Subsequent Thoughts on the '1001 Inventions' Exhibition in Istanbul (August-October 2010)

This article by Professor Toygar Akman presents, as the title indicates, afterthoughts inspired by the '1001 inventions' exhibition. The author particularly focuses on the Turkish phase of the exhibition (1001 Icat Sergisi), which opened in Istanbul on the 18th August 2010 and stayed there until the 5th October. During this period, about 400,000 people visited the exhibition from all around the world. Professor Akman explains why this exhibition was so successful in Istanbul and highlights the work of one of the main scientists celebrated by the exhibition, the master engineer Al-Jazari, whose engineering book was previously the subject of investigations published by Professor Toygar Akman.

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Dr. Toygar Akman*

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari
3. 1001 Inventions Exhibition and Turkish Scholars
4. 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets
5. Conclusion
6. Sources and references

***

1. Introduction

"1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in our World" is an exhibition produced by the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation's (FSTC) under Professor Salim Al-Hassani's rigorous and assiduous curatorship. The exhibition had made its successful journey to Istanbul after its inauguration in London, and via an initial official ceremony, was put on display for public access on August 18th 2010. Subsequently, it was packed again on October 5th 2010 and handed over to the New York City Municipality Authorities through a similar ceremony to be shipped for its next destination.

Having visited this important exhibition on-site in Istanbul, and having had the opportunity to meet and interact with those organizers whose arduous efforts were quiet obvious and certainly deserve recognition, I was also invited to attend a closing Panel of this important exhibition on October 4th 2010 titled Golden Ages? Historically and Contemporary?. I had the opportunity to share some of my initial thoughts at that panel then, and would like to elaborate on them little further here.

Needless to say, the centrepiece and the main attraction of this exhibition was the display of the renowned scholar and genius inventor Abu al-Izz Isma'il ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari's works and inventions are well known. We know now that more than eight centuries ago, Al-Jazari had served in the court of the Artukid Turks in Diyar Bakir emperor for over 25 years during which he has furnished the emperor and his court with various ingenious inventions and devices of his own creation such as "mechanical clocks", "water pistons" and "automatic robot servants".

My interest in Al-Jazari started from 1972, first through my articles on TUBITAK's (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey) journals such as Bilim ve Teknik (Science & Technology) as well as other popular journals of the time (Bilim and Bilgisayar (Science and the Computer) and then in my various scientific books on Cybernetics. As a scholar, I had constantly tried to highlight the importance of Al-Jazari and draw public's and authorities' attention to his ingenious works, emphasizing his importance in the history of science and civilization. Therefore, I was quiet pleased and full of joy to have had the opportunity to visit this important exhibition in Istanbul, and would like to extend my personal thanks and congratulations to both Professor Salim Al-Hassani and his colleagues as well as to Professor Bekir Karliga, Head of MEDAM, Bahçesehir University Civilizations Research Centre, and the management of the University of Manchester who had made this exhibition a reality.

Figure 1: View of the gate of "1001 Icat Sergisi" in Istanbul.

It was nearly four years ago when I received a phone call from Dr. Salim Aydüz, senior scholar at FSTC, who was inquiring on whether I would be available to attend a symposium to be organized for the 800th anniversary of the publication of Abu al-Iz al-Jazari's book on mechanical devices. I immediately accepted this offer and drafted an abstract highlighting al-Jazari's importance, innovations, and his key contributions to science and civilization [1]. Unfortunately, this symposium could not be organized, mainly for the lack of adequate sponsors but various articles and papers including Professor Al-Hassani's paper which was prepared for this event were eventually put on the web at the portal www.MuslimHeritage.com (see the special section Celebrating the 800th Anniversay of Al-Jazari). Thus, my paper was also included among those. In this article, entitled A 800 Years Old Ancestor: Today's Science of Robotics and al-Jazari, I referred to how I had come across al-Jazari in 1972 during a trip to the city of Diyarbakir, which used to be the capital city of Artuk Turks, and where our al-Jazari had served at the emperor's court for over 25 years. I learned about him through an article written by Ibrahim Hakki Konyali which I came across in Diyarbakir's Library [2].

2. Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari

As I read through Ibrahim Hakki Konyali's article, I learned about the scientist named Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari, who served his masters through automatic machines and various robotics. The same article also stated that the original book written by al-Jazari was kept at Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, at Sultan Ahmet III's Library. Upon my return to Istanbul from Diyarbakir, I immediately went to Sultan Ahmet III's Library at Topkapi Palace. I found the book registered under number 3472. Since the language of science used in Artuk Turks' court in the 13th century was Arabic, the book was also written in Arabic [3].

My book on Cybernetics' Evolution in Science was in print at the time, and I decided to put the publication on hold so that I could add a few paragraphs about this very interesting discovery and adequately introduce the ingenious works by Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari. The book was subsequently published later on in 1972 and I had the pleasure of being the first person to introduce al-Jazari to the scientific community in our nation [4].

Figure 2: The interior site of the "1001 Icat Sergisi" in Istanbul.

In the following years, I tried to explain in my articles and the books how the ingenious innovations and unique ability to imagine and construct "ultra stable systems of mechanics" of al-Jazari and how it relates to cybernetics principles in general [5]. For all these reasons, the Exhibition "1001 Inventions" was very important and exciting for me.

Immediately, upon your entrance to the Exhibition, you come across two great automatic robot systems of al-Jazari. In the Introduction of the book 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, Professor Salim Al-Hassani (Chief Editor) states that "it was not until 1993 when Professor Donald Cardwell, Head of the Department of History of Science and Technology, and the Founder of the Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester, presented me with a challenge. Much in the spirit of Lord Bowden he said: 'Salim (first name) you should by now know there are a thousand years missing from the history of engineering, a period we call the Dark Ages. Most of the missing knowledge is contained in Arabic manuscripts, filling the cellars of many famous libraries. You are a distinguished Professor of Engineering at a prestigious university and you know the Arabic language. Therefore, you are best suited to do something about filling this gap'..." [6].

Reading these sentences reminded me of the Introduction section of yet another book, namely The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, with the original name Kitab fi ma'rifat al-hiyal al-handassiyya and completed by Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari in 1206. This book was first translated into a Western language by Donald R. Hill and was printed in the Netherlands in 1974. At the Foreword of this translation, Professor Lynn White of the University of California stated:

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Figure 3: Model of The Elephant clock of Al-Jazari.

"I kept telling my lamented colleague Gustave von Grünebaum that the engineering relations between Islam and the West could never be understood until al-Jazari was edited; and he kept replying 'Who knows enough both of technology and of Arabic to do it?'... At last, a professional engineer, sophisticated in Arabic and in Islamic history, has finally accomplished this task. The essential fact is that Dr. Hill, by preparing this volume, has laid a massive cornerstone for the building of a new historical topic: medieval Islamic engineering [7]."

In lieu with these comments, the Introduction sections of both of these books as well as visiting the exhibition "1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World" in Istanbul led me to believe that while Dr. Donald R. Hill had been quite instrumental in building a bridge in between Modern Western Technology and the Ancient Islamic Innovations through his efforts in translating Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari to English; at the same token, Professor Al-Hassani was taking this initial effort one step further by laying the ground-works on both sides of the bridge to ensure the successful merge of the two worlds by taking this exhibition on a global tour.

3. 1001 Inventions Exhibition and Turkish Scholars

While visiting the exhibition "1001 Inventions/1001 Icat", I confronted yet another Ottoman inventor and astronomer scientist, who was born three hundred years after Al Jazari. Taqi al-Din ibn Ma'ruf (1526-1585) had established an observatory at Tophane/Beyoglu district in Istanbul, and wrote a book on mechanical engineering called The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines.

In this book, he shows how he had developed Al-Jazari's "Reciprocating Pump" further and invented a brand new "Six–Cylinder Pump". When these machines were installed in towns across the Ottoman State, life, for some, was made immeasurably easier as they would no longer waste longer hours waiting their turn with the water containers. Instead, pumps or aqueducts would distribute adequate supplies matching their particular needs. In the conclusion of the other book on Mechanical Clocks, Taqi al–Din also advises the reader:

"This work is the most difficult and the most delicate part of this technique. O, the demander, you have the strife for that. The craft and referring to the experiment makes you to have the skill. Obtaining the desired result is strongly established with it [8]."

It needs to be emphasized that almost all Muslim scholars, be they scientists, inventors, engineers, astronomers, experts of medicine and/or pharmaceutics, were all also strong believers of their faith. A perfect example for this is Ibn Sina (Avicenna) whose contributions to medicine are paralleled with his contributions to the field of mathematics and philosophy. Likewise, the world's renown philosopher Al-Farabi's contribution to music with his own musical instruments and his own creation of "Rababah" & "Qanun" tables as well as his famous work of The Great Book of Music and Al-Biruni's contributions to mathematics, physics, astronomy, geodesy and chemistry while constantly producing scholarly works on philosophy, sociology and history of religion needs to be mentioned [9].

Figures 4 and 5: View of the panel: "Golden Ages: Historically and Contemporary?" while Prof. Salim Al-Hassani was presenting a lecture.

If nothing else, all these accumulated scholarly works by various Muslim scientists in different fields show us, indeed, how "poly-dimensional scientists and inventors" they actually were.

Referring back to Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari, the following explanation of the exhibition's "1001 Inventions" book has also made me particularly happy;

"He had built many machines and a large number of mechanical devices that revolutionized engineering like the crankshaft. He is possibly the first to use robotics, as many of his machines incorporated moving figure."

I was, indeed, very pleased to read this comment, for it is inline and in full congruence with my initial claim that "Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari's innovative works and creations had certainly shed light from 800 years ago on our contemporary cybernetics and robotics sciences [10]." This was further elaborated in the paper "A 800 Years Old Ancestor: Today's Science of Robotics and al-Jazari that I had submitted four years ago to the University of Manchester and which is currently online on the portal www.Muslim Heritage.com.

4. 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets

Another interesting fact in the exhibition "1001 Inventions" which needs special recognition and emphasis was the short film (about 13 min) titled 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets which was at constant display. In this film, English actor Sir Ben Kingsley was playing the role of the wise man explaining to the youngsters visiting the library that whilst the West was living in the so-called "Dark Ages", the Muslim world was in fact enjoying the "Golden Ages" with constant scientific breakthroughs and innovations at all fronts. To highlight this drastic comparison, Sir Kingsley was transformed to the role of al-Jazari with his traditional outfits and environments showing us his innovations of the time. Again, snap-shots from this short movie also underline the fact that Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari was, indeed, the centre piece and deservedly so the main attraction of the exhibition.

5. Conclusion

I have to admit that witnessing all these within the beautiful and carefully decorated environment of this important exhibition made me more than delighted. Upon reflection, I started thinking "What can we do to take this important exhibition and the works of Abu Al-Izz al-Jazari further to create more public awareness and global scientific attraction?"

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Figure 6: Front cover of Dr. Toygar Akman's book on Cybernetics (Istanbul, 2003).

In the exhibition "1001 Inventions", there was a display of two Elephant Clocks of al-Jazari. One of them was 7 meters high (almost 3 times the original size) and it was reconstructed for the Ibn Batuta Mall in Dubai. The other one was also of the same height and was reconstructed from the original manuscript leaf of al-Jazari's book, displayed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Islamic Arts section).

I believe the next logical step would be to attempt reconstructing al-Jazari's original works at their true and intended dimensions such as building the so-called "ablution servant" where a robot servant helps his master to wash-up before prayers. The Robot holds out his left hand with the towel and comb and his right hand with the water pitcher. Other mechanisms include the "Boat Robot", the "Automatic Horse man and Musicians Tool", the "Automated Musicians in the Automatically Moving Boat", the "Automatic Elephant Clock", the "Automatic Birds Clock", the "Automatic Peacock Water Clock", the "Robots to Offer Drinks to One Another", and so on.

Putting functional, fully working and automated versions of these original works of al-Jazari at display will certainly create a greater global awareness and scientific curiosity towards this renowned Muslim and Turk scholar. If Professor Salim Al-Hassani, Chairman of the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation, and his team jointly take on such tasks as their next challenges, I am most assured that they will overcome all obstacles on their way, and accomplish it with much success and care.

Last but not least, I would like to extend my sincere thanks, appreciation and deep gratitude to both Professor Al-Hassani and the management and sponsors of the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation for all their support and enthusiasm in this endeavour.

6. Sources and references

  • Abu Al–Izz el-Jazari, Kitab Al-Jami' Bayn Al-‘Ilm Wa -L- Amal An –Nafi' fi Sina'a Al-Hiyal, Ahmet III's Library, Topkapi Palace Istanbul, MS 3472.
  • Akman, Toygar, "A 800 Years Old Ancestor: Today's Science of Robotics and al-Jazari", published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in 29 February 2008).
  • Akman, Toygar, "Abu Al-Izz The Turkish Scientist Who Build Automated Machines Eight Hundred Years Ago". Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology Magazine), Ankara. Issue 77. pp. 1-6.
  • Akman, Toygar, "First Turkish Cybernetics Scientist Abb-Ul- Izz", Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology Magazine), Ankara. Issue 103, Pp. 1-4.
  • Akman, Toygar, Cybernetics Evolution in Science, Banka ve Tic. Hukuku Ars. Enstitüsü, Ankara, 1972, pp. 11-15.
  • Akman, Toygar, Cybernetics Yesterday – Today And Tomorrow. Istanbul, 2003, p. 110.
  • Al-Hassani, Salim (chief editor), 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World (Second Edition). Published by Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) Ltd. UK 2007, p. 6.
  • Ana Britannica, vol. 5. Published by Ana Yayincilik A.S. and Encyclopedia Inc. Istanbul, 1994, p. 430.
  • Konyali, Ibrahim Hakki, "Turkish Palaces Used Machines Eight Centuries Ago", Black Amid Magazine, Diyarbakir, 1969, Issue 4, pp. 2-7.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, The Brightest Stars For The Construction Of The Mechanical Clocks. Published by T.C. Cultur Ministerium, Ankara, 2002, p. 212.
  • Al-Jazari, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (Kitab fi ma rifat al-hiyal al Handassiyya) by Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari. Translated and annotated by Donald R. Hill, Printed in Holland, Dordrecht, 1974, p. XIII.

Footnotes

[1] Akman, Toygar, "A 800 Years Old Ancestor: Today's Science of Robotics and al-Jazari", published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in 29 February 2008).

[2] Konyali, Ibrahim Hakki, "Turkish Palaces Used Machines Eight Centuries Ago", Black Amid Magazine, 1969, Diyarbakir. Issue 4, Pp. 2-7.

[3] Abu Al–Izz el-Jazari, Kitab Al-Jami' Bayn Al-‘Ilm wa'l-Amal An –Nafi' fi Sina'a Al-Hiyal, Ahmet III's Library, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, MS 3472.

[4] Akman, Toygar, Cybernetics Evolution in Science, Banka ve Ticaret Hukuku Arastirma Enstitüsü, Ankara. 1972, pp. 11-15.

[5] Akman, Toygar, "Abu Al-Izz The Turkish Scientist Who Built Automated Machines Eight Hundred Years Ago". Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology Magazine). Ankara, Issue 77, pp. 1-6.

[6] Al-Hassani, Salim (chief editor), "1001 Inventions" Muslim Heritage in Our World (Second Edition) Published by Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) Ltd. UK 2007, p. 6.

[7] The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (Kitab fi ma rifat al-hiyal al Handassiyya) by Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari. Translated and annotated by Donald R. Hill. Dordrecht, 1974, p. XIII.

[8] Tekeli, Sevim, The Brightest Stars for the Construction of the Mechanical Clocks, published by T.C. Cultural Ministry. Ankara, 2002, p. 212.

[9] Professor Zeki Velidi Togan claims that Al-Biruni was also Turkish and his name was in fact Bayruni: see Ana Britannica, vol. 5, published by Ana Yayincilik A.S. and Encyclopedia Inc., Istanbul, 1994, p. 430.

[10] Akman, Toygar, "First Turkish Cybernetics Scientist Abu Al-Izz", Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology Magazine). Ankara, Issue 103, pp. 1-4; Akman, Toygar, Cybernetics Yesterday – Today and Tomorrow, Istanbul, 2003, p. 110.

*PhD., Emeritus Senior Researcher of TUBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey).

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