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A Bibliography of Scholars in Medieval Islam

Author: Ilias Fernini

Publisher: Abu Dhabi (UAE) Cultural Foundation, 1998

Preface of the Book

The rewriting of the history of Islamic science is now receiving large attention both from Muslim and non-Muslim scientists after a lack of interest that lasted almost a century after the fall of the Islamic empire. It is indeed quite inconceivable to know little about scholars who, during more than ten centuries, wrote in all branches of science, at a time when the whole of the Western world was in its deep darkness.

It is often well emphasized that Muslims received inherited Greek knowledge with great consideration. What is less known, howwvwe, is that they did not not restrict themselves to saving it and then passing it intact to future generations, they in fact enlarged and enriched it with new and original ideas. It can be said, without any doubt, that the whole of Greek learning was completely rethought by the Muslims and that without this renovation, the Western renaissance could not have come about.

In our present time, it is very astonishing to note that the Islamic contribution to civilization is often undermined by the West despite the fact that in several cases, medieval Western scholars diligently imitated, copied and plagiarized the works of Muslim scientists. In 1979, a historian of the Frankfurt University won the First King Faisal Foundation Prize for Islamic scholarship; his work showed that in the 12th century, a decree was issued in Seville, forbidding the sale of scientific writings to Christians because the latter translated the writings and simply published them under another name. The research work of this historian has taken him 30 years of his life and required a survey of more than 1.5 million Arabic manuscripts.

In another example, it has been shown at an international symposium on the subject " East and West in the Middle Ages" held in 1969, that in the third book of Copernicus' On the Revolution of the Heavenly spheres," in the chapter (iv) " How the reciprocal movement of libration is composed of circular movements," the basic lemma was taken from the work of the famous Persian mathematician, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

The achievements of Muslim scientists in astronomy, physics, biology, medicine, chemistry, and mathematics are poorly known. Many of the known achievements are attributed to Western scientists. For example, the discovery and the whole concept of planetary motion is attributed to Kepler and Copernicus while not crediting the contribution of Ibn Al-Shatir, the Damascene astronomer (1304-1375 A.D) who, among his works, wrote a major book entitled " Kitab Nihayat al-Sul fi Tashih al-Usul" ( A Final Inquiry Concerning the Rectification of Planetary Theory) on a theory which departs largely from the Ptolemaic system known at that time. In his book " Ibn al-Shatir, an Arab astronomer of the fourteenth century, E.S.Kennedy wrote " what is of most interest, however, is that Ibn al-Shatir's lunar theory, except for trivial differences in parameters, is identical with that of Copernicus (1473-1543 A.D)." The discovery that the models of Ibn al-Shatir are mathematically identical to those of Copernicus raised the very interesting question of a possible transmission of these models to Europe.

A scholar such as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274 A.D) should also be mentioned when discussing the planetary models of Copernicus. Al-Tusi's best known works in astronomy are the " Ilkhani Tables" and the Tadhkirah". The latter is the most thorough criticism of Ptolemaic astronomy and presents the only new mathematical model of planetary motion to appear in Medieval times. Kennedy wrote a note about al-Tusi's planetary model saying : al-Tusi seems to have been the first to notice that if one circle rolls around inside the circumference of another, the second circle having twice the radius of the first, then any point on the periphery of the first circle describes a diameter of the second. This rolling device can also be regarded as a linkage of two equal and constant length vectors rotating at constant speed (one twice as fast as the other) . This has been the Tusi-couple. Nasir al-Din, by properly placing such a couple at the end of a vector emanating from the Ptolemaic equant center caused the vector to periodically expand and contract. The period of its expansion being equal to that of the epicycle's rotation about the Earth, the end-point of the couple carries the epicycle center with it and traces out a deferent which fulfills all the conditions imposed upon it by Ptolemy's observations. At the same time, the whole assemblage is a combination of uniform circular motions, hence unobjectionable, and it preserves the equant property, also demanded by the phenomenon itself." This planetary model most likely influenced Copernicus through Byzantine intermediaries and, with the work of al-Tusi's followers, contains all the novelty of Copernicus's astronomy except the heliocentric hypothesis.

Al-Battani, another Muslim astronomer, is to be credited for the discovery of the movement of the sun's apogee, the evaluation with great precision of the ecliptic's obliquity, and its progressive diminution. Contrary to Ptolemy, al-Battani proved the variation of the apparent angular diameter of the sun, and the possibility of annular solar eclipses. The indebtedness of Copernicus to al-Battani is well known. He quotes him fairly often especially in matters dealing with the problems of solar motion and of precession. The Baghdad School noted the irregularity of the Moon's highest altitude and discovered a third lunar inequality, known by the name of lunar variation. This was discovered by Abu'l Wafa (a crater on the Moon is named after him) and is wrongly attributed to the Danish scholar, Tycho Brahe, who lived six centuries after Abu'l Wafa. The introduction to spherical astronomy was with al-Battani. He was the first to use in his works the expression sine" and " cosine" The introduction to trigonometry of these concepts proved to be of capital importance. This was credited to Regimontanus who lived five centuries after al-Battani. Another Muslim astronomer, al-Bitruji, considered Ptolemy's system to be mathematically not physical regarding the order of the spheres of the inferior planets. Finally, we should also mention al-Mahani (b.860 A.D) who was able to predict three lunar eclipses within an half hour's accuracy.

These are only a few examples of the achievements astronomy. Other examples exist in other fields as well. It is an important task now to reconsider this tremendous heritage, since Islamic science has not yet gained its rightful place. The scientific achievements of Muslim scholars in medieval time have yet to be fully recognized and duly appreciated in the West.

It will be very unjust from our part to state that the history of Islamic science has been completely neglected. Scholars like H. Suter, C. Brockelmann, H.P.J. Renaud, M. Krause, G. Sarton, J. Sedillot, F. Woepcke, C.A. Nallino, 0. Neugebauer, E.S. Kennedy, A.P. Youschkevitch, B.A. Rosenfeld, 0. Gingerich, D.A. King, A. Sayili, and many others have contributed a lot to our present knowledge of Muslim scholars of medieval times. Original manuscripts have been translated and analyzed after carefull identifications by Muslim and non-Muslim historians. Many libraries and museums over all the world hold thousands of these manuscripts still awaiting detailed studies necessary to grasp the full importance of Islamic science. The task can be difficult for the historian of science since many of the works do not exist in their original Arabic forms. Some Latin translations are just pure literary translations without any regards to the scientific contents. This has brought about some scientific inconsistencies with what is known from different other sources putting in doubt the contribution of some important Muslim scholars.

When still a graduate student, I was attracted by the history of science in medieval Islam because I felt that some injustice is being done to al-Biruni, al-Khwarizmi, Ibn al-Haytham, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, al-Tabari, al-Farghani Ibn al-Shatir, al-Kashi, and so many others regarding their contribution to our present knowledge of science. It is difficult to realize the place of Islamic science since the available sources are so widely spread and the information so widely different. When I started my research, I felt the need to have a document with all the answers to my questions, but I could not find one. Many important works exist on the contributions of Muslim scholars, but most of them are either outdated or in a language that cannot help the reader to grasp the full importance of these scholars. This is where this new bibliography falls in. It should first be noted that this book is mainly a bibliographical research. Most of the information exists elsewhere and has been reported here with full credit. The main purpose of this work is to have a handy document for easy reference, while the sophisticated reader is urged to refer to the main original article or to the tremendous secondary references for a deep study. In all cases, this first edition is a tentative approach to the history of Islamic science and the list of scholars reported is by no means complete.

I hope that you will enjoy reading this bibliography as much as I enjoyed writing it. I will be glad to hear from the readers, and I invite you to send me your reactions to the book and suggestions for how I can improve future editions. You can send your comments to the address given in my homepage.

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