Taqi al-Din Ibn Ma’ruf: Survey on his Works and Scientific Method

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Being in form a bio-bibliographical essay on the life and works of Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Ma'rūf, a well known scholar of 16th-century Istanbul, this article presents the contents of his books and compares his scientific method with his predecessors. This investigation leads in turn to a description of the originality of his achievement and shows the novel aspects of his work....


İhsan Fazlioǧlu*

Taqī al-Dīn Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Zayn al-Dīn Marūf al-Dimashqî, al-Hanafî, known as Taqī al-Dīn al-Rasid, was a mathematician, astronomer, optician and mechanical scholar. He is famous as founder and the director of the Istanbul observatory. He made various astronomical instruments and for the first time he used automatic-mechanic clock in his astronomical observations. He advanced the arithmetic of decimal fraction and used decimal fractions in the calculation of astronomical tables.

Taqī al-Dīn first studied basic religious sciences and Arabic within the paradigm he lived in. Later on he learned transmitted (naqlī) and exact (‘aqlī) sciences from the scholars in Damascus and Egypt and especially from his father. It is probable that Taqī al-Dīn’s teacher in mathematics was Shihāb al-Dīn al-Ghāzzī while the one in astronomy was Muhammad b. Abī al-Fath al-Sūfī. Taqī al-Dīn himself states in the forewords of his various books that he assigned a special interest in mathematical sciences during his education.

After completing his education, Taqī al-Dīn worked in the capacity of mudarris for a short while at the madrasas in Damascus. Together with his father Marūf Efendi, he came to Istanbul around the year 1550. There, he participated to and benefited from the circles of scholars such as Chivī-zāda, Abū al-Su‘ūd, Qutb al-Dīn-zāda Mahmad and Sajlī Amīr. Then he returned to Egypt (circa 1550) and taught at Shayhuniyya and Surgatmishiyya madrasas in Cairo. He once again returned to Istanbul for a short time. He worked in the capacity of mudarris at Edirnekapi Madrasa during the time of grand vizier Samīz Alī Pāshā. In this period he used Ali Pasha’s private library and clock collection. Then he returned to Egypt since his family was there and Ali Pasha was appointed the governor to Egypt. He worked in the capacity of mudarris and qadi (judge) in Egypt. During the reign of Selim II, he deputized Chivi-zada and later Nishanci-zada after their successive appointments to the post of the judge of Egypt. Following Nishanci-zada, Kazasker Abd al-Karīm Efendī became judge to Egypt. Kazasker Abd al-Karīm Efendī and his father Qutb al-Dīn encouraged Taqī al-Dīn to deal with mathematics and astronomy. Qutb al-Dīn gave his collection of works, including various astronomical instruments, inherited from Alī Kushjū, Jamshīd al-Kāshī and Bursālī Qādī-zāda to Taqī al-Dīn to increase his knowledge of astronomy. From then on, Taqī al-Dīn dealt constantly with astronomy and mathematics. He made astronomical observations via an astronomical instrument which he mounted, a 25 meter deep-well when he was a judge in Tinnin.

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Figure 1: Astronomer observing the comet of 1577 above Istanbul with a wooden quadrant. Mustafa Ali, Nusratnāme, Topkapi Palace Museum Library, Hazine 1365, folio 5v.

Taqī al-Dīn came to Istanbul in 1570. On the death of Chief Astronomer Mustafā b. Alī al-Muwaqqit in 1571, the Sultan Murad III appointed him chief astronomer. He entered into the circle of with Hoca Sad al-Dīn Efendi who was supported by him. He continued his observations in a building situated on a height overlooking Tophane or in Galata Tower. His study drew the attentions of Hoca Sa‘d al-Dīn, one time instructor of Sultan Murad III, and Sadrazam Sokullu Mahmad Pasha. It was decided to build an observatory in the early 1579. After issuing an imperial edict by Sultan Murad III, the construction was started on a height overlooking Tophane where French Palace is located today. Important astronomical books and instruments were collected there. In a monograph entitled Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, written by a scholar within Taqī al-Dīn’s entourage (İstanbul Univesity, TY, no. 1993), and in ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Mansūr al-Shīrāzī’s Shahinshāhnāma (İstanbul University, TY, no. 1404), the pictures of the scholars and astronomical instruments used in observation are given. The information about the place and shape of the observatory is not certain. Apart from the observatory building, a well called “çah-i rasad” which was used by Taqī al-Dīn is also mentioned.

Taqī al-Dīn started his observations when he was in Egypt and he wrote some books on astronomy. In these works he corrected the calculation errors in Ulugh Beg Astronomical Tables and decided to prepare a new zīj (astronomical table). The construction of Istanbul Observatory (Dār al-Rasad al-Jadīd) meant an opportunity for him to complete this book. But, because of some political reasons as well as Taqī al-Dīn’s wrong astrological interpretations, the observatory did not last long; it was demolished on 22 January, 1580. Because of this circumstance, Taqī al-Dīn’s astronomical observations remained incomplete.

In other scientific fields, Taqī al-Dīn composed a book on medicine and zoology, three on physics-mechanics, five on mathematics, besides the huge list of his writings in astronomy, amounting to twenty titles. Also he has a monograph entitled Risāla fī ‘amal al-mīzan al-tabī‘ī (Alexandria, Baladiya [Municipal] Library, Majāmi‘, MS 3762, 4 folios) on the specific gravity of substances and Archimedes’ hydrostatic experiments. All of his books are in Arabic. In the field of astronomy, there are eight books related to Taqī al-Dīn, five in Turkish, two in Arabic and one in Persian.

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Figure 2: The colophon of Tarjumān al-atibbā’ wa-lisān al-alibbā’. The National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland (MS A75, folio 2a). (Source).

Taqī al-Dīn has also a medical book entitled Tarjuman al-Atibba wa Lisan al-Alibba where simple (mufradat) medicines are examined in an alphabetical order. A treatise of zoology by him is entitled Al-Masābih al-muzhira fī ‘ilm al-bazdara (Berlin, Gotha, MS 2094, 44 folios), but this book hasn’t been examined yet. Taqī al-Dīn wrote his Al-Kawākib al-durriyya fi wadh‘ al-bankāmat al-dawriyya taking up mechanic-automatic clocks for the first time in Islamic and Ottoman world, in 1559 in Nablus. In the foreword, Taqī al-Dīn mentions that he benefited from Samiz Ali Pasha’s private library and from his collection of mechanical clocks brought from Europe. In this work, Taqī al-Dīn deals with mechanical clocks, their kinds and shapes and he takes up every clock in turn and examines it from geometrical and mechanical perspectives. The treatise was edited by Sevim Tekeli (Ankara 1966). His other book on mechanics is the one he wrote when he was 26, al-Turuq al-saniyya fī ‘l-ālāt al-rūhaniyya. In this work, Taqī al-Dīn focuses on the geometrical and mechanical analysis of the structures of the clocks, in he frame of the Islamic tradition of ‘ilm al-hiyal’ in which outstanding treatises were left by Banū Mūsā, Abū al-‘Izz al-Jazarī. Al-Turuq al-Saniyya was edited by Ahmed Yusuf al-Hassan (Aleppo 1976). In the field of physics and optics, Taqī al-Dīn examining Euclid, Ibn al-Haitam and Kamāl al-Dīn al-Fārīsī’ related books; his text in this area is Kitāb Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār, in which he took up the structure of light, its diffusion and global refraction and he examined the relations between light and colour.

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Figure 3: The colophon of Kitāb Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār. Süleymaniye Library, Collection Laleli, MS 2558, folio, 1b-2a.

In mathematics, Taqī al-Dīn studied the Arabic translation of Thedosius’ book entitled Ukar (Spheres). He wrote also a short monograph containing his answer to a question pertinent to the relation between the sides and angles of a triangle. As for algebra, he wrote a monograph entitled Kitāb al-nisab al-mutashākkala fī ‘l-jabr wa-‘l-muqābala. In his work on Jamshid al-Kashī’s al-Risāla al-Muhītiyya, he discussed the opinions that al-Kashī used decimal numbers for operations and examined circumference-diameter relations in a circle (Kandilli Observatory, MS 208/8). Taqī al-Dīn also prepared a handbook entitled Bughyat al-tullāb fī ‘ilm al-hisāb dedicated to the Indian calculus (hisāb-i hindī), hisāb-i sittīnī (sexagesimal system) and some other mathematical problems (Süleymaniye Library, Carullah collection, MS 1454). In the ninth part of the second article of this work, following al-Kashī, he developed the arithmetic of decimal fractions both in theoretic and practical frameworks. Furthermore Taqī al-Dīn took up again the famous Delos problem (doubling of a cube) that was dealt with by Abdurrahmān Bistāmī and Molla Lütfi in Ottoman times, and he focused on three ways to solve this problem (OMALT, I, 84-87).

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Figure 4: The colophon of Kitāb Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār. Süleymaniye Library, Collection Laleli, MS 2558, folio, 3b-4a.

However, it is in astronomy that he heritage of Taqi al-Din is the most outstanding and original. Actually, his most significant achievement in the history of Islamic and Ottoman astronomy is his foundation of the Istanbul Observatory and his activities there. Beside old instruments, he invented new instruments by himself and used a mechanical clock in astronomical observations. These are only a few among many other original features that deserve to be noticed. On the other hand, his application of decimal fractions developed previously by al-Uklidisī, Samaw’al, al-Kāshī and himself to trigonometry and astronomy and his preparation of sinus and tangent tables and zījs suitable to this application are among his most important contributions to astronomy and mathematics.

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Figure 5: The colophon of Sidrat muntahā al-afkār fī malakūt al-falak al-dawwār. Nuruosmaniye Library, MS 2930, cover folio, 1a.

Taqī al-Dīn’s most important work on astronomy is Sidrat muntahā al-afkār fī malakūt al-falak al-dawwār (= al-Zīj al- Shāhinshāhī). This work was prepared according to the results of the observations in Egypt and Istanbul in order to correct and complete Zīj-i Ulugh Beg. The first forty pages of the work are devoted to trigonometric calculations. Then astronomical clocks, heavenly circles etc. are dealt with. The following parts are occupied with the definitions of observational instruments and methods, the observations of lunar and solar motions, and the examination of sinus and trigonometric functions calculated according to sexagesimal notation. Due to the absence of a conclusion part (khātima), it can be said that the extant version of the book is incomplete (Kandilli Observatory, MS 208). Following the Islamic astronomical tradition, Taqī al-Dīn used in this book trigonometric functions such as sinus cosine, tangent, cotangent rather than beams in measuring angles. On the other hand, being inspired by Ulugh Beg, he developed a new method to find the value of Sinus 1°, that Camshid al-Kashī put into the form of an equation of the third degree, and he tried to find this value exactly. Additionally, he employed the method of “three observation points” that was a new one in the calculation of solar parameters and of which Copernicus and Tycho Brahe were aware. In the calculation of the longitudes and latitudes of the fixed stars, he left the use of the Moon as a medium and developed a different method of calculation via the use of Venus, Aldaberan (the alpha or brightest star in the constellation Taurus) and Spica Virginis which are located near the ecliptic. As a result of his calculations, he found 2° 0′ for the eccentricity of the Sun and 63″ for the annual motion of its apogee. When compared with today’s values, those of Taqī al-Dīn are more precise than Copernicus and Brahe’s values. This gives a clear idea about the accuracy of his methods of observation and calculation.

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Figure 6: The colophon of Sidrat muntahā al-afkār fī malakūt al-falak al-dawwār. Nuruosmaniye Library, MS 2930, cover folio, 5b-6a.

Taqī al-Dīn’s second important work on astronomy is a zīj entitled Jarīdat al-durar wa kharīdat al-fikar (Kandilli Observatory, MS 183). He applied in this work decimal fractions to trigonometry and trigonometric functions for the first time, and prepared tangent-cotangent tables. Moreover, in this zīj as in his other zīj entitled Tashīl zīj al-a’shāriyya al-shāhinshāhiyya (Public Library of Patna, MS 2466), he stated the parts of degree of curves and angles in decimal fractions and carried out the calculations in compliance with this. Moreover, excluding the table of fixed stars, he prepared all the astronomical tables in decimal fractions in this zīj.

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Figure 7: The colophon of Jarīdat al-durar wa kharīdat al-fikar. Suleymaniye, Esad Efendi, MS 1976, folio 27b-28a.

Besides the above-mentioned three important works, Taqī al-Dīn has some other works of second degree importance about various subjects of astronomy (OALT, I, 202-216). One of them is al-Dustūr al-rajīh li qawā‘id al-tastīh, a text about the levelling of spheres and about geometry (Kandilli Observatory, MS 208/3). Rayhānat al-rūh fī rasm al-sā‘āt ‘alā mustawā al-sutūh is the title of another book in which he focusses on the stidy of sundials drawn on marble surfaces and their features (Süleymaniye Library, Esad Efendi, MS 2033). This book was commented upon by his student Siraj al-Dīn Ömer b. Muhammad al-Fariskuri (d. 1610) in a text entitled Nafh al-fuyūh bi-sharh rayhānat al-rūh; this commentary was translated into Turkish by an unknown writer in the beginning of the 17th century.


In short, Taqī al-Dīn unified his works the scientific traditions of Maragha, Cairo, Damascus and Samarqand in the fields of mathematics and astronomy and tried to complete the parts that Samarqand astronomy school left incomplete. Following the attitude established in Ottoman scientific mentality by Ali Kushju, Taqī al-Dīn, leaving Aristotelian principles of physics and metaphysics, followed a pure mathematical method in his academic studies, especially in mathematics and astronomy. Therefore, he underlined mathematical and especially arithmetical calculation as the tool in scientific enquiry; this, in turn, directed him to develop the calculation of decimal fractions and to apply them to astronomical calculations. Additionally, Taqī al-Dīn improved mathematics as well as producing instruments that would enhance the accuracy, which was achieved in the mathematical sciences before him, especially in astronomy. His research can be summarised with two basic concepts; strong “aesthesis” and “mathematical accuracy”.


  • Aydin Sayili, The Observatory in Islam, Ankara: 1960, pp. 289-305.
  • Demir, Remzi, Takiyüddin’de Matematik ve Astronomi, Ankara: 2000.
  • Menali, Haldun I.; Unver, Ahmed Suheyl, “The Comet of 1577 and a Turkish-Ottoman Astronomer”, International Comet Quarterly, vol. 26, p. 3-7.
  • Mordmann, “Das Observatorium des Taqi ed-Din zu Pera”, Der Islam, XIII, 1913, 82-96.
  • Ramazan Şeşen – Cevat İzgi – Cemil Akpinar – İhsan Fazlioǧlu (edit. Ekmeleddin İhsanoǧlu), Osmanli Astronomi Literatürü Tarihi (OALT), İstanbul: 1997, I, 199-217 (no. 96).
  • Ramazan Şeşen – Cevat İzgi (edit. Ekmeleddin İhsanoǧlu), Osmanli Matematik Literatürü Tarihi (OMALT), İstanbul: 1999, I, 83-87 (no. 47).
  • Tekeli, Sevim (edit.), Alat el-Rasadiyye li Zic-i Şehinşahiyye, İTED, III/1-2, 1960, pp. 1-30.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, 16’inci Asirda Osmanlilar’da Saat ve Takiyüddin’in “Mekanik Saat Konstrüksiyonuna Dair En Parlak Yildizlar” Adli Eseri (Turkish-English-Arabic text), Ankara 1966.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Nasiruddin, Takiyüddin ve Tycho Brahe’nin Rasad Aletlerinin Mukayesesi”, Ankara Üniversitesi, Dil ve Tarih-Coǧrafya Fakültesi Dergisi, vol. XVI/3-4, Ankara 1958, pp. 301-353
  • Tekeli, Sevim, ‘Onaltinci Yüzyil Trigonometri Çalişmalari Üzerine Bir Araştirma: Copernicus ve Takiyuddin”, Erdem, vol. II/4, Ankara 1986, pp. 219-272.
  • Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, Takiyüddin’in Optik Kitabi, Ankara: 1999.

*PhD., The University of Istanbul (Turkey). Professor İhsan Fazlioǧlu provided kindly high resolution photographs of Taqī al-Dīn’s manuscripts to illustrate the article (Chief Editor).

Taqi al-Din Ibn Ma’ruf: A Bio-Bibliographical Essay

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This article is a bio-bibliographical essay on the life and works of Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Ma'ruf, a scholar of 16th-century Istanbul, one of the most prolific and original scientists of the Ottoman period of Islamic science. After a biographical sketch, a comprehensive compilation lists most of his writings from manuscript sources....


by Dr. Salim Ayduz*

Table of contents

1. Biographical outline

2. Istanbul observatory

3. Astronomical instruments of the observatory

4. Manuscripts of Taqī al-Dīn’s works

4.1. Mathematics

4.2. Astronomy

4.3. Mechanics

5. Optics

6. Various

7. References

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Figure 1: Ottoman astronomers at work around Taqī al-Dīn at the Istanbul Observatory. Source: Istanbul University Library, F 1404, fol. 57a.

Taqī al-Dīn ibn Ma’rūf was a major Ottoman scientist who excelled in science in the second half of the 16th century. From 1571, he settled in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and excelled in several scientific fields such as mathematics, astronomy, engineering and mechanics, and optics. He was the author of several texts, some of which manuscripts survived and are at present the subject of thorough studies in the history of science. One of his books, Al-Turuq al-saniyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya (The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines), described the workings of a rudimentary steam engine and steam turbine, predating the more famous discovery of steam power by Giovanni Branca in 1629. Taqī al-Dīn is also known for the invention of a ‘monobloc’ six cylinder pump, for his construction of the Istanbul observatory, and for his astronomical activity there for several glorious years until the observatory was closed.

1. Biographical outline

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Figure 2: Sextant (mushabbaha bi-‘l-manātiq) of Taqī al-Dīn. From Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 14b.

Taqī al-Dīn Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Qādhī Ma’rūf ibn Ahmad al-Shāmī al-‘Asadī al-Rāsid (1526-1585), was an Ottoman astronomer originary from Damascus who worked in Istanbul. Known as al-Rāsid (the observer) because of his fame as astronomer and especially as observer and head of the known Istanbul observatory, he excelled also in other scientific branches, from mathematics and optics to mechanics and engineering.

Taqī al-Dīn was born in Damascus in 1526. He worked for a time as a judge and teacher at Nablus (in Palestine), Damascus and Cairo. During his stay in Egypt and Damascus, he produced some important works in the fields of astronomy and mathematics. In 1570, he came to Istanbul from Cairo, and one year later (1571-2) was appointed chief astronomer (Munajjimbashi) upon the death of Chief Astronomer Mustafa b. Ali al-Muwaqqit [1]. Taqī al-Dīn maintained close relations with many important members of the ulema and statesmen, chief among whom was Hoca Sadeddin, and was presented to Sultan Murad by the Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha [2].

2. Istanbul observatory

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Figure 3: Dhāt al-awtār. From Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 13b.

Taqī al-Dīn informed Sultan Murād, who had an interest in astronomy and astrology that the Ulug Bey Astronomical Tables contained certain observational errors, resulting in errors in calculations made on the basis of those tables. Taqī al-Dīn indicated that these errors could be corrected if new observations were made and proposed that an observatory be built in Istanbul for that purpose. Sultan Murād was very pleased to be the patron of the first observatory in Istanbul and asked that construction began immediately. He also provided all the financial assistance required for the project. In the meantime, Taqī al-Dīn pursued his studies at the Galata Tower, which he continued in 1577 at the partially completed new observatory that he called Dār al-Rasad al-Jadīd (the New Observatory). He founded the first observatory in Istanbul during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad III (1574-1595) which housed a library, comprising mainly books on astronomy and mathematics.

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Figure 4: Observational clock. Source: Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya (T), Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 16a.

The observatory, consisting of two separate buildings, one large and one small, was constructed at a location in the higher part of Tophane in Istanbul. Taqī al-Dīn had the instruments used in the old Islamic observatories reproduced with great care. In addition, he invented some new instruments which were used for observational purposes for the first time. The observatory had a staff of sixteen people-eight “observers” (rāsid), four clerks, and four assistants [3].

The observatory was designed to provide for the needs of the astronomers and included a library and certainly a workshop for the design and the production of instruments. This institution was conceived as one of the largest observatories in the Islamic world and was completed in 1579. It was comparable to Tycho Brahe’s (1546-1601) Uranienborg observatory built in 1576. There is a striking similarity between the instruments of Tycho Brahe and those of Taqī al-Dīn. In his astronomical tables, called the Sidratu Muntaha ‘l-afkār fī malakut al-falak al-dawwār (Culmination of Thoughts in the Kingdom of Rotating Spheres), Taqī al-Dīn states that he started activities on astronomy in Istanbul with 15 assistants in 1573 [4]. The observatory continued to function until 22 January 1580, the date of its destruction. Religious arguments were put forth to justify this action, but it was really rooted in certain political conflicts [5].

3. Astronomical instruments of the observatory

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Figure 5: Mechanical clock of Taqī al-Dīn. Image taken from Sifat ālāt rasadiya bi-naw’in ākhar. Source: Kandilli Rasathanesi El Yazmalari 1: Türkçe Yazmalar, proje sorumlusu: Günay Kut, Istanbul: Bogaziçi Üniversitesi Yayinevi, 2007, p. 122.

The followings instruments were among those used in the observatory to perform observations:

1) An armillary sphere;

2) A mural quadrant;

3) An azimuthal quadrant;

4) A parallel ruler;

5) A ruler-quadrant or wooden quadrant;

6) An instrument with two holes for the measurement of apparent diameters of heavenly bodies and eclipses;

7) An instrument with chords to determine the equinoxes, invented by Taqī al-Dīn to replace the equinoxial armillary;

8) A mushabbaha bi’l-manātiq, another instrument of his invention, the nature and function of which is not yet explained;

9) A mechanical clock with a train of cogwheels;

10) A sunaydi ruler, apparently a special type of instrument of an auxiliary nature, the function of which was explained by Alauddin al-Mansur.

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Figure 6: Azimuthal semicircle (dhāt al-samt wa’l-irtifā’) of Taqī al-Dīn. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 10a.

Taqī al-Dīn invented new observational instruments that were added to the array of those already in use for observation in the Islamic world. Among the instruments invented by Taqī al-Dīn in the observatory were the following:

  • The Sextant (mushabbaha bi-‘l manātiq): used to measure the distances between the stars. Taqī al-Dīn’s mushabbaha bi’l manātiq and Tycho Brahe’s sextant should be considered among the great achievements of the 16th century astronomy. A mushabbaha bi-l manātiq is composed of three rulers. Two of them are attached as the rulers of triquetrum. An arc is attached to the end of one of the rulers. Taqī al-Dīn made this instrument to observe the radius of Venus that was mentioned in the tenth book of Ptolemy’s Almagest [6].
  • The Dhāt al-awtar: designates the spring and autumn equinoxes. Some astronomers set up a ring, which was not divided, parallel to the equator to designate this. Taqī al-Dīn invented his instrument in the new observatory. The instrument was composed of a base in the form of a rectangle and four columns. The two columns were set on the base so that a string was stretched between them. One of them was equal to the cosine of the latitude of the country and the other to the sine. A hole was made on each of these parts according to this proportion. A rope was hung from these holes with a plumb [7].
  • The astronomical clock: Taqī al-Dīn used a mechanical clock, which he made himself for his observations, and a wooden wall dial, which he set up in the observatory. This clock was more precise than those previously used and considered to be one of the most significant inventions in the field of applied astronomy in the 16th century. It is described as folows in The Astronomical Instruments for the Emperor’s Table: “The ninth instrument is an astronomical clock. The following statement is recorded from Ptolemy: ‘I would have been able to establish a great regularity in method if I was able to measure the time precisely’. Now Taqī al-Dīn planned, with the help of God, the astronomical clock by the command of the Sultan, God perpetuates his ruling days. Thus, he was able to do what Ptolemy had failed to do”. In addition, in Sidrat al-muntaha, Taqī al-Dīn said: “we built a mechanical clock with a dial showing the hours, minutes and seconds and we divided every minute into five seconds [8].”
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Figure 7: Parallactic instrument of Taqī al-Dīn. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 11b.

When we compare the instruments that Taqī al-Dīn used in his observatory with those used by Tycho Brahe, they are mostly similar, but some of Taqī al-Dīn’s are larger and more precise. For example, they both used a mural quadrant (libna) for the observation of the declinations of the sun and the stars. It is said that Taqī al-Dīn preferred a mural quadrant instead of the sudus al-fakhrī and two rings used by the previous astronomers. Taqī al-Dīn’s quadrant was formed of two brass quadrants with a radius of six metres each, placed on a wall and erected on the meridian. The same instrument used by Brahe was only two meters in diameter [9].

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Figure 8: The quadrant made of rulers of Taqī al-Dīn. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 12b.

In his observational work, Taqī al-Dīn integrated the Damascus and Samarkand traditions of astronomy. His first task at the observatory was to undertake the corrections of the Ulug Bey Astronomical Tables. He also undertook various observations of eclipses of the sun and the moon. In September 1578, a comet appeared in the skies of Istanbul for one month; the staff of the observatory set to observe it ceaselessly day and night and the results of the observations were presented to the sultan. Taqī al-Dīn was, as a result of the new methods he developed and the equipment he invented, able to approach his observations in an innovative way and produce novel solutions to astronomical problems. He also substituted the use of a decimally based system for a sexagesimal system and prepared trigonometric tables based on decimal fractions. He determined the ecliptic degree as 23º 28′ 40′, which is very close to the current value of 23º 27′. He used a new method in calculating solar parameters. In particular, he determined that the magnitude of the annual movement of the sun’s apogee was 63′. Considering that the value known today is 61′, the method he used appears to have been more precise than that of Copernicus (24 seconds) and Tycho Brahe (45 seconds).

The observatory was witness to a great deal of activity within a short period of time between 1577 and 1580 . Observations undertaken there were collected in a work titled Sidrat Muntahā’l-Afkār fī Malakūt al-Falak al-Dawwār. When compared with those of the contemporary Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, Taqī al-Dīn’s observations are more precise. Furthermore, some of the instruments that he had in his observatory were of superior quality to Tycho Brahe’s [10].

4. Manuscripts of Taqī al-Dīn’s works

4.1. Mathematics

Figure 9a-b: Astronomical instruments of Taqī al-Dīn. Images taken from Tafsīr ba’dh al-ālāt al-rasadiyya: Source: Kandilli Rasathanesi El Yazmalari 1: Türkçe Yazmalar, edited by Günay Kut, Istanbul: Bogaziçi Üniversitesi Yayinevi, 2007, 39.

1. Book on coinciding ratios in algebra (Kitāb al-nisab al-mutashākkala fī ‘l-jabr wa-‘l-muqābala): Cairo (Miqat 557/3, 4 f., Taymur Riyada. 140/10), Oxford (I 88/3). It contains a prologue, three sections and an epilogue.

2. Aim of Pupils in the Science of Arithmetic (Bughyat al-tullāb fī ‘ilm al-hisāb): Cairo (Riyada. 1023), Rome (Vatican Sbath 496/2). It is quoted in Qāmūs al-Riyādhiyyāt of Salih Zeki (vol. II, p. 59) and in The History of Mathematical Literature during the Ottoman Period. It is enclosed also in Al-Hisāb al-hindī, a hand book which contains the book Hisāb al-muanjjimīn wa-‘l-jabr wa al-muqābala (Süleymaniye library, Carullah, MS 1454, 55 folios). The codex had three chapters: 1) on arithmetic with decimal figures, 2) on arithmetic with sexagesimal figures, 3) on algebra.

3. Book on Projecting Spheres onto a Plane (Kitāb tastīh al-ukar) = Preferred Rule in Foundations of Projecting on a Plane (Dastūr al-tarjīh fī qawā’id al-tastīh) – Cairo (Tal’at miqat 135 – anonymous), Istanbul (Kandilli 415/5, 12 folios). It is mentioned under the first title in Kashf al-Zunūn (II 288, III 226). Treatise on stereographic projection; could be part of an astronomical work. The book is dedicated to Hoca Sa’dettin Efendi and has two chapters.

4. Commentary on “Treatise on Classification in Arithmetic” (Sharh risālat al-Tajnīs fī ‘1-hisāb): is mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (II 208, III 376). Commentary on the treatise Book on Reduction of the Common Denominator in Arithmetic (Kitāb al-Tajnīs fī ‘1-hisāb) of al-Sakhāwandī.

5. Risāla fī tahqīqi mā qālahu ‘l-‘ālim Giyāthuddin Jamsid fī bayāni ‘l-nisba bayna ‘l-muhīt wa-‘l-qutr (A). Taqī al-Dīn discusses here the ideas of Giyath al-Din Jamshid’s book al-Risalat al-muhitiyya (Istanbul, Kandilli, nr. 208/8, 5 f.).

6. Exposition of “Book on Spheres” of Theodosius (Tahrīr Kitāb al-ukar li-Thawudhūsiyūs): mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (I, 390).

4.2. Astronomy

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Figure 10: Taqī al-Dīn and his observatory. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 17a.

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Figure 11: The dioptra of Taqī al-Dīn. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 13a.

7. Fragrance of Spirit on Drawing of Horary [Lines] on Plane Surfaces (Rayhānat al-rūh fī rasm al-sā’āt ‘alā mustawā al-sutūh): Bursa (Haraccioglu 1168/2), Cairo (Falak 3988, Miqat 1140, Fadil Miqat 126, 128, 233, Talat Miqat 182), Istanbul (Suleymaniye Esat 3500, 2033, 2055; Kandilli 132/3, 58, 51; BU Veliyuddin 2305/1; Topkapi Hazine 467/1), Madina (Arif Hikmet 493/2), Oxford (I 881/1, 927), Rome (Vat. 1224), (Kandilli, nr. 123/3, 58 f.); it is quoted in Kashf al-Zunūn (III 524). In addition to those stated above, 5 manuscript copies are mentioned in The History of Astronomical Literature during the Ottoman Period. This book deals with sundials drawn on marble surfaces and their features. It has one prologue and three chapters. It was written in the village of Funduk in Nablus in 1567. This book was commented upon by Taqī al-Dīn’s student Sirāj al-Dīn ‘Umar ibn Muhammad al-Fāriskūrī (d. 1610) under the title Nafh al-fuyūh bi-sharh rayhānat al-rūh; the commentary was translated into Turkish by an unknown writer in the beginning of the 17th century.

8. Non-perforated Pearls and Roll of Reflections (Jarīdat al-durar wa kharīdat al-fikar): Berlin (5699), Cairo (Miqat 900/2, Talat Miqat 76), Istanbul (Kandilli 183, 184; Topkapi Emanet Hazinesi 1711; Suleymaniye Esad Efendi 1976/2), Tehran (Meclis-i Sena 7572/25). It is a small astronomical table for Cairo written in 1581/1582 for Sa’d al-Din Efendi; it contains sine and tangent tables in decimal fractions. The treatise shows Taqī al-Dīn’s scientific abilities and the originality of his contributions. In this work, for the first time we find the use of decimal fractions in trigonometric functions. He also prepared tangent and cotangent tables. According to Taqī al-Dīn, who was the first scholar to succeed in this area, the mathematician Giyāth Jamshīd al-Kāshī (1390 – 1450) tried to solve this problem but failed. (Kandilli, MS 183, 75 folios). Dr. Remzi Demir edited the manuscript as his PhD dissertation [11].

9. Book of Ripe Fruits from Clusters of Universal Instrument (Kitab al-thimār al-yāni’a ‘an qutāf al-āla al-jāmi’a): Cairo (Miqat 557/2), Manchester (361/E), Oxford (I 881/2). It is a commentary on the work “Rays of light on operations wit the universal instrument” (al-Ashi’a al-lāmi’a fī ‘l-‘amal bi-‘l-āla al jāmi’a) of Ibn al-Shātir, describing an astronomical instrument invented by the latter. It is composed of one prologue, thirty chapters and one epilogue (Dar al-kutub, Miqat, MS 557/2, 8 folios).

10. Poem on Sine [Quadrant] (Manzūmat al-mujayyab) – Treatise on Operations with the Transparent Quadrant (Risāla fī’l-‘amal bi-rub’ al-dastūr): Berlin (5834), Cairo (Fadil Miqat 138), Istanbul (Suleymaniye Husnu 135/2, 1 f.), all under the first title. It is a lyric book dealing with the calculations and observations made by the instrument Rub’ al-dastūr. There are two commentaries on the book: one made by Taqī al-Dīn himself and the other by an unknown author (Berlin, MS 5834, 10 folios).

11. Culmination of Thoughts in the Kingdom of Rotating Spheres (Sidrat muntahā al-afkār fī malakūt al-falak al-dawwār (=al-Zīj al- Shāhinshāhī): Istanbul (Kandilli 56, 208/1, 47 folios, NO 2930; Topkapi Hazine 465/1; BU Veliyuddin 2308/2), Rome (Vat. Sbath 496/1). It is quoted in Kashf al-Zunūn (I 394, III 466, 587). Edition of Chapter III (on astronomical instruments): [Sevim Tekeli, “Takiyüddin’in Sidret ül-müntehasinda Aletler Bahsi”, Belleten, Ankara 1961, XXX/98, pp. 228-238]. Turkish translation of the same chapter: Tekeli [ibid] (214-227). These works were prepared according to the results of the observations carried out in Egypt and Istanbul in order to correct and complete Zīj-i Ulugh Beg. In the first 40 pages of the work, Taqī al-Dīn deals with trigonometric calculation. This is followed by discussions of astronomical clocks, heavenly circles, and so forth. Here, he gives information about three eclipses which he observed while he was in Cairo and Istanbul.

12. Book on Knowledge of Position of Horary [lines] (Kitab fi ma’rifat wad’ al-sa’at): Cairo (VI 154); Composed of 10 chapters, it is mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn.

13. Commentary on His Poem on Conversion of Dates in Different Calendars (Al-Abyāt al-tis’a fī istihrāj al-tawārikh al-mashhūra wa-sharhuhā). Cairo (Fadil Majlis 180/7), Istanbul (Suleymaniye Laleli, 3642/1, 7 f., Lala Ismail 732/6, Hasan Husnu 1135/6; BU Veliyuddin, 2305/6; Topkapi Hazine 467/2). This book contains information about the conversion of calendars from Hijra or to Hijra from other calendars.

14. Knowledge on Reckoning of Lunar Stations (Fī ma’rifat hisāb manāzil al-qamar): Beirut (Safa 22). On the calculation of lunar mansions.

15. Revision of the Almagest: mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (V 388).

16. Revision of the Zīj of Ulugh Beg: mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (III 197, 490).

17. Treatise on the Azimuth of the Qibla (Risālat samt al-Qibla): mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (III 411), it is about finding the direction of the qibla; it has a prologue, one main chapter called a maqsad and fifteen sections.

18. Pearl of the Ordered Simplification of the Calendar (al-Durr (al-‘iqd) al-nazīm fī tashīl al-taqwīm): mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (III 197), it is a brief astronomical table on the way to extract the annual calendars through Ulugh Bey Zīj. Cairo (Dar al-Kutub, MS 8008), Oxford (Bodleian, MS 562), Istanbul (Süleymaniye Bagdatli Vehbi, MS 2048/5, 8 folios).

19. Uses on Determining the Equator of the Globe and Knowledge of the Sine (Fawā’id fī istikhrāj mintaqat al-kura wa ma’rifat af-jayb): Cairo (Taymur Riyada 10/13).

20. Simplification of the Shahinshah Zīj (Tashīl zīj al-a’shāriyya al-shāhinshāhiyya): Patna (2466). In this text, Taqī al-Dīn gave the parts of degree of curves and angles in decimal fractions and carried out the calculations accordingly. Excluding the table of fixed stars, all the astronomical tables in this zīj were prepared using decimal fractions.

21. Daqa’iq Ikhtilaf al-Ufuqayn: Cairo (Talat miqat 211/1, 1 f.); about the difference between real and false horizons.

22. The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks (Al-Kawākib al-durriyya fi wadh’ al-bankāmat al-dawriyya): Cairo (Miqat 557/1, Sina’a 166/1), Oxford (557), Paris (2478). It was written in 1559 in Nablus and deals with the construction of mechanical clocks and how to use them.

23. Al-Mizwala al-Shimāliyya bi-fadli dā’iri ufuqi al-Qustantīniyya: Oxford (Bodleian, March 119), Istanbul (Kandilli, 547, 13 folios). Taqī al-Dīn wrote this book while he was a judge in Nablus to determine the latitude of Istanbul’s horizon with a kind of round gnomon; it contains one prologue, three chapters and one epilogue.

24. Risāla fī ‘amal āla tursamu bihā al-kawākib ‘alā sathin mustawī: Istanbul (Suleymaniye Yeni Cami 797/3). On the method to draw the map of the sky.

25. Risāla fī al-‘amal bi al-rub’ al-Shakāzī: Cairo (Taymur riyada 169/2, Fihris al-azhariyya VI 303), Edirne (Selimiye 691/3), Garrett (4792), Istanbul (Topkapi III Ahmed 3119/4k, 3 f.), Manchester (361/5). There is no certain proof that this treatise was written by Taqī al-Dīn.

26. Risāla fī ‘l-ikhtilāf bayna al-muwaqqitān bi-mahrusat al-Qāhira fi dabt qawsay al-nahār wa-‘l-layl wa-dā’irat al-fajr wa-‘1-shafaq: Istanbul (Kandilli 208/5, 176, 4 f.), Tehran (Meclis-i Sena 7572/38).

27. Risāla fī ma’rifat al-‘ufuq al-hādith: Istanbul (Kandilli 208/6, 1 f.). It is a notice about the finding of seven horizons.

28. Risāla fī sabab ta’akhkhur ghurūb al-Shams: Istanbul (Kandilli 147, 25 f., 140/3).

29. Risāla fi awqāt al-‘ibādāt. -Istanbul (Kandilli 208/4, 2 f.). It is a treatise that mentions how to use the astrolabes to determination of the time.

30. Tafsīr ba’dh al-ālāt al-rasadiyya: Istanbul (Kandilli 208/2, 2 f.). This text in Turkish mentions eight astronomical instruments that were used by the author in his observatory, with beautiful figures.

31. Urjūza li-‘1-jayb wa-‘1-dharb wa’1-qisma: Istanbul (Uskudar Selim Aga 732m/7, 1 f.; Suleymaniye Huseyin Celebi 748/7, Esad Efendi 3769/10). A poem containing 24 lines on the rules of the Rub’ dā’ira (the quadrant).

32. Preferred Rule in Foundations of Projecting on a Plane (Dastūr al-tarjīh fi qawā’id al-tastīh, titled in some sources as al-Dustur al-rajih li Qawa’id al-Tastih): mentioned in Kashf al-Zunūn (II 288, III 226) and extant in manuscripts at Cairo (Talat miqat 135 – anonymous), Giresun”(155/2), and Istanbul (Kandilli 415/5, 208/3, Arkeoloji Muzesi 601). It is about the projection of a sphere onto a plane as well as other topics in geometry. It is a treatise about the sundials made on the surfaces, written in 1576 and dedicated to Hoca Sa’d al-Din Efendi.

33. [Treatise on the Effect of Refraction at the Horizon and of Differences of Opinions of Cairo Timekeepers Thereon]: Cairo (Talat miqat 11 – only the first page), Istanbul (Kandilli 415).

34. [Treatise on the Difference between True and Visible Horizons]: Istanbul (Kandilli 122).

35. Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya (T), Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452. This book gives the list of astronomical instruments used by Taqī al-Dīn in the Istanbul observatory (Topkapi Sarayi Museum Libr., III. Ahmed, nr. 542, 17 folios). See Sevim Tekeli, “Astronomical Instruments for the Zīj of Emperor,” Arastirma, Ankara 1963, I, pp. 71-121).

36. Jawāb Su’āl ‘an muthallath min al-‘izam gayri qā’im al-zāwiya wa-laysa fī azlā’ihi mā yablugh al-rub’ wa-azlā’uhu bi-asrihā, hal yumkinu ma’rifat zawāyāhu (A). (Süleymaniye Libr., Yeni Cami, nr. 797/2, 1 folio).

37. Fawā’id fī istihrāj mintaqat al-kura wa-ma’rifat al-jayb (A) (Teymuriyye, Riyaza, nr. 140/13, 4 folios).

38. Risālat taqwīm al-sana 990 [H]: on the calendar of the year 990 H. (Süleymaniye Library, Izmirli Hakki, MS 2043/1, 21 folios).

39. Sifat ālāt rasadiya bi-naw’in ākhar (T): Istanbul, Kandilli Library, MS 208/7.

4.3. Mechanics

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Figure 12: Mural quadrant (libna) of Taqī al-Dīn. Source: Al-Ālāt al-rasadiya li-zīj al-shāhinshāhiyya, Library of the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hazine 452, fol. 452, folio 9a.

40. The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks (al-Kawākib al-durriyya fī wadh’ al-bankāmāt al-dawriyya): Cairo (Miqat 557/1, 35 folios, MS Falak 3845, Suway’āt 166/1): it is mentioned in Kasf al-Zunun. With this text, Taqī al-Dīn wrote the first Ottoman book on automatic machines. Composed in 1559 in Nablus. In the foreword, Taqī al-Dīn mentions that he benefited from using Samiz ‘Alī Pasha’s private library and his collection of European mechanical clocks. In this work, Taqī al-Dīn discusses various mechanical clocks from a geometrical–mechanical perspective. Sevim Tekeli, The Clocks in Ottoman Empire in 16th Century and Taqi al Din’s “The Brightest Stars for the Construction of the Mechanical Clocks”. Ankara: T.C. Kültür Bakanligi, 2002.

41. On Science of Clepsydras (Fī ‘ilm al-binkāmāt): Oxford (I 968), Paris (2478).

42. The Sublime Methods in Spiritual Devices (al-Turuq al-saniyya fi’1-alat al-ruhaniyya): Cairo (Falak 3845, Miqat 557/4), Dublin (Beatty 5232), Istanbul Kandilli no 96, autograph). Research: [Tekeli, Sevim, “Taqi Al-Din’s Method in Finding Solar Equations”, ACIHS XI. Sommaires. Varsovie –Cracovie, 1965, 107; Necati Lugal Armagani. 24, 1968, 707-710.], al-Hasan [3]. Treatise in 6 chapters: 1) clepsydras, 2) devices for lifting weights, 3) devices for raising water, 4) fountains and continually playing flutes and kettle-drums, 5) irrigation devices, 6) self-moving spit. In this work, Taqī al-Dīn focuses on the geometrical-mechanical structure of clocks previously examined by the Banū Mūsā and Abū al-‘Izz al-Jazarī. In this book he mentions a six cylinder machine which was invented by him to raise waters, and also some machines for lifting the weights. (Taki al-Din al-handasat al-makaniyyat al-Arabiyya ma’a kitab alt-turup al-saniyya fi al-alat al-ruhāniyya (ed. by A. Yusuf al-Hassan), Aleppo 1987). In 1551, Taqī al-Dīn invented an early steam turbine as a prime mover for a self-rotating spit. Taqī al-Dīn wrote: “Part Six: Making a spit which carries meat over fire so that it will rotate by itself without the power of an animal. This was made by people in several ways, and one of these is to have at the end of the spit a wheel with vanes, and opposite the wheel place a hollow pitcher made of copper with a closed head and full of water. Let the nozzle of the pitcher be opposite the vanes of the wheel. Kindle fire under the pitcher and steam will issue from its nozzle in a restricted form and it will turn the vane wheel. When the pitcher becomes empty of water bring close to it cold water in a basin and let the nozzle of the pitcher dip into the cold water. The heat will cause all the water in the basin to be attracted into the pitcher and the [the steam] will start rotating the vane wheel again.” The History of the literature of natural and applied sciences during the Ottoman Period, (ed. By E. Ihsanoglu and others), Istanbul: IRCICA, 2006, I, 42-44.

43. Risāla fī ‘amal al-mīzan al-tabi’ī (A). It is about weights and measurements and also mentions the scale of Archimedes. (Alexandria, Baladiya [Municipal Library], Majāmi’, MS 3762, 4 folios).

5. Optics

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Figure 13: The colophon of Tarjumān al-atibbā’ wa-lisān al-alibbā’, The National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland (MS A75, folio 2a) (Source).

44. Book of the Light of the Pupil of Vision and the Light of the Truth of the Sights (Kitab Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār): Cairo (Riyada. 893), Istanbul (Kandilli 122, Süleymaniye Libr., Laleli, nr. 2558, 72 folios), Oxford (I 930), Tashkent (446/1). Treatise on optics containing investigations on the vision, the light reflection and refraction in 3 parts. It is dedicated to the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (1574-1595). This book dealt with the structure of light, its diffusion and global refraction, and the relation between light and colour [12].

6. Various

45. Al-Masābih al-muzhira fī ‘ilm al-bazdara (A). It is about zoology. (Berlin, Gotha, MS 2094, 44 folios).

46. Tarjumān al-atibbā’ wa-lisān al-alibbā’ (The Interpreter of Physicians and the Language of the Wise concerning Simple Medicaments): This is an alphabetical pharmaco-botanical dictionary. Two of manuscript copies of it are known to be extant: MS A75 in 131 folios at the American National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, and MS Mq. 527 in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (entry no. 6431 in Ahlwardt catalogue).

7. References

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  • Sayili, Aydin, “Alauddin Mansur’un Istanbul Rasathânesi Hakkindaki Siirleri”, Belleten, XX/79, 1956, pp. 414, 466.
  • Sayili, Aydin, “The Observation Well“, Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakultesi Dergisi, XI, 1953, p. 150, note 8.
  • Sayili, Aydin, “III. Murad’in Istanbul Rasathânesi’ndeki Mücessem Yer Küresi ve Avrupa Ile Kültürel Temaslar”, Belleten XXV, Ankara 1961, pp. 397-398.
  • Sayili, Aydin, “Rasadhâne”, IA, IX, 628-631.
  • Schweigger, Salomon, Reisebeschereibungen nach Konstantinopel, XXIII, Nürnberg 1608, p. 90.
  • Sesen, Ramazan, “Meshur Osmanli Astronomu Takiyüddin El-Râsid’in Soyu Üzerine”, Erdem, IV/10, Ocak 1988, pp. 165-171.
  • Sesen, R., Salâhaddin Devrinde Eyyûbîler Devleti, Istanbul 1983, p. 36.
  • Shihab al-Din al-Hafacī, Reyhānat al-alibbā, Aleppo, 1967, I, p. 151.
  • Suter, H., Die Mathematiker und Astronomen Der Araber und Ihre Werke, Leipzig 1900.
  • Tayyarzâde Ahmed Atâ, Tarih-i Atâ, Istanbul 1292-93, I, pp. 81-82.
  • Tekeli Sevim, “Taqī al-Dīn”, in Helaine Selin, Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997, pp. 934-935 (Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York 2008).
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Istanbul Rasathânesinin Araçlari”, Arastirma, Ankara 1979, XI, pp. 29-44.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Takiyüddin’de Kiris 2° ve Sin 1° nin Hesabi”, Arastirma, Ankara 1965, III, pp. 123-127.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Takiyüddin’in Delos Problemi ile ilgili Çalismalari”, Arastirma, Ankara 1968, VI, pp. 1-9.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Takiyüddin’in Sidret ül-müntehasinda Aletler Bahsi”, Belleten, Ankara 1961, XXX/98, pp. 213-227.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Takiyüddin”, Turk Ansiklopedisi, XXX, 357.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Taqī al-Dīn”. In: Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, edited by Helaine Selin. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Astronomical Instruments for the Zīj of Emperor,” Arastirma, vol. 1, 1963, pp. 71-122.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Istanbul Rasathanesinin Gözlem Araçlari,” Arastirma, vol. 11, 1979, pp. 29-44.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Nasiruddin, Takiyyuddin ve Tyho Brahe’nin Rasad Aletlerinin Mukayesesi”, Dil ve Tarih – Cografya Fakultesi Dergisi, XVI, 3–4, 301-395. 1958.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Taqi Al-Din’s Method in Finding Solar Equations”, ACIHS XI. Sommaires. Varsovie –Cracovie, 1965, 107; Necati Lugal Armagani. 24, 1968, 707-710.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “Taqial Din’s “Work on Extracting the Chord 2° and Sin 1°“, Arastirma, Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakültesi Felsefe Arastirmalari Enstitüsü Dergisi, III (1965), Ankara, pp. 128-131.
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “The Observational Instruments of Istanbul Observatory”, Islâm’da Rasathaneler Sempozyumu, Istanbul 1980, pp. 33-44: published on www.MuslimHeritage.com as: The Instruments of Istanbul Observatory (08 June, 2008).
  • Tekeli, Sevim, “The Work on Taqi Al-Din’s Astronomical Instruments”, Arastirma, I, 1963, 1-20.
  • Tekeli, Sevim. “Takiyüddin’in Sidret ül-Müntehasinda Aletler Bahsi” in Belleten XXV/15, 1961, pp. 213-238.
  • Tekeli, Sevim. “Trigonometry in the Sixteenth Century: Copernicus and Taqi al-Din,” Erdem 2 (4): 219–272, 1986.
  • Tekeli, Sevim. The Clocks in Ottoman Empire in 16th Century and Taqi al-Din’s ‘The Brightest Stars for the Construction of the Mechanical Clocks’. Ankara: T.C. Kültür Bakanligi, 2002.
  • Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, “According to al-Haytham, Al-Farisi and Taqī al-Dīn ibn Maruf the Nature of the Propagation of Light”, Review of Faculty of Language, History and Geography of Ankara University, Volume 38, Issue 1-2, Ankara 1998, pp. 381-403.
  • Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, “Optics Book of Taqī al-Dīn ibn Maruf”, Review of Centre for Research Studies in Ottoman History, (OTAM), Volume 7, Ankara 1997, pp. 253-286.
  • Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, “Taqī al-Dīn’s Optics Book Named The Nature of Light and The Formation of The Vision“, Doctoral Dissertation, (Advisor: Prof. Dr. Sevim Tekeli), xii+816 pages.
  • Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, “The Optical Researches of Kamal al-Din al-Farisi”, Nüsha, (Journal of Oriental Studies) Volume II, Issue 6, 2002, pp. 149-168.
  • Ünver, Suheyl, Istanbul Rasathânesi. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1986.
  • Unat, Yavuz, “Tâkiyüddîn ve Istanbul Gözlemevi (Rasathanesi)”, Türkler, Cilt 11, Yeni Türkiye Yayinlari, Editörler: Hasan Celâl Güzel, Kemal Çiçek, Salim Koca, Ankara 2002, pp. 277-288.
  • Unat, Yavuz, “Time in The Sky of Istanbul, Taqî al Dîn al-Râsid’s Observatory”, Art and Culture Magazin, Time in Art, Winter 2004/Issue 11, pp. 86-103 (“Takîyüddîn el-Râsid’in Gözlemleriyle Istanbul Semalarinda Zaman”, P – Sanat, Kültür, Antika Dergisi, Zaman ve Sanat, Sayi 28, Kis 2003, pp. 80-97).
  • Unat, Yavuz, “Türk Teknoloji Tarihinden Iki Örnek Gezeri ve Takîyüddîn”, 1. Türk Bilim ve Teknoloji Tarihi Kongresi Bildirileri (15-17 Kasim 2001), Türk Teknoloji Tarihi, Yayina Hazirlayanlar: Emre Dölen, Mustafa Kaçar, Ðstanbul 2003, pp. 75-94.
  • Ziriklī, al, Al-A’lām, Cairo 1954, VII, p. 105.

End Notes

[1] Ihsan Fazlioglu, “Alī al-Muwaqqit: Muslih al-Dīn Mustafā ibn ‘Alī al-Qustantīnī al-Rūmī al-Hanafī al-Muwaqqit”, in Biographical Encyclopaedia of Astronomers, ed. Thomas Hockey, New York: Springer, 2007, I, 33.

[2] J. H. Mordtmann, “Das Observatorium des Taqi ed-din zu Pera,” Der Islam 12 (1913): 93; Ramazan Sesen, “Meshur Osmanli Astronomu Takiyüddin El-Râsid’in Soyu Üzerine,” Erdem 4, no. 10 (1988): 165-171; Cevat Izgi, Osmanli Medreselerinde Ilim, vol. 1 (Istanbul: Iz Yayincilik, 1997): 301-302, 327, 192; Izgi, vol. 2, 128-132; Salim Aydüz, “Takiyüddin Râsid,” Yasamlari ve Yapitlariyla Osmanlilar Ansiklopedisi, vol. 1 (Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, 1999): 603-605.

[3] Ahmet Süheyl Ünver, Istanbul Rasathânesi (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1986), 43-47.

[4] Topkapi Palace Museum Library, MS Hazine 465/1. In addition, see Sevim Tekeli, “Trigonometry in Two Sixteenth Century Works: The De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium and the Sidra al-Muntaha”, History of Oriental Astronomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 209-214.

[5] Sevim Tekeli, “Istanbul Rasathânesinin Araçlari,” Arastirma 11 (1979): 29-44; Sevim Tekeli, “Takiyüddin’de Kiris 2° ve Sin 1° nin Hesabi,” Arastirma 3 (1965): 123-127; Sevim Tekeli, “Takiyüddin’in Delos Problemi ile ilgili Çalismalari,” Arastirma 6 (1968): 1-9; Sevim Tekeli, “Takiyüddin’in Sidret ül-müntehasinda Aletler Bahsi,” Belleten 30, no. 98 (1961): 213-227.

[6] Sevim Tekeli, “Astronomical Instruments for the Zîj of Emperor,” Arastirma 1 (1963): 86-97.

[7] 7. Ibid.

[8] Aydin Sayili, The Observatory in Islam (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1991), 289-305; Aydin Sayili, “Alauddin Mansur’un Istanbul Rasathânesi Hakkindaki Siirleri,” Belleten 20, no. 79 (1956): 414, 466.

[9] Sevim Tekeli, “Meçhul bir yazarin Istanbul Rasathesi Aletlerinin Tasvirini veren: Alat-i Rasadiye li Zic-i Sehinsahiye Adli Eseri,” Arastirma 1 (1963): 12-71.

[10] Sevim Tekeli, “Nasiruddin, Takiyüddin ve Tycho Brahe’nin Rasat Aletlerinin Mukayesesi,” Ankara Üniversitesi, Dil ve Tarih Cografya Fakültesi Dergisi 16, no. 3-4 (1958), 224-259.

[11] Takiyüddin’in Cerîdet el-Durer ve Harîdet el-Fiker Adli Eseri ve Ondalik Kesirleri Astronomi ve Trigonometriye Uygulamasi, Ankara University, DTC Faculty, Philosophy Department, 1991.

[12] Studied in Topdemir, Hüseyin Gazi, “Taqī al-Dīn’s Optics Book Named The Nature of Light and The Formation of The Vision”, Doctoral Dissertation, Advisor: Prof. Dr. Sevim Tekeli. Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakültesi, xii+816 pages.

* Senior Researcher at the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, UK and Research Visitor at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, The University of Manchester, UK.

A Sanctuary for Birds: Muslim Civilisation

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Few creatures from the animal kingdom can live alongside humans in urban habitats. One of these survivalists are birds. There was a time when birds were simply welcomed and not worshipped not treated badly. You can still find traces of this admiration today. A list of references for birds in Muslim Civilisation would create a book, to name a few here; let’s take a journey of how birds were treated, bred and used in the Muslim cultures....

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1. Introduction 6. Science 10. Art
2. Religion 7. Myths 11. Architecture
3. Transportation 8. Breeding and Racing 12. Conclusion
4. Flight 9. Falconry and Hunting 13. References
5. Literature

Figure 1. Al Noor Mosque, Sharjah Corniche, by Utsav Verma (Source

1. Introduction

Figure 2. “Horus is one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities” (Source)

There are only a few animals that live harmoniously alongside humans in urban habitats. One of these animals are birds. Like cats,[1] birds have been treated in extremes throughout the history; either worshipped as gods or persecuted as pestilence. For example, “ancient Egyptians, personified many of their major gods as birds”[2] but in modern times birds, such as pigeons and crows, increasingly became a nuisance to city dwellers. Industrialisation[3] and deforestation also became a significant threat to their existence.

There were times when city councils tried, and still try, to find unorthodox ways to get rid of them.[4] For example, one Ukrainian city council produced “radical plans to get the birds drunk on wine before deporting them”[5] the idea being to disorientate the birds from finding their ‘home’. In other cities, crows or hawks were called upon to scare certain birds away.[6] Birds are still being hunted,[7] poisoned,[8] and killed[9] openly in their thousands. Pigeons were simply labelled as “rats with wings”[10] despite being proven scientifically, that pigeons do not carry diseases[11] as they were commonly blamed. It was and is still just an urban superstition. It became so problematic that most places put razor sharp wires in front of their windows, no wonder there are lots of birds missing their limbs on the streets.[12] All of these horrific practices seem to be medieval in their approaches in today’s world.

Figure 3. A must-read article:  “Feral pigeon: flying rat or urban hero?” by Steve Harris (Source)

However, there was a time in medieval history when birds were openly welcomed, not worshipped nor treated badly. To create a complete list of references for birds in Muslim Civilisation would mean creating an entire encyclopaedia, but let’s just name a few examples here: 

2. Religion

Let’s take the Caliph, Umar II (682-720), who ruled just 75 years after the Prophet Muhammed (D632). He said:

Spread wheat on the tops of mountains so it cannot be said that a bird went hungry in the land of the Muslims… Just a reminder to have respect for all. Even the smallest of deeds could be our saving grace!” Umayyad caliph Umar bin Abdulaziz

Figure 4. “In Turkey, they throw wheat grain on top of mountains when snow falls so that birds don’t die of hunger in the winter cold.” (Source)

This kind of respect and dedication comes directly from the teachings of Islam, for example in one of the many hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammed) regarding the treatment of animals, his followers asked:

O Allah’s Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals?” He replied: ‘Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being).’” Narrated by Abu Huraira Volume 3, Book 40, Number 551

Fundamentally the life and characteristics of the Prophet Mohammed is routed in the Quran. There are some verses associated with animals and references regarding the responsibility of human-animal interaction in the world. Prophet Mohammed taught people to have mercy to all of God’s creation, after all it was thanks to a nesting bird that saved his and the life of his best companion while they were hiding in a cave from the Meccans who were trying to kill them.[13]  There is even a well-known narrative that God says:

the animals are my silent servants. They are now quiet against the oppressions but on the day of reckoning they will talk about that..”

Interestingly the Qur’an even mentions the flocking of birds, were a group of birds collectively fly together in a syncronised manner:

Do they not see the birds above them with wings outspread and [sometimes] folded in? None holds them [aloft] except the Most Merciful. Indeed He is, of all things, Seeing.” Quran: 67:19

Perhaps, this is why people from the Muslim Civilisation loved and respected birds. Traces of this admiration can still be found today. Birds were, and still are, found in the most sacred of spaces; such as mosques.

Figure 5. Bird seed sellers next to a mosque in Istanbul (Source). Like cats, pigeons are part of Istanbul, street cats are even called “the pigeons of Istanbul” (Source)

These cultures are rooted in Muslim heritage throughout the Islamic history. From artistic Arabic calligraphy to scientific manuscripts like the clock-designs from the ingenious engineer Al-Jazari (1136–1206)[14] or even in peoples’ names; for example Ali ibn Nafi, known as Ziryab, who was an 8th century Andalusian polymath. Cultured in everything from philosophy to fashion, he was commonly known in the Spanish language as Pájaro Negro, or Black Bird.[15]

Figures 6-7. Modern Arabic Zoomorphic Calligraphy (Source). al-Jazari’s “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices: a Peacock Basin”, 1354 (Source)

Their importance is reflected by their presence alongside the prophets Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus.  To put his heart at rest, Abraham was shown a divine miracle using birds. In the story of David, it is revealed to the Muslims that birds frequently praise God in their communication. Solomon had the ability to speak to birds and appointed the Hoopoe bird as his messenger. And Jesus was commanded to demonstrate God’s omnipotence by breathing life into clay birds.[16]

And We subjugated the mountains and the birds to give glory along with David” Quran, 27:79

… Do they not see the birds above them spreading and contracting (their wings)?” Quran 67:19

…Seest thou not that Allah is He, Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the birds with wings outspread?…” Quran, 24:41

In the traditions of the prophet, known as the Hadith, birds like cats were respected and protected because animals were loved by the Prophet Mohammed.[17] For example:

During a journey the Prophet left his companion for a while. During his absence, his companion saw a bird called hummara and took two young ones away from the mother bird. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back and said: “Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her”. The Prophet companion then replaced the offspring in the same bush.”  Hamayun Khan[18]

The Prophet also mentioned “To catch birds and imprison them in cages without any special purpose is considered abominable.”  This means if you have birds living in cages, set them free.” Sayyid Abu A’la Mawdidi[19]  

As mentioned in the Cats in Islamic Cultures article, animals also set an example for Muslims like in the story of sons of Adam, or popularlay known as the story of “Cain Murders Abel”, a crow plays an eye opener lesson in the Quran:

Then Allah sent a raven [crow] scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: ‘Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse?’ And he became repentant.” Quran, 5:31

Figure 8-9. Crows can be seen in these depictions of Cain burying Abel from an illuminated manuscript version of Stories of the Prophets (Source)

3. Transportation

Figure 10. Pigeon keeping was a “popular Mughal passtime” (Source)

Due to the airborne nature of birds, humans have always been inspired, intrigued and in pursuit of flight. It is thanks to their exceptional flying abilities and their innate sense of geographical location that birds played a central role in transportation and flight in Muslim civilisation.

Birds were commonly used as couriers to send and receive important messages from different locations, cities and nations.[20]  In some cases, birds were even used to deliver ‘packages’. Al-Nuwayri, a Muslim chronicler, tells the story of a tenth-century Fatimid Caliph where “600 pigeons were released, each with one cherry in a silk bag tied to each leg… [The] Caliph was [then] served a large bowl containing 1,200 fresh cherries from Lebanon, which had arrived by special air mail delivery…” This ingenious ‘food delivery’ service was accomplished by the use of homing pigeons.[21]

There are many more tales like this in history of Muslim Civilisation. In many places throughout the Middle East and Eurasia, on the top of the buildings, you can still find sanctuaries for birds, which is a long tradition in Muslim civilisation. For example, “In a book about carrier pigeons, the Mamluk historian Ibn ʿAbd al-Ẓahir (1223-1292) wrote that normally there would be about 1,900 pigeons in the lofts of the citadel of Cairo, the communication nerve centre of the time.”[22]

Figure 11. “The Kabūtarnāmah, an illustrated pigeon manual copied in 1788, here showing a training session and some different types of pigeon” (Source

4. Flight

An interesting example of an inspiration originating from bird’s flight can be seen in the works of Ibn Firnas. Well before the 19th century’s Wright Brothers, Ibn Firnas was experimenting with aviation by studying the flight of birds. It is well recorded that in 852 CE he jumped from the top of the Grand Mosque’s minaret in Cordoba. The flying device he created was based on the anatomy of birds. However, unsurprisingly this contraption failed to glide but it did slow down his fall leaving him with minimal injuries. Some might assume that this could have been the first display of an early parachute.[23] There is not much information about Ibn Firnas’s life, but there are some claims for example, before he jumped, with his bird contraption for his flight attempt, Ibn Firnas may have said:

Presently I shall take leave of you.
By guiding these wings up and down,
I should ascend like the birds.
If all goes well, after soaring for a time,
I should be able to return safely to your side.”

Figure 12-13. Abbas ibn Firnas’ flight attempt. 1001 Inventions & Awesome Facts from Muslim Civilization, National Geographic Kids (Source) ©1001inventions 

Another attempt was done in 17th Century by Hezarfen-Ahmed Celebi. As the story goes, he studied the birds in admiration for many years. Their flight inspired him to design his own aeronautical apparatus, which was made from eagle feathers to make it look like a bird. After many failed attempts, in 1640 C.E he summoned the courage to jump from the Galata Tower in Istanbul. From an altitude of 100 meters he jumped and – believed it be – he successfully glided across the Bosphorus Sea, ending with a safe landing. If all this is true then, this could also be the first self-propelled intercontinental flight. The event was documented by the Ottoman traveller and writer Evliya Celebi (1611 – 1682) and according to him it was witnessed by Sultan Murad IV (1612-1640).

First, he practiced by flying over the pulpit of Okmeydanı eight or nine times with eagle wings, using the force of the wind. Then, as Sultan Murad Khan (Murad IV) was watching from the Sinan Pasha mansion at Sarayburnu, he flew from the very top of the Galata Tower (in contemporary Karaköy) and landed in the Doğancılar Square in Üsküdar, with the help of the south-west wind. Then Murad Khan granted him a sack of golden coins, and said: ‘This is a scary man. He is capable of doing anything he wishes. It is not right to keep such people…’ and thus sent him to Algeria on exile. He died there.” Evliyâ Çelebi (from Seyahatname), 17th Cent.

Figure 14. An artistic impression Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi’s flight Galata Tower, Istanbul (Source)

5. Literature

Figure 15. A story in Kalila wa Dimna, where different animals are used to convey a message of ‘learning to trust one another’ (Source)

Birds were also frequently used in the literal tradition of Muslim Civilisation.  Featured in many poems, stories and myths, they were a common literary device often used as metaphors to convey spiritual, aspirational and motivational themes.

Bird of my soul,
be patient of thy cage,
This body, lo!
how fast it wastes with age…”

Sultan Cem, 15th Cent.

There are many poems that feature birds, as if words flying from one branch of a poem to the next…

The heart is like a bird:
love as its head
and its two wings are
hope and fear.”

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya,14th Cent.

Another example is this Folio from al-Mu’nis al-abrar fi daqa’iq al-ash’ar (Free Man’s Guide to the Subtleties of Poetry) by Badr al-Din Jajarmi (d. 1287)

Figure 16-17. Manuscript pages from the “Free Man’s Guide to the Subtleties of Poetry” by Badr al-Din Jajarmi 

“This unusual composition [above] is one of six found in a unique, illustrated copy of an anthology of Persian poetry devoted to poetic artifice. The top register prescribes the ideal astrological time for carrying out certain tasks. It reads:

With the moon in Pisces,
study learning and theology,
Make requests from ministers and judges,
Wear whatever new clothes you possess,
Abstain from bleeding.
The tale is ended.”

The accompanying illustration shows the personification of the moon with a large fish, representing the zodiac sign of Pisces. In the lower inscription band, the author explores the rhetoric possibilities of “enumeration” by listing a series of birds. These are portrayed in two registers, creating an unusual and non-narrative correlation between word and image. Wiles of francolin, spirit of hawk, quickness of magpie, Music of nightingale, splendor of huma [mythical bird], glance of partridge, Breast of duck, wrath of eagle, beauty of peacock, Cheek-down like parrot, hair like raven, attainable as simurgh [mythical bird].”[25] 

6. Science

Birds were not only used as literary devices but were also recorded in the scientific literature that was produced by the Muslim civilisation. Their presence can be witnessed in many manuscripts that range in subject from zoology to astronomy.

Some of these scientific works were also translations and transmission of texts from different civilisations. A good example of this is found in the Arabic translation of the Greek encyclopaedia, Materia medica, by Pedanius Dioscorides. This work is a pharmacopeia (related to medicinal substances) which also describes the medicinal benefits of certain animals. It was through translations such as this, that the knowledge from the Greeks and Romans and other ancient Civilisations, transmitted through the Muslim Civilisation to Europeans; paved the way to Renaissance.

Figure 18-19. from 1224 an Arabic translation of the Materia medica by Dioscorides (Source) (Source)

Al-Jahiz, the 9th century polymath and ‘father of zoology’[26] had portrayed his admiration for birds in his scientific work. Before Darwin, Al-Jahiz was studying and documenting natural selection related to animals in his book ‘Kitab al-Haywaan’ (Book of Animals). Interestingly, he also mentions birds when it comes to “natural music” in his many works studying the art of music.[27]

Figure 20-21. Page from the Book of Animals by African Arab naturalist and evolutionist al Jahiz. Kitab al Hayawan (Book of Animals). Ninth Century. Basra. by Abu Uthman Al-Jaahiz (Source) “1001 Inventions and the Book of Animals” launch at Al Ain Zoo, Abu Dhabi (Source)

There are other scholarst followed Al-Jahiz, “The Kitab Al-Hayawan was the object of many studies, and had great influence upon later Muslim scientists, and via them upon European thinkers (especially upon Lamarck and Darwin). And it became the source for later books on zoology. Al-Jahiz’s many sentences are quoted by Ikhwan al-Safa and Ibn Miskawayh, and many passages are quoted by Zakariyya’ al-Qazwini (1203-1282) in his ‘Aja’ib al-Makhluqat, and by Mustawfi al-Qazwini (1281- ?) in his Nuzkat al-Qulub; and al-Damiri in his Hayat al-Hayawan’, and still continues to inspire the scientists today.”[28] Other scholars who followed his footsteps like Ibn Bakhtishu (d. 1058) with his book ‘Manafi-I-Hayawan’ (Description of Animals) continued to give more information about birds in the book of animals:

Figure 22-23. From Kitāb al-Manāfi‘ al-Ḥayawān (The Book on the Usefulness of Animals) by Ibn Bakhtishu’ (Source)

Scientist and scholars from Muslim Civilisation did not just translate works from ancient civilisations; they also corrected some of the information and contributed with additional information. For example, Al-Jazari was one of most outstanding mechanical engineer of the Islamic tradition of technology. He is mostly known with his discovery of converting rotary motion into linear motion and also known with his robots. He used animal figures in his works, and birds, from peacocks to legendary phoenix, birds can be found in his most works.

Figure 24-25. From the Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by al-Jazari (Source) (Source)

‘Abd al-Rahman ibn’ Omar al-Sufi (903-986) known also by his Latinized name of Azophi, was one of the famous astronomers from Muslim Civilisation. His “Catalogue of Stars” ,”Heavenly Figures” and “The Book of Fixed Stars” were published several times over the centuries with the addition of different animal figures, especially birds.[29]

Figure 26-27. Some examples from Al-Sufi’s manuscripts

Another example is as mentioned above is the llustration and Persian text from a Manuscript of the Mu’nis al-Ahrar fi Daqa’iq al-Ash’ar (The Free Men’s Companion to the Subtleties of Poems) of Muhammad Ibn Badr al-Din Jajarmi, 1341: [30]

Figure 28. “The Zodiac constellation of Pisces, the moon, and two registers of birds; reverse: text: verses of poem. Il-Khanid dynasty, Mongol period, 1341″ 

7. Myth

Apart from the scientific study of birds, Muslim scholars were also interested in featuring them in many writings dedicated to religious and spiritual works. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

…in Sufism the art of mastery over the language of the birds, a science taught to Solomon, implies both the power to penetrate into the meaning of alien forms and the capability to know the meaning of the spiritual states and stations through which the seeker of the Truth must Journey.” Sayyed H Nasr[31]

Birds, as literary devices, were often at the centre of Islamic stories, teaching moral lessons to adults and children. Some of the most well-known Muslim literature such as ‘Kalila and Demna’ (Kalila wa-Dimna, 1210)[32], Farid al-Din Attar’s ‘The Conference of the Birds’ (Mantiq al-Tayr ,1437, also known as Language of the Birds) and Ibn Hazm’s ‘The Ring of the Dove’ (Ṭawq al-Ḥamāmah, 1022) all feature birds in their stories.

Figure 29. “A page from the Arabic version of Kalila wa dimna, dated 1210, illustrating the King of the Crows conferring with his political advisors.” (Source)

If Simorgh [Simurgh] unveils its face to you, you will find
that all the birds, be they thirty or forty or more,
are but the shadows cast by that unveiling.
What shadow is ever separated from its maker?
Do you see?
The shadow and its maker are one and the same,
so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries”

The Conference of the Birds by Attar, translated by Sholeh Wolpe[33]

Figure 30-31. Zal, the albino, on the simurg. Shahnamah Firdaws (Book of Kings of Firdaws, The Royal Asiatic society, MS. 239). © Nil Sari and Ulker Erke. Source: 38th International Congress on History of Medicine, Turkish Medical History Through Miniature Pictures Exhibition (Istanbul, 2002). (Source)

Belief in a divine healing energy from higher metaphysical planes into the physical body, that is, the religious interpretation of the holistic healing process, had its symbolic myths in history. Man, throughout history, feeling helpless against the difficulties he came across, and being unable to reach the Creator, hoped for imaginary help from supernatural creatures, whether they are represented by God, a human being or an animal. These imaginary and strange creatures, designed with different organs of animals, appeared within the frame of social beliefs and ideas, used in literature and works of art as a means to describe the supernatural. Referring to fantastic creatures that over rule his destiny, the human being gave meaning to some of them as symbols of medicine such as immortality, miraculous treatment, revival and rebirth, etc. One of these fantastic creatures is the simurgh, which was imagined to be a huge bird of prey, which did not exist, yet had a name. It was believed that those who obtained the feather of this bird could reach the greatest secret of the universe and immortality.” Prof. Nil Sari [34]

Figure 32-33. The Conference of the Birds (Source) and The Ring of the Dove (Source)

The “Kitab al-Bulhan” or “Book of Wonders”, is an Arabic manuscript dating mainly from the late 14th century A.D. and was probably bound together in Baghdad during the reign of Jalayirid Sultan Ahmad (1382-1410). The manuscript is made up of astrological, astronomical and geomantic texts compiled by Abd al-Hasan Al-Isfahani, as well as a dedicated section of full-page illustrations, with each plate titled with “A discourse on….”, followed by the subject of the discourse (a folktale, a sign of the zodiac, a prophet, etc.).[37] There are other mythical birds in Islamic literature,[35] maybe one of the most popular ones can be found in the Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing by al-Qazwīnī (d. 1283)[36]

Figure 34-35. From Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing) by al-Qazwīnī (d. 1283) (Source

8. Breeding and Racing

Pigeon keeping has been a popular pastime in Muslim civilisation. They were kept for a variety of reasons, including breeding purposes and racing. This culture is still commonly practiced today in Muslim countries despite the controversy that surrounds the legal aspect when it comes to racing and wagering. Evidence of racing pigeons and its controversy can be found during the beginnings of the Muslim civilisation.

According to a narration of Abu Hurayrah, (a companion of the Prophet) someone came to him and asked, “We want to wager on two pigeons, but we do not want to use a muhalil for fear that he might take away (the prize).” To which Abu Hurayrah advised them not to race them, stating that this was a common practice among children.[38] Although gambling is strictly prohibited in Islam, many Muslims practiced the art of pigeon breeding and racing for the sole purpose of bragging rights.[39]

Figure 36. “Arabian Trumpeter”, a fancy breed of pigeon developed over many years of selective breeding (Source

9. Falconry and Hunting

The art of falconry was practised throughout the Muslim civilisation and still is today. Although the practice of training birds is said to have originated in Central Asia, it also has a substantial history in the Middle East and in other Muslim regions. In fact, using birds of prey for hunting can be traced back to 3500 BCE in the al-Rafidein region of Iraq.[40] Falconry and the training of other birds of prey were practiced for many reasons. Although the most common being hunting, it also was a form of pastime for the nobility of that time, where owners would lovingly raise the birds from hatchlings to fully grown adult hunters.[41] Interestingly the first book or manual composed on the art of falconry was called “The Advantage of Birds” by Adham Bin Mehrez al-Baheli, an 8th century scholar who was most probably surrounded by the Umayyad high culture of falconry.[42] Due to the modern world we are now living in, the art of training birds is now redundant for hunting purposes. However, there is a resurgence of training birds of prey for pest control in some of the world’s major cities.[43]

Although Falconry is seeing a revival for both practice and cultural purposes some animal rights observers have raised an issue with the resurgence of this art. An excess concentration of predatory birds in one area can lead to other vulnerable species’ extinction. The effect of which can be seen today in the Arabian peninsula when it comes to the near extinction of the houbara bustard bird and throughout the entire world when wealthy individuals pursuit foreign birds of prey to sustain their hobbies.[44]

…Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah…” (Quran, 5:4)

Figure 37. Traditional Arabian falconer (Source 

10. Art

As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, the presence of birds in Arabic calligraphy is visible in abundance. There are many examples of calligraphic spiritual words fashioned in the figure of various birds. But interestingly, birds do not only contribute to calligraphy with their figure but also it is common that a master calligrapher will teach his students to examine a bird and its motion, and then apply it to specific Arabic letters. Different letters can be used to depict a bird’s head, wings, back or tail.[45]

Figure 38-40. Tughra style of calligraphy (Source) (Source) and you can find more Arabic “zoomorphic” calligraphy on internet (Source)

Calligraphy was the main art of Islam, but artists and craftsmen from Muslim Civilisation didn’t just stop there, they carried artistry in every part of their life, from their carpets to tiles, even to their scientific tools.

Figure 41-42. Carpet with bird couples in a landscape, Lahore, c. 1600, cotton, wool, 233 x 158 cm (The Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna) (Source) A Kirman pictorial carpet. Southeast Persia, circa 1900. 8 ft 1 in x 5 ft 2 in (245 cm x 156 cm). This piece was offered in Oriental Rugs and Carpets on 19 April 2016 at Christie’s in London and sold for £18,750 (Source)

Figure 43. Islamic Bronze Bird Incense Burner with Calligraphic [Could be from Turkic Seljuk (Seljuq) period, Khorasan, eastern Iran, 1181-1182] (Source

11. Architecture

One important aspect of a culture is the architecture it produces. As birds were seen as noble animals, they were most definitely featured in much of the architecture that sprung out from Muslim civilisation.

Birdhouses were a common sight in the Muslim world and can still be seen till this day. Birds were so welcome that bird houses and sanctuaries became an Ottoman architectural art form. Some may simply refer to them as birdhouses, however; “’with their pronounced eaves, corbelled bay windows and what appears to be the remains of grand staircases, [these] deserve to be called BIRD CASTLES…”[46] The Ottomans rightly called them palaces or pavilions,[47] revealing its importance to their culture.

The stunning birdhouses speak to the overall attitude that the Ottoman Turks had towards animals. Structures built during this time—between the 15th and 19th century—were designed with the care and protection of creatures in mind. The avian homes, with nicknames like “kuş köşkü” (bird pavilions) and “serçe saray” (sparrow palace), are fantastic examples of this. While some stunningly detailed homes were simply for refuge, other birdhouses fed the winged creatures in times of cold weather or could help take care of them while they were sick.”  Sara Barnes[48]

Figure 44. “The designs are miniature palaces that project from the exterior. Although prevalent throughout Turkish cities long ago, there are only a fraction of them left today.” Photos: Caner Cangül (Source)

There were also many baths created for birds, and towers; “Farming innovations included using pigeon manure for fertilization, a technique mastered in Iran where towers 18 to 21 meters high (60 to 70 feet) were dotted around the fields to house the birds”.[49]

Figure 45. Bird Towers of Iran, Safavid Isfahan had an estimated 3,000 pigeon towers covering all over their city (Source

12. Conclusion

The above are only a few examples of how birds have impacted Muslim civilisation. It is clear that Muslims and others living under the Muslim civilisation revered birds and respected their elegant presence. This admiration is clear in Muslim culture and perhaps we should make extended efforts to preserve their presence so that future generation have the opportunity to seek inspirations in the many variations of our winged friends.

Sunny days are spent cutting the grass while hoping it does not rain too much. Insects are dealt with, moles are moved on, and birds are made to feel welcome…” [50]

Figure 46-47. The Calendar of Cordoba of 961 had tasks and timetables for each month. March noted that roses bloomed and quails appeared:” ©1001inventions, V3 Page 115 

13. References

[1] Nizamoglu, C. (2007). Cats in Islamic Culture. MuslimHeritage.com [Online]. Available at: http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/cats-islamic-culture

[2] Hoaryredpoll. (2008). The Bird Gods of Ancient Egypt. Hoaryredpoll.wordpress.com [Online]. Available at: https://hoaryredpoll.wordpress.com/2008/06/09/the-bird-gods-of-ancient-egypt

[3] Zhang, S. (2014). How the Railroad Wiped Out Passenger Pigeons. GIZMONDO [Online]. Available at: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/01/how-the-railroad-wiped-out-passenger-pigeons-and-nearly-bison-too

[4] PETA. (2009). Victory! Pigeon Massacre Canceled. Peta.org [Online]. Available at: https://www.peta.org/blog/victory-pigeon-massacre-canceled

[6] METRO (2014). Hawk scares off pigeons… METRO.co.uk [Online]. Available at: http://metro.co.uk/2014/03/04/hawk-scares-off-pigeons-and-some-passengers-at-paddington-station-4407514

[7] Wildlife-removal (2014-18) How to Kill a Pigeon. Wildlife-removal.com [Online] Available at: http://www.wildlife-removal.com/pigeonkill.html

[8] 247wildlife. How to Kill Pigeons with Rice… 247wildlife.com [Online] Available at: http://www.247wildlife.com/killpigeons.html

[9] Sharkonline. Video of Children Caught… sharkonline.org [Online] Available at: http://www.sharkonline.org/index.php/animal-cruelty/pigeon-shoots

[10] BBC (2008). Is it Legal to Shoot Pigeons? News.bbc.co.uk [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7474567.stm

[11] DiscoverWildlife. (2010). Feral Pigeon: flying rat or urban hero? Discoverwildlife.com. [Online].  Available at: http://www.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/feral-pigeon-flying-rat-or-urban-hero

[12] Palomacy. How do Pigeons’ Feet get Injured? Palomacy. [Online]. Available at: http://www.pigeonrescue.org/faqs-2/how-do-pigeons-feet-get-injured/.

[13] op. cit.  C Nizamoglu, Cats…

[14] Al-Hassani, S. (2008). 800 Years Later: In Memory of Al-Jazari… MuslimHeritage.com. [Online]. Available at: http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/800-years-later-memory-al-jazari-genius-mechanical-engineer

[15] Gill, J. (2008). Andalusia: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press. p.81

[16] Birds of the Quran. Mosque Foundation. [online]. Available at: http://www.mosquefoundation.org/reading-room/islamic-articles/birds-of-the-quran

[17] Elias, A.E. Selected Articles. Abuaminaelias.com. [online]. Available at: https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/tag/birds

[18] Khan, H. “An Assignment On Life Of Holy Prophet (PBUH) in perspective of ethics” P. 6. [Online]. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/10392773/An_Assignment_On_Life_Of_Holy_Prophet_PBUH_in_perspective_of_ethics

[19] Brown P. G., Timmerman P. (2015) Ecological Economics for the Anthropocene: An Emerging Paradigm, Columbia University Press, P. 51

[20] Levinson, H. (2000). In Jordan, the gentle art of keeping pigeons… Independent. [online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/in-jordan-the-gentle-art-of-keeping-pigeons-is-seen-as-dangerously-sexy-627544.html

[21] Ltd, FSTC. 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization: Reference (4th) Edition Annotated, Text only. (Kindle Location 4325). FSTC. Kindle Edition.

[22] ibid.

[23] Independent. (2006). How Islamic Inventors… Independent. [online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-islamic-inventors-changed-the-world-6106905.html

[24] First Flights, Saudi Aramco World Magazine, January/February 1964, Volume 15, Number 1, Available at: http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/196401/first.flights.htm

[26] Kéchichian, J.A. (2012). The father of the theory of evolution. Gulf News. [online]. Available at: http://gulfnews.com/culture/people/the-father-of-the-theory-of-evolution-1.1079209

[27] Heinemann, A. Et al. (2009). Al-Jahiz. Ergon Verlag in Kommission. P.29

[28] op. cit. Nizamoglu, C. Cats…

[29] Gent, R. H. van “Al-Sūfī’s Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars and its Influence on Islamic and European Celestial Cartography” http://www.atlascoelestis.com/al%20sufi%20van%20gent.pdf

[31] Nasr, S. H. (1990) Islamic Art and Spirituality. SUNY Press, 1990, Notes 2, P.111

[32] Lunde, P. (2011). Kalila wa-Dimna. MuslimHeritage.com. [Online]. Available at: http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/kalila-wa-dimna

[33] Attar. translated by Wolpe S. (2017) The Conference of the Birds. W. W. Norton & Co.

[34] Sari, N. (2009). The Simurgh: A Symbol. MuslimHeritage.com. [online]. Available at: http://muslimheritage.com/article/simurgh-symbol-holistic-medicine-middle-eastern-culture-history

[35] Birds of the Quran. Mosque Foundation. [online]. Available at: http://www.mosquefoundation.org/reading-room/islamic-articles/birds-of-the-quran

[36] Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/natural_hist4.html

[37] PD Worldwide: Kitab al-Bulhan or Book of Wonders (late 14thC.) https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/kitab-al-bulhan-or-book-of-wonders-late-14thc/

[38] Rosenthal, F. (1975). Gambling in Islam. Brill. P.53

[39] Independent. (2006). How Islamic Inventors… Independent. [online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-islamic-inventors-changed-the-world-6106905.html

[40] Discovering More Dubai. History of Falconry. Discovering More Dubai. [online]. Available at: http://discoveringmore.com/discovering-more/dubai/understanding-culture/falconry/history-of-falconry.html

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ghazal, R. (2014). Dubai’s Falcon museum… The National. [online]. Available at: https://www.thenational.ae/uae/dubai-s-falcon-museum-embodies-an-age-old-relationship-1.472907

[43] Barras, C. (2016). Why cities are unleashing birds of prey… BBC Earth. [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161003-why-cities-are-unleashing-birds-of-prey-into-their-skies

[44] Kinsella, P. (2016). Arabian falconry is killing two birds with one stone. Medium. [online]. Available at: https://medium.com/invironment/arabian-falconry-is-killing-two-birds-with-one-stone-b0e090cf02d2

[45] Schimmel, A. et. al. (1992). Islamic Calligraphy. New York: Brill Archive. P.9

[46] Dagdeviren, S. (1989). Castles in the Air. Aramco World. [online]. Available at: https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/198901/castles.in.the.air.htm

[47] Barnes, S. (2017). Elaborate Birdhouses… My Modern Met. [online]. Available at: https://mymodernmet.com/ottoman-architecture-birdhouse-designs

[48] Ibid.

[49] op. cit. Ltd, FSTC. 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy… (Kindle Locations 1721-1723)

[50] 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 2nd Edition, Page 228

Manuscript Review: The Discourse of Listener and Speaker on the Etiquette of Learning and Learner, by Ibn Jama’ah

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It was in the year 672 A.H. (1273 A.C.) that Qadi Ibn Jama'ah completed his TADHKIRAH as a guide for students and teachers to help improve quality of their academic life and work......

Figure 1. Article image banner


Editor’s Note: The following is an extract from N.A Baloch’s ‘The Great Books of Islamic Civilisation’. This is a short summary of Ibn Jama’ah‘s ‘The Discourse of Listener and Speaker on the Etiquette of Learning and Learner’.


Figure 2. Great books of Islamic civilization  by Nabi Bakhshu Khanu Balocu, 1989 (Source)

The author Qadi al-Qudat, Shaikh al-Islam, Badr al-Din Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. S’adullah Ibn Jama’ah was born in the family of the Arab stock of Kinanahat Hama (Syria) in Rabi- II, 639 A.H. (1241 A.D.). Hence he is also known as ‘al-Kinani al-Hamavi’. He was educated at Hama, achieved excellence in religious studies and jurisprudence, and became an exponent of the Shafi’ite legal system (hence known as ‘al-Shafi’i’). Eventually, he attained the high status of Shaikh al-Islam and held the high position of Chief Justice (Qadi al-Qudat). Dhahbi has observed that Qadi Ibn Jama’ah was well versed both in prose and poetry, and had left copious notes (ta’aliq) on Fiqh, Hadith, Usul al-Fiqh, and Tarikh. He commanded respect and influence, and had a large number of students and followers. He died in Cairo in Jumada-I in the year 733 A.H. (1332 A.D.), aged 94, and was buried by the side of the great Imam Shafi’i.

Not much is known about his biographical details but the study of his book Tadhkirat al-Sami’ wa al-Mutakallim fi Adab al- ‘Alim wa al-Muta’allim (`The Discourse of Listener And Speaker on the Etiquette of Learning and of Learner’) would indicate that he was closely associated with the teaching profession and was fully aware of academic life and work of teachers and pupils in educational institutions. It was in the year 672 A.H. (1273 A.C.) that Qadi Ibn Jama’ah completed his TADHKIRAH as a guide for students and teachers to help improve quality of their academic life and work.

The book is divided into the following five chapters:

I. Superiority of knowledge and the exalted position of those who possess it, and of the learned.

II. Qualifications of the teacher – how he should conduct himself and his classes, and treat his students.

III. The manner of the student – by himself, and in his relation-ship with the teacher who guides him and with his fellow-students.

IV. Being in company of books and the related obligations.

V. Etiquette of residence in the Madrasahs, for the beginners and for the seniors.

Figure 3. Etiquette of the learner, is a work extracted from Qadi Ibn Jama’ah’s major contribution to the literature of adab: Tadhkirat as-Sami wa’l-Mutakallim fi Adab al-‘Alim wa’l-Muta’allim (Source)

Ibn Jama’ah places a high premium on personal and professional qualifications of the teacher, his main responsibility being the promotion of student welfare and advancement of knowledge. He must shun pride and arrogance, should meet people with a smiling face, help the needy and hold students in affection. In methodology of teaching, Ibn Jama`ah has attached special importance to the teacher’s class discussion – and hence, probably, `Speaker’ and ‘Listener’ being the two key words in the title of his book. He recommends that the teacher should encourage students to ‘ ask questions, and help them to formulate their questions properly. He urges the student that when he asks a question he should do so politely without any affront to the teacher. The teacher should not be satisfied merely by giving a lecture but he must assure himself that the students have followed. However, to ascertain this he should not put direct questions: rather during the course of a new lecture he should raise questions the answers to which would involve previous knowledge. If a student is shy and sensitive, response may be elicited by indirect questions, so that the student does not feel that he is being subjected to a test.

Instruction should commence with simple manuals. The teacher should motivate students in the best possible manner and create in them love for knowledge.

When a student comes for admission, the teacher should first assess his capacity. Also the teacher must fix the class hours according to the convenience of students, and that the teacher should not be paid if he would teach either before sunrise or in late afternoons.

Figure 4. The Memoir of the Listener And the Speaker in the Training of Teacher and Student (Source)

Appointment of the teacher should be made very carefully. No person other than an authority in the subject should be permitted to teach it. If any leniency is shown in this matter, it will be a mockery of religion and learning, and a fraud played upon the people.

Sincerity of purpose and clean personal conduct are essential for the student to succeed in the programme of studies. He should exercise moderation both in eating and sleeping. He should accommodate the teacher, should not feel shy in asking questions but should raise questions politely and should not interrupt while the teacher is explaining. The student must see to it that what he commits to memory is correct and authentic. He must be punctual and must stick to the class and to the programme of instruction.

Detailed observations are made on the choice and study of books on lending, borrowing, purchasing and transcribing books.

The fifth chapter deals mainly with the choice of an educational institution by the scholar and the requirements of residential life. The nature of the higher educational institutions (madaris) and their curricula for the beginners and the advanced classes are discussed enabling the student to make a judicious choice of the institution and the programme of study. The residential life of scholars and conditions of residential accommodation are explained and the need for a proper choice of a residential companion is stressed. The manner of entry into and exit from the residential institution is brought under discussion.

Each of the five long chapters of the book is sub-divided into a number of ‘sections’ (anwa’), and each section (nau’) is loaded with considerable detail on the subject concerned as well as the supporting references from the Islamic educational tradition. As such, Ibn Jamaah’s work is important both from the point of educational as well as cultural development. In the domain of pedagogy, Ibn Jama’ah may be regarded as a pioneer in the formulation of Question-Answer method as an essential feature of the teaching-learning process.

Figure 5. Didactic interaction between master and disciple or teacher and student as a traditional mode of transmission of knowledge and learning (Source)

Manuscript Review: Instruction of the Learner; The Method of Learning, by Al-Zarnuji

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Zarnuji’s work represents a landmark in the history of Pedagogy in the Muslim East up to the turn of the 12th century......

bannerFigure 1. A manuscript of Al-Zarnuji’s Ta’lim al-Muta -a’llim Tariq al-Ta’allum (Source)


Editor’s Note: The following is an extract from N.A Baloch’s ‘The Great Books of Islamic Civilisation’. This is a short summary of Al-Zarnuji‘s ‘Instruction of the Learner: The Method of Learning’.


Figure 2. Great Books of Islamic Civilisation 

The author Burhanuddin belonged to the town of Zarnuj near Bukhara, and hence was known as Al-Zarnuji. He was a pupil of the well-known Hanafite Jurisprudent Burhanuddin al-Marghinani, the author of HIDAYA. Zarnuji flourished as an eminent Jurisprudent, but he was a great teacher deeply interested in the problem and process of formal education.

In 1203 C.E., he authored the important treatise Ta’lim al-Muta -a’llim Tariq al-Ta’allum (‘Instruction of the Learner: The Method of Learning’). Except for some casual observations (probably arising out of the local lore and folk wisdom[1]) not directly related to the process of education, this work may be regarded historically as the first significant contribution in the theory and practice of Professional Education.

Zarnuji’s work represents a landmark in the history of Pedagogy in the Muslim East up to the turn of the 12th century. Its popularity in the Islamic countries is attested by the fact that not only has it survived in a large number of manuscripts but also it has been printed again and again (in Istanbul, Cairo, Bombay, etc.). In Europe, it was translated into Latin, and also the text was printed in Leipzig in 1838. As a work of merit in the field of professional education, it was studied as a text book by teachers for four centuries. During the 10th century A.H. (16th C.E.), as many as three commentaries were written on it. The book is divided into the following thirteen chapters:

Figure 3. Folio from an Arabic manuscript of Dioscorides, De materia medica, 1229, depicting a teacher and his student (Source)

I. The nature and merit of knowledge and study.

II. Purpose of study.

III. The student’s choice of the subject, the teacher, and of the student associates in continued companionship.

IV. Respecting knowledge and those who possess it.

V. Effort and perseverance in study.

VI. Undertaking the study: its method and organization.

VII. Placing one’s faith in God.

VIII. The time for acquisition of knowledge.

IX. Helping and counselling.

X. The means which promote attainment of knowledge.

XI. Abstinence from evil during pursuit of learning.

XII. What creates memory and what brings about forgetfulness.

XIII. Factors which promote or prevent earning of livelihood and those that prolong or diminish one’s longevity.

The author’s concept underlying the scheme of this treatise is that of the ‘whole’ education of the learner rather than his mere academic attainment. He recognizes and extols moral purpose in learning. His presentation clearly distinguishes between ‘Knowledge’ and `Education’, the former as a general quality of mind and the latter as a leaching-learning process’, and also underlines some of the important concepts of educational psychology. The role of effort, aspiration, pursuit and persistence in student achievement is underlined and stressed.

Figure 4. Inner courtyard of the Kalyan Mosque, Bukhara. Durring the 12th century it also acted as an educational institution (Source)


[1] E.g. eating of the seeds of coriander and sour apples or passing from in between a file of camels being the causes of forgetfulness. Obviously, the first was not good for health while the second impaired one’s safety.

Manuscript Review: The Detailed Treatise on Matters Concerning Learners and Guidelines for Teachers and Learners, by Al-Qabisi

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Al-Qabisi was the inventor of the concept and practice of 'Co-operative Teaching by the Teachers' which has been realised only in some of the modern educational systems in the 20th century....

Figure 1. The public Library of Hulwan in Baghdad, from a 13th century manuscript of ‘Maqamât by Harîrî. (Source)


Editor’s Note: The following is an extract from N.A Baloch’s ‘The Great Books of Islamic Civilisation’. This is a short summary of Al-Qabisi‘s ‘The Detailed Treatise on Matters Concerning Learners and Guidelines for Teachers and Learners’.



Figure 2. Street Art by El Seed, town of “Qabis” (Source)

The author Abu al-Hasan Ali b. Muhammad b. Khalaf was born in Qairawan (Tunisia) on 6 Rajab, 324 A.H. (May, 936 C.E.). His family originally belonged to the village of al-Mu’afirin in the suburbs of the town of Qabis (not very far from the city of Qairawan). As such, he became more widely known as Al-Qabisi, but was also referred to by the nisba of his village as al-Mu`afiri al-Qabisi, or even as al-Qairawani since he was born and brought up in Qairawan. He completed his studies under eminent teachers of Qairawan which was then an important educational centre. Thereafter, as a mature scholar of 28 he travelled to `Mashriq’ (the Muslim East), performed pilgrimage in 353 A.H., and engaged himself in advanced studies in the Hadith under renowned teachers, first in Makka Mukarrama and then on return in Sikandariya in Egypt. He was back in Qairawan in Sha’ban 357 A.H. where he took to the teaching profession. A large number of pupils who studied under him became eminent scholars of their times. He died on Wednesday night, the 3rd of Rabi-al-Akhar, 403 A.H. (1012 C.E.). He was a man of good faith and piety, devoted to prayers, friendly to all and helpful to the needy and poor. In his biographical notices, Qabisi has been mentioned as being “the foremost in different sciences” (taqaddumhu fi al- `ulum, according to al-Dhahbi), and excelling particularly in the science of Hadith.

Figure 3. A photochrome print of Kairouan taken from the Great Mosque in 1899 (Source)

He authored a number of books (13 or 14 as mentioned by some) of which at least nine or ten are more certainly to have been composed by him on different subjects such as Hadith, Fiqh, Correct Belief, Education and Pilgrimage.

By vocation, Qabisi was essentially a teacher who taught for about five decades and gained insights and understandings into the process of teaching and learning as also into the needs and requirements of students and teachers. Besides, the tradition of pedagogy and professional education had already been established in Maghrib (the Muslim West) a century earlier, under the leadership of the Malikite Jurists. Abd al- Salam b. Sa`id b. Habib known as ‘Sahnun’ (d. 240 A.H.) had authored Kitab al-Mudavvana, the foremost code of Malikite Jurisprudence, and set an example in `Maghrib’ in the realm of higher learning and scholarship. His son Muhammad who died in 256 A.H., wrote a treatise on ‘The Responsibilities of Teachers’ (Adab al-Mu’allimin) which gave an impetus to further development in the field of pedagogy. Sahnun’s work inspired Qabisi who elaborated upon the subject in his own book in the light of his long teaching experience and practical observations.

Qabisi wrote al-Risala al-Mufissila li Ahwal al-Mua’llimin wa al-Muta’llimin (The Detailed Treatise on Matters Concerning Learners and Guidelines for Teachers and Learners) in which he placed special emphasis on childhood education, the main educational objective being to enable the pupil to develop as a good Muslim in belief and in action. The entire text and the ideas involved are presented in a `Question-Answer’ form. As an accomplished teacher, Al-Qabisi used to emphasise that questions be raised by the students. He would cite the example of great teacher Abu al-Abbas who during his lectures used to analyse the issues involved threadbare, who preferred student-teacher discussion in order to advance knowledge, and who would always say “Relieve us from mere listening: come up with the problems” (da’ona min al-sima’: alqao al- masa’il).

Qabisi’s work is divided into three parts as under:

Figure 4. Teacher teaching his students, from a 1287 CE manuscript, Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa (Source)

Part I

Introduction. Explanation as to what is Iman, Islam and Ihsan; what is Istiqama and what is the definition of Salah. Excellences of the Quran, and the formalities to be observed in its learning.

Part II

Teaching of the Quran and the parents’ responsibility. Instruction in poetry, calligraphy, grammar, recitation. Remunerating the teacher. Teacher’s conduct. Importance of teacher’s personal attitude to pupils. The different aspects of capital punishment, and being lenient to pupils. Maintaining justice and equality between pupils, and looking after their welfare. Preventing them from hurting each other. Friday and other holidays.

Part III

The teacher and his responsibilities. Gifts for teachers. Full-time attention to teaching. Teacher’s illness. Cooperative teaching by the teachers etc., etc.

Thus, besides his other advanced views, Qabisi was the inventor of the concept and practice of ‘Co-operative Teaching by the Teachers’ which has been realised only in some of the modern educational systems in the 20th century.

Islam’s Historical Contribution to Commerce and Finance

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Under the reign of Eurocentrism, the Western mind imagines that even if Islam came up with all manner of new ideas and technologies – ideas in engineering, art, mathematics and at a big push, science – even if this were all true we know that Islam is antithetical to capitalism....

Figure 1. Article Image Banner

The worst thing ethically and politically is to let [Eurocentric] separatism simply go on, without understanding the opposite of separatism, which is connectedness…. What I am interested in is how all these things work together. That seems to me to be the great task – to connect them all together – to understand wholes rather than bits of wholes…. In a wonderful phrase, Disraeli asks, ‘Arabs, what are they?” and answers: “they’re just Jews on horseback.’ So underlying this separation is also an amalgamation of some kind.” Edward Said 2004.


Figure 2. The Bab al-Ghuri gate in Khan el-Khalili, a famous market in Cairo from the times of the Fatimids (Source)

Under the reign of Eurocentrism, the Western mind imagines that even if Islam came up with all manner of new ideas and technologies – ideas in engineering, art, mathematics and at a big push, science – even if this were all true we know that Islam is antithetical to capitalism. Wasting time praying 5 times a day makes disciplined capitalist activity a near-impossibility. And in any case, all this ‘irrational’ religious behaviour is the counterpoint to the cold hard rationality of capitalism. Indeed we know that Islam rejects usury and so the possibility of banking and making profits from capitalist activity is ruled out tout court.

Given all this, even if the Muslims came up with all manner of ideas in the aforementioned areas, Europe and the West could have gained nothing from Islam in terms of developing capitalism. So what have the Muslims ever done in terms of enabling capitalism in general as well as contributing to the development of early capitalism in Europe?  Obviously nothing, we are told in the West, which is precisely why in Western histories of the rise of capitalism it makes perfect and logical sense for us to focus solely on what went on in Europe as the Europeans pioneered capitalism and the institutions upon which it rests without any help from the non-Western world. Notable here is that our standard histories of the long rise of capitalism in Europe sometimes begin with the Italian commercial and financial revolution after about 1000; so it is to this that I shall now focus upon.

Islam and the first phase of ‘Afro-Eurasian regionalization’, c.650–1000

The notion that it was Venice that we should turn to rather than the Islamic Middle east and North Africa is problematic for at least four main reasons, all of which reveal that European commerce post-dated that of Islam and that without Islam there might never have been a Venetian trading hub at the centre of European commerce.

Figure 3. 15th century Ottoman maps of Venice (left) and the Mediteranean (right) (Source)

First, Islam had a high propensity for commercial trade and capitalistic activity. I can think of no better illustration of this than reminding ourselves that The Prophet Mohammed had been a commenda (qirād or mudaraba) trader. Moreover, in his twenties he married a rich Qurayshi woman (the Quraysh had grown rich from the caravan trade as well as banking). Interestingly ‘the Meccans – the tribe of Quaraysh – caused their capital to fructify through trade and loans at interest in a way that Weber would call rational…. The merchants of the Muslim Empire conformed perfectly to Weber’s criteria for capitalist activity. They seized every and any opportunity for profit and calculated their outlays, their encashments and their profits in money terms’ (Rodinson 1978: 14).

Second, many linkages between Islam and capitalism can be found in the Qu’rān. Thus the Qu’rān, ‘[d]oes not merely say that one must not forget one’s portion of the world, it also says that it is proper to combine the practice of religion and material life, carrying on trade even during pilgrimages and goes so far as to maintain commercial profit under the name of “God’s Bounty”’ (Rodinson 1978: 16–17).

Figure 4. 19th century depiction of a caravanserai, Richard Dadd (Source)

Islam prescribed that businessmen could more effectively conduct a pilgrimage than those who did only physical labour. Indeed the Qu’rān states that:

If thou profit by doing what is permitted, thy deed is a djihād…. And if thou invest it for thy family and kindred, this will be a Sadaqa [that is, a pious work of charity]; and truly, a dhiram [drachma, silver coin] lawfully gained from trade is worth more than ten dhirams gained in any other way (cited in Rodinson 1978: 29).

And The Prophet Mohammed’s saying that ‘Poverty is almost like an apostasy’, implies that the true servant of God should be affluent or at least economically independent. The booths of the money-changers in the great mosque of the camp-town Kufa illustrate the fact that there was no necessary conflict between business and religion in Islam. (Goitein 1968: 228–9).

It is also significant to note that the Qu’rān stipulates the importance of investment. And while many in the West associate the Sharīa (the Islamic sacred law) with despotism and economic backwardness, it was in fact created as a means to prevent the abuse of the rulers’ or caliphs’ power and moreover, it set out clear provisions for contract law. Not surprisingly there was a rational reason why the Islamic merchants were strong supporters of the Sharīa.

Figure 5. Umayyad Caliphate. Silver dirham of Hisham ibn Abdel Malik, Wasit mint (Iraq), dated  AH 123 (741 AD) (Source)

Third, the picture of a dense Islamic urban trading network counters the traditional Eurocentric vision of Islam as a desert populated by nomads. Towns sprang up throughout the Middle East and rapidly formed the major sinews of the Afro-Eurasian trading network. Maxime Rodinson reinforces the general claim being made here:

The density of commercial relations within the Muslim world constituted a sort of world market… of unprecedented dimensions. The development of exchange had made possible regional specialisation in industry and agriculture…. Not only did the Muslim world know a capitalistic sector, but this sector was apparently the most extensive and highly developed in history before the [modern period] (Rodinson 1978: 56).

Figure 6. 1787 Ottoman Turkish map of the Masjid al-Haram and related religious sites (Source)

This naturally flows into the fourth counterpoint to the Eurocentric dismissal of Islam: that ultimately Islam’s comparative advantage lay in its considerable ‘extensive’ power. That is, Islam was able to conquer horizontal space, realised most fully in its ability to spread and diffuse across large parts of the globe, of which the expansion of commercial capitalism was but a symptom.

The centre of Islam, Mecca, was not some kind of irrational pilgrimage terminus, but it was one of the centres of the Afro-Eurasian trading network. Islam’s power spread rapidly after the seventh century so that the Mediterranean became in effect a Muslim Lake, and ‘Western Europe’ a tiny promontory lying on the far western tip of a vast Afro-Asian economy. Islam spread not only westwards into Christendom – most especially into Spain (al-Andalus) between 711 and 1492 as well as Sicily in 902 – but also eastwards right across to India, Southeast Asia and China, as well as southwards into Africa particularly through commercial influence.

Its economic reach was so extraordinary that by the ninth century there was one long, continuous line of transcontinental trade pioneered by Islamic merchants, reaching from China to the Mediterranean.[2] The key point here is that between about 600 and 1492 what we witness is what I call Afro-Eurasian regionalization, which was subsequently upgraded into the world’s first global economy after 1492. And throughout this period, the Muslims were the principal architects of the Afro-Eurasian trans-continental economy.

The Middle Eastern Ummayads (661–750 ce), Abbasids (750–1258 ce) and North African Fatimids (909–1171 ce) were especially important, serving to unite various arteries of long-distance trade known in antiquity between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. These included the Red Sea and Persian Gulf routes. The Abbasid capital, Baghdad, was linked to the Persian Gulf route, which in turn fanned out through the Indian Ocean and beyond into the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea. This route has been termed the Middle Route by Janet Abu-Lughod.

Figure 7. Medieval Muslim trade routes, Copyright © 1995-2005, Pearson Education, Inc. (Source)

Al-Ya’qūbi (c. 875), described Baghdad as the ‘water-front to the world’, while al-Mansūr proclaimed that ‘there is no obstacle to us and China; everything on the sea can come to us on it’. And there were numerous other Islamic ports that were important, especially Sīrāf on the Persian Gulf (on the coast of Iran south of Shīrāz), which was the major terminus for goods from China and Southeast Asia. The Red Sea route (guarded over by Egypt) was also of special importance.

Figure 8. Marco Polo wearing traditional Tartar attire (Source)

In addition to the sea routes, perhaps the most famous was the overland route to China, along which caravans passed through the Iranian cities of Tabriz, Hamadan and Nishapur to Bukhara and Samarkand in Transoxiana, and then on to either China or India. Marco Polo (the ‘Ibn Battūta of Europe’?) was particularly impressed by Tabriz:

The people of Tabriz live by trade and industry…. The city is so favorably situated that it is a market for merchandise from India and Baghdad, from Mosul and Hormuz, and from many other places; and many Latin merchants come here to buy the merchandise imported from foreign lands. It is also a market for precious stones, which are found here in great abundance. It is a city where good profits are made by travelling merchants (cited in Bloom and Blair 2001: 164).

The Muslims were particularly dependent on trade with many parts of Africa (not just North Africa). This was so for a number of reasons including first, that Egypt presided over one of the vital trade routes that linked the Far East and West (or the Southern Route in which Cairo was the terminus at the head of the Red Sea; and second, African markets constituted probably the most profitable branch of Islam’s foreign trade.

Islamic dhows carrying cargo plied the route down the East African coast as far south as Sufālah in Mozambique and Qanbalu (Madagascar). Gold was mined in various places including Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, while Kilwa (present day southern Tanzania) was the principal entrepôt. The most intense commercial relations experienced by the East African ports were with Aden, Suhār and Sīrāf. And this long-distance trade also helped stimulate trade into the African hinterland.

So it would be wrong to assume that West Africa was commercially isolated from the east coast and was ‘brought to life’ by the Europeans after 1492 (see Wolf 1982: 37–44). For it was the much earlier Islamic arrival at western entrepôts such as Sijilmassa (in Morocco) and Awdaghast that enabled the inter-linking of the eastern and western coasts both in the northern and sub-Saharan regions (Bovill 1933: chs. 5–6).

All in all, even before the turn of the second millennium, on the very eve of the ‘European commercial revolution’ the Muslims in particular had woven together vast swathes of Afro-Asia into an increasingly singular economic unit. And it was into this wider circuit of trade that Europe became, albeit indirectly, inserted into when it turned to commerce after about 1000.

Figure 9. A 1937 Yemeni stamp depicting a typical Dhow (Source)

Islam and Europe, c.1000–1517: Commerce, Finance and the transmission of Eastern resource portfolios via the Islamic ‘bridge of the world’

Eurocentric world history, as already noted, assumes that the rise of commerce was given its decisive thrust by the Europeans, most especially the Italians, after about 1000 ce. This date, of course, conventionally signifies the end of the Dark Ages. But the period after about 500 and especially after 650 could be called the period of the Eastern ‘Bright Dark Age’, especially the Middle Eastern Dark bright Age (Bala et al 2010). While Afro-Asian trade accelerated after about 1000 this owes its primary thrust to the growing interconnections between the Islamic Middle East and Africa in the west, as well as India, Southeast Asia and especially China in the east. The Middle East in effect constituted the Bridge of the World.

Figure 10. Traders en route via the Gulf of Akaba, 1839 (Source)

And as noted above, it was into this vast system of commerce that the Europeans inserted themselves. Thus before I describe this wider system, it is necessary to begin this discussion by considering how Europe in general and Italy in particular benefited from the growing Eastern trade in general and the role of Islamic West Asia in particular.

The East not only lay at the other end of the European long distance trading circuit but it also played a crucial role in the rise of European trade itself. For the fact is that European trade was ultimately made possible only by the flow of Eastern goods which entered Europe, mainly via Italy. Nevertheless, this is not to say that Italy was unimportant to the fortunes of European commerce, finance and production. For it was in fact pivotal, constituting the heart of European trade thereby pumping goods all round the ‘continent’ and feeding them into the many intra-regional trading systems (such as the Hanse and the French Champagne Fairs). But it was only able to play this central role because Italy was one of the major conduits through which Eastern ‘resources’ and trade entered and reshaped Europe. Indeed, the vast majority of this trade entered Italy courtesy of the North African Muslims in Egypt, who were supplied by the Southern trade route (based in the Red Sea).[3]

Figure 11. Caravan on the Silk Road (Source)

I now want to sketch the role of the Muslims in shaping Afro-Eurasian regionalization in the 1000–1492/1517 era. While the Middle Route became particularly important after the sixth century, it became extremely influential when Baghdad was the prime Muslim centre of trade after 750. But when Baghdad was plundered by the Mongols in 1258, the route underwent a temporary decline. However, with Iraq being subsequently ruled from Persia, the Gulf route revived. This Middle Route was also important because it enabled a ‘deeply symbiotic’ trading relationship between the Crusader kingdoms and the Muslim merchants who brought goods from as far away as the Orient.

The chief Crusader port in the Middle East – Acre – was controlled upto 1291 by the Venetians, and there they excluded their Pisan and Genoese rivals. Nevertheless, although the Venetians dominated the European trading system, they always entered the global system on terms dictated by the Middle Eastern Muslims and especially the North African Mulsims. Then with the Fall of Acre in 1291, the Venetians had no choice but to rely on the Southern route which was dominated by the Egyptians.

Figure 12. A map of Venice, c. 1000 AD (Source)

The Southern route linked the Alexandria-Cairo-Red Sea complex with the Arabian Sea and then the Indian Ocean and beyond. After the 13th century Egypt constituted the major gateway to the East. Importantly, ‘[w]hoever controlled the sea-route to Asia could set the terms of trade for a Europe now in retreat. From the thirteenth century and upto the sixteenth that power was Egypt’ (Abu-Lughod 1989: 149). Indeed between 1291–1517 about 80 per cent of all trade that passed to the East by sea was controlled by the Egyptians. But when Baghdad fell, Al-Qahirah – later Europeanised to Cairo – became the capital of the Islamic world and the pivotal centre of global trade (though this latter process had begun under the Fatimids in the tenth century).

Eurocentric scholars emphasise that European international trade with the East dried up after 1291 (with the Fall of Acre) as Egypt dominated the Red Sea trade to the East at the expense of the Christian Europeans. And it is this that supposedly prompted the Portuguese Vivaldi brothers to search for the more southerly route to the Indies via the Cape in 1291. But despite the proclamation of various papal prohibitions on trade with the ‘infidel’, the Venetians managed to circumvent the ban and secured new treaties with the Sultan in 1355 and 1361. And right down to 1517, Venice survived because Egypt played such an important role within the global economy.

Figure 13. Venetian traders and vessels (Source)

Moreover, Venice and Genoa were not the ‘pioneers’ of global trade but adaptors, inserting themselves into the interstices of the Afro-Asian-led global economy and entering the global economy very much on terms laid down by the Middle Eastern Muslims and especially the Egyptians.

In particular, European merchants were blocked from passing through Egypt. When they arrived in Alexandria they were met by customs officials, who stayed on board and supervised the unloading of the goods. Christians in particular required a special permit or visa and paid a higher tax than did their Muslim counterparts. The Europeans then retired to their own quarters which were governed by their own laws.

However, they were not allowed to leave their quarters in Alexandria and became wholly dependent upon the Egyptian merchants and government officials. Nevertheless, the Venetians and other Europeans accepted this regime because it was there whence they gained access to the many goods produced throughout the East. Indeed the fortunes of Venice were only made possible by its access to Eastern trade via North Africa.

Figure 14. Venetian traders and vessels (Source)

But in the end the most important function of Italy’s trading links with the Middle East and later Egypt lay in the fact that these commercial routes constituted important avenues along which many of the vital Eastern ‘resource portfolios’ diffused across to fertilise the backward West. And these resource portfolios enabled the various ‘Italian’ commercial, financial, and navigational revolutions for which they have become unjustifiably famous.

It is generally assumed that a whole series of financial institutions were pioneered by the Italians. The most important innovation we are told was the commenda (or collegantia), that the Italians allegedly invented around the eleventh century (e.g., North and Thomas 1973: 53). This was a contractual agreement in which an investor financed the trip of a merchant. Not only did it support international trade through the bringing together of capital and ‘trading labour’, but it had similar effects to a stock exchange in that it provided a market for savings which thereby fanned the flames of economic development.

The only problem, though, is that the commenda was invented in the Middle East. And although its roots stem back to pre-Islamic times (Kister 1965: 117ff), it was developed furthest by the early Islamic merchants. Indeed as Abraham Udovitch notes, ‘it is the Islamic form of this contract (qirād, muqārada, mudāraba) which is the earliest example of a commercial arrangement identical with that economic and legal institution which [much later] became known in Europe as the commenda’ (or Collegantzia) (Udovitch 1970a: 48).

Nevertheless this should hardly be a ‘revelation’ given that The Prophet Mohammed himself had been a commenda merchant. Nor should it be altogether surprising that the Italians came to use this institution given that Italy was linked directly into the Islamic trading system. It is also noteworthy that from the eighth century the qirād was applied in Islam to credit and manufacturing, not just to trade (Udovitch 1970b: 78; Kunitzsch 1967: 362–7).

The Italians are also wrongly accredited the discovery of a range of other financial institutions including the bill of exchange, credit institutions, insurance, and banking.

Islamic economic institutions

Figure 15. Jiaozi, the world’s first paper-printed currency, an innovation of the Song era (960-1279) (Source)

Turning therefore to the creation of economic institutions, while Rajat Kanta Ray claims that it is likely ‘that the use of bills of exchange and the art of banking evolved in China before any other civilization’,[4] it is more likely that these originated in Islam and the pre-Islamic Middle East. However, one of the principal reasons laid down by Eurocentrism for the so-called ‘impossibility’ of rational Islamic economic institutions and hence the absence of Islamic trade lies in its emphasis on Islam’s prohibition of usury or lending at interest (though Eurocentrism brushes over the fact that the Catholic Church no less prohibited usury).

But this Eurocentric dismissal is problematic in every respect for the irony is that Muslim traders found all manner of ingenious ways to circumvent this ban not least by creating various rational institutions that supported long-distance trade. As Abraham Udovitch explains:

The restrictions in the area of trade and exchange, as well as in other areas of life, placed certain areas of [mercantile] practice on an inevitable collision course with [Islamic] legal theory. This situation gave rise to a special branch of legal writings, the hiyal (legal devices) literature, in which the lawyers attempted to narrow down the area in which actions would be in violation of the law by making them conform to the law formally while in reality circumventing it.[5]

Of the three forms of hiyal it was those of the Hanafī School – Shaybānī and al-Khassāf – that applied to commercial practice. Thus, for example, to circumvent the religious ban on usury, payment was frequently delayed by several months;

or arrangements were made that entailed a higher price if credit rather than cash was extended in order to conceal the interest paid;

or again, qirād investments were deployed which allowed for a return on the capital advanced that exceeded the original amount that was offered.

‘All these satisfied the same needs as interest-bearing loans by realizing a profitable return for the investor, and providing a flow of capital for the trader’.[6]

Critically, Islamic bankers – known as hawaladars and sarāffs – were a common-place feature of Islamic trade. The hawaladars, operating in the bazaars, were a vital conduit for international trade, transferring funds from one place to another.[7]

The Islamic bankers issued credit notes – the ‘demand note’ or bill of exchange at a distant location (suftaja) and the ‘order to pay’ (hawāla) which was identical to a modern cheque: ‘[a]t the upper left corner was the amount to be paid (in numbers), and in the lower left corner was the date and then the name of the payer’.[8]

Equally, though, it would be wrong to presume that rational mercantile and capitalist activity occurred despite the role played by Islam or that it happened purely behind the backs of the religious authorities. For Islam became a virtual synonym for trans-continental commerce and profit.[9] Indeed, contra our Eurocentric imagination, Islam could lay fair claim to the pursuit of rational commercial and profit-making activity throughout the period when Europe languished under Catholic rule.[10]

In addition, the Italians are usually attributed the discovery of advanced accounting systems. But various Eastern accounting systems were also well developed, especially in the Middle East, India and most notably in China. Indeed some of these were probably as efficient as Weber’s celebrated Occidental ‘double-entry’ method. It is true that the Pisan, Leonardo Fibonacci, living in Tunis, was an important figure within Europe, serving to advance the Italian accounting system. But he only was so because he had learned of the Eastern knowledge while living in Tunis.

Figure 16. A Yuan dynasty printing plate and banknote with Chinese and Mongol words, 1287 CE (Source)

All in all, Fernand Braudel described the economic activity of Islam after 800 in the following terms:

‘Capitalist’ is not too anachronistic a word. From one end of Islam’s world connections to the other, speculators unstintingly gambled on trade. One Arab author, Hariri had a merchant declare: ‘I want to send Persian saffron to China, where I hear that it fetches a high price, and then ship Chinese porcelain to Greece, Greek brocade to India, Indian iron to Aleppo, Aleppo glass to the Yemen and Yemeni striped material to Persia’. In Basra, settlements between merchants were made by what we would now call a clearing system.

Figure 17. This illustration of sugar cane is from an Arabic manuscript on natural history (Source)

A string of Islamic intensive (productive) innovations and technological/ideational refinements was crucial here. These comprised, inter alia, paper manufacturing, which began after 751, and textile-manufacturing with both Syria and Iraq being famous for their silk manufactures, while Egypt led the way in linen and woollen fabrics. Moreover, Islamic production extended to sugar-refinement, construction, furniture manufacture, glass, leather tanning, pottery and stone cutting and of course Yemeni steel.

Interestingly, Egyptian sugar-cane production was a leading global industry and extensively exported its refined ‘sukkar’ across much of the world (hence the term ‘sugar’). Indeed, when the Spanish developed sugar production they borrowed the ideas and technologies of the Muslims, as did the British later in Barbados after the 1640s. Muslims also used impressive dyes. Added to this list of Islamic gifts that were bequeathed to Europe were the Gothic arch and other architectural developments, developments in music, agriculture, and foods such as oranges, lemons, apricots, bananas, courgettes, artichokes and, last but not least, coffee.

The “Bala proof theorem of technological transmission”

However, so fraught in methodological terms is this transmission issue that the whole question of the transmission of non-Western resource portfolios in the context of the rise of Western modernity has been marginalised and often ignored or rejected by world economic-historians on the grounds that there is not always in place a paper trail of relics that such disciplinary scholars view as the cardinal criterion of proof of transmission.

Figure 18. The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science by Arun Bala (Source)

Where there is no clear evidence of transmission for the modern period under discussion then we find ourselves in the realm of ‘plausible conjecture’. Of what does this comprise? Here I offer up what I call the ‘Bala proof’ theorem of transmission (after Arun Bala’s argument that he made in his book The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science): that it is not enough to assert cross-civilizational transfer in those cases where an idea that appeared in Europe was invented previously elsewhere, nor is it enough to offer up only circumstantial evidence (though this can constitute part of what constitutes ‘plausible conjecture’).

Rather, Arun Bala argues that we can reasonably infer transmission in those situations where a particular culture, in this case Italy, is interested in understanding an earlier invention in various non-Western civilizations, in this case the Islamic Middle East and North Africa, and when the non-Western invention then soon after that interest is displayed becomes adopted (and adapted) within Europe.[11]

It is obviously the case that from at least 1000 onwards Italian merchants were engaged in looking for ways to tap into long distance trade that emanated beyond Europe’s boundaries. They would surely have been aware of the advanced institutions that existed in the Middle East as they would have encountered these in their dealings with them. Moreover, the Europeans learned not only about Islamic economic institutions but also their ideas on science, mathematics, philosophy, geography, engineering, astronomy and many others too numerous to list here.

In the early ninth century CE the seventh Abbasid caliph, al-Ma’mūn, founded the ‘House of Wisdom’ (Bayt al-Hikmah) in Baghdad where inter alia Greek works – especially those of Ptolemy, Archimedes and Euclid – were translated into Arabic. But Arab scholars also drew heavily on Persian and Indian (as well as Chinese) texts on medicine, mathematics, philosophy, theology, literature and poetry.

Figure 19. Scholars at an Abbasid library in Baghdad (Source)

They then crafted a new corpus of knowledge – with the help of Jewish scientists and translators – that was not only more than simply an amalgam of Greek thought but one that was often not only critical of Greek ideas but also took them much further, if not in new directions.

This process was aided by the fact that Baghdad stood at the centre of the Afro-Eurasian economy and not only received new Asian ideas but, having reworked them, transmitted them across to Islamic Spain. Increasingly after 1000, Europeans translated the Islamic scientific texts into Latin.

Figure 20. A 13th century French translation of Ibn Rushd’s commentary on Aristotle’s Book of the Soul (Source)

The fall of Spanish Toledo in 1085 was especially significant, for it was here where many European intellectuals gained access to Islamic technical books. Learning from Islam was continued on by the Spanish King Alfonso X (1252-1284), largely through Jewish intermediaries (as did the Portuguese kings). Of the many examples on offer, notable here is that in 1266 Ibn Khalaf al-Murādī’s important text, The Book of Secrets about the Results of Thoughts, was translated at the Toledan Court. This text and many others would have furnished the Iberians with a great deal of Islam’s innovations. Finally, the Italians also directly learned of these ideas both through their trading links with the Middle East and during the Crusades.

So to return to the point being made earlier: we can see that after about 1000 the Europeans demonstrated a strong and keen interest in learning from the Islamic Middle East and North Africa: Which means that this ticks the key box concerning the Bala Proof theorem of the transmission of Islamic economic institutions.

There is much more that could be said here regarding the influence of Islam on the development of a global economy – a story which continues on through to the 18th century. But the last point I want to make is that it was across the commercial sinews of the Afro-Eurasian economy that many ideas, techniques and technologies flowed across to Europe which in turn promoted, not least:

  • The Renaissance
  • The scientific revolution
  • The European voyages of discovery
  • The European military revolution
  • The European energy revolution
  • The early European cotton and sugar industries

Rather than go through all of these in detail since space has got the better of me, let me close with the following vignette.

Conclusion: What have the Muslims ever done for us?

Figure 21. Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ Theatrical release poster (Source)

Finally I want to conclude this piece by drawing from the scene in Monty Python’s famous film ‘The Life of Brian’, in which Reg, the ‘inspirational’ leader of the revolutionary party – the PFJ (Peoples’ Front of Judea)… or was it the PPFJ (the Popular Peoples’ Front of Judea)?… oh never mind… convenes a secret meeting to rally his revolutionary comrades to overthrow the ‘oppressive and much reviled’ Roman Empire. Here I shall modify that whole scene by substituting the Muslims for the Romans. In this alternative scene Reg obviously now stands for an anti-Muslim Western organization (though I shall leave it to your imagination as to which one that might be).

What follows is the transcript of the video that i have made (see the video clip at the bottom of this article)

Please note that Reg’s speech is presented without quotation marks, while the comments made by the audience members are placed in quotation marks.

Thus, Reg opens the scene by asking rhetorically:

The Muslims… have taken EVERTHING from us. And not just from us, but also from our fathers and fathers’ fathers

“and our fathers’ fathers’ fathers” interjects Stan, one of the revolutionary comrades…

Yeah OK…

“and our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers”, Stan continues…

Yeah alright Stan, don’t labour the point… And WHAT have the Muslims ever given us in return?


“The noria?”…

What? Regs demands in a scathing tone.

“The noria… you know Reg, the huge water wheels that lift water up into the aqueducts”.

Oh, yeah… Yeah they did give us that, it’s true…

“And the sanitation…”

“Oh yeah, the sanitation Reg. You know what Europe used to be like…”

In increasingly exasperating tone Reg replies:

Yeah, alright, I grant you the noria and sanitation are two things that the Muslims have given us…

“And don’t forget astronomy Reg…”

Yeah, well obviously astronomy… I mean the Muslims are always plotting the position of the stars so as to carry on their incessant praying to Allah… But apart from the noria, sanitation and astronomy… What have…

“Windmills and water-mills”, another audience member interjects.

“Yeah, don’t forget all the new irrigation techniques that the Muslims pioneered. For they’ve been a positive boon here in the heat of al-Andalusian Spain”.

Another audience member then chimes in with:

“And mathematics… Remember Reg… it was the Muslims who developed trigonometry, geometry and algebra – with the term algebra being the translation of the title of al-Khwarizmi’s book  Al-Jebr W’almuqalah (given that al-jabr was translated as algebra) and that al-Khwārizmī’s name was translated as ‘Algorithmi’ (hence the term ‘algorithm’). And his work in turn was taken further by the likes of al-Buzajānī and al-Kindī…”

Reg replies in a somewhat resigned tone:

Yeah OK, the Muslims did bring all of this to Europe when we were busy messing around with the abacus. Gee, I never did like the abacus.

“And what about mercantile capitalism Reg? Don’t forget that the Prophet Muhammad had been a trader for much of his life and that his wife was rich. She came from the Meccan tribe of the Quaraysh which had grown rich from caravan trade and banking…Without all of this and the institutions that went with Islamic long distance trade, we’d all still be in the Dark Ages here in Europe”…

In a now increasingly resigned tone Reg replies:

Yeah OK… fair enough… can’t argue with that one…

“Law and order”, comes another interjection…

“Yeah, you’ve gotta admit Reg, the Muslims certainly know how to keep order… they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.”

“And let’s be honest Reg, it’s been a whole lot more peaceful since the Muslims arrived here in Spain in 711. You can walk the streets safe at night now… And under Muslim rule here in Andalusian Spain us Christians can get along just fine with the Muslims and the Jews…”

“Yeah, yeah yeah” (they all say in rousing unison).

Thus after a whole series of similarly awkward and increasingly rowdy interventions, Reg might have finished his rallying speech with the words:

Alright, apart from the noria, windmills, water-mills, irrigation techniques that spurred on agriculture and manufacturing, as well as commenda (qirād) partnerships, bills of exchange and cheques, credit institutions, insurance and banking, all of which stimulated early capitalism in Europe and Afro-Eurasian regionalization…

as well as trigonometry, geometry and algebra, medicine and anaesthetics, public health and hygiene, philosophy and theology, literature and poetry, an optical revolution, engineering, astrology, astronomy and geography, all of which helped shape the European Renaissance…

not to mention science and the experimental method that helped shape the European scientific revolution…

as well as cartography, navigational techniques including the astrolabe, lunar and solar calendars, longitude and latitude tables, the lateen sail, all of which helped make  possible the European Voyages of Discovery, in the absence of which the Europeans would have been confined to sailing within the Islamic Mediterranean…

and… last but not least… the creation of an Afro-Eurasian economy after 650 ce that linked Europe into the mainstream of Afro-Asian trade and later the Eastern creation of the first global economy after 1492 that delivered not only a vibrant stream of Eastern trade but more importantly the many Asian inventions, institutions, ideas, technologies, production techniques and a list of foods and agricultural and manufacturing products far too numerous to list here… apart from all of this, WHAT have the Muslims ever done for us?


[1] Please note that rather than supply a bibliography I refer my reader to three of my writings which provide all of these: The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); ‘Islamic Commerce and Finance in the Rise of the West’, in Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan (ed.), The Role of the Arab-Islamic World in the Rise of the West (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2012), 84–115; ‘What have the Muslims ever done for us?’, in Rajani K. Kanth (ed.) The Challenge of Eurocentrism (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009): 217–35.

[2] Hourani (1963: 62); Abu-Lughod (1989: 199): Chittick (1970: 98).

[3] Though this is not to ignore the considerable production of manufactured goods that occurred in the Islamic world.

[4] Ray (1996: 458).

[5] Udovitch (1970a: 11).

[6] Goitein (1967: 197–9) Udovitch (1970a: 80, 1970b: 61-2).

[7] Thompson (2011: ch.4).

[8] Abu-Lughod (1989: 223).

[9] See especially: Rodinson (1978); Hodgson (1974, 1993).

[10] Cf. Rodinson (1974: 14, 16–17, 29).

[11] Bala (2006: 50).

Malika VI: Sayyida Al-Hurra

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From Bangladesh to Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan to Nigeria, Senegal to Turkey, it is not particularly rare in our own times for women in Muslim-majority countries to be appointed and elected to high offices—including heads of state. Nor has it ever been....

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[Note of the Editing Manager] This article was originally published in AramcoWorld.com. We are grateful to Tom Verde for permitting republishing on the Muslim Heritage website. Some images added as indicated in their captions. Although as a policy, we do not publish articles delving in political or religious topics, this series on Women includes extensive content relating to the contribution of women to science, engineering, and management; a subject of importance and much interest.


Ruler and defender of Morocco’s coastal city-state of Tétouan, Sayyida al-Hurra was a woman of many identities. Her name—really a title—loosely translates “an independent noble lady,” but to her detractors, she was a “pirate queen.” Hasna Lebbady, author of Feminist Traditions in Andalusi-Moroccan Oral Narratives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), counts her among the Andalusi-Moroccan heroines who populate the nation’s history and folklore.

Coastal city of Tetouan today (Source)

Sayyida al-Hurra’s life was charted in large part by the crises of her era. These began most dramatically in 1492 with the expulsion of her family and fellow Muslim and Jewish countrymen from their beloved city of Granada in Al-Andalus (now southern Spain) by the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella. The event signaled the end of nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492. This is a depiction of one of the battles which took place (Source)

The “many thousands of the unfortunate emigrants,” lamented Algerian-born historian al-Maqqari a century later, were absorbed by major North African urban centers such as Fez, Oran and Tunis. Others, al-Maqqari observed, “peopled the desert towns and districts of the country [including] Tetwán (Tétouan), Salé, and the plains of Metidja, near Algiers.”

Among the wave of refugees was qaid (tribal chief) Moulay Ali ibn Rashid, his wife, Lalla (Lady) Zohra Fernandez, a Christian convert to Islam, his son Moulay Ibrahim and his daughter—the future Sayyida al-Hurra, whose birth name was probably Aisha, and who was likely born sometime between 1485 and 1495. The Rashids were a noble clan that claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad through Idrisi I, founder in the eighth century of Morocco’s first Islamic dynasty. Soon after the family’s exile from Al-Andalus, they settled in the Rif Mountains southeast of Tangier, where Moulay Ali founded and led the city-state of Chefchaouen, near Morocco’s northern coast. As a refugee himself, Moulay Ali opened Chefchaouen’s gates to waves of fellow Andalusis fleeing the Spanish Reconquista.

Medieval empire of the Moors (Source)

Aisha would have been a young witness to all this upheaval while, as a girl, she received a first-class education. She excelled in languages, including Castilian and Portuguese, as well as theology. Among her teachers was famed Moroccan scholar Abdallah al-Ghazwani, whose father, the equally celebrated shaykh Oudjal, supposedly once put his hand to Aisha’s head and declared, “This girl will rise high in rank.”

A caricature of Sayyida Al-Hurra (

​In 1510 she took her first steps towards fulfilling Oudjal’s prediction by marrying Abu Hassan al-Mandari, governor of Tétouan since 1505. Roughly 55 kilometers north of Chefchaouen, at the mouth of the Martil River, Tétouan was Morocco’s major port, an entrepot for goods from the interior and beyond. The fortified town was also a tactical base for maritime raids against the northern port of Ceuta, which at various times was held by rival Muslim (Nasrid) and Christian (Portuguese) powers. In 1400, fearing Tétouan’s position, the Portuguese had attacked it and left it in rubble.

“For 80 years it remained abandoned, until a Granadan captain decided to restore the city,” reported the 16th-century historian Al Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan, later known as Leo Africanus—who, like Aisha, was a refugee from Al-Andalus. The captain he referred to was Al- Mandari, one of Granada’s last military defenders and, by tradition, modern Tétouan’s founding father. “He was given the authority to restore the city and collect taxes,” Al Hasan wrote. “He rebuilt the city walls, erected a fort and … waged many a war with the Portuguese, often attacking Ceuta, Ksar and Tangiers.”

There is disagreement among historians over whether the man Aisha married was this particular Al-Mandari or another, younger member of the family of the same name who had succeeded him—perhaps a son (possibly Mohammad al-Mandari) or a nephew. In either case, her education, strength of character and presence of mind established her as a political leader, independent of male supervision, instruction or approval.

“She was trusted by her male relatives, and this seemed to be a feature of Andalusian-Moroccan women in general,” Lebbady observes. “She knew what needed to be done under different circumstances and these are the kinds of qualities that would have made her a leader.”

The al-Mandari marriage alliance was a wise move. With Aisha serving as co-regent of Tétouan, and the concurrent appointment of her brother Moulay Ibrahim as vizier to Ahmed al-Wattasi, Sultan of Fez, the Rashids positioned themselves as major players in the effort to unify Morocco against the fast-growing powers of Spain and Portugal.

The need for unity was genuine.

Detail of the Fra Mauro Map describing the construction of the junks that navigate in the Indian Ocean (Source)

In 1488 the Portuguese circumnavigated the southern tip of Africa and established their own direct sea route to Arabia, India and Southeast Asia. The gambit cut into the profits of North African merchants who for centuries had acted as middlemen between Western Europe and Asia. The Portuguese also established colonies along the African coasts, linking them to the interior. At the same time, the Spanish, gazing hungrily across the Strait of Gibraltar and warily at Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean, clung stubbornly to their own outposts along the North African coast: Tripoli, Algiers, Santa Cruz and others.

Portrait of Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad (Ahmed al-Wattassi) (Source)

Meanwhile, south of Fez, in what is now north-central Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi sought an alliance with Portugal to help him fend off rebellious Saadi tribesmen supported by England. The Mediterranean, once known as a Roman lake, had become an international and internecine stew.

Al-Mandari, Aisha’s husband, died sometime between 1515 and 1519, and Aisha became Tétouan’s sole ruler. It was at this time she took on the formal title sayyida al-hurra, hakimat titwan—Sovereign Lady, Governor of Tétouan. (Europeans wondered if “Sayyida al-Hurra” was her actual name since it appears in contemporary Spanish records as Sida el-Horra; what seems most likely is that, unaware of her given name, they confused it with her title.) Nonetheless, as Sayyida al-Hurra, she effectively governed Tétouan for the next quarter-century or so, during which time “the city soon reached an unheard of level of prosperity,” as Spanish historian Germán Vázsquez Chamorro writes in his recent study, Mujeres Piratas (Women Pirates) (Edaf Antillas, 2004). Much of this prosperity derived from one obvious source: attacks on Spanish and Portuguese ships laden with goods, gold and other treasures.

Oruç Reis, AKA Barbarossa, was the 15th C. Ottoman Bey of Algiers, later formed an alliance with Sayyida Al-Hurra (Source)

It was Sayyida al-Hurra’s association with the famed privateer Oruç Reis—known to the West as Barbarossa—that helped cement her “pirate queen” reputation. Born in Lesbos around 1474, Oruç and his older brother, Hayreddin, were among the most notorious of the so-called Barbary corsairs. As they moved their base around the Mediterranean as nominal servants of the Ottoman sultan, their exploits included raids on Spanish colonies, battles with Knights Hospitalers and even a daring attack on the (much larger) flagship of Pope Julius II in 1504. A fearsome figure, Oruç sported a silver prosthetic arm. Despite the handicap, according to eyewitnesses, he “fought to the very last gasp, like a lion,” Yet he had a soft side: between 1504 and 1510, he helped transport Muslim refugees from Spain to North Africa. This earned him the affectionate nickname Baba Oruç (Father Oruç), which, to the European ear, was misheard as “Barbarossa,” which happened to mean “Redbeard” in Italian.

Whatever the actual color of his whiskers, Oruç’s politics and sympathies attracted Sayyida al-Hurra’s attention and admiration. Joining forces, the two soon dominated the waters of the Mediterranean, raiding both ships and towns and taking Christian captives. Spanish sources from 1540 tell of attacks on Gibraltar and the loss of “much booty and many prisoners” for whom Sayyida al-Hurra negotiated ransom. The Portuguese, meanwhile, “prayed for God to allow them to see her hanged from a ship’s mast,” as Chamorro notes. Sébastien de Vargas, royal Portuguese envoy to the court of Fez at the time, characterized her as “a very aggressive and bad-tempered woman about everything.”

But whether or not Sayyida al-Hurra and Oruç were “pirates” really depended upon which end of the cannon one was facing. “Piracy was rampant in the 16th century and by no means limited to the southern coast of the Mediterranean,” says Lebbady. “English pirates used to intercept the Spanish galleys coming back from the Americas, and what they took as booty was a major source of income for the government of Queen Elizabeth I.”

In contrast, during the time of Sayidda al-Hurra, Morocco did not have a navy, and it depended on “privateers”—as Lebbady calls them—to defend the coast.

“Many of these privateers were Andalusis who settled in places like Salé and Tétouan. Under the command of Sayidda al-Hurra, they helped her to fend off the aggressive Iberians who were colonizing Morocco and at times enslaving most of the populations,” Lebbady says. “So Sayidda al-Hurra was doing the same thing to the Iberians as they we doing to the Moroccans. I wouldn’t call her a pirate. To refer to her as pirate is to put the blame on those who were defending their land from aggressive colonial powers.”

An example of Iberian Naval technology (Source)

As her power grew, so did her reputation. In 1541, during a whistle-stop tour through the region to help drum up support for his beleaguered dynasty, Ahmed al-Wattasi asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted, but refused to travel to Fez for the wedding, insisting instead that it take place in Tétouan. It was the only time in Moroccan history that a sultan married outside the capital. News of the wedding traveled as far as Madrid, where it troubled Philip II and was viewed by some as the Muslim equivalent of the power marriage between Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

But Sayyida al-Hurra’s power was not to endure. Her on-again-off-again diplomacy and spats with the Portuguese in Ceuta prompted its governor to cut off commercial ties with Tétouan, and local merchants grumbled that her temper and pride had become bad for business. Meanwhile, her son-in-law Moulay Ahmed al-Hassan al-Mandari (Abu Hassan’s grandson), anticipating the downfall of the Wattasids, allied with their tribal foes, the Saadis. He arrived in Tétouan in 1542 with a small army and usurped his mother-in-law. Accepting her fate, she retired to Chefchaouen, where she lived nearly 20 years more, until July 14, 1561.

Historians say she was the last Islamic woman ruler to hold the title “al-Hurra.” Though she left no known writing of her own, the words of her fellow Andalusian, the 11th-century poet Wallada, daughter of Al-Mustakfi, ruler of Córdoba, elegantly summarize her poise and power, not to mention those of all women leaders who distinguished themselves throughout history:

Worthy I am, by God of the highest, and Proudly I walk with head aloft.”


This six-part series presents some of the most notable historical female leaders of Muslim dynasties, empires and caliphates:

Astronomy in Medieval Jerusalem

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Various medieval Arabic manuscripts preserved in libraries around the world – Leipzig, Cairo, Princeton, and not least Jerusalem...

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Figure 2. The plan of the city of Jerusalem from a manuscript collection of various religious, astronomical and historical works dated 1589 (Source)

This activity was contemporaneous with cultural renewal after the devastating Crusades and with large-scale architectural developments, much of which has survived and is still visible in the city.

The main figures in this astronomical activity are the Cairo astronomer al-Rashīdī and his Jerusalem contemporary al-Karakī. There can be no comparison with the established sophisticated astronomical traditions in Mamlūk Cairo and Damascus and Aleppo, with substantial numbers of capable astronomers, but since the Jerusalem tradition is virtually unknown, it is surely worth documenting separately, and for this the time is perhaps ripe.

The manuscripts are concerned with an important branch of Islamic astronomy, namely, astronomical timekeeping and the regulation of the astronomically-defined times of the five daily prayers, as well as the determination of the qibla or sacred direction toward the sacred Kaʿba in Mecca. Most of the astronomers associated with mosques who practiced such applied astronomy for religious purposes were called muwaqqits, literally “those concerned with time-keeping”, others simply mīs, specialists in the discipline ʿilm al-mīt, “the science of astronomical timekeeping”. In the central lands of Islam this activity is attested in Cairo from the 13th century onwards, and in Damascus from the 14th. Prior to that similar tables were compiled all over the Islamic world (except al-Andalus) but on a less organized basis.

Figure 3. An employee works on a restoration of an old manuscript at the al-Aqsa mosque compound library in Jerusalem (Source)

Our manuscripts present a corpus of tables, containing over 20,000 entries for finding the time of day from the altitude of the sun throughout the year and for regulating the astronomically-defined times of prayer. Thus the muwaqqits associated with mosques in Jerusalem were involved in the same colourful activities as their colleagues in the better-known astronomical centres as Cairo and Damascus. More modest tables are attested for Ramla and Nablus, and the most sophisticated treatise that we have come across was copied by in the early 14th century by a muwaqqit at the Sacred Mosque in Hebron who was clearly conversant with the finer points of the astronomical tradition in Cairo.

Figure 4. Old manuscripts laid out at the al-Aqsa mosque compound library in Jerusalem (Source)

More specifically, the Leipzig manuscript (Universitätsbibliothek 808, copied 1402) contains extensive tables for Jerusalem by the 14th-century Jerusalem muwaqqit al-Karakī. These tables display for each degree of solar longitude (corresponding roughly to each day of the year) and for each degree of solar altitude above the horizon, (1) the time since rising (morning) or the time until sunset (afternoon), and (2) the time before or after midday. Values are expressed in degrees and minutes of time, where 1° equals 4 minutes (since 360° corresponds to 24 hours). There are 20,000 entries in the table, mainly accurately computed.

In addition, the Princeton manuscript (University Library, Special Collections, Yahuda 861,1, copied ca. 1600), contains a set of individual tables for Jerusalem, probably also by al-Karakī, displaying for each degree of solar longitude the following functions (in degrees and minutes):

  • half the length of daylight; half the length of night;
  • altitude of the sun at midday;
  • altitude of the sun at the ʿasr prayer and the time after midday;
  • solar altitude and time remaining to midday when the sun is in the direction of Mecca;
  • duration of morning twilight and evening twilight;
  • duration of darkness of night.

This corpus of tables was used by Jerusalem muwaqqits over the centuries. Late copies in Cairo manuscripts are datable as late as ca. 1900.

With these tables an astronomer would have control over the time of day and the times of the five prayers: sunset, nightfall, daybreak, midday and mid afternoon. He could instruct the muezzin when to announce to call to prayer. In this way in medieval Jerusalem the faithful were served by the muwaqqits.

Other means of regulating the passage of time were available. As for sundials, attention has already been drawn to a vertical sundial on the wall of a mosque in Jerusalem and a remarkable polar sundial in the courtyard of a mosque in Acre. Islamic astrolabes often included Jerusalem in their lists of localities, and some medieval European astrolabes included the city as the goal for pilgrims. One 14th-century Syrian astrolabe was deliberately designed to serve the major Mamlūk cities of Mecca, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus and Aleppo. There is no evidence that instruments were constructed in Jerusalem.


Please click here for the long version: “Astronomical timekeeping in Mamlûk Jerusalem” by Prof David A. King

The English and Arabic versions of the same original article on timekeeping in Syria and beyond, published in 1979 when, as the author says, “Aleppo was the centre of the world for the history of Arabic and Islamic science”.

Click here for the English version and here for the Arabic version

Figure 5. An Ottoman illustration of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem 18th century (Source)

Obituary: Professor Cesare Rossi, Naples

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The world has lost a rare scholar and wonderful person. Cesare Rossi was a distinguished professor of engineering and also historian of engineering. He was a friend and an Associate of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, UK (FSTC UK). ...


One of the last scholarly tasks he did was reviewing the sections related to engineering of the 4th Edition of the 1001 Inventions Book which is now published as an eBook.

Synopsis on His life

Cesare Rossi was born in Naples, Italy on 26 July 1955 and died on 10 March 2017.

In1979, he graduated with Mechanical Engineering Degree cum Laude at the University of Napoli – “Federico II”. He worked as a Technical Manager in the textile industry and in the  Aerospace industry. In 2000, he was full Professor of Mechanics for Machines and Mechanical Systems at the university of Naples. He taught Mechanics and Robotics and supervised numerous Master and Ph.D. theses. He developed strong interest in the History of Mechanism and Machine Science and has published more than 150 publications in international journals including books. He had assumed various managerial posts at the university and was consultant to a number of industries.

Cesare was married to Irma Pagliara, and they lived in Naples. He was proud of Naples and enthusiastic of its history. He was a keen scholar in history in general and in history of machines and mechanisms science in particular. Cesare was passionate about learning, but he was always modest with his expertise and extensive knowledge.

Cesare had a broad interpretation of the character of the engineer, as one certainly not related to the merely technical sphere, but able to grasp the most interesting and, in some ways, stranger aspects of life. This character of the engineer was the protagonist of a book that Cesare wrote, in which, he conveys his views using a series of small stories.

Among his many interests, he was keen on weapon sports. This lead him to compete in the Italian national championship in different categories achieving the title of Italian national champion with Moschetto of 18th century.

His family and friends remember him to be always available, cooperative, and keen to encourage, guide and assist younger people. He had no children of his own.

Da Vinci’s design for a flying machine with wings based closely upon the structure of a bat’s wings.(Source)

The Paper that was to be presented

It is prudent to publish the abstract of his intended paper for the London Symposium that his death prevented him from presenting.

Examples of the Sources of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Studies through his Designs

by Cesare Rossi
D.I.I. Università di Napoli “Federico II”
Via  Claudio, 21 – 80122 Naples, Italy

Leonardo Da Vinci is commonly considered as a “know-all” man who conceived inventions in quite all the fields of the science and the technique. This fame comes from the discovery of  his lots of drawings. These reveal the skillful hand of great painter of a wide number of devices. The latter, quite in almost field of the knowledge: from the human anatomy to the mechanics, from the hydraulics to the fortifications, from the submarine works to the flying.

In reality, Da Vinci had never presented himself as “inventor”. This is especially manifest in his letter to Lodovico il Moro (Duke of Milan) when he proposes himself mainly as a painter, then as military architect and finally he tells that he was capable of making some military machines. We should take notice that making doesn’t necessarily mean inventing. In addition, we also know that Leonardo clearly declared that the machines he invented were very few.

In the this presentation, I shall give  several examples of cases where designs of various mechanical devices and other studies by Da Vinci can be linked to other historical mechanisms and studies invented or made before him.  The main fields of the Da Vinci’s studies that will be considered are:

Human Anatomy: the foetus, the blood circulation, the Vitruvian Man and the spinal column.
Mechanics: Self-propelled carts, Gears, Weapons, Lifting machines, Hydraulic saws, Robots and Cranes.
Ships: Dredgers and Paddle boats.
Flight: Flying machines and Parachute.

From all the examples above, it comes that the consideration of Leonardo as inventor may get into different perspective to what it is commonly thought. But, in the same way, his image as scholar of practically any field of the knowledge becomes consolidated.  Through his drawings, in fact, Leonardo Da Vinci demonstrates he had deeply studied almost any discipline known in his times.

But perhaps even more interesting is that Da Vinci’s studies are mainly based on the Hellenistic knowledge and on the study of treatises by Muslim scientists. So, a road seams to appear in the knowledge that starts from the very wide cultural patrimony that was represented by the treatises by the scientists and engineers of the Hellenistic Age and goes on with the Arabic culture of the Middle Ages.

Selected Publications on History of Engineerng

Below is a list of some of his works related to history of engineering selected from his long list of publications:

1. RUSSO F., ROSSI C., CECCARELLI M., RUSSO F – “Devices for Distance and Time Measurement at the time of the Roman Empire.” – International Symposium on History of Machines and Mechanisms: Proceedings of Hmm 2008, Tainan, Taiwan, November 10-14, 2008, pp. 101-114.

2. C. ROSSI, F. RUSSO, F. RUSSO (2009) – Ancient Engineers’ Inventions, Precursors of the present. Springer ISBN: 978-90-481-2252-3 (Print).

3. C. ROSSI, F. RUSSO (2010) – A Reconstruction of the Greek-Roman Repeating Catapult. Mechanism and Machine Theory. Vol. 45, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 36–45  ISSN:0094-114X

4. C. Rossi, M. Ceccarelli, M. Cigola (2011). The Groma, the Surveyor’s Cross and the Chorobates. In-Depth Notes on the Design of Old Instruments and Their Use.. DISEGNARE IDEE IMMAGINI (ISSN:1123-9247) pp.22- 33 Vol.42,

5. C. Rossi, S. Pagano (2011). A Study on Possible Motors for Siege Towers. JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN (ISSN:1050-0472) pp.1- 8 Vol. Volume 133,

6. Cesare Rossi (2012). Ancient Throwing Machines: a Method to Compute Their Performances. MECHANISM AND MACHINE THEORY, pp.1- 13 Vol. 51, ISSN:0094-114X

7. Cesare Rossi (2012) “Some Ancient Automatic Devices: the Precursors of Automation” Proc. RAAD 2012 21th International Workshop on Robotics in Alpe-Adria-Danube Region, September 10-13, 2012, Napoli, Italy, pp 21-34

8. C. Rossi, A. Unich (2013) A Study on Possible Archimede’s Cannon. Rivista Storica dell’Antichità. Vol. XLIII. ISSN 0300-340X

9. C. Rossi, M. Ceccarelli (2014) From Legends to Early Designs of Flying machines: From Ancient Egypt to Renaissance, IFToMM Workshop on History of MMS, CD Proceedings, Tianjin 2014, July 6-10, 2014, paper WHMMS-1.

10. Cesare Rossi (2014) “Some Examples of the Hellenistic Surprising Knowledge: its Possible Origin from the East and its Influence on Later Arab and European Engineers” Rivista Storica dell’Antichità, XLIV, 2014, pp. 61-84. ISSN 0300-340X.

11. C. Rossi, A. Messina, S. Savino, G. Reina (2015) “Performance of Greek-Roman Artillery”. Arms and Armour, Journal of the Royal Armouries.  Volume 12 Number 1, pp. 66-88, ISSN: 1741-6124, Online ISSN: 1749-6268

12. C. Rossi, T. G. Chondros, K. Milidonis, S. Savino, F. Russo (2015) Ancient Road Transport Devices: Developments from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire. Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering DOI 10.1007/s11465-000-0000-0

13. Rossi, C., The precursors of Leonardo da Vinci’s studies, (2015) 2015 IFToMM World Congress Proceedings, IFToMM 2015, DOI: 10.6567/IFToMM.14TH.WC.OS7.005.

14. Rossi, C., Savino, S., Messina, A., Reina, G.,Performance of Greek–Roman artillery,(2015) Arms and Armour, 12 (1), pp. 67-89, DOI: 10.1179/1741612415Z.00000000050.

15. Rossi, C., Russo, F.Dew ponds and air wells: An ancient source of drinking water at no cost [Gli stagni di rugiada ed I pozzi d’aria: UNA antica fonte di acqua potabile a costo nullo], (2016) Rivista Storica dell’Antichita, 46, pp. 253-260.

16. Rossi, C., Ceccarelli, M., Science, technology and industry in Southern Italy before the unification, (2016) History of Mechanism and Machine Science, 31, pp. 159-179, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-22680-4_10.

17. Rossi, C. The beginning of the automation a brief review on the automatic devices in the Hellenistic age, (2016) Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, 371, pp. 59-67, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-21290-6_6

18. Rossi, C., Some inventions by engineers of the hellenistic age, (2016) History of Mechanism and Machine Science, 32, pp. 151-164, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-31184-5_14.

19. Rossi, C., Chondros, T.G., Milidonis, K.F., Savino, S., Russo, F., Ancient road transport devices: Developments from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire, (2016) Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering, 11 (1), pp. 12-25, DOI: 10.1007/s11465-015-0358-6.

20. Rossi, C., Precursors of the automation in the Hellenistic Age, (2016) International Journal of Mechanics and Control, 17 (1), pp. 31-36.

21. Rossi C., Russo F., (2017) Ancient Engineers’ Inventions, History of Mechanism and Machine Science, vol 33. Springer, Cham.

22. Rossi, C., Russo, F., Savino, S., Windmills: Ancestors of the wind power generation, (2017) Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering, 12 (3), pp. 389-396, DOI: 10.1007/s11465-017-0414-5.