Muslim Contributions to Science


25 Jan 2014

History of Science, Mathematics

Timothy Winters / Abdal Hakim Murad

In this segment from a lecture series (original date and location not given), Timothy Winter, also known as Abdal Hakim Murad, presents some of the major scientific scholars of the 9th-13 centuries.  He discusses some of the social context for the science, including the workings of waqf/awqāf, which were connected to the development of hospitals.  This is a fairly detailed lecture; Winter provides both the Arabic and Latinized spellings for many names and titles, as well as noting non-Muslims active within the Islamic sphere, especially Nestorian Christians who were active as physicians.  He emphasizes that this was not merely handing off Greek materials through translation, but a substantial development of fields and ideas, which, while absorbed and transformed in Europe, also continued to develop separately within the Islamic world.

Because this is part of a series of lectures, some of the context, especially about caliphs, is covered elsewhere; here they largely are only named.  It seems that most of the people named are those whose works became well known in Europe.

People mentioned: 

al-Maʿmūn (r. 813-833), Hunayn b. Isḥaq, Galen, Plato, al-Khwarizmi (d. ca. 850), Ptolemy, Jabir b. Aflah (Geber), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), al-Batani, Ibn Badishur, al-Rāzī (Rhazes), Ibn Sina (d. 1037), al-Zahawri, Ibn al-Baytar.  Dates for most individuals are not given in the video.

Topics mentioned: 

Flexibility of early Muslims, openness to other cultures/civilizations, Bait al-Hikma/House of Wisdom, role of Syriac translators, Baghdad, medicine as a practical science, astronomy and its association with both mathematics and geography, astronomical tables (zij) spherical geometry, Arabic/ Indian/ Roman/ Byzantine numbering systems, optics and its use in calculating the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere, Nestorian Christians from Gondeshapur and early medicine, use of waqf to provide funds for institutions in perpetuity, hospitals in Cairo in the 13th century, development of a medical canon, alchemy and Ibn Sina’s discrediting of the transmutation of elements.


There is little about Islam as a religion; this is largely about the Islamicate cultural sphere.  What material on Islam is included is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable.

There are relatively few details about the science provided other than basic overviews, but what there is conforms with contemporary understandings of the sciences of the period.

Although Winter’s point seems not to be Eurocentric, most of the dates included here are about connections with Europe rather than within the Islamic world or focused on the lifetimes of individuals.  It may be the dates within the Islamic world are covered more thoroughly in other parts of the lecture series.  Those using this video will want to look up the dates and locations of people mentioned to help place them in time and space.