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Title: Astronomy during the

Astronomy during the
Islamic Civilization
Islamic Era 622 - 1492 AD
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The Early Expansion and Early Centers of Historic
Science historians such as the 19th century
European Orientalists Jean Jacques Sedillot and
Eilhard Wiedemann, and the 20th century Harvard
professor George Sarton strongly and persistently
promoted the pivotal Arab-Muslim role in
science. The 1300 years between the end of the
Greek golden age (500 BC 200 AD) and the 15th
century European Renaissance was definitely NOT a
scientific desert as is often perceived.
Arab-Muslim medieval scholars translated the
knowledge of the ancient Greeks, Persians, and
Indians, but went beyond mere translation and
made staggering breakthroughs They created the
foundation of scientific research as we know it
today (scientific method) Scientific centers of
research emerged in medieval Muslim lands such as
Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Samarkand, Bukhara
(Uzbekistan), Shiraz, Isfahan (Iran), Istanbul,
Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada.
Arabic emerged as the language of science during
the medieval era that united scholars across the
Muslim world. Roshdi Rashed, a science
historian from the University of Paris,
says A book published in Central Asia could be
read in southern Spain less than a year later.
Islamic learning was not like Greek science,
which was limited principally to the eastern
Mediterranean, but was spread across most of the
known world. When scholars (regardless of
their ethnic or religious backgrounds) wrote
their papers, they did so in Arabic so that their
colleagues in Baghdad , Cordoba or Isfahan could
understand them. Arabic was also understood by
all classes and gave ordinary Muslims access to
scholarly knowledge (unlike Latin.)
Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom), built by
caliph Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad at the end of
the 8th century The Islamic worlds premier
science academy for 400 years until Baghdad was
destroyed by the Mongols in 1258.
Translations from older cultures, publications of
scientific papers, breakthroughs in many
scientific disciplines took place at Bayt
During the Islamic Civilization, astronomy became
a precise science.
Thomas Welty writes Muslim astronomers
understood that the earth rotates on its axis
and revolves around the sun.
Will Durant writes that the Muslims took the
earths sphericity for granted.
Ptolemys Almagest was eventually replaced by
Ibn Yunus (10th 11th centuries) Hakemite
Astronomical Table whose accuracy surpassed any
other work in the world. His immense treatise was
over 80 chapters long.
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The earliest of those astronomical tables were
prepared by al-Battani (9th 10th
centuries). Will Durant says the al-Battanis
astronomical observations continued for 41
years, were remarkable for their range and
accuracy he determined many astronomical
coefficients with remarkable approximation to
modern calculations.
All European pioneers in astronomy, Copernicus,
Kepler, Brahe Galileo quoted the great
astronomer al-Battani. His monumental
accomplishments came 700 years before Galileo.
Tusi Couple (Nasir al-Din al-Tusi) (d. 1274) He
headed the internationally renowned Maragha
Copernicus (d. 1543) In his famous work, De
Revolutionibus, Copernicus used both Tusis and
Urdis theorems to provide mathematical evidence
for the heliocentric theory (nearly 300 years
after they have been proved by the two Islamic
scientific astronomers.)
Ibn al-Shatir (of Damascus -d.1375) Observations
of eclipses and the position of planets and
stars were recorded at medieval Islams
observatories with sophisticated instruments
developed by Muslim scientists.
Although the Babylonians, Indians and Egyptians
had astronomical observatories, the ones founded
in the Islamic world were far more sophisticated
and better equipped. Observatories such as the
ones at Maragha, Samarkand and Istanbul were
impressively equipped with astrolabes, sundials,
sextants, armillaries, celestial spheres to track
the movements of plants and constellations. Obser
vatories also housed large libraries that carried
hundreds of thousands of books.
The Great Observatory at Samarkand. (built in
1420 by Ulugh Beg, the grandson of Tamerlane.)
  • Other Internationally Renowned Observatories
  • in Baghdad, Mosul, Cairo, Damascus
  • and the most famous Maragha observatory built in
    1259 by the Mongol ruler Hulagu in Azerbaijan
  • They contained tens, even hundreds of thousands
    of books in their libraries.

The degree of research, scholarship and
documentation the Muslims devoted to astronomy
remained unmatched until modern times.
Many Astronomical Instruments were Constructed
and Used by Muslim Astronomers
  • Astrolabe (some of the early ones were made in
    Baghdad around 850 AD by Khafif, the student of
    Ali b.Isa.)

The Astrolabe is a compact instrument used to
observe and calculate the position of celestial
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Andalusi Astrolabe by Ahmad ibn Husayn ibn Baso
in Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus)- 14th century.
15th- century Spherical Astrolabe. Muslim
astronomers were the first to produce the
Spherical Astrolabe.
  • Quadrant

  • Armillaries of various types

  • Some of many star names that are Arabic in origin
    (Arabic was the scientific language during the
    Islamic Civilization)
  • Ain bulls eye Taurus
  • Aldebaran (al-dabaran) the follower Taurus
  • Betelgeuse (bayt al-jauza) the shoulder of
  • Deneb tail Cygnus
  • Al Anz (or Maaz) the goat Auriga
  • Algol (al-ghul) the demons head Perseus
  • Thuban the snake Draco
  • Rigel (rijl jauzah) foot Orion
  • Fomalhaut the mouth of the fish Piscis

Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (11th century) He
did pioneering investigations in optics. He
developed his Theory of Vision which he published
in his book Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics.)
His theory of vision is not far from how we
understand the process of vision today. He
successfully explained the Moon illusion (a
crater on the moon is named in his honor).
Arab-Muslim scholars also introduced the practice
of peer review and citations to confirm their
source material
Lines of Transmission
  • Translators such as
  • Gerard of Cremona from Italy (12th century) the
    most prolific translator. He spent 30 years in
    Toledo making Latin translations of
  • - Ptolemys Almagest
  • - astronomical coordinates by
    al-Zarqali that became known as the
    Toledan tables

Michael Scot (13th century) - (a Scotsman who
studied in Spain and Sicily). He was an
astronomer-alchemist-wizard in Toledo who was
financed by Emperor Frederick II to translate
Arabic works. He transcribed into Latin - Nur
al-Din Ibn Ishaq al-Bitrujis astronomical
treatises on planetary motion - Ibn
Rushds (Averroes) commentaries on
King Alfonso X (13th century) commissioned the
first renditions of Arabic texts into Castilian
Spanish (instead of Latin) in Toledo. He
sponsored - The Books of Astronomical
Knowledge which incorporated
Tahbit Ibn Qurras revision of the
Almagest - Translations of Abd
al-Rahman al-Sufis Treatise on the
Fixed Stars. - Other Muslim texts such as
Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Birunis text
on the spherical astrolabe.
The Crusaders (12th 13th centuries) helped
increase the pace of intellectual discourse.
They brought back a great deal of science,
medicine, foods, and much more from the Middle
East. For example - The Arabic-speaking Roman
Emperor Frederick II (13th
century) maintained a thriving correspondence
with Muslim philosophers and
scientists from his court in
Palermo, Sicily, even during his occupation of
Jerusalem. - Frederick enthusiastically
encouraged Muslim scientists (a
policy of Arab-Christian cooperation that was
begun by his father, Roger II
sponsor of the geographer
The Roman Emperor Frederick II, pictured in his
court in Palermo, Sicily, continued the fruitful
contacts with Muslim scholars initiated by his
father, Roger II, even during time of war. He
furthered learning by financing translations or
Arabic works into Latin.
This woodcut from a book about the nervous
system, published in Venice in 1495, shows
shelved reference volumes by Muslim physicians
Avicenna, Rhazes and Ibn Rushd, alongside works
by Aristotle and Hippocrates
Under the auspices of Islam, every known
civilization was represented, dispatching
scholars to study and publish. Some of the
represented cultures include Persian, Iraqi,
North African, Andalusian (Islamic Spain),
Turkish, Greek, Chinese, East Indian, Russian and
European, illustrating Islams global
influence. Human civilization flourished
regardless of race and culture, and had the
opportunity to excel in the sciences as well as
in every other field. .
Statement of the Tusi Couple as stated by Na?ir
al-Din al-?usi in his book al-Tadhkira fi ?ilm
al-haya (Ragep 1993, 194-195). If two coplanar
circles, the diameter of one of which is equal to
half the diameter of the other, are taken to be
internally tangent at a point, and if a point is
taken on the smaller circleand let it be at the
point of tangencyand if the two circles move
with simple uniform motions in opposite
directions in such a way that the motion of the
smaller circle is twice that of the larger so
the smaller completes two rotations for each
rotation of the larger, then that point will be
seen to move on the diameter of the large circle
that initially passes through the point of
tangency, oscillating between its endpoints.
al-Tusi Couple
Students Assignments
  • Astronomy words of Arabic origin
  • Islamic observatories during the middle ages
  • How to use an astrolabe
  • Muslim astronomers and their contribution to
  • Calculation of Earths diameter during the time
    of the Caliph al-Mamoun
  • Calculation of the exact tilt of earths axis as
    23.5 degrees by Muslim astronomers
  • The brightest supernova recorded in human history
    in 1006. (Accurate record of this supernova was
    provided by Ibn Ridwan from Egypt)
  • Other features on the Moon that carry Muslim
    names (like Alhazen crater, etc.)

  • Ajram, Dr. K. The Miracle of Islamic Science.
    Knowledge House Publishers, Cedar Rapids, 1992.
  • Al-Hassani, Salim T. S. 1001 Inventions Muslim
    Heritage in our World. UK Foundation for
    Science, Technology and Civilization, 2007.
  • Byng, Edward J. The World of the Arabs. Little
    Brown and Co., Boston, 1944.
  • Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. Simon and
    Schuster, New York, 1950.
  • Goldstein, Bernard. Copernicus and the Origin of
    his Heliocentric Universe. Journal for the
    History of Astronomy 33 (2002) pp. 219-35
  • Goldstein, Thomas. Dawn of Modern Science.
    Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, 1980.
  • Khaleel, Kasem. Science in the Name of God.
    Knowledge House, Buffalo Grove, 2003.
  • Roberts, Victor. The Solar and Lunar Theory of
    Ibn al-Shatir A Pre-Copernican Copernican Model.
    ISIS 48 (1957) pp. 428-32.
  • Ragep, F.J. Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusis Memoir on
    Astronomy (al-Tadhkira fi ?ilm al-haya).
    Springer-Verlag, 1993.
  • Saliba, George. An Observational Notebook of a
    Thirteenth-Century Astronomer. ISIS 74 (1983)
    388 - 401.
  • Saliba, George. Rethinking the Roots of Modern
    Science Arabic Scientific Manuscripts in
    European Libraries. Center for Contemporary
    Studies, Georgetown University, 1999.
  • Saliba, George. A History of Arabic Astronomy
    Planetary Theories During the Golden
  • Age of Islam. New York University Press,
  • Saliba, George. The Origin and Development of
    Arabic Scientific Thought, Arabic. Balamand
    University, 1998.
  • Saliba, George. The Astronomical Work of
    Muayyad al-Din al-Urdi (d. 1266) A Thirteenth
    Century Reform of Ptolemaic Astronomy. Markaz
    Dirasat al-Wahda al-Arabia, Beirut, 1990, 1995,
  • Saliba, George. Whose Science is Arabic Science
    in Renaissance Europe? Columbia University, New
    York. (Electronic case study.)
  • Saudi Aramco World Magazine. Rediscovering Arabic
    Science. May/June 2007.
  • Sayili, Aydin. The Observatory in Islam and its
    Place in the General History of the Observatory.
    Ankara Türk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1960.
  • Turner, Howard R. Science in Medieval Islam.
    University of Texas Press, Austin, 1995.
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