5 scholars you need to know from the Islamic Golden Age

They don’t make them like they used to”

The above is a famous english idiom that perfectly characterizes the following scholars and (pre-)Renaissance men. Leonardo DaVinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Aristotle would be proud, maybe even humbled, to stand alongside each one of these 5 scholars that you need to know from the Islamic Golden Age. 


These truly gifted individuals were often not just experts in one scientific, philosophical, or judicial discipline but were masters of many. It was relatively commonplace to be a man of mathematics and medicine while dabbling in physics or chemistry because why not, right?! Perhaps merely coincidental but it should be noted that each one of these learned, revered men is always depicted sporting a long, flowing full beard...hmmm :)  


  • Ibn Sina/Avicenna 
  • Birth Name: Abu Ali Sina; Anglicized to Avicenna; AKA “the most influential philosopher of the pre-modern era”  

    Born in present-day Uzbekistan in 980, Ibn Sina was a Persian Muslim polymath and is widely considered to be one of history’s most influential physicians, astronomers, thinkers, writers, and the father of modern medicine (whew, get used to it!). 


    His encyclopedias “The Book of Healing” and “The Canon of Medicine” (1025) were core medical texts at many medieval universities and in use as late as 1650.  


  • Ibn Rushd/Averroes
  • Birth Name: Abdul Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rusd; Anglicized to Averroes; AKA The Commentator

    Born in Cordoba, present-day Spain in 1162, Ibn Rushd was an Aristotelian philosopher and thinker who wrote about various disciplines including philosophy, theology, medicine, astronomy, physics, law, and linguistics. 


    Born to a family of judges, Ibn Rushd also served as a judge and court physician in the Almohad caliphate. His in-depth writings on Aristotle’s philosophies and teachings gained enough prominence that they became a sub-philosophy and school of thought called Averroism. 


  • Ibn al-Haytham/Alhazen
  • Birth Name: Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham; Anglicized to Alhazen; AKA "the father of modern optics", "Second Ptolemy", and "The Physicist".

    Born in Basra, Iraq in 965, Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. 


    His most significant publication is Kitab al-Manazir (“Book of Optics”) so it should come as no surprise that ibn al-Haytham’s scientific specialties were related to the principles of optics and visual perception. He was the first to explain that vision is a product of light reflecting off an object and passing into the eyes. He was also the first to note that vision occurs in the brain, not the eyes. Further, he was an early proponent of the scientific method five centuries before  Renaissance scientists.


  • Ibn al-Nafis
  • Birth Name: Ala-al-din abu Al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi; AKA "the father of circulatory physiology" 

    Born in Cordoba, present-day Spain in 1162, Ibn al-Nafis was an Arab physician and anatomist from Damascus and is famous for being the first to describe the pulmonary circulation of the blood. Aside from medicine, Ibn al-Nafis studied jurisprudence, literature, and theology; he was also an expert on the Shafi'i school of jurisprudence. 


    Ibn al-Nafis made several important physiological and anatomical discoveries as he performed several human dissections during the course of his studies. Apart from his famous discovery of the pulmonary circulation, he also gave an early analysis of the coronary and capillary circulations. The number of medical textbooks written by Ibn al-Nafis is estimated to be over 110 volumes.


  • Banu Musa ("Sons of Moses") Brothers
  • Birth Names: Muḥammad ibn Musa ibn Shakir Abu Jafar, Aḥmad ibn Musa ibn Shakir Abu Al-Qasim, and Al-Ḥasan ibn Musa ibn Shakir.

    Raised in the House of Wisdom, Baghdad, Iraq in the 9th century, the Banu Musa brothers were a trio of scientific siblings most known for their “Book of Ingenious Devices” which described inventions, hacks, and contraptions that relied on automation and engineering ingenuity.


    Another publication of theirs, “Book on the Measurement of Place and Spherical Figures” became a foundational work on geometry that was frequently quoted by mathematicians across the world. Studying in the House of Wisdom under Yahya ibn Abi Mansur, the Banu Musa brothers translated ancient Greek works into Arabic. At first, they paid large sums for translations but soon learned Greek themselves. The brothers sponsored numerous scientists and translators, paying about 500 dinars a month as a stipend. Had the brothers' not exerted so much effort, many of the Greek texts would have been lost and forgotten.

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