Ibn al-Haytham and the productive usage of time when stuck at home

With the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) across the globe, the idea of being stuck at home for weeks is becoming a reality for many people. This may prove challenging for those who are accustomed to spending most of their time in public. They may find it difficult to remain calm, focused and productive while working from home during a pandemic. To assist in dealing with this, let’s look at a case study from the past in which greatness was achieved while someone was stuck at home. That person was the great scientist al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham.

Short Biography

Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) was a famous Muslim scholar who contributed greatly to the fields of optics, astronomy, mathematics, meteorology, visual perception and the scientific method. He was born in 965 CE during the Islamic Golden Age in Iraq. He received an excellent education under the scholars of Baghdad and become a famous scientist at a very young age.

The Incident

As his fame grew, Ibn Al-Haytham found himself invited to lead various projects. The Fatimid King of Egypt at that time, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, invited him to Egypt to build a dam across the River Nile. Upon reviewing the plans, Ibn al-Haytham realized it was not feasible and the technology to complete the project did not exist yet. The king was not happy with Ibn al-Haytham’s conclusion and placed him under house arrest for ten years. (There is a difference of opinion on exactly what occurred between the king and Ibn al-Haytham)

The Discovery

Ibn al-Haytham did not waste these ten years at all. He spent his time reading, researching, experimenting, and journalling as he explored various scientific concepts. Finally, he had a breakthrough. Ibn al-Haytham made one of the most important discoveries related to optics during this period. Based on that discovery, he wrote his Book Of Optics which became the most influential book in that field. This discovery by Ibn al-Haytham helped people understand how eyes function. It also helped him develop an early model of the camera. His discovery led the way for the eventual invention of eyeglasses. Finally, during this process, he developed the scientific method which is still used today. All of this was accomplished while under house arrest.

The Lesson

It is highly unlikely that any of us will have to face something as severe as ten years of house arrest. Yet it is very likely we may face a few weeks of being stuck at home at some point in our lives or another. Ibn al-Haytham’s example teaches us the importance of not wasting time when stuck at home. It is possible to remain productive and beneficial to the rest of the world even when you are confined to the four walls of your house. This is even easier today with the existence of technology and the internet. Through this story, we learn never to waste time or blame our circumstances for our own lack of productivity. No matter what situation a person is in, it is almost always possible to find a way to use your time wisely and maximize the benefit from that time.

How to maximize benefit from time at home

If you ever find yourself stuck at home and unable to find ways to use your time productively, try the following:
1. Read some books
2. Study some online courses
3. Write a book or journal
4. Engage in extra acts of worship
5. Spend time in contemplation and reflection
6. Spend quality time with your family
7. Work on those ideas that you have been holding back because you were too busy

Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6049)

During this health scare, let us waste neither and maximize the usage of our time.

To learn more productivity lessons from the heroes of Islamic History, join our Muslim Golden Ages Online Course or read my latest book Productivity Principles of Umar II.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.


Assalamualaikum..hu.Ma sha Allah awesome!!!

Kaniz Fatema

Zajakallah khair, sheikh.

Very interesting.. but how would he get all the stuff to do all these experiments while in the house arrest?

Ismail Kamdar

House arrest in those days, or even today, isn’t complete isolation. Otherwise, someone will starve to death. In general, someone visits to see if you need to buy anything and to purchase all that for you.

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