D. Optics - Study of Light and Vision

Islamic Science and Math (continued)


D. Optics - Study of Light and Vision

1. Egyptians were already making glass in 3500 BCE, although it was not perfectly transparent. A number of Greek and Roman references from about 200 BCE cite the usefulness of curved glass lenses in starting fires.

From Dr. Zahoor's site.

The Islamic Empire, through its massive work of translating Greek and Roman texts into Arabic, learned about the manufacture of glass lenses. Islamic scientist Ibn Sahl (984) developed the first accurate theory of refraction of light. He gave Islamic science the understanding needed to develop all the optical tools and theories later developed in 17th century Europe.

2. Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (965 - 1040 C.E.) was known in Europe as Alhazen. He studied the human eye and describe how we see. His Book of Optics recognized that sight is visual images entering the eye, made perceptible by adequate light.

Read more about Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham who is considered the father of modern optics.



E. Advances in Medicine: Another important area of translation was medicine. One of its most famous scholars was Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Joanitius) who eventually translated the entire set of Greek medical books into Arabic, including the Hippocratic Oath. Later as a director of the House of Wisdom, he also wrote at least twenty-nine original works of his own on medicine and a collection of ten essays on ophthalmology (the study of the eye) which covered the anatomy and physiology of the eye and the treatment of various diseases which affect vision. His book was the first known medical work to include anatomical drawings (pictures showing parts of the body), the book was translated into Latin and for centuries was used in both European and Middle Eastern universities.

Other important medical scientists were al-Razi (Rhazes) who was a giant of medical wisdom during the Islamic era.

1. Hospitals:

While European "hospitals" at this time were usually simply monasteries where the sick were told they would live or die according to God's will, not human intervention, Muslim hospitals pioneered the practices of diagnosis, cure, and future prevention.

The first hospital in the Islamic world was built in Damascus in 707, and soon most major Islamic cities had hospitals, in which hygiene was emphasized and healing was a priority. Hospitals were open 24 hours a day, and many doctors did not charge for their services. Later, a central hospital was established in Baghdad by order of the Abbasid ruler, the first of thirty-four hospitals throughout the Muslim world, many of them with special wards for women.

Traveling clinics with adequate supplies of drugs toured the countryside, and others paid regular visits to the jails.

2. Medical Schools:

The medical school at the University of Jundishapur, once the capital of Sassanid Persia, became the largest in the Islamic world by the 9th century. Its location in Central Asia allowed it to incorporate medical practices from Greece, China, and India, as well as developing new techniques and theories.

3. Famous Doctors

a.) Al-Razi, a 9th century Persian physician, made the first major Muslim contribution to medicine when he developed treatments for smallpox and measles. He also made significant observations about hay fever, kidney stones, and scabies, and first used opium as an anesthetic.

b.) Ibn Sina was one of the greatest physicians in the world, with his most famous book used in European medical schools for centuries. He is credited with discovering the contagious nature of diseases like tuberculosis, which he correctly concluded could be transmitted through the air, and led to the introduction of quarantine as a means of limiting the spread of such infectious diseases.

c.) In the 10th century, Al-Zahravi first conducted surgery for the eye, ear, and throat, as well as performing amputations and cauterizations. He also invented several surgical instruments, including those for the inner ear and the throat.

d.) Other Muslim physicians accurately diagnosed the plague, diphtheria, leprosy, rabies, diabetes, gout, epilepsy, and hemophilia long before the rest of the world.


4. Muslims also made advancements in the field of pharmacology (the study of drugs and medicines). They experimented with the medical effects of various herbs and other drugs, and familiarized themselves with anesthetics (germ killers) used in India. The Arabs established the first drugstores and wrote the first encyclopedias of drugs and medicines. Baghdad had at one time as many as eight hundred sixty two registered pharmacists, all of whom had passed formal examinations.


Learn more about Contributions of Muslim Scientists:


For more information on medical sciences, see our own webpage:

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