Syed Ameer Ali.

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1 The annalist 'Ayni says that at this period the public library of Cairo con-
tained over two million books, of which six thousand treated exclusively of
mathematics and astronomy. I have only mentioned a few of the names
among the thousands of mathematicians and physicists who nourished during
this epoch, when the scientific spirit of Islam was at its zenith.


of all ranks composed those Arabic verses which perhaps
suggested models for the ballads and canzonettes of the Spanish
minstrels and the troubadours of Provence and Italy. No
speech or address was complete without some scrap of verse,
improvised on the spur of the moment, by the speaker or quoted
by memory from some famous poet." * To these we may add
the words of Renan : " The taste for science and literature
had, by the tenth century, established, in this privileged
corner of the world, a toleration of which modern times hardly
offer us an example. Christians, Jews, and Musulmans spoke
the same tongue, sang the same songs, participated in the same
literary and scientific studies. All the barriers which separated
the various peoples were effaced ; all worked with one accord
in the work of a common civilisation.. The mosques of Cordova,
where the students could be counted by thousands, became the
active centres of philosophical and scientific studies." 2

The first observatory in Europe was built by the Arabs.
The Giralda, or tower of Seville, was erected under the super-
intendence of the great mathematician Jabir ibn Afiah in
1190 a.c. for the observation of the heavens. Its fate was not
a little characteristic. After the expulsion of the Moors, it was
turned into a belfry, the Spaniards not knowing what else to
do with it !

Omar ibn Khaldun, Ya'kub ibn Tarik, Muslimah al-Maghr'ibi,
and the famous Averroes (Abu'l Walid Mohammed ibn Rushd)
are some of the physicists whom we may mention here. Nor was
Western Africa inactive during this period : Ceuta and Tangier,
Fez, and Morocco, rivalled Cordova, Seville, and Granada ;
their colleges sent out able professors, and numerous learned
works testified to the indefatigable ardour of the Moslem mind
in all departments of learning.

The beginning of the eleventh century saw a great change
in the political condition of Central Asia. The rise of

1 Stanley Lane-Poole, The Moors in Spain, p. 144. For a full account of
Cordova, see Short History of the Saracens (Macmillan), p. 515.

2 Renan, Averroes et Averroism, p. 4. The golden age of literature and
science in Spain was under Hakam al-Mustansir b'illdh who died in 976 A.c.
The catalogue of his library consists of forty-four quartos. He employed
agents in every quarter of the globe to procure for him, at any price, scientific
works, ancient and modern. He paid to Abu'l Faraj al-Isphahani 1000 dinars
of gold for the first copy of his celebrated Anthology {Kitab ul-Aghani).


Mahmud, 1 the great Ghaznavide conqueror, Yemin nd-Dowla
and A min ul-Millat, " right hand of the empire " and " custodian
of the Faith," brought Transoxiana, Afghanistan, and Persia
under the sovereignty of Ghazni. He collected round him a
body of scholars and litterateurs who shed a glorious lustre on
his brilliant reign. Attached to the renovated " orthodoxy " of
al-Asha'ri, and consequently piously inimical to the rationalistic
school of thinkers, chary in his munificence to the poets who
made his name famous in the annals of the world, he yet had
the genius to perceive the merits of men like Abu Raihdn
Mohammed ibn Ahmed al-Beiruni, philosopher, mathematician,
and geographer. Firdousi, the prince of poets, Dakiki, and
Unsuri. Al-Beiruni's mind was encyclopaedic. His work on
astronomy, entitled after his patron Sultan Masu'd, 2 al-Kdnun-
al-Mas'udi, Canon Masudicus, is a monument of learning and
research. He travelled into India, and studied the language
of the Hindus, their sciences, their philosophy and literature,
and embodied his observations in a work which has recently
been furnished to us in an English garb. The philosophical
and scientific, not to say sympathetic, spirit which animates
al-Beiruni in the treatment of his subject is in marked contrast
to the mode still in vogue among Western nations, and serves
as an index to the intellectual character of Islam. The IvSiko. 3
of al-Beiruni shows the extent to which the Moslems had utilised
the treasures of Greek learning, and turned them to fruitful
purposes. Besides these two great works, he wrote on mathe-
matics, chronology, mathematical geography, physics, and

Al-Beiruni communicated to the Hindus the knowledge of
the Bagdadian school in return for their notions and traditions.
He found among them the remains of Greek science, which had
been transported to India in the early centuries of the Christian
era, or perhaps earlier, during the existence of the Graeco-
Bactrian dynasties. The Hindus do not seem to have possessed
any advanced astronomical science of their own ; for, had it

1 a.c. 996-1030. 2 The son and successor of the Conqueror.

3 Fi't Tahkik ma li'l Hind ; see Short History of the Saracens (Macmillan),
p. 463. Another remarkable work of his is the As&r ul-Bdkieh or the Vestiges
of the Past, translated into English by Dr. Sachau.


been otherwise, we doubtless would have heard about it, as
Sedillot rightly observes, from the Greek writers of the times
of Alexander and the Seleucidae. They, like the Chinese,
borrowed most of their scientific ideas from foreign sources,
and modified them according to their national characteristics.

Under the successors of Mahmud learning and arts flourished
abundantly. The rise of the Seljukides and their grand muni-
ficence towards scholarship and science rivalled that of the
golden days of the Abbaside rule. Tughril, Alp Arslan, Malik
Shah, and San jar were not only remarkable for the greatness
of their power, the clear comprehension of what constituted the
welfare of their subjects, but were equally distinguished for
their intellectual gifts and ardent enthusiasm in the cause of
learning. Jaldl ud-din Malik Shah 1 and his vizier, Khwaja
Hasan Nizam ul-Mulk, 2 collected round them a galaxy of
astronomers, poets, scholars, and historians. The astronomical
observations conducted in his reign by a body of savants, with
Omar Khayyam and Abdur Rahman al-Hazini at their head,
led to the reform of the Calendar which preceded the Gregorian
by six hundred years and is said by a competent authority to
be even more exact. 3 The era which was introduced upon these
observations was named after Malik Shah, the Jaldlian.

The destructive inroads of the Christian marauders who
called themselves Crusaders was disastrous to the cause of
learning and science in Western Asia and Northern Africa.
Barbarous savages, hounded to rapine and slaughter by crazy
priests, they knew neither mercy for the weakness of sex or
age, nor the value of letters or arts. They destroyed the
splendid library of Tripoli without compunction ; they reduced
to ashes many of the glorious centres of Saracenic culture and
arts. Christian Europe has held up to obloquy the apocryphal
destruction of the Alexandrian library, which had already been
burned in the time of Julius Caesar, but it has no word of blame
for the crimes of her Crusaders five centuries later. The
calamities inflicted by the Crusaders were lasting in their
effect ; and in spite of the endeavours of Saladin and his sons
to restore the intellectual life of Syria, it has remained dead
from that day to this.

1 1073-1092 a.c. 2 i.e. the Administrator of the Empire. 3 Sedillot.


In the interval which elapsed between the rise of Mahmud
and the fall of Bagdad, there flourished a number of philo-
sophers and scientists, among whom shine the great Avicenna
(Abu Ali Husain Ibn-Sina), 1 Fath ibn Nabeghah Khakani, 2
Mubashshar ibn Ahmed, 3 and his son Mohammed. 4

The eruption of the Mongols upon the Saracenic world was
not like the invasion of the Roman empire by the northern
barbarians. These had proceeded slowly ; and in their com-
paratively gradual progress towards the heart of the empire
they had become partially softened, and had to some extent
cast off their pristine ferocity. The case was otherwise with
the hordes of the devastator Chengiz. They swept like over-
whelming torrents over Western Asia. Wherever they went
they left misery and desolation. 5 Their barbarous campaigns
and their savage slaughters put an end for a time to the
intellectual development of Asia. But the moment the wild
savages adopted the religion of the Prophet of Arabia a change
came over them. From the destroyers of the seats of learning
and arts they became the founders of academies and the
protectors of the learned. Sultan Khoda-Bendah (Uljaitu-
Khan), sixth in descent from Chengiz, was distinguished for
his attainments and his patronage of the sciences. But the
fearful massacres which the barbarians had committed among
the settled and cultured population of the towns destroyed
most of the gifted classes, with the result that, though the great
cities like Bokhara and Samarcand rose again into splendour,
they became, nevertheless, the seats of a narrower culture, more
casuistical and theological than before. And yet the Mongols
protected philosophers like Nasir ud-din Tusi, Muwayyad
ud-din al-Orezi of Damascus, Fakhr ud-din al-Maraghi, Mohi
ud-din al-Maghribi, Ali Shah al-Bokhari, and many others.
The successors of Hulaku tried thus to restore to Islam what
their ancestor had destroyed. Whilst the Mongols in Persia
were employed in making some amends to civilisation, Kublai
Khan transported to China the learning of the Arabs. Co-

1 Died in 1037 a.c. - Died in 1082 A.c.

3 Died in 1135 a.c. ' Died in 1193 a.c.

5 For a full account of the havoc and ruin caused by the Tartars, see Short
History of the Saracens, pp. 391-400.


Cheou-king received in 1280 from Jamal ud-din the tables of
Ibn-Yunus, and appropriated them for Chinese purposes.

Ibn-Shathir, who lived in the reign of Mohammed ibn Kalaun,
the Mameluke sovereign of Egypt, developed still further the
mathematical and astronomical sciences. And now arose on
the eastern horizon the comet-like personality of Timur.
" From his throne in Samarcand this Titan of the fourteenth
century called into being the greatest empire ever seen in
Asia, and seemed to extinguish in his one resistless will the
immemorial antagonism of Iran and Turan." He was a patron
of science and poetry, himself fond of the society of the scholars
and artists of his day, an author, as well as a legislator of no
mean order. 1 Magnificent colleges, splendid mosques, vast
libraries, testified to the taste for letters of this remarkable man.
His vast system of colonisation filled the great cities of Eastern
Asia, especially Samarcand, with the splendour of all the arts
and sciences known to the West. Timur established " the most
brilliant empire known to the history of Islam, except that
of the Ommeyyads in Spain, and that of the first Abbasides
in Arabistan." Jami, master of sciences ; Suhaili, translator
of Pilpay ; Ali Sher Ameer, were some of the men who shed
lustre on the reigns of his successors. The college founded by
his consort, Bibi Khanam, and known by her name, still strikes
the observer as one of the most imposing and most beautiful
products of Saracenic architecture. Timur's son, Shah Rukh
Mirza, imitated his father in the cultivation and patronage of
arts and letters. His peaceful reign of nearly half a century
was remarkable for high intellectual culture and scientific
study. When he transported his government from Samarcand
to Herat, the former city lost none of its splendour. Ulugh
Beg, his son, charged with the government of Transoxiana,
maintained the literary and scientific glories of Samarcand.
Himself an astronomer of a high rank, he presided at the
observations which have immortalised his name. The tables
in which those observations were embodied complete the cycle
of Arabian thought. Ulugh Beg is separated by only a century
and a half from Kepler, the founder of modern astronomy.

1 The Malfdzat-i-Timdri (" The Institutes of Timur ") are couched in the
style of the old Assyrian and Kyanian monarchs.


It was, however, not astronomy only which the Moslems
cultivated and improved. Every branch of higher mathe-
matics bears traces of their genius. The Greeks are said to
have invented algebra, but among them, as Oelsner has justly
remarked, it was confined to furnishing amusement " for the
plays of the goblet." The Moslems applied it to higher pur-
poses, and thus gave it a value hitherto unknown. Under
Mamun they had discovered the equations of the second
degree, and very soon after they developed the theory of
quadratic equations and the binomial theorem. Not only
algebra, geometry, and arithmetic, but optics and mechanics
made remarkable progress in the hands of the Moslems. They
invented spherical trigonometry ; they were the first to apply
algebra to geometry, to introduce the tangent, and to sub-
stitute the sine for the arc in trigonometrical calculations.
Their progress in mathematical geography was no less remark-
able. The works of Ibn-Haukal, of Makrizi, al-Istakhri,
Mas'udi, al-Beinini, al-Kumi and al-Idrisi, Kazwini, Ibn ul-
Wardi, and Abu'l Feda, show what the Saracens attained in
this department of science, called by them the rasm-ul-arz.
At a time when Europe firmly believed in the flatness of the
earth, and was ready to burn any foolhardy person who thought
otherwise, the Arabs taught geography by globes.

The physical sciences were as diligently cultivated. The
method of experimentation was substituted for theorising ; and
the crude ideas of the ancients were developed into positive
sciences. 1 Chemistry, botany, geology, natural history, among
others occupied the attention and exercised the energies of the
ablest men.

Chemistry, as a science, is unquestionably the invention of
the Moslems. Abu Musa Jabir (the Geber of Christian
writers) 2 is the true father of modern chemistry. " His
name is memorable in chemistry, since it marks an epoch in
that science of equal importance to that of Priestley and

1 Humboldt calls the Arabs the real founders of the physical sciences.

2 Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan was a native of Tarsus. Ibn Khallikan says
Jabir compiled a work of two thousand pages in which he inserted the

problems of his master (the Imam) Ja'far as-S&dik which formed five hundred
treatises " ; see also the Tarikh-ul-Hukama.


Lavoisier." He was followed by others, whose originality and
industry, profoundness of knowledge, and keenness of observa-
tion, evoke the astonishment of students, and make them
look with regret upon the inertness of the latter-day Moslem.

The science of medicine and the art of surgery, the best index
to a nation's genius and a severe test to the intellectual spirit
of a faith, were developed to the highest degree. Medicine had
undoubtedly attained a high degree of excellence among the
Greeks, but the Arabs carried it far beyond the stage in which
their predecessors in the work of civilisation had left it, and
brought it close to the modern standard. We can give here
but a small conception of the work done by the Saracens for
several centuries in this department of human study, and in
the development of the natural sciences.

The study of medical substances, the idea of which struck
Dioscorides in the Alexandrian school, is, in its scientific form,
a creation of the Arabs. They invented chemical pharmacy,
and were the first founders of those institutions which are now
called dispensaries} They established in every city public
hospitals, called Ddr ush-Shifa, " the house of cure," or Mdri-
stdn (an abbreviation of bimdristan, " the patient's house ")
and maintained them at the expense of the State.

The names of the Arab physicians in the biographical
dictionary of Abu Usaibi'a fill a volume. Abu Bakr Mohammed
ibn Zakaria ar-Razi (known to mediaeval Europe as Rhazes),
who flourished in the beginning of the tenth century, 2 Ali ibn-
Abbas, 3 Avicenna (Abu Ali Husain ibn-Sina), Albucasis (Abu'l

1 The persons in charge of the dispensaries were under the control of Govern-
ment. The price and quality of medicine were strictly regulated. Many
dispensaries were maintained by the State. There were regular examinations
for physicians and pharmacists, at which licences were given to passed
candidates. The licence-holders were alone entitled to practise. Compare
Kremer and Sedillot.

2 This great physician, surnamed Razi, from the place of his birth, Rai
(ancient Rhages), filled successively the office of principal of the public
hospitals at Rai, Jund-Shapur, and Bagdad. He wrote the Hdwi, which
Sedillot calls " un corpus medical fort estime." His treatises on smallpox
and measles have been consulted by the physicians of all nations. He intro-
duced the use of minoratives, invented the seton, and discovered the nerve
of the larynx. He wrote two hundred medical works, some of which were
published in Venice in 1510. Ar-Razi died in a.h. 311 (a.c. 923-4)-

3 Ali ibn-Abbas flourished fifty years later than Rhazes. He published a
medical work,""consisting~of^twenty volumes, on the theory and practice of

s.i. 2 B


Kasim Khalaf ibn Abbas), Aven-Zoar l (Abu Merwan ibn
Abdul Malik ibn Zuhr), Averroes (Abu'l Walid Mohammed ibn
Rushd), 2 and Aben-Bethar (Abdullah ibn Ahmed ibn Ali al-
Beithdr, the veterinary) , z are some of the most brilliant and most
distinguished physicians who have left an enduring impression
on the world of thought. Albucasis was not only a physician
but a surgeon of the first rank. He performed the most difficult
surgical operations in his own and the obstetrical department.
In operations on women, we are informed by him, in which
considerations of delicacy intervened, the services of properly
instructed women were secured. The ample description he has
left of the surgical instruments employed in his time gives an
idea of the development of surgery among the Arabs. 4 Avicenna
was unquestionably the most gifted man of his age ; a uni-
versalist in genius, and encyclopaedic in his writings. A
philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, poet, and physician,
he has left his influence impressed on two continents, and well
deserves the title of Aristotle of the East. In spite of patristic
jealousy, his philosophic ideas exercised an undisputed sway for
several centuries in the schools of the East as well as of Europe.
Avicenna is commonly known in Asia as the Sheikh par excellence.

medicine, which he dedicated to the Buyide Ameer 'Azud ud-dowla. This work
was translated into Latin in 1227, and printed at Lyons in 1523 by Michel
Capella. Ali ibn-Abbas corrected many of the errors of Hippocrates and

1 Ibn Zuhr or Aven-Zoar was one of the most distinguished physicians
of his age. Born at Penaflor, he entered, after finishing his medical and
scientific studies, the service of Yusuf bin Tashfin, the great Almoravide
monarch of Africa, who covered the rising physician with honours and riches.
Ibn Zuhr joined, like Albucasis, the practice of medicine with surgery. He
was the first to conceive the idea of bronchotomy, with exact indications of
the luxations and fractures, and discovered several important maladies with
their treatment. His son followed in his father's steps and was the chief
surgeon and physician of Yusuf bin Tashfin's army.

2 Averroes was the Avicenna of the West. His life and writings have been
given to the world by Renan. He was a contemporary of Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Baja,
and Ibn Tufail. Of Averroes and his contemporaries we shall have to speak
in the next chapter.

Besides these may be mentioned Abu'l Hasan ibn Tilmiz, author of Alma-
lihi ; Abu Ja'far Ahmed ibn Mohammed at-Talib, who wrote on pleurisy,
etc. ; and Hibatulla.

3 Al-Beithar travelled all over the East to find medicinal herbs, on which
he wrote an exhaustive treatise. The Arab physicians introduced the use of
the rhubarb, cassia, senna, camphor, the pulp of the tamarind (tamr—

j+t-hindi — Indian date), etc.

4 In lithotomy he was equal to the foremost surgeons of modern times.


He was born in the year 980 A.c. at a village called Afshanah, in
Transoxiana, of which place his father was the governor. He
finished his medical studies in Bokhara at the age of eighteen,
when commenced an extraordinary political and philosophical
career. His tenacity in refusing the liberal offers of Mahmud
the Conqueror to join his service led to his expulsion from the
Ghaznavide dominions. He soon became the vizier of Shams
ud-dowla, Ameer of Hamadan, and afterwards of 'Ala ud-dowla,
Ameer of Isphahan, where he pursued his scientific and
philosophical studies, and wrote his great works, the Kdnun
and the Arjuza, afterwards the foundation of all medical

The Greeks possessed crude notions of anatomy, and their
knowledge of pharmacy was restricted within a very narrow
compass. The Moslems developed both anatomy and pharmacy
into positive sciences. The wide extent of the empire enabled
researches and investigations in every quarter of the globe,
with the result that they enriched the existing pharmacopoeia
by innumerable and invaluable additions. Botany they
advanced far beyond the state in which it had been left by
Dioscorides, and augmented the herbalogy of the Greeks by
the addition of two thousand plants. Regular gardens existed
both in Cordova and Bagdad, at Cairo and Fez for the education
of pupils, where discourses were delivered by the most learned
in the sciences.

Ad-Damiri (Aldemri) is famous in the Moslem world for his
history of animals — a work which forestalled Button by seven
hundred years.

Geology was cultivated under the name of 'Ilm-i-Tashrih-ul-
Arz, " the science of the anatomy of the earth."

The superiority of the Moslems in architecture requires no
comment, for the glorious remains of Saracenic art in the East
and in the West still evoke the admiration of the modern world.
Their religion has been charged with their backwardness in
painting and sculpture, but it must be borne in mind that the
prohibition contained in the Koran is similar to the Levitical
commandment. It was but a continuation of the Mosaic Law,
which had so effectually suppressed the making of " graven
images " among the Jews, and its signification rests upon the


inveterate idolatry of the pre-Islamite Arabs. To the early
Moslems, therefore, painting and statuary were odious and
unlawful, as emblematic of heathenism, and this deeply
implanted iconoclasm undoubtedly saved them from relapsing,
as other nations had done, into idolatry. But with the gradual
development of the primitive commonwealth into a civilised
and cultured empire, and with the ascendency of learning and
science, the Moslems grasped the spirit of the prohibition, and
cast off the fetters of a narrow literalism. No doubt the spirit
of rationalism, which so deeply influenced the early Abbaside
and Spanish Caliphs, was the actual cause of the impetus
given by them to art. Hence throughout the Moslem world
a taste for painting and sculpture arose simultaneously with
the progress of literature and science. The palaces of the
Caliphs, the mansions of the sovereigns who followed in their
footsteps, and the houses of the grandees were decorated with
pictures and sculptures.

To the Prophet's prohibition of graven images or painting in
mosques the world is indebted for the art of arabesque —
which possesses such peculiar charm in the decoration of
Oriental buildings, and which has been widely adopted by
Western art. With the gradual enlightenment of the Moslems
by contact with the arts of other nations, animals and flowers,
birds and fruits were introduced into arabesque ; but the
figures of animated beings were throughout absolutely inter-
dicted in the decoration of places of worship. In purity of
form and simplicity of outline, in the gracefulness of design
and perfection of symmetry, in the harmony of every detail,
in the exquisiteness of finish and sublimity of conception,
Moslem architecture is equal to any in the world, and the
chaste and graceful ornamentation with which so many of
the grandest monuments are adorned, indicates a refinement of

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 42 of 55)