You are here: History > Islamic world > Islamic science and exploration

Islamic science and exploration

A 13th-century illustration of Islamic scholars debating in a library The Arabs were keen to learn about the world around them. Islamic scholars made great advances in astronomy, studying the movements of the planets and drawing up detailed star charts. They had realised that the Earth was round long before this fact was generally accepted in the Christian world. In mathematics, scholars such as Al-Khwarizmi (c.780–850) developed some of the methods still used today, such as algebra (from the Arabic al-jabr). In medicine, great doctors like Al-Zahrawi (936–1013) gained greater understanding of the body and diseases.

A world map by Al-Idrisi (with south at the top)


Some Muslim scholars and adventurers undertook great journeys of exploration, visiting different corners of the Islamic world. North African explorer Al-Masudi travelled throughout the Arab Empire and beyond until his death in 956. He wrote over 30 books, which explained what he had seen in Africa, China, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
During the 1100s, Arab geographer Al-Idrisi travelled through Europe and the Near East, gathering information for Roger II, King of Sicily. He wrote a detailed guidebook for other travellers and produced an atlas of the known world.
Arab merchants pass Pharaoh's Island in the Gulf of Aqaba off the Sinai Peninsula.

An astronomical observatory, the Shammasiyah, was built in around 828 in Baghdad. It was the first modern-style observatory ever built.


Find the answer