Transmission of Modern Science into the Muslim World

by S. M. Razaullah Ansari – Former Professor at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

This article was first published in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam, Editor-in-chief Ibrahim Kalin, Salim Ayduz-Caner Dagli, New York. Oxford University Press. Vol. 1, pp. 376–385. We are grateful to the author for allowing us to publish the article at our website. the author can be contacted via email at

1. The Context

In the first few centuries of the spread of Islam (8-9th c.), an intensive and extensive reception of the natural and even social sciences took place from Babylon, India, Iran and Greece. A multitude of scientific works were thus translated into Arabic. This transmission had an official sanction as well. Beginning with the reigns of Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al‒Malik bin Marwān (ca. 700) and his successor son Hishām (724‒743) and particularly during the reigns of Abbasid Caliphs: al-Manṣūr (754‒775), Hārūn al-Rashīd (786‒809) and al‒Mā’mūn (813-833), the transmission of ‘foreign’ sciences achieved its climax. (Sezgin, GAS, Introduction in Vol. V and VI).

In this development of Islamic Science, two stages are to be noted. The assimilation of Sasanian, Indian and finally Greek astronomy and mathematics — in which great scholars, for instance, al‒Khwārizmī, al‒Farghānī and al‒Battānī (of the 9th and 10th centuries), Ibn Sīnā, Ibn al‒Haytham and al‒Bīrūnī (of the 11th century) played the most important role — led to the creative stage in which astronomers of the Naṣīruddīn al-Ṭūsī’s Observatory at Marāgha initiated during the thirteenth century the so-called Hay’a tradition and developed it further in the following centuries (Saliba 1994). This significant development concerned itself actually with the critique of Ptolemy’s astronomy and the invention and further development of the non-Ptolemaic theoretical model (Hay’a) of planetary motion.

In this context of Islamic science, the Muslim and / or Hindu scholars of the erstwhile Indian subcontinent and similarly scholars of other Islamic countries — Iran, Turkey and North African Arab countries— came into contact with the British/ Europeans scholar ‒ administrators and who were confronted with the modern European astronomy, geography and mathematics, since evidently they were educated in madrasas only in the Islamic rational (natural) sciences (‘Ulūm-i aqliyah) besides in Islamic religious sciences (‘Ulūm-i naqliyah ). Consequently the interaction between the Asian and European scholars resulted in the acquisition of European sciences by the former, on whom and on whose writings we report in the subsequent sections.

2. Acquisition of Modern Science by Indian Scholars

In this section, we deal first with Indian scholars, who learned modern (exact) science and wrote tracts (Risālah) and treatises on modern astronomy and mathematics. A couple of them traveled to Europe in the last quarter of the eighteenth century to learn directly European science and to observe its advances and application. Some of them studied modern science through English, French and even Latin treatises. They wrote mostly in Indo ‒ Persian but a few also in Arabic. In the last two sections, we delineate briefly similar development in Iran, Turkey and other Islamic countries.

2.1 Sawai Jai Singh( 1688‒1743)

Rājā Sawā’i Jayasiṃha (hereafter simply Raja Sawai Jai Singh) belonged to the Kachhwāha Rājpūt Family, which ruled the semi-autonomous state of Amber —the city of Amber is 7 miles northeast of modern city of Jaipur. After the death of his father Bhishan Singh (d.1699), Sawai Jai Singh ascended the throne of the state of Amber in 1700 CE. He proved himself to be the master of diplomacy and statesmanship, due to which he was closer to the Mughal emperors and aristocracy.

Sawai Jai Singh

Sawai Jai Singh

In order to appreciate Jai Singh’s efforts to adopt modern astronomy for the first time in India, we digress for a while. Astronomy with relevant mathematics, especially spherical trigonometry was the queen of all natural sciences in the medieval period. It was true both for the Muslim World and the European countries later. The modern science of astronomy is basically the development of practical astronomy using the telescope as the instrument of observations, which was the greatest contribution of Galileo in 1609.

In order to modernize the ancient Indian mathematics and astronomy, Sawai Jai Singh established a school of translation in which classics in Arabic — for instance Ṭūsī’s recensions of the standard texts of Euclid’s Elements and Ptolemy’s Almagest — were translated into Sanskrit. However, Jai Singh did not confine himself to the classics of Islamic science. Since he happened to forge contacts with the Portuguese and French Jesuits, he learned from them the European astronomy, particularly about the telescope. Consequently, he organized and sent a delegation of Indian scholars headed by the Portuguese Father Manuel de Figueredo to the king of Portugal, to acquaint themselves with the then latest development in European science. Those scholars on their return brought a number of books in English, French and German, including Philippe de La Hire’s Tabulae astronomicae (1727), based actually on the heliocentric theory of the solar system. For details of that Indian delegation and its repercussion. We may note that the astronomical tables in Persian compiled then and supervised by Jai Singh, that is the Zīj-i Muḥammad Shāhī (ZMS), are actually adapted from La Hire’s Tables, though written in the style of the Central Asian Zīj-i Ulugh Beg (van Dalen 2000).

Another plus point for the modernization is the use of telescope by Jai Singh. In the section on ‘Lunar Visibility’ in ZMS, Jai Singh asserts that “ …in my kingdom telescope were constructed, and by means of which the following observations were carried out… ” The observation referred here are the Galilean observations, with the addition of the ellipsoidal shape of Saturn, bands on the surface of Jupiter, and attribution of the slight motion of the so-called fixed stars ( Thawābit). We have discovered the depiction of these observations by diagrams in the margins of a few manuscripts of ZMS. To note is that Jai Singh could not adopt telescope as a measuring instrument for want of micrometer device and cross-wires in the eye piece. In any case, Sawai Jai Singh’s efforts to introduce some modern astronomy in India was quite commendable job at that point of time. It is no exaggeration to assert that a true scientific renaissance was initiated by him in the erstwhile Indian Subcontinent during the eighteenth century.

2.2 Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn (d. 1790)

Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aẓīm Isfahānī was a famous Unani physician (Ḥakīm), poet and an scholar of rational (natural) sciences (Ma‘qūlāt or ‘Ulūm-i Aqliyah). Since he traveled to London in 1774, he was also popularly known as Landanī (London‒returned), a title for many Indians who had been to London. According to his own testimony, he visited London, France and Portugal and also Egypt on his way back to India and returned in 1777. Actually he accompanied Henry Elliot, an officer of East India Co. to London, with whom he had close relations ( Barkātī, 1975, p. 69). For the sake of completeness, we may mention that Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn was a very respected scholar of Murshidabad and was well known for his expertise in Arabic language.

Four manuscripts copies of the tract in Arabic are extant one each in Aligarh (MAL), Rampur (RL), Hyderabad (SCL), and Karachi, while one each manuscript copy of its translation into Persian is extant in Rampur (RL), Hyderabad (OUL,SJM, SCL) and two manuscripts in Bombay/Mumbai ( MF). We use here symbols in brackets for libraries as listed in Appendix 1. For details of the manuscripts see the relevant catalogue of the library, listed in the Bibliography. The Arabic title of the Aligarh Manuscript is rather long, see the reference below. The title of the Persian translation was simplified, for instance as “Tract on the English Astronomy” or “Tract on the Science of Modern Astronomy”. In fact, Mīr Muḥammad Ḥussain mentions that he wrote this tract on the request of Shaykh ‘Abdul Qādir Jaunpūrī (d. 1787), a scholar of modern science and its philosophy. He writes further that on the request of some of his friends in Hyderabad he translated himself the Arabic text into Persian. The details indicate that the tract became quite popular due to its brief description of modern European astronomy in Persian.

After briefly describing his journey to England via Marseilles and Lisbon, Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn presents information on regional geography of 14 countries of West Europe, but only Russia and Prussia of the East Europe. He discusses the rise of Portuguese and particularly of Spain as powers who colonized the newly discovered land of America by Columbus (f. 7b). He admires these States and particularly England for their love of knowledge, ship-building and techniques of oceanic warfare. He wonders at their passion to acquire Greek and Arabic books on various branches of knowledge and their efforts to translate them into Latin. He then goes over to the development of astronomy in Europe and names specifically Copernicus for his theory of Solar system (waḍa‘-i shamsī, f.12a), and calls Sir Isaac Newton (sar īzak lūtan, f. 10a), the English philosopher as the maker of telescope — an instrument for the observations of planets, 70 stars in the constellation of Pleiades (Thurayyā in Arabic and Parwīn in Persian, f. 10a), and thousands of fixed stars (thawābit). He explains also the gravitation (Tajādhub, f. 15b).

Evidently, Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn writes about the well-known Galilean observations, namely, elliptical bright rings around the planet Saturn with five satellites (aqmār, the moons) three dark parallel lines on the surface of Jupiter with four of its moons, changing shapes of Venus and Mercury like Moon, and black sunspots (shāmāt sawdā in Arabic and Lakkāhāyi siyāh in Persian), from the varying shapes of which he concludes the axial rotation of the Sun (f. 10b). Moreover, he states that the transit (muqārnah) of Venus and Mercury over the solar disc could be observed as dark dots, and he argues in favor of their motion around the Sun, as also of other planets, stating clearly that the Earth is also a planet. Thereby he concludes, “that the Sun is at the center of all planets that move around it, and are called in Latin (sic.) sola sistam [ as such in Persian script] meaning thereby waḍa‘-i shamsī “[configuration of the Sun], f. 11b. Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn informs also the sizes and heliocentric distances of all planets, illustrating the latter by an example of a body moving with the speed of a cannon ball of 480 miles/hour will take time to reach the various heavenly bodies.

In the concluding couple of folios, he explains particularly the idea of infinite number (ghair mutanāhiyah) of universes (‘Awālim).

The conviction of the plurality of universes or actually of solar/stellar systems by a Muslim scholar of eighteenth century is ideologically significant. Mīr Muḥammad Ḥusayn did not confine himself to that much of modern science, but he wished to carry out also a project of introducing Western science and modern knowledge along with their translations in local languages. Unfortunately that project was not accepted by the then ruler and nobles of Bengal.

2.3 Mirza Abū Ṭālib Khān Iṣfahānī (1752‒1805/6)

Abu Talib’s father, Ḥājjī Muḥammad Bég Khān, who was born in ‘Abbāsābād in Iṣfahān, belonged to a respectable Turkish family of Azerbaijan. He migrated to India after the invasion of Nadir Shah (d. 1747) in Iran. On the advice and financial support of Cap. David Richardson (d. 1808), Abu Talib undertook a Journey to Europe and particularly to London. He returned to India after spending four years in Europe (18001803). He became very famous throughout India and Europe after writing in Persian his “Travelogue of Europe”(Masīr-i Ṭālibī fī Bilad- Afranjī ) which was translated into English German French and also in Urdu and published respectively from London (in 1810) Vienna (in 1813) Paris (in 1811) and Calcutta (in 1812). In fact, Abu Talib distinguished himself as a traveler a poet, a historian an administrator and a scholar of Persian literature, and also of modern European astronomy. Presently, we know that out of his dozen writings he wrote three tracts on modern astronomy. Here, we are interested only in his knowledge of modern astronomy. They are:

  1. “A Tract on Modern Astronomy” (Risālah Hay’at-i Jadīdah), Ms. in Rampur (RL), dated 1797.
  2. “Astronomy in Persian” (Fārsiyah Hay’at), Ms. in Aligarh (MAL), written ca. 1798, but scribed in 1818 with 54 folios. This manuscript has been discussed in sufficient details in Ansari (1992, pp.125-127).
  3. A versified tract of 65 Persian couplets on modern astronomy with a prose commentary in Persian with the title: “ The Culmination of the [Divine] Unity” (Mi‘rāj al‒Tawḥīd); Ms. in Aligarh (MAL), scribed in 1806 with 10 folios (in the codex 18/2, f. 20a f. 29a). We refer to these folios below. Another manuscript of this tract is extant in New College Collection (Edinburgh), with 22 folios and scribed in 1807. However, it was actually written in 1219 AH / 1804 CE (Storey 1972, p. 97), i.e., after his return from his journey to Europe, completion of his Travelogue in 1804 and just before his death. On the other hand, the above-mentioned Mss. No. 1‒2 were written before his journey to Europe. In the sequel, we summarize the contents of this Aligarh Ms, concerning modern astronomy.

This tract of Abū Ṭālib is in fact a prose commentary on his own poem of 65 couplets . In his preface (fol. 20a), he refers to the sayings of modern scholars (Aqwāl-i Ḥukamā’-i Jadīd.), by which he understands the knowledge about fixed stars, planets, their satellites (Aqmār), planetary heliocentric distances, their axial and orbital periods, diameters and speeds, theory of solar and lunar eclipses, all of which he discusses in details.

In his commentary of a few couplets (fol. 21b), Abu Talib enumerates 18 satellites or moons in the heliocentric system (Markazīyat-i Shams): for Earth‒1, Jupiter‒4, Saturn‒7, Uranus‒6 after F.W. Herschel — though only 2 of his moons were actually real satellites. He counts Earth among planets and gives three reasons for its planetary nature, (f. 25a). Moreover, the analysis of this data with respect to the year of discovery and discoverer shows that Abū Tālib’s was quite up-to date, since he incorporated in his text the discoveries of 1781, 1787 and 1789 by Herschel. Besides Uranus — he uses its old name Jāj/Jārj for Georgium Sidius after George III of England and which was discovered by Herschel in 1781— he mentions (ff. 20a,21a and 26b) two more planets: actually the minor planets Ceres (discovered by Piazzi in 1801) and Pallas (discovered by Olbers in 1802). Evidently, Abū Ṭālib had collected all this information just before his return to India in 1803 (cf. details in Ansari 2002b, pp.136-137).

As for the telescope, Abu Talib is very clear about its utility. He knows that “without the use of telescope the satellites of planets [beyond earth, i.e., outer planets] could not be seen, [and ]…. 3000 stars have been observed in addition to one thousand by the naked eye observation” (fol. 21 a,b).

Although Abu Talib mentions the observations of 30 comets, he adds also that, “ …they are numerous and three of them possessing elliptical orbits around the Sun have been observed more or less better [than others]. One of them has a period of 75 years and the period of the second and third are 229 and 575 years.”

(f.23b). For the latter he gives also the aphelion and perihelion distances and even the speed of transit through the perihelion. To mention is that Abu Talib ‘s terminology is literal translation, viz., for aphelion Muntahāy-i Bu‘d, and for perihelion Muntahāy-i Qurb. It may be added that Abu Talib argues in favour of heliocentric system by giving the famous example of the transits of Venus and Mercury as dark spots on the solar disc, i. e., their conjunctions (Muqārnah) with the Sun. He states clearly that due to such observations the “ hypothesis of geo-centric system (Markazīyat-i Arḍ ) is impossible” (f. 25a). It is to note that in connection with the transit of Venus he mentions also Quṭbuddīn Shīrāzī (1236-1311) to whom it was known. Today we know that Ibn Sīnā (d. 1073), Ibn Bājja (d.1138) and others had observed “ the two planets as black spots on the face of the Sun” (Sayili ,1958, p. 360, esp. f. n. 24). We refer to an excellent forth- coming paper by Kapoor (2013) on Ibn Sina’s observation of Venus transit. All this information is indication of Abu Talib’s quite detailed knowledge of the European astronomy of early eighteenth century.

2.4. Ratan Singh Zakhmī (1782 – 1851)

Rāja Ratan Singh s/o Rai Balk Ram Kayesth was born in Lucknow and belonged to an illustrated family of service men of the Nawwāb (rulers) of Awadh. His grandfather, Raja Bhagvan Das was the tutor of prince Āṣifuddaulah, and was his Divan during his reign (1775-1797). He began as a servant of East India Co. at Calcutta (ca. 1803), but returned to his birth place Lucknow already in 1815, when he joined the court of the Awadh rulers: Ghāzīuddīn Ḥaidar (reigned 1814-1827), Naṣīruddīn Ḥaidar (reigned 1827-37) and Muḥammad ‘Alī Shāh alias Naṣīruddaulah (reigned 1837-1842), who bestowed on him the title, Fakhruddaulah Dabīrulmulk Hoshyār Jang (the pride and secretary of his reign, the most intelligent).

He was a scholar of many languages: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit and also English. He is known to be a littérateur, poet with nom de plume ” the wounded” (in Persian Zakhmī), historian, also a famous scholar of astronomy, actually an active author of more than half a dozen books. However, the most important is his book “Gardens of Astronomy” (Ḥadā’iq al-Nujūm) written in 1837 by the order of Muḥammad ‘Alī Shāh. It was lithographed and published in a few editions from Lucknow; cf. details in Bibliography (A). This is, in fact, the first ever book in Indo‒Persian on modern mathematical and practical astronomy.

This excellent and systematic treatise of 1158 pages is divided into nine chapters (Ḥadīqah), each chapter into several sections (Chaman), and a section into several subsections (Gulbun). We refer to the text by page numbers in parentheses, Ratan Singh mentions the astronomical works and discoveries of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler and Newton; also the then recent works of Hevelius, Flamsteed, Herschel, Cassini and, Laland, the last two seems to be his major sources. He seems to be aware of works by his European contemporaries. The instruments mentioned are telescope (Dūrbīn, Sitārahbīn), micrometer (Raizah-i Paimā) and cross-wires (p. 154). He informs about the establishment of Greenwich observatory by the order of King Charles II in 1676, the Paris observatory by Emperor Loius XIV in 1664 and also the Peking observatory of which he gives a line drawing (p.156).

The treatise comprises 129 figures (Shakl), including geometrical diagrams and drawings; 180 tables (Lawḥ) of various kinds; 19 maps, mostly geographical but also of celestial constellations. For instance, he has drawn, in his fig. 56, diagrams of Mars, crescent of Venus, Jupiter with bands, Saturn with two rings and bands, and also of Uranus (called by him Jārjīs, i.e.,Georgium) . In another fig. 57, the author has represented diagrammatically the solar disc with sunspots, and three comets of 1835, 1819 and 1832 in that order. He says that he observed the comet of 1835 himself for several days, its period being 76 years and 248 days. In fact, he devotes to this Halley comet a whole section (pp.805-10) in which he discusses its earlier sightings and his own observations first on Oct. 15, 1835 near Corona Borelis (in Persian: Iklīl Shimālī) with the length of its tail between 29°, 30° (p. 805). In fact, his detailed treatment of comets is remarkable, namely, explanations of their physical nature and their elliptical orbits. There is also a unique table (No. 112) of 106 comets with all relevant information, spanning a period of their appearance: the first entry is dated 835 A. D. and the remaining from 1231 to 1835 A. D. (pp. 776-99).

After treating the geometry of ellipse in details (p.56 et seq.), Ratan Singh clearly enunciates that “the orbits of all planets and of their satellites, together with those of the comets, are elliptical [Baiḍī in Persian] (p.135). Further, he illustrates the heliocentric system by a diagram (p.179), in which planets are ordered as: Mercury, Venus, Earth (with 1 moon), Mars, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter (with 4 moons), Saturn (with 7 moons), and Uranus (Jārjīs) with 6 moons. He devotes a full section to each one of them. It is clearly that he has an up-to-date knowledge of the planetary system for his times. To note is that the title of one section is: “Proof that the Sun is stationary”, in which he deals with the transits (Mamar) of Mercury and Venus particularly, information about which is tabulated in his tables 49 and 51 for the period 1605-1894 A.D. (pp.298-305) respectively 902-2984 A. D. (pp.310-315). For instance, for the transit of Venus he gives the mean time of the passage (GMT) for the occurrence on June 7(2004), June 5 (2012) and Dec. 12 (2017), p. 312. Moreover, he also adds that “Ibn Sīnā, Abū ‘Imrān in Baghdad, Muḥammad Abī Bakr observed Venus on the face of the Sun, [while] Ibn al-Māja and Ibn al-Haytham observed Venus and Mercury each as black dot on the disc of the Sun” ,(p. 309).

Finally, we have all praise for Raja Ratan Singh Zakhmī, who was trained, although as a poet, an author of anthology of poets, and a historian, yet he could acquired so much proficiency in English so as to study the astronomical sources of his times and on the top of it to become well versed also in mathematics and even physics relevant to astronomy of the nineteenth century.

3. Modern Science in Islamic Countries

In this section we delineate the situation as was prevalent in the Islamic world, such as Turkey, Iran and Egypt. We have seen above that mostly Indian Muslim scholars individually became interested in learning the modern European science directly from scientists of the British administration. Despite their Madrasa ‒based education, they accepted, for instance, the heliocentric system, discoveries of new (minor) planets etc. Islam, their religion, did not become any hinderance to their new scientific ideology, which they propagated in their close circle on their own. However, the case of the independent Islamic countries was different. The propagation of new scientific theories and even their practical use had to be carried out under the aegis of the respective rulers/governments, and at least with the passive acceptance of the religious heads. This is in nutshell the context in which the transfer of modern science in the Islamic countries took place.

3.1 Modern Astronomy in Turkey

Ottoman Empire (ruled 1299‒1923) inherited the scientific legacy of the Muslim world and Central Asia, and promoted it further by its own formal madrasa system. The ‘ulūm-i ‘aqliyya (the rational sciences) were declared obligatory and essential part of the syllabi of religious madrasas. Another important institution was the office of the Chief Astronomer (Munajjimbāshī), who was responsible for preparation of official calendar, time tables of prayers and fasting, astronomical‒astrological tables (Zīj), observations of solar and lunar eclipses, comets, earthquakes etc. To mention is that during the reign of Sultan Murād III (1574‒1595), the Chief Astronomer Taqī al‒Dīn (d. 1585) was commissioned to build an observatory in Istanbul. Notwithstanding to great progress in the field of Islamic science, the Ottoman sultans were compelled to modernize themselves at the end of seventeenth and in the first quarter of eighteenth century, when they became convinced of the European military and technological advances, due to which their military conquests in Balkan states, rather in Eastern Europe, were stopped, and particularly after their defeat in Vienna and the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699 (İhsanoğlu, article III, p. 27 et seq.).

A cover page of an Ottoman Calendar, Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

A cover page of an Ottoman Calendar, Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

Due to the importance of calendar making, and its official sanction, the Turkish astronomers acquired first the European astronomical tables, translated and adopted them for practical purposes. To note is that we use in the sequel diacritical marks for Arabic‒ Persian for the transliteration of Turkish words, names and titles, for want of Turkish font.

It is known that Köse Ibrāhīm Efendi alias Tezkireci translated the tables of the French astronomer Noel Durret ( 1650) into Arabic sometime during 1660‒64, and titled them as Sajanjal al‒Aflāk fī Ghāyat al‒Idrāk ( The Mirror of Heavens to the Limit of Comprehension). In this remarkable book, Ibrāhīm Efendi mentions besides Arabic Zijes also the European Alfonso Tables (actually compiled between 1263-72) and Kepler’s Tabulae Rudolphinae (published in 1627). Following Ibrāhīm Efendi, Khalīfazādih Ismā‘īl (d. 1790) from Istanbul translated the following two European tables:
The Theory of the Moon and the Tables of Moon by the French mathematician and astronomer Alexis-Claude Clairaut (1713‒1765), published in Paris in 1754, second edition in 1765. Ismā‘īl translated the tables in 1767, entitled: Tarjuma-i Zīj-i Kilaro. The significance of Clairaut’s astronomical work can be gauged by the fact that he was elected to the Paris Academy of Science, when he was just 18 years old (see Hockey, Vol. 1, p. 236.).

Astronomical Tables of Sun, Moon, Planets and fixed Stars, and of the Satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, compiled by Jacques Cassini (1667‒1756), printed in Paris in 1740. Ismā‘īl translated these tables into Turkish in 1772; known by the short title: Zīj-i Kāsinī. We note that on the order of Sultan Salīm III, Cassini tables replaced Zīj-i Ulugh Beg for the computation of official ephemerides.

Another set of tables compiled by the most famous French astronomer Joseph‒ Jérôme Lalande (1732‒1807), entitled Tables Astronomique (printed in Paris 1759), by the chief astronomer (Munajjimbāshī), Ḥusayn Ḥusnī Efendi in 1814. To note is the proposal he submitted to the Sultan Maḥmūd II (r. 1808‒1839), in which he claimed that the ephemerides calculated on the basis of Lalande’s tables are far more accurate than those calculated by using the tables of Cassini.

This brief account of the influence of practical astronomy including astrology underscores the significant fact that the Ottoman’s astronomers were very well informed about the latest development of European astronomy and its literature. (İhsanoğlu, 2004, article II, pp. 3‒6, 30‒32.).

The acquisition of Copernicus’ system and his astronomy was already discussed by Köse Ibrāhīm Efendi in his Sajanjal, from which İhsanoğlu (op.cit. p. 4) has reproduced diagrams on the heliocentric and geocentric systems of Copernicus and Ptolemy respectively, along with that of Tycho Brahe. For want of space and time, we enumerate below briefly the works in which the New Copernicus’ astronomy is mentioned or treated in some details. Our main reference is İhsanoğlu (op. cit.).

Ibrāhīm Müteferrika (d. 1745), a Christian by birth, made a name in Ottoman Turkey by founding a press and published in 1732 the “Picture of the World” (Kitāb Jihān Numā) by the celebrated Ḥājjī Khalīfa alias Kātib Chalabī (d. 1657), to which Müteferrika attached a supplement and in which he discussed the Ptolemaic geocentric, Copernicus’ heliocentric and also Tycho Brahe’s systems, illustrating them by diagrams (see their reproduction by İhsanoğlu (p. 17). Müteferrika was ordered by Sultan Aḥmad III to translate into Turkish the Atlas Coelestis, written by the German‒Dutch cartographer Andreas Cellarius (d. 1665). The translation was completed in 1733. The profusely illustrated Star Atlas was completed in 1660, and published with Latin commentary in Amsterdam in 1708. It consists of beautiful illustrations of Ptolemaic, Copernican and Tychonic systems. Müteferrika entitled his translation as “Compendium of Old and New Astronomy”, in which he added from his above-mentioned Supplement ( cf. for analytical details in İhsanoğlu, pp. 19‒20).

A scholar and mystic Ibrahīm Ḥaqqī (d. 1780) completed his Ma‘rifat Nāma (Book of Knowledge) in 1757, which became so popular that it was printed eight times between 1825‒1914. Despite his religious background, he was actually convinced of the heliocentric theory, illustrating it by a diagram, and gave information also about the planetary satellites and their orbital periods. Actually Ḥaqqī considered in his work the Qur’ānic view and that of the new astronomy or modern science in non-interacting divisions, and thereby he could explain scientifically the occurrence of solar and lunar eclipses and earthquakes, for instance. For details cf. the analysis of Ḥaqqīs views by İhsanoğlu pp. 22‒29.
Finally, the transmission of modern astronomy /science culminated in the following two works.

First, Isḥāq Efendi, Headmaster/Principal (Bāshkhowājah) in the College of Engineering (Muhandiskhanah), wrote a four volume “Miscellany of Mathematical Sciences” (Majmū‘a ‘Ulūm-i Riyāḍiya), printed in Istanbul in 1834 and in Cairo in 1845. Noteworthy is that Isḥāq devoted 250 pages in the last volume to astronomy in which he treated in details the Ptolemaic and Tychonic systems, and traced the history of growth of Copernicus’ system with favoritism. For his diagrams of the three systems, see fig. 9, p. 35 in İhsanoğlu (op.cit.), who considers him the “pioneer of modern science in Turkey” (İhsanoğlu, 2004, a separate article IV on Isḥāq Efendi).

Ishaq Efendi

Ishaq Efendi

Second, a scholar from Baku (Azerbā’ijān), ‘Abbāsqulu Āghā (d. 1846) with poetic name Qudsī, wrote Asrār al‒Malakūt (Celestial Mysteries) first in Persian and later translated it into Arabic. He presented personally his work to Sultan ‘Abdul Majīd in 1846, who ordered its translation into Turkish. This translation by Sayyid Sharīf Khalīl (1881) was published in Istanbul in 1848.

We may therefore conclude that under the vigorous patronage of Ottoman Sultans, a number of Turkish scholars, who were educated traditionally and who were not professional scientists, became gradually convinced of the modern scientific theories and discoveries and at the same time they attempted to interpret their conviction to conform to the Islamic scriptures. In passing, we may refer to the text; Tanqīḥ al‒Ishkāk ‘an Tawḍīḥ al‒Idrāk (Corrections of Doubts about the Clarification of Perception) by ‘Abd Allāh al‒Shukrī al‒Qunāwī ( fl. 1857). Morrison (2003, pp. 190, 192‒193) has shown that this text was particularly written for students of madrasas —and that is why written in Arabic— and not only the Copernican heliocentric system has been explained but also the European discoveries of planets :Uranus and Neptune and of astroids: Ceres, Pallas, Vesta and Juno along with their periods have been mentioned. In any case, this scenario is just contrary to the situation on the Indian subcontinent, where the individual scholars did not concern themselves with any direct opposition from the Islamic clergy (‘Ulamā’).

3.2 Transmission into Iran

As early as 1624, the Italian traveler Pietro della Valle (d. 1652) translated into Persian the treatise of the Jesuit priest and astronomer, Christoforo Borri (d. 1632), on Tycho Brahe’s System. The abridged translation with his own commentary was sent by della Valle to his close Iranian friend, astronomer Mullā Zayn al‒Dīn Lārī. According to Kamran Arjomand (1997, pp. 6‒7) this information is given in a letter of Pietro della Valle, two manuscripts of which Arjomand has discovered in Vatican Library. This is the earliest reference in simple Persian the details of Tycho Brahe’s astronomical model into Iran. In his preface Della Valle has drawn a diagram of the world after Tycho Brahe, in which he has included three comets of 1577, 1580 and 1618 (Arjomand, 2012, p. 11). He mentions also Galileo and Kepler, and also the telescope and its use in connection with the discovery of satellites of Jupiter by Galileo. It will be appropriate to add that the first telescope was built in Isfahan by the Safavid court translator, Raphaël du Mans at the end of seventeenth century ( For the original reference, see Arjomand, 1997, p.7, fn. 7 ).

It is well known that due to the century‒old political and socio-cultural relations between Medieval India and Iran, many Iranians came to India during Safavid period and settled in India, particularly in Bombay (modern Mumbai), Calcutta (modern Kolkata) and cities of Avadh province. We may recall that the last Safavid king, Abū al‒Fatḥ Muḥammad Sultan fled to Sind in 1790‒91 and settled at Lucknow in 1795‒96, to whom Mirza Abu Talib dedicated his tract: Mi‘rāj al‒Tawḥīd (cf. Sec. 2.3). Consequently, writings of Indian scholars in Indo‒Persian were collected and transported to Iran quite easily. A copy of the tract, Risalah dar Ithbāt-i Hay’at-i Jadīd (Tract on Proofs of Modern Astronomy), is extant in the Library of Gharb in Hamadan (Iran), Ms. No. 1639, 18 ff. The author is Abū Ṭālib bin Ḥasan Ḥusaynī Ṣafawī, who wrote it between 1770‒72, while he was in Calcutta.

Another tract on modern astronomy and science is said to be the Risāla dar Ḥikmat-i Jadīd wa Afrinish-i Sitāragān ( A Tract on Modern Natural Philosophy and the Existence of Stars), written in 1851, its manuscript ,No. 3976, is extant in the collection of Tehran University.

Notwithstanding the above mentioned situation, the real transmission of modern astronomy and science took place actually when the first polytechnic or college of technology (Dār al‒Funūn) was instituted in 1851 (cf. for its evolution, Maryam Ekhtiar 2001). Arjomand (op.cit., p.9) lists a number of books written by the Austrian teacher August Kržiž on modern sciences. However, the most comprehensive book on modern heliocentric astronomy, Qānūn-i Nāṣirī (Canon of Nasiri), was written in 1865 ‒68 by the chief astronomer Najm al‒Dawla ‘Abdul Ghaffār Khān Iṣfahānī (d. ca, 1908) during the reign of Naṣīr al‒Dīn Shāh (r. 1848‒1896) at the instance of the minister of sciences, prince ‘Alī Qulī Mirzā. According to Mathur (1985, p.154), the author studied the English and French books on the subject, particularly the Astronomy by Arago (Director, Paris observatory), Herschel et al. and then wrote this treatise, which consists of 36 chapters. He discussed adequately the proofs of the heliocentric system (See also Hamadani’s summary, fn. 30, pp.134‒135), presents account of planets, astroids, comets (e.g., of Halley, Encke, Biela ) etc., and of modern astronomical instruments. A special feature of this treatise is two lists with dates of important astronomical discoveries and 16 astronomical instruments (Mathur, 1985, appendix I and II, pp. 157‒158).

Finally we may mention that there had been considerable religious opposition for the introduction of modern astronomy with its central role of the motion of Earth around the sun, and the opposition of modern astronomers to astrology, which was considered by ‘Ulamā’ to be an essential part of Ptolemaic astronomy taught in madrasas. Arjomand (1997, pp. 11-14, 17) has discussed details of this controversy, in which the prince ‘Alī Qulī Mirzā I‘tiḍād al‒Salṭana (d. 1880), the director of the above-mentioned Dār al‒ Funūn, played the pivoted role to combat it. His book, Falak al‒Sa‘āda (Auspicious Heaven), published already in 1861, “was an all out offensive against the old sciences”. For the later development of that scenario, in which even Iranian religious heads (‘Ulamā’) and jurists ( Fuqahā’ ) became convinced gradually of the correctness of the modern astronomy and science, see Arjomand (1997, pp. 20‒24).

4. Concluding Remarks

For want of recent references, we are unable to include here a section on transmission of modern science into Arabic speaking countries. Saliba (1992) has surveyed the specialized journals of science: Al‒Muqtaṭaf (The Digest), Al‒Bashīr and Al‒Jinān, published in Beirut during the last quarter of the nineteenth century by the various sects of Christian Missionaries. Several articles on Copernicus astronomy were published and the topic was also debated by Christian scholars, namely, whether the new astronomy was in harmony with the holy scriptures or not. Although in the same vein the Egyptian intellectual ‘Abdallah Fikrī and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al‒Ijī were arguing in favour of Copernican astronomy (Saliba, 1992, pp.150‒151), yet the writings in the above mentioned journals had presumably no substantial influence on the Egyptian and Syrian madrasah-trained scholars in general. We hope that some Arab scholar will take a cue from Kamran Arjomand (1997) and work on the various controversies in East and West Arab countries.

Apropos the controversies as a result of the conflict between the modern astronomy or science. We may recall that in the erstwhile Indian subcontinent, they did not lead to direct confrontation between the modern Muslim intellectuals and the Muslim ‘Ulamā’, since the spheres of activity of these two groups were not crossing each other. The ‘Ulamā’ were teaching in Arabic madrasas obsolete Ptolemaic astronomy in Arabic medium without any hinderance and the modern intellectuals were publicizing their own new learning in their own way by establishing modern Western colleges or by founding scientific societies. Examples are the Delhi College, and the Anglo- Oriental College founded in 1877 at Aligarh by Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan (cf. Scientific Society). On the other hand, the British rulers established also modern Western universities in the first quarter of nineteenth century, where modern European science could be offered by graduate and post-graduate students. That policy turned out to be the legacy of the science and technology of Independent India today.

In contradistinction to this scenario, in Turkey and Iran the political power was in the hands of Ottoman and Iranian rulers respectively. Consequently, the Muslim clergy was afraid of losing hold on the general masses by that modernization in general. For instance, apart from the opposition to the Copernican and Tycho Brahe’s astronomy, the conflict was apparent even in the introduction of Western philosophy. It has been reported that the first Persian translation of Descartes’ Discourse de la Méthode was carried out by Joseph Arthur Compte de Gobineau (in Iran 1855‒58, 1861‒64) in collaboration with Mullā Lālāzār, entitled Ḥikmat-i Nāṣirīya, (printed in Tehran 1862). However, its manuscript copies were burnt during Qājāriya period by a bias group (Mojtahedī 1990, pp. 134‒138, referred by Heidarzadeh 2013).

Appendix 1

List of Symbols for Libraries/ Collections (See Bibliography for details)

  • KhB – Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library (Bankipur), Patna.
  • IO – India Office Library, London.
  • MAL – Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. The published catalogue of some manuscript collections are available.
  • MF – Mullā Fīroz Collection at K.R. Cama Oriental Research Library,Bombay. See Rehatsek’s Catalogue.
  • OUL – Osmania University Library, Hyderabad. The published catalogue is not available to-date.
  • RL – Raza (Riḍā) Library, Rampur.
  • SCL – State Central Library, formerly Aṣafiyah, Hyderabad. The Mss. are now housed in A.P. Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library and Research Institute, Hyderabad.
  • SJM – Salar Jang Museum Library, Hyderabad.


A. Primary Sources

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