vision, used a  dark chamber called “ Albeit Almuzlim ” translated in Latin as “Camera Obscura” – that device acted as the basis for the development of photography in later times.

He was first to discover and proof experimentally that the vision is accomplished by rays coming from the external luminous body rather than rays emitting from the eyes, contrary to the belief of that time.

His famous work was “ Book of Optics” in which he described many principles of light, optics. During the 1010s & 1030s, he wrote many books on astronomy, pointed out the mistakes of the Ptolemaic  model of how the stars and planet moves and provided a more realistic view of the universe.

During his lifetime, he wrote about 200 books out of which only 50 survived. Later on, his work greatly influenced discoveries and inventions in Europe, on the basis of his work eyeglass, magnifying glass, camera, Law of motion and Gravitation was developed.

The contribution  of Islamic culture has always been underestimated. However, to quote Major Arthur Leonard from his work:  Islam; her moral and spiritual value; “Never to this day has Europe acknowledged in an honest and whole-hearted manner the great and everlasting debt she owes to Islamic culture and civilization. Only in a lukewarm and perfunctory way has she recognized that when during the ages. Her people were sunk in feudalism and ignorance. Muslim civilization under the Arabs reached a standard of social and scientific splendour that kept the flickering members of European society from utterance decadence”.