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Muslim Contribution to Science and Culture (6)
Science and Religion
M.A.R Khan

Mechanical Contrivances and Military Science

The Arabs and their immediate Muslim successors to the mastery of the civilized world do not seem to have added very much to the engineering sciences they learned from the Greeks, though in mechanics they certainly improved the theory and performance of the hydrostatic balance, the usefulness of the Alenandrian hydrometer and the efficiency of the Syrian waterwheels. Cheap slave labour with its ease and comfort, its human association and pompous display may possibly have prevented them from exploiting t he forces of nature and tapping hidden sources of mechanical and thermal energy which modern nations under harsher conditions of life find indispensable for their very existence. Locomotion by land or sea could be satisfactorily maintained by the friendly horse or camel and the familiar sailing vessel.

Al-Khazini’s (Abul-Fath Abdur Rahman Al-Mansur, astronomer at the court of Saljuq Sultan Sanjar Ibni Malik Shah) ‘Mizan’ul Hikmah’ (The Balance of Wisdom) is a masterly dissertation on mechanics as far as it was developed up to that time. Niz 1121 or 1122 AD. It deals with the theory of the balance from an application of the Theorem of Moments and discusses the buoyancy of liquids (and of air also). It gives a table of weights in water of a number of metals and minerals weighting 100 mithqals in air (leading to remarkably good values of specific gravities), along with a correct explanation of the weights of material bodies as caused by a universal pull towards the centre of the universe (meaning thereby the earth’s centre), and seemingly concentrated at a definite point in each body (its centre of gravity); and remarks in a general way on the weight of the atmosphere.

It is full of important experimental details and shrewdly recognises of efforts of surface tension in liquids. There are references in the book to the construction and use of the immersion hydrometer for determining the densities of liquids (with appreciation of their variation with change of temperature); also to geodesy and levelling and to the measurement of time. The work has been ably described and commented upon by N. Khanikoff in ‘The Jouranl of the American Orienteal Society” (Vol. VI, Pgs. 1-128, New Haven, 1859), and has been recently published in original by the “Dai’rat-ul-Ma’arif’, Hyderabad Deccan, with a note by the present writer.

Before the rise of capitalism trade, however extensive, was mostly the enterprise of individuals or families, and seems to have been undertaken as much for the adventure of meeting new peoples in new countries as for making large profits. Under such circumstances there is little wonder that a pplied mechanics and engineering remained practically where Greek intelect had left them. The Arabs, however, made better and more accurate devices for measuring time, clepsydras or water-clocks. The earliest reference to a clock is found in Al-Jahiz’s ‘Kitab’ul Hayawan’ in the second half of the ninth century.

Between 1146 and 1169 AD Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali Ibni Rustam Al-Khurasani Al-Sa’ati constructed the clock placed on the Baab’ul Jayrun of Damascus, (hence Baab-us-Sa’ah, by which name it was often called). Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali remained in charge of the clock till his death in 1184 or 1185 AD. IT was seen and mentioned by Ibni-Jabayr, Qazwini, Ibni Battutah and others. Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali son, Fakhr-Uddin Ridwna (Ibni As-Sa’ati) repaired and improved this clock and in 1203 AD wrote a book explaining its use and construction. Ridwan was born in Damascus and entered the service of the Ayyubid prices Al-Fa’iz Ibrahim and Mu’azzam ‘Isa, sons of Al-’Adil Sayf-Uddin, ruler of Egypt and Syria from 1198 to 1218 AD.

[It may be remarked here that Al-’Adil and his sons were great patrons of learning. Muhadhdid-Uddin Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Rahim Ibni ‘Ali Ad-Dimishqi, teacher of the famous writer Ibni Abi Usaybi’ah and the geat physician Ibni-An-Nafis ‘Ala’-Uddin Abual-Hasan held important medical posts under these potentates. Ibni-An-Nafis, it may be noted, is regarded by modern Egyptian physicians to have anticipated William Harvey in the correct explanation of the circulation of the blood].

An important treatise on mechanical sciences, ‘Kitab’ul Ma’rifat Al-Hiyal-Al-Handasah’ (dealing chiefly with hydraulic appliances, now available in a German translation with commentaries by Eilhard Wiedemann) was composed by Abul’lzz Isma’il Ibni Razzaz Badi’-uz-Zaman Al-Jazari at Amid in Diyar Bakr for the Urtaqid ruler Nasir Uddin Muhammad, probably in 1205 or 1906 AD. A critical study of the original Arabic will doubtless throw much light on the Arab technique of time-measurement.

With regard to military science, Najd-Uddin Al-Ahdab Hasan Ar-Rammah, a Syrian, wrote shortly before 1300 AD a treatise called ‘Al-Furusiyah wal-Manasib-ul-Harbiyah’, which describes the purification of nitre (possible as an ingredient for the manufacture of gunpowder) and contains pyrotechnic recipes. The earliest reference to t he use of gunpowder is in “Al ‘Umari’ (d:1348 AD). Egyptian physicians called in Thalj’us-Sini (Chinese snow), probably only its constituent nitre being meant.

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