The Origins of Islamic Science - II
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2.4. Maurice Bucaille's Theses
The relevance of science to scripture has been examined by a French scholar, Maurice Bucaille, whose study The Bible, the Qur'an and Science (an English version of his La Bible, le Coran et la science)  is relevant to our discussion. Bucaille, aware of the fact that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are Abrahamic religions, makes the following observations.
1. The Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an differ from each other. The Old Testament, he claims, was composed by different authors over a period of nine hundred years. The Gospels, on the other hand, were the work of different authors, none of whom witnessed in person the life of Jesus. The latter merely relayed what happened to Jesus. Islam has something comparable to the Gospels in Hadith, which are collection of sayings and descriptions of the Prophet. Comparing the Gospels with the Hadith Bucaille says: "Some of the Collections of Hadiths were written decades after the death of Muhammad, just as the Gospels were written decades after Jesus. In both cases, they bear human witnesses to events in the past ."
Some Western scholars, including Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht, have argued against the authenticity of certain Traditions. Even Bucaille wrote critically  of a few that dealt with the ‘creation myth' finding them incompatible with modern science. Such reservations inevitably offend Muslims, because the Traditions enshrine the moral and spiritual values of Islam. However, the author is equally critical of the four Canonic Gospels and cannot therefore be accused of bias or prejudice. In fairness to Bucaille, it should be said that he was studying the Scriptures from the point of view of science and not vice versa. His objectivity, though inevitably hurtful to some, is rare even in modern scholarship. The author boldly argues that Christianity does not have ‘a text that is both revealed and written down. Islam, however, has the Qur'an, which fits this description' .
The Qur'an is an expression of the Revelation from God delivered by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, which was memorised, written down by the Prophet's amanuences  and recited as liturgy. The Qur'an was thus fully authenticated. The Revelation lasted around twenty years. Muhammad himself arranged the chapters and the full text was compiled into a book by Caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan about eighteen years after the death of the Prophet(ca 650 CE).
2. Debates between the Biblical Exegists and Western scientists have arisen as a result of discrepancies between the Scriptures and science . In contrast, many verses of a scientific nature can be found in the Qur'an. Bucaille asks: "Why should we be surprised at this when we know that, for Islam, religion and science have always been considered the twin sisters? From the very beginning Islam directed people to cultivate science; the application of this precept brought with it the prodigious strides in science taken during the great era of Islamic civilization, from which, before the Renaissance, the West itself benefited ."
Figure 9: The calendar scales (round the outside edge) on an Islamic astrolabe in the Whipple Collection, Cambridge, a case of calendrical applications of Islamic astrolabes. Islamic astrolabes have calendar scales on them that enable the positions of the moon and the dates of the lunar calendar to be calculated easily. (Source).
According to Bucaille, some verses of the Qur'an have puzzled interpreters until the discoveries of modern science attested to the truth. The range of the scientific data contained in the Qur'an is explored in the following pages.
The creation of the heaven and earth and everything in them happened in six days . The term six "days" is interpreted by modern exegetes of the Qur'an as six "periods" or "stages". The Qur'an also refers to a day as being equivalent to a thousand earthly years . In another context, a day is described as being equivalent to 50,000 years .
Moreover, some verses of the Qur'an refer to such things as ‘heaven and the earth being a solid mass , which was ripped apart. There are references to navigation in the seas ; and God created meat (fish)  for food, and precious objects, such as coral  (marjan) and pearls  for use as jewellery; that God created an orderly cosmos in which every planet, including the sun and the moon, moved along its prescribed orbit . For instance, the sun does not overtake the moon ; and that God created male and female for humans  as well as for vegetables and animal kingdoms ; that man was created through the sex  act and that women's menstruation  is a time for sexual abstinence; that God created everything out of water . God sends down rain  to revive the dead earth to produce and for growing grains, fruit and vegetable; and that He let the earth produce all kinds of food ; that God created cattle to produce milk for humans ; that He created horses, mules and donkeys as working animals ; that He created the constellation , and the sequence of day and night  as natural phenomena to remind people of God's majesty and power and to encourage them to study astronomy. There are many more examples, but these should suffice for our purpose.
Nowhere in the Qur'an is there anything which has been proven scientifically untrue? Thus Maurice Bucaille, after considering all the scientific data in the Qur'an concluded as follows: "In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad's day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements in the Qur'an which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Qur'an as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms ."
Imbued with the values of the Qur'an, the early Muslims were psychologically ready to travel widely in search of all kinds of knowledge and were urged to study nature. Through trying to establish the coordinates of longitude and latitude of the Ka‘bah, the Muslims developed their knowledge of geography and cartography. Books were written and maps were used as illustrations. As a result of the study of science in other cultures through the translation of books in Greek, Sanskrit and Middle Persian at the institutions like the Bayt al-Hikmah in Baghdad from the 9th to the 11th century CE, the incipient scientific movement among the Muslims received a boost and contributed to the further development of science in the lands of the Caliphate.
3. The Seeds of Islamic Science
3.1. Some Chronology
During the first Islamic century (1-100 AH/ 622-719 CE), the Arabs were preoccupied with the propagation of Islam and with conquest of the Middle East and North Africa, which during the 2nd century (101-200 AH /719-815) was extended into Central Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. In the midst of these activities, the Arabs devoted themselves to the gathering of information on the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions through the collection of Traditions, which were seen as essential for the practice of Islam and the administration of the Shari‘ah (Islamic Law). The spread of the early Islamised Arabs and Muslim from other ethnic origins over a far-flung territory in Asia and Africa enabled them to come into contact with the natives of those regions and thus initiate a process of gradual conversion to Islam.
As Muslims advanced into foreign territories, they were exposed to various cultural influences. At first these influences had no effect but after a while cultural integration resulted in the burgeoning of an active interest in the scientific and intellectual achievements of the older civilizations. Although the translation of foreign books began on a modest scale during the first Islamic century, it increased during the second and by the 3rd (9th century CE), it had had a profound effect on the intellectual milieu when Greek, Persian and Indian sciences became available in Arabic translation. It was around this time that the ideas of secular science began to flourish under the influence of such Muslim philosophers and scientists as al-Kindi, Jabir ibn Hayyan, al-Khwarizmi and al-Razi.
3.2. Defining Islamic Science
Let us try to define now Islamic science and try to explain how it came into being. The Qur'an made its greatest impact on Muslim minds by making them aware of the natural world. The Qur'an also referred to peoples in the past, such as the Ad and Thamud, the people of Lut (Ashab Lut), Moses, Banu Israel and the Pharaohs. This emphasis on antiquity appears to be deductive in purpose.
Taking these factors into account, Muhammad Iqbal came to some interesting conclusions. He thought that the Qur'an pointed to Nature and History  as sources of human knowledge. He also claimed that the birth of Islam heralded the birth of inductive intellect . He therefore concluded that Islam bridges the ancient and the modern worlds. He justified such a claim by assuming that Islam belonged to the ancient world in so far as it used revelation but was essentially modern in spirit. These conclusions of Iqbal may be significant in so far as Islam has motivated its adherents to pursue vigorously both religious and secular science. Islam encouraged scholars the exploration of all kinds of knowledge. One explains the pursuit of Islamic science thus: "Islamic science came into being from a wedding between the spirit that issued from the Qur'anic revelation and the existing sciences of various civilizations which Islam inherited and which it transmuted through its spiritual power into a new substance, at once different from and continuous with what had existed before it ."
4. Translation as a Source of Knowledge
Just as certain political events create hostilities between nations that end in cooperation so, in human history major political events have long term intellectual consequences. One such consequence is the translation of foreign books and the transmission of ideas across cultures. When Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan and the Indus Valley, many rulers were unseated, including Emperor Darius of Persia. Some of Alexander's generals were appointed governors or administrators of these territories, and on Alexander's death the Ptolemies ruled Egypt and the Seleucids Mesopotamia and Persia. The long term consequence of these conquests was the spread of Greek thought throughout much of Asia and Egypt in the fields of philosophy, art and science.
Long after the fall of the Greek Empire, the empire of Darius was revived by the Sassanid dynasty, and some of the former territories of the Greek Empire, including Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt were incorporated into the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. The Sassanian and the Byzantine emperors fought one another until the early 7th century CE. It was in this century that the Arabs, an isolated people of the Arabian Peninsula who were least influenced by neighbouring civilizations, emerged with a new political vigour and spiritual vision. Within a short period they had conquered the Sassanian Empire and the Byzantine provinces of Syria and Egypt.
Consider the Sassanid legacy to the Arabs. Persia, being situated between Byzantium and India, had absorbed both Greek and Indian influences. As George Sarton puts it: "Arabic science was the fruit of Semitic genius fertilized by the Iranian genius ." This theory may explain some points regarding the role of the Arabs and Persians during the formative period of Islamic science. Sarton also gives a historical perspective on Arabic/Islamic science when he claims that the ‘almost unbelievable development of Arabic science did not begin until the second half of the 2nd century Hijrah' . This places the approximate time of birth of Islamic science in the late 8th century CE, a view which has recently been endorsed by Dimitri Gutas, who maintains that secular Greek texts were not translated into Syriac before the Abbasids came to power and that no scientific text was translated into Arabic during the Umayyad era . In other words, he denies that any translations from Greek and Syriac into Arabic occurred under the Umayyads, and that ‘the bulk of the Greek scientific and philosophical works were translated into Syriac as part of the Abbasid translation movement during the 9th century' . One of the reasons for this conclusion was the assumption that pre-Abbasid society did not provide a social, political and scientific context. However, such a thesis is not entirely defensible in the light of the various individual translation initiatives during the Umayyad period.
The Abbasid Caliphs, who succeeded the Umayyads after 132 AH/749/50 CE, had a significant role in the development of Islamic science. The foundation of Baghdad in 145 AH/762 CE by Caliph al-Mansur ushered in a new political era in the history of the Middle East. The new ‘city of Peace' (Madinat al-Salam), saw a coalition between the Arabs and Persians under the second Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja‘far al-Mansur (754-775 CE), who has been credited with initiating the Arabic translation movement. Of the several astrologers in his service, Nawbakht was a Persian who converted from Zoroastrianism to Islam and Masha'Allah al-Yahudi was a Jew. Other astrologers at his court were Muslims, such as Ibrahim al-Fazari and ‘Umar al-Tabari. Some scholars have suggested that Nawbakht initiated the translation of some Persian texts into Arabic, though the books are not identified. It has also been claimed, though without evidence, that the Barmakid family of Secretaries and Ministers (Wazirs), who were influential in early Abbasid bureaucracy during the 8th century CE, had financed the translation of some Pahlavi (Middle Persian) texts into Arabic. However, we are on surer ground when we consider the role of Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ in the translation of some Pahlavi books into Arabic.
Abdullah ibn al-Muqaffa' (a Persian convert, formerly called Rozbih, born 720-d. 756 CE) was regarded as one of the geniuses of early ‘Arabic literary prose'. He published literary works/ belles lettres (adab) such as Adab al-Kabir wa Adab al-Saghir and translated from the Pahlavi Kalilah wa-Dimnah  (the Fables of Bidpai, which were originally translated from Sanskrit into Pahlavi). He also translated the Pahlavi Khuday-Nama (Book of Kings) into Arabic (Siyar Muluk al-A‘jam), of which excerpts survived in Ibn Qutaybah's Taj-nama. Although primarily known as a translator from Pahlavi, some scholars credit him (or his son, Muhammad) with translating some Greek texts into Arabic . Persian wisdom literature immortalised the names of ancient Sassanian Kings, such as Anushirvan, in Arabic literature. To this period also belongs the translation of Persian astronomical works into Arabic, such as Zij-i-Shayriyar or Zij-i Shah (Royal Astronomical Tables). Astronomy and medicine were subjects of special interest to early Muslim men of science and physicians. Ibn al-Qifti claimed in 156 AH/773 CE that an Indian traveller brought into Baghdad an Indian manuscripts on mathematics and astronomy entitled Sidhdhanta (Arabic version Kitab al-Sindhind), which the Caliph al-Mansur wished to be rendered into Arabic. This Indian manuscript, which Ibrahim al-Fazari  undertook the task of translating, was related to such astronomical works, as Aryabhatiya by Aryabhatta and Khandakhadyaka by Brahmagupta and the Brahmapaksa . It introduced to the Arabs not only aspects of Indian astronomy but also the Indian numerals. The names of Ibrahim al-Fazari and Ya‘qub bin Tariq were initially associated in Baghdad with the Sindhind school of astronomy.
It was Caliph al-Mansur who invited to Baghdad Jurjis (Georges) bin Bukhtishu‘, the senior physician at the Jundishapur hospital and medical college in Ahwaz (Fars). To cure al-Mansur of his illness, he received ten thousand dinars. During the reign of al-Mansur's grandson, Harun al-Rashid, medical experts from Jundishapur were recruited to found Baghdad's first hospital.
Curiosity concerning astronomy and astrology was noticeable during the early Abbasid period. Even the orthodox Abbasid Caliph Muhammad al-Mahdi (158-169 AH /775-785), who suppressed heresies, including Manichaeism (zandaqah), was superstitious about astronomy and astrology, as is shown from his patronage of two astronomers, including Abu Sahl ibn Nawbakht. It was in his reign that the Aristotelian work Topics (topoi), translated by Athanasias of Balad (d. 686), was brought to the attention of the Caliph.
Al-Mahdi's son, Harun al-Rashid (170-193 AH/786-809 CE), was well known as connoisseur of talented artists, philosophers and scientists. He, his son Caliph al-Ma'mun and the Barmakid viziers were among those of wealth and power who commissioned men like ‘Allan al-Shu‘ubi to copy translations of Greek and Syriac manuscripts, including Aristotle's Physics, which had been rendered into Arabic by Sallam al-Abrash.
In addition to this large body of translation into Arabic, existing translations were amended by scholars. Most translators were Christians belonging to either the Orthodox Church, or Jacobites and Nestorians . There were also Jews, Sabean (pagan star worshippers) of Harran and Arab Muslims. The majority of this work was undertaken between 800 and 1000 CE, and covered subjects including philosophy, politics, astronomy, geometry, zoology and medicine.
The translation of philosophical texts reached an apogee during the Caliphate of Abdullah al-Ma'mun (813-33 CE) and his successors. The translation movement declined and ended during the Buwayhid period (945-1055CE). These men took a personal interest in the progress of theology, philosophy, science and literature. Some families associated with the Abbasids became patrons of scholars and translators.
Most notable among the early translators were Banu Musa Bin Shakir, Abu Ishaq al-Kindi, Masarjawaih, Yuhanna ibn Masawaih, Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-‘Ibadi, Thabit ibn Qurrah and Qusta ibn Luqa. Some of these should be examined more closely.
The astronomer Musa bin Shakir  was associated with prince Abdullah al-Ma'mun before his rise to power. When Ibn Shakir died prematurely his three sons, Ahmad, Muhammad and al-Hasan (who became celebrated as mathematicians) were the wards of al-Mamun, and each achieved success as a patron of translators. Muhammad, the eldest of Ibn Shakir's sons, employed Thabit ibn Qurrah in his house (library) and other translators worked for him at Bayt al-Hikmah. The wealthy family of Banu Musa paid 500 dinars a month to translators and were responsible for twenty translations covering such subjects as astronomy, mathematics and mechanics. Ahmad b. Musa b. Shakir himself has been credited with writing Kitab al-Hiyal, a book on mechanics and inventions.
Figure 11a-b: Two pages from Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini's works (died 682/1283), both at the The British Library in London: (a) A 14th-century CE manuscript of al-Qazwini's Aja'ib al-makhluqat (The Wonders of Creation), MS Or. 14140 (Source); (b) Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-'ibad, the geography of al-Qazwini, MS Or.3623. (Source).
One outstanding translator of this period was Hunayn ibn Ishaq  who worked under Harun al-Rashid, al-Ma'mun, al-Mu‘tasim and al-Muwakkil ‘ala-Allah. He was familiar with Syriac, spoke Arabic and late in his career mastered Greek at Alexandria or Byzantium. He travelled from Baghdad through Syria, Palestine and Egypt in search of Syriac and Greek manuscripts. To Hunayn goes the credit for translating into Arabic a substantial body of Greek medical writings, including Kitab al-Masa'il fi'l-tibb (Medical Questions for beginners) and an original treatise on opthalmology, al-Masa'il fi'l-'Ayn. He regarded the Hippocratic Oath as a genuine work, which he translated into Arabic. He also published a bibliography of one hundred medical works by the Roman physician Galen (Kitab Istikhraj Kammiyat Kutub Jalinus). His translations from Syriac and Greek inspired his son, Ishaq ib. Hunain and his nephew Hubaish, whose works he supervised. According to Strohmaier, he was ‘the most important mediator of ancient Greek science to the Arabs .'
Thabit ibn Qurrah (d.288/901) of Harran, a Syriac speaking person who wrote and translated into Arabic, was associated with Banu Musa ibn Shakir by whom he was inspired to learn mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Among the celebrated Greek texts he translated was Nichomachus's Kitab Nichomachus fi'l al-Arthamatiqi  (Nichomachus of Gerasa's book on Arithmetic). He also revised earlier translations of Ptolemy's Kitab al-Majisti and Euclid's Elements. Although primarily a mathematician, he also wrote on medicine and music.
Other celebrated translators included Qusta bin Luqa, a Syrian Christian from the Ba‘labakk region who was well versed in the Syriac,Greek and Arabic languages and collected Greek manuscripts from Byzantium, which he carried to Baghdad to translate. According to Ibn al-Qifti, he was a contemporary of the first notable Arab philosopher, Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi. He was known to be a versatile scholar, knowledgeable in contemporary astronomy, geometry, mathematics, natural science and medicine , and like many of his contemporaries, a scientist in his own right.
Apart from private collections of foreign manuscripts, there were also public libraries founded during the 2nd-4th century AH /8th-10th century CE, which were designated by the following terms: Bayt al-Hikmah, Khizanat al-Hikmah, or Dar al-Hikmah, or Dar al- ‘ilm, Dar al-Kutub, Khizanat al-Kutub and Bayt al-Kutub. The Bayt al-Hikmah (also known as Khizanat al-Hikmah), according to Shalabi, was founded in Baghdad by Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Others maintain, however, that caliph al-Ma'mun established it. At the time of Ali ibn Yahya al-Munajjim (d. 275/888), there flourished an institution known as Khizanat al-Kutub and Khizanat al-Hikmah . Since the 9th century CE, many more libraries housed books of foreign sciences. Some of these libraries were privately owned, while others were established by Caliphs, Amirs (governors), Sultans and Wazirs. For instance, in Abbasid Mawsil (Mosul) there existed a large library called Khizanat al-Kutub. Similarly, a wealthy textile trader, Ali b. Muhammad al-Bazzaz (d. 323/942), was said to have possessed a Bayt al-‘ilm (library; lit. house of science or knowledge). Sabur bin Ardashir (d. 416/ 991) bought a house, Dar al-‘ilm, in which he kept ten thousand volumes of manuscripts on all subjects. By the 4th century AH/10th century, there was a proliferation of libraries and institutions, which had been founded in Basrah, Isfahan, Nishapur, Ramhurmuz, Rayy and Cairo . Some of the books in similar libraries were listed by Ibn al-Nadim in his bibliographical compilation al-Fihrist and in Ibn al-Qifti's biographies of scientists and philosophers, Ta'rikh al-Hukama', Ibn Abi Usaybiyah's ‘Uyun al-Anba' fi-Tabaqat al-Atibba' and, for Muslim Spain, by Ibn Juljul's Tabaqat al-Atibba' wa'l-Hukama'. These works provide biographical and bibliographical information about Muslim scientists and philosophers of all ethnic backgrounds up to the 13th century CE. Modern historians and bibliographers of Islamic science, including George Sarton, Carl Brockelmann and Fuat Sezgin, have identified and described manuscripts and printed books on the history of Islamic science.
5. Islamic Science or Arabic Science
There is a tendency among some modern writers, including Abdulhamid Sabra and Muhsin Mahdi, to describe Islamic Science as ‘Arabic Science'. One should not attach any special significance to this new description of an old subject. Is it simply a question of terminology and nothing else? What exactly is Arabic Science?
Figure 12: End of the second part of the Arabic translation by Abû 'Uthmân al-Dimashqî (died ca 920) of Aristotle's Organon, Rhetoric and Poetics, copied in 1027. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS Arabe 2346, folio 264v-265r. (Source).
The science which the early Muslims acquired through the translation of ancient books on scientific texts came to be known as Islamic Science, which is currently being described by some as Arabic science. Sabra and Sarton tried to define Arabic science,which is so called because, first, it owed its beginning to Arab initiative and patronage; secondly, because such science used Arabic as its linguistic medium;and thirdly, because the Arabic language was seen as a unifying factor which enabled the ancient scientific heritage to be carried, which was a fact of specific significance for ‘the general history of science and culture as well as for the history of science in Islam .' Sabra also acknowledged that premodern translations into Arabic led to ‘an accumulation of scientific learning that surpassed anything previously known'. On the other hand, George Sarton compares the Arab acquisition of Greek and Indo-Persian science to the Meiji assimilation of modern science and technology. Islamic rulers of the Abbasid dynasty made the best of Greek knowledge available in Arabic. Pleading for an understanding of the Arab contribution to science Sarton states that ‘the scientific books written in Arabic durng the Middle Ages were, for a few centuries, the main vehicle of the living science' . Moreover, he notes that some historians tried to minimise the Arab achievements and contributions to science by claiming that Arabic science lacked originality and that the Arabs were ‘nothing but copycats'.Such a judgement, according to Sarton, was wrong .
Sarton justifies his statement by saying that the Arabs created a genuine ‘hunger for knowledge' and that they not only translated from the Greek and other sources but before long had begun to transform the knowledge they had gained into something new. For instance, in the field of mathematics, rather than copy Greek and Sanskrit sources they fertilised Greek sources with Hindu ones. Sarton also claims that ‘if these were not inventions, then there are no inventions in science. A scientific invention is simply the weaving together of separate threads and the tying of new knots. There are no inventions ex nihilo' .
It is possible that Arab scientists did not realise the value of their discoveries. Thousands of Arabic manuscripts on science are scattered in different collections across the globe. Until these texts are edited and analyzed historians of science cannot know the true extent of the Arab contribution to premodern science.
Professor Muhsin Mahdi explains why the study of Arabic science is desirable: "In the absence of an adequate historiography of the history of Arabic science, a preliminary typology of approaches may prove useful.
‘In the Arab world, widespread interest in the history of Arabic science is due to the special status of modern science and the perception that modern science must be acquired if the third world is to modernise itself; the fact that Arabic science existed in the past is meant to prove that the acquisition of modern science is at least possible. In the West, the relative neglect of the history of Arabic science is part of the neglect of the history of science in general ... The study of Arabic science in the Western world aims at discovering those aspects of Arabic science in which advances were made or which contributed to the rise of modern science; and the study of Arabic science in the Arab world is meant to prepare the way for the appropriation of modern science and technology. In every case modern science and technology is taken to be the aim of scientific development and the measure by which earlier science is to be judged. History, on the other hand, is thought to be a method to be used in search for, collecting, organising and presenting the Arabic science of the past.: ....What then is the history of Arabic science -Arabic science and philosophy cannot be separated in the period under discussion without doing violence to each of them; and generally speaking, science should be understood to include the philosophic sciences ." These statements are selected at random on account of their relevance to our investigation into Arabic or Islamic science.
Due to shortage of serious studies on Arab science discoveries (at the end of the second millennium CE) our understanding of its origins and achievements must remain incomplete. Some of the relevant facts, however, could be summarised.
Astronomy can be identified by several Arabic terms, such as ‘ilm al-Nujum or Science of the Stars; ‘ilm al-Hay'ah, or Science of the āure (of the heaven), and ‘ilm al-Falak, or Science of the Celestial Orb. The observation of stars and the movement of heavenly bodies is perhaps as old as civilization. To the pre-Islamic Arabs, the division of the solar year into different periods was known as Anwa' (singular naw'). The multiplicity of terms may suggest that astronomy was variously defined. Until foreign books on the subject were translated in the 2nd/8th century, Arab interest was based on the science of Anwa'.
On the whole, this interest was a constant factor in Islamic culture. It has been claimed with some justification that the number of scientists involved in the study of Arabic astronomy was considerably higher than in any other science. Moreover, more books have been written on this subject than on any other branch of science; the number of private or public observatories was also highly significant. Belletrists, philosophers, physicians, mathematicians, geographers, royal princes and ministers showed an equal interest in astronomical topics. One only has to read the biographies of scientists and philosophers in Ibn al-Qifti's Ta'rikh al-hukama' to understand how true this is. Moreover, modern scholars, including Régis Morelon  have recognised the fact that astronomy held a pride of place among medieval Arabs and Muslims of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Muslims who face the sacred mosque of the Ka‘bah at their daily prayer and who have oriented all mosques towards this most sacred mosque, called for a scientific method of fixing the qiblah according to precise knowledge of mathematical astronomy. In the light of this fact, the following statement is significant: ‘Muslim astronomers from the 9th century onwards also computed tables displaying the qiblah as a function of terrestrial latitude and longitude, some based on approximate formulae and others based on the accurate formula' . Many astronomical tables using geographical coordinates were a feature of astronomical handbooks. Books were written on how to use astrolabes and varieties of quadrants to locate the qiblah. Compass boxes featuring with the qiblah were available from the Mamluk period.
Although an interest in astronomy was an ancient one, it was not until the 8th and 9th centuries CE that any scientific treatise on the subject became known to them. But help was at hand. Shortly after 117AH/735CE, the Zij al-Arkand (an astronomical table of Arkand) was translated. This served as the basis for other astronomical tables (Zijes). Some elements of Arkand were derived from Brahmagupta's Khandakhadyaka of 665 CE, which probably belonged to the Midnight School (Ardharatrika) of Aryabhata. Nearly four decades later, when a traveller from India presented an astronomical treatise to Caliph al-Mansur, it was translated into Arabic at the Caliph's order by Ibrahim al-Fazari. This text became known as Kitab al-Sindhind, a book on Indian Sidhantas relating to astronomy. Some Persian works on astronomy, for instance the Zij-i Shah (Royal Astronomical Tables) of King Yazdijird III (632-52 CE), were translated into Arabic during the latter part of the 8th century. Shortly afterwards, the Zij Shahyaran (Astronomical Table of Anushiravan (written ca 556 CE) was also translated into Arabic. Thus the Indian and Sassanian influence on astronomy preceded that of the Greeks. As a result of the translation of Ptolemy's Almagest (Kitab al-Majisti) into Arabic in the 9th century, the fascination with astronomy became anchored in ancient astronomical science. Such a translation process was completed around 900CE with al-Battani's work Al-Zij al-Sabi'i (Sabaean Astronomical Tables).
These astronomical tables were used by the scholars of the Muslim world to construct tables for their royal patrons in the 9th century. The ancient tools of astronomy, such as the astrolabe (Ar. Usturlab) and sundial, became familiar to the Arabs. One Arabic source claimed that Ibrahim b. Habib al-Fazari (d. 8th century CE), a descendant of the Prophet's Companion Samurah ibn Jundub, was the first Arab to make an astrolabe .
Figure 13: Ibn Rushd in a dialogue with Porphyre in a medieval Latin manuscript Liber de herbis by Monfredo de Monte Imperiali. Italian manuscript from the first half of the 14th century. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS Latin 6823, folio 2. (Source).
Many astronomers, including Ibrahim al-Fazari, Masha'Allah al-Munajjim al-Yahudi, Habash al-Hasib, Jabir ibn Hayyan, HibatAllah ibn al-Husayn al-Baghdadi, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and al-Fath ibn Najabah, were credited with writing books on how to construct an astrolabe, including Kitab al-'Amal bi'l-Asturlab al-Musattah and Kitab Sina'at al-Asturlab wa'l-'Amal biha .
Normally, the Arabs would use the plain spheric astrolabe (asturlab al-musattah), the most versatile instrument of its type at this time in medieval Islamic lands and in the West. There, the spherical astrolabe (al-asturlab al-kuri) was also used.
During the reign of Caliph al-Ma'mun, an astronomer, Yahya ibn Abi Mansur , became celebrated for recording astronomical observations from Shammasiyah in Baghdad and from the top of the Qasiyun mountain near Damascus in the years 215-217 AH/830-832 CE. Observatories were built in various cities, such as Baghdad, Cairo, Maragha, Tabriz, Samarqand, Istanbul and Delhi.
The extent of Muslim advancement in astronomy was measured by the critical response of Ibn al-Haytham (d.1039) to Ptolemy's books the Almagest (Kitab al-Mjjisti) and Planetery Hypothesis in his famous treatise al-Shukuk ‘ala Batlamiyus. His criticism was not limited to Ptolemy's planetary models but extended to other scientific fields, such as the optics . Naturally, Ibn al-Haytham acknowledged Ptolemy's excellence as a scientist and then proceeded to discuss the optical effect of the sun's movement. He noted that the size of the sun varied at different times of the day: it appears larger when on the horizon than it does in the middle of the sky. He also noted Ptolemy's contradictory statements regarding planetary motion and the epicycle of the planets.
According to one analysis, the Greek theories of vision were principally: (i) the object-copy theory, and (ii) the tactile theory. The latter was questioned by al-Razi and Ibn Sina. Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) refuted the object-copy theory and concluded that ‘we see by refraction' . This theory was expounded in his treatise Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), which remained influential (through a Latin translation) in Europe until the late 16th century. According to Gül Russel, "Ibn al-Haytham showed that the object itself is not sensed at all, but that innumerable points of light deflected from the surface of the object to the eye resulted in the sensing of an image which is formed according to optical principles ." In order to prove this theory, Ibn al-Haytham studied the anatomy of the eye and the effect of light on vision. This original theory of vision repudiated the Greek theory of vision. Thus, it was that although Arabic science was initially influenced by Greek theories, in some fields the scientists of Islam subsequently advanced the subject beyond the Greek boundaries.
Among other famous astronomers who made significant contribution to astronomy were al-Biruni and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.
While visiting Palestine, a 12th century Spanish Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, recorded the Muslim and Jewish role in astronomy of his time:
"To learn about planetary motions, they [the scholars of the Islamic world] studied Ptolemy's Almagest, which they translated from old Greek into Arabic. The Jews, in turn, translated some works of the Muslim astronomers out of Arabic into Hebrew and Latin and European vernaculars. This was not like the field of pharmacology, where Jews learned by trading in the products; astronomy was a science of ideas, and Jews learned its new ideas by translating.
Figure 14: Page of a Latin edition of the commentary of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) on Aristotle's De Anima, Commentarium magnum Averrois in Aristotelis De Anima libros, translated by Michel Scot around 1230, in Paris, third quarter of the 13th century. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS Latin 16151, folio 22). (Source).
"The Muslims built magnificent observatories, of which the best contained the most advanced armillary spheres, quadrants, and astrolabes, supplementing a grand variety of sundials and water clocks, alidades, and double-pointed alidades called compasses. The astronomers among the Jews had to have regarded all this with envy. Few Jews could find a place of work in the Muslims' grand observatories, and for financial and religious reasons the Jews had no equivalent observatories, so Jews interested in astronomy had to work along theoretical lines. Yet the Jews' deemed the Muslim astronomers' calendar seriously deficient, for the Islamic year is significantly shorter than the solar year (just like the calendar of the ancient Hebrews).The Muslim calendar consists of twelve months, into which no month is intercalated, so that their year has 354 or 355 days. It takes 103 Muslim years to measure the same duration as 100 of our years .
Due to its diverse origins, Arabic/Islamic science had a syncretic character. It has been claimed that Muslims inherited a complex set of mathematical ideas, which had been developed in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia and India. The Greek contribution was mainly in Euclidean geometry; the Persian and Indian influences were detected in trigonometry and in numerals, which came into use from the 2nd century AH/8th century CE; Egyptian ideas related to calendar computation; ancient Babylonia provided the sexagesimal system, which formed the basis of Hisab al-Jummal (i.e. computing with the letters of the alphabet). Writing in his short Encyclopaedia of Sciences (Mafatih al-'Ulum), Abu ‘AbdAllah Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Khwarizmi (ca 977 CE) briefly discussed the mathematics of his epoch, citing the Indian numerals, algebra, trigonometry and alphabetical arithmetic or Hisab al-Jummal (also known as Hisab al-Abjadiyah, the abjad system), in which number values were attributed to the letters of the Arabic alphabet . This method of computing was quoted as follows:
Although this alphabetical arithmetic existed from pre-Islamic to early Islamic times, there were other types of arithmetic used, known as Hisab al-Yad or Finger calculation and Hisab al-‘uqud (arithmetic of knots). The art of finger-reckoning was also identified in Arabic works as ‘the arithmetic of the Rum (i.e.,the Byzantines) and the Arabs'. When and how it came to the Islamic world has yet to be explained fully, but it is likely that before Islam Arab merchants learnt to count using their fingers. The system afterwards seems to have been spread throughout the civilized world . This type of arithmetic was used in government chanceries during the early Caliphates of Madinah and the Umayyad dynasty of Damascus.
Figure 15: Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), astronomer and last great ruler of the Timurids, commemorated on Soviet stamp issued in 1987. Source.
Initially, Islam inspired the Arabs to apply mathematics in order to resolve the Islamic Law of Inheritance (‘ilm al-Fara'id), which subsequently was able to outline the formula for assessing how an estate could be divided among the beneficiaries. This process often involved the application of algebra. Thus an incentive now existed for Muslims to learn mathematics. Assessing the shares, or quotas, of female relatives of the first and second degree required specialised knowledge. Usually, all Muslim jurists (fuqaha') or judges were called upon to administer an estate. Hence it was a practical as well as a legal necessity for Muslims to be familiar with mathematics.
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a Muslim of Central Asian origin, who lived in Baghdad in the early ninth century, wrote the earliest Arabic works on arithmetic. He was associated with Bayt al-Hikmah (the House of Wisdom), a research library in the Abbasid capital. Between 813 and 833 CE, he composed some original treatises on mathematics and it is to him that we owe the origin of the term Algebra, which appears in the title of his Hisab al-Jabr wa'-l-Muqabala and which was later translated by Robert of Chester as Liber Algebras et al-Mucabala. Another translation of this work, Liber De Jebra et Almucabola, rendered by Jerard of Cremona (ca 1114-87CE), helped advance European mathematical thought.
Al-Khwarizmi's book laid the foundation of modern algebra and anotrher of his publications al-Jam' wa'l-Tafriq bi-'l-Hisab al-Hindi (Book of Addition and Subtraction in Indian Mathematics) introduced the Indian place-number system into the 10th-century Andalus (Spain). A certain John of Seville made a Latin translation of this book, as Liber Alchorismi de practica arismetrice, which, according to André Allard, is ‘the most detailed and complete of all the ancient works stemming from the arithmetic of al-Khwarizmi' . Only this translation has survived, the original Arabic text having presumably been lost.
It was probably this same work that was referred to in a 13th-century Latin manuscript as Dixit Algorizmi, which had a chapter on ordinary fractions and another on sexagesimal fractions. Finally, another of al-Khawarizmi's works, as indicated by Ibn al-Qifti, was al-Zij al-Sindhind which comprised al-Zij al-Sindhind al-Awwal and al-Zij al-Sindhind al-Thani, both dealing with astronomical tables. This work was translated into Latin around 1142-46 by Adelard of Bath and influenced the Toledan Tables of Gerard. On the whole, al-Khwarizmi's name was associated not only with Algebra but also with the introduction of the term algorism, or Algorithm, into European science.
Al-Khwarizmi was also credited with writing a book on ‘the Image of the Earth' (Kitab Surat al-Ard) in which the latitude and longitude of towns, cities, mountains, seas and rivers were given, and the earth was shown to be divided into seven climes following the Ptolemaic system. Due to the originality of his work al-Khwarizmi's work was linked with the origins of astronomy and mathematics in Islamic society. Kramers claimed that al-Khwarizmi was the ‘prototype of the Islamic scholar who had a very wide field of interest and at the same time was connected with the traditional Islamic sciences by also being the author of a Ta'rikh or Historical Chronicle'. Secondly, he presented the pre-Islamic sciences in an Islamic literary form. Thirdly, he applied science to the practical legal needs of the Islamic community, such as the question of fixing the qiblah or direction to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. Fourthly, his writings contained several pre-Islamic concepts, such as the earth's position in the universe, and the seven climes  (aqalim) and his introduction of Indian numerals, which became a permanent feature of science in Islamic societies for centuries.
Figure 16a-b: Qibla indicator, comprising a round brass box with a hinged lid and an inset magnetic compass at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and London (Georges Prin Collection). All sides of the box are covered with inscriptions in Arabic, consisting of lists of 151 places with their longitudes and latitudes. (Source).
The many successors of al-Khwarizmi included Abu Kamil, who wrote a celebrated book on algebra ca 880 CE. Other mathematicians who followed the Khwarizmian school of algebra were Sind ibn ‘Ali, Sinan b. Fath, Abdul-Hamid Ibn Turk and Abu 'l-Wafa' al-Bujazani. These mathematicians in turn had their disciples who included Abu ‘AbdAllah al-Mahani, al-Khujandi and al-Karaji during the 10th century. Although ‘Umar al-Khayyam is known in Europe through Fitzgerald's translation of his Ruba'iyat poems, he was better known in his lifetime as a metaphysician, astronomer and mathematician. The Algebra of ‘Umar al-Khayyam, according to Nasr, was, on account of his throughness and clarity, one of the most outstanding mathematical texts of the medieval period . As an astronomer, ‘Umar al-Khayyam will be remembered for helping to construct the Jalali calendar, named after the Saljuq Sultan Jalal al-Din Malik Shah (d.485/1092), which was more accurate than the Gregorian calendar.
The Arab belletrist al-Jahiz  rightly stated that members of the royal family ought to acquire the knowledge of genealogy, history and jurisprudence, soldiers should know about warfare (al-Maghazi) and should read biographies (siyar), just as traders ought to be familiar with arithmetic and book-keeping. It was the knowledge of geometry that made a profound impact on Islamic art and architecture, especially in the geometric decoration of windows, and domes and the use of mosaic tiles.
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by: Dr. Muhammad Abdul Jabbar Beg, Mon 30 August, 2010