Hasan Ibn al-Haytham
Basra, Buyid Emirate
Cairo, Fatimid Caliphate
Known for Book of Optics, Doubts Concerning Ptolemy, Alhazen's problem, Analysis,[4]Catoptrics,[5]Horopter, Moon illusion, experimental science, scientific methodology,[6]visual perception, empirical theory of perception, Animal psychology[7]
Scientific career
Influences Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Galen, Ban? M?s?, Th?bit ibn Qurra, Al-Kindi, Ibn Sahl, Ab? Sahl al-Q?h?
Influenced Omar Khayyam, Taqi ad-Din Muhammad ibn Ma'ruf, Kam?l al-D?n al-F?ris?, Averroes, Al-Khazini, John Peckham, Witelo, Roger Bacon,[8]Kepler

Ibn al-Haytham (also known by the Latinization Alhazen or Alhacen,[9] full name Ab? ?Al? al-?asan ibn al-?asan ibn al-Haytham ??? ???? ????? ?? ????? ?? ?????? c. 965 - c. 1040 CE) was a Muslim[10][11][12]scientist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher.[13] Ibn al-Haytham made significant contributions to the principles of optics, astronomy, mathematics and visual perception.[14] He has been dubbed the "father of optics".[by whom?] He was the first to explain that vision occurs when light bounces on an object and then is directed to one's eyes.[15] He spent most of his life close to the court of the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo and earned his living authoring various treatises and tutoring members of the nobilities.[16]

Ibn al-Haytham is widely considered to be one of the first theoretical physicists,[dubious ] and an early proponent of the concept that a hypothesis must be proved by experiments based on confirmable procedures or mathematical evidence--hence understanding the scientific method five centuries before Renaissance scientists.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

In medieval Europe, Ibn al-Haytham was honored as Ptolemaeus Secundus (the "Second Ptolemy")[23] or simply called "The Physicist".[24] He is also sometimes called al-Ba?r? after his birthplace, Basra in Iraq,[25] or al-Mi?r? ("of Egypt").[26]



Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) was born c. 965 in Basra, which was then part of the Buyid emirate,[1] to an Arab family.[27][28] Alhazen arrived in Cairo under the reign of Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, a patron of the sciences who was particularly interested in astronomy.[29] He proposed to the Caliph a hydraulic project to improve regulation of the flooding of the Nile, a task requiring an early attempt at building a dam at the present site of the Aswan Dam,[30] but later his field work convinced him of the technical impracticality of this scheme.[31] Alhazen continued to live in Cairo, in the neighborhood of the famous University of al-Azhar, until his death in 1040.[32] Legend has it that after deciding the scheme was impractical and fearing the caliph's anger, Alhazen feigned madness and was kept under house arrest from 1011 until al-Hakim's death in 1021.[33] During this time, he wrote his influential Book of Optics and continued to write further treatises on astronomy, geometry, number theory, optics and natural philosophy.[34]

Among his students were Sorkhab (Sohrab), a Persian from Semnan who was his student for over three years, and Abu al-Wafa Mubashir ibn Fatek, an Egyptian prince who learned mathematics from Alhazen.[35]

Book of Optics

Alhazen's most famous work[36] is his seven-volume treatise on optics Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), written from 1011 to 1021.

Optics was translated into Latin by an unknown scholar at the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th century.[37] It was printed by Friedrich Risner in 1572, with the title Opticae thesaurus: Alhazeni Arabis libri septem, nuncprimum editi; Eiusdem liber De Crepusculis et nubium ascensionibus (English : Thesaurus of Optics: seven books of the Arab Alhazeni, first edition: concerning twilight and the advancement of clouds).[38] Risner is also the author of the name variant "Alhazen"; before Risner he was known in the west as Alhacen, which is the correct transcription of the Arabic name.[39] This work enjoyed a great reputation during the Middle Ages. Works by Alhazen on geometric subjects were discovered in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris in 1834 by E. A. Sedillot. In all, A. Mark Smith has accounted for 18 full or near-complete manuscripts, and five fragments, which are preserved in 14 locations, including one in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and one in the library of Bruges.[40]

Theory of vision

Front page of the Opticae Thesaurus, which included the first printed Latin translation of Alhazen's Book of Optics. The illustration incorporates many examples of optical phenomena including perspective effects, the rainbow, mirrors, and refraction.

Two major theories on vision prevailed in classical antiquity. The first theory, the emission theory, was supported by such thinkers as Euclid and Ptolemy, who believed that sight worked by the eye emitting rays of light. The second theory, the intromission theory supported by Aristotle and his followers, had physical forms entering the eye from an object. Previous Islamic writers (such as al-Kindi) had argued essentially on Euclidean, Galenist, or Aristotelian lines. The strongest influence on the Book of Optics was from Ptolemy's Optics, while the description of the anatomy and physiology of the eye was based on Galen's account.[41] Alhazen's achievement was to come up with a theory that successfully combined parts of the mathematical ray arguments of Euclid, the medical tradition of Galen, and the intromission theories of Aristotle. Alhazen's intromission theory followed al-Kindi (and broke with Aristotle) in asserting that "from each point of every colored body, illuminated by any light, issue light and color along every straight line that can be drawn from that point".[42] This however left him with the problem of explaining how a coherent image was formed from many independent sources of radiation; in particular, every point of an object would send rays to every point on the eye. What Alhazen needed was for each point on an object to correspond to one point only on the eye.[42] He attempted to resolve this by asserting that the eye would only perceive perpendicular rays from the object--for any one point on the eye only saw the ray that reached it directly, without being refracted by any other part of the eye, would be perceived. He argued using a physical analogy that perpendicular rays were stronger than oblique rays; in the same way that a ball thrown directly at a board might break the board, whereas a ball thrown obliquely at the board would glance off, perpendicular rays were stronger than refracted rays, and it was only perpendicular rays which were perceived by the eye. As there was only one perpendicular ray that would enter the eye at any one point, and all these rays would converge on the centre of the eye in a cone, this allowed him to resolve the problem of each point on an object sending many rays to the eye; if only the perpendicular ray mattered, then he had a one-to-one correspondence and the confusion could be resolved.[43] He later asserted (in book seven of the Optics) that other rays would be refracted through the eye and perceived as if perpendicular.[44]

His arguments regarding perpendicular rays do not clearly explain why only perpendicular rays were perceived; why would the weaker oblique rays not be perceived more weakly?[45] His later argument that refracted rays would be perceived as if perpendicular does not seem persuasive.[46] However, despite its weaknesses, no other theory of the time was so comprehensive, and it was enormously influential, particularly in Western Europe: Directly or indirectly, his De Aspectibus inspired much activity in optics between the 13th and 17th centuries.[47]Kepler's later theory of the retinal image (which resolved the problem of the correspondence of points on an object and points in the eye) built directly on the conceptual framework of Alhazen.[47]

Alhazen showed through experiment that light travels in straight lines, and carried out various experiments with lenses, mirrors, refraction, and reflection.[48] His analyses of reflection and refraction considered the vertical and horizontal components of light rays separately.[49]

The camera obscura was known to the ancient Chinese, and was described by the Han Chinese polymathic genius Shen Kuo in his scientific book Dream Pool Essays, published in the year 1088 C.E.. Aristotle had discussed the basic principle behind it in his Problems, however Alhazen's work also contained the first clear description, outside of China, of camera obscura in the areas of the middle east, Europe, Africa and India.[50] and early analysis[51] of the device.

Alhazen studied the process of sight, the structure of the eye, image formation in the eye, and the visual system. Ian P. Howard argued in a 1996 Perception article that Alhazen should be credited with many discoveries and theories previously attributed to Western Europeans writing centuries later. For example, he described what became in the 19th century Hering's law of equal innervation. He wrote a description of vertical horopters 600 years before Aguilonius that is actually closer to the modern definition than Aguilonius's--and his work on binocular disparity was repeated by Panum in 1858.[52] Craig Aaen-Stockdale, while agreeing that Alhazen should be credited with many advances, has expressed some caution, especially when considering Alhazen in isolation from Ptolemy, who Alhazen was extremely familiar with. Alhazen corrected a significant error of Ptolemy regarding binocular vision, but otherwise his account is very similar; Ptolemy also attempted to explain what is now called Hering's law.[53] In general, Alhazen built on and expanded the optics of Ptolemy.[54] In a more detailed account of Ibn al-Haytham's contribution to the study of binocular vision based on Lejeune[55] and Sabra,[56] Raynaud[57] showed that the concepts of correspondence, homonymous and crossed diplopia were in place in Ibn al-Haytham's optics. But contrary to Howard, he explained why Ibn al-Haytham did not give the circular figure of the horopter and why, by reasoning experimentally, he was in fact closer to the discovery of Panum's fusional area than that of the Vieth-Müller circle. In this regard, Ibn al-Haytham's theory of binocular vision faced two main limits: the lack of recognition of the role of the retina, and obviously the lack of an experimental investigation of ocular tracts.

Alhazen's most original contribution was that after describing how he thought the eye was anatomically constructed, he went on to consider how this anatomy would behave functionally as an optical system.[58] His understanding of pinhole projection from his experiments appears to have influenced his consideration of image inversion in the eye,[59] which he sought to avoid.[60] He maintained that the rays that fell perpendicularly on the lens (or glacial humor as he called it) were further refracted outward as they left the glacial humor and the resulting image thus passed upright into the optic nerve at the back of the eye.[61] He followed Galen in believing that the lens was the receptive organ of sight, although some of his work hints that he thought the retina was also involved.[62]

Alhazen's synthesis of light and vision adhered to the Aristotelian scheme, exhaustively describing the process of vision in a logical, complete fashion.[63]

Scientific method

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 ... 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.

-- Alhazen[56]

An aspect associated with Alhazen's optical research is related to systemic and methodological reliance on experimentation (i'tibar)(Arabic: ??????) and controlled testing in his scientific inquiries. Moreover, his experimental directives rested on combining classical physics (ilm tabi'i) with mathematics (ta'alim; geometry in particular). This mathematical-physical approach to experimental science supported most of his propositions in Kitab al-Manazir (The Optics; De aspectibus or Perspectivae) and grounded his theories of vision, light and colour, as well as his research in catoptrics and dioptrics (the study of the reflection and refraction of light, respectively).[64]

According to Matthias Schramm, Alhazen "was the first to make a systematic use of the method of varying the experimental conditions in a constant and uniform manner, in an experiment showing that the intensity of the light-spot formed by the projection of the moonlight through two small apertures onto a screen diminishes constantly as one of the apertures is gradually blocked up."[65] G. J. Toomer expressed some skepticism regarding Schramm's view,[66] arguing that caution is needed to avoid reading anachronistically particular passages in Alhazen's very large body of work, because at the time (1964), his Book of Optics had not yet been fully translated from Arabic. While acknowledging Alhazen's importance in developing experimental techniques, Toomer argued that Alhazen should not be considered in isolation from other Islamic and ancient thinkers.[66] Toomer does concede that "Schramm sums up [Alhazen's] achievement in the development of scientific method."[67]

Mark Smith recounts Alhazen's elaboration of Ptolemy's experiments in double vision, reflection, and refraction: Alhazen's Optics book influenced the Perspectivists in Europe, Roger Bacon, Witelo, and Peckham. The Optics was incorporated into Risner's 1572 printing of Opticae Thesaurus, through which Kepler[68] finally resolved the contradictions inherent in Witelo's explanation of the imaging chain, from external object to the retina of the eye.[69]

Alhazen's problem

His work on catoptrics in Book V of the Book of Optics contains a discussion of what is now known as Alhazen's problem, first formulated by Ptolemy in 150 AD. It comprises drawing lines from two points in the plane of a circle meeting at a point on the circumference and making equal angles with the normal at that point. This is equivalent to finding the point on the edge of a circular billiard table at which a player must aim a cue ball at a given point to make it bounce off the table edge and hit another ball at a second given point. Thus, its main application in optics is to solve the problem, "Given a light source and a spherical mirror, find the point on the mirror where the light will be reflected to the eye of an observer." This leads to an equation of the fourth degree.[70] This eventually led Alhazen to derive a formula for the sum of fourth powers, where previously only the formulas for the sums of squares and cubes had been stated. His method can be readily generalized to find the formula for the sum of any integral powers, although he did not himself do this (perhaps because he only needed the fourth power to calculate the volume of the paraboloid he was interested in). He used his result on sums of integral powers to perform what would now be called an integration, where the formulas for the sums of integral squares and fourth powers allowed him to calculate the volume of a paraboloid.[71] Alhazen eventually solved the problem using conic sections and a geometric proof. His solution was extremely long and complicated and may not have been understood by mathematicians reading him in Latin translation. Later mathematicians used Descartes' analytical methods to analyse the problem,[72] with a new solution being found in 1997 by the Oxford mathematician Peter M. Neumann.[73] Recently, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) researchers Amit Agrawal, Yuichi Taguchi and Srikumar Ramalingam solved the extension of Alhazen's problem to general rotationally symmetric quadric mirrors including hyperbolic, parabolic and elliptical mirrors.[74] They showed that the mirror reflection point can be computed by solving an eighth degree equation in the most general case. If the camera (eye) is placed on the axis of the mirror, the degree of the equation reduces to six.[75] Alhazen's problem can also be extended to multiple refractions from a spherical ball. Given a light source and a spherical ball of certain refractive index, the closest point on the spherical ball where the light is refracted to the eye of the observer can be obtained by solving a tenth degree equation.[75]

Other contributions

Frontispiece of book showing two persons in robes, one holding a geometrical diagram, the other holding a telescope.
Hevelius's Selenographia, showing Alhasen [sic] representing reason, and Galileo representing the senses.

The Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) describes several experimental observations that Alhazen made and how he used his results to explain certain optical phenomena using mechanical analogies. He conducted experiments with projectiles and concluded that only the impact of perpendicular projectiles on surfaces was forceful enough to make them penetrate, whereas surfaces tended to deflect oblique projectile strikes. For example, to explain refraction from a rare to a dense medium, he used the mechanical analogy of an iron ball thrown at a thin slate covering a wide hole in a metal sheet. A perpendicular throw breaks the slate and passes through, whereas an oblique one with equal force and from an equal distance does not.[76] He also used this result to explain how intense, direct light hurts the eye, using a mechanical analogy: Alhazen associated 'strong' lights with perpendicular rays and 'weak' lights with oblique ones. The obvious answer to the problem of multiple rays and the eye was in the choice of the perpendicular ray, since only one such ray from each point on the surface of the object could penetrate the eye.[77]

Sudanese psychologist Omar Khaleefa has argued that Alhazen should be considered the founder of experimental psychology, for his pioneering work on the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions.[78] Khaleefa has also argued that Alhazen should also be considered the "founder of psychophysics", a sub-discipline and precursor to modern psychology.[78] Although Alhazen made many subjective reports regarding vision, there is no evidence that he used quantitative psychophysical techniques and the claim has been rebuffed.[79]

Alhazen offered an explanation of the Moon illusion, an illusion that played an important role in the scientific tradition of medieval Europe.[80] Many authors repeated explanations that attempted to solve the problem of the Moon appearing larger near the horizon than it does when higher up in the sky. Alhazen argued against Ptolemy's refraction theory, and defined the problem in terms of perceived, rather than real, enlargement. He said that judging the distance of an object depends on there being an uninterrupted sequence of intervening bodies between the object and the observer. When the Moon is high in the sky there are no intervening objects, so the Moon appears close. The perceived size of an object of constant angular size varies with its perceived distance. Therefore, the Moon appears closer and smaller high in the sky, and further and larger on the horizon. Through works by Roger Bacon, John Pecham and Witelo based on Alhazen's explanation, the Moon illusion gradually came to be accepted as a psychological phenomenon, with the refraction theory being rejected in the 17th century.[81] Although Alhazen is often credited with the perceived distance explanation, he was not the first author to offer it. Cleomedes (c. 2nd century) gave this account (in addition to refraction), and he credited it to Posidonius (c. 135-50 BC).[82] Ptolemy may also have offered this explanation in his Optics, but the text is obscure.[83] Alhazen's writings were more widely available in the Middle Ages than those of these earlier authors, and that probably explains why Alhazen received the credit.

Other works on physics

Optical treatises

Besides the Book of Optics, Alhazen wrote several other treatises on the same subject, including his Risala fi l-Daw' (Treatise on Light). He investigated the properties of luminance, the rainbow, eclipses, twilight, and moonlight. Experiments with mirrors and magnifying lenses provided the foundation for his theories on catoptrics.[84]

Celestial physics

Alhazen discussed the physics of the celestial region in his Epitome of Astronomy, arguing that Ptolemaic models must be understood in terms of physical objects rather than abstract hypotheses--in other words that it should be possible to create physical models where (for example) none of the celestial bodies would collide with each other. The suggestion of mechanical models for the Earth centred Ptolemaic model "greatly contributed to the eventual triumph of the Ptolemaic system among the Christians of the West". Alhazen's determination to root astronomy in the realm of physical objects was important, however, because it meant astronomical hypotheses "were accountable to the laws of physics", and could be criticised and improved upon in those terms.[85]

He also wrote Maqala fi daw al-qamar (On the Light of the Moon).


In his work, Alhazen discussed theories on the motion of a body.[84] In his Treatise on Place, Alhazen disagreed with Aristotle's view that nature abhors a void, and he used geometry in an attempt to demonstrate that place (al-makan) is the imagined three-dimensional void between the inner surfaces of a containing body.[86]

Astronomical works

On the Configuration of the World

In his On the Configuration of the World Alhazen presented a detailed description of the physical structure of the earth:

The earth as a whole is a round sphere whose center is the center of the world. It is stationary in its [the world's] middle, fixed in it and not moving in any direction nor moving with any of the varieties of motion, but always at rest.[87]

The book is a non-technical explanation of Ptolemy's Almagest, which was eventually translated into Hebrew and Latin in the 13th and 14th centuries and subsequently had an influence on astronomers such as Georg von Peuerbach[1] during the European Middle Ages and Renaissance.[88]

Doubts Concerning Ptolemy

In his Al-Shuk?k 'al? Batlamy?s, variously translated as Doubts Concerning Ptolemy or Aporias against Ptolemy, published at some time between 1025 and 1028, Alhazen criticized Ptolemy's Almagest, Planetary Hypotheses, and Optics, pointing out various contradictions he found in these works, particularly in astronomy. Ptolemy's Almagest concerned mathematical theories regarding the motion of the planets, whereas the Hypotheses concerned what Ptolemy thought was the actual configuration of the planets. Ptolemy himself acknowledged that his theories and configurations did not always agree with each other, arguing that this was not a problem provided it did not result in noticeable error, but Alhazen was particularly scathing in his criticism of the inherent contradictions in Ptolemy's works.[89] He considered that some of the mathematical devices Ptolemy introduced into astronomy, especially the equant, failed to satisfy the physical requirement of uniform circular motion, and noted the absurdity of relating actual physical motions to imaginary mathematical points, lines and circles:[90]

Ptolemy assumed an arrangement (hay'a) that cannot exist, and the fact that this arrangement produces in his imagination the motions that belong to the planets does not free him from the error he committed in his assumed arrangement, for the existing motions of the planets cannot be the result of an arrangement that is impossible to exist... [F]or a man to imagine a circle in the heavens, and to imagine the planet moving in it does not bring about the planet's motion.[91]

Having pointed out the problems, Alhazen appears to have intended to resolve the contradictions he pointed out in Ptolemy in a later work. Alhazen believed there was a "true configuration" of the planets that Ptolemy had failed to grasp. He intended to complete and repair Ptolemy's system, not to replace it completely.[89] In the Doubts Concerning Ptolemy Alhazen set out his views on the difficulty of attaining scientific knowledge and the need to question existing authorities and theories:

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...[56]

He held that the criticism of existing theories--which dominated this book--holds a special place in the growth of scientific knowledge.

Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets

Alhazen's The Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets was written c. 1038. Only one damaged manuscript has been found, with only the introduction and the first section, on the theory of planetary motion, surviving. (There was also a second section on astronomical calculation, and a third section, on astronomical instruments.) Following on from his Doubts on Ptolemy, Alhazen described a new, geometry-based planetary model, describing the motions of the planets in terms of spherical geometry, infinitesimal geometry and trigonometry. He kept a geocentric universe and assumed that celestial motions are uniformly circular, which required the inclusion of epicycles to explain observed motion, but he managed to eliminate Ptolemy's equant. In general, his model didn't try to provide a causal explanation of the motions, but concentrated on providing a complete, geometric description that could explain observed motions without the contradictions inherent in Ptolemy's model.[92]

Other astronomical works

Alhazen wrote a total of twenty-five astronomical works, some concerning technical issues such as Exact Determination of the Meridian, a second group concerning accurate astronomical observation, a third group concerning various astronomical problems and questions such as the location of the Milky Way; Alhazen argued for a distant location, based on the fact that it does not move in relation to the fixed stars.[93] The fourth group consists of ten works on astronomical theory, including the Doubts and Model of the Motions discussed above.[94]

Mathematical works

Alhazen's geometrically proven summation formula

In mathematics, Alhazen built on the mathematical works of Euclid and Thabit ibn Qurra and worked on "the beginnings of the link between algebra and geometry."[95]

He developed a formula for summing the first 100 natural numbers, using a geometric proof to prove the formula.[96]


The lunes of Alhazen. The two blue lunes together have the same area as the green right triangle.

Alhazen explored what is now known as the Euclidean parallel postulate, the fifth postulate in Euclid's Elements, using a proof by contradiction,[97] and in effect introducing the concept of motion into geometry.[98] He formulated the Lambert quadrilateral, which Boris Abramovich Rozenfeld names the "Ibn al-Haytham-Lambert quadrilateral".[99]

In elementary geometry, Alhazen attempted to solve the problem of squaring the circle using the area of lunes (crescent shapes), but later gave up on the impossible task.[100] The two lunes formed from a right triangle by erecting a semicircle on each of the triangle's sides, inward for the hypotenuse and outward for the other two sides, are known as the lunes of Alhazen; they have the same total area as the triangle itself.[101]

Number theory

Alhazen's contributions to number theory include his work on perfect numbers. In his Analysis and Synthesis, he may have been the first to state that every even perfect number is of the form 2n-1(2n - 1) where 2n - 1 is prime, but he was not able to prove this result; Euler later proved it in the 18th century.[100]

Alhazen solved problems involving congruences using what is now called Wilson's theorem. In his Opuscula, Alhazen considers the solution of a system of congruences, and gives two general methods of solution. His first method, the canonical method, involved Wilson's theorem, while his second method involved a version of the Chinese remainder theorem.[100]


Alhazen discovered the sum formula for the fourth power, using a method that could be generally used to determine the sum for any integral power. He used this to find the volume of a paraboloid. He could find the integral formula for any polynomial without having developed a general formula.[102]

Other works

Influence of Melodies on the Souls of Animals

Alhazen also wrote a Treatise on the Influence of Melodies on the Souls of Animals, although no copies have survived. It appears to have been concerned with the question of whether animals could react to music, for example whether a camel would increase or decrease its pace.


In engineering, one account of his career as a civil engineer has him summoned to Egypt by the Fatimid Caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, to regulate the flooding of the Nile River. He carried out a detailed scientific study of the annual inundation of the Nile River, and he drew plans for building a dam, at the site of the modern-day Aswan Dam. His field work, however, later made him aware of the impracticality of this scheme, and he soon feigned madness so he could avoid punishment from the Caliph.[103]


In his Treatise on Place, Alhazen disagreed with Aristotle's view that nature abhors a void, and he used geometry in an attempt to demonstrate that place (al-makan) is the imagined three-dimensional void between the inner surfaces of a containing body.[86]Abd-el-latif, a supporter of Aristotle's philosophical view of place, later criticized the work in Fi al-Radd 'ala Ibn al-Haytham fi al-makan (A refutation of Ibn al-Haytham's place) for its geometrization of place.[86]

Alhazen also discussed space perception and its epistemological implications in his Book of Optics. In "tying the visual perception of space to prior bodily experience, Alhazen unequivocally rejected the intuitiveness of spatial perception and, therefore, the autonomy of vision. Without tangible notions of distance and size for correlation, sight can tell us next to nothing about such things."[104]


Alhazen was a devout Muslim, though it is uncertain which branch of Islam he followed. He may have been either a follower of the Ash'ari school of Sunni Islamic theology according to Ziauddin Sardar[10] and Lawrence Bettany[105] (and opposed to the views of the Mu'tazili school),[105] a follower of the Mu'tazili school of Islamic theology according to Peter Edward Hodgson,[106] or a possibly follower of Shia Islam according to A. I. Sabra.[107][need quotation to verify]

Alhazen wrote a work on Islamic theology in which he discussed prophethood and developed a system of philosophical criteria to discern its false claimants in his time.[108] He also wrote a treatise entitled Finding the Direction of Qibla by Calculation in which he discussed finding the Qibla, where Salat prayers are directed towards, mathematically.[11]

He wrote in his Doubts Concerning Ptolemy:

Truth is sought for its own sake ... Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is rough. For the truths are plunged in obscurity. ... God, however, has not preserved the scientist from error and has not safeguarded science from shortcomings and faults. If this had been the case, scientists would not have disagreed upon any point of science...[109]

In The Winding Motion, Alhazen further wrote:

From the statements made by the noble Shaykh, it is clear that he believes in Ptolemy's words in everything he says, without relying on a demonstration or calling on a proof, but by pure imitation (taqlid); that is how experts in the prophetic tradition have faith in Prophets, may the blessing of God be upon them. But it is not the way that mathematicians have faith in specialists in the demonstrative sciences.[12]

Alhazen described his theology:

I constantly sought knowledge and truth, and it became my belief that for gaining access to the effulgence and closeness to God, there is no better way than that of searching for truth and knowledge.[110]

List of works

According to medieval biographers, Alhazen wrote more than 200 works on a wide range of subjects, of which at least 96 of his scientific works are known. Most of his works are now lost, but more than 50 of them have survived to some extent. Nearly half of his surviving works are on mathematics, 23 of them are on astronomy, and 14 of them are on optics, with a few on other subjects.[111] Not all his surviving works have yet been studied, but some of the ones that have are given below.[112]

  1. Book of Optics (???? ???????)
  2. Analysis and Synthesis (????? ?? ??????? ????????)
  3. Balance of Wisdom (????? ??????)
  4. Corrections to the Almagest (??????? ??? ???????)
  5. Discourse on Place (????? ?? ??????)
  6. Exact Determination of the Pole (??????? ?????? ?????)
  7. Exact Determination of the Meridian (????? ?? ?????)
  8. Finding the Direction of Qibla by Calculation (????? ???? ????? ??????)
  9. Horizontal Sundials (??????? ???????)
  10. Hour Lines
  11. Doubts Concerning Ptolemy (???? ??? ???????)
  12. Maqala fi'l-Qarastun (????? ?? ??????)
  13. On Completion of the Conics (????? ????????)
  14. On Seeing the Stars (???? ???????)
  15. On Squaring the Circle (????? ?? ????? ???????)
  16. On the Burning Sphere ( ??????? ??????? ????????)
  17. On the Configuration of the World (????? ??????)
  18. On the Form of Eclipse (????? ?? ???? ???????)
  19. On the Light of Stars (????? ?? ??? ??????)
  20. On the Light of the Moon (????? ?? ??? ?????)
  21. On the Milky Way (????? ?? ??? ???????)
  22. On the Nature of Shadows (?????? ???????)
  23. On the Rainbow and Halo (????? ?? ??? ???)
  24. Opuscula
  25. Resolution of Doubts Concerning the Almagest
  26. Resolution of Doubts Concerning the Winding Motion
  27. The Correction of the Operations in Astronomy
  28. The Different Heights of the Planets
  29. The Direction of Mecca (????? ??????)
  30. The Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets (????? ????? ??????? ??????)
  31. The Model of the Universe (????? ?????)
  32. The Motion of the Moon (???? ?????)
  33. The Ratios of Hourly Arcs to their Heights
  34. The Winding Motion (?????? ????????)
  35. Treatise on Light (????? ?? ?????)
  36. Treatise on Place (????? ?? ??????)
  37. Treatise on the Influence of Melodies on the Souls of Animals (????? ?????? ????????? ?? ?????? ?????????)
  38. ???? ?? ????? ??????? ????????
  39. ?????? ?? ???? ??????
  40. ??? ?? ????? ?????
  41. ????? ??????? ??????? ?? ???? ?????????
  42. ???? ?????? ?? ??? ??????
  43. ????? ?? ????? ?????? ???????
  44. ??? ???? ??????
  45. ??????? ??????? ???????

Lost works

  1. A Book in which I have Summarized the Science of Optics from the Two Books of Euclid and Ptolemy, to which I have added the Notions of the First Discourse which is Missing from Ptolemy's Book[113]


Alhazen made significant contributions to optics, number theory, geometry, astronomy and natural philosophy. Alhazen's work on optics is credited with contributing a new emphasis on experiment.

Cover of the Book of Optics

His main work, Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), was known in the Muslim world mainly, but not exclusively, through the thirteenth-century commentary by Kam?l al-D?n al-F?ris?, the Tanq?? al-Man??ir li-dhaw? l-ab??r wa l-ba??'ir.[114] In al-Andalus, it was used by the eleventh-century prince of the Banu Hud dynasty of Zaragossa and author of an important mathematical text, al-Mu'taman ibn H?d. A Latin translation of the Kitab al-Manazir was made probably in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century.[115] This translation was read by and greatly influenced a number of scholars in Christian Europe including: Roger Bacon,[116]Robert Grosseteste,[117]Witelo, Giambattista della Porta,[118]Leonardo Da Vinci,[119]Galileo Galilei,[120]Christiaan Huygens,[121]René Descartes,[122] and Johannes Kepler.[123] His research in catoptrics (the study of optical systems using mirrors) centred on spherical and parabolic mirrors and spherical aberration. He made the observation that the ratio between the angle of incidence and refraction does not remain constant, and investigated the magnifying power of a lens. His work on catoptrics also contains the problem known as "Alhazen's problem".[48] Meanwhile in the Islamic world, Alhazen's work influenced Averroes' writings on optics,[124] and his legacy was further advanced through the 'reforming' of his Optics by Persian scientist Kamal al-Din al-Farisi (died ca. 1320) in the latter's Kitab Tanqih al-Manazir (The Revision of [Ibn al-Haytham's] Optics).[64] Alhazen wrote as many as 200 books, although only 55 have survived. Some of his treatises on optics survived only through Latin translation. During the Middle Ages his books on cosmology were translated into Latin, Hebrew and other languages.

The crater Alhazen on the Moon is named in his honour,[125] as was the asteroid 59239 Alhazen.[126] In honour of Alhazen, the Aga Khan University (Pakistan) named its Ophthalmology endowed chair as "The Ibn-e-Haitham Associate Professor and Chief of Ophthalmology".[127] Alhazen, by the name Ibn al-Haytham, is featured on the obverse of the Iraqi 10,000-dinar banknote issued in 2003,[128] and on 10-dinar notes from 1982.

The 2015 International Year of Light celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the works on optics by Ibn Al-Haytham.[129]


In 2014, the "Hiding in the Light" episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson, focused on the accomplishments of Ibn al-Haytham. He was voiced by Alfred Molina in the episode.

Over forty years previously, Jacob Bronowski presented Alhazen's work in a similar television documentary (and the corresponding book), The Ascent of Man. In episode 5 (The Music of the Spheres), Bronowski remarked that in his view, Alhazen was "the one really original scientific mind that Arab culture produced", whose theory of optics was not improved on till the time of Newton and Leibniz.

UNESCO declared 2015 the International Year of Light. Amongst others, this was to celebrate Ibn Al-Haytham's achievements in optics, mathematics and astronomy. An international campaign, created by the 1001 Inventions organisation, titled 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham featuring a series of interactive exhibits, workshops and live shows about his work, partnering with science centers, science festivals, museums, and educational institutions, as well as digital and social media platforms.[130] The campaign also produced and released the short educational film 1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham, In honour of Alhazen, the Aga Khan University (Pakistan) named its Ophthalmology endowed chair as "The Ibn-e-Haitham Associate Professor and Chief of Ophthalmology"


Mark Smith's critical editions of De Aspectibus contain a Latin glossary with page numbers of each occurrence of the words, to illustrate Alhazen's experimental viewpoint. Smith shows that Alhacen was received well in the West because he reinforced the importance of the Hellenic tradition to it.[131]


Smith (2010) has noted that Alhazen's treatment of refraction describes an experimental setup without publication of data.[132] Ptolemy published his experimental results for refraction, in contrast. One generation before Alhazen, Ibn Sahl discovered his statement of the lengths of the hypotenuse for each incident and refracted right triangle, respectively. This is equivalent to Descartes' formulation for refraction. Alhazen's convention for describing the incident and refracted angles is still in use.

In literature

Ibn al-Haytham is the main character in The Prisoner of Al-Hakim by American novelist Bradley Steffens, which recounts the scholar's journey to Egypt, his ten-year imprisonment under Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and his major discoveries in the field of optics.[133]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Lorch 2008.
  2. ^ Falco 2007.
  3. ^ Rosenthal 1960-1961.
  4. ^ O'Connor & Robertson 1999.
  5. ^ El-Bizri 2010, p. 11: "Ibn al-Haytham's groundbreaking studies in optics, including his research in catoptrics and dioptrics (respectively the sciences investigating the principles and instruments pertaining to the reflection and refraction of light), were principally gathered in his monumental opus: Kitåb al-manåóir (The Optics; De Aspectibus or Perspectivae; composed between 1028 CE and 1038 CE)."
  6. ^ Rooney 2012, p. 39: "As a rigorous experimental physicist, he is sometimes credited with inventing the scientific method."
  7. ^ Baker 2012, p. 449: "As shown earlier, Ibn al-Haytham was among the first scholars to experiment with animal psychology.
  8. ^ Ackerman (1978), p. 119.
  9. ^ The Latin forms of his name, remain in popular use, but are out of use in scholarly contexts. Lindberg 1967
  10. ^ a b Sardar 1998.
  11. ^ a b Topdemir 2007b, pp. 8-9.
  12. ^ a b Rashed 2007, p. 11.
  13. ^ Three sources support these claims: Sabra 2008; Kalin, Ayduz & Dagli 2009 ("Ibn al-?aytam was an eminent eleventh-century Arab optician, geometer, arithmetician, algebraist, astronomer, and engineer."); and Dallal 1999 ("Ibn al-Haytham (d. 1039), known in the West as Alhazan, was a leading Arab mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. His optical compendium, Kitab al-Manazir, is the greatest medieval work on optics.")
  14. ^ Selin 2008: "The three most recognizable Islamic contributors to meteorology were: the Alexandrian mathematician/ astronomer Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen 965-1039), the Arab-speaking Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna 980-1037), and the Spanish Moorish physician/jurist Ibn Rushd (Averroes; 1126-1198)."
  15. ^ Adamson, Peter (7 July 2016). Philosophy in the Islamic World: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. Oxford University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-19-957749-1. 
  16. ^ According to Al-Qifti. O'Connor & Robertson 1999.
  17. ^ Ackerman 1991.
  18. ^ Haq, Syed (2009). "Science in Islam". Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. ISSN 1703-7603. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
  19. ^ G. J. Toomer. Review on JSTOR, Toomer's 1964 review of Matthias Schramm (1963) Ibn Al-Haythams Weg Zur Physik Toomer p.464: "Schramm sums up [Ibn Al-Haytham's] achievement in the development of scientific method."
  20. ^ "International Year of Light - Ibn Al-Haytham and the Legacy of Arabic Optics". 
  21. ^ Al-Khalili, Jim (4 January 2009). "The 'first true scientist'". BBC News. Retrieved 2013. 
  22. ^ Gorini, Rosanna (October 2003). "Al-Haytham the man of experience. First steps in the science of vision" (PDF). Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine. 2 (4): 53-55. Retrieved . 
  23. ^ Corbin 1993, p. 149.
  24. ^ Lindberg 1967, p. 331
  25. ^ O'Connor & Robertson 1999
  26. ^ O'Connor & Robertson 1999
  27. ^ Vernet 1996, p. 788: "IBN AL-HAYXHAM, B. AL-HAYTHAM AL-BASRI, AL-MisRl, was identified towards the end of the 19th century with the ALHAZEN, AVENNATHAN and AVENETAN of mediaeval Latin texts. He is one of the principal Arab mathematicians and, without any doubt, the best physicist."
  28. ^ Simon 2006
  29. ^ Rashed 2002b.
  30. ^ Rashed 2002b
  31. ^ Corbin 1993, p. 149.
  32. ^ Corbin 1993, p. 149.
  33. ^ "the Great Islamic Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved . [verification needed]
  34. ^ For Ibn al-Haytham's life and works, (Smith 2001, p. cxix) recommends (Sabra 1989, pp. vol.2, xix-lxxiii)
  35. ^ Sajjadi, Sadegh, "Alhazen", Great Islamic Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Article No. 1917;[verification needed]
  36. ^ Al-Khalili 2015.
  37. ^ Crombie 1971, p. 147, n. 2.
  38. ^ Alhazen (965-1040): Library of Congress Citations, Malaspina Great Books, archived from the original on September 27, 2007, retrieved  [verification needed]
  39. ^ Smith 2001, p. xxi.
  40. ^ Smith 2001, p. xxii.
  41. ^ Smith 2001, p. lxxix.
  42. ^ a b Lindberg 1976, p. 73.
  43. ^ (Lindberg 1976, p. 74)
  44. ^ (Lindberg 1976, p. 76)
  45. ^ Lindberg 1976, p. 75
  46. ^ Lindberg 1976, pp. 76-78
  47. ^ a b Lindberg 1976, p. 86.
  48. ^ a b Al Deek 2004.
  49. ^ Heeffer 2003.
  50. ^ Kelley, Milone & Aveni 2005, p. 83:

    "The first clear description of the device appears in the Book of Optics of Alhazen."

  51. ^ Wade & Finger (2001):

    "The principles of the camera obscura first began to be correctly analysed in the eleventh century, when they were outlined by Ibn al-Haytham."

  52. ^ Howard 1996.
  53. ^ Aaen-Stockdale 2008
  54. ^ Wade 1998, pp. 240,316,334,367; Howard & Wade 1996, pp. 1195,1197,1200.
  55. ^ Lejeune 1958.
  56. ^ a b c Sabra 1989.
  57. ^ Raynaud 2003.
  58. ^ Russell 1996, p. 691.
  59. ^ Russell 1996, p. 689.
  60. ^ Lindberg 1976, pp. 80-85
  61. ^ Smith 2004, pp. 186, 192.
  62. ^ Wade 1998, p. 14
  63. ^ Smith 2001, p. 437 De Aspectibus Book Two, 3.39 p.437, via JSTOR
  64. ^ a b El-Bizri 2005a, 2005b.
  65. ^ Toomer 1964, pp. 463-4
  66. ^ a b Toomer 1964, p. 465
  67. ^ Toomer 1964, p. 464
  68. ^ Smith 2015, p. 329
  69. ^ Smith 2004, p. 192
  70. ^ O'Connor & Robertson 1999, Weisstein 2008.
  71. ^ Katz 1995, pp. 165-9 & 173-4.
  72. ^ Smith 1992.
  73. ^ Highfield 1997.
  74. ^ Agrawal, Taguchi & Ramalingam 2011.
  75. ^ a b Agrawal, Taguchi & Ramalingam 2010.
  76. ^ Russell 1996, p. 695.
  77. ^ Russell 1996.
  78. ^ a b Khaleefa 1999
  79. ^ Aaen-Stockdale 2008.
  80. ^ Ross & Plug 2002.
  81. ^ Hershenson 1989, pp. 9-10.
  82. ^ Ross 2000.
  83. ^ Ross & Ross 1976.
  84. ^ a b El-Bizri 2006.
  85. ^ Duhem 1969, p. 28.
  86. ^ a b c El-Bizri 2007.
  87. ^ Langerman 1990, chap. 2, sect. 22, p. 61
  88. ^ Langerman 1990, pp. 34-41; Gondhalekar 2001, p. 21.
  89. ^ a b Sabra 1998.
  90. ^ Langerman 1990, pp. 8-10
  91. ^ Sabra 1978b, p. 121, n. 13
  92. ^ Rashed 2007.
  93. ^ Mohamed 2000, pp. 49-50
  94. ^ Rashed 2007, pp. 8-9.
  95. ^ Faruqi 2006, pp. 395-6:

    In seventeenth century Europe the problems formulated by Ibn al-Haytham (965-1041) became known as 'Alhazen's problem'. [...] Al-Haytham's contributions to geometry and number theory went well beyond the Archimedean tradition. Al-Haytham also worked on analytical geometry and the beginnings of the link between algebra and geometry. Subsequently, this work led in pure mathematics to the harmonious fusion of algebra and geometry that was epitomised by Descartes in geometric analysis and by Newton in the calculus. Al-Haytham was a scientist who made major contributions to the fields of mathematics, physics and astronomy during the latter half of the tenth century.

  96. ^ Rottman 2000, Chapter 1.
  97. ^ Eder 2000.
  98. ^ Katz 1998, p. 269:

    In effect, this method characterised parallel lines as lines always equidistant from one another and also introduced the concept of motion into geometry.

  99. ^ Rozenfeld 1988, p. 65.
  100. ^ a b c O'Connor & Robertson 1999.
  101. ^ Alsina & Nelsen 2010.
  102. ^ Katz, Victor J. (1995). "Ideas of Calculus in Islam and India". Mathematics Magazine. 68 (3): 163-174. JSTOR 2691411. doi:10.2307/2691411.  [165-9, 173-4]
  103. ^ Plott 2000, Pt. II, p. 459.
  104. ^ Smith 2005, pp. 219-40.
  105. ^ a b Bettany 1995, p. 251.
  106. ^ Hodgson 2006, p. 53.
  107. ^ (Sabra 1978a, p. 54)
  108. ^ Plott 2000, Pt. II, p. 464
  109. ^ Translated by S. Pines, as quoted in Sambursky 1974, p. 139.
  110. ^ Plott 2000, Pt. II, p. 465
  111. ^ Rashed 2002a, p. 773.
  112. ^ Rashed 2007, pp. 8-9; Topdemir 2007b
  113. ^ From Ibn Abi Usaibia's catalog, as cited in Smith 2001 91(vol.1), p.xv.
  114. ^ Sabra 2007.
  115. ^ Sabra 2007, pp. 122, 128-129. Grant (1974, p. 392) notes the Book of Optics has also been denoted as Opticae Thesaurus Alhazen Arabis, as De Aspectibus, and also as Perspectiva
  116. ^ Lindberg 1996, p. 11, passim.
  117. ^ Authier 2013, p. 23: "Alhazen's works in turn inspired many scientists of the Middle Ages, such as the English bishop, Robert Grosseteste (ca 1175-1253), and the English Franciscan, Roger Bacon (ca 1214-1294), Erazmus Ciolek Witelo, or Witelon (ca 1230* 1280), a Silesian-born Polish friar, philosopher and scholar, published in ca 1270 a treatise on optics, Perspectiva, largely based on Alhazen's works."
  118. ^ Magill & Aves 1998, p. 66: "Roger Bacon, John Peckham, and Giambattista della Porta are only some of the many thinkers who were influenced by Alhazen's work."
  119. ^ Zewail & Thomas 2010, p. 5: "The Latin translation of Alhazen's work influenced scientists and philosophers such as (Roger) Bacon and da Vinci, and formed the foundation for the work by mathematicians like Kepler, Descartes and Huygens..."
  120. ^ El-Bizri 2010, p. 12: "This [Latin] version of Ibn al-Haytham's Optics, which became available in print, was read and consulted by scientists and philosophers of the caliber of Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Huygens as discussed by Nader El-Bizri."
  121. ^ Magill & Aves 1998, p. 66: "Sabra discusses in detail the impact of Alhazen's ideas on the optical discoveries of such men as Descartes and Christiaan Huygens; see also El-Bizri 2005a."
  122. ^ El-Bizri 2010, p. 12.
  123. ^ Magill & Aves 1998, p. 66: "Even Kepler, however, used some of Alhazen's ideas, for example, the one-to-one correspondence between points on the object and points in the eye. It would not be going too far to say that Alhazen's optical theories defined the scope and goals of the field from his day to ours."
  124. ^ Topdemir 2007a, p. 77.
  125. ^ Chong, Lim & Ang 2002 Appendix 3, p. 129.
  126. ^ NASA 2006.
  127. ^ AKU Research Publications 1995-98 Archived January 4, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  128. ^ Murphy 2003.
  129. ^ "Ibn Al-Haytham and the Legacy of Arabic Optics". 2015 INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF LIGHT. 2015. 
  130. ^ "1000 Years of Arabic Optics to be a Focus of the International Year of Light in 2015". United Nations. Retrieved 2014. 
  131. ^ Smith 2001, 2006, 2008, 2010.
  132. ^ Smith 2010 para.[3.33], p.259, footnote67. Note 67 is on p.361. [3.33] is the summary of how to measure the sizes of the angle of refraction for air to water, air to glass, glass to air, glass to water, for plane, concave, and convex surfaces
  133. ^ The Prisoner of Al-Hakim. Clifton, NJ: Blue Dome Press, 2017. ISBN 1682060160


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Further reading


  • Sabra, A. I, ed. (1983), The Optics of Ibn al-Haytham, Books I-II-III: On Direct Vision. The Arabic text, edited and with Introduction, Arabic-Latin Glossaries and Concordance Tables, Kuwait: National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters 
  • Sabra, A. I, ed. (2002), The Optics of Ibn al-Haytham. Edition of the Arabic Text of Books IV-V: On Reflection and Images Seen by Reflection. 2 vols, Kuwait: National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters 


  • El-Bizri, Nader (2007), "In Defence of the Sovereignty of Philosophy: Al-Baghdadi's Critique of Ibn al-Haytham's Geometrisation of Place", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 17: 57-80, doi:10.1017/S0957423907000367 
  • El-Bizri, Nader (2009b), "Ibn al-Haytham et le problème de la couleur", Oriens Occidens, Paris: CNRS, 7 (1): 201-226 
  • El-Bizri, Nader (2016), "Grosseteste's Meteorological Optics: Explications of the Phenomenon of the Rainbow after Ibn al-Haytham", in Cunningham, Jack P.; Hocknull, Mark, Robert Grosseteste and the Pursuit of Religious and Scientific Knowledge in the Middle Ages, Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind, 18, Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 21-39, ISBN 978-3-319-33466-0 
  • Graham, Mark. How Islam Created the Modern World. Amana Publications, 2006.
  • Omar, Saleh Beshara (June 1975), Ibn al-Haytham and Greek optics: a comparative study in scientific methodology, PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations 
  • Siegfried Zielinski & Franziska Latell, How One Sees, in: Variantology 4. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences and Technologies In the Arabic-Islamic World and Beyond, ed. by Siegfried Zielinski and Eckhard Fürlus in cooperation with Daniel Irrgang and Franziska Latell (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2010), pp. 19-42. [1]

External links

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