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Muslim Contribution To Science And Culture (7)
Science and Religion
M.A.R Khan

Arab Enterprize in Ifriqiyah, Siqilliyah and Andalusia

Arab conquest of North Africa began after ‘Uqbah Ibni Nafi’ built Al-Qayrawan in 670 AD, at the site of old Carthage. Harun-ur-Rashid appointed Ibrahim Ibni Al-Aghlab governor of Tunis in 800 AD, and he ruled the country as an independent Amir till 811 AD, with Qayrawan as capital. It served as a base of operations against the Byzantine colonies round the Mediterranean, and Sicily was conquered in 902 AD. The Aghla’id dynasty lasted till 909 AD and by that time converted the Latin-speaking Christians of North Africa into Arabic-speaking Muslims by the usual methods of concessions and amelioration. Muslim rule in Sicily, with Balarm (Palermo) as capital was at its height during the reign of Abul-Futuh Yusuf Ibni Abdullah (989-93 AD) and lasted for 189 years (after Ibrahim’s death in 902 AD) until 1091 AD, when it was completely supplanted by the Normans.

Even after their subjugation by the Normans, the Arabs of Sicily and Western Islam, in general continued to be the leaders of culture and erudition in that island. Roger II and his grandson Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (Ruler of Sicily and Germany, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire after 1220 AD, and king of Jerusalem, 1225 AD) favoured the Arabs and encouraged them to found a colony of their own at Girgenti (moved later to Lucera). It was at the court of Roger II that Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibni Muhammad Al-Idrisi (born at Ceuta in 1100 AD of Hispano-Arab parents and died in 1166 AD) wrote his treatise on geography and cartography (“Kitab Rujar”), entitled “Nuzhat Al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq Al Afaq”. It is a monumental work combining with the main information available from Ptolemy and Mas’udi’s treatises much original matter collected by Idrisi himself from reports of obervers that were sent to various countries to acquire data. He presented to Roger II a celestial sphere and a disk-shaped map of the world, both made of silver.

We shall discuss later the importance of this Norman patronage of Arab learning to European civilization. Another great name will now be introduced that has made distant Morocco famous in the annals of mathematics and astronomy. Abu-’Ali Al-Hasan Ibni ‘Ali Ibni ‘Umar Al-Marrakushi (d: 1262 AD) did most of his work in Morocco. His book, “Jami’ ‘al-Mabadi Wal Ghayat”, is a very comprehensive work on astronomy (practical as well as theoretical), with description of instruments and chapters on trigonometry containing tables not only of sines (for every half degree of angle) but of versed sines (Arabic: Sahm, singular), arc sines and arc co-tangents. He makes free use of graphical methods also in the solution of problems. There is a catalogue of 240 stars for the year 622 AH (1225-26 AD). Latitudes and longitudes of 135 places are also given, of which he himself observed 34. He gives the value of the Precession of the Equinoxes as 54” per annum. In pure literature also, we find a most popular contribution from North Africa, the poem of Al-Burdah by Sharaf-Uddin Muhammad Al-Busiri, inspired by his gratitude and devotion to the Prophet for a miraculous cure. It has been translated into Persian, Turkish, German, French, English and Italian, with some 90 commentaries on it in various languages.

Turning now to Spain, we may note that Arab intellectual activity in their country really begins with the advent of ‘Abdul-Rahman (Ad-Dakhil) Ibni Al-Mu’awiyah, a grandson of Hisham, tenth Umayyad Caliph of Damascus in 755 AD, after civil wars among the Arab leaders that had settled in that country. There was of course, a surprising amount of preparatory work done in the earlier stages, since Tariq Ibni Ziyad routed Roderick at the mouth of the Barbate river, but it was chiefly the conquest of an alien country under an incessant urge to move forward. ‘Abdul-Rahman II (Al-Awsat) while supporting the religion of his court, through Yahya Ibni Yahya, a pupil of the famous Malik Ibni Anas, encouraged the fine arts also with the same zeal. He welcomed to his court Ziryab, one of the greatest singers and musicians of his time, when he fled from Baghdad afraid of the jealousy of his teacher Ishaq Ibni ‘Ali-Al-Mawsili. Cordova under Ziryab’s lead became a second Baghdad in setting the fashion to the civilized world with refinements in dress, coiffure and general society life. From the court, music and song spread into the whole country with Muwashshah and Zajal. It was thus that Spain and south-western France became ‘music-minded’ under Arab influence for all times. After Ziryab, Abul-Qasim ‘Abbas Ibni Firnas (d: 888 AD) introduced oriental music and displayed much scientific activity also. He is said to have made the first successful attempt at soaring flight (ie. flight without the aid of artificial power), putting on a suit of feathers and wings; but after flying a long distance hurt himself in alighting, for want of a steadying tail. This account must not be taken as a ‘flight of fancy’ on the part of story-tellers. Modern interest in gliding and gliders will be well rewarded if the original Arabic literature on the subject of ‘Abbas Ibni Firnas’ flight is searched for and carefully studied.

Ibni Firnas is credited also with the building of a planetarium showing stars and even clouds and lightning.

Muslim Spain rose to its pinnacle of glory during the reign of ‘Abdul-Rahman III, from 912-961 AD, assuming the title of Amir-ul-Mu’minin from 929 AD onwards. Cordova (Arabic: Qurtubah) became the centre of learning and culture in Western Europe, for Muslims, Christians and Jews. After Baghdad and Constantinople it was the largest and most flourishing city in the world, and certainly the most advanced of all in its cleanliness, street-lighting and other municipal facilities. No wonder that the German nun Hrostsvitha called it ‘the Jewel of the World’. ‘Abdul-Rahman III, though harassed on all sides by foreign foes at the time of his accession to the throne, overcame all his enemies gradually and completely and left his country in a state of peace and prosperity. He had the co-operation of the Jews from the beginning. Spain was the only country at the time where they found a real home, after prolonged persecutions from the Christian rulers of Europe. They held the highest offices in state administration. Hasday bin Sharput was not only the royal physician but wazir also. During ‘Abdul-Rahman’s time, trade and agricultural developed so remarkably---thanks to his building up a powerful merchant navy and construction of canals---that the royal revenue amounted to 6,245,000 dinars annually. Qurtubah with its beautiful gardens, orchards and palaces (Al-Zahra’ among others), its magnificent mosques, and well-stocked libraries had a population of half a million inhabitants. Every mosque had its school and education was so liberal that, in the words of Dozy, practically every man could read and write. The University of Cordova attracted men from all parts of the world. Some of the most distinguished teachers of the time lectured there on theology, literature, mathematics, astronomy, science, medicine and philosophy.

‘Abdul-Rahman’s successor, Hakam II was an equally great patron of learning, besides being himself a scholar of the first rank---in fact the foremost scholar-king in Islam. His library contained no less than 400,000 volumes, several of which were embellished by his own marginal notes.and the catalogues of their titles occupied 44 volumes.

After Al-Hakam, the Umayyad power began to waver in Spain, but literature, science and the fine arts continued to be cultivated at all the courts of the petty monarchies into which the empire degenerated. A daughter of the Umayyad prince, Muhammad III Al-Mustakfi (d: 1205 AD), the beautiful and highly accomplished Al-Walldah, attained to great renown in the republic of letters. Before her death in 1087 AD her home in Cordova was the rendezvous of poets and savants. As a matter of fact, according to Al-Maqqari, the women of Andalusia at this time were so well-read that eloquence was a second instinct in them.

When the Banu-’Abbad rose to power in Seville (1023-91 AD) Al-Mu’tamid, who was himself a great poet, chose a friendless wanderer Al-’Ammar for his wazir and a poor country-girl Al-I’timad for his favourite queen, primarily on account of their proficiency in the art of poetry.

Yusuf Al-Mu’tamin, Hudid King of Saragossa from 1081 to 1085 AD, was another great patron of learning. He was himself a good mathematician and wrote a treatise on that subject entitled “Istikmal”, which was pronounced by Judah Ibni ‘Aqnin (in the second half of the twelfth century) to be of such a high standard that it should be studied along with Euclid, the Almagest and “The Middle Books”. Unfortunately no copy of this royal book is now extant.

Coming down from scholars of princely origin to democratic circles, we propose to begin with some writers of pure literature, such as the celebrated author of ‘Iqdul-Farid, Ibni ‘abd Rabbihi (860-940 AD), the laureate of ‘Abdul-Rahman III, about the importance of whose work some reference has already been made in connection with our sources of knowledge of Arab citizen life. Among scores of learned men professing linguistics at the University of Cordova may be mentioned Al-Qali (901-67 AD) who was educated at Baghdad but found it worth his while to settle in Spain. Foremost among his pupils was Muhammad Ibni Al-Hasan Az-Zubaydi (928-89 AD) of Seville, who was appointed tutor by Al-Hakam to his son Hisham, and later wrote a classified list of grammarians and philologists right up to his own time.

Very few people seem to be aware of the fact that the Hebrew grammar was developed in Spain on the model of the Arabic grammar. It retains to this day its Arabic character. Abu-Zakariyah Yahya Ibni Da’ud, a Jewish scholar who flourished at Cordova and died in the eleventh century, accomplished this task, translating the technical terms from Arabic into Hebrew.

One of the most prolific of Muslim writers and the greatest scholar of Muslim Spain was ‘Ali Ibni Hazm (994-1064 AD). He passed through many vicissitudes of fortune, serving as wazir at the courts of the unfortunate representatives of the Umayyad family near its downfall, ‘Abdul-Rahman V Al-Mustazhir and Hisham III Al-Mu’tadd. He retired thence to a life of scholarly seclusion and is credited with having written 400 volums on history and theology, logic, poetry, etc. His “Tawq-Al-Hamamah” is an anthology of love-poems composed probably in his younger days; but his best known work, very catholic and unique up to that time, Al-Fasl fil-Milal W’al-Ahwa’a w’al-Nihal deals with comparative religion.


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