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Muslim Contribution to Science and Culture (8)
Science and Religion
M.A.R Khan

Arab Enterprize In Ifriqiyah, Siqilliyah and Andalusia

On the downfall of Qurtubah, a number of provincial cities (seats of petty kingdoms) like Seville, Toledo and Granada rose into power and became university towns, where scholars and scientists found encouragement and followers.

Abdul-Walid Ahmad Ibni Zaydun (1003-71 AD) has been considered by many to be the greatest poet of Spanish Islam. His letters were regarded as a model of grace and erudition. Falling violently in love with the beautiful princes Al-Walladah he got into trouble for a time, but later became grand Wazir and Army Commander of the Abbadi prince, Al-Mu’tadid.

Lisan-Uddin Ibni Al-Khatib’s name can adorn the list of Hispano-Muslim poets as well as historians. He also held the posts of Minister and Commander (hence called Dhulul-Wizaratayn) at the court of the Nasrid Sultan, Yusuf Abu Al-Hajjaaj (1333-54 AD) and his successor, but afraid of court intrigues fled to Fas, where his enemies strangled him. Though he has written many books on a wide range of subjects, his name is best remembered through his work on the history of Granada ‘Ihaatah fee Taarikh Gharnatah’.

In historiography we can briefly mention only a few names, for want of space. Abu-Bakr Ibni-’Umar Ibni Al-Qutiyah, who was born at Cordova and died there in 977 AD, is the author of ‘Taarikh Iftitah Al-Andalus’, extending from the beginning of Arab conquest to the earlier part of ‘Abdul-Rahman III’s reign. Abu Marwan Hayyan Ibni Khalaf of Cordova (987-1076 AD) wrote 50 books, one of which Al-Matin alone comprised 60 volumes. His ‘Al-Muqtabis fee Taarikh Al-Andalus’ has survived.

On the Muwahhid period in Spain and Morocco, ‘Abdul-Wahid Al-Marrakushi’s history (written in 1224 AD) is considered most valuable. The name of the Hispano-Arab Sūfī Abu-Bakr Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali Muhayyuddin Ibni ‘Arabi (As-Shaikh Al-Akbar), born in Murcia in 1165 AD, and author of ‘Al-Futoohaatul-Makkiyah’ and ‘Fususul-Hikam’, etc. is still held in great respect. He died at Damascus in 1240 AD.

Among the foremost biographers of Muslim Spain was Abul-Walid ‘Abdullah Ibni Muhammad Ibni Al-Faradi (born in Cordova in 962 AD and murdered during the sack of the city in 1013 AD), Qazi of Valencia and author of ‘Taarikh ‘Ulama’-i-Andalus’. The book was later supplemented by Ibni-Bashkuwal Abul-Wasim Khalaf Ibni ‘Abdul-Malik, in 1139 AD in a volume entitled ‘Al-Silah fee Taarikh A’immatul-Andalus’ which was in its turn continued by Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad Ibni Al-Abbar (1199-1260 AD) of Valencia and completed with ‘Al-Takmilah li-Kitab As-Silah’. Ibni Al-Abbar wrote also ‘Al-Hullah As-Siyara’. Another biographer of note was Abu Ja’far Ahmad Ibni Yahya Al-Dabbi (d: 1202 AD), author of ‘Bughyatul-Multamis fee Taarikh Rijalul-Andalus’.

Abu Al-Qasim Sa’id Ibni Adman Al-Tulaytuli (1029-70 AD), himself a mathematician and astronomer, compiled a valuable book on the history of Science called ‘Tabaqatul-Umam’, which served as a source book to later writers.

The most renowned of all historians of Western Islam was ‘Abdur-Rahman Ibni Khaldun (1332-1406 AD), author of Al-’lbar wa-Diwanul-Mubtada’ w’al-Khabar fee Ayyamil-’Arab w’al-’Ajam w’al-Barbar’, a monumental work on Muslim history of Arabia, Persia, and Northern Africa. Its ‘Muqaddamah’ is a masterpiece of historical criticism on the effect of environment on national development, etc and an introduction to the philosophy of history. Ibni Khaldun was of Spanish-Arab extraction, born in Tunis, and held responsible posts at Fas and later at Granada. He returned subsequently to Africa and settling near Tilimsan began work on his history. On his way to Cairo, after some years, he was appointed Qazi by Barquq (Mamluk Sultan Az-Zahir). When Az-Zahir’s successor An-Nasir led a compaign against Tamerlane, Ibni Khaldun accompanied him.

The Muslims of Spain made good contribution to our knowledge of geography also. Al-Idrisi whose work has already been described was of Hispano-Arab origin. Abu ‘Ubayd ‘Abdullah Ibni Abdul Aziz Al-Bakri, who died at the close of the eleventh century, flourished at Cordova. His ‘Kitabul-Masalik w’al-Mamalik’ written in the form of an itinerary is the earliest important work of Spanish Arabs on geography. The works of several travellers like Ibni-Jubayr, Al-Mazini and Ibni Batutah are store-houses of interesting geagraphical knowledge.

Ibni Jubayr ‘Abul-Husayn Muhammad Ibni Ahmad (b: 1145 AD) travelled from Granada to Mecca through Egypt, Syria and Al-’Iraq, while these three countries were still partly under the grip of the crusaders, and described his experiences in his book ‘Rihlah’. Abul-Hamid Muhammad Al-Mazini (1080-1170 AD), also of Granada, has described his travels in Russia and the country bordering on the River Volga in his ‘Tuhfatul-Albab’, where we are told of trade in fossil bones of the mammoth (ivory) carried on with Khwarizm. The greatest traveller of the early Muslim world was Ibni Batutah who was born in Tanjah (Tangier) in 1304 AD. He made four pilgrimages to Mecca in the second quarter of the fourteenth century and proceeded on to Ceylon, Bengal, the Maldib Islands and even as far as China. The Arabs and the Muslim intelligentsia in general were aware of the sphericity of the earth from as early a time as that of Al-Maamun; Abu ‘Ubaydah Muslim Al-Balinsi has clearly expressed this notion in his writings in the first half of the tenth century, and it is from accounts of such travels and such statements that Columbus drew his inspiration to discover America. The prevailing belief all over Christian Europe in those days was that the earth was flat.

Spain has produced a number of eminent Arab astronomers, among whom we may mention Abul-Qasim Maslamah Al-Majriti (1007 AD) of Cordova who revised and edited Al-Khwarizmi’s ‘Zij’; Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibni Yahya Al-Zardali (1028-1087 AD) of Toledo, known to the Latin world as Arzachel, whose astronomical ‘Tables of Toldeo’ were very widely known and used, and whose determination of the Obliquity of the Ecliptic is correct to within one minute of an arc, and the length of the Mediterranean Sea (42 degrees), much nearer the truth than Ptolemy’s exaggerated 62 degrees; Jabir Ibni Aflah (d: 1140 AD), of Ishbiliah (Seville), Latin name, Geber, who made important advances in spherical trigonometry, was the inventor of an armillary sphere for measuring the positions of the heavenly bodies and author of a book on astronomy in which the defects of the Ptolemaic system were pointed out and improvements on it attempted. Abu Ishaq Nuruddin Al-Bitruji (born in Morocco, died in Seville in 1204 AD), Latin name Alpetraguis, was a pupil of the philosopher Ibni Tufayl and attempted in his book, ‘The Physical Theory of the Planets’, to remove the errors of the Ptolemaic system by putting up a better explanation of Planetary motion, but without appreciable success, owing to the tyranny of Aristolelian ideas that heavenly bodies must move only in circles!

It may be further pointed out that it was due mainly to the destructive criticisms of Al-Zarqali, Al-Bitruji, Nasir-uddin Tusi and others that the Ptolemaic system of astronomy broke down eventually and Copernicus came out boldly with his helio-centric theory. He refers to his indebtedness to Al-Zarqali and Al-Battani in his book ‘De Revolutionibus Orbium Celestium’.

In botany we have Abul-’Abbas Al-Nabti of Seville (b: 1165 or 71 AD, d: 1239 AD) who made extensive explorations in Spain, along the coast of North Africa, Arabia and the Red Sea, early in the first half of the twelfth century. These he describes in his ‘Kitab Al-Rihlah’, and gives a list of new plants that he discovered on the shores of the Red Sea.

The Cordovan physician, Abu Ja’far Ahmad Ibni Muhammad Al-Ghafliqi (d: 1165 AD) collected a number of plants from Spain and Africa and made a first attempt at their classification giving their names in the Arabic, Latin and Berber languages. His work on simples, ‘Al-Adwiyah-Al-Mufradah’, was largely consulted and made use of by later workers in the same field.

‘Abdullah Ibni Ahmad Ibni Al-Baytar of Malaga (d: 1248 AD at Damasucs), a disciple of Abul-’Abbas An-Nabati, is considered to be the greatest botanist and pharmacist of all the Muslims in the East and West. He roamed about Spain and in North Africa in search of plants and on being appointed chief herbalist at the court of the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Malikul-Kamil at Cairo continued his search in Syria and Asia Minor. His ‘Al-Mughni fee Al-Adwiyah Al-Mufradah’ (on materia medica) and ‘Al-Jami fee Al-Adwiya Al-Mufradah’ (a collection of simples with their properties, etc.) were dedicated to Al-Kamil’s successor As-Salih. The latter work is considered to be the best of its kind in the Middle Ages. Parts of its Latin version were printed in 1758 AD at Cremona.

Arab and Arabic-speaking physicians of Spain were great scholars in other branches of science as well. A number of them had only an academical interest in medicine. To this class belonged Ibni Rushd (Latin: Averroes), Musa Ibni Maymum (Latin: Maimonides), Ibni Bajjah (Latin: Avempace) and Ibni Tufayl. They will be taken up while discussing philosophy. It may suffice here to remark that when the Black-Death ravaged Europe, Muslim physicians were quick to find out its infectious nature and Ibnul-Khatib (d: 1374 AD) discussed the matter at some length in his ‘Mugni’at-Al-Sa’il ‘an Maradul-Ha’il’, and strongly recommended segregation while the Christians stood helpless.

Owing to religious scruples, both Muslim physicians and their early Christian colleagues had at first a dislike for vivisection and mutilation of corpses. Their knowledge of anatomy was necessarily poor, hence their aversion to surgery. What little the Muslims knew was from the operations performed on dead bodies of apes. Their greatest surgeon was Abul-Jarrah Khalaf Ibni ‘Abbas Az-Zahrawi (d: 1013 AD), court physician to Al-Hakam II. All that was known at the time in this art is embodied in his concise book ‘Al-Tasrif li man ‘Ajaza ‘an Aal-ta’alif’, like the crushing of stone in the bladder, blood-letting, cauterization, etc. and included a chapter on surgical instruments also. The surgical portion of this work was translated into Latin by Gerard of Gremona---prince of Latin translators from Arabic. Various editions of the work were published in later times; at Venice in 1497 AD, at Basle in 1541 AD and at Oxford in 1778 AD, and served as a text-book.

An opportunist, ‘Abdul-Latif Al-Baghdadi (1162-1231 AD) made good study of human skeletons accidentally discovered in a large pit at Al-Maks (Egypt) and made note of much important facts revealed thereby. It was at Salerno and especially Bologna that forensic studies grudgingly gave sanction to performing operations on the human corpse and contributed thus to acquisition of sound knowledge of anatomy and surgery.

Al-Zahrawi’s fame as a physician is even surpassed by the distinction attained by Abu Marwan Abdul-Malik Ibni Abul-Ala-Ibni-Zuhr (Latin: Avenzoar) in pure medicine. He was born at Seville some time between 1091 AD and 1094 AD and was the most distinguished member of an illustrious family of Spanish physicians. For a long time he graced the court of the founder of the Al-Muwahhid dynasty, Abdul-Mu’min, as Wazir and private physician. He was a friend of Ibni Rushd and at his request wrote ‘Al-Taysir fee-Mudawah w’al-Tadbir’, a work of great merit.

Out of a long list of Hispano-Arabic philosophers we can mention only a few. Ibni Jabirul (Sulayman Ibni Yahya, Ben Gabirol, b: 1021 AD) long known as the Jewish Plato, though not an Arab, wrote in Arabic his famous ‘Yanbu-ul-Hayat’, rendered into Latin as ‘Fons Vitae’, a work which had much influence on the scholasticism of the Middle Ages (Franciscan Friars are believed to have based some of their ideas on its teachings). Ibni Maymun, a Jew (born in Cordova in 1135 AD), author of ‘Al-Fusul fee-At-Tibb’ and ‘Dalalatul-Ha’irin’; Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibni Bajjah (Latin: Avempace, d: 1138 AD), author of ‘Tadbir-ul-Mutawahhid’; Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibni ‘Abdul-Malik Ibni Tufayl (died in Morocco in 1185 AD), Wazir and court physician to the Al-Muwahhid, ruler of Spain and Africa, Abu Ya’qub Yusuf and author of the intellectual romance ‘Hayy Ibni Yaqzan’; and Abul-Walid Muhammad Ibni Ahmad Ibni Rushd (the famous Averroes of Mediaeval Europe), author of ‘Tahafut-ul-Tahafut’ (the Incoherence of Incoherence, written in answer to Al-Ghazzali’s ‘Tahafut-Falasifah’), ‘Jami Tafsir wa Kulliat fee At-Tibb’ are great names in the realm of philosophy. We are unable to give even a brief account of their philosophical works beyond saying that Ibni Tufayl’s ‘Hayy Ibni Yaqzan’, first translated into English from original Arabic by Simon Ockley, is now available in a revised form with a delightful introduction by A.S. Fulton (published by Chapman and Hall, London). It is a bold attempt to bring the main beliefs of revealed religion into alignment with rationalistic ideas.

Ibn Rushd’s (b: 1126 AD in Cordova, d: 1198 AD in Marrakish) name, at one time considered second only to that of Aristotle in the West, has still a high place of honour in the continental schools of philosophy in Europe. As he was a keen observer of nature and natural phenomena, he was the first to discover the retina to be the real seat of perception of light and vision. He is credited also with the discovery of Sunspots. For a casual observer to witness the phenomenon with the unaided eye, presumably at sunrise or sunset, it must have been an unusually large spot, and knowledge of the years of Ibni Rushd’s observation may lead to interesting relationship between Sunspot activity and some allied meteorological phenomena. Ibni Rushd’s ‘Kulliyat fee At-Tibb: (Latin: Colliget) deals with medicine and allied subjects.

Transmission of Arab Learning and Culture to Christian Europe

A number of distinguished historians and scientific investigators (like John Villiam Draper, Guizot, John Davenport, Stanley Lane-Poole, M.P.E. Berthelot and more recently E.J. Holmyard, Max Meyerhof, George Sarton and Philip K. Hitti) have fully acknowledged the part played by the Arabs and their Muslim collaborators from other nationalities in not only preserving the knowledge of ancient Greece, Persia and India but adding enormously to it. We take this opportunity of expressing our personal indebtedness to these authors, especially the last two (in addition, of course, to the standard Arabic sources), for the bulk of information incorporated in this brief sketch. Even a cursory acquaintance with Muslim history cannot fail to impress one with admiration for Arab enterprise and achievement in all fields of human activity. From the beginning of the eighth to the end of the fourteenth century the Arabs were eager to acquire knowledge and to share it with all others who would care to go to them for it. Their scientists and philosophers marched into foreign countries almost simultaneously with their generals and preachers. Even when they degenerated politically they continued to be the torch-bearers of learning for generations. It was thus the wild Daylamites, Salijuqs, Tartars and Berbers, once they came into contact with the civilization of Islam, settled down to peaceful pursuits and assimilation of Arab Culture. The greatest calamity that the Muslim world suffered was from the Tartar hordes under Changiz Khan and Hulagu and yet, these aggressors (like the fanatical Crusaders) were stopped by the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt who were recruited primarily from as rough and uncivilized a stock as the Tartars themselves.

Egypt and Syria will for ever proclaim the glory of Salah-Uddin (b: 1138 AD in Takrit, d: 1193 AD), Rukn-Uddin Baybars (1260-77 AD) and Sayf-Uddin Qala’un (1279-90 AD) not only for their overcoming the Crusaders, but for their encouragement of learning, fine arts and architecture, their schools, hospitals and canals.

It is interesting to see how Arab learning and culture spread through Europe. Sicily and Spain were the principal sources of propagation. From Sicily, its two ‘baptized Sultans’ Roger II and Frederick II, Hohenstaufen, especially the latter, carried Arab culture through Italy across the Alps, Lotharingia (Lorraine), Liege, Gorze and Cologne becoming centres of Arab learning. From Spain it penetrated beyond the Pyrenees into Western and South-Western France, slowly but surely. When the Arabs came to a halt in their output of scientific work, roughly at the beginning of the thirteenth century, Christian Europe was learning medicine, mathematics, astronomy, physics and chemistry through its students returning home from the Universities of Cordova, Toledo, Seville and Granada. Marvellously industrious translators like Gerard of Cremona, Adelard of Bath, Robert of Chester, Michael Scot, Stephen of Saragossa, William of Lunis, Philip of Tripoli and a host of others, made Arab lore available to Latin-knowing people hrought their laborious translations. Some books were translated into Hebrew also and from Latin or Hebrew into the vernacular languages of Europe.

The study of medicine in Europe began at Salerno where Constantine, the African who was lucky in having an Arab for his teacher, organized the first medical school. Montpellier and Paris soon followed suit. Arabic, being the chief medium of scientific thought practically all over the world, was taught systematically in several European Universities and schools, especially at Toledo, Narbonne, Naples, Bologna and Paris.


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