Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi

February 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com

Idrisi

Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi  was born in Andalusian city of Ceuta,  in 1099 C.E. He was the descendant of Idrisid the ruler of Morocco who were said to be the direct descendant of Hazrat Hasan (ra) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (s). Al-Idrisi received his  education in Cordoba.  He traveled to many distant places, including Europe, Africa and Asia to gather geographical data and plant samples. After  traveling a few years he gathered enough information and accurate measurements of the earth’s surface to complete a rough world map. His fame and competence eventually led to the attention of Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, who invited him to produce an up-to-date world map.  He left Andalusia and moved to Sicily and worked in the court of the Norman king till he died in the year 1166 CE.

Mohammad al-Idrisi was a great geographer, cartographer, botanist, traveler and poet. In the West he is best known as a geographer, who made a globe using a silver sphere for King Roger of Sicily.

Al Idrisi’s contribution to geography was tremendous.  His book; ‘Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq,’(The Delight of Him Who Desires to Journey Through the Climates) also known as Roger’s Book, is a geographical encyclopedia which contains detailed maps and information on European countries, Africa and Asia. Al-Idrisi completed his encyclopedia in a very unique way.  In addition to his personal travel and scholarship, he  selected some intelligent men who were dispatched to distant lands  accompanied by draftsmen. When these men returned, al-Idrisi inserted the information in his treatise.  On the basis of these observations made in the field, and from data derived from  earlier Arabic and Greek geographers,  he brought the data up to date. The book and associated maps took 15 years to complete.  It is unquestionably among the most interesting monuments of Arabian geography. In addition, the book is the most voluminous and detailed geographical work written about 12th century Europe.

Al-Idrisi compiled a more comprehensive encyclopedia, entitled ‘Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs’ (Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls). Al-Idrisi’s knowledge of the Niger above Timbuktu, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy. For three centuries, geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes form which the river Nile starts its journey, as mentioned in his work, does not differ greatly from the modern map.

Al-Idrisi built a large global map made of silver weighing approximately 400 kilograms. He meticulously recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains. It is known to have been a colossal work of geography, probably the most accurate map of Europe, north Africa and western Asia created during the Middle Ages. The presentation of the Earth as a round globe was revolutionary idea in the Christian world because they believed that the earth was flat. Al-Idrisi knew that the earth was round, and he even calculated the circumference of the earth to be 22,900 miles, a difference of eight percent from the present value, and explained the revolutionary idea about earth like this;  “The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium  on the surface of the earth, the air which suffers no variation. It remained stable in space like the yolk in an egg. Air surrounds it on all sides.

Al-Idrisi’s book, Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq, represents a serious attempt to combine descriptive and astronomical geography. This book was not as grand as his other books, apparently because some truths of geography were still veiled from the author, nevertheless it is also considered a major geographic monument.

He also made the world map on a great disk almost 80 inches in diameter and weighing over 300 pounds–fabricated out of silver, which was chosen for its malleability and permanence.

Al-Idrisi’s other major contribution was his work on medicinal plants, which he discussed in several books, especially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. (Simple Book of Medicinal Plants) He studied and reviewed all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and came to the conclusion that very little original material had been added to this branch of knowledge since the early Greek work. He started collecting  medicinal  plants wherever he he traveled. Thus, he is credited for having added a large number of new medicinal plants, together with their evaluation to the medical science. He has given the names of the herbs in many languages like Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin, Berber and Arabic.

Al-Idrisi was a traveler who wrote about what he saw–some historians compare him to Marco Polo–but al-Idrisi’s work was much more scientific, and generally more objective, than Polo’s work. While al-Idrisi’s books have survived in their original manuscript form, whereas Marco Polo’s writings exist primarily as later transcriptions which were often altered.

Al-Idrisi, no doubt, was a great geographer and traveler who produced original work in the field of geography and botany. Some historians regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Middle Ages. His books were translated into Latin and became the standard books on geography for centuries, both in the east and west.

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An Inspiring Story: Rwanda Turning to Islam

November 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Arab News

capture11-25-2008-5.21.35 PM

Many Rwandans turned to Islam after the genocide because of the good example given by Rwandan Muslims during the genocide.  This is a portrait of a Muslim Rwandan girl visiting a mosque for a wedding (photo shown to document Rwandan Muslims, but does not to our knowledge directly relate to the genocide).

Courtesy “Samer!” on Yahoo/Flickr

DUBAI, 30 September 2007 — The life story of Umugwaneza Sulaiman, a contestant for the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award, is truly inspirational since he has risen from rubble to create a renaissance.

Even though he is only 19, this young man from Rwanda has survived a life of hardship. As a young child he survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He still has horrific memories of hiding in forests from militias that were killing people. The rivers and roads they walked through were littered with bodies. Later on he lost his father and had to lead a harsh life in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite all his hardships, Sulaiman was determined to become a hafiz and was rewarded by becoming the first Rwandan to take part in the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award competition. Sulaiman’s quest with the sacred book started when he converted to Islam at the age of 11.

“Even though my family were Catholics I was never interested in the church. The Azan from the mosque in my neighborhood fascinated me and I started attending classes there,” he said.

When asked if he faced any resistance from his family, Sulaiman said that his family had no issues with him becoming a Muslim, as Islam is a held in high regard in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. His whole family followed him a few years later and converted to Islam.

Since the genocide, Rwandans have converted to Islam in huge numbers. Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people in Africa’s mostly Catholic nation, twice as many as before the killings began. The reason behind the conversions lies in the fact that Rwandan Muslims did not take part in the genocide and played a key role in the humanitarian efforts that followed.

Muslims have been honored by the national government for their roles in saving the lives regardless of their faith. Many people attribute the recent spread of Islam to these humanitarian acts.

It took years of dedicated work for Sulaiman to memorize the Qur’an. The lack of qualified teachers in Rwanda made him make up his mind to travel to Kenya as there are good Qur’anic schools there.

“I was 15 when my five friends and I decided to travel to Kenya to seek knowledge. Two of my friends were converts like me,” he said.

The six young men packed their bags and traveled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to find the school. They enrolled themselves in a free boarding school, which accepts students from all over East Africa. There they studied under the tutelage of Qur’an scholars. It took Sulaiman two years to memorize the whole Qur’an.

Now back home in Rwanda, Sulaiman works as a part time Imam and Qur’an teacher to supplement his income while studying at the only Islamic seminar in Kigali.

Masha Allah, there are so many Muslims now in my country. We are working hard at teaching the Qur’an to the new generation of Muslim children,” he said.

After finishing his education, Sulaiman hopes to get a scholarship to study Islam. “We get Muslim scholars coming from Uganda to spread the word of Islam in Rwanda. I hope that through my knowledge of Islam I will be able to help spread peace in my country,” he said.

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Muslim scientists and thinkers–Abu Hamid al-Ghazali

September 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

Imamghazali Abu Hamid  al-Ghazali,  also known in west as Algazel, was born at Tus, Iran in the year 1058 CE. His father died while he was very young. He received his early education at Tus and at the age of fourteen he went to Gurgan. Here he studied Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and after seven years he moved to the city of Nishapur and became the student of famous scholar Abu Maali Juwayni.

He soon acquired a high standard of scholarship in religion,  philosophy and fiqh. The vizier of the Seljuk Sultan, impressed by his scholarship, appointed him as a Professor at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was the most reputed institution of learning at that time.

After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits and worldly interests and became a wandering ascetic.

After spending  some time in Jerusalem, Makkah and Medina he came back to Tus and spent several years in seclusion. He finally ended his seclusion, opened a Sufi school khanakah and started teaching and lecturing. He remained in Tus until his death in December of 1111 CE.

Among the Muslim theologians, al- Ghazali was the most influential; in addition he was a philosopher, a Jurist and a Sufi mystic. He was a prolific writer, authoring more than 70 books. Probably his major work, the multi-volume Ihya ul-Uloom ud-Din, (The Revival of Religious Sciences), can be divided into four parts, which cover perhaps all aspects of Islam, including Islamic jurisprudence, theology and Sufism.

In this series he pointed out that the traditional teaching about Islam did not convince him in his adolescence. His conviction came later, through his Sufi mystical experience. In his autobiography; The Deliverance from Error, he recounts how his spiritual crisis was resolved by a light from God, the key to all knowledge. The Sufi mystical experience brought changes in his theological thought.

Al-Ghazali authored two books on Islamic theology, The Middle Path in Theology and The Jerusalem Epistle. In both books the theological position he expressed matches with the Asharite school of thought. He wrote three books on Aristotelian logic, The Standard Measure of Knowledge, The Touchstone of Proof of Logic and The Just Balance.

Al-Ghazali was  very much interested in logic and philosophy, and he studied intensively while he was teaching at Baghdad. He composed two books on philosophy; The Intention of the Philosopher, in which he has summarized his own conclusions about philosophy, and set the stage for the  second book; The Incoherence of the Philosophers. In this book he has used exhaustive logic against philosophers. He vehemently rejected Aristotle, Plato and all Muslim philosophers starting from eighth century who incorporated the ancient Greek philosophy into Islamic theology. The main among them were  al Kindi, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. Point by point, he refuted their arguments.

For 100 years his arguments were unchallenged.  Ibn Rushd, an Andalusian  philosopher, made a counter-argument in his book The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but the epistemological course of Islamic thought had already been set by al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali divided knowledge into three categories; praiseworthy, permissible and blameworthy–which he has discussed in his book Ihya Ulum-id-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences). All learning connected to religion is praiseworthy, but when mixed with other than religion sometimes becomes blameworthy. Learning medicine and mathematics he said are permissible and declared it as farze Kefayah, not ferze Ayin. If a man in a town or a locality acquires such knowledge, the whole community get absolved from the sin.

In his book al-Mustasfa which he wrote towards the end of his life, he stated that arithmetic and geometry are pure rational sciences and as such not recommended for study. They fluctuate between false and true knowledge that yield no practical application. He saw no usefulness in the study of physics and said some part of the subject as it was understood in his time contradicted the Shariah and thus were useless or blameworthy.

Al-Ghazali believed in the certainty of God which he experienced by mystic revelation, a phenomena he said was beyond logic or sensory perception. He argued that you can not prove the presence of God by logic or philosophy, and saw philosophy as largely a waste of time and inadequate for discovering the truth. Contingent events, he said, are not subject to natural physical cause, but are direct result of God’s constant intervention. This concept of God is consistent with the Asharite school of theology.   

Al-Ghazali’s work had a widespread influence on western medieval scholars especially Thomas Aquinas. He received wide recognition in the religious institutions of the Ottoman empire, southeast Asia, and Africa. In the Indian subcontinent, he enjoyed wide recognition both among the Deobandi school as well as the arch-rival Barelwi school.

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

Baitulmaal Fundraiser

April 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz , MMNS

The deteriorating conditions in Gaza – often described as the world’s largest outdoor prison– have shocked and outraged just and humane people throughout the world. With the attention of the world focused on Gaza, another organization has stepped forward to bring aid and alleviate the suffering there.

A banquet and fundraiser sponsored by Baitulmaal was held in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove, Ca. this past Saturday night.

Titled: “Light A Candle for Gaza,” the well attended event raised more than $85,000 for the beleaguered people of Gaza who lack even the basics of life as they endure deprivation under the boot of the Israeli oppressors.

The event featured as keynote speaker Dr. Hatem Bazien of the University of California in Berkeley. A native Palestinian, he is currently an adjunct professor at Boalt Hall School of Law and a senior lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies there.

Afzar Noradeen was Master of Ceremonies for the event. Beginning with a reading of the Qu’ran by Moheb Daha, the evening also featured Hasan Mahmoud, an Imam from Jenin, Sheikh Mostafa Kamel and Osama Abuirshaid.

The audience listened intently as they were reminded of the ummah they were a part of. Quoting from the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), the speakers told the attendees that they were part of one body and – using an analogy of the human body – when one part of the body was in pain, the entire body was impacted.

“You do not look down on a fellow Muslim, and you do not let him down.”

Brother Abuirshaid told of individuals in Gaza and their suffering – of a pregnant mother of three who lost both legs in an Israeli bombing. Who, he asked rhetorically, will care for her children? He spoke of young children who live out of trash receptacles. He told of a 19 year old girl dying of kidney failure – a disease which could be controlled with medication easily available in the West.

Brother Abuirshaid spoke of individual Gazans and their suffering, giving them names as he did so. The audience gasped as these people became more than statistics.

“I feel as if I know them and suffer with them.” said one young woman in the audience.

Baitulmaal is an organization which strives to aid the poor, the sick and the helpless. Headquartered in Texas, Baitulmaal is a (501)(c)(3) charity. Members work toward preventing disease, improving the educational infrastructure and encourage hygiene in troubled areas of the world. Baitulmaal will be found wherever communities are in danger of dissolution and ruin; they serve communities racked both by war and by natural disaster. Baitulmaal has worked in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and in the United State where, to cite one example, the organization came to the aid of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

A recent feature story in The Dallas Morning News in Baitulmaal’s home state described Baitulmaal and its alliance with a Christian organization. Sheikh Hasan Hajmohammad is the co-founder and now a senior consultant of Baitulmaal. Eric Williams is the CEO of a company that produces a religious talk show. They are working together in places far and wide.

Mindful of criticism from the non-Muslim community that might attend cooperation with Baitulmaal, Mr. Williams said: “With the heightened tension today between Muslims and Christians, I really wanted to…help solve the gap.”

From building a hospital in Jenin; to the rescue of earthquake victims in Pakistan; to providing blankets in the aftermath of a fire in Texas, Baitulmaal serves humanity.

To learn more about Baitulmaal, please access their web site at: www.baitulmaal.org. Or they may be accessed by postal service at: Post Office Box 166911, Irving, Texas, 75016. The telephone number of Baitulmaal is: (972) 257-2564.

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Chicago Muslim Student Remembered

December 13, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Amadou Cisse, who was murdered Monday morning.

CHICAGO, IL–When it came to helping others, Amadou Cisse pulled many times his own weight. Cisse once helped International House Director William McCartney unload 1,000 pounds of weights for the I-House exercise room.

“He was very well-liked by residents and someone who was always quick to help others,” McCartney said.

Cisse, a Muslim Ph.D. student in chemistry at the University and native of Dakar, Senegal, in Africa, was shot and killed early Monday morning.

“He was an extremely gentle person, a very caring person,” said Czerny Brasuell, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Cisse worked closely with Brasuell during his four years as a student at Bates College. Cisse graduated from Bates College in 2001 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, physics and mathematics.

“He was very concerned with injustice, especially injustices regarding children,” Brasuell said. “He was committed to doing good in this world, particularly as it related to his country and the continent of Africa. I am horrified at the senseless nature of this act that has removed from the world someone who would have done so much good.”

Cisse, 29, had successfully defended his doctoral dissertation on Nov. 1. The University will award him the Ph.D. posthumously at graduation on Dec. 7.

“He was a diligent researcher and very committed to his science and colleagues,” said his faculty adviser, Steven Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Professor in Chemistry. “He was incredibly happy last week. He smiled ear-to-ear and just sat back and enjoyed his accomplishment.”

For his Ph.D. research, Cisse studied how molecules diffuse and migrate through films made of large molecules called polymers. “He gave us a new way of measuring diffusion in thin films. That’s quite an accomplishment,” Sibener said.

Cisse and Sibener were interested in the purely scientific aspects of the process. This is also an important problem in the technological world, where thin films act as protective layers for materials and food.

As a teaching assistant for general chemistry, Cisse impressed fellow graduate student Miriam Freedman with his concern for his students. “I think working with students was one of the things he most enjoyed,” Freedman said. “He was always talking about how to improve his students’ understanding of the material and rooting for their success.”

Fellow students also recalled Cisse’s habit of quietly singing or humming as he went about his work. “Amadou loved Senegalese music so much that he recorded it onto tapes from Senegalese radio online,” said Nataliya Yufa, graduate student in chemistry. “That’s why he still had a Walkman. He was planning to get an iPod after graduation. His whole life was on hold til after graduation.”

Lieve Teugels, a graduate student in chemistry, recalled Cisse’s gentle smile, with graduation now in his sight. “I remember how happy he was right after his thesis defense a couple of weeks ago, talking about how he hadn’t told his family he was defending so they wouldn’t worry.”

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