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Contribution of Arabs in Science and Math

Jan 06, 2015

Do you know who popularized the use of zero or ‘sifr’ in math? Have you ever wondered who created the numerals which we use regularly? Or, the decimal system? And, the highly polished trigonometry? Well, you must be grateful to the Arabs for all these fantastic mathematical discoveries! Not only math. One can’t ignore the immense contribution of Arabs to science as well – be it medical science, earth science or engineering.

The Arabs eagerly enriched these fields, gifting a new life to the human civilization. Just imagine, how would we survive today without all those Arabic numerals? Or those effectual herbal remedies like rosemary oil, anise, camphor or nutmeg which first made their way into the Middle Eastern pharmacies? The truth is, you can’t even dream of a life sans these essential elements.

Let us have a closer look at the different inputs of Arabs, in the fields of science and math, in the following paragraphs:

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Contribution to Medical Science

You will be amazed to learn about how the Arabs refined the medical sciences of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Various renowned scientists and medical practitioners of the Arab world unearthed several healing therapies and treatments – which didn’t exist before.

  • Diagnosis of Measles and Smallpox: The first person in the world who diagnosed measles and smallpox was an ancient medical expert from Arab, known as Al-Razi. He belonged to the ninth century and had a great command on ‘human contagion’. It was Al-Razi who discovered that these two diseases were associated with human contamination. ‘Kitab al-Mansuri’ is one of his famous medical volumes, which contain medical surveys. Let me tell you, this medical journal was frequently utilized by physicians in Europe for quite some time, at least till the sixteenth century. He was the first doctor who started using animal gut in suturing techniques.
  • Diagnosis of Mental Ailments: Ibn Sina, a medieval Arab philosopher and mental-health specialist made a phenomenal achievement in psychological health. This notable psychotherapist continues to inspire modern-day psychiatrists. Recognized as ‘Avicenna’ in Europe, this scientist had found that there were certain maladies which were psychological. And, to treat mental patients, he encouraged them to recollect incidents seated in their subconscious mind. This automatically detected the cause of their current mental disorders. Avicenna was a much learned medical scholar too. For, he had written an encyclopedia of medicine, in five books, which was referred to as ‘The Canon of Medicine’. It was widely used in Europe for a long time.
  • Use of Anesthetics: Yes, that’s true! The Arabs were probably the first people to use anesthetics while performing complex medical surgeries. They used to take part in different types of human surgeries, which were quite rare and risky in those ancient medieval ages. However, the Arabs were particularly skilled in performing surgeries of the eye. Nobody could beat them in eye operations, even in the olden days. There are numerable medical books on anesthetics and their effects, compiled by Arabic physicians and medical experts.
  • Use of Herbal Medicines: The Arabs were also known for their fondness of unique herbal medical solutions. Rosewater, cloves, myrrh, juleps, camphor, basil, nutmeg, thyme, cinnamon, anise, rosemary, coriander, fennel, etc. were all stocked inside the local pharmacies of the Arab world. Arab medical practitioners often prescribed these herbal medicines to patients suffering from ailments which worked wonders for them. This is how this kind of medical treatment gradually grew popular amongst the masses, and was later adopted in other nations.

Now, that was not all. When the Great Plague devastated the planet, only two Arab medical experts realized that they were caused by contagion. These two people were Ibn Khatima of Granada and Ibn Khatib. Another Arab, al-Maglusi, had presented a basic concept of the capillary system, in his journal ‘Kitabu’l Maliki’. The principles of pulmonary circulation were discovered by Ibn al-Nafis, yet another Arab healer of great repute.

Contribution to Astronomy

Just like the medical sciences, the Arabs were equally competent in earth sciences, or astronomy. Arabic astronomers belonging to the Middle Ages were skilled enough to create astronomical charts, similar to those existent in Maragha and Palmyra. They manufactured the astrolabe carefully and made certain improvements to it, strictly adhering to religious principles. The astrolabe was utilized to record the exact timings of sunsets and sunrises, apart from identifying the fasting days during Ramadan. This instrument was also used by the Arabs to find the lengths of latitudes and longitudes.

Arabs were even capable of detecting the length of a degree, check and compare the speed of light and sound. The theory of the planet earth rotating on its own axis was also put forward by a noted Arab scholar-scientist called Al-Biruni. It’s interesting to know that Galileo had proved this very statement, about six centuries later! Al-Zarqali, Al-Fezari and Al-Farghani were amongst the other distinguished Arab astronomers who improved the works of Ptolemy, particularly in in tracing the zodiac and developing the magnetic compass.

Contribution to Other Fields of Sciences

The Arabs were proficient in other sectors of science, including engineering and optical sciences. Did you know they were the ones who had first started using the water clock? In addition, they had also developed the foundation for telescopes and microscopes. Isn’t it fascinating, dear friends?

  • Engineering: You name it, and the Arabs have contributed to it! Water wells, irrigation systems, water clock, cisterns and water wheels have all been devised by the people of the Middle East. You can obtain information about as many as hundred technical constructions in Musa ibn Shakir’s ‘Book on Artifices’.
  • Optics and Light Reflection: Al-Kindi, an ancient philosopher conveyed his ideas on optics, tides and light reflection. ‘Kitab Al Manazir’ was another book which had been written on the camera obscura, optical illusions and the rainbow, by Al-Haytham. He was the first person to establish the basic framework of instruments like microscope and telescope.

Contribution to Math

Math would be such a complicated puzzle without the sifr, or Arabic zero. And, no doubt, the Arabic numeral has added to the Hindu concepts of mathematics – enhancing it in the process. ‘Algebra’ was invented by Arab math scholars, who are also responsible for the developments in trigonometry. Al-Khwarizmi was the man who had founded algebra, followed by several other math experts who developed the concept further.

The decimal system was also developed by the Arabs, which enabled the simplification of science in various ways. You will be surprised to learn the impact of the Arab scientists on math studies in the universities of Europe, as revealed by Master Jacob of Florence or Leonardo da Vinci.

Modern science and math owe a lot to these ancient and medieval Arab scientists, who paved the way for development in there spheres. Rather, I should say, modern civilization must thank the Arabs for their gigantic contribution to its progress! It gives me shudders to imagine our plight, had the Arabs not been so intelligent.

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