100 Days Until Totality Blog Series: 71 Days Left – Mohammed’s Proclamation

By M. Tomczak – Statue of al-Khwarizmi in front of the Faculty of Mathematics of Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. Wikimedia Commons

Much of the astronomical knowledge of ancient Greece would have been lost following the early medieval period had it not been for the great Islamic astronomers whom at the same time were in the midst of their Golden Age (9th–13th centuries) of knowledge, science, and learning. In 830, the “House of Wisdom” was founded in modern day Baghdad as a central location to translate texts from Greek into Arabic. The Islamic rationale behind the development of astronomical understanding included time-keeping for multiple daily prayers, determinations of longitude and latitude for prayer directions, and for navigation. The Islamic astronomers further developed the astronomical understanding of the Greeks and left an enduring legacy.

The names of many of the most visible stars in the night sky still bare the Arabic names given to them more than a millennium ago as do the astronomical terms azimuth (a measurement of an angular horizontal distance along the horizon) and nadir (a point on the celestial sphere directly below the observer). Another invaluable contribution by one of the greatest Islamic astronomers, al-Khwarizmi (Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi) was the development of the mathematical discipline of algebra. With the Latin translations in the 12th century of the more than 10,000 Arabic manuscripts that still exist today, the contributions of the Islamic astronomers made is way through Europe and all the way to China where they heavily influenced the development of modern science.

An illustration from al-Biruni’s astronomical works, explains the different phases of the moon. Wikimedia Commons

Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic faith, is referenced in at least two total solar eclipses. The Koran mentions an eclipse that preceded the birth of Mohammed in 569 C.E, which lasted three minutes and 17 seconds. A shorter total solar eclipse occurred shortly after the death of Mohammed’s son Ibrahim. But the world’s first Muslim didn’t interpret that eclipse was a metaphysical phenomena. Instead, according to Islamic texts called the Hadiths, Mohammed proclaimed “the sun and the moon do not suffer eclipse for any one’s death or life.” His apparent lack of superstition regarding naturalistic phenomena was not shared by many of his contemporaries or by those alive for centuries to come in Europe as will we see tomorrow.

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