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Tag: astrology


Astronomy II

The corrections and original breakthroughs in astronomy were eventually absorbed into the works of Copernicus and the Renaissance astronomers. The greatest Arab achievements in the fields included:

1.                               The Arabs distinguished between astronomy and  astrology for the first time. And astrology was regarded as a key science by the Abbasids.

2.                               Milky Way: Al-Biruni (Persian astronomer 11th century) proposed that the Milky Way was a collection of nebulous stars.

3.                               Ibn Bajjah (Avempace, 12th c.) concluded that the Milky Way was a vast collection of stars but appeared to be a continuous entity, because of the effect of refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t until 1610 that Galileo studied the Milky Way with a telescope and discovered it was composed of a huge number of faint stars.

4.                               Arab astronomy developed numerous pieces of equipment for measuring angles, such as quadrants… and importantly, astrolabes. These were used for measuring the distance of celestial bodies above the horizon, as well as in determining latitude.





Unlike Chemistry and the life sciences, the Arab quest for the physical sciences came about partly through a need for accurate information… information that related to the Islamic faith. It was necessary to know when to begin and end Ramadan, and when to pray, and in which direction (to Mecca).

Mosques often had their own astronomer, a muqqawit, to determine the time for prayer. They had their own observatories as well. Calendars of prayer times and Ramadan dates, Eid etc were vital, and were created through a knowledge of astronomy. They also had elaborate astronomical charts and instruments for determining the most fortuitous moment to begin a battle or to set out on a journey. All this knowledge in turn fuelled breakthroughs in mathematics, geometry, and geography.

The Abbasids based their research principally on the works of Ptolemy and the work of the seventh century Indian mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta. The key breakthrough of the Arabs in astronomy was in correcting longstanding errors in the Ptolemaic system. A number of the great Arab polymaths turned their hands to the field, seemingly effortlessly. 




Just like the Classical world before and the so called Renaissance Men after, the golden age of Islam was championed by polymaths, whose works rival those of Aristotle, Da Vinci or Newton.

The Arab polymaths arrived in the Renaissance under their Latinised names. For example,

1.    Ibn Sina was Avicenna

2.    Ibn Bajjah was Avempace

3.    Ibn Hayyan was Geber

4.    Ibn Rushd was Averroes

5.    Al-Kindi was Alkindus

6.    Ibn al-Haytham was Alhazen

They were so important because they used breakthroughs in one area to push forward knowledge and understanding in another. Indeed, ‘Polymathy’ is a method that has almost been lost in the West, and is only now being rediscovered – so called ‘interdisciplinary’ study. (e.g. Stanford University’s new Bio-X Program, which brings together biologists, computer scientists, medical scientists and engineers, who learn from each other’s fields). The scientists and Polymaths from the golden age worked on areas of science which are familiar to us all, and are still being studied in schools and universities today, with the same scientific method.



The Arab Contribution

In the sciences, the Arabs took Classical work and breakthroughs and refined them, as well as developing their own fields of study from scratch. Their contribution was profound, and is often sidelined or completely forgotten in the Occident. And very often it was centuries ahead of its time. For example: The Arabs under the Abbasids and others constructed the first hospitals and lending libraries, gave the first academic degrees, and treated mental patients with music (more than a millennia before our idea of music therapy); they invented the fountain pen (because a tenth century Sultan wanted a pen that would write when he was ready), the camera obscura, water clocks, hydraulics, decryption of codes, and soap. 

They wrote about the concept of evolution, environmentalism, classification (mineral, animal, vegetable), scientific method and peer review… and refined all sorts of other things that are so key to our world, like paper as we have seen, the ‘Indian numbers’, and the massive mathematical breakthrough of ZERO.

They made contributions in almost all the sciences: mathematics, botany, chemistry, psychology, philosophy, engineering, physics, agriculture, astronomy, metallurgy, medicine and zoology.