Islamic Science Exhibition
By Dr Khan Dawood L. Khan
Chicago, IL

An exhibition, “The Golden Age of Arabic Sciences,” has been organized at the Institute of Arab World in Paris, France. It has about 200 specimens on display that document Muslim contributions to sciences. The exhibition is to continue till 19 March.
There is report on it (‘A Culture of Knowledge’ by Pete Jeffs) in the February 2 issue of the British journal, ‘Nature’ (Vol. 439: page 536), describing how the people who produced “exquisite manuscripts, developed experimental sciences and added new disciplines to those of classical world,” extended the existing know ledge, and turned “theory into practice.”
The exhibition includes specimens showing how, e.g., (i) the optics of Ibn-al-Haytham (965-1040 AD) paved the way for experimental research in Physics; (ii) al-Khwarizmi (the father of Algebra) used the mathematics, in 830 AD, to calculate inheritance, conduct commerce and build canals; and (iii) Paper that was beginning to replace papyrus, was first produced industrially in Samarkhand, and later in Baghdad. It seems about 4 million individual Arabic writings from the 8th century onward are now in the libraries around in the world.
One of the objects on display is a planispheric astrolabe from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection. There is also a beautifully illustrated copy (in Arabic) of Herbal by Pedanius Dioscorides, the Greek surgeon/physician, pharmacologist and botanist who worked in Rome during Nero’s reign. He was the one who wrote De Materia Medica (5 volumes), perhaps the most respected herbal medicine book that was in use until 1600. De Materia Medica pre-dates the modern Pharmacopeias. Some illustrated manuscripts of the Materia Medica from 5th through 7th centuries have survived, some with additions from Arabic sources. See the Figure for one housed in the Brtitish Museum.
Arabs used growing knowledge from different disciplines to build hospitals, observatories and libraries, starting with ‘Bayt-al-Hikma’ (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad around 800 AD. Scholars wrote about their work, translated work by others, traveled around and corresponded with others in their own and other disciplines. Their work was stored in thousands of private and public libraries.
The ‘Nature’ report also mentions that “The Koran, incidentally, encouraged scientific activity.”
The exhibition starts with a map that identifies cities and places associated with Islamic science.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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