Segments in this Video

Introduction: Science and Islam (02:23)


The narrator is a physicist studying atoms who fled Iraq when Saddam Hussein came to power. He will explore with us the Golden Age of Islamic scholarship and science, and the relationship between science and Islam.

Arab and Scientific Language (02:08)

The language of modern science has many references to Arab roots- algebra, alkali and algorithm for instance. From the twelfth through seventeenth centuries, Europeans referred to older Arab texts.

Al-Khwarizmi and Zero (02:17)

Europeans rejected its inefficient Roman numeral-based arithmetic after exposure to Al-Khwarizmi in favor of the sixth century Indian system based on the number zero.

Decimal Point (01:04)

Al-Khwarizmi's successor created the decimal point, extending the new numbering system to numbers between integers.

Baghdad and Global Science (01:46)

Baghdad was at the center of the known world, 1000 years ago, the place where ideas collided as science became globally connected. Founded in 762, it was intended as capital of an Islamic Empire.

Knowledge and Power (02:19)

Rulers of Islam's vast empire recognized the importance of scientific knowledge to maintaining power and demonstrate civilizational superiority. Muhammad had told believers to seek knowledge.

Arabic Becomes Common Language (01:51)

Eighth century caliph Abdul Malik made Arabic the common language of government. Arabic is the language of the Koran, which helped legitimize the decision.

Arabic and Science (02:58)

The words of the Koran are so sacred that its text has not changed, keeping Arabic largely static. Koranic calligraphers gave the language precision and spread it through the Empire, facilitating science.

Translation Movement (02:16)

Islam's ruling elites funded a project to bring scientific and philosophical manuscripts to the Empire and translate them.

Fearing Loss of Knowledge (01:20)

Scholars sought to avoid a repeat of the destruction of Alexandria's library centuries earlier, which caused the loss of thousands of years of knowledge.

Islam and Medicine (01:50)

Muhammad taught that God created a cure for every disease, inspiring medical science. Islamic physicians provided the foundations of medicine up through the nineteenth century.

Galen and Greek Tradition (01:44)

Islamic medicine built on Greek foundations. The work of third century Greek physician Galen, who theorized about the balance of four humors in the body, was influential.

Folk Healing Tradition (01:41)

Arabic texts refer to "wise women," folk healers who prescribe drugs. We meet such a healer selling her wares in Tunisia.

Islamic Medical Teaching (01:48)

Islam has its own medical tradition based on the Koran and Mohammed's sayings. We read from The Prophet's Medicine, written in the fourteenth century.

Medieval Hospital and Muslim Compassion (03:07)

Islam is based on compassion, which led to concern for the sick. We a medieval Damascus hospital, now a museum. Islamic hospitals invented the pharmacy.

Eye Surgery (03:14)

Eye surgery was one of Islamic medicine's greatest successes, and led to history's first anatomical illustration. Their technique for removing cataracts relied on the general ideas we use today.

Cannon of Medicine (01:36)

Avicenna, a polymath who synthesized faith and reason, wrote the Cannon of Medicine in 1025, collating all medical knowledge from Greece to India.

Organization and Legacy of the Cannon (03:03)

Despite its mistaken understanding of the body and disease, the Cannon's value lies in accumulating the best knowledge available at the time.

Muslim Scholars and Hieroglyphics (02:41)

Seeking to rediscover ancient Egyptian alchemy, Islamic scholars worked to break the code of hieroglyphics centuries before the Rosetta Stone.

Phonetic Correspondence With Hieroglyphics (02:34)

A Muslim scholar figured out the phonetic correspondence between hieroglyphics and the Arabic alphabet, using contemporary Coptic as a link.

Baghdad as Cultural Center (03:04)

Islamic scholars sought the best knowledge, wherever it came from. The translation movement made Baghdad home to cultural flourishing in all fields.

Talking Houses (01:50)

Ninth century Baghdad's elite held seminars where leading thinkers discussed and debated ideas, competing for patronage. Al-Khwarizmi came out of this culture.

Greece, India and Algebra (01:29)

Greeks were strong in geometry; India's decimal system simplified calculation. Al-Khwarizmi synthesized the two mathematical traditions to create algebra.

Algebra, Squares and Equations (01:34)

Based on Al-Khwarizmi's idea that numbers, roots and squares are at the core of mathematics, algebra facilitates the solution of quadratic and other equations.

Mindset of Algebra (02:48)

Whereas previous writers would use particular numbers for examples, Al-Khwarizmi focused on the process itself and ignores particulars.

Importance of Algebra (01:39)

Algebra allows us to find mathematical rules in physics- E=MC squared, for instance.

Islam and the Universality of Science (01:17)

Eighth and ninth century Islamic scientists put together science that was scattered throughout the world, showing for the first time that science transcends culture and politics.

Additional Resources & Credits: The Language of Science: Science and Islam--The Golden Age (01:28)

Additional Resources & Credits: The Language of Science: Science and Islam--The Golden Age

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The Language of Science: Science and Islam—The Golden Age

Part of the Series : Science and Islam: The Golden Age
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



When Caliph Abdul Malik made Arabic the official language of his culturally diverse empire, he inadvertently laid the foundation for a scientific revolution. In this program, physics professor Jim Al-Khalili travels through Iran, Tunisia, and Spain to tell the story of the big leap in knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries. From the remarkable Translation Movement—the copying of technical manuscripts gathered from all the libraries of the known world—to groundbreaking mathematician Al-Khwarizmi and the pioneering physician Ibn Sina, Al-Khalili sheds light on the far-reaching impact of medieval Islamic science. Part of the series Science and Islam: The Golden Age. (59 minutes)

Length: 60 minutes

Item#: BVL47836

ISBN: 978-1-62102-620-4

Copyright date: ©2009

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Anyone interested in medieval Islam or the history of science will welcome this enjoyable and informative presentation. Jim Al-Khalili is an engaging guide and teacher....He is to be commended for discussing the significance of each discovery, as well as the motivations behind the enterprises. Moving diagrams and animations illustrate his explanations of advances in astronomy, mathematics, and other areas to great effect. Even better is the extent to which he shows how science advanced....Recommended.”  Educational Media Reviews Online


“An easy and comprehensive way of grasping the incredible Islamic contributions that laid the foundation for scientific discoveries in the West in mathematics, medicine, chemistry, and astrophysics....informative, accurate, thought-provoking, and entertaining. Moreover, the cinematography was outstanding...”  Science Books & Films (Editor’s Choice)


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