History of Islamic Science
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On 8 June,
A.D. 632, the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Prayers be upon Him) died, having
accomplished the marvelous task of uniting the tribes of Arabia into a
homogeneous and powerful nation.
interval, Persia, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, the whole North Africa,
Gibraltar and Spain had been submitted to the Islamic State, and a new
civilization had been established.
quickly assimilated the culture and knowledge of the peoples they ruled, while
the latter in turn - Persians, Syrians, Copts, Berbers, and others - adopted
the Arabic language. The nationality of the Muslim thus became submerged, and
the term Arab acquired a linguistic sense rather than a strictly ethnological
As soon as
Islamic state had been established, the Arabs began to encourage learning of
all kinds. Schools, colleges, libraries, observatories and hospitals were built
throughout the whole Islamic state, and were adequately staffed and endowed.
same time, scholars were invited to Damascus and Baghdad without distinction of
nationality or creed. Greek manuscripts were acquired in large numbers and were
studied, translated and provided with scholarly and illuminating commentaries.
learning was thus infused with a new vigor, and the intellectual freedom of men
of the desert stimulated the search for knowledge and science.
days at least, the Muslims were eager seekers for knowledge, and Baghdad was
the intellectual center of the world.
have justly remarked that the school of Baghdad was characterized by a new
from the known to the unknown; taking precise account of phenomena; accepting
nothing as true which was not confirmed by experience, or established by
experiment, such were fundamental principles taught and acclaimed by the the
masters of the sciences.
Islamic Empire At Its Greatest Extent 750 c
Sarton in his introduction, marks the time from the 2nd half of eighth century
to the 2nd half of the eleventh century into:
* The time of Jabir Ibn Haiyan which covers
the 2nd half of eighth century
* The time of Al-Khwarizmi which covers the
1st half of ninth century
* The time of Al-Razi which covers the 2nd
half of ninth century
* The time of Al-Mas"udi which covers the
1st half of tenth century
* The time of Abu-l-Wafa which covers the
2nd half of tenth century
* The time of Al-Biruni which covers the
1st half eleventh century
* The time of Omar Khyyam which covers the
2nd half of eleventh century
of Jabir Ibn Haiyan
intellectual relaxation which characterized the second half of the seventh
century and the first half of the eighth was followed by a period of renewed
activity which was entirely due to Muslim initiatives, that is why this period
gave an Arabic name marking the beginning of Muslim science. The name Jabir Ibn
Haiyan came from the highly important contributions by him in this period.
Jabir"s texts, whether in Arabic or Latin, are one of the most urgent and
promising tasks of scholarship. He will remain a very impressive personality.
Background of this Period in the East
of the Abbasid caliphs used their authority to promote the intellectual welfare
and progress of the peoples, and distinguished themselves greatly in this
respect; the second, al-Mansur (founded Baghdad) and the fifth, Harun-al-Rashid
(whose fame has been immortalized by many legends). Both caliphs encourage the
work of translators who were busily unlocking the treasures of Greek knowledge.
"Abdallah al-Mansur, i.e. the victorious. Died in 775 at Bir Maimun, near
Mecca, at the age of 63 - 68 Muslim years (Hegra), i.e. 61-66 Christian years.
He was the second "Abbasid caliph and ruled from 754 to his death.
He was a
great statesman and the founder of Baghdad. Memorable because of the many
translations from the Syriac, Persian, Greek, and Hindu languages into the
Arabic which were accomplished in his reign.
al-Rashid, born in 763 or 766 at al-Ray; died at Tus in 809. Caliph from 786 to
his death; the fifth and one of the greatest "Abbasid monarchs. Magnificent
patron of science, art, and literature. Many more Greek works were translated
by his order. In 807 he presented a very remarkable water-clock to Charlemange
(King of the Franks since 768; crowned Emperor of the West on Christmas 800 by
Leo III in Rome)
Mathematics and Astronomy
All of the
mathematical and astronomical work of this period was done by Muslims. It is
interesting to recall that the mathematical work of the previous period had
been done almost exclusively by Chinese. Some amount of stimulation had come
from India. In addition to transmission of some Hindu mathematics.
al-Fazari is said to have been the first Muslim to construct astrolabes.
Tariq and Muhammad, son of Ibrahim al-Fazari, are the first to be mentioned in
connection with Hindu mathematics: Ya"qab met at the court of al-Mansur, a
Hindu astronomer called Kankah (?), who acquainted him with the Siddhanta, and
Muhammad was ordered to translate it. The physician al-Batriq translated
Ptolemy"s Quadripartitum. Two astrologers, one of them a Jew named Mashallah,
the other a Persian called al-Naubakht, worked together to make the
measurements necessary for the building of Bagdad. Al-Naubakht"s son, al-Fadl,
wrote astrological treatises and translations from the Persian into Arabic.
Ibrahlm ibn Habib ibn Sulaiman ibn Samura ibn Jundab. Died c. 777.
astronomer. The first to construct astrolabes, he wa the author of a poem
(qasida) on astrology and of various astronomical writings (on the astrolabe,
on the armillary spheres, on the calendar). H. Suter: Die Mathematiker und
Astronomer der Araber (3, 208, 1900)
of Persian origin, flourished in Baghdad, c.767-778 died c. 796. One of the
greatest astronomers of his time. He probably met, c. 767, at the court of
al-Mansur, the Hindu Kankah (or Mankah?), who had brought there the Siddhanta.
He wrote memoirs on the sphere (c. 777), on the division of the kardaja; on the
tables derived from the Siddhanta. H. Suter: Die Mathematiker und Astronomer
der Araber (p. 4, 1900)
Ibn Ibrahim Al-Fazari
"Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari. Son of the astronomer Ibrahim dealt
with above, for whom he is sometimes mistaken (he may be the author of the
astrological poem ascribed to his father). Died c. 796 to 806. Muslim scientist
and astronomer. He was ordered by the Caliph al-Mansur in 772/3 to translate
the Sanskrit astronomical work Siddhanta. This translation was possibly the
vehicle by means of which the Hindu numerals were transmitted from India to
Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber (p. 4,1900).
Geschichte der Mathematik (I, 3rd ed., 698, 1907).
Smith and L. C. Karpinski: The Hindu-Arabic Numerals (p.92, Boston, 1911)
name was probably Manasseh (in Arabic, Misha). Latin translators named him
Messahala (with many variants, as Macellama, Macelarma). Mashallah is a contraction
of ma"aha Allah meaning "What wonders Allah has willed." (What hath
God wrought.) Flourished under al-Mansur, died c. 815 or 820. One of the
earliest astronomers and astrologers in Islam, himself an Egyptian (?) Jew.
Only one of his writings is extant in Arabic, but there are many mediaeval
Latin and Hebrew translations. The Arabic text extant deals with the prices of
wares and is the earliest book of its kind in that language. He took part with
the Persian astrologer al-Naubakht in the surveying preliminary to the
foundation of Baghdad in 762-63. His most popular book in the Middle Ages was
the "De scientia motus orbis", translated by Gherardo Cremonese.
Translation. The De scientia motus orbis is probably the treatise called in
Arabic "the twenty-seventh;" printed in Nuremberg 1501, 1549. The
second edition is entitled: "De elementis et orbibus coelestibus", and contains
27 chapters. The De compositione et utilitate astrolabii was included in Gregor
Reisch: Margarita phylosophica (ed. pr., Freiburg, 1503; Suter says the text is
included in the Basel edition of 1583). Other astronomical and astrological
writings are quoted by Suter and Steinsehneider.
astronomical tract based in part on a mediaeval Latin version of a world by
Messahalah. Edited with preface, translation, and glossary, by Afaula Power
(Irish Texts Society, vol. 14, 194 p., 1914. A relatively modern translation of the De
scientia motus orbis, the preface is uncritical).
noteworthy that the earliest alchemical texts in Arabic and Latin are
contemporaneous, that is, if our dating of them is correct. The most famous
alchemist of Islam, Jabir Ibn Haiyan, seems to have had a good experimental
knowledge of a number chemical facts; he was also an able theoretician.
Jabir ibn Haiyan al-Azdi (al-Tusi, al-Tartusi; al-Harrani meaning that he was a
Sabian?; al-Sufi). Flourished mostly in Kufa, c. 776, he was the most famous
Arabic alchemist; the alchemist Geber of the Middle Ages. He may be the author
of a book on the astrolabe, but his fame rests on his alchemical writings
preserved in Arabic: the "Book of the Kingdom," the "Little Book
of the Balances," the "Book of Mercy," the "Book of
Concentration," the "Book of Eastern Mercury," and others.
According to the treatises already translated (by Berthelot), his alchemical
doctrines were very anthropomorphic and animistic. But other treatises (not yet
available in translation) show him in a better light. We find in them remarkably
sound views on methods of chemical research; a theory on the geological
formation of metals; the so-called sulphur-mercury theory of metals (the six
metals differ essentially because of different proportions of sulphur and
mercury in them); preparation of various substances (e.g. basic lead carbonate;
arsenic and antimony from their sulphides). Jabir deals also with various
applications, e.g. refinement of metals, preparation of steel, dyeing of cloth
and leather, varnishes to water-proof cloth and protect iron, use of manganese
dioxide in glass making, use of iron pyrites for writing in gold, distillation
of vinegar to concentrate acetic acid. He observed the imponderability of
possible that some of the facts mentioned in the Latin works, ascribed to Geber
and dating from the twelfth century and later, must also be placed to Jabir"s
credit. It is impossible to reach definite conclusions until all the Arabic
writings ascribed to Jabir have been properly edited and discussed. It is only
then that we shall be able to measure the full extent of his contributions, but
even on the slender basis of our present knowledge, Jabir appears already as a
very great personality, one of the greatest in mediaeval science.