Who Were The Arab “Fathers” That Changed The World?

On this Father's Day learn about the Arab men who earned the title "father of"

Al-Zahrawi, Yousseff Chahin and Ibn Khaldun are three Arab men who earned the title of Father in their fields.

by Omar Aghbari

Culture 20 June 2019

Many of us will be celebrating father’s day this year with our babbas, fathers or dads by showering them with colorful socks, a tie or a new cologne.

Although it’s important to celebrate and appreciate our fathers on father’s day (and every day really), we wanted to think about the other fathers of the Arab world who have helped shaped, not only our very modern lives, but the lives of most people around the globe in one way shape or form.

On this father’s we want to highlight the Arab men who through their work, passion, intelligence and thirst for knowledge, questioned their own realities and helped change the world.

Some of you may know their name or know that they did something significant, but we wanted to really break it down so that you can get to know these Arab men for the innovations they achieved that bestowed upon them, the title “father of.”

WATCH: The Arab “Fathers” Who Changed The World

Al-Zahrawi Father of Surgery

Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi al-Ansari was an Arab physician, surgeon, and chemist. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also considered as the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages and his discoveries (which are plenty) and work (which is prolific) has majorly influenced modern medicine.

The Kitab al-Tasrif, a thirty-volume encyclopedia of medical practices was a hugely influential book that al-Zahrawi wrote. The chapter on surgery was translated into Latin and wildly used as the standard textbook in Europe for the next 500 years, influencing modern medicine and surgery.

From surgical procedures and instruments al-Zahrawi contributions and his discoveries have had a huge impact in the East and West and some are still applied in medicine today.

He was the first physician to identify the hereditary nature of haemophilia and the first to describe an abdominal pregnancy.

Ibn al-Haytham Father of Modern Optics

Ibn al-Haytham was a true polymath. He was a mathematician, astronomer, and physicist of the Islamic Golden Age and also wrote on philosophy, theology and medicine.

Born in Basra, Iraq Ibn al-Haytham made major contributions to the principles of optics and visual perception. The Kitāb al-Manāẓir  (Book of Optics) was one of his most influential works and was translated into latin.

So what did he actually do? Ibn al-Haytham was the first to explain that vision occurs when light reflects from an object and then passes to one’s eyes and that vision actually occurs in the brain and not in the eyes.

He was also strongly believed in the concept that a hypothesis or theory had to be proved by experiments based on confirmable procedures or mathematical evidence. This was a type of scientific understanding that wasn’t really adopted until the Renaissance five centuries later.

Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi Father of Arabic lexicography

Al-Farahid as he was known, was a philologist, lexicographer and leading grammarian from Basra, Iraq.

He produced the first dictionary of the Arabic language and the oldest exiting dictionary, Kitab al-‘Ayn (The Source) which introduced the now standard harakat (or the marks that indicate vowel sound in Arabic script) system.

He also a major contributor to the early development of ʿArūḍ (the study of prosody) musicology and poetic metre.

His theories in linguistics influenced the development of Persian, Turkish and Urdu prosody. He refused lavish gifts from rulers, was never lured by money and didn’t indulge gossip. By the time of his death Al-Farahid was a household name.

Al-Kindi Father of Islamic and Arab Philosophy

Also known as “the Philosopher of the Arabs”, Al-Kindi was a Muslim philosopher, polymath, mathematician, physician and musician.

He was the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers and adapted Greek and Hellenistic philosophy into the Muslim world.

Born in Kufa and educated in Baghdad, Al-Kindi was a prominent figure in the House of Wisdom (or the Grand Library of Baghdad). There he oversaw the translation of Greek scientific and philosophical texts into Arabic, which had a huge affect on him.

His exposure with ancient philosophy led him to write hundreds of original papers about metaphysics, ethics, logic and psychology, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astronomy, astrology and optics, as well as perfumes, swords, jewels, glass, dyes, zoology, tides, mirrors, meteorology and earthquakes.

Al-Kindi was also one of the fathers of cryptography. Cryptography is the art of writing or solving codes!

His book Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages gave rise to the birth of cryptanalysis and was the earliest known use of statistical inference and introduced several new methods of breaking ciphers. Wow!

Ibn Khaldun Father of Sociology, Historiography and Modern Economics

Ibn Khaldun was a leading Tunisian historiographer and historian and is considered as one of the most important early contributor’s to the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography.

The Muqaddimah (“Introduction”) is his best-known book and is a complete history recording the world and particularly inspecting the rise and fall of empires.

Muqaddimah influenced many 17th-century Ottoman historians who used his theories to analyze the growth and decline of the Ottoman Empire. While 19th-century European scholars have recognized the significance of his work and considered Ibn Khaldun to be one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages.

Jabir ibn Hayyan Father of Chemistry

Jabir ibn Hayyan wrote a huge number and a variety of works which are refered to as the Jabirian Corpus. In more than 3,000 treatises and articles credited to him in the Jabirian corpus, the topics covered a diverse number of topics including alchemy, cosmology, numerology, astrology, medicine, magic, mysticism and philosophy.

He also invented many of basic processes and equipment that chemists still use today.

The thing is though, that many people believe that Jabir ibn Hayyan may be a pseudonym for many authors who wrote different parts of the Jabirian corpus leading many to question whether he ever even existed at all!

Muhammad al-Shaybani Father of Muslim International Law

Muhammad al-Shaybani was an Islamic jurist born in Wāsiṭ, Iraq, in 750.

Zahir al-riwaya is the collection of his work ,which the later Hanafis considered as an important and authoritative piece of work.

He also wrote Introduction to the Law of Nations at the end of the 8th century, a book that details the conduct of jihad the treatment of non-Muslim subjects under Muslim rule. He also wrote other multi-volume treatises which dealt with public international law and private international law.

Yousseff Chahin Father of Arab Cinema

The Egyptian film director of Lebanese origin, was a pioneer in the Egyptian film industry and in turn the Arab full industry.  He was a winner of the Cannes 50th Anniversary Award (for lifetime achievement) and is credited for launching the career of Omar Sharif.

Youssef Chahine’s universally acclaimed film Cairo Station was the first Arab and the first African film to be officially sent as a submission to the Academy Awards in 1959. Although it wasn’t selected for a nomination, Cairo Station is universally considered as a real work of art and represents a milestone in Arab film history.

Sayed Darwish Father of Modern Arab Music

Sayed Darwish an Egyptian singer and composer was born in 1892 in Cairo, Egypt. He is considered the father of Egyptian popular music and modern Arab music as well as one of Egypt’s greatest musicians and its single greatest composer.

For some one who died at the age of 30, from unknown causes, Sayed Darwish had a prolific and diverse range of work, many of it pioneering and innovative.

He composed 260 songs, wrote 26 operettas, composed 10 dawr and 21 muwashshat, which became classics in the world of Arab music.

He was the first to blend Western instruments and harmony with classical Arab forms and Egyptian folklore, which gained huge popularity because of the social and patriotic subject matters he chose to examine in his music.

Fouad Zakariyya Father of Arab Existentialism

Fouad Zakariyyawas an Egyptian philosopher, and critic of Islamist thought who is known as “the father of Arab existentialism”. He headed the philosophy department at Kuwait University from 1974 until 1991 where he had many works published including one of his more popular books, Myth and Reality in the Contemporary Islamist Movement.

He was a strong advocate of secularism and believed in the separation of state and religion and believed that a strong infrastructure of political platforms and ideologies would be a crucial way to prevent the influence of extremist groups.

Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, and Mikhail Naimy Fathers of the Arab Literary Renaissance

Khalil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, and Mikhail Naimy are considered the founders of the Arab Literary Renaissance, otherwise known as the al-nahḍah al-adabiyyah.

All here were Lebanese and all three in heir own way through their work whether through the novel, poetry or any other literary forms abandoned the traditional and ornate style of how Arabic was written and were heavily influenced by Western literature and models that had roots in Arabic literature.

Ameen Rihani in particular is also considered the founding father of Arab immigrant literature and the Father of Arab American Poetry.

He was the first Arab writer to publish a novel in English, The Book of Khalid written in 1911 is based on the Syrian immigrant experience in the United States.

He was also the first Arab to pursue a career as a writer in the United States and became the first Arab to write essays, novels, short stories, art critiques, and travel chronicles in English.

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