Science and Islam

Published on 11th March 2017 by

A three part BBC series from 2006 presented by theoretical physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, it explores the history of science in medical Islamic civilization. He travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia, and Spain to tell the story of the great scientific discoveries which took place in the Islamic world between the 8th to 14th centuries, great achievements of early medieval Islamic scentists. The series contains short segments with various leading scientists and historians.

Episode 1: The Language of Science

The first episode explores how the language of science originated in the Islamic world. The terms algebra and algorithm are both Arabic in origin, and are at the heart of most modern scientific innovations, without algorithms there would be no computers and no internet. The search engine Google, the primary product of one of the worlds biggest companies, is effectively just one massive complex algorithm.

Episode 2: The Empire of Reason

In the second episode Al-Khalili travels to Northern Syria to discover how the great astronomer and mathematician Al-Bruni estimated the size of the earth to within a few hundred miles of the correct figure, looks at how Islamic scholars helped turn the ancient practice of alchemy into modern day chemistry, and visits Cairo to tell the story of a physicist who helped establish the modern science of optics after proving the fundamental principle that light travels in straight lines.

Episode 3: The Power of Doubt

In the final episode Al-Khalili searches for evidence that the great European scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th century actually had it roots in medieval Islam, he travels through Iran, Syria, and Egypt to discover huge astronomical advances made by Islamic scholars, he then visit Italy to see how the same ideas influenced the works of the astronomer Copernicus. He finishes by questioning why it is that science in the Islamic world entered into a period of decline and looks at the current state of science in the Islamic world.


The documentary series was accompanied by a book by the science writer Ehsan Mahmood, available in paperback, hardcover, or kindle edition, Science and Islam: A History.

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