Mechanical Contrivances and Military Science
The Arabs and their immediate Muslim successors to the
mastery of the civilized world do not seem to have added very much to the
engineering sciences they learned from the Greeks, though in mechanics they
certainly improved the theory and performance of the hydrostatic balance, the
usefulness of the Alenandrian hydrometer and the efficiency of the Syrian
waterwheels. Cheap slave labour with its ease and comfort, its human association
and pompous display may possibly have prevented them from exploiting t he forces
of nature and tapping hidden sources of mechanical and thermal energy which
modern nations under harsher conditions of life find indispensable for their
very existence. Locomotion by land or sea could be satisfactorily maintained by
the friendly horse or camel and the familiar sailing vessel.
Al-Khazini’s (Abul-Fath Abdur Rahman Al-Mansur, astronomer
at the court of Saljuq Sultan Sanjar Ibni Malik Shah) ‘Mizan’ul Hikmah’ (The
Balance of Wisdom) is a masterly dissertation on mechanics as far as it was
developed up to that time. Niz 1121 or 1122 AD. It deals with the theory of the
balance from an application of the Theorem of Moments and discusses the buoyancy
of liquids (and of air also). It gives a table of weights in water of a number
of metals and minerals weighting 100 mithqals in air (leading to remarkably good
values of specific gravities), along with a correct explanation of the weights
of material bodies as caused by a universal pull towards the centre of the
universe (meaning thereby the earth’s centre), and seemingly concentrated at a
definite point in each body (its centre of gravity); and remarks in a general
way on the weight of the atmosphere.
It is full of important experimental details and shrewdly
recognises of efforts of surface tension in liquids. There are references in the
book to the construction and use of the immersion hydrometer for determining the
densities of liquids (with appreciation of their variation with change of
temperature); also to geodesy and levelling and to the measurement of time. The
work has been ably described and commented upon by N. Khanikoff in ‘The Jouranl
of the American Orienteal Society” (Vol. VI, Pgs. 1-128, New Haven, 1859), and
has been recently published in original by the “Dai’rat-ul-Ma’arif’, Hyderabad
Deccan, with a note by the present writer.
Before the rise of capitalism trade, however extensive,
was mostly the enterprise of individuals or families, and seems to have been
undertaken as much for the adventure of meeting new peoples in new countries as
for making large profits. Under such circumstances there is little wonder that a
pplied mechanics and engineering remained practically where Greek intelect had
left them. The Arabs, however, made better and more accurate devices for
measuring time, clepsydras or water-clocks. The earliest reference to a clock is
found in Al-Jahiz’s ‘Kitab’ul Hayawan’ in the second half of the ninth century.
Between 1146 and 1169 AD Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali Ibni Rustam
Al-Khurasani Al-Sa’ati constructed the clock placed on the Baab’ul Jayrun of
Damascus, (hence Baab-us-Sa’ah, by which name it was often called). Muhammad
Ibni ‘Ali remained in charge of the clock till his death in 1184 or 1185 AD. IT
was seen and mentioned by Ibni-Jabayr, Qazwini, Ibni Battutah and others.
Muhammad Ibni ‘Ali son, Fakhr-Uddin Ridwna (Ibni As-Sa’ati) repaired and
improved this clock and in 1203 AD wrote a book explaining its use and
construction. Ridwan was born in Damascus and entered the service of the Ayyubid
prices Al-Fa’iz Ibrahim and Mu’azzam ‘Isa, sons of Al-’Adil Sayf-Uddin, ruler of
Egypt and Syria from 1198 to 1218 AD.
[It may be remarked here that Al-’Adil and his sons were
great patrons of learning. Muhadhdid-Uddin Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Rahim Ibni ‘Ali
Ad-Dimishqi, teacher of the famous writer Ibni Abi Usaybi’ah and the geat
physician Ibni-An-Nafis ‘Ala’-Uddin Abual-Hasan held important medical posts
under these potentates. Ibni-An-Nafis, it may be noted, is regarded by modern
Egyptian physicians to have anticipated William Harvey in the correct
explanation of the circulation of the blood].
An important treatise on mechanical sciences, ‘Kitab’ul
Ma’rifat Al-Hiyal-Al-Handasah’ (dealing chiefly with hydraulic appliances, now
available in a German translation with commentaries by Eilhard Wiedemann) was
composed by Abul’lzz Isma’il Ibni Razzaz Badi’-uz-Zaman Al-Jazari at Amid in
Diyar Bakr for the Urtaqid ruler Nasir Uddin Muhammad, probably in 1205 or 1906
AD. A critical study of the original Arabic will doubtless throw much light on
the Arab technique of time-measurement.
With regard to military science, Najd-Uddin Al-Ahdab Hasan
Ar-Rammah, a Syrian, wrote shortly before 1300 AD a treatise called
‘Al-Furusiyah wal-Manasib-ul-Harbiyah’, which describes the purification of
nitre (possible as an ingredient for the manufacture of gunpowder) and contains
pyrotechnic recipes. The earliest reference to t he use of gunpowder is in “Al
‘Umari’ (d:1348 AD). Egyptian physicians called in Thalj’us-Sini (Chinese snow),
probably only its constituent nitre being meant.