Setting the Record Straight: The Non-Miracle of Islamic Science

From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam
Jump to: navigation, search
The Miracle of Islamic Science.jpg

This is a refutation of Dr K. Ajram's "Setting the Record Straight: The Miracle of Islamic Science".


The Islamic Golden Age lasted from 750 AD to at least the mid-11th to 12th century, when Al Ghazali managed to successfully argue for faith over reason; some say until the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258 AD. It was largely coincident with the Abbasid Empire and produced some great Muslim scientists. However, some apologists have overstated the achievements of these Muslim scientists, downgraded the achievements of non-Muslim scientists, or appropriated for Muslims the achievements of others. Some even claim the Golden Age ended in the 14th century. However, extending the Golden Age by another two centuries is non-factual because even before the year 1258, the Abbasid empire was decaying and crumbling.

The purpose of this analysis is to put the achievements of Golden Age Muslim scientists in the proper perspective, neither denigrating their achievements nor inflating them. All scientific and technological progress is accomplished in progression; Muslim achievements are but links in the chain. Few of the great Muslim scientific achievements stood alone, but were derived by Muslim scientists standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. Also, by transmitting Greek, Roman, Hindu, Persian and Egyptian knowledge (some of which may have been lost were it not for these Arabic translations), these Muslim scientists did humanity a great service.

While we do not take issue with the Muslim scientists, some of whom are acknowledged greats, we do think the lack of follow-up progress is a severe indictment of Islam. For instance, Newton (a non-Muslim scientist who was ranked as the second most influential person in history, by Michael H. Hart) and his work on optics lead to the invention of the telescope and microscope, and contributed to great strides in astronomy, geography, and microbiology. In contrast, Alhazen’s work on optics led to no new scientific breakthroughs.

Most occasions, the initial discovery (basic science) is not enough to create technological progress, the basic discovery has to be followed by applied science, which the Muslim scientists largely failed to do. For instance, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin, but it also took Sir Howard Florey and Ernst Chain to develop a way to produce the antibiotic in therapeutic quantities. The Islamic Golden Age was mostly lacking in such scientific ‘follow-ups’ and allowed the works of their great scientists to wither on the vine or die stillborn.


Human Flight

What is Taught: The first mention of man in flight was by Roger Bacon, who drew a flying apparatus. Leonardo da Vinci also conceived of airborne transport and drew several prototypes.

What Should be Taught: Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain invented, constructed and tested a flying machine in the 800's A.D. Roger Bacon learned of flying machines from Arabic references to Ibn Firnas' machine. The latter's invention antedates Bacon by 500 years and Da Vinci by some 700 years.[1]

In China 202 BC, General Han Xin, under Emperor Liu Bang, made a man-carrying kite for military purposes. This is the first recorded evidence of human flight.[2]

Glass Mirrors

What is Taught: Glass mirrors were first produced in 1291 in Venice.

What Should be Taught: Glass mirrors were in use in Islamic Spain as early as the 11th century. The Venetians learned of the art of fine glass production from Syrian artisans during the 9th and 10th centuries.[1]

The Romans invented the glass mirror in Sidon in the 1st century AD.[3]

Mechanical Clocks

What is Taught: Until the 14th century, the only type of clock available was the water clock. In 1335, a large mechanical clock was erected in Milan, Italy. This was possibly the first weight-driven clock.

What Should be Taught: A variety of mechanical clocks were produced by Spanish Muslim engineers, both large and small, and this knowledge was transmitted to Europe through Latin translations of Islamic books on mechanics. These clocks were weight-driven. Designs and illustrations of epi-cyclic and segmental gears were provided. One such clock included a mercury escapement. The latter type was directly copied by Europeans during the 15th century. In addition, during the 9th century, Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain, according to Will Durant, invented a watch-like device which kept accurate time. The Muslims also constructed a variety of highly accurate astronomical clocks for use in their observatories.[1]

The first fully-mechanical clock (water-driven) was built by Liang Ling-Can, in China in 724 AD.[4][5] Some people think that the first weight-driven clock was invented by Pacificus, archdeacon of Verona in the 9th century.[6]


What is Taught: In the 17th century, the pendulum was developed by Galileo during his teenage years. He noticed a chandelier swaying as it was being blown by the wind. As a result, he went home and invented the pendulum.

What Should be Taught: The pendulum was discovered by Ibn Yunus al-Masri during the 10th century, who was the first to study and document its oscillatory motion. Its value for use in clocks was introduced by Muslim physicists during the 15th century.[1]

The Romans were aware of pendulums as they used pendulums for scrying, and their methods were detailed in the writings of Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus.[7] The first authenticated pendulum clock was built by Christian Huygens in 1657 although Galileo had thought about it around 1602. Some people think that Gerbert of Aurillac (c.945 - 1003 AD) who later became Pope Sylvester II invented the pendulum clock around 996 AD.[8]

Movable Type

What is Taught: Movable type and the printing press was invented in the West by Johannes Gutenberg of Germany during the 15th century.

What Should be Taught: In 1454, Gutenberg developed the most sophisticated printing press of the Middle Ages. However, movable brass type was in use in Islamic Spain 100 years prior, and that is where the West's first printing devices were made.[1]

The Chinese invented movable type printing. In 1041, a Chinese named, Pi-Sheng, developed type characters from hardened clay but was not totally successful. In the early 1200, Korea invented type characters cast from metal (bronze). The oldest extant metal type printing is ‘Baegun Hwasang Chorok Buljo jikji simche yojeol,’ abbreviated to ‘Jikji,’ which was published in 1377 Cheungju, Korea and is currently kept in the National Library of France.[9][10]


What is Taught: Isaac Newton's 17th century study of lenses, light and prisms forms the foundation of the modern science of optics.

What Should be Taught: In the 1lth century al-Haytham determined virtually everything that Newton advanced regarding optics centuries prior and is regarded by numerous authorities as the "founder of optics. " There is little doubt that Newton was influenced by him. Al-Haytham was the most quoted physicist of the Middle Ages. His works were utilized and quoted by a greater number of European scholars during the 16th and 17th centuries than those of Newton and Galileo combined.[1]

Great as he was, al-Haytham (aka Alhazen) also built on the works of Ancient Greek scientists.[11]

Light Rays

What is Taught: Isaac Newton, during the 17th century, discovered that white light consists of various rays of colored light.

What Should be Taught: This discovery was made in its entirety by al-Haytham (1lth century) and Kamal ad-Din (14th century). Newton did make original discoveries, but this was not one of them.[1]

Chalk one up for the apologists. Alhazen was a great scientist. Some people think he may have had to fake madness to avoid an impossible task set by the Caliph al-Hakim and used his self-imposed exile to pursue his interests in optics.[12]

Nature of Matter

What is Taught: The concept of the finite nature of matter was first introduced by Antione Lavoisier during the 18th century. He discovered that, although matter may change its form or shape, its mass always remains the same. Thus, for instance, if water is heated to steam, if salt is dissolved in water or if a piece of wood is burned to ashes, the total mass remains unchanged.

What Should be Taught: The principles of this discovery were elaborated centuries before by Islamic Persia's great scholar, al-Biruni (d. 1050). Lavoisier was a disciple of the Muslim chemists and physicists and referred to their books frequently.[1]

Great as al-Biruni was, he also stood on the shoulders of previous generations of scientists. In fact, he was a great translator of Sanskrit scientific texts, including Indian astronomy and mathematics which were of particular interest to him. Al-Biruni was amazingly well read, having knowledge of Sanskrit literature on topics such as astrology, astronomy, chronology, geography, grammar, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, religion, and weights and measures.[13]


What is Taught: The Greeks were the developers of trigonometry.

What Should be Taught: Trigonometry remained largely a theoretical science among the Greeks. It was developed to a level of modern perfection by Muslim scholars, although the weight of the credit must be given to al-Battani. The words describing the basic functions of this science, sine, cosine and tangent, are all derived from Arabic terms. Thus, original contributions by the Greeks in trigonometry were minimal.[1]

The Muslim contribution to trigonometry is but a link in the chain of discoveries, beginning with the Egyptians and Babylonians, to the Greeks and Indians, then the Muslims, before the Western mathematicians took over the study.[14] To claim that the Muslims developed it to a “level of modern perfection” is emotive and non-factual. In fact, the word ‘sine’ has Hindu roots and was merely a transliteration by the Arabs.

To claim that trigonometry was largely a theoretical science among the Greeks is also emotive. The Greeks invented trigonometry for astronomical calculations.[15] To claim that the original contributions by the Greeks in trigonometry were minimal is also highly uncharitable as the cited references clearly show.

Decimal Fractions

What is Taught: The use of decimal fractions in mathematics was first developed by a Dutchman, Simon Stevin, in 1589. He helped advance the mathematical sciences by replacing the cumbersome fractions, for instance, 1/2, with decimal fractions, for example, 0.5.

What Should be Taught: Muslim mathematicians were the first to utilize decimals instead of fractions on a large scale. Al-Kashi's book, Key to Arithmetic, was written at the beginning of the 15th century and was the stimulus for the systematic application of decimals to whole numbers and fractions thereof. It is highly probably that Stevin imported the idea to Europe from al-Kashi's work.[1]

Fractions were invented by the Babylonians. Although Muslim mathematicians had derived a theoretical basis for using decimal fractions, it was a Chinese named Yang Hui who in 1261 AD first used decimal fractions in the modern form. In contrast al-Kashi wrote the value of pi in decimal form more than a century later.[16]


What is Taught: The first man to utilize algebraic symbols was the French mathematician, Francois Vieta. In 1591, he wrote an algebra book describing equations with letters such as the now familiar x and y's. Asimov says that this discovery had an impact similar to the progression from Roman numerals to Arabic numbers.

What Should be Taught: Muslim mathematicians, the inventors of algebra, introduced the concept of using letters for unknown variables in equations as early as the 9th century A.D. Through this system, they solved a variety of complex equations, including quadratic and cubic equations. They used symbols to develop and perfect the binomial theorem.[1]

The Indians were the inventors of algebra. The earliest text on algebra is the Bakhshali Manuscript. Western scholars estimate its date as about 3rd or 4th century AD. It is devoted mostly to arithmetic and algebra, with a few problems on geometry and mensuration. Brahmagupta (598 - 665 AD) provided the rules for solving quadratic equations.

Cubic Equations

What is Taught: The difficult cubic equations (x to the third power) remained unsolved until the 16th century when Niccolo Tartaglia, an Italian mathematician, solved them.

What Should be Taught: Cubic equations as well as numerous equations of even higher degrees were solved with ease by Muslim mathematicians as early as the 10th century.[1]

The apologetic position is unexampled and unreferenced, and therefore cannot be assessed. Omar Khayyam is credited with solving the General Cubic Equations by Geometric Constructions and Conic Sections but he was a freethinking agnostic, not a Muslim.[17][18]

Negative Numbers

What is Taught: The concept that numbers could be less than zero, that is negative numbers, was unknown until 1545 when Geronimo Cardano introduced the idea.

What Should be Taught: Muslim mathematicians introduced negative numbers for use in a variety of arithmetic functions at least 400 years prior to Cardano.[1]

Negative numbers were invented by Brahmagupta (598 – 665 AD).[19] His main work was Brahmasphutasiddhanta, which was later translated into Arabic as Sind Hind.


What is Taught: In 1614, John Napier invented logarithms and logarithmic tables.

What Should be Taught: Muslim mathematicians invented logarithms and produced logarithmic tables several centuries prior. Such tables were common in the Islamic world as early as the 13th century.[1]

The apologetic position is unexampled and unreferenced, and therefore cannot be assessed.


What is Taught: During the 17th century Rene Descartes made the discovery that algebra could be used to solve geometrical problems. By this, he greatly advanced the science of geometry.

What Should be Taught: Mathematicians of the Islamic Empire accomplished precisely this as early as the 9th century A.D. Thabit bin Qurrah was the first to do so, and he was followed by Abu'l Wafa, whose 10th century book utilized algebra to advance geometry into an exact and simplified science.[1]

Apologists are relying on the ignorant assumption that anyone with a Middle-Eastern name must be Muslim. Thabit Ibn Qurrah (as with Omar Khayyam) did not belong to the Islamic faith. He was a member of the Sabian sect (who were star-worshipers) from Harran.[20]

And Abul Wafa’s 10th century book is titled, "Kitab al-Hindusa," probably betraying the debt he owed to Indian mathematics.

Binomial Theorem

What is Taught: Isaac Newton, during the 17th century, developed the binomial theorem, which is a crucial component for the study of algebra.

What Should be Taught: Hundreds of Muslim mathematicians utilized and perfected the binomial theorem. They initiated its use for the systematic solution of algebraic problems during the 10th century (or prior).[1]

The apologetic position is unexampled and unreferenced, and therefore cannot be assessed.


What is Taught: No improvement had been made in the astronomy of the ancients during the Middle Ages regarding the motion of planets until the 13th century. Then Alphonso the Wise of Castile (Middle Spain) invented the Aphonsine Tables, which were more accurate than Ptolemy's.

What Should be Taught: Muslim astronomers made numerous improvements upon Ptolemy's findings as early as the 9th century. They were the first astronomers to dispute his archaic ideas. In their critic of the Greeks, they synthesized proof that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the orbits of the earth and other planets might be elliptical. They produced hundreds of highly accurate astronomical tables and star charts. Many of their calculations are so precise that they are regarded as contemporary. The Alphonsine Tables are little more than copies of works on astronomy transmitted to Europe via Islamic Spain, i.e. the Toledo Tables.[1]

King Alphoso did not invent the Alphonsine Tables. He merely commissioned its creation by a team of astronomers (led by a Jew named Isaac Ibn Said). It was based on the principles set out by Ptolemy but including new observations (so, naturally, it was more accurate).

The Toledo Tables were actually compiled by 12 Jewish astronomers, although led by the Cordovan Arab astronomer Ibn Arzarkali ("Azarchel").[21]

Optical Lenses

What is Taught: The English scholar Roger Bacon (d. 1292) first mentioned glass lenses for improving vision. At nearly the same time, eyeglasses could be found in use both in China and Europe.

What Should be Taught: Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain invented eyeglasses during the 9th century, and they were manufactured and sold throughout Spain for over two centuries. Any mention of eyeglasses by Roger Bacon was simply a regurgitation of the work of al-Haytham (d. 1039), whose research Bacon frequently referred to.[1]

The Chinese were the first to use corrective optical lenses between 250 BC to 100 AD.[22]

The Roman tragedian Seneca, born in about 4 BC, is alleged to have read "all the books in Rome" by peering at them through a glass globe of water to produce magnification. However, Ibn Firnas may have invented eyeglasses (despite evidence of a prior Chinese invention) though we can find no evidence for this. Roger Bacon did owe a great debt to Kindi and Alhazen, but to say that his work is merely a regurgitation of the latter’s work is uncharitable.


What is Taught: Gunpowder was developed in the Western world as a result of Roger Bacon's work in 1242. The first usage of gunpowder in weapons was when the Chinese fired it from bamboo shoots in attempt to frighten Mongol conquerors. They produced it by adding sulfur and charcoal to saltpeter.

What Should be Taught: The Chinese developed saltpeter for use in fireworks and knew of no tactical military use for gunpowder, nor did they invent its formula. Research by Reinuad and Fave have clearly shown that gunpowder was formulated initially by Muslim chemists. Further, these historians claim that the Muslims developed the first fire-arms. Notably, Muslim armies used grenades and other weapons in their defence of Algericus against the Franks during the 14th century. Jean Mathes indicates that the Muslim rulers had stock-piles of grenades, rifles, crude cannons, incendiary devices, sulfur bombs and pistols decades before such devices were used in Europe. The first mention of a cannon was in an Arabic text around 1300 A.D. Roger Bacon learned of the formula for gunpowder from Latin translations of Arabic books. He brought forth nothing original in this regard.[1]

The entire apologetic case is false. The Chinese knew the formula for gunpowder and used it for military purposes including grenades, fragmentation bombs, rockets, and even an early form of the gun/cannon in the 12th century Sung Dynasty.[23]

Even the claim that there was a conflict between Muslims and Franks (supposedly meaning Frenchmen) in 14th-century Algericus (supposedly Algeria) has virtually no factual basis or accuracy. The only conflict that comes somewhat close to this description is the Barbary Crusade, though it happened in nearby Tunisia.


What is Taught: The compass was invented by the Chinese who may have been the first to use it for navigational purposes sometime between 1000 and 1100 A.D. The earliest reference to its use in navigation was by the Englishman, Alexander Neckam (1157-1217).

What Should be Taught: Muslim geographers and navigators learned of the magnetic needle, possibly from the Chinese, and were the first to use magnetic needles in navigation. They invented the compass and passed the knowledge of its use in navigation to the West. European navigators relied on Muslim pilots and their instruments when exploring unknown territories. Gustav Le Bon claims that the magnetic needle and compass were entirely invented by the Muslims and that the Chinese had little to do with it. Neckam, as well as the Chinese, probably learned of it from Muslim traders. It is noteworthy that the Chinese improved their navigational expertise after they began interacting with the Muslims during the 8th century.[1]

Another appropriation of a Chinese invention.[24] The first known compass surfaced in China in the 1st century AD (at least 5 centuries before there were Muslims).[25] Some say that the compass was introduced by the Chinese to the Arabs (not the other way around) during the Northern Sung Dynasty (960 - 1127 AD).[26]

Racial Typing

What is Taught: The first man to classify the races was the German Johann F. Blumenbach, who divided mankind into white, yellow, brown, black and red peoples.

What Should be Taught: Muslim scholars of the 9th through 14th centuries invented the science of ethnography. A number of Muslim geographers classified the races, writing detailed explanations of their unique cultural habits and physical appearances. They wrote thousands of pages on this subject. Blumenbach's works were insignificant in comparison.[1]

Although we will not challenge the claim that Muslims invented racial-typing, their explanation above is false. Racial discrimination had been used much earlier by Muhammad bin Abdullah (c. 570 - 632 AD) when he called black people ‘raisin heads’.[27]


What is Taught: The science of geography was revived during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries when the ancient works of Ptolemy were discovered. The Crusades and the Portuguese/Spanish expeditions also contributed to this reawakening. The first scientifically-based treatise on geography were produced during this period by Europe's scholars.

What Should be Taught: Muslim geographers produced untold volumes of books on the geography of Africa, Asia, India, China and the Indies during the 8th through 15th centuries. These writings included the world's first geographical encyclopedias, almanacs and road maps. Ibn Battutah's 14th century masterpieces provide a detailed view of the geography of the ancient world. The Muslim geographers of the 10th through 15th centuries far exceeded the output by Europeans regarding the geography of these regions well into the 18th century. The Crusades led to the destruction of educational institutions, their scholars and books. They brought nothing substantive regarding geography to the Western world.[1]

Strike two to the apologists. The Muslim geographers were at the forefront of geography before the western world became interested.

However, it should be noted that in the same period, scholars in China, India, Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire also produced many geographic lists, maps, and treatises.[28][29][30][31][32][33]


What is Taught: Robert Boyle, in the 17th century, originated the science of chemistry.

What Should be Taught: A variety of Muslim chemists, including ar-Razi, al-Jabr, al-Biruni and al-Kindi, performed scientific experiments in chemistry some 700 years prior to Boyle. Durant writes that the Muslims introduced the experimental method to this science. Humboldt regards the Muslims as the founders of chemistry.[1]

Notwithstanding the contribution the Muslim alchemists made, the invention of chemistry should really be attributed to the Ancient Egyptians as evidenced by the Leyden Papyrus (reference: Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead, Professor of Chemistry at Faculty of Science-University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and director of Science Heritage Center.)[34]


What is Taught: Leonardo da Vinci (16th century) fathered the science of geology when he noted that fossils found on mountains indicated a watery origin of the earth.

What Should be Taught: Al-Biruni (1lth century) made precisely this observation and added much to it, including a huge book on geology, hundreds of years before Da Vinci was born. Ibn Sina noted this as well (see pages 100-101). It is probable that Da Vinci first learned of this concept from Latin translations of Islamic books. He added nothing original to their findings.[1]

There is no evidence that da Vinci consulted Arabic texts on this issue. To say that he added nothing original to the Arabic findings is highly uncharitable.

At about 540 BC, Xenophanes described fossil fish and shells found in deposits on mountains. Similar fossils were noted by Herodotus (about 490 BC) and by Aristotle (384 - 322 BC). Aristotle believed volcanic eruptions and earthquakes were caused by violent winds escaping from the interior of the earth, thus perhaps making the first breakthrough in the human understanding of geology.

Formation of Valleys

What is Taught: The first mention of the geological formation of valleys was in 1756, when Nicolas Desmarest proposed that they were formed over a long periods of time by streams.

What Should be Taught: Ibn Sina and al-Biruni made precisely this discovery during the 11th century (see pages 102 and 103), fully 700 years prior to Desmarest.[1]

Minor point. Conceded.

First Great Experimenter

What is Taught: Galileo (17th century) was the world's first great experimenter.

What Should be Taught: Al-Biruni (d. 1050) was the world's first great experimenter. He wrote over 200 books, many of which discuss his precise experiments. His literary output in the sciences amounts to some 13,000 pages, far exceeding that written by Galileo or, for that matter, Galileo and Newton combined.[1]

Not to demean Al-Biruni’s genius, it must be pointed out that quantity does not equate to quality. Archimedes (287 – 212 BC) was also quite an experimenter for his time.


What is Taught: The Italian Giovanni Morgagni is regarded as the father of pathology because he was the first to correctly describe the nature of disease.

What Should be Taught: Islam's surgeons were the first pathologists. They fully realized the nature of disease and described a variety of diseases to modern detail. Ibn Zuhr correctly described the nature of pleurisy, tuberculosis and pericarditis. Az-Zahrawi accurately documented the pathology of hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and other congenital diseases. Ibn al-Quff and Ibn an-Nafs gave perfect descriptions of the diseases of circulation. Other Muslim surgeons gave the first accurate descriptions of certain malignancies, including cancer of the stomach, bowel and esophagus. These surgeons were the originators of pathology, not Giovanni Morgagni.[1]

The field of Islamic Medicine owes its origins to two Christians, Yahya ibn Masawayh and Hunain ibn Ishaq. The Nestorian Christian, Yahya ibn Masawayh, wrote many works on fevers, hygiene, and dietetics. His was the first treatise on ophthalmology, but he was soon surpassed in this field by his famous pupil, Hunain ibn Ishaq, aka Johannitius, whom some regard as the father of Arab medicine. Razi, the physician of genius known in medieval Europe as Rhazes, profited greatly from the works started by Hunain ibn Ishaq.[35]


What is Taught: Paul Ehrlich (19th century) is the originator of drug chemotherapy, that is the use of specific drugs to kill microbes.

What Should be Taught: Muslim physicians used a variety of specific substances to destroy microbes. They applied sulfur topically specifically to kill the scabies mite. Ar-Razi (10th century) used mercurial compounds as topical antiseptics.[1]

There is no evidence that Muslim physicians knew the existence of microbes. In fact, pre-Roman civilizations used burned brimstone as a medicine and used "bricks" of sulfur as fumigants, bleaching agents, and incense in religious rites. Pliny (23 - 27 AD) reported that sulfur was a "most singular kind of earth and an agent of great power on other substances," and had "medicinal virtues”. The Romans used sulfur or fumes from its combustion as an insecticide and to purify a sick room and cleanse its air of evil. The same uses were reported by Homer in the Odyssey in 1000 BC.[36]

Distilled Alcohol

What is Taught: Purified alcohol, made through distillation, was first produced by Arnau de Villanova, a Spanish alchemist, in 1300 A.D.

What Should be Taught: Numerous Muslim chemists produced medicinal-grade alcohol through distillation as early as the 10th century and manufactured on a large scale the first distillation devices for use in chemistry. They used alcohol as a solvent and antiseptic.[1]

Distilled wine was known in China by the 7th century.[37]

Surgical Anesthetics

What is Taught: The first surgery performed under inhalation anesthesia was conducted by C.W. Long, an American, in 1845.

What Should be Taught: Six hundred years prior to Long, Islamic Spain's Az-Zahrawi and Ibn Zuhr, among other Muslim surgeons, performed hundreds of surgeries under inhalation anesthesia with the use of narcotic-soaked sponges which were placed over the face.[1]

Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD), was a Greek surgeon with the armies of the Roman Emperor Nero. He wrote excellent descriptions of nearly 600 plants, including cannabis, colchicum, water hemlock, and peppermint, contained in his De materia medica. Written in five books around the year 77, this work deals with approximately 1,000 simple drugs.

The medicinal and dietetic value of animal derivatives such as milk and honey is described in the second book, and a synopsis of such chemical drugs as mercury (with directions for its preparation from cinnabar), arsenic (referred to as auripigmentum, the yellow arsenic sulfide), lead acetate, calcium hydrate, and copper oxide is found in the fifth book. He clearly refers to sleeping potions prepared from opium and mandragora as surgical anesthetics “to such (people) as shall be cut, or cauteried .... For they do not apprehend the pain because they are overborn (overcome) with dead sleep .... But used too much they make men speechless.”

As for surgical anaesthetics, Hua T'o (c. 100 - 145 AD) was the leading surgeon of his time and highly revered in Chinese historical texts. He was the first to use anasthesia in surgical practice. One concotion that he used as a local anesthetic was a mixture of wine and hemp extract.[38]

Hua T'o predated Az-Zahrawi and Ibn Zuhr by more than 1,000 years.

Opium Extracts

What is Taught: During the 16th century Paracelsus invented the use of opium extracts for anesthesia.

What Should be Taught: Muslim physicians introduced the anesthetic value of opium derivatives during the Middle Ages. Opium was originally used as an anesthetic agent by the Greeks. Paracelus was a student of Ibn Sina's works from which it is almost assured that he derived this idea.[1]

Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD), wrote about the use of opium and mandragora as surgical anesthetics. The Ancient Egyptians also use mandrake and hashish as pain-killers.[39]

Modern Anesthesia

What is Taught: Modern anesthesia was invented in the 19th century by Humphrey Davy and Horace Wells.

What Should be Taught: Modern anesthesia was discovered, mastered and perfected by Muslim anesthetists 900 years before the advent of Davy and Wells. They utilized oral as well as inhalant anesthetics.[1]

Again, Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD), wrote about the use of opium and mandragora as surgical anesthetics.

In India, Sushruta is the father of surgery. 2,600 years ago he and health scientists of his time conducted complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, urinary stones and even plastic surgery and brain surgery. Usage of anesthesia was well known in ancient India. Over 125 surgical equipment were used. Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics and immunity is also found in many texts.[40]

Medical Quarantine

What is Taught: The concept of quarantine was first developed in 1403. In Venice, a law was passed preventing strangers from entering the city until a certain waiting period had passed. If, by then, no sign of illness could be found, they were allowed in.

What Should be Taught: The concept of quarantine was first introduced in the 7th century A.D. by the prophet Muhammad, who wisely warned against entering or leaving a region suffering from plague. As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians innovated the use of isolation wards for individuals suffering with communicable diseases.[1]

Quarantine was first proposed by Moses who ordered that cases of leprosy should be segregated, that dwellings from which infected Jews had gone should be inspected before again being occupied, and that persons recovering from contagious disease were not to be allowed to go abroad until examined. The modern quarantine harks back to these sanitary regulations of the Old Testament.[41]


What is Taught: The scientific use of antiseptics in surgery was discovered by the British surgeon Joseph Lister in 1865.

What Should be Taught: As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians and surgeons were applying purified alcohol to wounds as an antiseptic agent. Surgeons in Islamic Spain utilized special methods for maintaining antisepsis prior to and during surgery. They also originated specific protocols for maintaining hygiene during the post-operative period. Their success rate was so high that dignitaries throughout Europe came to Cordova, Spain, to be treated at what was comparably the "Mayo Clinic" of the Middle Ages.[1]

The Ancient Egyptians used ‘Oil of Fir’ as an antiseptic.[39]

Speaking of Cordoba and the Mayo Clinic, the Ancient Egyptian physicians were also much sought in the Ancient World. Ramses II sent physicians to the king of Hatti and many rulers, the Persian Achaemenids among them, had Egyptian doctors in attendance. The Egyptian theories and practice influenced the Greeks, who furnished many of the Roman Empire's physicians, and later Arab and Western European medical thinking for centuries to come.


What is Taught: In 1545, the scientific use of surgery was advanced by the French surgeon Ambroise Pare. Prior to him, surgeons attempted to stop bleeding through the gruesome procedure of searing the wound with boiling oil. Pare stopped the use of boiling oils and began ligating arteries. He is considered the "father of rational surgery." Pare was also one of the first Europeans to condemn such grotesque "surgical" procedures as trepanning (see reference #6, pg. 110).

What Should be Taught: Islamic Spain's illustrious surgeon, az-Zahrawi (d. 1013), began ligating arteries with fine sutures over 500 years prior to Pare. He perfected the use of Catgut, that is suture made from animal intestines. Additionally, he instituted the use of cotton plus wax to plug bleeding wounds. The full details of his works were made available to Europeans through Latin translations.

Despite this, barbers and herdsmen continued be the primary individuals practicing the "art" of surgery for nearly six centuries after az-Zahrawi's death. Pare himself was a barber, albeit more skilled and conscientious than the average ones.

Included in az-Zahrawi's legacy are dozens of books. His most famous work is a 30 volume treatise on medicine and surgery. His books contain sections on preventive medicine, nutrition, cosmetics, drug therapy, surgical technique, anesthesia, pre and post-operative care as well as drawings of some 200 surgical devices, many of which he invented. The refined and scholarly az-Zahrawi must be regarded as the father and founder of rational surgery, not the uneducated Pare.[1]

The Ancient Egyptians were quite advanced in surgical medicine. The Edwin Smith Papyrus describing surgical diagnosis and treatments, the Ebers Papyrus on ophthalmology, diseases of the digestive system, the head, the skin and specific diseases like abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which some think may be a precursor of AIDS. As early as 3,000 BC evidence of brain surgery is found in papyrus writings in Egypt. "Brain," the actual word itself, is used here for the first time in any language (Edwin Smith Papyrus).[39]

Blood Circulation

What is Taught: William Harvey, during the early 17th century, discovered that blood circulates. He was the first to correctly describe the function of the heart, arteries and veins. Rome's Galen had presented erroneous ideas regarding the circulatory system, and Harvey was the first to determine that blood is pumped throughout the body via the action of the heart and the venous valves. Therefore, he is regarded as the founder of human physiology.

What Should be Taught: In the 10th century, Islam's ar-Razi wrote an in-depth treatise on the venous system, accurately describing the function of the veins and their valves. Ibn an-Nafs and Ibn al-Quff (13th century) provided full documentation that the blood circulates and correctly described the physiology of the heart and the function of its valves 300 years before Harvey. William Harvey was a graduate of Italy's famous Padua University at a time when the majority of its curriculum was based upon Ibn Sina's and ar-Razi's textbooks.[1]

Blood circulation appears discussed in full and complex form in The Yellow Emperor's Manual of Corporeal Medicine in China by the 2nd century BC.[37]


What is Taught: The first pharmacopeia (book of medicines) was published by a German scholar in 1542. According to World Book Encyclopedia, the science of pharmacology was begun in the 1900's as an off-shoot of chemistry due to the analysis of crude plant materials. Chemists, after isolating the active ingredients from plants, realized their medicinal value.

What Should be Taught: According to the eminent scholar of Arab history, Phillip Hitti, the Muslims, not the Greeks or Europeans, wrote the first "modern" pharmacopeia. The science of pharmacology was originated by Muslim physicians during the 9th century. They developed it into a highly refined and exact science. Muslim chemists, pharmacists and physicians produced thousands of drugs and/or crude herbal extracts one thousand years prior to the supposed birth of pharmacology. During the 14th century Ibn Baytar wrote a monumental pharmacopeia listing some 1400 different drugs. Hundreds of other pharmacopeias were published during the Islamic Era. It is likely that the German work is an offshoot of that by Ibn Baytar, which was widely circulated in Europe.[1]

Pliny the Elder, Caius Plinius Secundus, (23 - 79 AD) wrote 10 books on drugs and medicines in his compendium ‘Natural History’.

Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD), was a Greek surgeon with the armies of the Roman Emperor Nero. He wrote excellent descriptions of nearly 600 plants, including cannabis, colchicum, water hemlock, and peppermint, contained in his De materia medica. Written in five books around the year 77, this work deals with approximately 1,000 simple drugs.

Medical Theories

What is Taught: The discovery of the scientific use of drugs in the treatment of specific diseases was made by Paracelsus, the Swiss-born physician, during the 16th century. He is also credited with being the first to use practical experience as a determining factor in the treatment of patients rather than relying exclusively on the works of the ancients.

What Should be Taught: Ar-Razi, Ibn Sina, al-Kindi, Ibn Rushd, az-Zahrawi, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Baytar, Ibn al-Jazzar, Ibn Juljul, Ibn al-Quff, Ibn an-Nafs, al-Biruni, Ibn Sahl and hundreds of other Muslim physicians mastered the science of drug therapy for the treatment of specific symptoms and diseases. In fact, this concept was entirely their invention. The word "drug" is derived from Arabic. Their use of practical experience and careful observation was extensive. Muslim physicians were the first to criticize ancient medical theories and practices. Ar-Razi devoted an entire book as a critique of Galen's anatomy. The works of Paracelsus are insignificant compared to the vast volumes of medical writings and original findings accomplished by the medical giants of Islam.[1]

The Muslim physicians listed above made great contributions to medical science. For many centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arabic world was the center of scientific and medical knowledge. Texts from Greece and Rome were translated into Arabic and studied by Islamic scholars. They developed and refined Hippocrate's theories and Islamic physicians began to use the regulation of diet, exercise and the prescription of medicinal herbs in the treatment of their patients. Arabic pharmacists became skilled in the formulation of medicines from plants and minerals.

One of the most important medical books of its time was written by the physician Ali al-Husayn Abd Allah Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna). His massive manuscript, called the Laws of Medicine, was completed around 1030 AD and translated into Latin in the 12th Century. This encyclopaedia of medicine contained five books detailing the formulation of medicines, diagnosis of disorders, general medicine and detailed therapies. It continued to be a great influence in the development of medicine in medieval Europe for hundreds of years.[42]

However, it must be noted that the Muslim physicians did not invent medicine. They owed a great debt to two Christians in the court of the Caliph Mamun; Yahya ibn Masawayh and his student, Hunain ibn Ishaq who translated Greek medical texts and laid the foundations of Arab medicine.

Development of Medical Science

What is Taught: The first sound approach to the treatment of disease was made by a German, Johann Weger, in the 1500's.

What Should be Taught: Harvard's George Sarton says that modern medicine is entirely an Islamic development and that Setting the Record Straight the Muslim physicians of the 9th through 12th centuries were precise, scientific, rational and sound in their approach. Johann Weger was among thousands of Europeans physicians during the 15th through 17th centuries who were taught the medicine of ar-Razi and Ibn Sina. He contributed nothing original.[1]

The Muslim physicians are generally acknowledged to have made great contributions to medical science, particularly ar-Razi and Ibn Sina. However, while not diminishing their greatness, once again, it must be noted that the foundation of Arab medicine was laid by two Christians; Yahya ibn Masawayh and Hunain ibn Ishaq.

Insane Asylums

What is Taught: Medical treatment for the insane was modernized by Philippe Pinel when in 1793 he operated France's first insane asylum.

What Should be Taught: As early as the 1lth century, Islamic hospitals maintained special wards for the insane. They treated them kindly and presumed their disease was real at a time when the insane were routinely burned alive in Europe as witches and sorcerers. A curative approach was taken for mental illness and, for the first time in history, the mentally ill were treated with supportive care, drugs and psychotherapy. Every major Islamic city maintained an insane asylum where patients were treated at no charge. In fact, the Islamic system for the treatment of the insane excels in comparison to the current model, as it was more humane and was highly effective as well.[1]

There is evidence that the institution of the hospital, including the wards for the insane, was inherited by the Muslims from both the Persians and the Byzantines. Already before the rise of Islam, the hospital at Jundhapur, near the present Persian city of Ahvaz, was a major medical institution which, in addition to the care of patients, medical instruction was carried out on an extensive basis. There were also hospitals established by Byzantines in their eastern provinces such as Syria which became rapidly integrated into the Islamic world.[43][44]

The hospital was first introduced into Islamic societies in the reign of the sixth Ummayid caliph, Al-Walid Bin Abdul-Malik (705 - 715 AD) in Jundishapur, a Persian city in the province of Ahwaz.[45]

The early Islamic hospital, the bimaristan, was "an institution built by Muslim caliphs, sultans and kings and by benevolent persons in general, as an act of charity, such as mosques and hospices. Its function was not restricted to the treatment of the ill; it also served as a place for instruction in the sciences and medicine from which students would graduate much as they do from our modern medical schools today." The term “maristan” is a later abbreviation of the original Persian, bimaristan, meaning "house of the ill."

The commonly held view which prevails to this day was that the bimaristan was an asylum for the insane. This misconception derives from the abbreviation of one of the institution's functions. "Bimaristans were public hospitals for the treatment of all illnesses, whether those requiring surgery or medication, whether physical or mental. With the passage of time, however, these institutions fell into disrepair and were abandoned by all their patients with the exception of the mentally ill. As a result, in recent times the term, if used at all, refers only to a madhouse."[46]


What is Taught: Kerosene was first produced by an Englishman, Abraham Gesner, in 1853. He distilled it from asphalt.

What Should be Taught: Muslim chemists produced kerosene as a distillate from petroleum products over 1,000 years prior to Gesner (see Encyclopaedia Britannica under the heading, Petroleum).[1]

Another one for the apologists.


The real purpose of this article was to re-balance some of these flawed views readers may encounter on other websites and forums which use the works (or derivations thereof) of Dr. K. Ajram. We do think the Muslim scientists in the Golden Age (whether true adherents of Islam or not) did make substantial strides in science and technology, which resulted in a significant contribution to the sum of human knowledge. Scientific accomplishments are often the culmination of accumulated knowledge, rather than lone "miraculous" discoveries by individuals because of their religious and cultural settings. It is a matter of public record that the western scientists who came after the scientists of the Golden Age, e.g. Roger Bacon and Sir Isaac Newton, were aware of their works and also learned from them. However, an analysis of the apologetic claims about their greatness shows some exaggeration. In his haste to exaggerate, Ajram appears to have maligned the contribution of other cultures, downgraded the greatness of non-Muslim scientists, or misappropriated their works.

This analysis also highlights the biggest flaw of the Islamic Golden Age. There were few ‘follow-up’ breakthroughs on the backs of the works of the great Muslim scientists. In effect, the Ummah allowed or encouraged these works to wither on the vine or die stillborn, even before the rise of mysticism at the expense of rational thinking, an event often attributed to al-Ghazzali around the turn of the 12th century. Therefore, Islam is not the cause of scientific progress during the Golden Age. Many people would say that the Golden Age scientific progress was made in spite of Islam, not because of it.

A prime example is the great philosopher-physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) whose work is constantly referenced by Ajram. It is true that Ibn Sina was one of the most influential medieval philosophers, but he was also one of the most frequently attacked. The Sunni Theologians opposed his ideas on the soul and creation. However, it was the aforementioned Algazali (Abu Hamid ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, 1058 - 1111 AD) who was his chief opponent. In "The Incoherence of Philosophers", al-Ghazzali attacked Ibn Sina's Neoplatonic tendency to reject Allah's power over the events of the world, his disbelief in bodily resurrection, and his belief that Allah only knew the world of universals, (i.e. dog, tree, rational animality) not the individual self. He even used pig products in his scientific endeavours, [47] something that is certainly not in-line with pious Muslim behavior. Today, unless propagating Islam as an incubator of science, some Muslims consider Avicenna to have been an atheist.[48] No doubt many of the other great Islamic scientists would also be classed as heretical apostates for their beliefs.[49]

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Propaganda which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

  • Refutations - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Refutations
  • Golden Age - A hub page that leads to other articles related to the "Golden Age"

External Links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 1.37 1.38 1.39 1.40 K. Ajram - The Miracle of Islamic Science - p. 200. ISBN 0911119434
  2. Origin of kite - Weifang Kite, accessed April 18, 2011
  3. Mirrors in Egypt (Old Kingdom - Roman Period) - Digital Egypt for Universities, accessed April 18, 2011
  4. The Prehistoric Era: 469 BC - 1300 AD - The History of Computing Project, accessed April 18, 2011
  5. Time Bandit…a brief history of time - Labyrinth, accessed April 18, 2011
  6. Clock - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.
  7. Pendulum Scrying - Paralumun, New Age Village, accessed April 18, 2011
  8. Pope Silvester II - Saint Joseph Software, accessed April 18, 2011
  9. Memory of the World - Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol (vol.II) - UNESCO, ID No. 22954
  10. Jikji - Wikipedia, accessed April 18, 2011
  11. Optics Highlights I. Ancient History - University of Maryland, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, accessed April 18, 2011
  12. Arab Scientist Alhazen 'Discovers' the Rainbow - UGCS, California Institute of Technology, accessed April 18, 2011
  13. John J O'Connor and Edmund F Robertson - Abu Arrayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni - University of St Andrews, Scotland, accessed April 18, 2011
  14. Themes > Science > Mathematics > Trigonometry > History - Cartage, accessed January 9, 2013
  15. Joseph Hunt - The Beginnings of Trigonometry: History of Mathematics - Rutgers, Spring 2000
  16. Earliest Uses of Symbols for Fractions - History of Mathematics, March 4, 2004
  17. Sadegh Hedayat, the greatest Persian novelist and short-story writer of the twentieth century was at pains to point out that Khayyám from "his youth to his death remained a materialist, pessimist, agnostic". "Khayyam looked at all religions questions with a skeptical eye", continues Hedayat, "and hated the fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, and the spirit of vengeance of the mullas, the so-called religious scholars".
  18. "....A hostile orthodox account of him, written in the thirteenth century, represents him as "versed in all the wisdom of the Greeks," and as wont to insist on the necessity of studying science on Greek lines. Of his prose works, two, which were stand authority, dealt respectively with precious stones and climatology. Beyond question the poet-astronomer was undevout; and his astronomy doubtless helped to make him so. One contemporary writes: "I did not observe that he had any great belief in astrological predictions; nor have I seen or heard of any of the great (scientists) who had such belief." In point of fact he was not, any more than Abu';-Ala, a convinced atheist, but he had no sympathy with popular religion. "He gave his adherence to no religious sect. Agnosticism, not faith, is the keynote of his works." Among the sects he saw everywhere strife and hatred in which he could have no part...." - Robertson (1914). "Freethought under Islam". A Short History of Freethough, Ancient and Modern Volume I (Elibron Classics). Watts & Co., London. pp. 263. ISBN 0543851907.
  19. Famous Indian Mathematicians Biography - iCBSE, September 2008
  20. Al-Sabi Thabit ibn Qurra al-Harrani - The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive (University of St Andrews), November 1999
  21. Yuval Ne'eman - Astronomy in Israel: From Og's Circle to the Wise Observatory - Tel-Aviv University, accessed January 10, 2013
  22. Andreu Llobera Adan - Integrated Optics Technology on Silicon: Optical Transducers. PDF - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Departament de Física), October 24, 2002, ISBN 8468810037
  23. Adding Firepower with the Invention of Gunpowder -
  24. Mary Bellis - The Compass and other Magnetic Innovations - (Inventors), accessed January 10, 2013
  25. History of Magnetics - University of Washington (School of Oceanography), archived December 4, 2010
  26. Four Great Inventions of Ancient China - the Compass - Windham Central Supervisory Union, archived March 11, 2005
  27. "Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, "Listen and obey (your chief) even if an Ethiopian whose head is like a raisin were made your chief." - Sahih Bukhari 9:89:256
  28. Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd. p.510
  29. Romeny, Bas ter Haar, Ed. Jacob of Edessa and the Syriac Culture of His Day Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. 2008. p.224
  30. Rana, Lalita (2008). Geographical thought. Concept Publishing Company. pp.73-74
  31. Gervase of Tilbury, Otia Imperialia. (Oxford Medieval Texts), Oxford, 2002, p. xxxiv.
  32. Beatus of Liébana, "The Beatus Maps" (archived), 
  33. Driver, Christopher (19 November 1988). "World time forgot: the 13th-century world map up for sale is not the only neglected treasure of Hereford Cathedral". The Guardian.
  34. See, "Technical Arts Related To Alchemy in Old Egypt" edited by Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead.
  35. Gaston Wiet (Author), S. Feiler (Translator) - Baghdad: Metropolis of the Abbasid Caliphate (Centers of Civilization) - University of Oklahoma Press; 1st edition (Chapter 5), 1971, ISBN 9780806109220
  36. Donald W. Davis, Randall A. Detro - Fire and Brimstone The History of Melting Louisiana’s Sulphur - Louisiana Geological Survey, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 1992
  37. 37.0 37.1 Who Invented It? When? Chinese Inventions: An Introductory Activity - Ask Asia, archived December 16, 2004
  38. Ancient Physicians - Innvista Library, accessed January 10, 2013
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Ancient Egyptian Medicine - Pharaonic Egypt, archived March 11, 2009
  40. India - the cradle of civilization
  41. John D. Keyser - Ancient Bible Health Secrets Revealed Today - Hope of Israel Ministries, accessed January 10, 2013
  42. History of Medicine - School Science, archived October 11, 2004
  43. Seyyed Hossein Nasr - Islamic Science, an illustrated study - Kazi Publications, 2007, p.154, ISBN 9781567443127
  44. Byzantine medicine/ Hospitals - Wikipedia, accessed April 18, 2011
  45. Ilene Springer - The Invention of the Hospital A Credit to Islamic Medieval Medicine - Tour Egypt, accessed April 18, 2011
  46. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk (Head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre) - Hospitals of yore - Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 18-24 April 2002, Issue No.582
  47. Professor David J. Leaper - Wound Closure Basic Techniques, Scientific paper presented at EWMA Stockholm 2000 - The European Wound Management Association
  48. Claims about Ibn Sina being an atheist or Kafir - Islam Web, Fatwa No. 87783, May 20, 2004
  49. For proof of this, refer to the mainstream Muslim views and treatment of the Ahmadis and Baha'is.