All of science and technology owes a debt to the Arab world, those ancient scholars, most of whom were practitioners of Islam. Ibn al Haytham was a major contributor toward what is now known as the scientific method. That is, collecting evidence in experiments, working out theorems and problems through mathematics, which may then be reproduced, with measurable results. Born in Basra in 965, he studied nature, found perfection in the natural world, which was largely comprehensible through the combined insights of algebra and geometry. He is credited by many to be the first true scientist.
Beginning in the early centuries between 100 AD and throughout history in the 12th century, the science of learning through the scientific method flourished. Throughout the rest of the continent, and rising in and out of obscurity throughout Europe, the methods slowly caught on.
The Middle ages are often called the dark ages, but even throughout that time, the Arab world continued with remarkable advances in architecture and engineering, mathematics, medicine, and investigation of the natural world.
Even as early as the 9th century, universities, mostly concerned with the advancement of medical knowledge, were begun and thrived. They were the first universities to train individuals into careful and deliberate observation, experimentation, and recording of their findings.
Medicine owes its worldwide acceptance today to this origin. And the useful institution of the hospital opened all over the Arab world during this time. In Egypt, for example, the first known hospital was established in 872 AD, and after its success, the idea spread. Eventually, physicians were trained, both in experiments and by lectures, and earning an advanced degree became grounded as a central practice. Some of these hospitals and universities were free to the public, as it was considered advantageous for learning. Without such things as insurance companies, and extreme bureaucracy, the hospitals, even when primitive by today’s standards, provided a basis for much accumulated, shared, and immensely valuable knowledge.
In other sciences as well, the Muslim world provided progress. The oldest known university is considered to be the in Fez, Morocco. It was known as the University of al Karaouine, founded in 859.
Also through medieval times, the idea of collecting and storing all the knowledge was established into what is now known as a library. This collected repository of knowledge allowed people to build upon discoveries already known, and to add to the ever growing body of knowledge.
Both public and private libraries arose, and were often not only a place for storing of manuscripts, but in conjunction with universities, they were places for lectures and meetings. Discussions and the wide dissemination of free knowledge was a great boon. In some locations the libraries and universities, over time, included the option of also being a place for people to lodge, and therefore, the region itself could become known as what we would now think of as a “college town.”
The idea of specialization in many fields became common, but even more modern and important, was the birth of the idea of educating people to have many areas of expertise, and to therefore, have a greater grasp of many fields and how they are interconnected. The concept of such a learned person gave rise to the title of “Hakeems,” what might today be called polymaths, or those graduates of inter-related knowledge who are scholars with a broad foundation of learning. Many of them became teachers themselves, and thus established the idea of professors and popular lecturers.
All of these scholars continued to exist, and knowledge continued to be accumulated, but it was not until Europe entered its own Renaissance, or rebirth, that the methods of inquiry flourished. By then, established monasteries of Europe, and societies of learning, schools of many kinds opened and expanded. Thus, those scientific fields for which people like Leonard Da Vinci and Galileo are so well known became supported by patrons, and eventually the wider society itself.