The Birth of Modern Astronomy

“An early seventeenth-century margin drawing from the folio in Jahāngīr’s Album showing an astrologer surrounded by his equipment—an astrolabe, zodiac tables and an hourglass (Werner Forman Archive/Naprestek Museum, Prague). ” (Source)

However, many historians now think it is not a coincidence that his geometrical models for the Sun, Moon, and five naked-eye planets are identical to those prepared by Ibn al-Shatir more than a century before him.

It is known that Copernicus relied heavily on the comprehensive astronomical treatise by Al-Battani, which included star catalogues and planetary tables. The mathematical devices discovered by scholars in Muslim civilisation before Copernicus referred to in modern terms as linkages of constant length vectors rotating at constant angular velocities are exactly the same as those used by Copernicus.

The only important difference between the two was that the former’s Earth was fixed in space, whereas the latter’s had it orbiting around the Sun. Copernicus also used instruments that were particular to astronomy in the East, like the parallactic ruler, which had previously only been used in Samarkand and Maragha observatories.* This instrument has been described by Ptolemy in his Almagest.

Get the full story from 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization Reference (4th  Edition) Annotated. 

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A 15th-century Persian manuscript of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi’s observatory at Maragha depicts astronomers at work teaching astronomy, including how to use an astrolabe. The instrument hangs on the observatory’s wall.
(Source: 1001 inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, Page 269)



The study of anatomy was universally praised and its importance recognised in pre-modern Islamic societies. Physicians and surgeons deemed it essential for medical practice. In his Commentary on the Anatomy of Ibn Sīnā’s ‘Canon of Medicine’, Ibn al-Nafīs provides numerous examples of how medical practice is improved by studying anatomy, ranging from making better inferences as to the causes of diseases in order to prescribe appropriate drugs, to avoiding harm while performing minor procedures by not accidentally cutting into arteries, nerves or muscle fibres. Anatomy’s value for medical practice was recognised to the extent that even market-inspectors (muḥtasibs) were tasked with ensuring that physicians and surgeons were well-versed in this science.


The human skeleton as illustrated in a copy of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. (Source)

The term for anatomy in Arabic is tashrīḥ, derived from the root sh-r-ḥ, and like its Greek counterpart anatomḗ, it means ‘to cut up’. Based on pre-modern Arabic dictionaries and medical texts, historians concur that in medical usage the term tashrīḥ could be used equally for: 1) the actual process of cutting open a body, i.e. dissection; and 2) the structure of the human body, i.e. anatomy. The term ʿilm al-tashrīḥ thus refers to the knowledge of the structure of the body and its functions obtained both from texts and empirical observations; the latter could be based on dissections or otherwise. When we add to the inherent ambiguity of the term tashrīḥ the fact that pre-modern physicians often made little distinction between personal observations and recorded observations of other authorities, then we are left guessing as to the precise meaning of any reference to tashrīḥ, or even its practice. This ambiguity is captured in the translation of the quotes at the start of the chapter where every occurrence of tashrīḥ has been rendered as anatomy/dissection.


The system of nerves as illustrated in Manṣūr’s Anatomy (tashrīḥ-i Manṣūrī). (Source)

Additionally, the Arabic translations of Galenic texts on anatomy, such as On Anatomical Procedures, did not censor the gory details of animal dissections found therein; nor were the translators ever rebuked by religious scholars for not doing so. In fact, an examination of the structure and function of the body through dissection was believed to lead the investigator closer to God, for it made him appreciate the foresight and wisdom of the Creator, as Ibn Rushd’s aforementioned quote implies. That is also the ultimate purpose of the dissection scenes described in Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 1185) and Ibn al-Nafīs’s respective fictional narratives, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān and Fāḍil ibn Nāṭiq, wherein their protagonists (Ḥayy and Kāmil) arrive at the knowledge of the existence of God through dissecting animals and observing nature. In short, contrary to popular claims, religion was not an obstacle to the study and practice of anatomy…


The anatomy of a pregnant female body as illustrated in Manṣūr’s Anatomy (tashrīḥ-i Manṣūrī) (Source)

1001 Cures

Author Bradley Steffens on ‘First Scientist’, Ibn al-Haytham

Concerning the Islamic genius, Ibn al-Haytham (c. 965 – c. 1040), [1] Steffens has written the following books: The Prisoner of Al-Hakim. Clifton, NJ: Blue Dome Press, 2017. ISBN 1682060160 and Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist (Profiles in Science). Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1599350246


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Front cover of Ibn Al-haytham: First Scientist by Bradley Steffens (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2007). 

Nadeem Haque (NH): Can you please provide us a background of how you got interested in writing books and some of your highlights, aside from your works on Ibn Al-Haytham?

Bradley Steffens: I set my sights on becoming a writer in high school, when my creative writing teacher identified my first assignment—a twenty-line poem entitled “Automobile”—as publishable. He was right; it was published in a literary journal two years later. Bolstered by his encouragement, I changed which college I was planning to attend, changed my major, and embarked on a career in letters. I continued to write and publish poetry in literary journals while in college. At the age of twenty, I collected my published work into pamphlets that I sold on the streets in my hometown of Los Angeles. I supported myself as a street poet for three years. I eventually started writing poetic monologues, dialogues, and then one-act plays-in-verse. When I was twenty-five, a theater in Minneapolis produced my plays-in-verse as an evening of theater. The plays received good reviews, and my identity as a writer deepened. I got married, had children, and at twenty-seven took my first writing job as an advertising copywriter. Many people believe that commercial writing corrupts the artist, but in my case, it taught me how to write lean, taut prose, which carried over into a more economical poetic style. I began to win prizes for my poetry and eventually published about sixty poems.

When my wife’s company relocated from Minneapolis to San Diego, I found myself unemployed, so I began to do freelance proofreading for a local publisher of young adult books. They had a manuscript that was in bad shape, although the research was good, so they asked me if I would rewrite it. It did so for the money, but without credit. They liked my work, so they gave me another manuscript in the same shape. That time I insisted on credit at least as a coauthor. I eventually coauthored seven books in this way. In each case, the original author did most of the research but couldn’t or wouldn’t make the changes required by the publisher. Impressed with my ability to write about complex subjects at a low reading level—a skill that I joked I had developed by writing advertising—my publisher began to offer me the opportunity to write my own books from scratch. I wrote more than twenty for them—histories, biographies, and current affairs.

NH: What prompted or inspired you to write Ibn Al-Haytham: First Scientist?

Bradley Steffens: The young adult books I was writing were all for the library market, and authors for such books are paid a flat fee. You have to remember that when I started, in 1989, there was no public internet and no online booksellers, so the number of copies that could be sold was dictated by the specific market—in my case, the library market. By 2006, I wanted to get into a royalty situation, so I approached a different publisher. I pitched an update of my 1996 biography of Emily Dickinson, which had received excellent reviews but was out of print. The editor was interested in working with me, but he passed on the Dickinson proposal. He asked if I had any other ideas. I had written a book about the invention of photography in 1991. In the chapter on pre-invention technology, I discussed Ibn al-Haytham and his work with the camera obscura. For that book, I focused on Ibn al-Haytham’s technological advances, but it always fascinated me that he had constructed his camera obscura to test a hypothesis about light rays. I had been taught that Galileo was the first person to conduct experiments to test hypotheses. I knew from my previous publisher that books about the Middle Ages were in high demand, because every school system includes a world history course, but there was precious little (at that time) about the Middle Ages, because publishers largely ignored the Islamic Golden Age. I like to think my next book had something to do with changing that. I also knew—had been told directly by my previous publisher—that Booklist and School Library Journal were not reviewing books about “dead white males.” Based on that knowledge, I pitched the idea of a biography of a medieval, non-European scholar: Ibn al-Haytham. My publisher loved the idea, and I got the contract. Sometimes the best answer you can receive is a “no.” If the editor had said “yes” to the Dickinson book, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.

NH: Can you explain your justification for the subtitle “First Scientist”?

Bradley Steffens: At the time I pitched the book, Ibn al-Haytham was all but unknown in the West, so my hook was that he was the “first scientist.” I said that because he was practicing experimental science six hundred years before Galileo, five hundred years before Leonardo da Vinci, and two hundred years before Roger Bacon. Each of those scholars has been credited as “the first scientist” in books by Frederick Aicken, Michael White, and Brian Clegg, respectively.

NH: What is the basic outline of the story of Ibn al-Haytham?

Bradley Steffens: Biographical details are scarce, but when he was sixty-three, Ibn al-Haytham wrote a letter describing his intellectual development. Amazingly, copies of this letter were preserved, and a translation of it appeared in the proceedings of a 1969 conference commemorating the one-thousandth birthday of Ibn al-Haytham. This letter was invaluable to me. It explained what every biographer needs to know: why he did what he did. In the letter he said he had started out as a theologian who sought to unify the sects of Islam. After laboring for who knows how long, he admitted failure, concluding, “I am now convinced that…whatever differences exist between various sects are based not on the basic tenets of faith or the Ultimate Reality but on sociological content.”

I sense that he was bitterly disappointed by his failure. He lost interest in intellectual pursuits that were subject to human opinion. He subsequently discovered the works of Aristotle, and was impressed with the Greek philosopher’s systematic approach to knowledge. This was a turning point for Ibn al-Haytham. He wrote, “I saw that I can reach the truth only through concepts whose matter are sensible things, and whose form is rational.”

He began to write commentaries on Aristotle and mathematicians such as Euclid, Ptolemy, and Apollonius of Perga. He had varied interests and wrote extensively on many topics. Most notably, he solved the mystery of vision that had eluded scholars for millennia, realizing that the eyes did not send out rays to perceive objects, as Euclid and the mathematicians had argued, nor that objects gave off forms that entered the eye, as Aristotle and the physicists had argued, but that vision occurred when light rays entered the eye and created an impression—what he called “a small pain”—at the back of the eye, which the optic nerve carried to the brain. His work on vision turned into thorough a study of the propagation of light—reflection, refraction, curved mirrors, burning mirrors, and the like. This of course was all included in his landmark book, of Kitāb al-Manāzir, or The Book of Optics.

NH: What would you consider his major achievements and legacy?

Bradley Steffens: While Ibn al-Haytham is regarded as the father of analytic geometry and of course made historic breakthroughs regarding light and vision, his greatest achievement was his methodology, his insistence on using what he called “true demonstrations” and what we call experiments to test hypotheses. This was a turning point in human history. It affected not only the physical sciences, but all of the sciences—and society itself. Criminal prosecutors today complain that it’s getting harder and harder to get convictions on circumstantial evidence and logic alone. Juries today demand concrete, physical evidence, in part because of the CSI television programs. That’s a legacy of Ibn al-Haytham’s approach. It’s hard to realize that it wasn’t always like this. What I think is interesting is that we can pinpoint the moment this change occurred, not just to Ibn al-Haytham’s lifetime, but to a specific time in his life. At the beginning of The Book of Optics, he wrote, “I formerly composed a treatise on light and vision in which I employed persuasive methods of reasoning, but when true demonstrations relating to all objects of vision occurred to me, I started afresh. Whoever, therefore, comes upon the said treatise must know that it should be discarded.” He realized that everything he had done up to that point—outside of his mathematics, of course—had been for naught, because it depended on logic rather than on experiment. It also meant that the work of the Greeks and anyone who had supported their theories with “persuasive reasoning” had to be discarded. In my novel, The Prisoner of Al-Hakim, I added a line after his statement above: “Even the most brilliant reasoning is worthless if nature does not support it.” I have him make this remark in a discussion at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. One of the scholars in attendance, a man who specializes in teaching the works of Aristotle, challenges him: “Are you suggesting that we discard the knowledge of the ancients, which has endured for centuries?” The man smiled at his colleagues. “Unless, of course, it passes a ‘true demonstration?’”

The short answer to that was “yes.” That was a revolution in thinking. That was science.

NH: In my capacity as a philosopher of science, I’ve come to the conclusion that the greatest scientific thinkers in history were: Archimedes (Ancient); Ibn al-Haytham (Middle Ages) and Isaac Newton (Pre-Modern period), because Ibn al-Haytham introduced the inductive scientific method to the world more than anyone else we know of, the same method that Newton was able to apply further. Would you say that my view is inaccurate or perhaps biased? For the modern period, we’re still waiting for one who will truly unify physics on a rational basis; perhaps the next Newton will be from the Muslim world! Who knows?

Bradley Steffens: I would tend to agree about a very high ranking for Ibn al-Haytham in the pantheon of past thinkers. He was certainly one of the greatest giants upon which Newton stood and was one who, no doubt, made Newton see even farther. Newton was very religious too, was he not?

NH: Newton was an anti-Trinitarian. He was a Unitarian. In fact, he never separated science from religion. Science for him was a means to understanding and worshiping God through reason, just like it was for Ibn al-Haytham, a wholly rational approach, in general, sadly absent today. But to get back to your novel, please take us through the gist of The Prisoner of Al-Hakim, without any spoilers if possible.

Bradley Steffens: The story follows the events of Ibn al-Haytham’s life. The historical record—and there isn’t much of it, just a few paragraphs written by Ibn Abī Usaybi‘ah after his death—says that Ibn al-Haytham supported himself as a copyist in Basra, was summoned to Egypt by Caliph Al-Hakim to see if he could make good on his claim that he could tame the Nile, surveyed the Nile but thought building a dam was not feasible at that time, and was placed under house arrest by Al-Hakim. He remained in prison for ten years, until Al-Hakim’s death. The novel dramatizes those basic facts, and I add fictional episodes along the way. For example, Ibn al-Haytham, whom I call Alhasan in the novel, does not want to go to Egypt, but he is forced to do so by the man sent to retrieve him. Alhasan tries to escape from the man a couple of times, but fails. On the way, they are set upon by bandits. Things like that. Adventures. But each episode has a point, revealing something about Alhasan’s character.

I surmised in my biography that Alhasan began work on The Book of Optics while in prison in Cairo, and a large part of the novel is dedicated to that period. I invented the character of Sadeem, a young woman who brings him his meals, becomes his student, and assists him with his work. There is a somewhat comical scene when Sadeem repeats Alhasan’s experiment with the camera obscura in her home, projecting an image of herself onto a wall and frightening her sisters, who think they are seeing a spirit. This scene is modeled after something that actually happened six hundred years later, when the Italian scholar Giovanni Battista Della Porta gave a demonstration of the camera obscura at night, using actors lit by torches. The audience was terrified and bolted from the room, and Della Porta was brought before the Inquisition on charges of sorcery.

The crisis in the novel comes when Al-Hakim dies and Alhasan faces choices about his future.

NH: How has the reaction been from among both Muslims and non-Muslims to your two books Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist and The Prisoner of Al-Hakim?

Bradley Steffens: The reaction to First Scientist was very positive. Booklist and School Library Journal—the most important reviewers for the young adult market—both recommended it, and it received positive reviews from other publications. Several Muslim and interfaith organizations, including the Pacifica Institute, Women in Dialogue, and the Islamic Medical Association of North America, featured me as a speaker. I also was invited to give a talk in the computer science department of Purdue University. There I met Ahmed Elmagarmid, the head of the department, who later was appointed the first executive director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute. Based on my talk and my book, Dr. Elmagarmid offered me a position as the communications director of the new institute, and I spent three years working in Qatar. That experience, and the many Muslim friends I made while I was there, had a tremendous impact on my novel. It could not have been written without their help and support.

The Prisoner of Al-Hakim has received excellent reviews from three Islamic publications: The Fountain, Blue Minaret, and Wardah Books. Blue Minaret says, “The story of Ibn al-Haytham has now been fictionalized masterfully by Bradley Steffens in the new book The Prisoner of al-Hakim.” Justin Pahl, the reviewer for The Fountain, writes, “From the very first page Steffens brilliantly brings Alhasan’s internal character to life on the page, sketching a conflicted, fascinating portrait of a reluctant hero. It’s not easy to dramatize the acts of thinking and creating–and harder still to do so in a subtle, elegant style–yet Steffens manages the trick. Watching Alhasan’s mind work is a beautiful process.”

I am particularly pleased with Pahl’s comments about Alhasan’s faith. He writes:

Showing religious faith—especially the kind of quiet, devout faith Ibn al-Haytham practiced—can be as difficult for the writer as depicting the inner workings of a great mind. In the book’s final third, Steffens does both, and he does so without losing the story’s momentum. As Alhasan grows in his faith, he grows intellectually, too. His scientific revelations are inextricably connected to his practice of Islam.

Then, to top it off, Michael Faraday Prize winner Jim Al-Khalili, physicist, author, and host of several BBC productions, including Science and Islam, provided my publisher with this blurb for the cover:

Ibn al-Haytham, one of the greatest scholars in history, whose real life was one of the most colourful and fascinating ever told by historians, has been brought to life in a work of fiction utterly brilliantly by Steffens. The reader is transported one thousand years into medieval Arabia. This is a gripping story based on real-life events that is fizzing with adventure and rich in accurate historical and scientific nuggets.

NH: Have you had a chance to interact with the 1001 Inventions project, which featured Ibn Al-Haytham, and also made an animated film about him?

Bradley Steffens: Keep in mind that when I wrote First Scientist there was no other biography in English about Ibn al-Haytham, only A.I. Sabra’s short entry in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, so I was very excited to hear about 1001 Inventions. I made a trip from Doha to Abu Dhabi to see its first traveling exhibit. I was delighted that they showcased Ibn al-Haytham in a freestanding tent, with an actor portraying him. I did find it amusing that they used a lens to demonstrate his camera obscura, because he never mentions using a lens for that purpose in any of his work. He always used an aperture without a lens—a pinhole. I thought it was good entertainment, but bad history. That said, it is entirely possible that he could have placed a lens in an aperture but never wrote about it, or that he did write about it, but what he wrote is lost. He certainly understood the physics of it. When I was writing my novel, I decided to include a scene in which he uses a lens to project an image, but that scene comes after the completion of The Book of Optics. I didn’t want to imply that it was part of that groundbreaking book, because it wasn’t.

While I was at the 1001 Inventions exhibit, I chatted with the person in charge of the bookstore and gave her a sample copy of Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist for possible inclusion in the store. She was enthusiastic, but I never heard back. I also had the chance to meet Dr. Rim Turkmani, an astrophysicist formerly at Imperial College London, and a contributor to the 1001 Inventions book, Muslim Heritage in Our World, when she gave a talk in Qatar. I was surprised to learn she was familiar with First Scientist. She actually introduced me to the audience from the stage. After the talk, we discussed featuring my book in the 1001 Inventions bookstore, but nothing came of that, either. Now I understand that my publisher is in talks with 1001 Inventions about The Prisoner.

NH: Are there any plans to produce a movie or TV series on the novel?

Bradley Steffens: I am keen to see this happen. One of my friends in the Middle East, Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi, publisher of Velvet Magazine in Dubai and the author of The Black Book of Arabia, believes it would make excellent television fare during Ramadan, when Muslims like to concentrate on their own culture and history. I am hoping something like that will happen. Currently, a screenplay is underway, in conjunction with an Islamic author/playwright/philosopher of science, which I hope to have completed in 2018; it is not yet clear whether I will be adapting this for a movie or a TV series.

NH: We understand that a sequel to The Prisoner of Al-Hakim is being written. What is that about? How long will it take to complete?

Bradley Steffens: I am very excited about it. I began it about six months ago and already have written forty thousand words, which is about half the length of The Prisoner. While The Prisoner was in production, I began work on another novel set in the Islamic Golden Age, and I am very excited about that one, too. But while I was working on that book, a casual acquaintance suggested writing a sequel to The Prisoner. I had thought about doing that, but I had no story. As the acquaintance and I were talking, I thought back to the closing scene of The Prisoner, and I suddenly had a vision of something occurring in the moment after the last book ended. I had the idea for a completely new adventure: Alhasan [Ibn al-Haytham] hears a rumor about a meteor crash in The Empty Quarter of Arabia and he decides to visit the site to see if he can confirm his theory about what meteors are made of (which he has deduced from observation and his understanding of optics and the atmosphere). This is loosely based on the existence of the Wabar impact craters in Saudi Arabia. There also is a subplot about the findings of his contemporary, Abu Sa’id Al-Sizji, who suggested that the earth moves. The real Ibn al-Haytham never wrote about any of this, so the story is entirely fictional. However, Al-Sizji and his theories are real, and of course Ibn al-Haytham wrote extensively about astronomy, atmospherics, and cosmology. In other words, nothing is discussed that is not in keeping with what was known at the time and the interests and capabilities of the characters in the novel. The working title is The Empty Quarter. And yes, there is also “taste of romance,” as one of the Amazon customer reviewers put it about The Prisoner, in the sequel.

NH: What do you think are the misunderstandings that non-Muslims and also Muslims have about Islam and Science?

Bradley Steffens: I am not really qualified to answer that question. I don’t really know. However, I will say that in the West, there is a divide between science and religion, as if they are incompatible. Ibn al-Haytham was devout, and he believed that the study of the universe was a way of coming closer to God. He wrote in his autobiographical letter, “It became my belief that for gaining access to the effulgence and closeness to God, there is no better way than that of searching for truth and knowledge.” At one point in The Prisoner, I have Alhasan describe experimental science as “a dialogue with the universe, and through it, with The Creator.” So I present a kind of unification of science and theology.

NH: Your works help clarify the role of the evolution of experimental science as chiefly established through the Muslims. Do you think that the causative factor for this was the Qur’an, because it is never really pointed to by non-Muslim historians of science, even to this day?

Bradley Steffens: Yes, I do. The Qur’an talks about gaining knowledge, including knowledge about nature, in verses such as: “Those who remember Allah…reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth.” I think Ibn al-Haytham took that to heart. The Qur’an also teaches that only God is perfect, and human beings are deeply flawed. I think this instilled a deep skepticism in Ibn al-Haytham and drove him to seek a way of knowing things that was as independent of human opinion as possible. In Doubts on Ptolemy, he wrote, “Truths are immersed in uncertainties, and authorities are not immune from error, nor is human nature itself.” This shows a tremendous humility and awareness of shortcomings of human knowledge. Nevertheless, his faith gave him hope that these limitations could be overcome. He wrote, “None of us are free from that human turbidity which is in the nature of man, but we must do our best with what we possess of human power. From God we derive support in all things.”

NH: Which other Muslim scientist/thinker do you think should be written about and paid more attention to?

Bradley Steffens: All of them! Until Al-Khwarizmi is as well-known in the West as Newton, Al-Biruni is as well-known as Galileo, and Al-Sizji is as well-known as Copernicus, we have a long way to go.

NH: How do you think your work can be a bridge to understanding between the Muslims and non-Muslims in today’s highly politicized world?

Bradley Steffens: People learn from stories. They put themselves into the main character’s shoes. They empathize. God willing, that will happen to my readers. They will come to appreciate that Alhasan’s struggles are not that different from their own. Perhaps the most surprising—and promising—reaction the book has gotten so far came from a woman I’ve known since we were in junior high school. She is a devout evangelical Christian, and I was a little surprised that she was even interested in reading a story about an eleventh century Muslim scholar. In her Amazon customer review, she wrote, “I am writing this with tear-stained eyes to say how much I loved this book. It transported me into an adventure I couldn’t walk away from without knowing how it ended.” If other Westerners can relate to the characters as she did, and respect them and their culture, perhaps bridges can be built.

NH: How has your understanding of Ibn al-Haytham’s thoughts and works affected your life?

Bradley Steffens: He has inspired me on many levels. Here’s a guy, stripped of his possessions, placed under house arrest, with the entire world believing he was mad, who had the courage of his convictions to pursue a new way of discovering the truth about the universe. He comes to the realization that everyone has been going about natural science the wrong way, and yet he arrives at this conclusion not out of arrogance, not out of a belief that he is smarter than everyone who has gone before, but out of humility, out of the conviction that he and everyone else is deeply flawed and prone to error, and that their thinking—however brilliant they might think it is, and however well it conforms to the rules of logic—must be tested against a higher authority, against the universe itself.

I am inspired by that. I mean, here I am, sitting in a small house at the end of a dirt road in rural Philippines, telling the story of one of the greatest figures in history, dreaming his dreams, describing his adventures, daring to put words in his mouth. Who am I to do that? But I draw inspiration from Alhasan, his intellectual courage and his faith.

NH: Do you think there needs to be an educational reform in Western education to teach students of the great achievements of other cultures/religions at a younger age? What are your thoughts on this?

Bradley Steffens: Again, not my area of expertise, but I’ll tell a little story. When I was twelve, I had a sixth grade teacher, Betsy Crawford, who taught a survey of world history. I don’t know if it was part of the curriculum or not. She used a nonstandard text—an entertaining, layman’s version of world history. I can’t remember the title of it. This was in the 1960s, and the book was old by then. She scoured used book stores to find copies of it. It focused on the Western tradition, but it also incorporated some things from the East, such as the advent of writing in Mesopotamia and so forth. She was fascinated with the ancient Greeks, and we got thumbnail sketches of Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, and others. She also was a big enthusiast of astronomy. For homework, we would observe the stars and planets. We even had a telephone tree so we could all get in touch if there were an astronomical emergency. An astronomical emergency! Can you imagine? “Hi, Bill. This is Brad. There’s an incredible conjunction of Venus and the crescent moon in the west. Pass it on.” My point is that at that age we were receptive to stories about other cultures and old enough to understand and retain them. There’s more than a little of that twelve-year-old boy in The Prisoner. So yes, the great achievements of other cultures and religions can taught and should be taught at a younger age.


[1] A preprint from the Institute of Higher Reasoning (IHR) journal, Quranicosmos: Volume 1, Issue 2, January 2017.

Nadeem Haque is a Philosopher of Science and Belief Systems and author of numerous books and articles that focus on ‘Reality Studies’. He is a researcher and author/writer on numerous interrelated areas that connect with Islamic Studies. He is also the author of eight books and one other soon to be published book, and numerous peer-reviewed articles (total of around 40 articles/papers). Nadeem was the co-founder of the King’s College Islamic Society at the University of London (in 1985), and is also one of the founders of the Institute of Higher Reasoning (IHR) which is an educational, research and think tank organisation.

Science Institutionalization in Early Islam

A view of one of the two “Iwans” overlooking the courtyard of the so-called “Abbasid Palace” (“al-Qasral-‘Abbasi”) in Baghdad. (Source)

Science institutions have evolved historically, eventually emerging in many forms. Nowadays, they include schools and universities, research centres, learned societies and academies of sciences. However, even with the existence today of over 120 Connally recognised academies of sciences around the world (IAP, 2015), the understanding of the term `academy of sciences’ is, at present, lacking. Many people are ignorant of the fact that an academy of sciences’ primary role is to act as the science advisory or sovereign (supreme authority) (Ravetz, 1980) which actively promotes science in the catchment[1] area where it operates, and a forum where scientific issues are debated, studied and communicated.

A quotation from Drenth, which appears in his book Walks in the Garden of Science provides a definition of an academy of sciences (Drenth, 2006). It reads:

“An Academy is basically a learned society, with (a restricted number of) members who are solely selected on the basis of their scientific or scholarly qualification and reputation… An Academy’s main responsibility is the promotion of science and scholarship through independent research, reflection and discussion as well as evaluative and advisory activities, and the public disclosure of its opinions and judgements.”

Although the above definition essentially explains what the term ‘academy’ means in the context of the 20th century, many of the elements embedded in it are applicable to academies of sciences and academy-type institutions of the past including Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad in the first half of the ninth century.

This paper aims to provide a short history of ancient academy-type institutions. Moreover, to illustrate the rise of the Islamic tradition of science institutionalisation and patronage, the example of Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad will be re-examined and the perception that Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad was an `academy of sciences’ of its day involved in translation, research and information dissemination, will be investigated leading to the conclusion that Bayt al-Hiktna preceded the Accademia dei Lincei, viewed by many scholars as the world’s first academy of sciences established in Rome in 1603.

This, to draw lessons that can help to raise the profile of science and further institutionalise the scientific enterprise in developing countries, today.

Bayt al-Hikma: An Academy of Sciences?

Of the most famous scientific institutions to appear in the early ‘Abbasid era of the Islamic civilisation was Bayt al-Hikma of Baghdad.

Ahmed went as far as to describe it as the Baghdad Academy of Sciences (Ahmed, 2008); Abdus Salam described it as an institute of advanced study (Dalafi and Hassan, 1994), while Youssef Eshe described it as a stronghold of Mu’tazelite Thought during the reign of al-Ma’mun (Al-Awady, 1997). It is highly likely that it was more than an institution of learning of the type described by Makdisi in his book, The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West (Makdisi, 1981).

The rise of Bayt al-Hikma

The preliminary founding of Bayt al-Hikma as a concept or indeed as a forum for debate can be attributed to Harun ar-Rashid (AD 763-809) who regularly convened intellectual debates with scholars and scientists (Shalaby, 1954) (Yazigi, 1966).

The majority of historians, including Hitti (2002) in his History of the Arabs, however agree that it was the ‘Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun (AD 786 —833) who had formally instituted Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdad around AD 830(41as a combination of a forum of debate, a library, an academy, and a translation bureau.

Al-Ma’mun was an outstanding caliph who was best known for sponsoring the translation of Greek philosophy into Arabic and for promoting the activity of mathematicians, astronomers, engineers and physicians, as the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim (the premier Arabic-language bibliographical book to survive to the present day) highlights(Saliba, 2007b) (Ahmad, n.d.) (Cooperson, 2005). His interest in the sciences of earlier civilisations could be traced to the time he had spent at Merv; which has been a stopover town on the Silk Road and on the path of every conqueror that has appeared in Eurasia. Al-Ma’mun was thus influenced by the rich heritage that the earlier cultures of the Greeks. Zoroastrians. Christians, and Buddhists had left (Morgan, 2007). Moreover, Merv, in Khorasan, had a great deal to do with the fortunes of the ‘Abbasids, who drew strong support from that province. The Barmakids, moreover, the family that later supplied the all-powerful ministers who guided and controlled the ‘Abbasid government had its roots in that very city (O’Leary, 1979).

The account of Syed Ameer Ali (1955) of al-Ma’mun’s reign as the most brilliant and glorious included a reference to his academic and scientific pursuits including how he collected the writings of the school of Alexandria, and secured from Athens the best philosophical works of ancient Greece. It was during his reign that new learning reached a climax that culminated in the formal institution of Bayt al-Hikma(Sarton, 1927-31) (Kirk, 1964)(Majeed, 2005).

Modelled after the ancient Library of Alexandria, Bayt was a centre of scholarly activities where books from the Greek, Syriac, and Persian languages were translated into Arabic by expert Arabists (Lerner, 1998); a forum for translating and documenting the rational sciences which were called the ‘sciences of the ancients’ (ulum al-awā’il) to distinguish them from disciplines that dealt with Islam and Arabic language (Sabra, 1987).

Notwithstanding testimonies that Bayt al-Hikma was an academy as important as the Library of Alexandria, and Saliba’s declaration that Bayt al-Hikma (c. 830) and the Accademia dei Lincei (founded in 1603) were carefree physical environments for the pursuit of science (Saliba, 2002), questions were raised on the validity of this argument by Gutas (1998)and later by Saliba himself (2007a) (2008). Gutas has according to Lindberg (2007) debunked the theory that Bayt al-Hikma was a research institute.

In what follows, an attempt will be made to show that Bayt al-Hikma was an academy of sciences of its day with all the associated roles including that of a formally instituted learned society, a forum for debate, research, translation … and should to be conceived as such…

Click here to read the full article >>>

bannerHouse of Wisdom Sketch (Source)

The complex geometry of Islamic design – Eric Broug

Eric Broug covers the basics of geometric Islamic design.

Lesson by Eric Broug, animation by TED-Ed.

The variety of Islamic geometric patterns and compositions is enormous. The best way to start to learn is by looking and observing. The largest online resource is Pattern in Islamic Art. It categorizes patterns by region and has many excellent supplemental materials, including many historically important articles and books. Take a look and see what you discover!

On the Archnet website (The online resource of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT), Eric Broug, author of this lesson, has a section with, amongst other, a selection of sixfold geometric patterns. Click on “View the Collection,” and take a look at the beautiful photos provided. More selections will be added so check back periodically for more examples.

Find all this fascinating? Check out Eric Broug’s youtube channel that includes several step-by-step tutorials such as: How to draw a sixfold star patternHow to draw a tenfold 15th century Quran page from CairoHow to build a muqarnas (three dimensional Islamic geometric design), and various other videos.

If, after watching these videos, you want to learn how to draw patterns, how to understand their construction and history in more depth, consider taking the online course: Introduction to Islamic Geometric Design. It has 13 lectures with titles such as: ‘How Grids and Patterns Work Together’, How to Tessellate a Sixfold Pattern, Highlights of Islamic Geometric Design.

Love to draw? Eric Broug also has two print books and one ebook that all have step-by step instructions, these will enable you to draw many more patterns, ranging from the simple to the complex. The first book ‘Islamic Geometric Patterns’ is available in English, Farsi, Turkish and French. The second book ‘Islamic Geometric Design’ has hundreds of color photos and illustrations and gives an historical and practical analysis. The eBook is called ‘Draw Islamic Geometric Star Patterns and is available on all major eBook platforms.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world, who practice Islamic geometric design. Some do so professionally, such as craftsmen in Morocco and Iran. Many others make patterns as a pastime, because they enjoy the process, the opportunity to make something beautiful and the opportunity to learn. Many of these people are share their work on Eric Broug’s Facebook group dedicated to Islamic geometric design. Visit it and take in the beauty of Islamic geometric design from across the world. Then, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art site: Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art and view the slideshow or Activities for learning section for more information!

View full lesson:…

Web Of Words

Word Cloud: English Words of Arabic Origin by Mourad Diouri


Editorial Note: Extracted from “1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization Reference (4th Edition) Annotated”. First published in 1001 Inventions website –


Eastern words that have passed into the English language

This alphabet lists just some of the words that have come from sources in Muslim civilization and have passed into the English language with their original meaning intact. It is only a small selection.

Web Of Words

A is for admiral, from amir-al-, “commander of . . .”, like amir al-bahr, or “commander of the seas.” When the Europeans adapted amiral, they added their own Latin prefix ad-, producing “admiral.” When this reached English, via Old French, it still meant “commander,” and it was not until the time of England’s Edward III that a strong naval link began to emerge.

A is also for azimuth (denoting the arc of a celestial circle from the Zenith to the horizon), from old French azimut, from Arabic as-samt meaning “way or direction.”

B is for barbican, from the Arabic bab al-baqarah, or “gate with holes.”

Web Of Words

C is for crimson, from qirmizi, which is related to the qirmiz, the insect that produced the red dye qirmizi.

C is also for cotton, from the Arabic qutn.

Web Of Words
Arabic ‘Zoomorphic’ Calligraphy. The word ‘Cat’ in Arabic is قَطّ‎ qaṭṭ ~ قِطّ qiṭṭ. (Source)
The English word for ‘Cat’ comes from Latin word Cattus, which goes back to Nubian (
Afro-Asiatic Language) word kadīs and according to M. Lionel Bender this Nubian term was a loan from Arabic (Source)

D is for dragoman, an interpreter or guide in countries where Arabic, Turkish, or Persian is spoken; from the Arabic tarjuman and the verb, tarjama, “to interpret.”

E is for Earth, from German Erde and Arabic Ardh.

F is for Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, 24 light-years from Earth; fam al-hut means “mouth of the fish.”

Web Of Words
“Bayad plays the oud to the lady”,Arabic manuscript for Qissat Bayad wa Reyad tale (late 12th century) (Source)
“The English word guitar, the German Gitarre, and the French guitare were all adopted from the Spanish guitarra, which comes from the Andalusian Arabic قيثارة (qīthārah)…” (Farmer 1930, p. 137.)

G is for ghoul, from the Arabic ghul, meaning “the demon.”

G is also for giraffe, from the Arabic zarafa.

Web Of Words

H is for hazard, from Old French hasard, from Spanish azar, from Arabic az-zahr, meaning “chance or luck,” from Persian zār or Turkish zar, meaning “dice.”.

I is for Izar, the name of a star in the constellation Andromeda, from the Arabic al’izar, meaning the “veil or covering.”

J is for jar, from jarrah, a large earthen vase.

J is also for jasmine, from the Persian yasmin.

K is for kohl, from kuhl, meaning “a fine powder,” often of antimony, used in eye decoration or as eyeliner.

L is for lilac, from the Arabic lilak, which was taken from the Persian nilak, meaning “indigo.”

L is also for lemon, from the Persian limun, meaning “lemon.”

Web Of Words
Arabic letters transformed into a high art culture, traditional calligraphy (Source)

M is for magazine, from an Arabic word makhzan, meaning “store.”.

M is also for mattress, coming from Old French materas, which was taken from matrah, a “place where something is thrown” and taraha, meaning “to throw.”

N is for nadir, a point on the celestial sphere directly below the observer and diametrically opposite the zenith. It comes from nadir assamt, meaning “opposite the zenith.”

O is for orange, from the Persian naranj or narang, meaning “orange.”

P is for Pherkad, a star in the constellation Ursa Minor, from the Arabic al-farqad, meaning “the calf.”

Q is for qanun, the ancestor to the harp and zither, introduced by Al-Farabi in the tenth century, but used in Roman times as a freestanding instrument.

R is for risk, from the Arabic rizq, meaning earning provided by God.

S is for sofa; the seat was originally an Arabian ruler’s throne and has been in existence since antiquity. Originally suffah, meaning “long bench” or “divan.”

S is also for sugar from the Arabic sukkar, meaning “sugar”; and for so long, from salam, a greeting and goodbye meaning “peace.”

Web Of Words
The depiction of Orion, as seen from Earth (left) and a mirror-image, from a 13th-century copy of al-Sufi’s Book of the Fixed Stars. In this version, Orion’s shield has become a long sleeve, typical of Islamic dress.
(Source: “Arabic Star Names…” by Zakri Abdul Hamid)

T is for tariff, via French from Italian tariffa, based on Arabic ‘arrafa, meaning “notify.”

T is also for talcum powder, which is from the Latin talcum, from the Arabic talq. It was first used in medieval Latin as talc around 1317, and in Spanish as talco and in French as talc in 1582. In German, it is talkum.

U is for Unukalhai, a star in the constellation of the Serpent, from the Arabic ’unuq alhayyah, meaning the “neck of the snake.”

V is for vizier, from wazir, meaning “porter, public servant,” from the verb wazara, “to carry.”

V is also for Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, from the Arabic al-nisr alwaqi’, meaning “the falling vulture.”

W is for wadi, a valley or gully that remains dry except during the rainy season, from the Arabic wadi, which means “valley.”

X in algebra, meaning “a thing,” is an Arabic invention to solve mathematic equations.

TED: Why is ‘x’ the unknown? by Terry Moore (Source)

Y is for yoghurt. The original Turkish word was yogurut, but it had become yogurt by the 11th century. The “g” is soft in the Turkish pronunciation but hard in English. Yog is said to mean, roughly, “to condense,” while yogur means “to knead.”

Z is for zenith, the point of culmination or the peak, coming from the Old Spanish zenit, which was from the Arabic samt, meaning “path,” part of the Arabic phrase samt al-ra’s, meaning “the road overhead,” or “directly above a person’s head.”

Get the full story from 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization
Reference (4th Edition) Annotated.

Web Of Words

When the World Spoke Arabic

(Image Source)


The Editorial Note: First published 18 Dec 2015, updated 18 Dec 2019


At the height of the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation, the Arabic language was the lingua franca that served as the language of science, poetry, literature, governance and art. A big movement of translation of Greek, Roman and other ancient books of science, philosophy and literature into Arabic gave a push for the continued success of Arabic taking centre stage of the old world.

George Sarton in the introduction to the ‘History of Science’:

“From the second half of the eight to the end of the 11th century Arabic was the scientific, progressive language of mankind … When the West was sufficiently mature to feel the need of deeper knowledge, it turned its attention, first of all not to the Greek sources but to the Arabic ones.”

Marking UNESCO’s World Arabic Language Day, we shed light on some of the aspects in which the Arabic language manifested itself as a universal language during the golden age of creativity and innovation in Muslim Civilisation.

(Image Source)

1. Arabic as the Language of Science

In a golden age of innovation more than 1,000 years ago, what was striking about the discoveries, innovations, research and writings of scientists and scholars during the European medieval period is their insatiable thirst for knowledge.

This peaked at a time when the rulers of Baghdad played a key role in an impressive movement of collecting and commissioning translations into Arabic of ancient knowledge from Greece, Rome, China, Persia, India and Africa, building a scientific collection and academy of science that became a place full with scholars, famous translators, authors, men of letters, scientists and professionals in the arts and crafts.

Brian Witaker wrote in the Guardian Newspaper:

“The Baghdad House of Wisdom ‘was an unrivalled centre for the study of humanities and for sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, zoology and geography… Drawing on Persian, Indian and Greek texts… the scholars accumulated the greatest collection of knowledge in the world, and built on it through their own discoveries.”

Famous scholars like Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Sufi, Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Al-Khawarizmi, Al-Kindi, Al-Jahiz, Al-Mahamiliya are but a few names of those who were products of that creative golden age, and whose work has had a lasting impact on generations to come.

(Image Source)

2. Arabic as the Language of the Stars

One of the sciences that had seen huge advancement during Muslim Civilisation is Astronomy. Astronomers made epoch-making discoveries as the first record of a star system outside our own galaxy and the third inequality of the moon’s motion, and they developed instruments that laid the foundation for modern-day astronomy.

When Ptolemy’s Almagest was translated into Arabic in the 9th century, many of the Arabic-language star descriptions came to be used widely as names for stars. Further additions during the golden age and later translations into Latin kept the tradition of giving Arabic names to the stars. And today, many of the prominent stars are of Arabic origin as they bear names given to them during the golden age of Muslim civilisation. Check this link for a list of star names having Arabic origin


image alt text
The depiction of Orion, as seen from Earth (left) and a mirror-image, from a 13th-century copy of al-Sufi’s Book of the Fixed Stars. In this version, Orion’s shield has become a long sleeve, typical of Islamic dress. (Source)

3. Arabic as the Language of Art and Beauty

One area where the genius of the Muslim civilisation has been recognised worldwide is that of art. The artists of the Islamic world adapted their creativity to evoke their inner beliefs in a series of abstract forms, producing some amazing works of art.

One of the decorative forms of art widely developed in Islamic culture is calligraphy which consists of the use of artistic lettering, sometimes combined with geometrical and natural forms. The development of calligraphy is attributed by researchers to the importance of the Arabic language in Islam and the considerable importance given to writing by the Arabic tradition.


4. Arabic as the Language of Poetry

Traditionally, poetry had been a strong and eloquent form of expression in Arab heritage. The ensuring intense scientific movement in the golden age of Muslim civilisation entailed no conflict between the humanities and natural sciences. The power of the language was comfortably capable of adapting to new ways of using it to the benefit of humankind.

Concurrent with the revival of various sciences at that time, a new theme of Arabic poetry flourished with the appearance of a tradition of poems, composed by scientific scholars for use in education like the famous physician Ibn Sina, and the famous sailor Ibn Majid to mention a few. Meanwhile, Arabic poetry also dealt with ethical, social and humanitarian aspects of sciences as in the case of medical care…


The first and last pages of an original manuscript of Ibn Sina’s Medical Poem

5. Arabic as the Language of Literature

Arabs have long considered their language a perfect instrument of precision, clarity and eloquence, as evidenced by the Qur’an itself and by subsequent literary masterpieces. Since the Qur’an was adopted as the fixed standard, a surprisingly vast and rich literature has accumulated over a period of fourteen hundred years.

In addition to poetry, prose flourished under the Abbasides. The genuine of Arabic prose at the time was Al Jahiz (lived in 8th/ 9th century Baghdad). He became one of the period’s leading intellectuals. He was famed for his Book Al Bukhara’a (Book of the Misers) which was a witty and insightful study of human psychology. Countless other writers and poets became very famous and wrote influential works that still strongly stands today like Al Mutannabi, Al Ma’arri, Yaqut Al Hamwi, Badi Al Zaman Al Hamathani, Ibn Hazim Al Andalusi, Ibn Tufail and many others…


Books printed at the Ibrahim Müteferrika Press (Source)

Further Information

About UNESCO World Arabic Language Day

During its 190th session the UNESCO Executive Board adopted a decision to celebrate 18 December of every year as World Arabic Language Day. The new initiative, proposed by Morocco and Saudi Arabia, seeks to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as celebrate Arabic language’s role in and contribution to the safeguarding and dissemination of human civilization and culture. The decision recognizes the need to implement more wide-ranging cooperation between peoples through multilingualism, cultural rapprochement and dialogue among civilizations…


1001 Cures Image Gallery

banner gallery medicine

[The content of many schools’ curricula and popular books of science rarely mention any scientific or technological progress between the fall of the Roman Empire and the European Renaissance. Yet reliable history books tell us of a period lasting nearly 1000 years after 600 CE, where a vast amount of scientific and intellectual activity took place in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, this public amnesia has led to a polarised world. We, at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), recognise a need for a new language based on the cultural roots of science to discover connections between cultures to foster social cohesion and inter-cultural respect. Looking at world history through the lens of science, we see examples of cooperation, homage and respect throughout humanity. FSTC endeavours to popularize the notion that the development of science, technology and medicine benefitted from all cultures. This is exemplified by the famous saying of Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”] Professor Mohamed El-Gomati

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture



Note of the Editor:  This article was first composed by Cem Nizamoglu for 1001 Inventions website and now updated for Muslim Heritage website.


“Keep looking up… that’s the secret of life.” Snoopy

Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of both secular and religious styles from the early period of Islam to the present day, influencing the design and construction of buildings and structures in Islamic culture and beyond. The principal Islamic architectural types are the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace, the Fort, the School, and urban buildings. For all these types of constructions, Islamic architecture developed a rich vocabulary that was also used for buildings of lesser importance such as public baths, fountains and domestic architecture.(*)

These numerous structures: mosques, palaces, mausoleums and shrines all around the world have breathtaking ceilings. Each has a design and a story of its own. Most of them are distinctive and unique in respect to their architecture and they all hold outstanding features. Thus it will not be fair to come up with a list of examples. However, to introduce some of these marvellous monuments, we have chosen ceilings that we found spellbinding. We have arranged them in alphabetical order according to the modern-day country they reside in:

Discover ceilings from buildings inspired by Islamic architecture where looking up is a spellbinding experience! Each has a design and a story of its own. Most of them are distinctive and unique for their architecture and hold outstanding features:


Egypt: Masjid al-Sultan Barquq, Cairo

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Abdelrahman Assem)

On the internet, it is mostly shared as Al Soltan Qalawoon Mosque(*) but some Egyptians claim this is Sultan Barquq Mosque and Madrasa (*).

Opened in 1386. Architect’s name is Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn Muhammad al Tuluni. The architectural style is Bahri Mamluk. The Madrasa-Khanqah of Sultan Barquq lies in El Muiz Li Din Allah Street next to the Mosque and Madrasa of Kamil Ayyub and the Madrasa of El Nasir. This complex was consisting of a Khanqah or hospice for the Sufi students, a Madrasa or a school that was a place for worship and study of Quran and prophetic instructions, and a mausoleum standing in one of the corners of the Madrasa. It was established by Sultan Barquq who was the first Bahri Mamluk to ascend the throne of Egypt in 1382 and the husband of the widow of Sultan Shaban. The historians expound that he managed to assume power after killing many people and plotting against others. After holding power he worked hard to defend his throne and protect it from the plots of the Syrian Mamluk Emirs. (*)

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India: The Taj Mahal, Agra

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Eburgh)

Opened in 1648, Architects’ names are Ustad Ahmad Lahouri and Ustad Isa. Architectural styles are Mughal Persian. The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife of three, Mumtaz Mahal.(*)



Iran: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Phillip Maiwald)

Opened in1619. Architects’ names are Bahāʾ al-dīn al-ʿĀmilī and Ustad Mohammad Reza Isfahani. The architectural style is Isfahani. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is one of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, standing on the eastern side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran. Construction of the mosque started in 1603 and was finished in 1619. It was built by the chief architect Shaykh Bahai, during the reign of Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty. (*)

Read More: – Sheikh-Lotfallah-Mosque.pdf
Also see the story about Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran


Iraq: Jalil Khayat Mosque, Erbil (Arbil) 

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Karam)

Opened in 2007. Built by Jalil Hayat. Architectural styles are Egyptian and Ottoman. Jalil Khayat mosque, which resembles in style the Muhammad Ali mosque in Cairo and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, was inaugurated in Erbil on January 19, 2007, after being under construction for many years. Jalil Khayat, one of the better-known, wealthier people in Erbil, had the mosque built. His sons proudly took over the project after Khayat passed away in 2005. Haji Dara, one of Khayat’s sons, expressed happiness that they could complete this “charity project” and witness the first Mawlood in their new mosque.

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Jordan: Jabal al-Qal’a (Amman Citadel), Amman

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Erik Coenjaerts)

The Hill of the Citadel (Jabal al-Qal’a) in the middle of Amman was occupied as early as the Neolithic period, and fortified during the Bronze Age (1800 BC). The ruins on the hill today are Roman through early Islamic. The name “Amman” comes from “Rabbath Ammon,” or “Great City of the Ammonites,” who settled in the region sometime after 1200 BC. The Bible records that King David captured the city in the early 10th century BC; Uriah the Hittite, husband of King David’s paramour Bathsheba, was killed here after the king ordered him to the front line of battle.

In ancient times, Amman with its surrounding region was successively ruled by the then-superpowers of the Middle East: Assyria (8th century BC), Babylonia (6th century), the Ptolemies, the Seleucids (third century BC), Rome (1st century BC), and the Umayyads (7th century AD). Renamed “Philadelphia” after himself by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the city was incorporated into Pompey the Great’s province of Syria, and later into the province of Arabia created by Trajan (106 AD). As the southernmost city of the Decapolis, Philadelphia prospered during Imperial times due to its advantageous location alongside Trajan’s new trade and administrative road, the Via Nova Traiana.

When Transjordan passed into Arab rule in the 7th century AD, its Umayyad rulers restored the city’s original name of Amman. Neglected under the Abbasids and abandoned by the Mamlukes, the city’s fortunes did not revive until the late 19th century, under the Ottoman empire. Amman became the capital of the Emirate of Transjordan in 1921, and the newly-created Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1947. Greater Amman (the core city plus suburbs) today remains by far the most important urban area in Jordan, containing over half of the country’s population of about 3 million out of 5 million people.

Text Source:


Morocco: Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture(Photo – possibly – by Souad El-Ouafi)

Opened in 1993, the historical context of the mosque began with the death of King Mohammed V in 1961. King Hassan II had requested for the best of the country’s artisans to come forward and submit plans for a mausoleum to honor the departed king; it should “reflect the fervor and veneration with which this illustrious man was regarded.” In 1980, during his birthday celebrations, Hassan II had made his ambitions very clear for creating a single landmark monument in Casablanca by stating:

“I wish Casablanca to be endowed with a large, fine building of which it can be proud until the end of time … I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.”

The building was commissioned by King Hassan II to be the most ambitious structure ever built in Morocco. It was designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau who had lived in Morocco and was constructed by the civil engineering group Bouygues.

Work commenced on July 12, 1986, and was conducted over seven years. Construction was scheduled to be completed in 1989 ready for Hassan II’s 60th birthday. During the most intense period of construction, 1400 men worked during the day and another 1100 during the night. 10,000 artists and craftsmen participated in building and beautifying the mosque.[2] However, the building was not completed on schedule which delayed inauguration. The formal inauguration was subsequently chosen to be the 11th Rabi’ al-Awwal of the year 1414 of the Hijra, corresponding to 30 August 1993, which also marked the eve of the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s birth. It was dedicated to the Sovereign of Morocco.(*)



Oman: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muskat, Matrah

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture(Photo by Werner_B)

Opened 2011, Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman, directed that his country should have a Grand Mosque in 1992. A competition for its design took place in 1993 and after a site was chosen at Bausher construction commenced in December 1994. Building work, which was undertaken by Carillion Alawi LLC, took six years and seven months.(*)

Close to the road leading to the heart of the capital Muscat stands the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Wilayat (district) Bawshar, like a radiant lighthouse attracting its visitors to interact with the spirit of Islam as a religion, science, and civilisation. This mosque highlights its role as a scientific and intellectual source of knowledge across the Islamic world… The dome is made up of spherical triangles within a structure of sides and marble columns, crossed with pointed arches and decorated with porcelain panels. Timber panels stretch in a fashion that reflects the architectural development of Omani ceilings.(*)



Pakistan: Wazir Khan Mosque, Lahore

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Salman Arif)

Opened in 1642.  Restored by Muhammad Wali Ullah Khan. Architectural styles are Indo-Islamic and Mughal. The Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, is famous for its extensive faience tile work. It has been described as ‘a mole on the cheek of Lahore’. The mosque was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The construction started in 1634 and lasted for 7 years. The mosque was named after Hakim Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari, widely known as Wazir (translated from Farsi – minister) Khan, who was the governor of Lahore and the initiator of the mosque’s construction. (*)

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Palestine: Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture

Opened in 691.  Architects’ names are Raja ibn Haywah and Yazid Ibn Salam. Architectural styles are Islamic and  Byzantine. The Dome of the Rock (Arabic: قبة الصخرة‎, translit.: Qubbat Al-Sakhrah, Hebrew: כיפת הסלע‎, translit.: Kipat Hasela) is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna. The Dome of the Rock is now one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture. It has been called “Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmark”. Its architecture and mosaics were patterned after nearby Byzantine churches and palaces. The octagonal plan of the structure may also have been influenced by the Byzantine Chapel of St Mary (also known as Kathisma and al-Qadismu) built between 451 and 458 on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews and Muslims.(*)



Spain: Alhambra Palace, Granada 

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture

The above photo shows the Honey Comb Dome in Hall of the Abencerages. One cannot discuss Muslim Spain without referring to the famous Al-Hambra Palace in Granada. Its origins are still under debate as most scholars dated it to 13th century Granada, but some indications suggest it was first built in the 11th century – a significant time for both Muslim and European architecture. (Also “the first historical documents known about the Alhambra date from the 9th century and they refer to Sawwar ben Hamdun who, in the year 889, had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba, a fortress, and had to repair it due to the civil rights that were destroying the Caliphate of Cordoba, to which Granada then belonged…”*). The palace complex briefly consists of a series of apartments, halls, and courts organised in a delightful interconnected setting of hierarchy. The palace is an architectural masterpiece in every term. The successions of spaces are clearly defined by boundaries and each space contains identical features enhancing its identity as well as its function.

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Turkey: Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by

Opened in 1574.  The architect’s name was was Mimar Sinan. Architectural styles are Islamic and Byzantine. The Selimiye Mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque, which is located in the city of Edirne, Turkey. The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Selim II and was built by architect Mimar Sinan between 1569 and 1575. The interior of the mosque received great recognitions from its clean, spare lines in the structure itself. With the monumental exteriors proclaiming the wealth and power of the Ottoman Empire, the plain symmetrical interiors reminded the sultans should always provide a humble and faithful heart to connect and communicate with God. To enter, it was to forget the power, determination, wealth and technical mastery of the Ottoman Empire. Lights have seeped through a multitude of tiny windows, and the interchanging of the weak light and dark was interpreted as the insignificance of humans. The Selimiye did not only amaze the public with the extravagant symmetrical exterior, but it had also astonished the people with the plain symmetrical interior for it had summarized all Ottoman architectural thinking in one simple pure form. (*)



UAE: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Habib Q

Opened in 2007, Architect’s name is Yusef Abdelki. The architectural style is both Mughal and Moorish. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is located in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates and is considered to be one of the key mosques for worship in the country but is also the number one mosque destination for tourists to the country. It boasts Mughal and Moorish architectural styles.



Uzbekistan: Bahaud-Din Naqshband Mausoleum, Bukhara

Stunning Ceilings from the Wonders of Islamic Architecture
(Photo by Zak Whiteman)

Opened in 1544. Built by Khan Abd al-Aziz. Architectural styles are Islamic and Ottoman. “Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318–1389) was the founder of what would become one of the largest and most influential Sufi Muslim orders, the Naqshbandi.”(*)  “Memorial complex of Bahauddin Naqshbandi is located 12 kilometers from Bukhara. Once it was the place of settlement of Kasri Arifon, which was famous for its pagan customs and holidays.”(*) Memorial complex Bahauddin Naqshbandi is a rectangular courtyard where the tomb of Sheikh Bukhari. The modern aivan with wooden columns is decored the central courtyard and near built the great building Khanaka. Later here was formed a vast necropolis – the tomb of Bukhara emirs. Decorated mosques Muzaffarkhan and Hakim Kushbegi are struck by its beauty, which formed the courtyard with a creek around the mausoleum. At the beginning of our century, the Memorial complex Bahauddin Naqshbandi was restored. The arches in national style, blue domes, different gates, and columns were built here. One of the most beautiful of the architectural ensemble of Bukhara, the complex Bahauddin Naqshbandi meets pilgrims with silence and solitude…(*)

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Some Manuscripts and Printing examples from Muslim Civilisations

From Manuscripts and printing in the spread of Muslim science by Geoffrey Roper



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Some Manuscripts and Printing examples from Muslim Civilisations

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From Manuscripts and printing in the spread of Muslim science by Geoffrey Roper  

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