Alex Broekhuijse: The Spark Needed – A Look at the Impact of Golden Age Muslim Discoveries on the European Renaissance

Islam’s Influence on the European Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution

Throughout the middle ages, one can notice a dichotomy between two distinct civilizations. Primarily one can examine Europe, a society caught in a dark age, slowly developing towards a breakthrough, known as the European Renaissance. On the other hand, one can witness Muslim Arabia and Spain, a civilization developing rapidly. The Muslim civilization was able to produce groundbreaking developments in many of the essential fields of the time, including everything from making major medical discoveries, to producing considerably advanced knowledge of astronomy. It was these developments that allowed Europe at the time to move towards and enter its renaissance. Without the considerable developments made by Muslim thinkers in the fields of mathematics, medicine, and the sciences, then the Renaissance which occurred in Europe would not have been able to develop as rapidly as it did.

Starting by examining mathematics, it is evident that without the ideas produced by Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī and the development of the decimal system, the scientific developments of the European Renaissance would’ve been impossible. Al-Khwarizmi, also known as the “Father of Algebra”, was an eighth-century Persian mathematician primarily most known for his development of the concept of algebra, and his text The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing. Published in 830 CE, the text was responsible for considerable developments in the field of mathematics, specifically influencing the efficiency of solving equations up to the second degree. Specifically, it produced a systematic way to solve linear and quadratic equations, a system that then allowed Mathematics to quickly progress in Europe, as mathematicians no longer needed to spend time calculating each individual equation1. The text was translated in the twelfth-century and spread rapidly through Europe. The progression of the field of mathematics in renaissance Europe was further assisted by the production of the decimal system. The decimal system was similarly produced by Al-Khwarizmi, and its production it numbers to be condensed and quickly added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided.2 Along with the groundbreaking work produced by his text The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, along with the production of the decimal system, allowed for Europe to be able to solve mathematical equations far more quickly, and thus allowed the entire field of European mathematics to develop at a rapid rate.

The field of medicine was similarly significantly impacted by golden age Muslim developments, and specifically, the work of the polymath Avicenna, and his Canon of Medicine revolutionized the field of European medicine. Avicenna, a Persian polymath, was one of the more significant thinkers of the golden age of Muslim civilization. Avicenna wrote over 450 different works; however, his arguably most significant work was his Canon of Medicine, which as written in 1025. The canon presents a lengthy general overview of all contemporary medical knowledge. Specifically the canon draws from the principles of the philosophers Galen and Hippocrates in order to produce a complete system of medicine. The text was translated into Latin in the 13th century, and the book swiftly spread across Europe. Independently the text was responsible for rapid medical advancement in Europe, which had grown especially slowly throughout the dark ages, and was specifically halted by the black plague. With this text Europeans were able to increase their living and medical conditions, and the impact of the text lasted significantly until the seventeenth century.3

The profundity of the impact of the Canon of Medicine cannot be understated, as it was responsible for the transition from the archaic medical traditions of dark ages Europe, and helped the continent begin to transition towards our current medical reality.4 Specifically, the combined view of surgery and medicine as one individual concept deeply ingrained into the text is especially impactful, as it helped transition the field of medicine away from archaic concepts of bloodletting, towards actual surgical solutions to illnesses.5

Similar to the developments of mathematics and medicine, developments in the sciences, specifically physics, made by golden age Muslim scientists, were especially impactful on both the European renaissance and its scientific revolution. One can specifically look to the tenth-century Muslim scientist Ibn al-Haytham. Ibn al-Haytham, a significant tenth-century Muslim scientist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who wrote the Book of Optics in 1021. The text itself is responsible for considerable advancements in the field of optics, producing the theory that vision occurs through the process of light entering the eye; however, it also holds a large amount of responsibility for development of the now very common scientific method.6 The book contains a combination of observations, experiments, hypothesis, and arguments in order to support Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of vision. This structure, identifiable for the first time in this text, is now common place in the modern scientific world.7 The method itself allowed for experiments to be conducted and recorded uniformly, and without it, Europe would not have developed scientifically at the rate it did. 

The impact that the golden age of Muslim civilization had on the rest of the world cannot be understated. Had the developments made in the sciences, medicine, or mathematics not been made, the rapid growth that Europe experienced during its renaissance could have been lost. Without this growth the age of expansion which led Europe to explore the world could have never occurred. The immense developments made by the golden age Muslim world were some of the more significant in the history of modern thought, and they continue to outline our modern ways of thinking.

  1. Saifullah, By Karima. “How Islam Influenced the European Renaissance.” How Islam Influenced the European Renaissance. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Masoud, Mohammad T., Masoud Faiza, Urquhart John, and Cattermole Giles N. “How Islam Changed Medicine.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 332.7533 (2006): 120-21. Web.

  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kheirandish, Elaheh. “Footprints of “Experiment” in Early Arabic Optics.” Early Science and Medicine 14.1/3 (2009): 79-104. Web.

  7. Ibid.