Monday, April 27, 2009

Sheikh Ahmed Hussein Deedat

Sheikh Ahmed Hussein Deedat (July 1, 1918–August 8, 2005) was a South African author, lecturer, and orator. A Muslim, he was best known for his numerous inter-religious public debates with evangelical Christians, as well as lectures, most of which were centered around Islam, Christianity and the Bible. According to David Westerlund, Deedat aimed at providing Muslims with theological tools for defending themselves against the intense missionary strivings of many Christian denominations. He used English instead of Arabic or any other language to get his message across to Muslim minorities in the western world.

Early years
Ahmed Deedat was born in Gujarat, India in 1918. His father had emigrated to South Africa shortly after the birth of Ahmed Deedat. At the age of 9, Deedat went to join his father in what is now known as Kwazulu-Natal. His mother died few months after Deedat left for South Africa. Applying himself with diligence to his studies, Deedat was able to overcome the language barrier and excel in school, getting promotions until he completed standard 6. But had to start working at the age of 16. In 1936, while working as a furniture salesman Deedat came across missionaries at a Christian seminary on the Natal South Coast. In between the deep racial divides, the religious ideology was used by the authorities to numb and pacify the masses. This is considered to be a major influence on Deedat's interest in comparative religions.

Sheikh Deedat credited his inspiration to be a book entitled "Izhar ul-Huqq", meaning "Truth Revealed", written by Rahmatullah Kairanhvi, which he had read while working at a
Muslim owned furniture store near a Christian seminary on the Natal Coast of South Africa. In particular the idea of holding debates had a profound effect on Deedat who then purchased his first Bible and began holding debates and discussions with trainee missionaries, whose questions he had previously been unable to answer.

Deedat's first lecture, entitled "Muhammad: Messenger of Peace", was delivered in 1942 to an audience of fifteen people at a Durban movie theatre named Avalon Cinema, within a short space of time, attendance grew.

Among Deedat's close friends were Gholam Hoosein Vanker and Taahir Rasool, whom many refer to as 'the unsung heroes of Deedat's career'. They formed a study circle to look at the teachings of the Quran, and in 1956 Deedat and Vanker set up the IPCI in Durban. In 1957, Deedat, together with Vanker and Rasool, founded the Islamic Propagation Centre International (IPCI) which printed a variety of books and offered classes to new Muslims, (and remained its president until 1996). He later established an Islamic seminary at the As-Salaam Educational Institute, in Braemar, on the South Coast of Natal and published more than 20 books distributing millions of copies of free literature and pamphlets across the world. Ahmed Deedat has influenced many to take part in the course of dawah and a major part of dawah that is carried out around the world has indeed his mark in it.

Lectures & Debates
With the increased success, Deedat engaged into a broader range of activities over the next three decades. He conducted classes on Biblical Theology and conducted numerous lectures.
Da`wah (inviting people towards Islam) became the dominant factor of his life, with the audiences at his lectures reaching forty thousand. He later also went on to write a large number of books on varied topics such as Christianity, Islam, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, conducted classes on Bible studies and also delivered numerous lectures and held debates on varied topics of Islam, Christianity and Judaism to large numbers of audiences; of the most famous being a debate against a Christian missionary from Nazareth Dr. Anis Shorrosh titled “Is Jesus God?” and another being against the pioneer of Christian Televangelism Jimmy Swaggart titled “Is The Bible the Word of God” which was witnessed by about 8,000 people. Henry Hock Guan Teh, a well-known Christian writer described the debate against Jimmy Swaggart in his article The Law of Evidence as:
“The debate is on the reasonableness of their competing faiths which was held at Louisiana State University. Great expectations were generated since both were experienced public speakers. Sadly, Swaggart merely relied on TV showmanship to influence the crowd. When Deedat challenged him to prove the Bible as the Word of God, Swaggart simply quoted John 3:16 and claimed that his life was changed by it. Even such a claim was shattered to pieces when Swaggart’s personal sexual weaknesses were later exposed in the press. Although faith is necessary but without being thoughtfully presented its witness would not seem to be credible. ”

In 1981 he debated well known Christian apologist Josh McDowell.
His debates were later broadcasted online on popular sites like
Youtube, and continue to be watched by fans and adversaries. Some of his lectures have also been collected in a book titled The Choice: Islam and Christianity, published by the Islamic Book Service. His debates, such as audience-attended ones versus Stanley Sjoberg, and informal others, such as with American Soldiers stationed in the Persian Gulf, had such an impact on observers or participants, that ex-minister Kenneth Jenkins (now Abdullah al-Faruq) embraced Islam. Deedat also held a combined lecture with ex-missionary Gary Miller (now Abdul-Ahad Omar) and ex-Catholic cleric James Cunningham -who converted after debating with him- about Islam and Christianity. Furthermore, Deedat had challenged the late Pope John Paul II to a public debate, but the pope only agreed to a closed conference in his cabin.

In his book, "Arabs and Israel Conflict or Reconciliation", Deedat has frequently alleged "Jewish biases" in the western world and media, re-iterating traditional
conspiracist allegations of "Jewish Lobby" control. He writes "Anti-Semite" is the magic word that cloaks every Jewish Crime". In his book, he also attacks Israel, and the US-Israel relationship in this book as part of a "Jewish Conspiracy".

Deedat's debates and writings have been labelled a form of apologetics. Some also consider that Deedat's emphasis on such matters as inconsistencies in the Bible does nothing to convince Westerners of the truth of Islam since Western culture is essentially secular.

In 2006, Ahmed Deedat's son circulated a DVD that denounced South African Hindus. The elder Deedat had previously circulated an anti-Hindu video in the 80's in which he said that Indian Muslims were 'fortunate' that their Hindu forefathers 'saw the light' and converted to Islam when Muslim rulers dominated some areas of India. His video was widely criticized.

i) Lloyd V. J. Ridgeon, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow writes:
Ahmed Deedat's pamphlets are being recycled to a brand new British Muslim constituency. Thus, a new generation is exposed to his malicious new disinformation. The reason for the popularity of such polemicists as Ahmed Deedat is varied: Muslim self-understandings as "the best of all communities" leads them to suppose that Islam prevails over all religions. Combined with the wounded pride of living in a post-colonial world within the continuing hegemony of western culture, some dignity can at least be preserved by claiming moral and religious superiority.

ii) Karl Maier, former Africa correspondent for the London's newspaper The Independent, writes that Deedat's rhetoric has made him very popular "in the underground of Islamic radicalism" Still, Deedat's influence was certainly wider than confined to the underground. Islamic scholar.

In 1986, he was awarded the King Faisal Award for his services to Islam in the field of Da'awah.

On May 3, 1996, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed from the neck down, and also meant that he could no longer speak or swallow. He was flown to
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, where he was taught to communicate through a series of eye-movements. He spent the last nine years of his life in a bed in his home in Verulam, South Africa, encouraging people to engage in Da'wah (Islam propagation). He continued to receive hundreds of letters of support from around the world, but was a target to many missionaries who tried to convert him to Christianity, to which he replied -via eye movements- with verses from the scriptures. On August 8, 2005, Ahmed Deedat died at his home on Trevennen Road in Verulam in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. He is buried at the Verulam cemetery.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ibn al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyya

He is Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr, known as Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, named after his father who was an attendant (Qayyim) at a local school named Al-Jawziyya. He was born in Damascus, Syria in 1292 C.E. (691 A.H.), and he studied under his father, the local attendant (Qayyim) of the al-Jawziyya school. Later on, he pursued his quest for knowledge at the hands of renowned masters and scholars of his epoch, as well as he studied the works and teachings of sufi masters known in his time. His schooling centered around Islamic jurisprudence, theology, and the science of prophetic traditions. He finally joined the study circle of Imam Ibn Taimiyyah (1262-1329 C.E.), who kept him in his company as his closest student and disciple, who later on became his successor.

Ibn al-Qayyim was fervent in his devotion to his teacher, and he was an excellent student and disciple of the great Muslim scholar Imam Taqiyyu-Deen Ahmad Ibn Taimiyyah. He defended his religious opinions and approaches, and he compiled and edited most of his works, and taught the same.

Because of their perception and opinions, both the teacher and the student were unjustly persecuted, tortured by unjust rulers at the time, and humiliated in public by the local authorities, and they were imprisoned in a single cell, while the other disciples were kept separate in the central prison of Damascus, still known to-date as al-Qal‘a. Among the imprisoned scholars, students of Ibn Qayyim, included a young man by the name of Ibn Kathïr (1302-1375 C.E.), who later on became a most renowned Muslim scholar and compiler of the most comprehensive Qur’anic commentaries ‘Tafsïr Ibn Kathïr.’

Upon the death of Imam Ibn Taimiyyah, the disciples were set free from prison, and Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya furthered his studies, and held study circles and classes for his own students. Ibn Jawziyya taught Islamic Jurisprudence at al-Sadriyya school, in Damascus, before he held the position of the Imam of the Jawziyya school for a long period. Most of his writings were compilations, although he authored several books himself, and manuscripts with his own handwriting are preserved today in the central Library of Damascus.

In fact, it was considered an honour and a privilege to study in his circle. Among the renowned Muslim scholars who studied under him, we mention Ibn ‘Abd al-Hãdï (1305-1345 C.E.), and Ibn Rajab (1337-1396 C.E.), and others who oft-frequented his circles, and sought his company, such as Imam Ibn Kathïr. Most scholars of the time have acknowledged the author’s excellence, and profound knowledge of Qur’anic interpretation, commentaries on the prophetic traditions, and theology. His extensive knowledge and understanding of Qur’anic commentaries surpassed even some renowned theologians in Islamic history.

Ibn Kathïr spoke of him in his book ‘Al-Bidãya wa-’Nihãya, saying: “He was most friendly and kindhearted, he never envied anyone, he never caused harm to anyone, he never bore prejudice against anyone, and I was the closest to his heart. Furthermore, I do not know anyone who is more devout in his worship than him in our time.” A similar opinion also was quoted by Ibn Hijr.

Ibn al-Qayyim catered to all the branches of Islamic science, and was particularly known and commended for his commentaries. Al-Hãfiz Ibn Rajab spoke of his teacher, saying: “He was an accomplished scholar of Islamic science, and no one could rival him in his deep understanding of the Qur’an and prophetic saying, and his interpretations were unique in accuracy.”

Ibn Rajab narrated that his teacher Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya learned the science of prophetic sayings (Hadïth) from al-Shahãb al-Nãbulsi, Qãdhï Taqiyyu-Deen Sulaimãn, and Fãtima Bint Jawhar, among others. During his early student life, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim sought the company of most shaikhs of his period, and he was particularly proficient in interpreting the Hanbali Muslim school of thoughts.

His Spiritual Life
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya was an avid and a resolute worshipper. He devoted long hours to his supererogatory nightly prayers, he was in a constant state of remembrance (zikr), and he was known for his extended prostrations. One could see on his face the clear expressions of piety, and constant solicitation of God’s bounty and favors.

During Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s imprisonment in al-Qal‘a prison in Damascus, he was constantly reading the Qur’an, and studying its meanings. Ibn Rajab noted that during that period of seclusion, he gained extensive spiritual success, as well as he developed a great analytical wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of the prophetic traditions.

Upon his release, he performed the pilgrimage to Mecca several times, and sometimes he stayed in Mecca for a prolonged period of devotion and circumambulation of the holy Ka‘aba.

His Works
Al-Nu‘mãn al-Alüsï al-Baghdãdï once said: “His interpretations are unique in accuracy.” The renowned Muslim scholar at-Thahabi once said about him: “He gave great attention to details and references of the prophetic traditions.” Furthermore, Shaikh Burhãn al-Deen al-Zãri’ spoke of him saying: “No one is as cognizant as Ibn al-Qayyim was in his time.”

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s contributions to the Islamic library are extensive, and they particularly deal with the Qur’anic commentaries, and understanding and analysis of the prophetic traditions (fiqh-u Sunnah).

He compiled a large number of studies besides his own books, including:
1- Tahthïb Sunan Abi Dãwoud (Emendation of Sunan Abu Dãwoud);
2- Al-Kalãm al-Tayyib wa-al-‘Amal al-Sãlih (The Essence of Good Words and Deeds);
3- Commentaries on the book of Shaikh ‘Abdullãh al-Ansãri: Manãzil-u Sã’ireen (Stations of the Seekers);
4- Zãd al-Ma‘ãd (Provisions of the Hereafter), from which the famous book Natural Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet is extracted.
5- Tafsir Mu'awwadhatain (Tafsir of Surah Falaq and Nas);
6- Fawaa'id;
7- Ad-Daa'i wa Dawaa' ;
8- Al-Rooh;
9- Al Waabil Sayyib minal kalim tayyib;
10- Haadi Arwah ila biladil Afrah;
11- Al Jawaabul kaafi liman sa'ala 'an Dawaa'i Shaafi;
12- Ighadatu lahfan fi masayid shaytan;

Many more gems of works well-preserved up to this day.
Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya died in the city of Damascus on Rajab 751 A.H.,1350 C.E., at the age of sixty-two, and was buried besides his father at al-Sagheer Cemetery there

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi

Maulana Rumi was born in Balkh, Mazar-i Sharif (present-day Afghanistan) on 604 A.H (September 30, 1207C.E.) Rumi’s full name was Jalal al-Din Mohammad Ibn Mohammad Ibn Mohammad Ibn Husain al-Rumi - meaning Rumi means from Rome - because his father Baha-uddin Balad later moved to Anatolia, once the base of the eastern Roman Empire, in the wake of the Mongol invasion in 1219. (The Mongols destroyed Balkh in 1220 and went on to sack Baghdad in 1258, ending the Abbasid khilafah.) Baha-uddin claimed direct descent from Hadhrat Abu Bakr Siddique (R.A.), the first Khalifah of Islam. Under his patronage, Rumi received his early education. When his age was about 18 years, the family (after pilgrimage to Makkah and stays in Arzanjan, a small town in Armenia, and Syria) finally settled at Konya, (The family's relocation to Konya was made through the request of the Seljuq king, who had made the city his capital) where his father arranged for Jalaluddin, to marry Gauhar Khatun, daughter of one Lala of Samarqand, most probably a member of the travelling party. Of this union was born a son named Sultan Walid.

At the age of 25, Rumi was sent to Aleppo for advanced education and later to Damascus. Rumi continued with his education till he was 40 years old, although on his father's death Rumi succeeded him as a professor in the famous Madrasah at Konya at the age of about 24 years. Although he received his mystical training first at the hands of Syed Burhan al-Din and later he was trained by Shams al-Din Tabrizi (but he was greatly impressed by Shams Tabrizi, whose shrine is close to the Maulana's in Konya).

His major contribution lies in Islamic philosophy and Tasawwuf. This was embodied largely in poetry, especially through his famous Mathnawi (Masnavi). This book, the largest mystical exposition in verse, discusses and offers solutions to many complicated problems in metaphysics, religion, ethics, mysticism, etc. Fundamentally, the Mathnawi (Masnavi) highlights the various hidden aspects of Sufism and their relationship with the worldly life. For this, Rumi draws on a variety of subjects and derives numerous examples from everyday life. His main subject is the relationship between man and God on the one hand, and between man and man, on the other. He apparently believed in Pantheism and portrayed the various stages of man's evolution in his journey towards the Ultimate.

Apart from the Mathnawi (Masnavi), he also wrote his Diwan (collection of poems) and Fihi-Ma-Fih (a collection of mystical sayings). How- ever, it is the Mathnawi itself that has largely transmitted Rumi's message. Soon after its completion, other scholars started writing detailed commentaries on it, in order to interpret its rich propositions on Tasawwuf, Metaphysics and Ethics. Several commentaries in different languages have been written since then.

His impact on philosophy, literature, mysticism and culture, has been so deep throughout Central Asia and most Islamic countries that almost all religious scholars, mystics, philosophers, sociologists and others have referred to his verses during all these centuries since his death. Most difficult problems in these areas seem to get simplified in the light of his references. His message seems to have inspired most of the intellectuals in Central Asia and adjoining areas since his time, and scholars like Iqbal have further developed Rumi's concepts. The Mathnawi (Masnavi) became known as the interpretation of the Qur'an in the Pahlavi language. He is one of the few intellectuals and mystics whose views have so profoundly affected the world-view in its higher perspective in large parts of the Islamic World.

The Maulana travelled far and wide, including to Aleppo and Damascus, to study but Konya remained his permanent abode, and it was there that he died in 672 A.H. (December 17, 1273) His mausoleum is built in the garden presented to his father by the Seljuq king Kai-Qubad I (reigned 1219-1236) whose invitation brought Baha uddin to the city in the first place. Next to the mausoleum, there is a mosque built by the Ottoman prince Selim who was an ardent admirer of the Maulana.

His son Sultan Walid composed his father's poetic biography, probably compiled his scattered discourses, and established a school to spread his father's teachings. The fundamental teaching of the Maulana was the unification of the mind and the heart. His perception of mysticism differs from others in that he was a moralist and a reformer. He advocated these principles throughout his life. He writes: "Without demolishing religious schools (madrassahs) and minarets and without abandoning the beliefs and ideas of the medieval age, restriction in thoughts and pains in conscience will not end. Without understanding that unbelief is a kind of religion, and that conservative religious belief a kind of disbelief, and without showing tolerance to opposite ideas, one cannot succeed. Those who look for the truth will accomplish the mission."

According to the Maulana, man is the finest creation of Allah, echoing the Qur'anic ayah that "Allah has created insan in the best of moulds" (95:04); he even considers man a part of Him in the mystical sense. All men must, therefore, be respected. A person who reaches the truth and spiritual perfection directs his attention to universalism rather than individualism. He need not abandon worldly matters but must not consider them an end in themselves. He insisted that priority to human love is a must to achieve this goal.

In Turkey - Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, known as one of the greatest mystic poets of Islam. In Turkey, he is known simply as 'Mevlana,' and his followers go by the title of 'Mevlevi.' But his poems and mystical teachings are known throughout the Muslim world. Followers of the Maulana can be found in all parts of Turkey as well as the neighbouring countries. They converge on the mausoleum in large numbers in May and December of each year to perform their famous whirling. The whirl is completed in four circles. The first symbolises the vision of Allah; the second the greatness of Allah; the third the level of knowledge one must attain after entering the domain of the Sufis, and finally, the last circle symbolises the coming together in the presence of Allah.

Visitors to the shrine enter through the main gate. No one, however, is permitted to touch the grave, a chain fence acting as a barrier. Next to the shrine, in two adjacent halls, is a museum where a number of items belonging to the great mystic are on display. The halls once served as training centres for the whirling dervishes but after the rise of Kemalism in Turkey all such institutions were shut down. The mausoleum, too, was closed to the public in 1924 but reopened in 1927. "The surrounding halls and annexe were turned into a museum," according to a historian at the shrine.

The museum exhibits a large number of items associated with the Maulana's life. They include silver keys, copies of the noble Qur'an, the divan of Haifa, and lamps and robes used by the Maulana. There also a number of prayer-sheets. A large book containing the Mesnevi of the Maulana, hand-written by Hasan Shirazi, is displayed in the hall. A number of the Maulana's works are also on display in the museum. These include the Mesnevi, Divan-e Kabir, Ruba'iet, Mecalis-e Seba, Mektubat and Fih-i-ma-Fih. There are also a number of portraits and wax statues of the Maulana shown in his now-famous dress performing the whirling dance within the shrine complex.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Father of Chemistry: Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan

Jabir Ibn Haiyan, the chemist Geber of the Middle Ages, is generally known as the father of chemistry. Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, sometimes called al-Harrani and al-Sufi, was the son of the druggist (Attar). The precise date of his birth is the subject of some discussion, but it is established that he practiced medicine and alchemy in Kufa around 776 C.E. He is reported to have studied under Imam Ja'far Sadiq and the Ummayed prince Khalid Ibn Yazid. In his early days, he practiced medicine and was under the patronage of the Barmaki Vizir during the Abbssid Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid. He shared some of the effects of the downfall of the Barmakis and was placed under house arrest in Kufa, where he died in 803 C.E.

Jabir's major contribution was in the field of chemistry. He introduced experimental investigation into alchemy, which rapidly changed its character into modern chemistry. On the ruins of his well-known laboratory remained after centuries, but his fame rests on over 100 monumental treatises, of which 22 relate to chemistry and alchemy. His contribution of fundamental importance to chemistry includes perfection of scientific techniques such as crystallization, distillation, calcinations, sublimation and evaporation and development of several instruments for the same. The fact of early development of chemistry as a distinct branch of science by the Arabs, instead of the earlier vague ideas, is well-established and the very name chemistry is derived from the Arabic word al-Kimya, which was studied and developed extensively by the Muslim scientists. Perhaps Jabir's major practical achievement was the discovery of mineral and others acids, which he prepared for the first time in his alembic (Anbique). Apart from several contributions of basic nature to alchemy, involving largely the preparation of new compounds and development of chemical methods, he also developed a number of applied chemical processes, thus becoming a pioneer in the field of applied science. His achievements in this field include preparation of various metals, development of steel, dyeing of cloth and tanning of leather, varnishing of water-proof cloth, use of manganese dioxide in glass-making, prevention of rusting, lettering in gold, identification of paints, greases, etc. During the course of these practical endeavors, he also developed aqua regia to dissolve gold. The alembic is his great invention, which made easy and systematic the process of distillation. Jabir laid great stress on experimentation and accuracy in his work.

Based on their properties, he has described three distinct types of substances. First, spirits i.e. those which vaporize on heating, like camphor, arsenic and ammonium chloride; secondly, metals, for example, gold, silver, lead, copper, iron, and thirdly, the category of compounds which can be converted into powders. He thus paved the way for such later classification as metals, non-metals and volatile substances.

Although known as an alchemist, he did not seem to have seriously pursued the preparation of noble metals as an alchemist; instead he devoted his effort to the development of basic chemical methods and study of mechanisms of chemical reactions in themselves and thus helped evolve chemistry as a science from the legends of alchemy. He emphasized that, in chemical reactions, definite quantities of various substances are involved and thus can be said to have paved the way for the law of constant proportions.

A large number of books are included in his corpus. Apart from chemistry, he also contributed to other sciences such as medicine and astronomy. His books on chemistry, including his Kitab-al-Kimya, and Kitab al-Sab'een were translated into Latin and various European languages. These translations were popular in Europe for several centuries and have influenced the evolution of modern chemistry. Several technical terms devised by Jabir, such as alkali, are today found in various European languages and have become part of scientific vocabulary. Only a few of his books have been edited and published, while several others preserved in Arabic have yet to be annotated and published.

Doubts have been expressed as to whether all the voluminous work included in the corpus is his own contribution or it contains later commentaries/additions by his followers. According to Sarton, the true worth of his work would only be known when all his books have been edited and published. His religious views and philosophical concepts embodied in the corpus have been criticized but, apart from the question of their authenticity, it is to be emphasized that the major contribution of Jabir lies in the field of chemistry and not in religion. His various breakthroughs e.g., preparation of acids for the first time, notably nitric, hydrochloric, citric and tartaric acids, and emphasis on systematic experimentation are outstanding and it is on the basis of such work that he can justly be regarded as the father of modern chemistry. In the words of Max Mayerhaff, the development of chemistry in Europe can be traced directly to Jabir Ibn Haiyan.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Master Physician: ABU MARWAN IBN ZUHR (Averroes)

Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik Ibn Zuhr was born at Seville in 1091/c. 1094 C.E. After completing his education and specializing in medicine, he entered the service of Almoravides (Al-Murabatun), but after their defeat by the Al-Mohades (Al-Muwahadun), he served under 'Abd al-Mu'min, the first Muwahid ruler. He died in Seville in 1161/c. 1162 C.E. As confirmed by George Sarton, he was not a Jew, but an orthodox Muslim.

Ibn Zuhr was one of the greatest physicians and clinicians of the Muslim golden era and has rather been held by some historians of science as the greatest of them. Contrary to the general practice of the Muslim scholars of that era, he confined his work to only one field medicine. This enabled him to produce works of everlasting fame.

As a physician, he made several discoveries and breakthroughs. He described correctly, for the first time, scabies, the itch mite and may thus be regarded as the first parasitologist. Likewise, he prescribed tracheotomy and direct feeding through the gullet and rectum in the cases where normal feeding was not possible. He also gave clinical descriptions of mediastinal tumors, intestinal phthisis, inflammation of the middle ear, pericarditis, etc.

His contribution was chiefly contained in the monumental works written by him; out of these, however, only three are extant. Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir (Book of Simplification concerning Therapeutics and Diet), written at the request of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), is the most important work of Ibn Zuhr. It describes several of Ibn Zuhr's original contributions. The book gives in detail pathological conditions, followed by therapy. His Kitab al-Iqtisad fi Islah al-Anfus wa al-Ajsad (Book of the Middle Course concerning the Reformation of Souls and the Bodies) gives a summary of diseases, therapeutics and hygiene written specially for the benefit of the layman. Its initial part is a valuable discourse on psychology. Kitab al-Aghthiya (Book on Foodstuffs) describes different types of food and drugs and their effects on health.

Ibn Zuhr in his works lays stress on observation and experiment and his contribution greatly influenced the medical science for several centuries both in the East and the West. His books were translated into Latin and Hebrew and remained popular in Europe as late as the advent of the 18th century.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Panegyrist - SHEIKH SAADI

A native of Shiraz, Iran, Sheikh Saadi left his native town Shiraz at a young age for Baghdad to study Arabic literature and Islamic sciences at Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad (1195-1226).

The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Iran led him to wander abroad through
Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. He also refers in his work to travels in India and Central Asia. Saadi is very much like Marco Polo who travelled in the region from 1271 to 1294. There is a difference, however, between the two. While Marco Polo gravitated to the potentates and the good life, Saadi mingled with the ordinary survivors of the Mongol holocaust. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, learning, honing his sermons, and polishing them into gems illuminating the wisdom and foibles of his people.

When he reappeared in his native Shiraz he was an elderly man. Shiraz, under Atabak Abubakr Sa'd ibn Zangy (1231-60) was enjoying an era of relative tranquility. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler and enumerated among the greats of the province. In response, Saadi took his nom de plume from the name of the local prince, Sa'd ibn Zangi, and composed some of his most delightful panegyrics as an initial gesture of gratitude in praise of the ruling house and placed them at the beginning of his Bustan. He seems to have spent the rest of his life in Shiraz.

His best known works are Bustan ("The Orchard") completed in 1257 and Gulistan ("The Rose Garden") in 1258. Bustan is entirely in verse (epic metre) and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behaviour of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. Gulistan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. Saadi demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes.

For Western students, Bustan and Gulistan have a special attraction; but Saadi is also remembered as a great panegyrist and lyricist, the author of a number of masterly general odes portraying human experience, and also of particular odes such as the lament on the fall of Baghdad after the Mongol invasion in 1258. His lyrics are to be found in Ghazaliyat ("Lyrics") and his odes in Qasa'id ("Odes"). He is also known for a number of works in Arabic. The peculiar blend of human kindness and cynicism, humour, and resignation displayed in Saadi's works, together with a tendency to avoid the hard dilemma, make him, to many, the most typical and loveable writer in the world of Iranian culture.

Saadi distinguished between the spiritual and the practical or mundane aspects of life. In his Bustan, for example, spiritual Saadi uses the mundane world as a spring board to propel himself beyond the earthly realms. The images in Bustan are delicate in nature and soothing. In the Gulistan, on the other hand, mundane Saadi lowers the spiritual to touch the heart of his fellow wayfarers. Here the images are graphic and, thanks to Saadi's dexterity, remain concrete in the reader's mind. Realistically, too, there is a ring of truth in the division. The Sheikh preaching in the Khanqah experiences a totally different world than the merchant passing through a town. The unique thing about Saadi is that he embodies both the Sufi Sheikh and the travelling merchant. They are, as he himself puts it, two almond kernels in the same shell.

Saadi's prose style, described as "simple but impossible to imitate" flows quite naturally and effortlessly. Its simplicity, however, is grounded in a semantic web consisting of synonymy, homophony, and oxymoron buttressed by internal rhythm and external rhyme.

Saadi's mausoleum in Shiraz

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Algebrian - Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam's full name was Ghiyath al-Din Abu'l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami. A literal translation of the name al-Khayyami (or al-Khayyam) means 'tent maker' and this may have been the trade of Ibrahim his father. Khayyam played on the meaning of his own name when he wrote:- Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,Has fallen in grief's furnace and been suddenly burned,The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!

The political events of the 11th Century played a major role in the course of Khayyam's life. The Seljuq Turks were tribes that invaded southwestern Asia in the 11th Century and eventually founded an empire that included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and most of Iran. The Seljuq occupied the grazing grounds of Khorasan and then, between 1038 and 1040, they conquered all of north-eastern Iran. The Seljuq ruler Toghrïl Beg proclaimed himself sultan at Nishapur in 1038 and entered Baghdad in 1055. It was in this difficult unstable military empire, which also had religious problems as it attempted to establish an orthodox Muslim state, that Khayyam grew up.

Khayyam studied philosophy at Naishapur and one of his fellow students wrote that he was:-
... endowed with sharpness of wit and the highest natural powers ...

However, this was not an empire in which those of learning, even those as learned as Khayyam, found life easy unless they had the support of a ruler at one of the many courts. Even such patronage would not provide too much stability since local politics and the fortunes of the local military regime decided who at any one time held power. Khayyam himself described the difficulties for men of learning during this period in the introduction to his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra:- I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this algebra and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.

However Khayyam was an outstanding mathematician and astronomer and, despite the difficulties which he described in this quote, he did write several works including Problems of Arithmetic, a book on music and one on algebra before he was 25 years old. In 1070 he moved to Samarkand in Uzbekistan which is one of the oldest cities of Central Asia. There Khayyam was supported by Abu Tahir, a prominent jurist of Samarkand, and this allowed him to write his most famous algebra work, Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra from which we gave the quote above. We shall describe the mathematical contents of this work later in this biography.

Toghril Beg, the founder of the Seljuq dynasty, had made Esfahan the capital of his domains and his grandson Malik-Shah was the ruler of that city from 1073. An invitation was sent to Khayyam from Malik-Shah and from his vizier Nizam al-Mulk asking Khayyam to go to Esfahan to set up an Observatory there. Other leading astronomers were also brought to the Observatory in Esfahan and for 18 years Khayyam led the scientists and produced work of outstanding quality. It was a period of peace during which the political situation allowed Khayyam the opportunity to devote himself entirely to his scholarly work. During this time Khayyam led work on compiling astronomical tables and he also contributed to calendar reform in 1079. Cowell quotes The Calcutta Review No 59:-

When the Malik Shah determined to reform the calendar, Omar was one of the eight learned men employed to do it, the result was the Jalali era (so called from Jalal-ud-din, one of the king's names) - 'a computation of time,' says Gibbon, 'which surpasses the Julian, and approaches the accuracy of the Gregorian style.'

Khayyam measured the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days. Two comments on this result. Firstly it shows an incredible confidence to attempt to give the result to this degree of accuracy. We know now that the length of the year is changing in the sixth decimal place over a person's lifetime. Secondly it is outstandingly accurate. For comparison the length of the year at the end of the 19th century was 365.242196 days, while today it is 365.242190 days.

In 1092 political events ended Khayyam's period of peaceful existence. Malik-Shah died in November of that year, a month after his vizier Nizam al-Mulk had been murdered on the road from Esfahan to Baghdad by the terrorist movement called the Assassins. Malik-Shah's second wife took over as ruler for two years but she had argued with Nizam al-Mulk so now those whom he had supported found that support withdrawn. Funding to run the Observatory ceased and Khayyam's calendar reform was put on hold. Khayyam also came under attack from the orthodox Muslims who felt that Khayyam's questioning mind did not conform to the faith. He wrote in his poem the Rubaiyat :-

Indeed, the Idols I have loved so longHave done my Credit in Men's Eye much Wrong:Have drowned my Honour in a shallow cup,And sold my reputation for a Song.

Despite being out of favour on all sides, Khayyam remained at the Court and tried to regain favour. He wrote a work in which he described former rulers in Iran as men of great honour who had supported public works, science and scholarship.

Malik-Shah's third son Sanjar, who was governor of Khorasan, became the overall ruler of the Seljuq empire in 1118. Sometime after this Khayyam left Esfahan and travelled to Merv (now Mary, Turkmenistan) which Sanjar had made the capital of the Seljuq empire. Sanjar created a great centre of Islamic learning in Merv where Khayyam wrote further works on mathematics.
The paper [
18] by Khayyam is an early work on algebra written before his famous algebra text. In it he considers the problem:-

Find a point on a quadrant of a circle in such manner that when a normal is dropped from the point to one of the bounding radii, the ratio of the normal's length to that of the radius equals the ratio of the segments determined by the foot of the normal.

Khayyam shows that this problem is equivalent to solving a second problem:-
Find a right triangle having the property that the
hypotenuse equals the sum of one leg plus the altitude on the hypotenuse.

This problem in turn led Khayyam to solve the cubic equation x3 + 200x = 20x2 + 2000 and he found a positive root of this cubic by considering the intersection of a rectangular hyperbola and a circle. An approximate numerical solution was then found by interpolation in trigonometric tables. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Khayyam states that the solution of this cubic requires the use of conic sections and that it cannot be solved by ruler and compass methods, a result which would not be proved for another 750 years. Khayyam also wrote that he hoped to give a full description of the solution of cubic equations in a later work [18]:-
If the opportunity arises and I can succeed, I shall give all these fourteen forms with all their branches and cases, and how to distinguish whatever is possible or impossible so that a paper, containing elements which are greatly useful in this art will be prepared.

Indeed Khayyam did produce such a work, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra which contained a complete classification of cubic equations with geometric solutions found by means of intersecting conic sections. In fact Khayyam gives an interesting historical account in which he claims that the Greeks had left nothing on the theory of cubic equations. Indeed, as Khayyam writes, the contributions by earlier writers such as al-Mahani and al-Khazin were to translate geometric problems into algebraic equations (something which was essentially impossible before the work of al-Khwarizmi). However, Khayyam himself seems to have been the first to conceive a general theory of cubic equations. Khayyam.

In the science of algebra one encounters problems dependent on certain types of extremely difficult preliminary theorems, whose solution was unsuccessful for most of those who attempted it. As for the Ancients, no work from them dealing with the subject has come down to us; perhaps after having looked for solutions and having examined them, they were unable to fathom their difficulties; or perhaps their investigations did not require such an examination; or finally, their works on this subject, if they existed, have not been translated into our language.
Another achievement in the algebra text is Khayyam's realisation that a cubic equation can have more than one solution. He demonstrated the existence of equations having two solutions, but unfortunately he does not appear to have found that a cubic can have three solutions. He did hope that "arithmetic solutions" might be found one day when he wrote
“Perhaps someone else who comes after us may find it out in the case, when there are not only the first three classes of known powers, namely the number, the thing and the square. “
The "someone else who comes after us" were in fact del
Ferro, Tartaglia and Ferrari in the 16th century. Also in his algebra book, Khayyam refers to another work of his which is now lost. In the lost work Khayyam discusses the Pascal triangle but he was not the first to do so since al-Karaji discussed the Pascal triangle before this date. In fact we can be fairly sure that Khayyam used a method of finding nth roots based on the binomial expansion, and therefore on the binomial coefficients. This follows from the following passage in his algebra book:-

In Commentaries on the difficult postulates of Euclid's book Khayyam made a contribution to non-euclidean geometry, although this was not his intention. In trying to prove the parallels postulate he accidentally proved properties of figures in non-euclidean geometries. Khayyam also gave important results on ratios in this book, extending Euclid's work to include the multiplication of ratios. The importance of Khayyam's contribution is that he examined both Euclid's definition of equality of ratios (which was that first proposed by Eudoxus) and the definition of equality of ratios as proposed by earlier Islamic mathematicians such as al-Mahani which was based on continued fractions. Khayyam proved that the two definitions are equivalent. He also posed the question of whether a ratio can be regarded as a number but leaves the question unanswered.

Outside the world of mathematics, Khayyam is best known as a result of Edward Fitzgerald's popular translation in 1859 of nearly 600 short four line poems the Rubaiyat. Khayyam's fame as a poet has caused some to forget his scientific achievements which were much more substantial. Versions of the forms and verses used in the Rubaiyat existed in Persian literature before Khayyam, and only about 120 of the verses can be attributed to him with certainty. Of all the verses, the best known is the following:-
The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ,Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor WitShall lure it back to cancel half a Line,Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cosmologicalist - Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni

Al-Biruni was born near Kath in Khwarizm (now a part of Uzbekistan) on Sept. 4, 973. His teacher in astronomy and mathematics was the eminent Abu Nasr Mansur, a member of the family then ruling at Kath. Al-Biruni made several observations with a meridian ring at Kath in his youth. In 995 the attack on the ruler of Khwarizm by the ruler of Jurjaniya drove al-Biruni into exile, presumably to Rayy, where he discussed with the astronomer al-Khujandi the latter's observations with a mural sextant. AlBiruni later wrote a treatise on this instrument and gave a detailed account of the observations in his Tahdid.

In 997 al-Biruni returned to Kath, where he observed a lunar eclipse that Abu al-Wafa observed in Baghdad; on the basis of the time difference they determined the longitudinal difference between the two cities, one of the few instances in which this method, the only secure one available in antiquity, is known to have been applied.

During the next few years al-Biruni seems to have visited the Samanid court at Bukhara, as well as the court of the Ispahbad of Gilan. But he was busy collecting the enormous mass of information on the chronology of the ancient nations of Europe and Asia that he dedicated to the Ziyarid prince of Gurgan in 1000 and that in English is known simply as the Chronology. This remains the most significant source for the various Iranian calendars and for much of the history of central Asia.

By 1004 al-Biruni was in Jurjaniya. He became a prominent figure at the Jurjaniya court, being often employed as a diplomat and as a spokesman for the throne. He continued, however, making his astronomical observations under the Shah's patronage.

But the Shah had increasing difficulties with his brother-in-law, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. Finally, in 1017 Mahmud conquered Khwarizm and carried off al-Biruni as a prize of war. Al-Biruni was sent to the region near Kabul, where he commenced making observations in 1018. In 1022 and 1026 Mahmud conducted highly successful expeditions into India, and al-Biruni availed himself of the opportunity to learn some Sanskrit (though not as much as is generally thought; he depended heavily on pundits to translate for him), studying especially Indian astronomy, astrology, chronology, and social customs.

Most of his extant works were written in the 1020s and 1030s and reflect his interest in, and growing knowledge of, the Sanskrit astronomical texts current in the Punjab. These include On Shadows (ca. 1021), Tahdid (1025), On Chords (1027), On Transits, India (1031), and Al-Qanun al-Masudi, as well as the Arabic translation of Vijayanandin's Sanskrit Karanatilaka. These are fundamental texts for the history of Islamic and Indian astronomy of the 8th-10th centuries because of al-Biruni's extensive citations of earlier texts; they are also full of reports of al-Biruni's own observations, which are among the best made in the medieval period. He was not always as successful in his calculations.

Till his death soon after 1050 in Afghanistan, al-Biruni continued to write, turning his attention to problems of specific gravity, gemology, pharmacology, and Indian philosophy (the Patanjali ), among other subjects. It is not clear when he wrote the Tafhim, his most important work on astrology. In all, the bibliography he himself drew up lists 113 titles, and this list can be expanded to 146; 22 are extant. He was, then, a most prolific author, and throughout his work, all of which is extremely technical, he maintained the highest standards of competence. He well deserved the epithet "Master" bestowed on him by his admiring contemporaries.

Further ReadingMany of al-Biruni's extant writings have not been published. He has been the object of many intensive studies, but the results are scattered among various scholarly journals. Some idea of the range of this scholarship can be gained from the volume issued by the Iran Society of Calcutta on the occasion of the thousandth lunar year since his birth, Al-Biruni Commemoration Volume (1951). See also George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, vol. 1 (1927); Eugene A. Myers, Arabic Thought and the Western World in the Golden Age of Islam (1964); and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines: Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study by the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Biruni, and Ibn Sina (1964).

The Greatest Theologian of Islam - ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI

Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i al-Ghazali was born in 1058 C।E. in Khorasan, Iran. His father died while he was still very young but he had the opportunity of getting education in the prevalent curriculum at Nishapur and Baghdad. Soon he acquired a high standard of scholarship in religion and philosophy and was honoured by his appointment as a Professor at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was recognised as one of the most reputed institutions of learning in the golden era of Muslim history.

After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits and worldly interests and became a wandering ascetic। This was a process (period) of mystical transformation. Later, he resumed his teaching duties, but again left these. An era of solitary life, devoted to contemplation and writing then ensued, which led to the authorship of a number of everlasting books. He died in 1128 C.E. at Baghdad.

Ghazali's major contribution lies in religion, philosophy and Sufism। A number of Muslim philosophers had been following and developing several viewpoints of Greek philosophy, including the Napoleonic philosophy, and this was leading to conflict with several Islamic teachings. On the other hand, the movement of Sufism was assuming such excessive proportions as to avoid observance of obligatory prayers and duties of Islam. Based on his unquestionable scholarship and personal mystical experience, Ghazali sought to rectify these trends, both in philosophy and Sufism.

In philosophy, Ghazali upheld the approach of mathematics and exact sciences as essentially correct. However, he adopted the techniques of Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures and employed these very tools to lay bare the flaws and lacunae of the then prevalent Neoplatonic philosophy and to diminish the negative influences of Aristotelianism and excessive rationalism. In contrast to some of the Muslim philosophers, e.g., Farabi, he portrayed the inability of reason to comprehend the absolute and the infinite। Reason could not transcend the finite and was limited to the observation of the relative. Also, several Muslim philosophers had held that the universe was finite in space but infinite in time. Ghazali argued that an infinite time was related to an infinite space. With his clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to create a balance between religion and reason, and identified their respective spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively.

In religion, particularly mysticism, he cleansed the approach of Sufism of its excesses and reestablished the authority of the orthodox religion। Yet, he stressed the importance of genuine Sufism, which he maintained was the path to attain the absolute truth.

He was a prolific writer। His immortal books include Tuhafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ihya al-'Ulum al-Islamia (The Rivival of the Religious Sciences), "The Beginning of Guidance and his Autobiography", "Deliverance from Error". Some of his works were translated into European languages in the Middle Ages. He also wrote a summary of astronomy.

Ghazali's influence was deep and everlasting. He is one of the greatest theologians of Islam. His theological doctrines penetrated Europe, influenced Jewish and Christian Scholasticism and several of his arguments seem to have been adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to similarly reestablish the authority of orthodox Christian religion in the West. So forceful was his argument in the favour of religion that he was accused of damaging the cause of philosophy and, in the Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd (Averros) wrote a rejoinder to his Tuhafut.

The First Anatomist - Abu Ali Sina

Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina was a Persian physician and philosopher. He was born in 980 A.D. at Afshana near Bukhara then capital of the Samanid Dynasty. The young Abu Ali received his early education in Bokhara, and by the age of ten had become well versed in the study of the Qoran and various sciences. He started studying philosophy by reading various Greek, Muslim and other books on this subject and learnt logic and some other subjects from Abu Abdallah Natili, a famous philosopher of the time. While still young, he attained such a degree of expertise in medicine that his renown spread far and wide. At the age of 17, he was fortunate in curing Nooh Ibn Mansour, the Samanid King, of an illness in which all the well-known physicians had given up hope. On his recovery, the King wished to reward him, but the young physician only desired permission to use his uniquely stocked library.
On his father's death, Bu Ali left Bokhara and travelled to Jurjan where Khawarazm Shah welcomed him. There, he met his famous contemporary Abu Raihan Al-Biruni. Later he moved to Ray and then to Hamadan, where he wrote his famous book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb. Here he treated Shams al-Daulah, the King of Hamadan, for severe colic. From Hamadan, he moved to Esfahan, where he completed many of his monumental writings. Nevertheless, he continued travelling and the excessive mental exertion as well as political turmoil spoilt his health. Finally, he returned to Hamadan where he died in 1037 A.D.

He was the most famous physician, philosopher, encyclopaedist, mathematician and astronomer of his time. His major contribution to medical science was his famous book al-Qanun, known as the "Canon" in the West. The Qanun fi al-Tibb is an immense encyclo- paedia of medicine extending over a million words. It surveyed the entire medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources. Due to its systematic approach, "formal perfection as well as its intrinsic value, the Qanun superseded Razi's Hawi, Ali Ibn Abbas's Maliki, and even the works of Galen, and remained supreme for six centuries". In addition to bringing together the then available knowledge, the book is rich with the author's original contribution. His important original contribution includes such advances as recognition of the contagious nature of phthisis and tuberculosis; distribution of diseases by water and soil, and interaction between psychology and health. In addition to describing pharmacological methods, the book described 760 drugs and became the most authentic materia medica of the era. He was also the first to describe meningitis and made rich contributions to anatomy, gynecology and child health.