Ibn-al-Haytham Biography

Ibn-al-Haytham was an illustrious Arab Muslim scientist, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, life, achievements and little known facts about him.

Ibn-al-Haytham
Quick Facts

Nick Name: Alhazen, al-Basri,

Birthday: July 1, 965

Nationality: Iraqi

Famous: Physicists Astronomers

Died At Age: 74

Sun Sign: Cancer

Also Known As: Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham

Born in: Basra, Iraq

Famous as: Scientist, Physicist, Mathematician

Died on: March 6, 1040

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Ibn-al-Haytham, variously referred to as ‘al-Basri’ or by his Latinized name, ‘Alhazen’ was an illustrious Arab Muslim scientist, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Al-Haytham earned and cemented his place in the hallowed portals of greatest human achievements by making noteworthy contributions to optics, mathematics, astronomy, and other academic disciplines. Regarded as the father of optics, he propounded a hypothesis on visual perception that remained relevant for the subsequent 600 years. Ibn-al-Haytham lived mostly in Cairo, staying in touch with the Fatimid Caliphate, earning his livelihood by duplicating manuscripts, writing treatises, and instructing members of the royal family and nobilities. He garnered fame as a physicist early on in his youth, and was called upon by Al-Hakim, the eccentric Fatimid Caliph to travel to Egypt to dam the turbulent Nile. However, after journeying down the river, he realized that it would be futile to build a dam with the contemporary technology. Given Al-Hakim’s unstable state of mind, al-Haytham was apprehensive of incurring Al-Hakim’s wrath were he to apprised him about the futility of the project, and therefore threw up a tantrum pretending to be insane. His tactic saved his life as he was imprisoned in his own home for the 10 years that Al-Hakim survived which gave him enough time to conduct research on optics, astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and physics.

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Ibn-al-Haytham
Childhood
  • Ibn-al-Haytham was born in the city of Basra in Southern Iraq (which was then under the Buyid Emirate), around 965 CE.
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Overview of Life
  • After completing his formal education in Basra, he relocated to Cairo, Egypt then ruled by Al-Hakim, the Fatimid Caliph who patronized the sciences, especially astronomy.
  • It is said that Ibn-Al-Haytham made a proposal to the Caliph to construct a weir (at the same location where Aswan Dam stands today) in order to tame the tumultuous Nile. However, historians and chroniclers are at variance regarding the veracity of the above proposition.
  • It later dawned on al-Haytham that building a dam over the river may not prevent the waterway from flooding its banks. However, he was terrified of revealing the truth to Al-Hakim who was notorious for his irrational ways and therefore in order to save himself from getting executed, he pretended to be insane.
  • Al-Haytham was detained in his house from 1011 to 1021, till Al-Hakim died. It was during his detention that he penned the seminal ‘Book of Optics’ which is considered his masterpiece, and also authored pieces on astronomy, philosophy, number theory, and geometry.
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Legacy &Influences
  • Ibn-al-Haytham not only pioneered new theories, concepts, and postulates in geometry, astronomy, natural philosophy, and arithmetic but also gave fresh insight to these disciplines by correcting erroneous propositions believed to be hitherto flawless. However, his most noteworthy contributions were in optics, a branch of physics, and it is epitomized by his magnum opus, the ‘Kitab al-Manazir’.
  • He was perhaps the first researcher and scientist to stress on the imperativeness of proving a hypothesis or theorem through experiments using scientific methods. In the past, academics and scholars banked on reason and divinity for substantiating a proposition or concept.
  • Al-Haytham drew inspiration from several Greek, Persian, and Turkish scholars including Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid, Pythagoras, Galen, Abu Sahl al-Quhi, Ibn Sahl, Al-Kindi, Thabit Ibn Qurra, and Banu Musa for his observations.
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  • His works influenced luminaries like Averroes, Omar Khayyam, Taqi-ad-din Muhammad Ibn Mar’uf, Kamal al-din al-Farisi, Johannes Kepler, and Roger Bacon.
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Kitab-al-Manazir (Book of Optics)
  • ’Kitab-al-Manazari’, a seven-tome compilation on optics was Al-Haytham’s most notable work written over a period of ten years. The credit for revealing the significance of this encyclopedic work in the Muslim dominions goes to Kamal al-din al-Farisi, the 13th century Persian scientist who made commentaries on the work.
  • Al-Haytham endeavored to strike a balance between two key postulates on vision that prevailed in the Greco-Roman world. The primary proposition, ‘Emission Theory’ propounded by Ptolemy and Euclid, stressed that the eyes emitted light rays resulting in the perception of vision.
  • The second hypothesis, the ‘Intromission Theory’ backed by Aristotle hinted that light bounced off of different subjects and objects to enter the eye making visualization possible. Al-Haytham drew heavily from Ptolemy’s ‘Optics’, Euclid, and Aristotle as well as cited Galen for describing the eye’s physiology and anatomy.
  • He commented that light rays hit the eyes after rebounding from objects and not the other way round as the sight organs experienced pain when an individual looked at the sun directly. He refuted the assertion that the eyes sent out beams of light.
  • Light rays of different colors given off by self-illuminating transparent bodies and opaque sources are picked up by the eyes when they lie in the line of sight. The incident rays form an impression in the eyes’ glacial humor is interpreted by the mind as vision or sight enabling the individual to see.
  • The above supposition which formed the crux of Al-Haytham’s vision theory became the cornerstone for all future discussions and debates on optics in the countries of Europe till the 17th century
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The Scientific Analysis
  • Al-Haytham relied heavily on supervised testing and systematic experiments to back up his researches and investigations he undertook in the aforementioned academic disciplines. The practice of using methodical experimentations in a consistent and even manner for establishing the legitimacy of propositions was pioneered by him.
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Alhazen's
  • Al-Haytham’s discussed at length on catoptrics—a section of optics dealing with light reflections from mirrors or objects with mirror-like surfaces—in volume 5 of ‘Kitab-al-Manazari’ that was termed as ‘Alhazen’s problem. It was Ptolemy, the Greek polymath who first dabbled in catoptrics in 150 A.D.
  • Al-Haytham analyzed the intricacies involved with reflections from different types of mirrors and mirror-like objects in his own way. He dealt with the catoptrics problem by attempting to work out the point and angle of reflection from curved or plane surfaces when the observer was focusing on an object.
  • Al-Haytham analogized the catoptrics predicament first propounded by Ptolemy diagrammatically and solved it geometrically using conic representations. His other important optical contributions include ‘A Discourse on Light’, ‘On the Shape of the Eclipse’, ‘On Halo and Rainbow’, and ‘On the Light of the Moon’.
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Other Works on Physics
  • Al-Haytham touched space physics which can be found in his treatise ‘Epitome of Astronomy’ and maintained that Ptolemaic astronomy models could be correlated with physical objects for understanding them. He also explored ‘mechanics’ another branch of physics discussing in detail about the different forces acting on a body that creates motion.
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Works on Astronomy
  • Al-Haytham’s works on astronomy have contributed greatly towards the development of this specific branch of science. He offered a comprehensive account of the earth’s physical structure and composition in ‘On the Configuration of the World’. In ‘Doubts Concerning Ptolemy’ he indicated and specified several incongruities in Ptolemy’s works including ‘Almagest’, ‘Optics’, and ‘Planetary Hypotheses’.
  • Al-Haytham’s works on astronomy have contributed greatly towards the development of this specific branch of science. He offered a comprehensive account of the earth’s physical structure and composition in ‘On the Configuration of the World’. In ‘Doubts Concerning Ptolemy’ he indicated and specified several incongruities in Ptolemy’s works including ‘Almagest’, ‘Optics’, and ‘Planetary Hypotheses’.
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  • Al-Haytham’s works on astronomy have contributed greatly towards the development of this specific branch of science. He offered a comprehensive account of the earth’s physical structure and composition in ‘On the Configuration of the World’. In ‘Doubts Concerning Ptolemy’ he indicated and specified several incongruities in Ptolemy’s works including ‘Almagest’, ‘Optics’, and ‘Planetary Hypotheses’.
  • Al-Haytham’s works on astronomy have contributed greatly towards the development of this specific branch of science. He offered a comprehensive account of the earth’s physical structure and composition in ‘On the Configuration of the World’. In ‘Doubts Concerning Ptolemy’ he indicated and specified several incongruities in Ptolemy’s works including ‘Almagest’, ‘Optics’, and ‘Planetary Hypotheses’.
  • He wrote another book on astronomy, titled ‘The Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets’ in c. 1038. He authored 25 volumes on astronomy that basically centered on astronomical observations, problems, and technical issues.
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Works on Mathematics
  • Al-Haytham carried forward the mathematical postulates of Thabit Ibn Qurra and Euclid, especially on “the beginnings of the link between algebra and geometry”. He recorded his observations on ‘Euclidean parallel postulate’ and created the ‘Lambert quadrilateral’ also called ‘Ibn-Al-Haytham-Lambert quadrilateral’. He tried to find a solution to how to square a circle.
  • He experimented on ‘perfect numbers’ in his mathematical project named, ‘Analysis and Synthesis’. He solved the Wilson’s Theorem’ in another mathematical project called ‘Opuscula’. He also made significant contributions to ‘Calculus’ including the summation equation for the 4th power which helped him in determining a paraboloid’s volume.
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Other Works & Contributions
  • Apart from making constructive and groundbreaking contributions to mathematics, astronomy, optics, physics, and geometry, Al-Haytham also forayed into engineering, philosophy, and theology. He conducted an in-depth analysis of the Nile’s deluging its banks and laid out a blueprint for constructing a dam over the river.
  • He penned ‘Treatise on Place’ where he refuted the Aristotlean philosophy that Nature was not vacuous. He attempted to demonstrate geometrically that it (Nature) was actually void, similar to the presumed 3-dimensional emptiness within a body’s inner surfaces.
  • Al-Haytham was a staunch follower of the Islam faith and wrote a book based on Islamist theology that elaborated on prophethood and listed a set of idealistic criterions to discourage phoney candidates pretending to be oracles.
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Death
  • Ibn al-Haytham died around c. 1040, in Cairo, Fatimid Caliphate.
  • He did not get the credit that was due to him on account of his works that covered a wide variety of academic disciplines and topics. Nevertheless, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the quintessential polymath’s diverse body of work has inspired researchers, scholars, and intellectuals who followed him.
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Article Title
- Ibn-al-Haytham Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/ibn-al-haytham-33305.php
Last Updated
- July 25, 2017

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