Iran, Cross-border

5 Persian Scholars Who Shaped the Islamic World

From the mid-7th century through the mid-13th century, the Islamic World was the center of world learning and scientific development. The Islamic Golden Age gave rise to countless inventions and innovations, while Islamic scholars were key to preserving the knowledge of the Greeks and other ancient civilizations. The Abbasid Caliphate was heavily Persian influenced and some of its greatest scholars were indeed Persians. The following world-famous thinkers were not Arab but Persian although they wrote mostly in Arabic, the lingua franca of the Islamic Empire.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna) b. 980 near Bukhara, d. 1037 Hamadan, Iran

One of most influential scientists and philosophers of the Islamic World, Ibn Sina is best known for his important contributions to the field of medicine. His seminal work Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine) is considered one of the most famous books in the history of medicine and set the standard for medical practice in Europe and the Islamic World through the 17th century.

Sībawayh b. ca. 760 Beyza, Iran, d. ca. 793 Shiraz, Iran

The greatest Arabic linguist and grammarian in history was in fact Persian. Sibawayh, a non-native speaker of Arabic, wrote the first book on Arabic grammar, Al-Kitāb fī an-Naḥw. This monumental work was central in setting the standard for explaining Arabic grammar, especially to non-Arab converts to Islam.

Al-Khwārazmī b. ca.780, d. ca. 850

This famous Persian mathematician is credited with introducing the decimal system to the Western world. A scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, Al-Khwarazmi’s work on linear and quadratic equations led to the later development of algebra, a term which stems from the title of one of his books. The word algorithm derives from the latinized form of his name Algoritmi.

Al-Rāzī (Rhazes) b. 854 Rey, Iran, d. 925 Rey, Iran

A celebrated polymath, Al-Razi, is considered to be the greatest physician of the Islamic World. He was the first to scientifically identify alcohol in its pure form and produce sulfuric acid. A prolific author, Al-Razi’s encyclopedic reviews of medicine, Al-Mansuri and Al-Hawi, were standard medical texts in European and Islamic universities.

Al-Ghazālī b. 1058 Tus, Iran, d. 1111 Tus, Iran

The 12th century philosopher, jurist and mystic Al-Ghazali, is regarded as one of the greatest theologians of Islam. His approach to reconciling reason and revelation had an important impact on medieval Christian and Jewish thinking. Known as a mujaddid, renewer of the faith, within Islam, Al-Ghazali’s influential writings made Sufism an acceptable part of orthodox Islam.

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Shirin Wertime

Shirin Wertime graduated from the College of William & Mary in the US with a degree in Government and French & Francophone Studies. As a 2010 Boren Critical Languages Scholar she spent one year studying Arabic in Syria and Morocco. Her study of languages and passion for travel have taken her to over 20 countries. Shirin is particularly interested in the Middle East and North Africa given her Iranian-American background and time spent living and studying in the Arab world. She hopes to pursue an internationally focused career in the realm of development and/or sustainability. ​

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