The Islamic Golden Age of Science – The Ibn Al-Haytham Example

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As part of the International Year of Light, UNESCO hosted an international conference from 14-15 September 2015, at its Headquarters in Paris, focusing on the accomplishments of the Islamic civilization in its Golden Age and the life and works of Ibn al-Haytham.

By Sameen Ahmed Khan

There have been numerous conferences on the themes related to the Islamic Golden Age of Science, during the 8th-13th centuries. The United Nations declared 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL-2015), with the intention to stimulate worldwide interest in light-related sciences and technologies. The year 2015 marks numerous anniversaries from the field of optics. The oldest among these is the 1000th anniversary since the appearance of the encyclopedic treatise on optics (Kitab al-Manazir or the Book of Optics) by the Arab scientist Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040). Ibn al-Haytham became a central figure in the documents, which were submitted to UNESCO and eventually leading to the declaration of the International Year of Light by the United Nations in December 2013. The International Steering Committee of IYL-2015 launched an International Working Group (IWG) “Ibn al Haytham” to highlight the contributions of Arab scholars in the Islamic golden age to optics; in particular the work of Ibn al-Haytham. Prof. Azzedine Boudrioua, a leading optical scientist is the Chair and Coordinator of the Ibn Al-Haytham Working Group. Prof. Roshdi Rashed the world renowned mathematician, science historian and the 2007 King Faisal International Prize Laureate is the Honorary Chair.
As part of the IYL-2015, UNESCO hosted an international conference from 14-15 September 2015 at its Headquarters in Paris, France, focusing on the accomplishments of the Islamic civilization in its Golden Age and the life and works of Ibn al-Haytham. The event had a very high profile inauguration. Dignitaries in the inaugural session included, Irina Bokova (Director-General of UNESCO); John Dudley (President of the Steering Committee of the IYL-2015); Mohamed Amr (Ambassador, Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO); Ziad Aldrees (Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO); Sheikh Faisal bin Qasim Al-Thani, Founder and Chairman of the Al Faisal Without Borders Foundation. Putting the conference in perspective, Irina Bokova stated that “today, at this time of great change, when ignorance and violent extremism are rife, it is essential we do everything to teach the common history of humanity, to share the histories of women and men who did so much in the past to impact on the world as we know it today. Ibn Al-Haytham stands out in this pantheon as a great scientist and humanist.” John Dudley noted, “Studying the history of science and the lives and works and ideas of its pioneers such as Ibn al-Haytham can yield many important lessons, and provide inspiration for the future.” Rest of the event had about thirty presentations distributed in eight sessions on: History guiding the future, example of Ibn al- Haytham, Light-based technologies for the future, Education and Investment in Science andTechnology, The legacy of the Ibn Al-Haytham Conference, History of Optics, Impact of Light Science and Technology and Optics and photonics in the Arab and Muslim world.

Documents and works
A co-located exhibition showcased the digital images of the documents and works of scholars from the Islamic Golden Age (courtesy: Qatrar Digital Library, http://www.qdl.qa/). This exhibition also featured an exceptional piece, the 17th century microscope built by Leeuwenhoek for its scientific and historical value. This Leeuwenhoek microscope was exhibited to public for the first time during the Ibn al-Haytham Conference. Besides there was a video presenting ancient manuscripts of scientists of the Islamic Golden Age (Produced by the Qatar National Library),opening of the Ibn al-Haytham Exhibition and White Paper on Optics and Photonics (by the Ibn Al-Haytham Working Group). About 400 scientists, science historians, diplomats and science policy experts participated in the event.
(The writer works at the Department of Mathematics and Sciences, College of Arts and Applied Sciences (CAAS), Dhofar University, Salalah, Sultanate of Oman. ([email protected])