From the first revelation of the Message of Islam, knowledge was seen as a central facet of the faith of Muslims. The Holy Qur’an encouraged believers to reflect upon the purpose and meaning of life and inspired them to embark upon journeys of search and quest in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the mysteries of Allah’s creation.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) reminded Muslims that the search for knowledge was an obligatory duty upon them, even if it meant travelling as far as China to acquire it. In the same spirit, Imam Ali highlighted the pre-eminence of the intellect, explaining that the sum of human knowledge increases the more it is shared.
As Muslims reflected upon these ideals, they were inspired to pursue excellence in all fields of endeavour such that today, the modern world is indebted to the Muslim scientists, physicians, mathematicians, and philosophers whose hunger for knowledge in their own time led them to push the boundaries of invention, extend the frontiers of scientific thought, and expand the breadth and depth of human knowledge.
Soon, from Baghdad to Bukhara, and Cordoba to Cairo, historic Muslim civilisations became centres of learning in fields such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and physics.
A major figure to have impacted the modern world, was the famous mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, from whose name we derive the word “algorithm”. Everyday calculations and web-searches we take for granted in our day-to-day lives are linked back to this great ninth-century thinker, and it is because of his work that the Indian numerals one to nine as well as zero were introduced into Arabic. The invention of algebra has also been credited to al-Khwarizmi. He described the usefulness of this mathematical formulae in solving problems of land division and the scriptural guidelines around inheritance.
The famous Ibn Sina — known in the Latin world as Avicenna — also became one of the most prominent scientist-philosophers and physicists of the ninth-century. From an early age, he had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a desire for learning in all fields. This inspired him to embark on a lifelong journey of search. As a child prodigy from an early age, Ibn Sina surpassed many of his teachers and in later life, his famous Canon of Medicine — a vast survey of the science in medical fields — served as the standard textbook on medicine for centuries in the Islamic world as well as in Europe.
In striving to learn more about Allah’s creation, the notable female astronomer Mariam al-Ijliya and others advanced and fine-tuned Greek instruments such as the astrolabe in 10th-century Syria. The astrolabe helped to establish time, measured the movement of planets and stars, and determined position when travelling, thus making a significant contribution to what would later become known as space science.
The 11th-century scientist Hasan Ibn al-Haytham spent much of his time in the Fatimid capital of Cairo, and was an early proponent of the scientific method, or the concept of proving a hypothesis based on experimentation and verifiable evidence. In a crucial development, al-Haytham was the first to explain the theory of vision, which occurs when light bounces off an object and then to the eye. This finding paved the way for the modern science of optics.
In exercising the human intellect as an act of search in the path of faith, the great Muslim intellectuals and scholars of the Muslim world serve as a reminder of the rich heritage of learning and quest which eventually contributed towards the flourishing of global civilisation, particularly in the field of science.
During the month of November, The.Ismaili will celebrate the theme of science and technology by exploring how Jamats around the world are continuing the tradition of innovation and participating in developments at the forefront of science and technology.