Eminent Scholars on Ibn Al-Haytham

What modern Scientists and Historians say about Ibn al-Haytham:

The late Abdelhamid Sabra, Professor Emeritus of the History of Arabic Science, Harvard University, and an authority on Ibn al-Haytham, said the following about Ibn Al-Haytham in The Harvard Magazine, September-October 2003:

“Relatively late in his life, apparently stimulated by controversies with contemporaries about truth and authority and the role of criticism in scientific research, Ibn al-Haytham articulated some remarkably sophisticated statements on the practice of science and the growth of scientific knowledge. In a critical treatise, Aporias (doubts) against Ptolemy, he asserts that “Truth is sought for itself”—but “the truths,” he warns, “are immersed in uncertainties” and the scientific authorities (such as Ptolemy, whom he greatly respected) are “not immune from error….” Nor, he said, is human nature itself: “Therefore, the seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.”


In an article entitled “A Polymath in the 10th Century”, Professor Roshdi Rashed, an authority on Ibn Al-Haytham, concludes that:

“Ibn al-Haytham, therefore, started not only the traditional theme of optical research but also others, new ones, to cover finally the following areas: optics, meteorological optics, catoptrics, burning mirrors, dioptrics, the burning sphere and physical optics”


Speaking to 1001 Inventions, Professor George Saliba of Columbia University, New York City, USA said:

“Ibn al-Haytham is universally acknowledged to be one of, if not, the most creative scientist Islamic civilization had ever known.  He did not only critique the inherited Greek theories of light and vision, in his ‘Book On Optics’, and managed to create his own experimentally tested theories to replace them, thereby ushering the first building blocks for the modern understanding of how human vision takes place, but also subjected Greek cosmological doctrines in his other book Doubts Against Ptolemy, to a most devastating criticism that managed to undermine the very foundations of those doctrines, thereby initiating a sustained program of research to replace them; a program that lasted for centuries after him and culminated with the ultimate overthrow of the Aristotelian universe and the birth of the modern astronomy of the European Renaissance.”

Professor George Saliba has been a Professor of Arabic Science at the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University, New York, United States, since 1979. For some Saliba’s lectures see:  http://www.1001inventions.com/media/video/salibalectures


In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Professor Richard Lorch comments on Ibn al-Haytham’s work:

“The work (The Book of Optics) contains a complete formulation of the laws of reflection and a detailed investigation of refraction, including experiments involving angles of incidence and deviation. Refraction is correctly explained by light’s moving slower in denser mediums. The work also contains “Alhazen’s problem”—to determine the point of reflection from a plane or curved surface, given the centre of the eye and the observed point—which is stated and solved by means of conic sections. Other optical works include Ḍawʾ al-qamar (‘On the Light of the Moon’), al-Hāla wa-qaws quzaḥ (‘On the Halo and the Rainbow’), Ṣūrat al-kusūf (‘On the Shape of the Eclipse’; which includes a discussion of the camera obscura), and al-Ḍawʾ (‘A Discourse on Light’).”


Speaking to 1001 Inventions, Mohamed El-Gomati, OBE, Professor of Electron Optics and Nanotechnology at the University of York, UK says:

“Ibn al-Haytham’s contribution to the field of optics is nothing short of immense. And there are several good reasons for this: his contribution in developing a model which describes the mechanism of vision; his identification of the occurrence of spherical aberration in optical lenses – a difficulty which continues to confound designers of the most complex modern electron and ion microscopes today as well as in telescope mirrors; and last but not least and perhaps his most significant contribution, is his early systematic use of the scientific method of enquiry which secures his place in history as one of the great scientists in human history.”


Speaking to 1001 Inventions, Professor Mark A Smith of the University of Missouri, USA said about Ibn al-Haytham:

“Ibn al-Haytham’s primary contribution to the development of modern optics was the creation of a brilliant optical synthesis from various earlier theories, as well as his own. So elegant, coherent, and logically compelling was that synthesis, in fact, that it informed optical thought in Europe for hundreds of years before it was finally undermined by Kepler. The very fact that it persisted for so long and that it finally took a thinker of Kepler’s exceptional acuity to offer a viable alternative in the theory of retinal imaging is a testament to its elegance and logical power.”


The renowned historian of science, the late George Sarton in his ‘Introduction to the History of Science, p721, Krieger, 31 Dec 1975’ remarked on Ibn al-Haytham:

“The greatest Muslim physicist and one of the greatest students of optics of all times”


Speaking to 1001 Inventions, Historian of Science Professor Glen M. Cooper of Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, said about Ibn al-Haytham:

“Ibn al-Haytham was one of the truly great men of science. It is both through his clever use of thought experiments and in his emphasis on performing actual and careful experiments that Ibn al-Haytham must be considered as one of a handful of scientists whose contributions were pivotal to the development of the modern world. His famous critique of Ptolemaic astronomy led to a fruitful tradition in theoretical astronomy. However, it was through his research in optics that he made an even greater impact. Ibn al-Haytham and his followers in the West laid the groundwork for the Renaissance rediscovery of linear perspective and its inestimably important consequences, namely, the mathematicization of space on the one hand, and the exaltation of the observer, on the other, without which the Scientific Revolution might not have been possible.”


In his book Theories of Vision (University of Chicago Press, 1976) noted science historian David C. Lindberg wrote:

“Alhazen was undoubtedly the most significant figure in the history of optics between antiquity and the seventeenth century.”


Speaking to 1001inventins, on Ibn al-Haytham’s Contributions to Optics, Art, and Visual Literacy, Professor Charles Falco of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, an expert on the optics of Ibn al-Haytham said:

“Visual literacy is not limited to the narrative and symbolic qualities of pictures and images, but it is also rooted in the scientific and cultural study of optics and the visual system… [T]he genesis of this concept can be traced to the work of the 11th century Arab polymath, Ibn al-Haytham…”


Of the many sources describing Ibn al-Hytham as the father of modern Optics, the UNESCO in Impact of Science on Society – Volumes 26-27 – (1976) Page 140, 1st Edition 1950 said:

“One name stands out as that of a rare genius in physical research: Abu ‘Ali Al-Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham (965-1039) of Basrah (Iraq), without question the father of modern optics”.


<<< Who was Ibn al-Haytham  –  References for more reading >>>