Arab historic personalities in science

ArabicNews, 26 May 1998

Arab philosophers effectively integrated faith and scientific facts, letting one exist within the framework of the other. The Arab philosophers after Byzantium rediscovered the classic philosophy of Aristotle, and Plato in attempting to find answers to the fundamental questions concerning God's creation of the universe, the nature and destiny of the human soul, and the true existence of the seen and the unseen.

Among the well-known philosophers of the Medieval world were al-Kindi, who contributed to the work of Plato and Aristotle; al-Farabi, who made a model of man's community; Avicenna (Ibn Sina), who developed theories on form and matters that were incorporated into medieval Christian Scholasticism; and Ibn Khaldoun, who expounded the cycles of state in his Muqqadimah (Introduction).

Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who sought the meaning of existence, provided Europe with its greatest understanding of Aristotle and influenced European philosophy more than any other Arab philosopher. He was called the soul and intelligence of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas, learning heavily of the philosophy of Averroes, became Christendom's learning expert on Arab doctrines, according to a modern analysis.

Moreover, Arab contributions to philosophy are part and parcel of ancient civilization's contributions—Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Byzantine, Canaanite and Egyptian. In government and law, one refers to Hammurabi (Babylonian), Ulpian and Papinian (Phoenicians).

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Arabs to human civilization has been the phonetic alphabet. In all aspects of the daily life, universities, philosophy, science and arts, the world is indebted to Arab creativity, insight and scientific perseverance.

The Arabs established the first apothecary shops and wrote the first pharmacopoeia. Baghdad had at one time as many as eight hundred sixty two registered pharmacists, all of whom had passed formal examinations. On the orders of a wide-awake vizir (minister), traveling clinics with adequate supplies of drugs toured the countryside, and others paid regular visits to the jails. A central hospital was established in Baghdad by order of Haroun al-Rashid himself, the first of thirty four hospitals throughout the Muslim world, many of them with special wards for women.

Among the physicians was Ali al-Tabari, whose distinguished pupil was al-Razi, known in history as Rhazes. Being commissioned to select a site for a hospital in Baghdad, Razi hung strips of meat on poles in various quarters of the city and selected the site where the meat had given the least evidence of decay. He was a prolific writer, one of his works being a book on alchemy which was translated into Latin and had a great vogue in Europe and was quoted by Roger Bacon. Another of his substantial contributions was a treatise on smallpox and measles.