I had earlier written an article on a similar theme,having to do with Muslims and science but in relation to Europe and the West.Here it is:
“Muslim Science?”,”Islamic Science?”
Nobody ever says “Jewish science” or “Hindu science” or “Christian science” or “Atheistic science”.Science is just science.There were even very great scientists who were Christian,true believers,like Newton,Descartes,Pasteur,Mendel(the father of genetics),etc yet nobody refers to them as having created a Christian science.It is only Muslims and uncritical Westerners who talk of Muslim science.
There is another problem with using the term since at least one of the very greatest of those classified as having created Islamic science did not in the least believe in Islam.Most of the scientists fall into the category of Arab and Persian scientists,though one was a Turk and another was Kurdish(a group similar to the Persians,speaking a related language).Here they are,the most notable:
The Persian Scientists
He did not invent algebra but he did establish it as an independent branch of math.He is mostly famous for:
1.His book “Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing”, a mathematical book written in approximately 830. The book is a work on calculation and is replete with examples and applications to a wide range of problems in trade, surveying and legal inheritance. The term algebra is derived from the name of one of the basic operations with equations (al-jabr, meaning completion, or, subtracting a number from both sides of the equation) described in this book.
2.He wrote “On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals” written about 825, which was responsible for spreading Indian numerals(0,1,2,3…9)
He is better known as Rhazes,his Western name,he was the greatest physician of anywhere in the Middle Ages.
1.Al-Razi invented the following chemical processes in the 9th century:dry distillation,calcination,solution, sublimation, amalgamation, ceration, and a method of converting a substance into a thick paste or fusible solid.
2.One of his most important accomplishments was the discovery of ethanol and kerosene,and he invented rubbing alcohol.
3. Al-Razi was the first physician to diagnose and treat smallpox, measles, and the first one to distinguish the difference between them
4. He was a pioneer of empirical research in the medical sciences, and he did some experiments on animals like monkeys, where he gave them medicines, noted the impact, and if it was successful, he treated people with them.He was the first to write articles on allergy and immunology. Razi was the first to realize that fever is a natural defense mechanism, the body’s way of fighting disease.
5. He took care of the psychological aspects of the patient, raised his morale and tried to remove his fears through the use of the known psychological techniques until cured.
6.Al-Razi is considered the father of pediatrics for writing “The Diseases of Children”, the first book to deal with pediatrics as an independent field of medicine.
7.In his book Doubts about Galen(Galen lived from 129-circa 200),Al-Razi rejects several claims made by the Greek physician,who was the greatest physician of Antiquity. He links medicine with philosophy, and states that sound practice demands independent thinking. He reports that Galen’s descriptions do not agree with his own clinical observations regarding the run of a fever. And in some cases he finds that his clinical experience exceeds Galen’s.He criticized Galen’s theory that the body possessed four separate “humors” (liquid substances), whose balance are the key to health.
8.In the end he got cataracts and became completely blind.
A great physician who wrote an encyclopedia of medical knowledge of 14 volumes called The Canon of Medicine which was a standard medical text in Europe and the Islamic world till the 18th century.
He is most famous for a writing a History of India,having learned Sanskrit and studied Hinduism.The people surrounding him seem to be taken from the 1001 Nights.
He had accompanied Muslim ruler Mahmoud of Ghazna(971-1030) in one of his many,many raids into India.Mahmoud led pillaging expeditions and destroyed many Hindu temples and it is stated by his own secretary that he took 500,000 Hindu women,men and children as slaves back to Afghanistan.
Mahmoud was a patron of Al-Biruni and also of the first great Persian poet,called Ferdowsi(Firdausi).Ferdowsi/Firdausi was a nationalistic Persian who decided to glorify Persian culture by writing an epic of its history from the beginning till before the conquest by the Arabs.He used as few Arab words as possible and his poem “The Book of Kings” almost has no Arab words.
Mahmoud had promised a rich reward for his poem and it took him 27 years to complete it.Mahmud had promised Ferdowsi a dinar for every distich written in the Shahnameh or Book of Kings (60,000 dinars), but later retracted and presented him with dirhams (20,000 dirhams), the equivalent at that time of only 200 dinars. Ferdowsi rejected the money. After some time, Mahmud recognized his mistake and sent the amount promised to Ferdowsi, but when the messengers reached his house, they found that Ferdowsi had died a few hours earlier. The gift was then given to his daughter, since his son had already died.However, his daughter refused to receive the sum.
He was a greater scientist and mathematician than a poet,though in the West he is most famous for his Rubaiyat.He reformed the calender and made it as accurate as the Gregorian calender,which appeared almost 500 years later.
A brilliant astronomer whose life also reads like something from the 1001 Nights.We have that:
1.He became associated with the Nizari Ismailites,a radical Shiite group,joining the group,officially,though not as an active member.This group is better known as the “assasins“,due to the belief its members used hashish and they existed from 1092-1256.They were a terrorist group that carried out many assasinations.They were similar to the thugs of India.The thugs were devoted to the Hindu goddess Kali,and became the friends of rich merchants.Then they would kill them with a handkerchief in honor of Kali.Anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million were killed by the thugs in some 600 years.But they would not kill women,children,poor people,musicians,poets,and holy men.
The Nizaris(better known as the Assasins) were founded by Persian Hassan-i-Sabah (born in 1050’s-died 1124).Their headquarters was a fortress called Alamut,which means Eagle’s Nest.They,like the thugs,became the friends of the victims,and would kill in full public view in the court,mosque,city or public square.Their first kill was the Turkic vizier Nizam Al-Mulk,a famous figure in Middle East history and by the time of his death in 1124 the group had assasinated 50 persons:Sunni religious leaders,Abbasid princes,Seljuk princes,governor,judges,diplomats,nobles.They had secret terrorist cells.
The assasinations continued,in 1130 they killed Caliph Al-Amir plus others,like the Emir Porsuki of Aleppo and Mosul.The third successor killed another caliph,a sultan,and several prominent officialsThe killing went on and they also killed Christian leaders,killing Count Raymond II of Tripoli,Syria(not Tripoli,Libya) and Marquis Conrad of Montferrat(candidate for King of Jerusalem).In 1175 they made two attempts on the life of Saladin,the Assassin came so close that wounds were inflicted on Saladin.Marco Polo wrote about them,saying the used hashish and were promised beautiful women on dying,saying their leader was called the Old Man of the Mountain.The Nizaris were finally exterminated by the Mongols in 1256,with 100,000 Nizaris being killed.
2.Al-Tusi was spared by the Mongol ruler even though all the other Nizaris were exterminated.The Nizari ruler had surrendered the fort of Alamut,Persia.He had decided not to fight them in the hope of being spared.
3.Later in 1258 the Mongol army under Hulegu Khan of 1 million laid siege and conquered Baghdad,the center of the Muslim world.They killed 1 million people there and captured the caliph.A carpet was wrapped around him and horses stepped on the carpet till he died.It was because there was the belief that if the caliph’s blood was spilled into the ground it would be bad luck.
4.He convinced Hulegu Khan to construct an observatory for establishing accurate astronomical tables for better astrological predictions.That was in 1259 and it was called the Maragheh Observatory,in Azerbaijan.It was the biggest observatory of its time and had a library of 40,000 books.Al-Tusi made very accurate tables of planetary movements as depicted in his book “Ilkhanic Tables”. This book contains astronomical tables for calculating the positions of the planets and the names of the stars.
The Arab Scientists
He was born in Spain and is considered the father of modern surgery and wrote a 30 volume book about his medical practice,the result of 50 years experience.He invented the forceps and described both what would later become known as “Kocher’s method” for treating a dislocated shoulder and “Walcher position” in obstetrics.His book described how to ligature blood vessels almost 600 years before Ambroise Paré, and was the first recorded book to document several dental devices and explain the hereditary nature of hemophilia. He was also the first to describe a surgical procedure for ligating the temporal artery for migraine, also almost 600 years before Pare recorded that he had ligated his own temporal artery for headache that conforms to current descriptions of migraine.
His use of catgut for internal stitching is still practised in modern surgery. The catgut appears to be the only natural substance capable of dissolving and is acceptable by the body. And he invented the surgical needle.
He was born in Tunisia and is the father of sociology and the book that establishes that claim was his Muqaddimah (known as Prolegomenon in English).Ibn Khaldun wrote the work in 1377 as the preface of his book about world history, the Kitab al-Ibar (lit. Book of Advice), but already in his lifetime it became regarded as an independent work.He introduced the scientific method to the social sciences.By one of those coincidences in later life he met the conqueror Tamerlane in person and had an interview with him.
The Case of Alhazen(Persian?Arab?)
He is very interesting for many reasons,one being he was the greatest physicist of the Middle Ages of any country and did brilliant work in optics,being the Father of Optics.His story reads like something out of the 1001 Nights.We have that:
1.We don’t know his exact nationality,he was either Arab or Persian,it is uncertain.
2.He went to work for Caliph Al-Hakim(996-1021) of Egypt,telling him he could build a dam at the Aswan area of the Nile to control the flooding caused by the river.He then realized technology was not developed enough to do it.The caliph was a cruel man and mentally unstable.He had actually destroyed in 1009 the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem,built where the tomb where the resurrection of Jesus had taken place.He also destroyed all the churches in Jerusalem.
Caliph Al-Hakim also began a great persecution of the Christians and the Jews forcing many to convert.Alhazen knew he would be killed for his failure so he pretended he had become crazy.The law said it was forbidden to kill mentally sick people,so his life was spared but he was imprisoned.
3.Later the caliph went out of his palace one night and simply disappeared.He was never seen again.He had several followers and they declared that Caliph Al-Hakim had been God incarnate and began the religion of the Druzes,which still exists and has about 1 million followers.Alhazen was released and could stop pretending he was a lunatic.
4.Alhazen invented the camera obscura,a precursor to the modern camrea and the pinhole camera.He also invented the magnifying glass in 1021.
5.In ancient times, Euclid and Ptolemy believed that the eyes emitted rays which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that rays of light enters the eye, rather than leaving it,was Alhazen.
The Great Turkish Scientist Ulugh Beg(1394-1449)
His life also reads like a story directly from the 1001 Nights.We have that:
1.He was a rarity,a ruler who was also a scientist,the sultan of a vast region as well as an astronomer,one of the greatest astronomers of the Middle Ages,and a mathematician.Such a combination is as rare as a ruler who is also a philosopher,a philosopher-king,like Marcus Aurelius(121-180),Emperor of the Roman Empire,the author of the Meditations,a work about Stoic philosphy.
Ulugh Beg was not his personal name,but a title which in Turkish means “Great Ruler” or “Patriarch Ruler”.In Arabic the title is Amir-i-Kabir(Great Prince,Ruler).His real name was Mirza Mohammad bin Shahrokh. Ulugh Beg was notable for his work in astronomy-related mathematics, such as trigonometry and spherical geometry. In 1411, he became the sovereign ruler of a vast area with Samarcand as its capital and he invited numerous Muslimic astronomers and mathematicians.
2.He was the grandson of Tamerlane,or Timur-e-Land(Timur the Lame) (1336–1405),who was the grandson of Genghiz Khan.The name comes from the fact that Timur was lame,due to an arrow in his knee when he was young.Tamerlane was a great conqueror and a mass murderer.In his “Memoirs” Tamerlane says he killed 100,000 Hindu civilians,who had been captured when he took Delhi,only because they were infidels.Tamerlane was a Muslim and several sources even say he was the inventor of a variation of chess called Tamerlane Chess.
Tamerlane is even in Western literature.The great English dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)(author of Dr.Faustus,about the German professor who sold his soul to the Devil) wrote a play called Tarmelane.The great American poet Edgar Poe(1809-1849) (author of The Raven and the Cask of Amontillado),wrote a poem called Tamerlane.
3.He built the an enormous observatory in Samarkand between 1424 and 1429.Using his observatory he compiled a book cataloguing the stars,994 stars in all, generally considered the greatest star catalogue between those of Ptolemy and Brahe.
4.In mathematics, Ulugh Beg wrote accurate trigonometric tables of sine and tangent values correct to at least eight decimal places.
5.Ulugh’s scientific expertise was not matched by his skills in governance. He lost some battles to rival kingdoms, and, in 1448, he massacred the people of Herat.Within 2 years, he was beheaded by his own eldest son,while on his way to Mecca.
The Famous Kurdish Scientist Al-Jazari
He was an inventor and mechanical engineer. He is best known for writing The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206, where he described fifty mechanical devices along with instructions on how to construct them.The most famous invention in the book is the Elephant Clock.
More on the Problem of saying “Islamic-Muslim Science”
As I said before at least of the “Muslim” scientists who is part of “Muslim science” was not even a Muslim.
The Case of Rhazes or Al-Razi
Al-Razi wrote three books dealing with religion:
1.”The Prophets’ Fraudulent Tricks”
2.”The Stratagems of Those Who Claim to Be Prophets”
3.”On the Refutation of Revealed Religions”
From the content it is obvious he did not believe in Islam or in any religion.We have:
“[God] should not set some individuals over others, and there should be between them neither rivalry nor disagreement which would bring them to perdition.”
“On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals(Note:like Muhammad), that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people’s guides, and make people dependent upon them?”
“If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.”
Read what he says about religious leaders:
“As a result of them being long accustomed to their religious denomination, as days passed and it became a habit. Because they were deluded by the beards of the goats, who sit in ranks in their councils, straining their throats in recounting lies, senseless myths and “so-and-so told us in the name of so-and-so.”
On the Koran he said:
“You claim that the evidentiary miracle is present and available, namely, the Koran. You say: “Whoever denies it, let him produce a similar one.” Indeed, we will produce a thousand similar, from the works of rhetoricians, eloquent speakers and valiant poets, which are more appropriately phrased and state the issues more succinctly. They convey the meaning better and their rhymed prose is in better meter. … By God what you say astonishes us! You are talking about a work which recounts ancient myths, and which at the same time is full of contradictions and does not contain any useful information or explanation. Then you say: “Produce something like it”?”
Al-Razi was referring to the Circular Argument of the Koran
“This Koran could not have been devised by any beside God; but it verifies that which was before it, and details the Book(Note:the Bible) - there is no doubt therein – from the Lord of the worlds. Do they say:”He has devised it?” say then:”Bring a surah like it,and call, if you can, on other than God, if you tell the truth!””
Produce a Chapter like that of the Koran,but it is Impossible
“And if you are in doubt of what we have revealed to our servant:
1.Then bring a chapter like it, and call your witnesses other than God if you tell truth.
2.But if you do it not, and you will surely not do it, then fear the fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for disbelievers.”
Produce a Book like the Koran,but it is Impossible
“Say:”If mankind and genies united together to bring the like of this Koran, they could not bring the like, though they should help each other.””
To Know why it is a Circular Argument read:
The Case of Omar Khayyam
He gives the impression of having been an agnostic or even an atheist,like in 2 of his quatrains where he says:
“When once you hear the roses are in bloom,
Then is the time, my love, to pour the wine;
Houris and palaces and Heaven and Hell-
These are but fairy-tales, forget them all.”
“Look not above, there is no answer there
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer
Near is as near to God as any far
And here is just the same deceit as there.”
Watch the Fascinating Documentary “Ancient Islamic Discoveries”,Part 1 of 5(the rest can be seen in youtube).In the documentary you can see Al-Jazari’s famous Elephant Clock,a giant modern copy of which has been built in the 20th century.