Saudi Aramco World : Rediscovering Arabic Sciencehttp://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200703/rediscovering.arabic.science.htm[26/07/2012 9:15:19 a.m.]
illustration from a 16th-century Ottomanmanuscript.
The 10th-centuryastronomer Abu Sa’id al-Sizji held thecontemporary view that the Earth was the centerof the universe, but he modeled the solar systemon the concept that the Earth rotated on its axis —as shown in this display at the Institute for theHistory of Arab–Islamic Science in Frankfurt.
The earliest known medical description of theeye, from a ninth-century work by Hunayn ibnIshaq, is shown in this copy of a 12th-centurymanuscript at the Institute.
like this; why hang something on our noses tosee better?” he jokes, placing his glassesback on his nose with a flourish. His audienceerupts into laughter as Djebbar, who wascurator of “The Golden Age of ArabicSciences”—the Paris exhibition, which ranfrom October 2005 through March 2006 atthe Arab World Institute—tries to quiet themdown.For most westerners, and indeed for manyArabs, the spectacular achievements of Arabic-language science from the eighththrough the 16th centuries come as a startlingdiscovery, as if an unknown continent hadsuddenly appeared on the horizon. Inmathematics, astronomy, medicine, optics,cartography, evolutionary theory, physics andchemistry, medieval Arab and Muslim scientists, scholars, doctors and mapmakers werecenturies ahead of Europe. Centers for scientific research and experimentation emergedacross Muslim lands—in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Samarkand, Shiraz, Bukhara,Isfahan, Toledo, Córdoba, Granada and Istanbul.Generations of science historians once rejected Islamic accomplishments. One critic,the French physicist Pierre Duhem, even accused Muslims of trying to destroy classicalscience in his 1914–1916 historic survey
Le Système du Monde (The System of theWorld).
Others asserted that the Arabic language itself was not suited for science,contends Roshdi Rashed, the dean of Islamic science in France. “Otherwise well-respected scholars like Ernest Renan and Paul Tannery excluded even the possibility of an Arabic contribution to science,” says Rashed, a former fellow at the Institute forAdvanced Studies in Princeton, professor emeritus at the University of Paris and editorof the three-volume
Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science.
Although an alternative spectrum of sciencehistorians, beginning with the 19th-centuryEuropean Orientalists Jean-Jacques Sédillotand Eilhard Wiedemann and including the20th-century Harvard professor GeorgeSarton, staunchly promoted the pivotalArab/Muslim role in science, the generalpublic has remained largely unaware of Arabdiscoveries. The 1300-year period between