|Contrary to the prevailing view, scientific activity in Islamic world initiated from the 1st century AH on a considerable scale. In the pre-Islamic period, there existed a number of works in Arabic, which were translations from Greek or Syriac originals, whose use assumed wider scope and paved the way for the later achievements. In addition, there were those who from the early days of Islam gained knowledge of the activities at the school of Antioch as well as the surviving works of the Alexandrian school. Masarjawayh is mentioned as the earliest translator of the Islamic period. It is also asserted that when Khalid b. Yazid gave up on his dream of becoming caliph, he decided to dabble in alchemy, thus, he went to Alexandria and forced a group of scholars to engage in translation of works of Greek origin.
Soon conditions were brought about which gave rise to a great influx of scholars from the east and the west into Islamic lands, the city of Baghdad in particular. At a time when the Jews were persecuted throughout Christendom and Christian scholars were fettered by the closed-mindedness of church leaders, the men of learning from every religion and ethnic background were treated with outmost respect by the members of the Muslim community. It was within this milieu that the Jewish Masarjawayh from Basrah was afforded the opportunity to travel to Damascus in order to translate a Greek work of medicine into Arabic at the behest of the Umayyad caliph Marwan b. Hakam. The `Abbasid caliph Mansur called to his court the famed physician Jurjis b. Jibril b. Bukhtishu` and housed him in one of his luxurious palaces and provided him with a life of lavish comfort. Mansur also commissioned the translation of several Greek works into Arabic and brought a group of Indian scholars to Baghdad to produce a translation of Sidhanata as well as a work of the same style in Arabic.
As regards emoluments and stipends, there was not only any shortage but exuberance of the most unprecedented scale. The annual stipend paid to Jibril b. Bakhtishu` by the caliph Harun al-Rashid was 480,000 dirhams. When taking into account the gifts he received on various Islamic and Christians occasions Bakhtishu`’s yearly income must have added up to some 600,000 dirhams. He was given substantially greater sums of money by those around Harun. For instance, he received an annual payment of 2.4 million dirhams from the Barmakid family.
Scientific activities and translation in particular gathered a much greater pace during the caliphate of Harun. Here, the Barmakids provided further impetus through their patronage of translators. An important measure in this period was the establishment of Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) as an academy for scientific research as well as for translation. Bayt al-Hikmah was expanded by Ma`mun and attracted such renowned scholars and translators as the Bani Musa, Hunayn b. Ishaq, Hubaysh b. Hasan and Thabit b. Qurrah. Each translator received a salary of 500 dinars. The Arabic translations of Hunayn b. Ishaq were so praised by Ma`mun that he rewarded them with their actual weight in gold.
Such conditions resulted in the translation of a large number of major Greek works on medicine, mathematics and astronomy, such as Hippocrates’ Wasaya, Fusul, Ipidemi and Ikhlat, Galen’s Tashrih, Istiqsat, Mazaj and al-Nabd al-kabir, Euclid’s Principles of Geometry, and Ptolemy’s Majista. There were also works translated from Persian and Sanskrit. Since these translations were replete with ambiguities a large body of commentaries were produced to ameliorate the situation.
During the first three centuries of the Islamic period there flourished hundreds of scientific geniuses. Muhammad b. Musa Khwarazmi was the great pioneer in utilization of algebraic methods for the solution of geometric problems, the translation of whose book on arithmetic (hisab) into Latin raised him to the status of an international personality. The term algorithm is in fact a distorted version of his nisba, al-Khwarazmi. Thabit b. Qurrah made significant contributions to the advancement of mathematics, especially in the field of differential equations, through his innovations such as methods for calculating the area of a parabola and the volume of a paraboloid. Abu Kamil Misri expanded Khwarazmi’s style of tackling geometric problems through algebraic methods and, ostensibly without any knowledge of Greek sources, devised a technique for squaring of parabolas. Ikhwan al-Safa was another group whose mathematical and other treatises made considerable contributions to the Islamic science. Abu al-Wafa Buzjani carved a palace for himself in the history of trigonometry by proving the relationship between the sine and cosine of the sum or the differential of a set of angles and their individual sine and cosine, in addition to calculating the sine of 0.5°. Abu Sa`id Sijzi set forth many new theories in the field of geometry, conic sections in particular. He offered a scientific method for the tripling of an angle, for the first time, shed new light on the Euclid’s theory, and constructed an astrolabe which hinted at earth’s axial rotation. Ibn Haytham’s theories were extensively used by western scientists. They included his studies in optics which led to the formulation of an equation of the fourth degree, named after him, innovative techniques for the resolution of trigonometric problems by geometric methods, employment of mathematical methods in the investigation of natural subjects, and the method of exhaustion (ifna’) for the calculation of volume, which resulted in the discovery of the notion of integral in mathematics. Abu al-Jud introduced many mathematical innovations such as methods for the drawing of heptagons and nonagons. His replies to the questions posed by Biruni are also considered highly valuable by the historians of mathematics. Biruni was one of the greatest scientists of his time. He made numerous discoveries in the field of mathematics, including the tripling of an angle, the calculation of the hypotenuse of an angle, and the determination of the relationship between the radius of a circle to its circumference. `Umar Khayyam’s treatise on algebra is one the most important mathematical works in Arabic language. His systematic studies of first, second and third degree equations as well as his treatise on the principles of Euclid are of equal significance. These are but a few of the great scientists whose endeavors contributed to one of the most magnificent explosions of scientific activity in human history.