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Biology by Muslims

The Muslim scientists made considerable progress in biology especially in botany, and developed horticulture to a high degree of perfection. They paid greater attention to botany in comparison to zoology. Botany reached its zenith in Spain.


In zoology the study of the horse was developed almost to the tank of a science. Abu Ubaidah (728-825 A. D.) who wrote more than 100 books, devoted more than fifty books to the study of the horse.


Al-Jahiz, who flourished in Basra is reputed to be one of the greatest zoologists the Muslim world has produced. His influence in the subject may be traced to 'the Persian'Al-Qazwini' and the Egyptian 'Al-Damiri'. His book 'Kitab al Haywan' (book ori animals) contains gems of later theories of evolution, adaptation and animal psychology. He was the first to note changes in bird life through migrations. He described the method of obtaining 'ammonia from animal offal by dry distilling.'


Al-Damiri, who died in 1405 in Cairo and who was influenced by Al-Jahiz is the greatest Arab zoologist. His book Hayat Haywarz (Life of animal) is the most important Muslim work in zoology. It is an encyclopedia on animal life containing a mine of information on the subject. It contains the history of animals and preceded Buffoon by 700 years.

Al Masudi

Al-Masudi, has given the rudiments of the theory of evolution in his well known work Meadows of gold. Another of his works Kitab al-Tanbih wal Ishraq advances his views on evolution namely from mineral to plant, from plant to animal and from animal to man.


In botany, Spanish Muslims made the greatest contribution, and some of them are known as the greatest botanists of mediaeval times. They were keen observers and discovered sexual difference between such plants as palms and hemps. They roamed about on sea shores, on mountains and in distant lands in quest of rare botanical herbs.

They classified plants into those that grow from seeds, those that grow from cuttings and those that grow of their own accord, i.e., wild growth. The Spanish Muslims advanced in botany far beyond the state in which "it had been left by Discords and augmented the herbology of the Greeks by the addition of 2,000 plants" Regular botanical gardens existed in Cordova, Baghdad, Cairo and Fez for teaching and experimental purposes. Some of these were the finest in the world.

The Cordovan physician, Al-Ghafiqi (D. 1165) was a renowned botanist, who collected plants in Spain and Africa, and described them most accurately. According to G. Sarton he was "the greatest expert of his time on simples. His description of plants was the most precise ever made in Islam; he gave the names of each in Arabic, Latin and Berber". His outstanding work Al Adwiyah al Mufradah dealing with simples was later appropriated by Ibn Baytar."

Abu Zakariya Yahya

Abu Zakariya Yahya Ibn Muhammad Ibn AlAwwan, who flourished at the end of 12 century in Seville (Spain) was the author of the most important Islamic treatise on agriculture during the mediaeval times entitled Kitab al Filahah. The book treats more than 585 plants and deals with the cultivation of more than 50 fruit trees. It also discusses numerous diseases of plants and suggests their remedies. The book presents new observations on properties of soil and different types of manures.

Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Al-Baytar

Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Ibn Al-Baytar, was the greatest botanist and pharmacist of Spain--in fact the greatest of mediaeval times. He roamed about in search of plants and collected herbs on the Mediterranean littoral, from Spain to Syria, described more than 1,400 medical drugs and compared them with the records of more than 150 ancient and Arabian authors.

The collection of simple drugs composed by him is the ilaost outstanding botanical work in Arabic. "This book, in fact is the most important for the whole period extending from Discords down to the 16th century." It is an encyclopedic work on the subject. He later entered into the service of the Ayyubid king, Al-Malik, as his chief herbalist in Cairo. From there he traveled through Syria and Asia Minor, and died in Damascus.

One of his works Al-Mughani-fi al Adwiyah al Mufradah deals with medicine. The other Al Jami Ji al Adwiyah al Mufradah is a very valuable book containing simple remedies regarding animal, vegetable and mineral matters which has been described above. It deals also with 200 novel plants which were not known up to that time.

Other Notable Botanists

Abul Abbàs Al-Nabati also wandered along the African Coast from Spain to Arabia in search of herbs and plants. He discovered some rare plants on the shore of Red Sea. Another botanist Ibn Sauri, was accompanied by an artist during his travels in Syria, who made sketches of the plants which they found. Ibn Wahshiya, wrote his celebrated work al-Filahah al-Nabatiyah containing valuable information about :animals and plants.

Many Cosmographical encyclopedias have been written by Arabs and Persians, which contain sections on animals, plants and stones, of which the best known is that of Zakariya al-Kaiwini, who died in 1283 A. D. Al-Dinawari wrote an excellent 'book of plants' and al-Bakri has written a book describing in detail the 'Plants of Andalusia'

Ibn Maskwaih, a contemporary of Al-Beruni, advanced a definite theory about evolution. According to him plant life at its lowest stage of evolution does not need any seed for its birth and growth. Nor does it perpetuate its species by means of the seed.

The great advancement of botanical science in Spain led to the development of agriculture and horticulture on a grand scale. "Horticulture improvements" says G. Sarton, "constituted the finest legacies of Islam, and the gardens of Spain proclaim to this clay one of the noblest virtues of her Muslim conquerors- The development of agriculture was one of the glories of Muslim Spain."


Article Contributed by: itsIslam Staff

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