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Physics by Muslims

The Holy Quran had awakened a spirit of enquiry among the Arabs which was instrumental in their splendid achievements in the field of science, and according to a western critic led them to realize that "science could not be advanced by mere speculation; its only sure progress lay in the practical interrogation of nature. The essential characteristics of their method are experiment and observation. In their writings on Mechanics, hydrostatics, optics, etc., the solution of the problem is always obtained by performing an experiment, or by an instrumental observation.

It was this that made them the originator of chemistry, that led them to the invention of all kinds of apparatus for distillation, sublimation, fusion and filtration; that in astronomy caused them to appeal to divided instrument, as quadrant and astrolabe; in chemistry to employ the balance the theory of which they were perfectly familiar with; to construct tables of specific gravities and astronomical tables, that produced their great improvements in geometry and trigonometry.

The Muslims developed Physics to a high degree and produced such eminent physicist as Kindi, Jahiz, Banu Musa, Beruni, Razi and Abdur Rahman Ibn Nasr.

Work of Muslim Physicists


Abu Yusuf Ibn Ishaq, known as al-Kindi was born at Kufa in the middle of the 9th century and flourished in Baghdad. He is the most dominating and one of the greatest Muslim scholars of physics. Over and above this, he was an astrologer, philosopher, alchemist, optician and musical theorist. He wrote more than 265 books, the majority of which have been lost.

Most of his works which survived are in Latin having been translated by Gerard of Cremona. Of these fifteen are on meteorology, several on specific weight, on tides, on optics and on reflection of light, and eight are on music. His optics influenced Roger Bacon. He wrote several books on iron and steel to be used for weapons. He applied mathematics not only to physics, but also to medicine.

He was therefore regarded by Cardon, a philosopher of the Renaissance, "as one of the 12 subtlest minds." He thought that gold and silver could only be obtained from mines and not through any other process. He endeavored to ascertain the laws that govern the fall of bodies.


Razi investigated on the determination of specific gravity of means of hydrostatic balance, called by him Mizan-al-Tabii. Most of his works on physics, mathematics, astronomy and optics have perished. In physics his writings deal with matter, space, time and motion. In his opinion matter in the primitive state before the creation of the world was composed of scattered atoms, which possessed extent. Mixed in various proportions with the articles of void, these atoms produced these elements which are five ih number namely earth, air, water, fire and celestial element. Fire is created by striking iron on the stone.

Abu Rehan Beruni

Abu Rehan Beruni, was a versatile genius, who adorned the durbar of Mahmud of Ghazni. His outstanding achievement in the realm of physics was the accurate determination of the weight of 18 stones. He also discovered that light travels faster than sound. He has also contributed immensely to geological knowledge by providing the correct explanation of the formation of natural spring and artesian wells.

He suggested that the Indus valley was formerly an ancient basin filled with alluvial soil. His Kitab al Jawahir (Book of Jewels) deals with different types of gems and their specific gravity.


Khazini, was a well known scientist of Islam, who explained the greater density of water when nearer to the center of the earth. Roger Bacon, who proved the same hypotheses afterwards based his proof on the theories advanced by Khazini. His brilliant work Mizanul Hikmah (Balance of Knowledge) deals with gravity and contains tables of densities of many solids and liquids. It also contains "observation on capillarity, uses of aerometer to measure densities and appreciate the temperature of liquids, theory of the lever and the application of balance to building."

Other notable Physicists

  • A voluminous unedited lapidary by Betuni is kept in manuscript form in the Escorial Library. It deals with a large number of stones and metals from the natural, commercial and medical point of view.

  • Barlu Musa has left behind him a work on balance, while Al-Jahiz used hydrostatic balance to determine specific gravity.

  • An excellent treatise had been written by Al-Naziri regarding atmosphere.

  • Chapters on weights and measures' were written by Ibn Jami and Al-Attar. Abdur Rahman Ibn Nasr wrote an excellent treatise on weights and measures for the use of Egyptian markets.


Article Contributed by: itsIslam Staff

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