One of the greatest scientific minds of all time lived in Iraq 1000 years ago. His name was Ibn Al Haytham, known in the west as Alhazen or Alhacen. He was a mathematician, physicist and astronomer. Many history books do not mention him, but the ideas and theories that he came up with were revolutionary for science and technology. Many scientists like Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo owe a lot of credit to him, because, without Ibn Al Haytham’s ideas, they could not have made the scientific discoveries that they made.
Born in Iraq in 965 AD, grew up experiencing one of the greatest civilisations in the history of mankind, “THE ISLAMIC CIVILISATION”. During his lifetime, all the lands from Spain on the west to India on the east were controlled by Muslim rulers. The Muslim empire was not only the strongest empire at that time but also the most advanced in areas of education, science and technology. Many groundbreaking and revolutionary scientific discoveries and inventions were being made in Arabia and Persia by Muslim scientists and thinkers. Books were being written on topics such as astronomy, mathematics, physics and medical science. Students from different parts of the world used to travel to these lands to study under these great scholars and individuals.
Ibn Al Haytham was a product of such a scientifically advanced society as he grew up studying under such great scholars and thinkers. He read many books written on science and mathematics, including those written by the great philosophers of ancient Greece, like Plato and Aristotle. He himself became a scientist and wrote books on topics such as physics and astronomy. It is estimated that he wrote around 90 books, but only around 55 of them have survived to the present day.
Amongst the books that he wrote was “KITAB AL MANADHIR”, or “THE BOOK OF VISION”. This is his most famous book and his most important contribution towards science. The Greek philosopher Ptolemy wrote the greatest book on optics and vision named “ALMAGEST”, and “KITAB AL MANADHIR” is said to be the 2nd best after that.
In his book, Kitab Al Manadhir, Ibn Al Haytham writes the nature and characteristics of light, and how light allows us to see things. He wrote about Ptolemy’s theory of vision, that we see things because light travels from our eyes to an object. He said that this theory was wrong. Using complex mathematical formulae and experiments, he proved that light does not travel from our eyes, but towards it. He showed that objects emit light, and when that light enters our eyes, we see the object. Even today scientists consider this view of vision to be correct. This fact has now become a fundamental principle of physics.
Ibn Al Haytham is also the first ever camera called, “THE CAMERA OBSCURA”. He found that if there is a tiny hole in a completely dark room, an image of any object outside the room can be seen upside down on the wall opposite the hole. Based on this principle, he made the camera obscura, also known as “PINHOLE CAMERA". For centuries, scientists used this to study the movement of planets and stars. Even today it is used to study the movement of the sun.
Because of all these contributions towards science, Ibn Al Haytham is often called, “THE FATHER OF MODERN OPTICS".
Today, scientists use complex mathematical equations and conduct experiments to prove any theory or hypothesis. This is called the “SCIENTIFIC METHOD”. Rene Descartes, a French scientist, is given the credit for introducing the scientific method. But many do not realise that the first person in the history of science to use mathematics to prove his theories was none other than Ibn Al Haytham. This is why he is also called “THE FIRST TRUE SCIENTIST”, and also the first ever theoretical physicist.