The European Muslim Heritage and its Role in the Development of Europe

by Salim Al-Hassani Published on: 18th December 2010

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In a keynote lecture pronounced by Professor Salim T S Al-Hassani in September 2003 at the European Parliament in Brussels, he used slides and 3-D animations to outline the impressive heritage which Europe received from the Muslim World which helped trigger the Renaissance. He stressed in particular the need to remember contributions in the development of science and technology in the perspective of building an environment of understanding and mutual appreciation. We publish this text as a vibrant and timely plea for integrating the Muslim dimension into the history of Europe and in particular in the schools' curricula.


Professor Salim Al-Hassani*

Table of contents

1. Opening statement by Michaël Privot
2. Introduction
3. Great testimonies
4. To overcome historical amnesia
5. Pioneers from Muslim heritage
6. Various instances of invention
7. A film for illustration
8. Concluding remarks
9. Epilogue

Note of the editor

This presentation was given on 15th September 2003 as keynote lecture by Professor Salim Al-Hassani at the European Union Parliament in Brussels (14-15 September 2003). The meeting was organised by the European Youth Forum, FEMYSO and MEP Roy Perry in co-operation with MEPs Glyn Ford, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Luisa Morgantini and Alima Boumediene-Thiery. The present version was revised and updated by the editorial board of

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1. Opening statement by Michaël Privot

It is a pleasure for me to introduce to you Professor Salim Al-Hassani, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Institute of Science and Technology at the University of Manchester. He received a number of awards for the high quality of his research and relevance of his work. For several years, he started a huge work with 30 researchers with the aim to remove from amnesia the wonderful contribution of Muslim heritage in science, technology, medicine and other fields. Based on his effort for clarification and research, Professor Al-Hassani actively participates to deconstruct what Alain de Libéra says in an article published in Le Monde Diplomatique as “the rejection of the Arab and the Muslim” which is, and I quote him, “something that took place and is so deeply rooted in our mentalities that European identity was built upon it and that all its future obscurantism was only a consequence of the prime decision [1].”

As early as the Renaissance, European identity was partly based upon the rejection of the other, the Arab and the Muslim, sometimes leading to the negation of the influence of other civilisations, particularly the Muslim and Arab. Maybe we are not there yet, but tremendous efforts still have to be made because you do not change in just a few decades the ideological basis upon which you can think, conceive, imagine and dream of a certain civilisation. The road is still quite long but work like the one we are going to hear about is key factor in the evolution process of improving perceptions and in building blocks for the creation of a Europe at peace with itself, reconciled with its past and heritage; a Europe wealthy of diversities in what is most stimulating and respectful of the other in his/her difference, and with a view to the universality of its references. I am faced with a knowledgeable audience to whom I am honoured to present Professor Al-Hassani.

The keynote lecture of Professor Salim Al-Hassani (transcribed from audio records)

2. Introduction

It is a great pleasure to be here Ladies and Gentlemen. It is not very often in one’s life to have the opportunity to address such an audience. What I have heard so far was politically charged statements. I am not a political creature, I have been raised as an engineer, an academician who recently became interested in the history of science and technology, with particular interest in what I have named as ‘1000 years of missing history’ . What do I mean by missing history? History cannot be missing. What I really mean is the history missing from our minds, from our normal day-to-day conversation, from our text books in schools, from our media, from the newspapers and from our various novels and magazines; a 1000 years amnesia. However, this history does exist, albeit hidden, in old history books and library archives. What I intend to do now is give a heart to heart presentation with no written lecture hoping to get inspiration from the audience. I can see that there are a mixture of highly intelligent people who obviously did not reach to this stage of their life without having used their inquisitive mind and seeking of knowledge and a role in society. People of wisdom say if you talk from your heart, it will go to the other’s heart and this is my approach today.

3. Great testimonies

I believe that the most recent champion of multiculturalism is Prince Charles of the United Kingdom. I have attended a lecture in Oxford on “Islam and the West” a few years ago [27 October 1993] when he had this to say:

“If there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilisation owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure which I think stems from the straight jacket of history which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world from Central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished but because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history”.

Now, a search through the internet, reveals a spectacular speech made by a well-known American lady, Mrs Fiorina Carly. She is [from 1999 to 2005] the Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard Company. Two weeks after the event of 11 September, she delivered a long speech from which I have extracted:

“There was once a civilisation, that was the greatest in the world, it was able to create a continental super State that stretched from ocean to ocean and from northern climbs to tropics and deserts, within its domain lived hundreds of millions of people of different creeds and ethnic origins. One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilisation’s commerce extended from Latin-America to China and everywhere in between and this civilisation was driven more than anything by invention. Its architects designed buildings that define gravity, its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms and enabled the building of computers and the creation of inscription. Its doctors examined the human body and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars and paved the way for space travels and explorations. Its writers created thousands of stories, stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love when others before them were too steeped to think of such things. When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilisation thrived on them and kept them alive when censures threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilisations, this civilisation kept the knowledge alive and passed it on to others. While north and western civilisations shared many of these traits, this civilisation I am talking about, the Islamic world from 800-1600 which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent. Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilisation, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet philosophers like Rumi challenged the whole notion of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership and perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example. It was leadership-based on meritocracy and not inheritance; it was a leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of very diverse populations that included Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions. This kind of enlightened leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability and diversity led to 800 years of inventions and prosperity”.

4. To overcome historical amnesia

The subject I want to talk about today is the period 680-1680, generally called the Dark Ages. We are repeatedly told, against our curiosity and logical thinking, that history had taken a negative turn in the 6th century. After the Greeks and the Romans, all knowledge, science and technology disappeared. The world went into a dark and obscure period age. We are also told that suddenly and somehow miraculously, the Renaissance in the 16th century raised out of ashes. This is very strange. Because, first of all, it assumes history to be discontinuous. We are told that Europe lived in darkness. People who expressed any liberal idea, any scientific innovation, would be burnt at the stake. We were taught that our present ideas originally stemmed from people like Aristotle, Galen, Ptolemy, Archimedes. These became household names. Yet, we know nothing of what happened during the ensuing 1000 years until the emergence of the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, William Harvey, and so on. About a thousand years missing from the history of humanity, because this subject has not been taught only in Europe but has been copied by other nations in the world. Even the Muslim world copied this concept.

Figure 1: Did modern Civilisation really rise from nothing? In contrast to the prevalent view in most Western school curricula and media culture, these two diagrams show that the classical Muslim world was the seat of a creative knowledge revolution that lasted for several centuries and was the ferment of European renaissance. See: Salim Al-Hassani One Thousand Years of Missing History and Innovation in the Islamic World: Learning from the Past to Design the Future.

What impact has this now on the mentality of our young people? They believe that humanity owes all its progress, all its scientific achievements, all its innovations and technology to the West, to the European West: It started in Greece, it went to sleep and it was awakened (hence the word “Renaissance”) (Fig. 1).

I don’t know whether you accept that. So, what I thought I should do is to explore and see if the world was really that dark, and if it wasn’t dark, where and when did the sun shine over Europe?

Most people seem to think that Muslims are only good at calligraphy for decorating buildings and mosques. This is because they go to Spain, they see Alhambra in Granada; they go to the Muslim world and find all these attractive engravings on the walls. Now, those of them who are educated and lovers of art will recognize calligraphy as well as ornaments. Very few people will know the original pioneers upon whose shoulders today’s civilisation stands.

5. Pioneers from Muslim heritage

Figure 2: An extract from a larger panel showing the diversity of profiles of the scientists of the Islamic civilisation. This pannel was mounted by FSTC for the exhibition “Multi-Faith Scientists” on the occasion of FSTC’s Contribution to the Intercultural Dialogue at the General Assembly of the United Nations (New York, November 2008).

This slide (Fig. 2) shows the names of dozens of such pioneers. These people founded most of our today’s scientific ideas, sciences like algebra, chemistry, medicine and you name it. The problem is, if you look at the picture of this long bearded person with the turban on the head and ask any of our young generation who would this person be and what kind of profession he had? Some people who are influenced by the media would say he was probably Bin Laden. Yet, this man is probably the most famous architect the world history has ever known, the Turkish Ottoman builder and architect Sinan. He built those magnificent monuments that stretch all over Turkey and the Middle-East. You then begin to wonder what kind of stereotype images are we being projected by the media.

Figure 3: A Qatari postage stamp portraying Al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham. (Source).

The next picture is that of Al-Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham (Fig. 3), a thousand years ago. He revolutionized the science of optics and changed the old understanding of how eye-vision is accomplished. He wrote 50 books, under candlelight, dissected the human eye, proved how we see by constructing a model of the eye ball in the form of a black box with a pin-hole in one side of one of the walls so that the image of an external object is projected onto the opposite wall. That box was called al-qamara in his time; we now call it camera. In his work, he relied heavily on the experimental method to prove his new theory of vision which contradicted all prior Chinese, Indian and Greek optics which was based on the premise that the eyes shun an invisible ray which illuminates the object and makes it visible.

Figure 4: Depiction of Al-Biruni in a Pakistani postal stamp.

Here we see a representation of Al-Biruni (Fig. 4). This man wrote 75 books, again on candlelight, on astronomy, mechanics, geology and many other sciences. We owe him a great deal. Like all other Muslim scientists of the time, he had no problem with being religious. There is an interesting story about Al-Biruni. When he was dying with close relatives surrounding his bed, saying farewell, a stranger walks into his house from a distant city, wanting also to give his farewell. When Al-Biruni heard his name, he attempted to sit up in the bed in respect to this young man, saying to him: ‘Please excuse me young man, there is this mathematical problem which I have been trying to solve and I heard you know its solution’. He wanted to know the solution to a mathematical problem whilst dying. The visitor replied: ‘Excuse me Sir, but you are dying! Why do you want to know about the solution to this problem?’ Al-Biruni replied: ‘I’ve been looking for you for some time, now that God has given me this opportunity, what would I say to God if I didn’t ask you the question?’ These were men of religion who had strong faith in God and the hereafter. There was no conflict between religion and science.

Figure 5: Modern imaginary portrait of Al-Zahrawi.

We are told that William Harvey discovered blood circulatory system in the human body. Yet, we discover that it was actually Ibn al-Nafis (Fig. 5) who did so 450 years before Harvey. It is incredible we are not told about these names! They will sooner or later come out. Wouldn’t it be a terrible tragedy when our young generation will find out that they have been neglected?

Figure 6: An artistic impression about Ibn al-Nafis. (Source).

Now consider someone like Abu ‘l-Qassim al-Zahrawi (from Zahra, near Cordoba, in southern Spain), the true father of surgery, a Spanish Muslim (see Fig. 6). Well, of course, most Spanish of those days spoke Arabic, like the rest of the then Muslim world. They were called Arabs although they were Spanish Muslims, Christians and Jews. They constituted many racial, religious and faith groups, all living under the banner of Islamic civilisation. We owe a great deal today to the inventor and master surgeon Abu ‘l-Qassim al-Zahrawi. Some of you might have been born by the aid of a device called the forceps. When the foetus (baby) has a large head and is difficult for the mother to push out of her womb, the forceps are used to pull it out. This was one of his inventions! You might have had an internal surgery which required the use of a suture to stitch the wound. This is a thread made out of the intestine of cats, hence called catgut. The human body does not reject it and it dissolves after a certain time, thus not requiring another surgery to remove the internal stitch. We still use it after a thousand years. Imagine if there were patents at that time, how rich he would be today. His book Al-Tasrif reveals he was a man of high morality and religion. It is amply evident that he believed that his faith expected him to express his religiosity through practical service to the community.

Figure 7: Imaginary portrait of Ibn Sīnā as depicted on a stamp issued by Dubai Emirate.

And then you have someone like Ibn Sina (see Fig. 7), whose encyclopaedic book Al-Qanun fi ‘l-tib (The Canon of Medicine) remained as a textbook in medical teaching in Europe for centuries.

Figure 8: Al-Idrisi’s map in a Spanish stamp issued in 2004.

My favourite scientist, however, is Al-Idrisi, because he lived in a similar environment to today’s Muslims of Europe (see Fig. 8). He lived in Sicily and the South of Italy after the conquest of these lands by the Christians. The Italians, unlike our Spanish friends, did not slaughter the Muslims and the Jews. They decided to live in peace and had truce in them. So Al-Idrissi, a great scholar of geography and various other sciences, became the favorite man in the Palace of King Roger II. When he enters the Palace of King Roger, not only would the King would stand in respect to Al-Idrisi but all his entourage would go out of their way to welcome him. He was asked by King Roger II to write a book embracing his knowledge of the world. The book contained world maps and a history of various nations. He didn’t seem to have a problem with living in a land recently conquered by Christians, entering the Palace and becoming a participant member of the community; obviously, there was no problem in having dialogue and cooperation.

There are many other European Muslim scholars like Al-Zahrawi and Al-Idrisi. One whose ideas still resonate in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is Ibn Hazm, a Spanish Muslim whose ideas have influenced thousands of Muslims for hundreds of years in the Middle East and various parts of the world. Although he was not a scientist, but a man of religious scholarship, he also wrote about scientific subjects, such as the sphericity of the Earth; hence his relevance to our talk today.

By discovering the substantial contributions of Muslims to European Western Civilisation in those missing thousand years, we’ll add value to present day dialogue and culture. I will tell you why in a minute.

6. Various instances of inventions

Figure 9: Scholars (probably Nasir al-Din al-Tusi at his writing desk at the observatory in Maragha which opened in 1259), reading measurements from an astrolabe. From the 15th century Persian manuscript number 1418 in the University Library, Istanbul, Turkey. (Source).

This slide (Fig. 9) shows computers of the past. The miniature shows scholars reading measurements from an astrolabe in a science class. Science teaching was provided in schools as well as in mosques. So the mosque was acting as a university. Although there is a slight dispute about the origins and history of European universities, most historians agree that in fact they sprang from mosques such as the mosque of Cordoba, the mosque of Al-Qarawiyin in Fez, Morocco, Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt and so on. What intrigues me is that golden looking tray hanging on the back wall. It is an astrolabe. An astrolabe is like the GPS of today, a thousand years ago. It is a mechanical computer. What is it doing in the mosque? Can you imagine having a laptop hanging next to the pulpit of an Imam in a mosque in the midst of Brussels? The slide (Fig. 10) shows a huge metal skeletal structure, called the armillary, from the centre of which hangs a pendulum. This is used to mark the locations of the stars as projected on the ground. When their trajectories are traced on paper, they are reduced and transcribed onto small circular discs for use as the base in an astrolabe. In a way, it is the mechanical equivalent of the DVD used in the modern GPS.

Figure 10: An armillary sphere structure for monitoring the location of stars. From Taqi al-Din ibn Ma’ruf’s Al-ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, MS Hazine 452.

This slide (Fig. 10) shows an ancient observatory to monitor planetary motions. By the way, do you know how many stars carry Arabic names?

Figure 11: Ottoman astronomers at work around Taqī al-Dīn at the Istanbul Observatory. Source: Istanbul University Library, MS F 1404, fol. 57a.

The next slide (Fig. 11) shows an interesting miniature of Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din, showing various researchers handling various types of astronomical tools including the astrolabe and what looks like a telescope and in the middle right we see a clock.

People at that time had no problem in mixing religion and science; something today’s world misses. They had no problem with multi-culture. Scholars of different faith were happily working with their Muslim peers. In fact we see women of science and learning working with men.

Historians claim reasonably that there are millions of manuscripts from the classical Islamic world residing in libraries today. These are the ones that have survived the Mongol invasion of the Middle East, the Spanish Inquisitions and other wars that burnt millions of books. A small fraction of this heritage have been edited, most of which are about literature, philosophy and political and religious debates.

Interesting to find is that there was no famine and no inflation outside Europe during those missing thousand years. The Roman Empire had collapsed because of high inflation. What was the secret? Shouldn’t we learn from the experience of people who lived in those times. Shouldn’t we learn from the past to build a better future?

Let us consider the history of universities. This is not the time to review history, but I suggest you examine the origin of the robe that graduates wear during ceremony. What is the origin of the strange flat cap they wear? What is the origin of the term “baccalaureate”? What is the origin of the word “chair” in the academic world? Mosques were the birthplace of early universities. Until today, the only person who sits in a chair in a mosque is the Sheikh, the professor, hence the word “chair”.

Figure 12: A miniatures depicting the flight of Hazarfen Celebe from Galata Tower, Istanbul.

We know that the earliest reported attempt to fly, the invention of gliders, was in Muslim Spain. We know of someone called Abbas ibn Firnas, again almost about 950 years ago, had as hobby of gliding using wings with a bit of feathers on his own body to resemble a bird. He was actually a chemist who manufactured artificial glass from silica sand which we use today. He was a Spanish Muslim, a European Muslim whose name, like many other scientists, history forgot about. Hundreds of years after his flight, a Turkish sportsman ventured a flight with a glider from Galata Tower crossing the Bosporus (see Fig. 12).

Figure 13: A 3D graphic model of the gun powder propelled Torpedo constructed from the manuscript of Hasan al-Rammah.

Here we see (Fig. 13) the first gun powder propelled torpedo that we know of in the world. A solid model of this is exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, where it is indicated that Hasan al-Rammah of Damascus was the first to invent it about a thousand years ago.

Figure 14: A miniature showing the launching of gun powder propelled rocket carrying a man into the sky over the Bosporus at a festival.

Do you see what I see in this old painting? A rocket in the sky just after leaving a launching pad (Fig. 14). This rocket is clearly carrying a man. This shows another use of gun powder. Historians report that this event have been organised in a celebration attended by the Sultan or may be an event to test launching soldiers across the Istanbul Gulf, which was protected by a big chain damage and sink hostile ships. Of course we don’t have much evidence in history about this being a successful operation. Obviously, those poor rocket riders must have had an unpleasant end. As you know, the young sultan Mehmet the 2nd had conquered Istanbul by avoiding that chain, by taking his fleet from the sea and moved them over land and back to the water on the other side, resulting in the surrender of Istanbul with least bloodshed.

Figure 15: A cylindrical vertical wind mill.

Let us now consider wind power. How did it come to Europe? Look at this ancient surviving wind mill (Fig. 15).

Figure 16: A tower with air catchers used for ventilating houses.

There is also the feature on numerous surviving buildings which have chimney like structures with wooden horizontal air catching cantilevers (see Fig. 16). This is a technique for air-conditioning without using power. Interestingly, at that time, people cared about sustainability and protection of the environment. And on this I would like to refer to the great architect Sinan, the one we saw in an earlier slide. I visited one of the mosques he built, the great Suleymaniya Mosque in Istanbul. With absence of electricity, they must have used thousands of candles to light the huge space under the domes. Where did all the smoke go? Actually, the circulation system in this mosque is such that the air will carry the smoke through some paths and ducts to the outside. In fact, Sinan had designed filters in these to collect the smoke to protect the outside environment. It is interesting to note that the smoke collected in the filter was used for ink production.

Figure 17: An aerial view of the Qanat system showing a series of wells over the long tunnel beneath them.

Now the use of continuous wells and digging of tunnels and canals underground to feed the vast Muslim world. The aerial view of areas between Iraq and Iran and various parts of that region shows these systems in the form of a long series of holes in the ground stretching over miles between cities and villages (see Fig. 17). These underground channels (called “Qanats”) are in the form of L-shaped holes connected to each other to help the air circulate so that the aero-dynamical circulation of the air pushes the water through the qanat for long distances without losing the water through evaporation. This technique and others assisted in the feeding of a whole world from China to Spain without any famine. The development of enormous amount of agricultural machinery and water lifting systems was a huge event in the history of humanity.

Figure 18: (Left to right) Ceasarian operation in action, aminiature showing dentistry in action and a miniature showing skeleton for Orthopaedic studies.

This slide (Fig. 18a, b and c) show three pictures from Arabic manuscripts on medicine, surgery and dentistry which because of time I shall not speak about. Of particular interest is the Muslim contribution to chemistry (Al-kimya in Arabic). Some people wrongly confuse chemistry and alchemy. Alchemy nowadays refers to some sort of witchcraft and associated with ancient and medieval chemistry. Muslim scientists like Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) and al-Razi (Razes) had made leaps out of alchemy into chemistry science as we know it and used extensively experimental procedures (see Fig. 19). I think this issue has to be looked at properly by historians.

Figure 19: Muslim chemists used extensively the experimental method

Figure 20: Plants for medicine. Cross fertilisation was common.

This slide (Fig. 20) shows work on cultivation of plants for producing medicines. That is pharmaceutical farming. We also see manuscripts on botany and zoology. We see the study of animals, biology, dissection of animals, the breeding of the famous Arab horses, and birds being the origin of airmail. We also see numerous references to research into marine life throughout the world.

Figure 21: Reading raised letters by the blind preceded Braille by centuries.

We are told Braille was the one who, hundreds of years ago, invented writing for the blind. We see many manuscripts showing blind people, scholarly people using their hands to read; hundreds of years before Braille, this slide shows one (Fig. 21).

Like today, agriculture was extremely important. Automatic water raising machines were invented and spread throughout the world. They came to Europe through Muslim Spain. The Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) specializes in converting information out of the Arabic engineering manuscripts into modern day engineering language and then putting them into the test of engineering mechanics to verify that they actually worked. After that, 3D virtual models are developed using computer graphics and then using 3D animation to demonstrate their motion. The results of the research on these and other topics are shown in a dedicated website

Figure 22: Taqi al-Din’s six cylinder pump constructed in 3D animation from his manuscript.

What we have here (Fig. 22) is Taqi al-Din’s six-cylinder pump constructed from a manuscript going back to 1550 in which he expanded upon the ideas of Al-Jazari who lived 300 years before him. This machine looks very much like a 6 cylinder engine of a modern car; the prime mover is water, which turns a turbine wheel that turns a crankshaft, revealing the first evidence in the history of engineering of a crankshaft. Similarly, we see connecting rods, connecting the pistons of the six cylinders to the crankshaft. Such machines were also adapted for beating tree-pulp to make paper. Muslims have introduced paper and mass production of paper to Europe effectively bringing about an educational revolution.

Figure 23: A 3D model animation of Al-Jazari’s reciprocation suction pump constructed from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices completed by Al-Jazari in 1206.

Al-Jazari, 300 years before Taqi al-Din, was another very interesting engineer. He constructed a water raising machine which automatically raised water from a low position of the river to a duct on the top. In order to achieve this, he invented a mechanism in which circular motion was converted into linear motion, the crank-connecting rod system. This 3D animation (Fig. 23) shows how it works. All the various modern engineering concepts of pumping are used. These two suction pumps are linked to form a reciprocating engine at work.

Figure 24a-b: A 3D model of a hydropowered water-raising machine based on the diagram of the same machine illustrating its description in the book of Al-Jazari on mechanical devices.

A chapter of Al-Jazari’s book was devoted to water raising machines, which were sophisticated machines worked with the powers of water and gravity, simulating the principle of the balance (see Fig. 24). As the water fills one bucket and as it spills into the large cylindrical tank a siphon sets into action and so on, to generate air pressure through a flute and gives out a sound at controlled intervals. The interval is controlled by the rate at which the water flows from the tap.

Figure 25a-b: A 3D animated construction of Al-Jazari’s elephant clock from his manuscript.

This other clock is called the ‘Elephant Clock’. The 3D animation shows how each part moves with water float being the source of energy (Fig. 25).

Figure 26: A 3 D model of the wudu’ (ablution) water machine constructed from Banu Musa’s manuscripts.

About 3 centuries before Al-Jazri, Banu Musa (the sons of Musa ibn Shakir) had produced some fascinating machines. This particular machine (Fig. 26) is brought to guests in the house. It gives water in short spills one after another because water was rare. Actually, even if it wasn’t rare they would still use it sparingly. They learnt from Prophet Mohammed, Peace be upon him, when he wanted to wash using water from the river, he only took a little bit of water in a cup for his ablution before the prayer. The rest of his Companions washed directly from the river and used more water than they required. They asked him why he used only a small amount of water; he replied: “You only use what you need”. That tradition made people effectively practice the concept of conservation of water.

7. A film for illustration

Figure 27: Screenshot from the film Al-Jazari – Master Engineer and Father of Robotics produced by FSTC. Watch the film on Youtube here.

Now, I show you a 5 minutes film from my laptop. The film was produced by our organisation FSTC. It is on the work of the master engineer and genius Al-Jazari who designed and constructed numerous novel machines, but more importantly his elephant clock in which he had recognised all previous civilisation by using an elephant for Indian, a dragon for Chinese, a phoenix for Egyptian, water mechanism for Greek and the turbaned robots for his Muslim civilisation (see Fig. 27).

8. Concluding remarks

I was hoping to show some extracts from his Excellency Van Grimbergen’s recent speech in Antwerp where he recognised the contribution of Muslims to Europe through their contribution to science and technology. But I think time is the essence.

What I’d like to conclude on is that if we examine our today’s knowledge of science and technology, in various fields of architecture, arts, music, medicine, anatomy, surgery, physics, botany, libraries, chemistry, engineering, universities, agriculture, town and city design, natural sciences, encyclopaedia, medical schools, research, cryptography, economics, you name it, all the way down to experimental methodology, we will find inadvertently either that Muslim scholars had founded that science or had developed it from previous nations and civilizations, which by the way they fully recognized and acknowledged.

Figure 28: History of science as it should be taught.

We would not be able to read several of the original Greek manuscripts of Aristotle, Galen, and others had it not been for the Muslim scholars who had them first translated into Arabic, which later were translated into Latin and eventually back to Greek in some cases. That’s how we know about them. Well I think you agree with me that what we should be told about the history of our scientific inventions and technological development is summarised in this slide (Fig. 28). Human knowledge is cumulative and our present day civilisation is the result of the combined efforts of many cultures and civilisations which we should acknowledge and appreciate.

So, what’s the implication of all this on today? Since we are in a Youth Forum, what comes to my mind is a very short story with which I’ll end my presentation.

A few years ago, my son was in a UK grammar school. The maths teacher asked the pupils to give a five minutes presentation on mathematics. So my son asked me for ideas. “Dad”, he asked, “what am I going to say about mathematics?” I said: “Talk about the Arabic numerals”. He replied: “Do you mean the ones that were used in Syria (where his mother came from), which are slightly Persian and Urdu, the ones most Arabs of the Middle-East use today” (with the exception of North-African Arabic States). I said: “No, the Arabic numerals are those we use today in Europe, the well known figures 1, 2, 3, and so on, as against the Latin ones, the I, V and X, etc”. I added: “Write about that”, and he was surprised that this was Arabic.

So he went to the classroom and he made his presentation and he came back. I asked him: “How did it go ?” He replied: “Dad, I suddenly became a very important person! The teacher is my friend now, and all my colleagues seem to respect me now”. I stood up and said: “Without these Arabic numerals, we wouldn’t be able to have airplanes, calculations, no computers, no trains, nor cars.

It took 50 years to struggle in Europe fighting against these numerals because they came from the Arabs. At the end, it won the battle against the Latin numerals and were even called Arabic numerals. They called them so because Arabs brought them, although the Arabs at the time called them Indian numerals. Can you imagine if we had stayed with the Latin numerals? We would still be living in the dark ages? So of course he had used it in his own way to try to bridge the cultural gap because he was obviously suffering from something. Now we know what he was suffering from, despite the fact that he had blonde hair, white skin, and blue eyes. So much for removing cultural superiority and inferiority complexes.

Well, may I thank you for giving me this opportunity. It was not a lecture, but a heart to heart chat. I hope we can contribute to mutual understanding and developing a European cohesive society by recognising that the history of Europe is that of the whole Europe, not just the North, embracing people like Al-Idrissi in the south of Italy, people like Al-Zahrawi in the south of Spain. This will hopefully lead to an integrated Europe, which we now know it was not dark after all. Yes, there was a lot of sunshine but it was in the south and in east Europe.

Thank you.

9. Epilogue

Michael Privot

Thank you Prof Al-Hassani for this very enthusiastic and motivating speech. I let the floor to the people who would like to intervene.

MEP Roy Perry

I have attended several debates about the role of Islam in the West in the past two years and what I have detected is that very often we take refuge in the safe uncontroversial distant past. The achievements of yesteryear are going to bring us all together and make us brothers today. Yet, if we look at what is happening today in the field of science, we note, for e.g., that UNDP last year published a report which showed that the Arab world is translating as many books in the last thousand years, since the Caliph Mamun as Spain has translated in a single year. So my question to you is: what happened to that inspiring drive for discovery, for exploration, for reconciling our knowledge of the natural world and our knowledge of God. Where has it gone to?

Professor Al-Hassani

This is an excellent question, but to answer it I need extended time. Actually because I was wondering about it myself. However, I went to wiser people and specialists and I found that there are a number of answers, but the most convincing one to me was that there was a devastating blow to the Muslim world that they have not recovered from. It was a triangular one. One was from the western wing of the Muslim world and that is Spain and the destruction of the presence of Islam there. Almost simultaneously, even before that the Crusades to the heart of the Muslim world, going to Jerusalem and ransacking everything in their path for about a hundred years. Almost at the same time the Mongol invasion from the East occurred, when the Mongols came wiping out the East flank of the Muslim world. To give you an example, when they went into Baghdad, according to historians, 800.000 people were killed. They said that the River Tigris was red in colour because of the blood of people for three days; and then after that they burnt the libraries and they threw whatever remained in manuscripts and books in the river, such that the scribers of those days say the rivers remained blue and black in colour for several days. So after such a devastating blow, we can believe that Muslims could have never been able to recover since, because it has changed the atmosphere and the environment. At that time, the environment was an organic growth of contributions of various people: Persians, Arabs, Kurds, Turks, white, black, yellow. That was an environment which has created an atmosphere, because of human rights, because of prosperity, but also because of the drive of Islam. Islam had inspired people to go and seek knowledge to contribute to society. What happens since then? A decline came, a dictatorship began to take place, because of course the Ottoman tried to recover but they were engaged in wars most of the time. Anyway, very little is known about the Ottoman contribution to science because the language has been changed by Turkish republic. So we don’t know a great deal about the developments after the 16th century.

Therefore, we have this problem of people who say that the Muslims were led by various people who did not believe in the use of intellect and hence the absence of exercise of the mental capacities to question, to develop, and evolve ideas about Islam, how to practice it, hence losing the grip on the momentum of the growth and development of science and technology. And of course you had colonisation immediately after that, after the first World War and the second World War. So what you’re really having today is that you’re asking about the debris of a huge explosion that happened in the past that has destroyed the Muslim world and you can’t say why are you not doing this and are you doing that. Why I think that this kind of conversation that I had this afternoon can contribute, though, in a constructive way. It is that it will give particularly the young Muslims a role model. There is nothing to stop them from excelling like Al-Idrissi did. There is nothing to stop them from contributing to society, be it a non-Muslim society, there is nothing to stop them of getting Nobel prizes, from becoming excellent engineers, excellent lawyers, medical people, pharmacologists, businessmen, etc. All you have to do is derive examples from these people who have withheld their moral code, who have remained as good Muslims, they have continued to do their prayers and so on, but they did not go to extremes, they stayed as Islam expects them to, in mainstream middle path. That is a role model that young people can take from.

Therefore, I have a feeling that when we talk about a distant past we are trying to derive, not only to put the facts right, but we are first trying to tell our non-Muslim colleagues to hold on, the world didn’t start from Europe and end in Europe, let’s be a bit more humble, all civilisations have contributed to each other. You, young people, there was an experiment of mankind which is extremely valuable for 1000 years that have not separated between science and religion, on the contrary it was religion inspired. That civilisation had higher qualities, people had qualities in their attitude to research and to experimental methods and medicine. The other thing is that this approach develops friendship and reduces hostility. I will give you a very quick example. I was in Woodford junction a couple of years ago giving a similar presentation. The Lady Mayor who was the host of that occasion stood up and she said: “I’m extremely angry”. I thought I had said something wrong. And she said: “Do you know why I’m angry? For two reasons: the first is why don’t Muslims talk to us in this language, to show that we have a shared heritage, we only talk to each other through politics and religion, through history of war, through the Crusades. And the second reason is why none of this information is found in our national curriculum? Our young people today don’t know about these things and therefore they develop an erroneous attitude to the other nations and cultures in the world”. I have I have been able to address your question and others in the minds of the audience. Thank you for your patience.

M. Privot

Thank you very much Professor Al-Hassani. We will now move to the next session.

End Notes

[1] Alain De Libéra, “Fractures en Méditerranée”, in Le Monde diplomatique, Manière de voir, N° 64, July-August 2002.

* Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester and Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), UK.

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