10 great Muslim innovators and thinkers in history

By Sameed Khan

TMO Contributing Writer


  1. Al-Khawarizmi
Al Khawarizmi

Al Khawarizmi


Likely the greatest mathematician of the Islamic Golden Age, Al-Khawarizmi made a number of significant contributions to our understanding of the world today, including: inventing algebra, introducing Arabic numerals and astronomy to the Western world, and creating the most accurate world map of its time. His greatest work is al-Kit?b al-mukhta?ar f? ?is?b al-jabr wal-muq?bala, which translates to “The Compendious Book on Completion and Balancing”, where he invented the idea of using variables to find quantities one didn’t know for purposes like zakat calculation and inheritance distribution.


  1. Ibn Al-Haytham
Ibn al Haytham

Ibn al Haytham


Latinized as Alhacen, this prominent engineer/philosopher/mathematician lived during the latter half of the 10th century. His work on optics was revolutionary for its time; he turned the traditional Greek theory upside down when he deduced that the eyes received light from the environment instead of emitting light to scan the environment. He went on to also discover that curved surfaces could focus light and created the first “reading stones” – magnifying glasses. His book, Kitab-al-Manazir contained a complete description of the laws of reflection and a highly detailed investigation of refraction.


  1. Abu al Qasim al Zahrawi
Abu al Qasim al Zahrawi

Abu al Qasim al Zahrawi


Abu-al-Qasim was a resident of Andalus in the later part of the 10th century. His greatest work was a massive volume titled  Al-Tasrif li-man ‘ajaza ‘an al-ta’lif, a gigantic compendium divided into 30 books, called maqalat. His was the first illustrated book on surgical technique and practice, and was used as the primary textbook for learning medicine well into the 16th century in Europe. Within it, he described the symptomatology of over 325 diseases and illustrated over 200 surgical procedures, even discovering a “hemorrhagic disease transmitted by unaffected women to their male children”, a disease we know today as hemophilia.


  1. Hasan al Jazari
Al Jazari

Hasan Al Jazari


Hasan-al-Jazari was a brilliant mechanical engineer born during the late 6th century in Mesopotamia. His works described a vast number of machines and devices which represented probably the first ever practical application of mechanics on such a scale. He engineered devices ranging from water clocks to blood-measuring devices to highly efficient water pumps. His invention of the crank, converting rotational motion to linear motion, and allowing extremely heavy objects to be lifted with little effort was used for hundreds of years after his death and is still used today in devices such as bicycles.


  1. Al Kindi
Al Kindi

Al Kindi


Living in the 9th century, Al-Kindi is hailed as the father of Islamic philosophy. Born in Basra and educated in Baghdad he went on to invent many famous works, and was highly advanced for his time. He opposed alchemy, claiming that metals could never be turned into gold, and invented the first method of cryptanalysis and code breaking: frequency analysis. He deduced that one could find out how frequently certain letters or groups of letters appeared in a cryptogram and match that to the frequencies of commonly known letters in the native language. (For example, the most commonly used English letter is “S”. Therefore, the most commonly used letter in the cryptogram would match to “S”). In addition to this, he was the first to create a device for distilling alcohol, known today as the “Alkindus Distiller”


  1. Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina

Ibn Sina


Known as Avicenna to the West, Ibn Sina was born in 980 in a town in modern-day Uzbekistan. His contributions range from medicine to theology to philosophy. He was the first to break some ground on Newton’s First Law, correctly deducing that an object thrown in a vacuum would never stop moving, and theorized that objects move because of a force, or “inclination” exerted on them. He also created a valid theory of momentum and a method of scientific inquiry. His five-volume textbook, translated as The Book of Healing was used as the primary textbook by the Islamic world and Europe all the way up to the 18th century.


  1. Al Battani
Al Battani

Al Battani


Born in 858, in Harran (a town in modern day Turkey), Al-Battani revolutionized the world of astronomy when he calculated the solar year to an error of only 2 minutes and 22 seconds. He revised Ptolemy’s astronomical models of the Sun and Moon and was referenced by many famous astronomers of the Renaissance, such as Tycho Brahe, Riccioli and Copernicus. He also made massive steps forward in trigonometry, discovering tangent as a ratio between sine and cosine and the relationship between secant and tangent. The Moon crater, Albategnius, is named after him, and his name is referenced in Doctor Who and Star Trek.


  1. Ibn Zuhr



More commonly known as “Avenzoar”, Ibn Zuhr was one of the greatest Muslim physicians of all time. His works describe complex but accurate theories pertaining to pharmacology. He was the first to perform a tracheotomy (creating a hole in the trachea). He could be considered one of the first nutritionists and his work, al-Taysir, described many diseases of the organs and their treatment. He was the first to consider the importance of diet in therapy, and recommended diet-related therapies to many of his patients with urinary diseases which explained his high rate of success with patients.


  1. Ibn Rushd

A colleague of Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Rushd was famous for his philosophical treatises and his publication of the medical encyclopedia, ”Kulliyat”, translated as “Generalities”. He correctly defined force as the “the rate at which work is done in changing the kinetic condition of a material body” and went on to explain inertia. He was unfortunately exiled when a group of resentful scholars presented one of his works out of context to the caliph, Yaqub-al-Mansur. They took a sentence of his handwriting out of context which read “and it was shown that Venus was one of the gods”. He was summoned by the caliph who asked him whether the work was his handwriting. When Ibn Rushd denied, Mansur burned all his work and exiled him.


  1. Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khaldun


Born into a wealthy family in Tunis in 1332, Ibn Khaldun was one of the forerunners to the relatively modern sciences of sociology and economics. He created an early version of the business cycle theory in which he showed how empires rose and fell to barbarians and nomads. He wrote a comprehensive history of the world, titled Kitab al ‘Ibar, conceived a theory of social conflict, made the distinction between sedentary and nomadic life and their effects on civilization and described the economy as the sum of “value-adding” processes: labor and skill are added together to make raw materials (low value) into a product of higher value.

Bigotry challenges US Muslim scientists at MIT

OnIslam & Newspapers

CAIRO – Reflecting barriers facing Muslim scientists after a Texas student was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, many students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) expressed fears over the growing Islamophobia in the campus.

“That could have been me, arrested for doing what I love, because of my religion,” 21-year-old Amna Magzoub, a Sudanese Muslim studying mechanical engineering at MIT, told the Guardian.

For Magzoub and her Muslim colleagues, the story of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock is not an isolated incident.

A few months ago, MIT Muslim students have been a target of hate campaign when an Islamophobic group created a video calling MIT a hotbed of terror.

The slick video left Muslim students “uncomfortable” and “afraid to be Muslim on campus” at that time.

More recently, anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali gave an inflammatory talk on campus last week, despite Muslims’ opposition to the event.

“I’d been feeling like my religion was under attack,” says Magzoub.

“So the positive reaction to Ahmed was a relief.”

Many Muslim students in the sciences, tech, engineering and math (Stem) see Ahmed’s case as just one example of assumptions Muslim students and scientists must fight.

“Ahmed has proven he is a really capable Muslim engineer,” Thariq Shihipar, a 24-year-old graduate student at the MIT Media Lab, said.

“The more of us that are visible, that will give us the ability to narrate how people see us. We could change people’s minds.”

Religion is the main challenge that faces Muslim scientists who are encountering discrimination on a daily basis.

“There seems to be this shadow that exists, you just can’t seem to escape. You can try to live underneath it and you can try to do what you want to do underneath it,” said Rashied Amini, an Iranian American.

“I’m a NASA JPL systems engineer, a physics PhD student, and founded a company in scientific romantic decision analysis. I don’t know if I’d be doing any of these things if I had to deal with the same level of intolerance that Ahmed went through.

“I was very lucky in that I got a lot of support from my teachers back in high school –but I still encountered racism along the way, even from the very mentors that helped me.”

A Reminder

Bigotry faced by Ahmed reminded many Stem Muslim students and scientists of discrimination they have faced for pursuing the scientific field.

“Let’s face it, Mohammad – you aren’t bright enough,” Mohammad Ali was told. He now has three degrees from Stanford and works as a corporate lawyer doing capital markets/securities work for investment banks and tech companies.

The 27-year-old Muslim recounted how his high school taunted him after asking to transfer into advanced honors and AP classes.

“If I had taken [their] advice to heart that I’m not bright enough, I can’t imagine that I would have had a successful career 10 years down the road,” Ali said.

Another student, Abubakar Abid, who is pursuing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at MIT, recalled when his Pakistani parents warned him against taking any nuclear science courses, to avoid suspicion.

“These are obstacles other kids don’t have to worry about,” said Abid, 22.

Abid and Magzoub are among Stem Muslim students who have encouraged Ahmed and other young Muslims to pursue scientific field and defy challenges.

“Muslims in America traditionally haven’t been a part of shaping the social fabric through media or politics because we don’t have the infrastructure,” said Abid.

“But one way we can make an impact is through social entrepreneurship and leaving a cultural footprint.”

Citing discrimination against Stem Muslim students and scientists, many Muslim students decided not to pursue the scientific field.

“I am currently a sophomore doing Chemical Engineering, but I really wanted to switch to Aerospace Engineering, yet my parents claim that I won’t be able to do anything with my degree since I am a Muslim girl and I wear a scarf. Is this true?” Zahra Khan, a 31-year-old aerospace engineer at MIT who advises aspiring young female engineers at, said.


Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Obaid Siddiqui

By Syed Aslam

obaid_siddiqiObaid Siddiqui was born in Basti, Uttar Pradesh, India.  He completed his Master in Biology from Aligarh Muslim University in 1953.  After teaching at Aligarh for a while he came to England and finished his PhD. from the University of Glasgow in in the year 1961 where he worked in the Department of Genetics.

Obaid Siddiqui was offered a post-doctoral position at the MIT to work with , Dr. Alan Garen, a well known man in genetics. He came to MIT worked there for a while and then they moved to the University of Pennsylvania. Together they discovered the suppressors of “nonsense” mutations that led to the discovery of “nonsense” codons, the stop signals in the genetic code. In early seventies he moved to California to  work with Dr. Seymour Benzer of the California Institute of Technology. Their work led to  identification of several genes that control nerve conduction and synaptic transmission. Obaid and his associates’ pioneering work on neurogenetics of fruit fly, Drosophila, has opened up the prospects of an integrated genetic and neurobiological investigation of chemosensory perception.

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, invited him to start a molecular biology group at the institute . Obaid recruited top-class scientists and put the Institutes’s molecular biology group on world map of genetics. Later, with the support of government of India, he founded  National Center for Biological Sciences at Bangalore. The  aim  of this Center is basic research in the frontier areas of biology and currently it has many distinguished scientists working in various fields  with state-of-the-art facilities.

Prof. Siddiqi’s contributions have been widely recognized. He has been elected to several academies including all the National Academies in India, the Royal Society, London, the US National Academy of Sciences and the Third World Academy, Trieste. He is a former President of the Indian Academy of Sciences. Prof. Siddiqi has held visiting professorships at Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Caltech and Cambridge University. He was twice Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at Caltech and is a life member of the Clare Hall, Cambridge. The Aligarh Muslim University, the Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Hamdard, Kalyani University and IIT Kanpur have conferred upon him honorary degrees of D.Sc. He has received many prizes and awards, including the civil honors Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.


20th Century Muslim Scientists — Sameera Moussa

By Syed Aslam

220px-SameeraMoussaSameera Moussa was born on March 3, 1917 in Egypt. She was an outstanding Egyptian scientist. In 1939 she graduated from Cairo University with Bachelor of Science degree   in radiology .  She was appointed first as a demonstrator but because of her ability she became  Assistant Professor at the university, she was first woman to hold an  university post in those days. Sameera Moussa completed  her PhD  degree in England on atomic radiation. Being the first women to obtain a Ph.D. degree in atomic radiation, she earnestly sought to make nuclear treatment available for every one. During her  visit to America on Fulbright scholarship  she was invited to visit a place of interest in  August of 1952. On her way to  the place she was going she had car accident.  The car fell down  40 feet down hill which killed her immediately. The  accident was a mystery because the body of the driver could not be found at the place of  accident.  It is believed that   driver  jumped from the car just before it went down. The mysterious death of Sameera  led  people to believe that it was a planned assassination, most probably  the Israeli Mossad.

Here in England while she was pursuing  her studies she devoted her time and efforts to learn more about  the  peaceful use of  radioactive atom in combating cancer, especially when her mother went through a fierce battle against cancer. Throughout her intensive research, she came up with a historic equation that would help break the atoms of common  metals such as copper.

With an overwhelming drive to impart her knowledge to those who crave for it, she sponsored  an international conference under the banner “Atom for Peace” where many scientific figures were invited. The conference made a number of recommendations for setting up a committee for the protection against the nuclear bomb hazards in which she was an active member.

Sameera Moussa received  the Fulbright scholarship in  Atomic Radiation Program and came to  University of California at Barkley where she did some significant work in her field  . In recognition of her outstanding work and deep knowledge  she was allowed to visit the US secret atomic facilities. The visit raised vehement debate in US academic and scientific circles as Sameera was the first non US citizen  to have access to such facilities.

She  was offered the opportunity to receive Green Card so she could stay here in USA but she  turned down the offer and preferred to return home to pursue her dream of harnessing atomic power for peace and the welfare of all humanity. But her life was cut short by the planed accident otherwise  she could done a lot of work in her field of research. The Egyptian government have dedicated her name to the Atomic Department of the National Research. Her library has been donated to the university which have her own writings on Madame Curie, human struggle and other themes. 


Unlike Most Muslim Scientists, God Speaks Same Truth in and out of Mosques

By T.O. Shanavas. MD
Author of “Islamic Theory of evolution of Evolution The Missing Link Between Darwin and The Origin of Species.”  Co-author of the book with Prof. Howard Van Till and Rabbi David Kay, “And God Said, “Let There Be Evolution!”: Reconciling The Book Of Genesis, The Qur’an, And The Theory Of Evolution.” Edited by Prof. Charles M. Wynn and Prof. Arthur W. Wiggins
Science been defined as, “a continuing effort to discover new knowledge through disciplined research. Using controlled methods, scientists collect observable evidence of natural or social phenomena, record measurable data relating to the observations, and analyze this information to construct theoretical explanations of how things work.” 
Based upon this definition, physicians and all other professionals who utilize the scientific method are called scientists. Unfortunately, in their professional life Muslim scientists are true believers in science, but, when it comes to their religious lives, they reject many well-established scientific theories such as the theories of evolution and astronomy and its application. They have a truth tell in the mosques and another for their external professional lives. The old Latin expressions, “contra evidential credo (I believe despite the evidence)” and credo quia evidentia (I believe because of evidence),” most accurately differentiate their dual lives.
What physicians, engineers, chemists, biologists, and other scientists learned during formal education is but a basis onto which new knowledge is added as they progress though their professional lives. Once, more advanced remedies and methodologies are discovered, one does not apply the same remedies and solutions learned during formal education. Yet unfortunately, Muslim scientists generally overlook new knowledge that sometimes challenges their faith.
In order to reconcile this between their religious and professional life, many Muslim scientists (oxymoronic term in this context) cite the evolving nature of scientific theories. Off course, “science has truth with proof but without certainty.” On the contrary, the science-rejecting Muslims know that “religious truth heard around the mosques has certainty without proof.” They argue human intellect is unreliable and religious truth is absolute.
Their rationalization is internally incoherent. They forget that humans must utilize their intellect to determine whether the Hindu Geetha, or Jewish Torah or Christian Gospel, or Muslim Qur’an or all of them are to be acknowledged as holy books from God. If intellect is an unreliable human faculty for decision-making, then why should anyone accept their point of view in matters relating to any human affairs or their certainty about any specific holy book? Candidly speaking, these Muslim scientists must accept argument that Muslim faith is blind and they reject the following verse (8:22):
“The worst animals before God are the deaf, the dumb, and those who do not use their reason.”
Babies have only instincts and reflexes. They show their need by crying and attaching to those who feed them and comfort them. Mothers became the center of their universe. Gradually this restricted view evolves by adding family, friends, community, and the natural world.  A world-picture is an echo of the underlining system of thought by which we process and harmonize our recurring experiences that we label as “facts.” The more closely any particular fact is linked to the core of one’s world-picture, the greater its subjective meaning and importance to us.
In other words, everything that is in harmony with our appears to us as truth. This interconnection between world-picture and truth can create profound positive as well as negative impact in any community, particularly in religious communities. The significances and outcome of the interconnection between world-picture and truth are illustrated by the history of Muslims. The arrival of religion of Islam transformed ordinary Arab life of 14th century into one of the most advanced civilization in less than two hundred years. George Sarton, previously the professor of History of Science at Harvard University, most elegantly describes this miracle of transformation
“The creation of a new [Muslim} civilization of international and encyclopaedic magnitude within less than two centuries is something that we describe, but cannot explain… It is easy to imagine their doctors speaking of western barbarians almost in the same spirit as ours do of the ‘Orientals.’ …At that time Muslim pride would have been more… On the contrary only a few Christians were then aware of their inferiority;” [Ref: George Sarton: “The History of Science and The New Humanism.” Page 87-90].
The story of Muslims that Professor Sarton described happened at a time, al-Biruni wrote “We must clear our minds . . . from all causes that blind people to the truth–old custom, party, spirit, personal rivalry or passion, the desire for influence.” It was the time when Muslims and the religion of Islam celebrated and practiced science and scientific method proudly. That was the world-picture and the truth then. What was the result? In The Making of Humanity, British Robert Briffault gives the answer: While Europe wallowed in ignorance and barbarism, Muslim cities constituted “centers of civilization and intellectual activity.”
On the other hand, current Muslims have a different the world-picture and the truth. We reject science and scientific method in mosques by Muslims trained in science. Our traditional scholars parrot uncritically what they heard from their schools with almost no academic freedom for dissensions.   So, the “truth or tafsir” reverberating all across Muslim world from the Muslim scholars and Imams whose world-picture is stuck in the past and who have very limited knowledge of science of natural world, the other Divine book, distort the meaning of the Qur’an when the Qur’an is meant to be timeless and ever-relevant.
I do not have to describe the negative impact of interconnection between world picture and truth on the contemporary Muslims world including in US. Currently, there is not much creative and critical thinking among Muslims. Experimental science is almost non-existent among them.  A large segment of Muslim population lives in poverty. Muslims blow up all kinds of places of worships everyday. Totalitarian rulers are scared of their own people and seek outside help constantly to preserve and protect their reign over the people. Muslim extremists run amok blowing up themselves taking with them the innocent bystanders.  Like Christians in the Middle Ages, Muslims are not even aware of their state of inferiority over Christians others.
We, Muslims, have to ask, what do we expect from the future generation of Muslims, when they hear about the unreliability of science in the mosques and from their parents trained in science? The answer is clearly written in the following true story. The most recent list of the semifinalists of “2011 Intel Science Talent Search” in USA is a reflection of the Muslim community’s attitude towards science. There are 56 Indians and many more Chinese, with conspicuous absence of Muslims, in the august group of future scientific leaders. Similarly, we meet many Indian and Chinese scholars as guest lecturers in national scientific meetings, but Muslim scientists are conspicuously absent except a rare one here and there among scholars. Why?
Human progress occurs in places where there is an unrestricted welcoming conduit for new ideas. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders and scholars across America feel intimidated by science so that they avoid any honest discussion of science or new ideas in the community as well as in their mosques. Productive scientists who invent new technology or discover new laws or propose new theories are all critical thinkers. They question the soundness widely accepted concepts, theories, and facts. Most Islamic centers, Imams, and Muslim scholars, even 99.9 % Muslims at large discourage critical thinking making mosques as impervious fortresses against any fresh ideas including new approach to the interpretations of the Qur’an. 
I have listed here the major characteristics of critical thinkers in in bold letters and what happens in Islamic center and homes in pink within brackets. Critical thinkers are skeptical [discourage skeptical enquiries], open-minded [not open-minded], respect evidence [no respect for scientific or other evidences unless approved by Imams] and reasoning [reasoning is rejected if not in agreement with Imams], and will change positions when reason leads them to do so [never permit to change position when reason leads to do so].
When Muslim children grow up in an environment where critical thinking is not appreciated and generally discouraged, they grow up with a fear to think critically and become non-productive in scientific research.
How then do science-oriented Muslims best respond to science-rejecting Muslims? Should one reject the Qur’an if further scientific discoveries replace the present paradigm with a new one? Definitely not! If the Qur’an is the divine book in human vernacular, “the universe is a “written scroll” (Qur’an 21:104) in the material medium of the natural world.
The Qur’anic verses are called ayath. The phenomena of the material world, Allah similarly refers to as ayath:
“And in the earth are signs [ayath] for those who have firm faith, and in your own selves. Do you not discern?” (Qur’an 51:20-21).
So, the Qur’an and the universe are twin manifestation of the Divine Self-revelation. These two books come from the same source and so one cannot contradict the other. In other words, God, unlike most Muslims, speaks same truth in and out of mosques. According to the Qur’an, God provides humans with ample evidence in the universe to serve as proof of His existence.  If God told humans one thing in the Qur’an and gave the evidence for another in His book of Universe, this would do the opposite of proving His existence. So, an occasional contradiction has nothing to do with these two divine books but all to do with the meaning extracted from the two books. As this meaning can be distorted by our subjective world-view, it is vitally important that Muslims must always seek the most objective meaning that is relevant to any particular point in human history. The meaning from both books must be mutually complimentary.
As such, when we encounter contradictions between the two divine books, the meaning and the world-picture, that we have artificially created, are at fault for the conflict between the two divine books. Therefore, Muslims must go back and re-read the two books in order to reconcile the contradictory meanings and their world-picture arising from their previous reading of the books. Such repeated experimentation, until the resolution of the conflict, is demanded by the Qur’an:
“He created seven heavens in layers. You do not see any discordance in the creation of the All-beneficent. Look again! Do you see any flaw? Look again, once more. Your look, return to you, humbled and weary.” (67:3-4).
Therefore, the Qur’an and the science demand repeated experimentation. When the meaning of the two divine books comes together without conflict, the genuine truth emerges.
Finally, we, Muslims, talk today about `Qur’anic truth’ as the truest kind of truth, the kind we swear by, the kind we feel in our bones to be true, the last truth of all that we are not willing to give up. It is that kind of truth which has to be unraveled and restated harmoniously from both divine books. We shall not be afraid to tell the truth as it appears to us. Indeed, if we truly believe in God, we should recognize that Allah gave us the brains to conduct scientific research. Not to do so — not to use the marvelous gift of intelligence with which He has blessed us — would not only be impolite, it would express a heinous ingratitude to God.
If Muslims want to participate and contribute in the ongoing scientific advancement a change in their mindset is necessary. They have to transform mosques into centers of intellectual discourse.  Muslims have to take fear out of their mind in confronting opposing point of views and ideas, and re-define their world-picture integrating scientific method. Muslims need to re-read the divine books, the Qur’an and the Universe, so that there is no conflict between the meanings of the verses from the two books. Mosques must be lead by open-minded Imams.
Whatever may be the field or job that a person is in, all Muslims must find out what research is going on in their field of study and try to find out the most advanced research going in that the field. They must persevere to reach next higher level of truth in every branch of basic sciences, humanities, and spirituality.
Every Muslim must try to with most revered thinkers in their field of interest. Steven Chu was trained as young man at Bell Laboratories. While he was working there, he was assigned to a team 20 elite physicists for a project. Out of these 20 young physicists, their association with brilliant minds led 7 of them to receive Nobel Prize. This is a beautiful example of spectacular rise due to the association with brilliant passionate truth seekers. 
So, from Kinder Garden to University and also in their professional life, Muslims must try to surround themselves with the people who have a passion for the truth in the material and spiritual world in order to succeed in this world and the Hereafter. Finally, Muslims must always bear in mind that “. . . Verily Allah never will change the condition of people unless they change it themselves,”  (Quran 13:11) and so prayers without human action are worthless.