Muslim Scientists & European Scholars

- Published in The Muslim World Legue Journal Vol 37 On September 2010

George Sarton in his monumental history of Science divided his story of the highest achievements in science in to ages, each lasting 50 years and associated them with one central figure. Thus 450 to 400 B.C. the age of Plato be followed by those of Aristotle, Euclid, and Archimedes and so on.

The theory of Gravitation

The classical Greek philosophers considered the motion of the classical bodies and of objects on earth basically unrelated, as the celestial bodies were deemed to follow perpetually repeating non-descending trajectories in the sky. Aristotle’s vision was that celestial bodies possess natural motion that did not require external causes, while massive earthly objects possessed natural tendency to move towards the earths centre. Aristotle viewed that body moving at constant speed required constant force acting on it and this force could be applied by contact only. These views impeded the understanding of the principles of motion and hence retarded the development of a theory of universal gravitation.

From 750 C.E. i.e. after the revelations of the Qur’ an, there is unbroken succession of the ages of the Muslim scientists. They are Jabber, Charisma, Raze, Maude, Afar, Bruin, and Avicenna etc., etc. till the 13th century Muslim’s achievement continued in the field of mathematics, chemistry, geography, physics, astronomy and medicines.

Muhammad bin Musa Charisma is renowned for founding Algebra, Muhammad bin Jabber Al-Battani is famous for logarithm and its application in astronomy. Jabber made its application in astronomy. Jabber made the astronomical almanac known as the Book of Correct Astronomical Almanac (Kitab Al-Jeez Al-Sabi). He measured the time of the orbital motion if the earth around the sun as 365 days 5 hours and 24 seconds. It is two minutes 24 seconds less than the 19th century measurements. He made very important observation about the moon and the sun eclipses and on parallax. During the region of Caliph Mammon many observatories were built. Musa bin Shakir and his sons and Charisma measured the circumference, latitude and longitude of the earth etc.

Al-Hasan Al-Haitham (Alhazen, 965, 1039) wrote a book Al-Manazir. It deals with lights, its kinds, transparent, transcend, and opaque, the laws of reflection and the refraction of light etc. his contribution that a ray of light in passing a medium takes a path which is quicker and easier than it travels in straight lines. In this he was anticipating Fermat’s principle of least time by many centuries. He understood the law of Inertia, later to become Newton’s first law of motion. He described the process of reflections in mechanical terms by considering the movement of particles of light as they pass through separation of two media, in accordance with rectangle of forces, an approach later rediscovered and elaborated by Newton.

Biruini (973-1048) said that the change of day and night is not caused by the sun, but the earth’s rotation on its axis and the planets go around the sun. This was said 500 years before Corpernicus. Biruini pointed to the power of the gravitation between the celestial bodies, and put forth argument about the earth being spherical, its rotation on its axis and its orbiting around the sun. He produces a new formula for working out the circumference of the earth. It is known as Biruni’s rule. He also used cylindrical astrolabe not only to observe the planets and stars, but he also used it to measure the distance of the celestial bodies from the earth, their attitude and the movement of the planets.

Al-Khazini (12th century) worked out the theory of universal gravity directed towards the centre of the earth, he put forth the assumption that air has weight.

Qutubuddin Al-Shirazi (1236-1311) and his pupil Kamaluddin gave the first explanation of rainbow. He stated that the speed of lights is in inverse ratio to the optical, rather than the material density of the medium and hyperbolical lenses avoid spherical aberration.

George Sarton mentioning the Muslim achievement says, Avicenna (Ibn Sina 950-1037) regarded light as an emission of luminous sources of particles travelling at finite speed, and motion.

Baghdad was the seat and the Muslim rule of Spain was the era of learning when Europe was in dark ages. The Muslim scientist’s work and notions were carried to Europe as the European students studies there. The Muslim rule in India attained the master progress in architecture and woven cloth. The Taj Mahal is counted upon the 8th wonder if the world.

It is and irony of fate that Baghdad was ruined by Tartar attacks. The Muslim rule of Spain and Portugal were overthrown and the East India company of the United Kingdom captured India. Thus the treasures of scientific knowledge were either ruined or overtaken by Europe.

After the history recorded the great devastation of Abbasids, the Ottomans took over, but the Muslims could never revive the scientific progress that was destroyed by Tartars, or Genghis and his grand son.

Halaque Khan

However, it would not be out of way to point out that is was the policy of British and European rulers to belittle the Muslim works so they never mentioned the Muslim scientists in the courses of study where they had their Imperialistic or Colonial rule. We could hear Aristotle, and then Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein in the field of gravitation etc.

Galileo is known to prove the power of earth’s gravitation and that produces continuous downward acceleration independent of the bulk or composition of the bodies. He also realized that bodies influenced by forces continue indefinitely to move and that force was necessary to change motion.

Newton’s law of gravity came to be known in 1687. He assumed the presence of an attractive force between all celestial bodies. This force does not require bodily contact but acts at a distance. He said that the force of attraction between any two material particles in the universe is proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Later Einstein in his theory of relativity stated a functional relationship between matter, space and time. His prediction regarding the dependence of length, time and mass on the relative velocity with standard reference particularly at the time of solar eclipse in May 1919 came out correct.

It is evident that the observations of the Muslim scientists of 10th to 12th century in all their scientific fields in general and particularly astronomy were almost accurate and served as beacon to the future progress attained by the European scholars.

The Holy Qur’an was guiding force to the Muslim scientists as this Great Book is unassailable scripture.

Now we shall see that how the celestial bodies are keeping to their places: Allah (God) is He who raised the heavens without (such) columns that ye can see. Then He established Himself on the Throne of Authority and subjected the sun and the moon (in their orbits). All running to an appointed term. (13:2) (literal translation).

And God said: He created the heavens without any (such) columns that ye can see, and hath set on the earth firm mountains lest it should shake. (31:10)

And God said: Have they not looked at the heaven above them, how we have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it. (50:6)

The Holy Qur’an invited the attention of the reader in the above verses to the creation of sky and its adoration with planet and stars, stating that one cannot find any draw back in this creation. Here particularly three things have been mentioned. a) Creation and raising of the heavens on invisible columns, b) subjection of the sun and moon (in their orbits) to an appointed time, it is proved in another verse: they all float in an orbit (36:40), c) setting of the mountains on the earth lest it should shake. I shall take these points one by one.

The clause ye can see is the translation of Arabic Taraunaha i.e. you can see the columns but they are invisible. That is to say that the existence of the columns can be supposed between the sun moon and the sky. Here the Qur’an mentions all the three creations i.e. planets as the earth and moon are planets, the stars as the sun is a star in our galaxy and the sky. The question arises why do we require columns? We require them to keep a thing in its place. The Qur’an has described the movement of the stars and planets and their subjections into their orbits. Therefore, these columns are moving with the movement of the planets or stars to keep them into their orbits. This is related in the Qur’an in 7th century what Newton described was nothing new when he assumed the presence of an attractive force between all massive celestial bodies. This force does not require bodily contact but acts at a distance it is a clear reference to; the invisible columns mentioned by the Qur’an.

These verses might have made the Muslim scientists to mention the law of inertia and gravitation between the celestial bodies but before they could develop them, their works were ruined. Later Newton and Einstein did develop them in 17th and 20th century respectively.

The second point subjection of the sun and moon means the subjection of our solar system in keeping to its appointed orbits. The invisible column if it gravitation are doing it. In the verse in question Allah described setting out mountains on earth lest it should shake. This is stated along with the creation of heavens with invisible columns. There is perfect coordination between the two facts; the invisible columns of gravitation along with mountains maintain the equilibrium of earth, so that it may not shake while running in its orbit. Similarly the Qur’an talked about the possibility of its deviation from its course, (35:41) The power of gravitation of other heavenly bodies may also make it to shake or deviate from its orbit or axis.

However, in the 7th century nobody could dream of traversing of earth what to talk of its deviation from its course. The Qur’anic facts were subject of the denial by the orientalists but the 20th century science found them to be true. It is recorded encyclopedia fact that in reality the attractions of the other planets cause the whole orbit to rotate round the sun and to undergo change in speed shape and size. These changes are only perceptible to the refine observation carried on over many years, they are moreover periodic that is the orbit fluctuates in shape and size but can never depart far from its present from.

The Quran talked of invisible columns and also said that ye can see and that we did see in our vision when Newton found his law of gravitation. The Qur’an stated the possibility of deviation of the earth from its track, the modern science proved it.

This is doubtless proves of Uniqueness of the Creator, of His Book Qur’an, and of His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and that he presented the humanity with the perfect order of Islam containing all the modern knowledge.

- By Ahmad Wahaj Al-Siddiqui Al-Taimi