World of Ibn al-Haytham

1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn al-Haytham

In January 2015, UNESCO and 1001 Inventions launched the “1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn Al-Haytham” global educational campaign to celebrate the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL2015) and the scientific legacy of the remarkable 11th century scientist Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham. It aims to incite inquisitiveness and curiosity and encourage young people to study and pursue science careers while promoting intercultural dialogue, social cohesion and mutual understanding.

Ibn al-Haytham was a pioneering scientific thinker who made important contributions to the understanding of vision, optics and light. His methodology of investigation, in particular using experiment to verify theory, shows certain similarities to what later became known as the modern scientific method. To explore the nature of light and vision, Ibn al-Haytham used a dark chamber he called “Albeit Almuzlim,” translated into Latin as “camera obscura” – the device that forms the basis of photography. He observed that light coming through a tiny hole travelled in straight lines and projected an image onto the opposite wall. Based on such experimentation, Ibn al-Haytham concluded that vision is accomplished by rays coming from external luminous sources and entering the eye, rather than through rays emitted from the eye as was commonly believed.

The campaign is also supported by a book that was co-published with National Geographic, “Ibn al-Haytham: The Man Who Discovered How We See.” There is also a film by award winning producer, Ahmed Salim of 1001 Inventions, which stars Omar Sharif. It was his final performance before his death where he said:

Most people don’t know that I studied physics before starting my acting career so honouring the scientist Ibn al-Haytham, the Arab grandfather of the camera obscura (the device that forms the basis of photography and cinematography) is of personal interest to me. I hope this film will spark ambition and creativity and an inspiring message to young people to follow their dreams.”


The film also saw it partner with Sami Yusuf, the internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and composer, who the performed “Shine” the original motion picture soundtrack.

Initially launched at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the campaign rolled out to different countries around the world including Kuwait, Bahrain, China, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Sultanate Oman.