Situating Arabic Science: Locality versus Essence

Author(s): A. I. Sabra
Source: Isis, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 654-670
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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I am greatly honoredto have been invited to give this talk. 1996.00 654 This content downloaded from 158. may restrictthemselves to analyzing the formal or logical and timeless structureof a piece of scientific thought. I. There can be no history of science that is not concernedwith a localized episode or a sequenceof such episodes. they are especially concernedwith science as a process that takes place in actual time or science as a series of phenomenathat.But historiansof science have a differenttask.Minnesota. Philosophersof science. to whom my thanksare due. 28 October 1995. For while they can ignore the cognitive core of scientific practice only at the cost of forfeiting their claim to a distinctive problematicand a distinctive discipline. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 87: 654-670 C) 1996 by The History of Science Society. Isis. All history is local. HarvardUniversity. individuals acting in what we broadly call "culturalsettings. and the history of science is no exception. Science Center235.or they may substitutean emphasison growthas a basic featureof scientific inquirythat requiresfor its logical elucidationthe additionof a temporaldimension that retains an abstractcharacter. or some of them.HISTORYOF SCIENCE SOCIETY DISTINGUISHED LECTURE Situating Arabic Science Locality versus Essence By A.or. and indeed producedby. or criticisms by the anonymous referees."The thesis outlinedin these few abstractsentences is but a generalizationof a weak version of the familiarcontextualistthesis in scientific historiography. 0021-1753/96/8401-0001$01. some of them in response to comments. Cambridge.31 on Tue. I have since made a few additions and changes.Massachusetts 02138. Minneapolis. Sabra* LOCALITY AS A FOCUS OF HISTORIOGRAPHY I trustthat no one would wish to contest the propositionthat all history is local historywhetherthe locality is that of a short episode or of a long story. owing to their special characterof chronological and geographicallocality. to put it another * Departmentof the History of Science. we call "historical"-this "special character"being due to the fact thatthe phenomenain questionare not merely in space and time but events associated with.134. questions.251. This lecture was delivered at the annualmeeting of the History of Science Society. All rights reserved.

I. I hope.I am aware that all of this has been said before and in various ways by philosophersand historiansto serve ratherdifferent agendas. I said "weak version" because I do not wish to subscribe to a stronger.reductionist version that seems to me to misinterpretthe local characterof cognitive expression and behaviorby appearingto deprivethem of objective I hope you are.KarlPopper(on methodologicalindividualism. and in which the resultsof the activities referredto were for the most part expressed in the Arabic language. science in terms of location in space and time: the termArabic (or Islamic) science denotes the scientific activities of individualswho lived in a region that roughly extended chronologically from the eighth century A. logic. and geographicallyfrom the IberianPeninsulaand North Africa to the Indus valley and from southernArabiato the CaspianSea-that is. undeniablefact of the local characterof all events.134. to avoid misunderstanding. a cognitive context that itself is location-bound. among other things. 2. includinghistoricalevents. or what may also be called Islamic. not concerned with the thought content of science as such (that would be to engage in science. to be genuinely historical. SABRA 655 way. In other words.At the risk of being much too brief. I am persuaded.because all historicalevents are local. and Alfred North Whitehead(all about events). 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . not being an event in the spatiotemporalworld. And this means that engaging in science. then. but with the historical occurrence of the recognition of thought.I will just addthe observationthatrecognitionof thoughtalways involves. all history of science must be contextual.From this it would seem to follow that the historicalstudy of scientific thoughtis. intimatelyconnected with each other. and 3). the Pythagoreantheorem. to the beginning of the modernera. a frameworkthat is not irrelevantto other scientific traditionsand that may even propose a correctionto other historiographiesthat seem to pay little or no attentionto the interculturaltransmissionof scientific knowledge. logic.are.But recognizing it as a theoremin a given geometricalsystem with certaindefinablefeatures was the achievementof someone or other who certainlyhad such coordinates. situationallogic. Let us begin with an apparentlyneutraland innocent definitionof Arabic. that locality is not a propertyof a piece of scientific thought-say. or philosophical analysis).' My purposehere is to try to illustratethe advantagesof a strict adherenceto the axiom of locality in situatingthe traditionof Arabic science with referenceboth to the place that this traditionoccupies in the general history of science and to its place in the civilization where it emerged and developed.A. Since a historicalevent is where and when and how it is. and philosophicalanalysis may all be involved in the historical study of scientific thought.But what about the term scientific in it? What does it the sense of being partof a problem situationthat depends on the existing state of knowledge at a given time and place. and I For ideas underlyingthe theoreticalstructureof this essay I am indebted to the writings of Gottlob Frege (on the distinctionbetween thoughtand recognitionof thought). Obviously what I shall present to you can only be the bare sketch of what might be described as a frameworkfor research. So.D. My discussion will thus be concernedwith two contexts that. We need not be concernedover the refinementsthat obviously need to be introducedeven into this seemingly neutraldefinition. inseparablytied to all the circumstancesthat combine to define it for us as historians. This content downloaded from 158. as I shall suggest.31 on Tue. let me indicatewhat I mean with just a sentence or two before I get on to my subject proper. contextualismis but an obvious consequence of the simple. the region covered for most of thatperiodby what we call Islamic civilization. strictlyspeaking. though distinct from one another. has no space-time coordinates. the Pythagoreantheorem.251. but. interactionof Worlds 1.

App.A perceivedemphasis on algebra in the Arabic traditionhas been attributedto certain features of Semitic languages that make these languages or their native users prone to "algebraization. pp. 117-119 (on "le r6alismedes arabes"). E. J.the studyof any past intellectualactivity can be relevantto what we call "historyof science" only to the extent that such an activity can be shown to help us understandthe modes of thought and expression and behavior thatwe have come to associatewith the word science. does not mean thatthey are sharplydefinedor unproblematic). without aiming to replace other approachesthat put the emphasis on certain concerns of sociology or anthropologyor culturalhistory. 1964). ed. including its scientific products.A. 1:3-16.1983)."Arabica. Ch. pp. our historiographyof science will always change as a function of our changingposition. by the way. 207-216 (and see the index under"ArabianCulture").and. of naturalaptitudesor inclinations of a certain race or inherentmentality. of religion as an inexorableshapingforce. the questions we pose from our vantage point and the terms in which these questions are framed. J. But. (London:Allen & Unwin. Islamic religion has been cited both as the origin and source of vigor of medieval Islamic science and as the majorcause of its final demise. 2 (Paris: Vrin. And the "spiritof culture. 337-361. from the Beginnings to 1450. trans.Nor should this admissionto a definitepoint of view discourageor detractfrom investigatingpast modes of thoughtand expression and behaviorunderother categoriesdeemed suitablefor elucidatingthese modes "in their own terms."as opposed to Greek "geometrization. and Oswald Spengler. Ren6 Taton. One 2 Roger Arnaldezand Louis Massignon. or as one inevitable expression of a world cultureof which Islamic civilization was a late embodiment. 1954. 385-421."in Islam and Medieval Hellenism: Social and CulturalPerspectives (London: Variorum.therefore.Recherches sur 1'histoirede l'astronomie ancienne (Paris: Gauthier-Villars. p."in this case a Magianculturealreadyat work in "so-called"late antiquity.251. pp.has been invoked to account for every aspect of Islamic civilization. esp."as the phrase goes. This is not anachronism. pp. Vol. and its ultimatefate have all been variouslyexplained in terms of language as a matrixof thoughtand expression. pp.2 It is not difficult to expose the weaknesses from which such explanationssuffer. 6."MuslimWorld View and Muslim Science. 26. "R6flexionssur la structureprimitive de l'analyse grammaticale en arabe."Islamand Hellenism. Vol. Science and scientificare our own terms and they express our own concepts (which." in Paul Tannery. 1. than a corollary of it: that all history of science is local. Vol. pp. Ch. the course of its development. 2 vols.134. 1963)."And so I am led to combine a self-evident propositionwith anotherthat seems no more. esp. 1969). hence. and no history of science can ever be neutral."Journal of WorldHistory. esp." in Islam: Essays in the Nature and Growth of a Cultural Tradition(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. and no less. 71-73. trans. von Grunebaum. esp."The Problem of Islamic Decadence. Le systeme du monde. To Save the Phenomena:An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theoryfrom Plato to Galileo. 111-126. 3. 117179. 25-35. 1954). "Les spheres c6lestes selon Nasir-Eddln Attfisi.31 on Tue. whiggism. Saunders. Pierre Duhem. 1976)."The persistentattemptsof Islamic astronomersto construct kinematic models primarily designed to save the principles and the logical consistency of Ptolemaic astronomyhave been seen as a sign of poverty of imagination or of the tendencyof the "Semiticmind"towardthings it can easily perceiveby the senses. 7:701-720. trans.656 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE can it be regardedas in any way "innocent"?To me it seems clear that the only correct answerto this last question must be an unequivocalNo. G. J. pp. The characterof Arabic science. The Decline of the West. 1963. Pomerans(New York: Basic. 2.Duhem. 1959). or any of the other objectionableisms.EdmundDolan and ChaninahMaschler (Chicago/London:Univ. Chicago Press. BernardCarrade Vaux. Massignon. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "ArabicScience. 1." in History of Science: Ancient and Medieval Science. pp. This content downloaded from 158. Charles Francis Atkinson. 402-405. its strengthsandfailings. von Grunebaum. but a consequence of the fact that we who are writing the history also have a location of our own that defines our perspective and. being ourselvesforeverlocated at the end point of the process that is continually shaping and reshaping what we call "science.presentism.

Press.and others like them. Now locality-that is. Translationsinto Arabic had been made earlier. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and cultureas factors in the formationof a scientific enterprisethat consciously adoptedearliertraditionswith markedlydifferentlanguagesand religious and cultural values but. the Islamic empire alreadyencompassedlarge areas-including Egypt.and before the ninth century was over Islamic rule had reachedKashmirin the east and Khwarazmto the north.One can relate the theoreticalprogramof Islamic astronomersto the work of Ptolemy himself and to earlierideals of Greek astronomy.31 on Tue. unfortunately.their essentialist character. I. AND HELLENISM IN NINTH-CENTURY BAGHDAD The powerful drive that eventually led to the transferof the bulk of Greek science and philosophy (as well as elements of the scientific thoughtof Indiaand Persia)to Islam was launchedas a massive translationeffort thattook place in the context of empire and under the patronageof the confident Abbasid court in Baghdad.Mass. W. insofar as it can be explainedat all. if you like. in fairness to those who have advanced explanationsof these sorts. but as the outcome of choices by individualsand groups respondingto their situationsas they perceived and experiencedthem.And. Cambridge. not in termsof essences or spiritsor inevitabilities. to the considerableand highly successful efforts of Islamic mathematiciansin the fields of geometry and trigonometry. rather.A. the characterof being local-is an ineradicableor.Under their predecessors. Syria.does not seem to have discouragedtheir influence on minds that seek ready-madeand perhapscomfortingexplanations. One can point out the great complexity of the relationshipbetween science and religion throughoutIslamic history and in variouspartsof the Islamic world.which has tended to prejudiceor obstruct historical research.In the early Abbasid period the higher administrationof the court itself was in the hands of cultivatedPersianswho had gained much favor and influencewith the Abbasidrulersand whose intellectual interests inclined them to various forms of secular learning and to a rationalizingapproachfor understandingmattersof religious belief. THE INTERSECTION OF ISLAMISM. What is wrong with these explanations. in many cases. Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (1962. And one can easily show the vacuousness of theories born of the spirit-of-cultureapproach. and these had been preceded in the Middle East by translationsfrom the Greek into Syriac and Persian. the Umayyads who ruled from Damascus (661-750).251. Southern. ARABISM. This content downloaded from 158. but the actual where and when and how of any such events are happeningscreated by human effort. for example. pp.134. and Persia-that had come under the influence of Hellenism from the time of Alexander. Some of these Persian officials acted as translators./London:Harvard Univ.especially from Persian. Richard Southern once described the process of acquisitionand adaptationof Greek learningin Islam as "the most astonishing event in the history of thought. With the sure perceptiveness of a true historian. 8-9. Let me illustrate. 1978). and the best way I know to explain the unexpectedin history. religion. SABRA 657 can refer.but it was the Abbasids who mounted a concentrated translationeffort soon after they came to power in the middle of the eighth century and who furtherorganizedand intensifiedtheir supportduringthe ninth century. about Islamic civilization-a fact that. it must be said that they tend to be poorly informed(or worse) aboutArabic science and. is not their consideration of language. and in general they constitutedan I R."3The event is astonishingbecause it strikes us as unexpected. is to try to understandit. These lectures were delivered at Harvardin April 1961. an essential propertyof all historical events.

in orderto refer to the way in which individualsin a given cultureaspect anotherculture as they direct their gaze to the other from their own location.134.that is to say.658 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE important. and of translatorsalready conversantwith these languages and with Greekthoughtitself in a numberof scientific.medical. The result was a huge intellectual ferment. and multiple dimensions of that movement. ensured a certain continuity with the classical tradition-a continuity that was largely lacking. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . centered especially in multiculturalIraq. that ideology had come into directcontactwith a large varietyof creeds (Jewish. The survival of these pockets of Hellenic learningduringthe first centuriesof Islamic rule in the Middle East andAsia. Christian. through the Sabians of Harran. often in terms borrowed from its opponents. It was from these two last groupsthat the Abbasids were able to recruitthe scholarswho carriedout the translations of Greek medical. for example. in the context of religion and politics and power and the variety of competingways to salvation. aspecting.thatthe stage was set.Muslim thinkers were able to view This content downloaded from 158.etc. and Persia) had maintaineda long-establishedtraditionof Hellenized Syriac learning. Already during the swift expansion of Islamic conquests. Aspecting in this sense is conditioned both by the interests.Islamic religion had introduceda new ideology with sweeping and universalist claims. a very complex andlive intellectualatmosphere?Withregardto the creationof the tradition of science and philosophy in Islam. aspirations.31 on Tue. philosophical. at a certainplace and time. philosophy. in Greek or Syriac versions. Or. and philosophicaldisciplines. One might then say.Manichaean. But in orderto explain the momentum. Thus. even sophistication. Mazdian. I am temptedto borrow an obsolete term.scope.and aptitudesof the aspecting individuals and by the accessible aspects of the viewed culture. for example.thatthe creationof these fields of thought representedthe responses of so many groups of individualsto aspects of what was.) with which it inevitablycollided and againstwhich it had not merely to defend but-much more importantly-to define itself. should we not rathersay. in the case of the "Renaissanceof the Twelfth Century. it is necessary to go beyond the availabilityof which the movements of Islamic theology.determinedeffort.In the earlier Middle Easternepisode. and with muchjustification. and even beyond the importantconsideration of practicalexpectations that must have loomed large at least in the minds of the Muslim patrons.that characterizedscientific writings in Arabic from an early period that overlappedthe translationmovement. who continuedto pursue their interests in Greek logic and philosophy in scatteredmonastic schools.One consisted of Christianphysicians and Christiantheologians."when Europeanscholars first had to journey to the edges of Western Christendomto acquire Arabicand Greeklearningfrom acrossthe borderswith Islam andByzantium. for the translationmovementthatquickly acquiredunprecedentedproportionsunprecedentednot only in the Middle East but in the world at large. Iraq.politically influentialpart of Baghdad's intellectual elites. this continuitymeantthe immediateavailabilityof texts. and mathematicalworks into Arabic. more accurately. the aspects thathappen to be disclosed to them by the accidents of history or by their further.And although much additionalGreek materialwas later to be brought over the borderswith Byzantium.the continuitywith the Greco-Syriactraditionhelps to explain the high level of competence. and science owed their birth. in northernMesopotamia. either from preexisting Syriac versions or directly from the Greek. Two other groups within the empire (and concentratedmainly in Syria. althoughscatteredand limited at firstin scope ancient Semitic group whose astralreligion connectedthem to Hellenistic astrology and astronomyand to Hermeticism. the otherwas the pagan Sbians of Harran.251.

But it was the westward gaze that proved most enticing and. Zeitschriftfur Geschichte der Arabisch-IslamischenWissenschaften. "The Transformationof the Quadrivium. in Sabra.5 The scholarsof eighth. But I must emphasize the significance of his deep involvementin a theological disputethatpromptedhim to initiatethe "inquisition"against the conservative opponents of the Mu'tazilite school of kalam (or "theology")that he favored. Avi-Yonah. its conditioningby the oppressive dominationof the Malikitefakihs. 4:93-105. Press. SABRA 659 facets of Hellenistic thought that might not have been available to them by way of the Christiantheologians. al-Biit4iji: A Study of Scientific Decision-Makingin the Middle Ages.: HarvardUniv. as has been plausibly suggested.Astronomy."in Transformationand Tradition in the Sciences: Essays in Honor of L Bernard Cohen. This content downloaded from 158. Chs. medieval Western science obviously reflected. Robert L. 465: "Having found its principal Arabic sources in Spain.the relativelylate date of the Arabo-Latin versions of Aristotle's naturalphilosophy.Astronomy."an expression that clearly revealed a sense of distance in time between themselves. 463487.the choices of the Hispano-Moslemculture.ed. most consequential.even as the appropriatorsset about gaining possession of the ancientlegacies with greatenergy.The lack of interestin abstractmathematics. "The Two Movements of Translationinto and from Arabic and Their Importancein the History of Thought"(in Arabic). with its peculiarities of history and geography. ed. pp.Both looks deeply affected the characterof Arabic science.who had alreadymadetheirown choices fromtheirown standpoints.6Withoutaiming here to unfold the full meaningof that sense of distance(which has frequentlybeen misinterpretedand misused in modem scholarship). And.Optics. in Sabra."In additionto the referencescited by Beaujouansee A.Optics. S.not even briefly. 133-153. at the start."in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century.and Logic. Press. especially in mathematicsand astronomy.whose contributionsas a patronof astronomicalresearchand as the one who turnedthe library of Greekphilosophicalsciences collected by his immediatepredecessorsinto an organized center of translationare well known. the absence of Greek literatureand Greek historiographyfrom the translatedcorpusmay be attributableto a lack of acquaintanceor serious In a similarway. rpt. I. 25:223-243.1994). the failure to use importantworks by easternArabic scholars:all are explained by the evolution of Arabic science in the Iberian peninsula. I will not expand.let me indicatebrieflyhow it was understoodand evaluatedby some of those who promotedor participatedin the appropriationdrive of the ninth century. on p. Julio Sams6. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . I. 1982)." Archives Internationalesd'Histoire des Sciences.Some years ago I used the term appropriationto characterizethe attitudeof Muslim scholarsand patronswho made it their business to get hold of and make their own what they called "the sciences of the ancients.1994).4 century Arabo-Latintranslationsin northernSpain were understandablylimited to the types and the levels of the learning that was currentlyavailable in Al-Andalus. Islamic Astronomyand Medieval Spain (Aldershot:Variorum."TheAndalusianRevolt against Ptolemaic Astronomy: Averroes and al-Bitriujl."History of Science. with all the features of that learning that had undoubtedlybeen shaped by a combinationof circumstancespeculiarto Al-Andalus.and ninth-centuryIraqlooked east to Persia and Indiaand west to Greece and especially to Alexandria. I. 1987.31 on Tue.134. Sabra. as it turnedout. Benson and Giles Constable (Cambridge. 1984). 35:124-147. on the role of the Abbasidcaliph al-Ma'miin. rpt.its particularistpride within the Islamic world. It is naturalto think of a connection between al-Ma'miin's supportof the Mu'tazilite emphasison the role of reasonin elucidatingreligious dogma and his championing 4Paul Kunitzsch. and R. esp. 1985."TheAppropriationand SubsequentNaturalizationof GreekScience in Medieval Islam. 1 and 12.A. 5Guy both of which we find combinations of identifiableelements from the East and the West.and the appropriatedlegacy of "the ancients" (al-mutaqaddimun). Sabra. pp.Mass. the predominanceof astronomyand astrologyin the early translations. "Ptolemyvs. EverettMendelsohn(Cambridge:CambridgeUniv. the twelfth-andthirteenthintereston the partof the Christiantranslators. 6A. as "the modems" (al-muta'akhkhirun).1987/ 1988.251.and Logic (Aldershot:Variorum.

therebyallowing us to add their plenty to the little we have. in a passage that is characteristicfor its utter lack of inhibitionor ambiguity: "Our share of wisdom would have been much reduced. p. 1871-1872). we find strong acknowledgmentof the accomplishmentsof ancientGreece that is combinedwith the assertionof truthas the universalgood thatmust be sought out wherever it may be found.we are told." and in the thirdplace with what is accepted by "the majority of people" (i.The story reporteda dreamthat the caliph was alleged to have had. 2nd ed. the Greeks) for their considerableintellectualcontributionto the scantypossessions of the people of his time andplace and culture. and our means of acquiring knowledge weakened. Vol. the Greekphilosopheridentifiesits authoritativesource in the firstplace with reason(al. was also the leader of a prominentbranch of Mu'tazilism named after him (al-Jahiziyya) and a reader of Aristotle. In answerto al-Ma'miin'squestion aboutthe natureof "thegood" (al-hasan).251. 303-304). 163-180.."FThudiudal-ashya wa rusiimiha.660 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE of Greekscience andphilosophy. 'Azrir Taha alSayyid Ahmad (Cyprus:Dar al-Shabab. in writings which have revealed what was hidden from us and opened what was closed to us.he was much closer to the Abbasid court than al-Jdhiz. pp. In one of his most importantworks. 842-847]). Kitab al-Hayawan.'aql). in additionto a clear concept of the growth of knowledge as a process of accumulationthat requiresthe cooperative effort of different peoples and successive generations. The suggested connection between Greek rationalismand Islamic Mu'tazilismis impossible to 1987). had the ancients not preserved for us their wonderful as interpretedby reason ('aql). Al-Kindr'sMetaphysics:A Translationof Yaqiib ibn Ishaq al-KindT'sTreatise "On First Philosophy" (Albany: State Univ. the majority of legal scholars). and arguablythe single most importantfigure in this phase of appropriation. ed. Vol. 870). Al-Jahiz.e.31 on Tue. and to attainwhat we could not reach without them. thatthe Qur'an-as the speech of God-had not existed from all eternity but was created.He wrote. one quickly detects an attitude of openness and gratefulness to the recently imported wisdom. 1950). dedicated to al-Mu'tasim. 1 (Cairo: MaktabatM. and it was in the name of divine in which none other than the pagan Aristotle appearedas an instructorto the "overawed"Commanderof the Believers..which al-Ma'miinandhis two immediatesuccessors sought to impose on the conservativelegists. Turningnow from the patronal-Ma'miinto leading Muslim intellectualsof the period. ed.134.As a tutorto a son of Caliph al-Mu'tasim. he thanks "the ancients"(i. ed. p. mingled with a feeling of high optimism and a certain trust in humanismthat was quite pronounced."in Rasa'il alKindTal-falsafiyya. This content downloaded from 158. ca. 1 (Cairo:Dar al-Fikral. Gustav Fliigel (Leipzig. pp. al-Mu'tasim and alWathiq [833-842.the celebratedMuslim philosopher. In one version of the dreamAristotle ends by urging his Muslim studentto upholdthe unity of God (wa'alayka bi l-tawhid) !7 Affirmationof the unity of God (tawhrd)was the first article in the Mu'tazilite credo. FTal-sina'a al-'u. was a member of the Arab nobility (his grandfather. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and one of the most influentialfigures in the history of Arabic literature. M. and mathematician al-Kindli(d.Arabl. the monumentalBook of Animals. 85."8 An exact contemporaryof al-Jahiz. 1. Al-Kindl. 1974).e.We areeven given a hintof a contemporaryinterpretation of such a connection in a story thatcirculatedin tenth-centuryBaghdad. New York Press. 869). 243 (also in an edition by Rid.9These were the deep convictions of a true devotee. and Al-Kindli. al-Babi alHalabl. AbiuRida. in the second place with "the (religious) law. 'Abd al-Salam Hariin.The majorArabic prose writer of the period. was amrrof al-Kulfain southernIraq).if not earlier.I Tajaddud[Tehran. In his work On First Philosophy. 9 Alfred Ivry. and their various ways of life.scientist. Vol. 1965). I Ibn al-Nadlim. which owed much to Aristotle and which he dedicatedto the famous wazjr Ibn al-Zayyat(who served the Abbasid court in the reigns of al-Ma'miin's successors.1971]. that the Mu'tazilamaintainedthe doctrine.

THE COLLEGE.A. 2). (Paris:CalmannLdvy. and Islamism. 1. See also Spengler. in fact. Al-KindT'sMetaphysics. of a very large number of Greek disciplines of science and philosophy. or Greek" and to open the way for empiricalresearchaimed at identifying the actual workings of these movements as revealed in the writings and recordsof those individualswho experienced and respondedto them.Al-Kind7i'smission.with supplementary clarificationsand additions when necessary.that the Pantheonbuilt by Hadrianin the second centurywas the first mosque ever. Arabism. it proved to be remarkablysuccessful-so successful.his immediaterole.251. "the perfecting of our [human]species. as he also conceived it."10But as one who lived in an Arabicculture. p. With these three pivotal figures in mind (and there are others that can be broughtinto considerationalong with them). I. This content downloaded from 158. as he said. 1. in Rasitil. 58. clearly reveals his adoptionof the humanistictheme."9 THREE LOCI OF SCIENTIFIC ACTIVITY IN ISLAM: THE COURT. AND THE MOSQUE Abundantrichness also awaits the empirical investigatorinto the subsequentcourse of scientificactivityin Islamiccivilization. at a certainplace andtime. are recognizableHellenistic themes. but not only was al-Kindliable to carryit out. to convert his Arabic-readingcontemporaries(ahl lisanina: the people who speak in our tongue) to the Greek wisdom that had captivatedhim-a task that he actuallyundertook to achieve by producinga huge numberof Arabic epitomes and adaptations. Islamic. and a sense of mission on the partof the authorto do his utmostto disseminatethe ancient and especially Greek heritage in his milieu.Vol. By viewing ninth-centuryBaghdad as a point of intersectionin the mannerI have tried to outline. But we all know betterthan to push the continuitythesis too far-especially not in the directionof blatantessentialism:to look on al-Kindlias a latter-dayHellene or Hellenist would be as helpful as the affirmation.p. Such a view of al-Kindi and other Muslims who sharedhis outlook in the ninth century would tear them away from their unique position in history and from the role they consciously andfreely chose to assumein the context of theirown culture. I am inclined to portraythat crucial phase in the appropriation process as the accomplishmentof individualswho experiencedthe intersection. Both this world view and this concept of wisdom. 103. a distinctconcept of wisdom in both the theoreticaland practicalsenses (also borrowedfrom the Greeks). Vol. of threemajormovementsat work-namely those of Hellenism.L'islamismeet la science. was to introduceand. his avowed intent being.31 on Tue. For the translationsee Ivry. ed. Decline of the West (cit. but my overridingaim is to direct attentionto the complexity and richness of that extraordinarymoment and away from the misleading "essences.WhatI havejust describedis the attitudeof certain 10"idh kunnahirasan 'ala tatmiminaw'ina":al-Falsafa al-dla. n. as to make him truly worthy of the reputationhe quickly gained as one of the foundersof the Arabic traditionin philosophy and science. No doubt there is reason here to celebratethe creative genius of a moment in the history of civilization. This was a preposterouslyoptimistic project for anyone to envisage. I hope to renderuseless such questions as whetherthe scientific traditionthen being establishedwas essentially Arabic.134. as well as the universalistcharacterof al-Kindli'smission. SABRA 661 and they carriedwith them an entireHellenic or Hellenistic world view. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . as he understoodit.found in Spengler's Decline of the West. 2nd ed. AbiuR7da. p. 1883). whethersinglehandedly or with the help of others. 211.he hoped. " ErnestRenan.

This content downloaded from 158. and the role of Galenic writings as a source of ideas and doctrinesthat shaped the minds and attitudesof Islamic philosophersand scientists.and in what sense.then and in laterperiods..Many of these practitionerswere also prolific writers on "philosophy. and in orderto bring you closer to an unfamiliarsituation I will startwith two general observationsby way of comparisonwith more familiarepisodes. These loci are the college or institutionof higher learning. My second observationpoints to anothercontrastbetween Islam and medieval Europethat is cruciallyimportantbut more difficultto describebriefly. falsafa was an all-embracingworld view that claimed the right to scrutinizeand account for everythingwithin the sphere of humanexperience.and a form of scholasticismfollowed.the place of science and naturalphilosophy and logic in the institutionsof medical educationand practice.No story of Arabic/Islamicscience or philosophyis complete withouttakinginto accounttheirrelationto medicalthought. of course. twelfth-centurySpain.The storyunfolds in at least threedistinctbut by no means isolated loci whose differentstructuresandmodes of operationand interactionhave yet to be explored from the standpointof our subject.and the mosque. thirteenth-centuryMaraghain northwesternIran. there were other. indeed.and tenth-centuryBaghdad.662 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE individualswho were favorably disposed to the importedknowledge and who played an active partin bringingaboutwhat laterprovedto be a long-lastingtradition. In those circumstancesscience and "philosophy. After all. and it will lead me at the end of my talk to pose the general question of whether. the European Renaissance of the sixteenth century was in part a reaction. of course.developed. did much to shape the course of Arabic science.But. I shall arbitrarilyignore the hospital as a result of excluding medicine from my presentaccount. The first is this: as far as science and philosophy are concerned. As I turn now to later developments. events followed the reverse order:the "renaissance"(if that is the right word) came first. might not have been followed by othersin the same direction or with the same determinationand vigor.our story acquiresa degree of complexity that I cannot hope to convey in a lecture. eleventh-centuryEgypt and central Asia. contemporaryindividualsand groups whose markedlydifferentor contraryattitudesand intellectual commitments. whether in ninth.In Islam. Hellenic) interpretationsof religious doctrinessuch as revelation or prophecy or providence and of religious institutionssuch as law. It is a complexity thatfurtherillustratesthe usefulness of the methodologicalconcept of locality.self-legitimizing mode of thinking from offering their own rationalistic(i. against patternsof thought and argumentassociated with medieval "scholasticism. Arabic science should be investigatedas a single enterprise. including religious experience. were secular activities that were practiced.e. a few first steps. as well as physicians.'2 I will begin with the college. in the ninth and tenth centuries. in the works of al-Kindli."In Islamic history. or fifteenth-century Samarkand.the royal or major scientific work associated with the names of those who were active at those times and places was carried out under the patronage of rulers whose primaryinterests lay in the practicalbenefits promised by the practitionersof medicine and astronomyand astrology and applied mathematics."a mode of thinkingknown by the Arabicizedterm falsafa and characterizedto a large extent by a mixture of Aristotelianand Neoplatonic doctrinesand forms of argument-the kind of mixturewe find.134. In 12 The only "excuse"for this exclusion is to avoid further complicatingan alreadycomplex picture. But I shall try to give you a sense of it.31 on Tue. even significantones. and propagatedas rational inquiries completely independentof any religious authority-which. the effect of medical patronage.251. And. which became more pronounced in the seventeenthcentury.and Avicenna. though not immediatelyand not uniformlyin all partsof the Muslim world."or falsafa. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . for example. did not prevent the proponentsof this autonomous.

31 on Tue. The one major exception.They graduallydeveloped somewhat varied and sometimes seemingly indecisive but sophisticatedand sophisticatedlyargued doctrinesconcerninga comprehensivearrayof subjectsthatrangedall the way from God and his relation to man and the world. It was this new philosophy."Arabic Sciences and Philosophy. of sorts. 2:7-37. 1992.well before the patronizedtranslation movement got under way. Sabra. followed a differentcourse-with important. the socalled madrasas that ultimately spreadwide and far over the Islamic world as endowed or charitableinstitutions.A.. See RichardM."Science and Philosophy in Medieval Islamic Theology. it should be noted. argument).But whateverthe remote sourcesof theirideas. The view of kalam as religious apologetics has been prevalentin modem literaturebut is currentlybeing revised. the "philosophyof the kalam. 1994. Gesch. in the Ash'arite version. to circumscribetheir role by subsuming their enterpriseunderthe authorityof falsafa. later found its way into the colleges of higher education. Islamic "theology. The Philosophy of the Kalam (Cambridge."as HarryWolfson called subtle and difficult speculationsabout the ultimateconstitutionof all createdbeing.Mass/London: HarvardUniv. is the twelfth-centuryAndalusianAverroes. that of al-Kindli. Islam."The Science of Kalam.obviously driven by their interestin currentreligious and political controversies. SABRA 663 one case among the prominentdevotees offalsafa. I.'4 that. 9:1-42. I. and despitetheirfundamental concern with the elucidationand critiqueof religious tenets. Arab. and Sabra. 13 A. I shall come back to him later. The madrasas."Z. Thefalasifa laterdubbedthese kalampractitionersas religious apologists. but who neverthelessbelieved himself to have inheritedthe mantle of Aristotle.251."or what has come to be known in Westernscholarshipby this name. as the activity of spontaneouslysproutinggroups of Muslim intellectuals in the urban centers of Basra and Baghdad who immersed themselves in probingdiscussions (kalam: speech.and of the later and subsequentlydominantAsh'arites. 14 HarryAustryn Wolfson.were influencedby a multiplicityof pre-Islamictraditionsin ways thatstill remainmostly veiled in obscurity. Frank. to questions of epistemology and morality and political leadership. who came from a celebratedtraditionalfamily of Malikitejurists and practicedthe Malikite version of Muslim law as a judge.134. discussion. Press.indeed far-reachingconsequencesfor the developmentof both science andfalsafa.a seriouscompromise was made by renouncingthe Greekdoctrineof the eternityof the world in favor of creatio ex nihilo. were first conceived of as primarilyschools of law. But unlike most of their Christiancounterpartsin medieval Europe. Now. It began to make a conspicuous appearance in the eighth century (the second Islamic century).the one favored by al-Ma'mtin. Wiss. if possible." This content downloaded from 158. it is my conviction (which I share with a few others) that the discourse of the early "school"of the Mu'tazila. which they characteristicallyproposedto understandin atomisticterms. I3 There can be no doubt that the early practitionersof kalam.therebyseeking to downgradetheir rivals or.represents an importantturnin the historyof philosophicalthought-one that gave rise to new styles of thinkingthat seriously challenged the Aristotelianismand Neoplatonism of falsafa by proposing a thoroughgoingatomism that viewed the world as a creative process. having been first introducedon a large scale in the eleventh century by the Sunnite Saljiiqs in Iraq and Persia as part of a political agenda and in response to the Ism'Tll-propagandaemanatingfrom FatimidEgypt and Syria."Science and Philosophy in Medieval Islamic Theology: The Evidence of the FourteenthCentury. Islamic philosophers(the self-styledfalasifa) and philosopher-scientistsin that Greek sense were not "theologians"or members of religious orders. 1976). 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the mutakalliman.

Some of my colleagues. Tibawi. as is now being realized. therefore. perhapsa large number. being afraidof the possible danger of diverting too much attention from the vast quantities of scientific texts that remain to be edited and analyzed.When and where and in what circumstancesdid thatprocesstake place? Was it one process or many? How did kalam manage to subduefalsafa. Many. 25:225-238). 24:1-56 (rev. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The skeptics have a point.of the madrasas included some teachingin arithmetic.about which the mutakallimtinhad a lot to say as an integralpartof their own world view? None of these questions can be answereda priori. Press. On the otherhand. if anything. This must be due in partto the long-held assumptionthat science and philosophy had no place in the madrasas. But there is no end to the questions that have yet to be examined.we only tempt others to fill the vacuum with easy and useless essentialist generalizations. Most of the recent publicationsare concerned with the Mamlik period (for which there is abundantmaterial). The madrasas were not. ibid. in general a locus where scientific research was promoted for its own sake. along with the indispensable disciplines of language and rhetoric. This content downloaded from 158. and I share their concern.Kalam."Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies.given thatfalsafa continuedto pursue its activities long after the advent of the madrasas.31 on Tue. and The Rise of Colleges: Institutionsof Learning in Islam and the West (Edinburgh:EdinburghUniv.of falsafa doctrinesand forms of argumentwas absorbed into kalam? How didfalsafa react to the assault of the altogetherabandoningall programsof full-fledged historicalresearch. which were first welcomed in Islam along with Greek theories of cosmology and epistemology and metaphysics (be they Hellenic or Hellenistic).. 1961. The sciences of the Greeks. which is not quite true.Othersare reluctantto embracethem.performed the dual function of supplying a superstructureof theory for the rest of the "religious sciences" as well as a substitutefor Greek metaphysicsand naturalphilosophy.251.astronomy. But this is not an either/ormatter.but the day when we know "enough" will never come. eventually came to be confrontedin the madrasasby a homegrownreligious philosophy thatclaimed to develop viable alternativesto the Greekparadigms. but see especially the wide-rangingstudies of George Makdisi: "Muslim Institutionsof Learningin Eleventh-CenturyBaghdad.They are all empiricalquestionsthat requireempiricalresearch. by A. but one in which science was interpretedand judged and 15 The literatureon the madrasa is growing rapidly.Thatmuch we can say in light of what we already know. at least in some parts of the Muslim world? And-the question of special importancefor the historianof science-what was the effect of the kalam point of view on the disseminationand development of scientific disciplines such as cosmology and astronomy. I am happyto say."my answer is this: it is only by attemptingto formulateappropriate questions that can be fruitfully examined in light of what we now know that we make it possible for others to come up with deeper and more probing questions in the future. Combiningthese two generalobservationsshould now help us to appreciatethe following result.and logic as partof the intellectualequipment of the practicingjurist.algebra. as creationsof privateendowments.but they have not yet directed special attentionto the question of the place of science and philosophy in the madrasas. are now beginning to tackle them in earnest.they generallyenjoyed a degree of informalitythatallowed for a variablerange of intellectual pursuits that depended on local circumstancesand the interests of their professors and their sponsors.664 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE an emphasis that they retainedthroughouttheir history.'5But.As for the argumentthat "we do not yet know enough to ask the big questions.134. 1962. 1981).We do not know much (that is for certain). L. given the tentative beginnings of the former and the originally strong and full-grown natureof the latter?How a study of the "fundamentaltenets of religion"(usul al-dTn).

with ratherdifferentimplicationsfor the place and authorityof the law. especially in the later period-and in some cases the systems of patronageand madrasa even seem to merge. Consideragainthe pagan sage. In both cases we encounteracceptanceof the authorityof an alien thinkerand of the intellectualvalues he represented. should develop a new theory of religious authority. and the religious ideology of the Almohad dynasty in the later Andalusianepisode.who was said to have inspiredCaliphal-Ma'mun and with whom the Malikite Muslim jurist Averroes identifiedhimself. For example. Ibn Yulnus.patternsof relationsbetweenpatron and client. enhanced by an emphatic self-conscious Andalusianidentityvis-a-vis the rest of the Islamicworld. It is. therefore.of educatedMuslims. 5). I.or experimentalscience.with referenceto this special context in all its geographical.Such exceptions should direct our attentionto the significant overlap among all three loci of courtpatronage. Most of the scholarswho were soon to be gatheredat Maragha were Muslims (thereare reportsof one or more Chinese scholars).In both cases a Muslim theological context was involved: Mu'tazilitekalam in the earlier man put in charge of organizingthe new enterprisewas Nasir al-Din al-Tilsi.political. a Persianfrom Tus with serious interestsin Shl'ite theology and Avicennan philosophy.whetherin mathematics. there were exceptions-sometimes importantones. and intellectualparticularitiesthat we should try to gain a historicalunderstandingnot only of Averroes'rebuttal to the attack launched by the Easternal-Ghazali against the falasifa.The differences were.or even completely.A.As always.and a new valuationof his adoptedAristotelianismthat set him against his Peripateticpredecessors and earlier mathematiciansin the easternpart of the Islamic world.Ibn al-Haytham. Aristotle. and so were the patterns of patronage. both of them Sunnis.It is not surprisingthatAverroes. as for example underUlugh Beg's initiativein fifteenth-centurySamarkand. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and implicationsfor the practiceof science are what we should expect to find as we turn our attentionto laterperiods. as the intellectual who responded most powerfully to this Andalusian situation. and al-Shirazl. he was alreadyfamous as a scholarand known to the Mongols as a competent astronomerand astrologer. But the theological commitmentswere differentin the two cases. n.contrastswith regardto attitudes.Two other scholars."AndalusianRevolt against Ptolemaic Astronomy"(cit. an event that markedthe beginningof one of the longer-lastingand importantepisodes in the history of Arabic science. (See Figure 1.Let me give an example with referenceto two or three situationsaboutwhich we know a little more than aboutthe rest. moreover. SABRA 665 presentedto a large their leader Hiilagulwas persuadedto establish an observatoryat Maraghain northwesternIran. and mosque. indeed the vast majority.251.a totally negative attitudeto kalam. thus bringing the Abbasid caliphate to an end.or greater. eitherpartially.) At age fifty-five when he surrenderedhimself to the Mongols upon their captureof the Isma'Ili stronghold of Alamut.16 What we are still far from understandingis how patronageworked in contexts that obviously differed from one center of activity to another. But the generalpictureof scientificadvancein Islam as a patronizedactivity holds. When we talk of scientificadvancein Islam.astronomy. were broughtover 16 Sabra. we usually have in mind the contributionsof men who carriedout their work outside of the madrasas with the supportof kingly patrons-men like al-KhwTrizml. This content downloaded from 158.31 on Tue. but also of his importantand explicit divergencesfrom fellow-faylasufslike Avicenna or from a recognized mathematicalauthoritylike Ibn al-Haythamand of his ultimaterejectionof the hithertodominantPtolemaic soon afterthe Mongol Ilkhanshad capturedBaghdad in 1258.

1969...'.134.. n.... . pp.One of them Mu ayyadat Din al-'Urdl.. 5).and Logic (cit. .I *..17 The Mongol patron of the astronomicalenterpniseat Maraghawas not Muslim. the mathematicianMuhyi al Di-nal Maghribiat AndalUS17. "Simplicius's Proof of Euclid's ParallelsPostulate.. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .was captured by the Mongols during their campaign in Synia in 1259 1260.. Optics..The other. TheAstronomicalWorkof Mu 'ayyadal-Dmnal.F.:Kitib al-Hay a (Beirut:Centerfor Arab Unity Studies. rpt.. and his interestin the work of the observatorywas undoubtedlyastrological.. 1990).SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE 666 . NasTral Din al-Tujs.see A.. Astronomy. f si. early sixteenthcentury IstanbulUniversityLibrary.(MSF1418....The immediategoal was to producea new "7The story of al-Maghribi'scaptureis told by Barhebraeus(in Ta nr-kh mukhtasaral-duwal). Sabra.-in Sabra.31 on Tue. On al-'Urdi see George Saliba.) from Syria. Figure 1.251. .had a reputationas a buildingengineer and instrument-maker.' ^" ."thiegreat Mongol Khan. This content downloaded from 158. 13-14. pp.. . 27-30. 32:1-24. esp. . He managed to save his life only by presentinghimself to his captors as an astrologerwho could be of use to "the lord of thieearthi. I.. l.'Urdl.. ed.. '..."Joumal of the Warburgand CourtauldInstitutes.andcolleagues at the Maraghaobservatory. who heard it from al-Maghribiin Maragha.

the scholars at Maraghaand nearby Tabriz were able to pursue their individualinterests in theoretical astronomy and in various branches of mathematics. (MS 1404.134.. I.. which was initiated by Ibn al- Haythambefore the middle of the eleventh century and had attractedthe attentionof a few individualscholarsin Asia and Syria.and for several decades afterward. based on new observations. south. after Hulagu's death. and west. where it was cafried on in different terms or with different emphases as scholars with different com- mitmentsrespondedto changing contexts.IstanbulUniversityLibrary.31 on Tue. as the new Persian handbook came to be known... late sixteenthcentury..of the type that had been used by Arabic astronomers and astrologers for planetary predictions since the time of al-Ma'miin.{{.1 o~~~ \i~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ /t . first found a sustainingatmosphere.. Giant armiillaryset up in the open air at the sixteenth-century Istanbul observatory.X ..667 A.and it was from here that ffiis type of research later spread further east..) set of astronomicaltables.. SABRA . . 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . ... It was in this singular situation that the aporetic research in planetary theory..251... (See Figure 2...) This content downloaded from 158.*| . The Zj-i Il-Khani. Figure 2.XtS.}.. was not completed until 1272... But in the meantime.

1993). Strictly speaking. and it possessed interestingfeatures that distinguish it in several ways from courtpatronageand the madrasas. the two otherloci of consequence. Throughthe introduction. Most of what is now known aboutthis importantphenomenonis due to David King. usually computedfor a certainlocality or latitude. having continuouslyenduredin some of the major mosques all the way up to the nineteenth century. religion.and rhetoric. andpolitics. as well as the vital issues of law. "TheAstronomyof the Mamluks. that the legal scholarsand interpreters 18 David King. His institutionalrole in the mosque was not to pursue the goals of astronomyas these had been defined and elaboratedby Arabic astronomerssince the ninth centurybut. This content downloaded from 158.the timekeeperin charge of regulatingthe times of the five daily prayers.18 It was the longest-lastingepisode within the traditionof Arabic/ Islamic science. as is clearly indicated by his status title.of the office of muwaqqit.the fourteenth-centuryIbn al-Shatir(d. And the same can be said of other equally impressive investigationsaimed at determiningthe directionof Muslim prayer.grammar. and King.31 on Tue. venturedinto the area of theoretical astronomyto produce the most complete solution to the equant problem. 1983. One muwaqqit.19 Though primarilya place of worship.251. This function the muwaqqitnonetheless performedin his capacity as an expert in what was called "the science of reckoning time" ('jim al-mTqdt)by means of exact astronomicalcomputations.who relied on traditionalprescriptions. as King has pointed out.and this distinguishedhim from the traditionalmu'ezzin (the man who called for prayer). the mosque. whose work over the last twenty years has been responsiblefor puttingthis phenomenonon the map of Arabic science. and as distinguished from the madrasa that was sometimes attachedto it.And some distinguishedmuwaqqitsin the thirteenthand fourteenthcenturiesaccomplishedthe impressivefeat of providinguniversal solutions of timekeeping problems (indeed.a place was createdfor the utilizationof one form of scientific knowledge in a permanentreligious institution.that would enable anyone who could operate a simple observation instrument(such as an astrolabe or a quadrant)to determinethe time of day or night from the altitudeof the sun or a star. Astronomyin the Service of Islam (Aldershot:Variorum. which Ibn alHaythamhad forcefully pointed out as a threatto the principles of Ptolemaic astronomy and which was diligently pursuedby mathematicalastronomersin the thirteenthcentury. '9 The distinction has to be maintaineddespite occasional or even frequent overlappings. all problems of spherical astronomy) for all latitudes. as. ca. 74:531-555. These were all accomplishmentsthat must be regardedas accomplishmentsin astronomy proper. being associatedwith the ascension to power of the Mamluiksin Egypt and Syria in 1250. when a local rulerwas responsiblefor the appointmentof a favored professorin a madrasa.A muwaqqitmight also possess the skill to constructsuch instruments.134. for example. And yet it is noticeable. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .668 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE The phenomenonof the mosque as a significant locus of scientific activity came into being at about the same time as the establishmentof the Ilkhanidrule in Iran and Iraq. who was attachedto the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. to offer reliable guidance to his local Islamic communitywith regardto definitereligious observances(mainlyprayertimes) as specified by religious law. these investigations also culminated in universal solutions for all latitudes.As in the case of timekeeping. from its would be wrong to consider the muwaqqita "professional"astronomer.regardlessof their institutionalsetting."Isis.The main task of the muwaqqitwas thereforeto use the methodsof sphericalastronomyin orderto construct tables.apparently for the first time underthe Mamluiks. 1375). often served as a forum for propagationand discussion of subjectsrelatedto Arabiclanguage.

It disregardsthe full extent of scientific researchin Islam.But whateverthe correctunderstandingof these paradoxes might be. inadequate knowledge of the circumstancesin which a new institutionalstructurebroughttogether mathematicaland religious interests. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .31 on Tue.based on observations of twilight and horizonphenomena(rising and setting)or of shadowlengths. two in additionto considerationsof the dominanceof dynasticrules over large regions for extendedperiodsof time and the remarkableease of movetnientand communicationall throughthe Muslimworlda featureitself connected to religion and law and language. the function. it would be gratuitousto regard the work of the muwaqqitin aiding religious ritualas constituting"the essence of Islamic science" (as King puts it)21 or even as the most revealing aspect of scientific activity in in eleventh-centuryEgypt.and this appearsto be the resultof the fact thattheirinstitutionalposition did not demandor encouragetheoretical ventures for their own sake. Ch."in Astronomyin the Service of Islam (cit.134."On the other hand."20 This is not really surprising(mathematicalprecision need not be considered a prerequisiteof religious piety!). Writing in fourteenth-centuryDamascus. and it ignores the characteristiccomplexity of Islamic civilization itself by neglecting the variety of religious attitudeswith regardto the status. where manifest varieties of styles and functions are displayed in the artifacts and architecturalmonumentsof the vast Islamic world. leaving alone the sophisticatedmathematicaltreatises. And it might appearto equate "Islamic science" with narrowly circumscribedprogramsthat largely developed within the confines of an institutionwith no commitmentto "science" as such. 1. 246. and of Islamic religion as an everpresent point of reference though not always a point of departure.And. p.. but it does renderproblematic the concept of the muwaqqit'smathematicalwork as "serviceto religion. Such paradoxesmay simply reflect our present.These are considerationsof language.which they "generallyconsideredto be too complicated or even completely irrelevant. To come finally and very briefly to the generalquestionformulatedearlier:Was Arabic science one or many? A similar question has sometimes been asked with reference to Islamic art. it would again open the way into the trapof essentialism. As far as science is concerned. This content downloaded from 158. Ibn al-Shatir linked his studies in theoretical astronomyto those of earlier seems to me that importantconsiderationslead us to say that we have to do with a single. which-for science and philosophy-was for the most part one language (Arabic). paper. "Science in the Service of Religion: The Case of Islam. unitarytradition. with regardto communication of learning.But the disadvantagesof this proposal are also glaringly conspicuous. the theoreticaltriumphof Ibn al-Shatirin planetarytheory does not seem to have elicited serious attentionfrom othercontemporarymuwaqqits. n. and two 20 David King. SABRA 669 of the religious law continuedto apply the simpler considerations. of course. which took the whole Islamic world by stormfrom the momentof its appropriationin the middle of the eighth century.251. And. we must also keep in mind that crucial Chinese invention. One example will have to suffice as an illustrationof what I mean by these remarks. 245. and this alone would tend to obstructor prejudice vital questions about scientific practice in Islam by identifying a single locus of activity with a widespreadand extremely complex phenomenon. and the value of scientific knowledge. p. 18). 21 Ibid. To propose such a view may have the advantage of highlighting the uniqueness to Islamic civilization of a certain emphasis on some programsof astronomicalresearch. I.four of whom had worked in thirteenthcentury Maragha.

ourpictureand ourproblematic will change with every distinguishedfrom tradition. especially in later times. Not. as we turnfrom one set of circumstancesto anotherin which individualchoices are made with referenceto specific problemsproposedby specific contexts. When I startedto write this talk I hoped to be able to illustrateand perhaps also to characterizein some generaltermsthe interplayof traditionandindividualresponse with referenceto one or two episodes of Arabic science.134. of course. the languagein which Ibn al-Shatiralso wrote. In the end I am forced to leave that subjectfor anothertime and place. The example is representativeof situations that existed before and after Ibn al-Shatir.31 on Tue. that traditionand individualresponse are separable:on the contrary. 30 Sep 2014 12:24:00 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . This content downloaded from 158.though there were cases in which Persianand Turkishwere the languages of composition. But once we direct our attentionto situations. the formerprovides an inseparablepartof the intellectualcontext in which the othermust take place.670 SITUATINGARABIC SCIENCE who originatedin thirteenth-centurySyria and North Africa. All had written in Arabic.