The contributions of Muslim scientists during the medieval period have been largely overlooked. Incredible advances were made in the fields of medicine, engineering, astronomy, and agriculture, among others. Geniuses in cities like Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, and Cordoba took on the ancient works of Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Greece, India, and China, developing what we know today as modern science.
The 1001 Inventions exhibit at the Science Museum in London sheds light on this forgotten age. Here are six exhibits from the exhibit that showcase some of the incredible advancements of the Muslim world:
- Elephant clock This three-metre high water clock was one of the engineering marvels of the medieval world. Built by al-Jazari, the clock features an Indian elephant, Chinese dragons, an Egyptian phoenix, a Greek water mechanism, and traditional Arabian wooden robots. The timing mechanism is based on a water-filled bucket hidden inside the elephant.
- Camera obscura The greatest scientist of the medieval world was Ibn al-Haytham. He used the Chinese invention of the camera obscura to show how light travels in straight lines from an object to form an inverted image on the retina.
- Al-Idrisi’s world map This reproduction of a famous 12th-century map by the Andalusian cartographer, Al-Idrisi, was produced in Sicily and is regarded as the most elaborate and complete description of the world made in medieval times. It contained detailed descriptions of the Christian north, the Islamic world, Africa, and the Far East.
- Banu Musa brothers’ “ingenious devices” This ninth-century illustrated work featured automata, puzzles, and magic tricks, as well as what we would today refer to as “executive toys.”
- Al-Zahrawi’s surgical instruments This array of instruments shows the sort of tools used by the 10th-century surgeon al-Zahrawi, who practised in Cordoba. His work was hugely influential in Europe and many of his instruments are still in use today.
- Ibn Firnas’ flying contraption Abbas Ibn Firnas was a legendary ninth-century inventor who attempted controlled flight when he built a rudimentary hang glider and launched himself from the side of a mountain. Some accounts claim he remained airborne for several minutes before landing badly and hurting his back.
Although there is no such thing as Islamic science, Muslim scientists articulated that science is universal, the common language of the human race. The incredible scientific advances of the Muslim world during the medieval period were dictated by culture, political will, and economic wealth. These six exhibits showcase the genius of Muslim scientists during this forgotten age.