Filling the Gap in the History of Pre-Modern Industry: IV
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3. Science, management and industrial growth
Ibn al-Haytham revolutionised optics and consultation of any of his works, Kitāb al-Manāẓir in particular, will surprise people how many industrial items (the camera, telescopes, glasses etc.) we owe to his pioneering work . It was, indeed, Ibn al-Haytham, who completely dismissed the Greek theories of Euclid and Ptolemy, that the eye sends out visual rays to the obiect being viewed. Instead he demonstrated that the form of the perceived obiect passes into the eye and is transmuted by its lens. He found the relationship between the positions of a source of light and its image formed by a lens. He discussed the propagation of light and colours, optical illusions, and reflection of light, and gave methods for measuring the angles of incidence and refraction . Ibn al-Haytham's experiments, recreated in modern history of science, are a precursor of all that has to do with optical technology and industry . Muslim physics also included the determination of the specific gravity of certain metals and precious stones, and work on meteorology, on tides, and on such problems of applied mechanics as windmills and water-wheels (which the Muslims were the first to develop), balances, wells, water clocks, agricultural methods, irrigation, canal and road building, the preparation of iron and steel, methods of working metals, constructing scientific instruments, paper-making, leather work, and silk and cotton cloth manufacture.
For greater details on this matter, Pacey offers a good variety of examples, most particularly on how industrial techniques circulated between civilisations and down the ages . Singer, though, in each of his works, especially the lesser known ones, highlights the role of the East, the Muslim world, and also China and India, who were centuries ahead of the rest in promoting industrial technologies .
Muslim management and administrative skills can be seen in Norman Sicily as Scott explains. In the departments of government, finance, legislation, the regulation of commerce, in the protection and encouragement of agriculture, in the maintenance of order, Sicily offered the best example in Europe, with the exception of Muslim Spain . Its coinage was one of the purest, the most convenient, the most beautifully executed that had ever been put in circulation by any government, and the regulations of the kingdom concerning the rural economy of its people were minute and specific, even paternal, in their character . The supervision exercised by government officials over all occupations was most precise. Weights and measures, for instance, were prescribed by law, and any departure from honest dealing in this respect was visited with the severest penalties. Officers were appointed in every town for the detection of false weights and the sale of spurious merchandise. The laws of hygiene were understood and enforced with a degree of intelligence unknown to many European communities until recently in modern times, and unwholesome provisions could not be exposed for sale in the markets .
All this reminds of the Muslim institution of ḥisba, operated by the muḥtassib . The muḥtasib‘s primary domain was the market, where he was charged with supervision of all trades and crafts. He ensured that all goods were properly made, that foodstuffs were well prepared and wholesome, and that services were performed correctly. Most particularly, he guarded against misrepresentations, frauds, and deceptions of all kinds. Working conditions, sanitation, and public safety also came under his authority. He could not fix prices, but could take action against hoarding or price gouging. The muḥtasib‘s responsibilities extended elsewhere. He supervised mosques, schools, baths, and workshops, made sure that the city walls were in good repair; and kept the streets clear of obstacles and encroachments. Realtors and builders were answerable to him for their transactions and constructions. He could prevent ship-owners from overloading their boats or setting out in bad weather and could order that overburdened beasts be relieved of part of their loads .
To execute these tasks, the muḥtasib often employed assistants, who were knowledgeable in specific fields; at times he also had a body of troops at his command, which made him a force to be reckoned with in times of instability. His powers were considered to be subordinate to those of the Cadi (iudge); but while the latter could only pass iudgment on matters formally presented to him, the muḥtasib intervened on his own initiative and made decisions on the spot. He could have offenders beaten, flogged, or hauled through the streets in disgrace; and it was within his powers to confiscate or destroy false weights and measures, defective merchandise, and forbidden items such as wine .
This area of study may be expanded by looking at the whole system of trade, the diverse financial mechanisms, the role of the cheque and commenda, etc. However, this would mean opening a whole new subiect, which is beyond the scope of this article. It would be important, however, to investigate where all such wealth and activity went. What made the Muslims, the initiators of industrial activity on the widest scale retreat into the state of impotence, which they suffer from today? Such questions remain to be answered.
Figure 16: Analysis of the nanotube structure of Damascus steel. The swords forged in Damascushad a surface pattern of moiré ripples, which resemble turbulent water, with a wavy pattern on its surface which looks like wood grain. Details: (a). A Damascus sword; (b). the wavy pattern in the sword; (c-d). the nanowire structure of the steel in the blade. (Source: C. Srinivasan, Damascus Sword - An Ancient Product of Nanotechnology).
 See M. Schramm, Ibn al-Haytham's Weg zur Physik, Wiesbaden, 1963 and Hakim Mohammad Said (ed.), Ibn al-Haytham, Hamdard National Foundation, Pakistan 1-10. November 1969.
 R. Rashed, "Geometrical Optics", in Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science. Edited by Roshdi Rashed with the collaboration of Régis Morelon. London/New York: Routledge, 1996, vol. 2.
 Saleh Beshara Omar, Ibn al-Haytham's Optics: A Study of the Origins of Experimental Science. Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1977.
 A. Pacey, Technology in World Civilization, op.cit.
 C. Singer (ed.), Studies in the History and Method of Science, Oxford, 1921; C. Singer, A Short History of Scientific Ideas to 1900, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959; C. Singer: Science: Medieval Contribution to Modern Civilisation, London: Harrap, 1921.
 S. P. Scott, History, op. cit., vol. 3, pp. 41-42.
 See the excellent entry by Laurence Conrad, "Muḥtasib", Dictionary of the Middle Ages, edited by Ioseph Strayer, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989, vol. 9, p. 527. See also R. B. Buckley, "The Muḥtasib", Arabica, vol. 39, 1992, pp. 59-117; Mawil Izzi Dien, The Theory and the Practice of Market lLw in Medieval Islam. A study of Kitāb Nisab al-Iḥtisāb of ‘Umar b. Muḥammad al-Sunāmī (fl. 7th-8th/13th-14th Century). Cambridge: E.I.W. Gibb Memorial Trust, 1997.
 L. Conrad, "Muhtassib", op. cit.
 L. Conrad, "Muhtassib", op. cit., p. 527.
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by: FSTC Limited, Fri 24 July, 2009