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Arab Science

Arab Science

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Published by Salah Y.
Looking to history what Arab & Islamic World gave to science during the florshing of Islamic area.
Looking to history what Arab & Islamic World gave to science during the florshing of Islamic area.

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Published by: Salah Y. on Feb 01, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Saudi Aramco World : Rediscovering Arabic Sciencehttp://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200703/rediscovering.arabic.science.htm[26/07/2012 9:15:19 a.m.]
Volume 58, Number 3
An astronomer calculates the position of a starwith an armillary sphere and a quadrant in this
Written by Richard Covington
ou have to hand it to AhmedDjebbar: The science historiancertainly knows how to draw acrowd. As we circulate among theastrolabes, maps and hydraulic models of aneye-opening Paris exhibition on medievalArabic science, curious museum-goers gatheraround us.“Did you know that the Egyptian doctor Ibnal-Nafis recognized that the lungs purifyblood in the 13th century, nearly 350 yearsbefore the Europeans?” he asks, standing infront of an anatomical drawing of the humanbody. “Or that the Arabs treated the mentallyill with music therapy as early as the ninthcentury?”Examining a case of rare manuscripts, thedapper Lille University professor launchesinto a mini-lecture before the rapt group. The13th-century Persian astronomer Nasir al-Dinal-Tusi, the author of one of the yellowingArabic-language texts, upended thegeocentric Greek view of the universe,Djebbar explains, by declaring Ptolemy’smodel of planetary motion flawed andcreating his own more accurate, but stillEarth-centered, version. Three centuries later,the Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicusborrowed al-Tusi’s model to make theshocking proposition that the Earth revolvesaround the sun. “Al-Tusi made hisobservations without ctelescopes or evenglasses,” says Djebbar, removing his ownspectacles and waving them theatrically in theair. “Even though the Arabs possessed theknowledge to make lenses, they probablythought it was an idiotic idea. God made us
May/June 2007
Saudi Aramco World : Rediscovering Arabic Sciencehttp://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200703/rediscovering.arabic.science.htm[26/07/2012 9:15:19 a.m.]
illustration from a 16th-century Ottomanmanuscript.
The 10th-centuryastronomer Abu Sa’id al-Sizji held thecontemporary view that the Earth was the centerof the universe, but he modeled the solar systemon the concept that the Earth rotated on its axis —as shown in this display at the Institute for theHistory of Arab–Islamic Science in Frankfurt.
The earliest known medical description of theeye, from a ninth-century work by Hunayn ibnIshaq, is shown in this copy of a 12th-centurymanuscript at the Institute.
Kamal al-Din
like this; why hang something on our noses tosee better?” he jokes, placing his glassesback on his nose with a flourish. His audienceerupts into laughter as Djebbar, who wascurator of “The Golden Age of ArabicSciences”—the Paris exhibition, which ranfrom October 2005 through March 2006 atthe Arab World Institute—tries to quiet themdown.For most westerners, and indeed for manyArabs, the spectacular achievements of Arabic-language science from the eighththrough the 16th centuries come as a startlingdiscovery, as if an unknown continent hadsuddenly appeared on the horizon. Inmathematics, astronomy, medicine, optics,cartography, evolutionary theory, physics andchemistry, medieval Arab and Muslim scientists, scholars, doctors and mapmakers werecenturies ahead of Europe. Centers for scientific research and experimentation emergedacross Muslim lands—in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Samarkand, Shiraz, Bukhara,Isfahan, Toledo, Córdoba, Granada and Istanbul.Generations of science historians once rejected Islamic accomplishments. One critic,the French physicist Pierre Duhem, even accused Muslims of trying to destroy classicalscience in his 1914–1916 historic survey
 Le Système du Monde (The System of theWorld).
Others asserted that the Arabic language itself was not suited for science,contends Roshdi Rashed, the dean of Islamic science in France. “Otherwise well-respected scholars like Ernest Renan and Paul Tannery excluded even the possibility of an Arabic contribution to science,” says Rashed, a former fellow at the Institute forAdvanced Studies in Princeton, professor emeritus at the University of Paris and editorof the three-volume
 Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science.
Although an alternative spectrum of sciencehistorians, beginning with the 19th-centuryEuropean Orientalists Jean-Jacques Sédillotand Eilhard Wiedemann and including the20th-century Harvard professor GeorgeSarton, staunchly promoted the pivotalArab/Muslim role in science, the generalpublic has remained largely unaware of Arabdiscoveries. The 1300-year period between
Saudi Aramco World : Rediscovering Arabic Sciencehttp://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200703/rediscovering.arabic.science.htm[26/07/2012 9:15:19 a.m.]
al-Farisi’s 13th-century demonstration of theseparation of the visible spectrum of light bydouble refraction, reproduced in this display atthe Institute for the History of Arab–IslamicScience in Frankfurt, helped advance the scienceof optics.
Arab astronomers study the heavens in this printfrom a commentary on Cicero’s
Somnium Scipionis,
whose central character rangesthrough the celestial spheres that surround theEarth, and carry the planets and the stars.
Canon of Medicine 
by Ibn Sina(known as Avicenna in the West) was firsttranslated from Arabic into Latin in the 12thcentury and into Hebrew in 1279. It served as thechief guide to medical science in Europe and wasused in medical schools there until the mid-17thcentury.
the Greek golden age of science (from thefifth century BC to the second century of ourera) and the 15th-century Italian Renaissancewas perceived as a scientific desert. If Arabscholars were acknowledged at all outsideacademia, they were seen merely as usefulmessengers, conduits who preserved theclassical Greek knowledge of Euclid,Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Ptolemy,Archimedes and others through Arabic texts.True enough, much of ancient science cameback to Europe via Arabic translations, whichwere subsequently translated into Latin andother languages. (See“Lines of Transmission”). Some key texts, likePtolemy’s
, Galen’s commentary on Hippocrates’ treatise
 Airs, Waters,Places
and the final chapters of the third-century BC mathematician Apollonius’ book on conic sections exist only thanks to the Arabic translations, since the original Greek manuscripts have all disappeared.But according to astrophysicist Jean Audouze, director of the French National Centerfor Scientific Research in Paris, the Arabs were not simply transmitters of Greek concepts; they were creators in their own right. Like Djebbar and Rashed, Audouze isone of a small number of dedicated scholars —fewer than 150 in France, Germany andBritain, but also scattered through the US, Arab countries, Asia and Latin America—who are struggling to give Arabic science the long overdue respect it deserves.“One of the more drastic consequences of thedismissal of the vast Islamic contribution isthat you cannot understand classical sciencewithout it,” argues Rashed. “If you reduce thedistance between Greek science and 17thcentury science, you are going to say, forexample, that Apollonius first conceivedalgebraic geometry. But he has nothing of thekind in his writings. ”“Either you push Apollonius to invent ideashe did not have or you pull back 17th-centuryscholars closer to Greek levels of understanding. This results in very seriouserrors of perspective. But if you take intoaccount Arabic science, you are better able tounderstand what is truly new in the 17th-century outlook and the steps that led fromGreek classical science.”

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