While Astronomy withered in medieval Europe, it flourished within Islam. Renaissance astronomers learned from the texts of Islamic scholars, who had preserved, developed, and transformed the science of the ancient Greeks.
The era of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) brought about great zeal, enthusiasm and enlightenment among the nomadic Arabs to acquire and spread knowledge which is simply astonishing. The Holy Qur'an gives supreme importance for acquisition of knowledge to probe into the vast expanses of the Universe with the power of reasoning and intellect bestowed on mankind.
The Holy Qur'an states:"And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect." (Qur'an 45:13)
The following two centuries, after Hijri was regarded as the golden era in the Islamic sciences. In the words of a great Harvard historian of Science, George Sarton: "From the second half of the eighth to the end of eleventh century, Arabic was the scientific and progressive language of the mankind. When the West was sufficiently mature to feel the need of deeper knowledge, it turned its attention, first of all, not to the Greek sources, but to the Arabic ones."
A historian of the West says that from the 8th to the 14th century, most of the Astronomical activity took place in the Middle East, North Africa, Moorish Spain, while Europe languished in the Dark Ages. The wealth of knowledge in Astronomy and other sciences preserved and developed by Islamic scholars fell into the hands of Europeans which ultimately paved the way for Renaissance in Europe.
The growth of Islamic Astronomy by leaps and bounds was mainly due to Islamic religious observances which presented a host of problems in mathematical astronomy mostly related to time-keeping. In solving these problems the Islamic scholars went far beyond the Greek mathematical methods. These developments notably in the field of Trigonometry provided the essential tools for the creation of Western Renaissance Astronomy. The glimpses of Medieval Islamic Astronomy are conspicuous even today. The familiar astronomical terms like Zenith, Azimuth, and the Stars in the Summer Triangle Vega, Altair and Deneb and many more such words are of Arabic origin. Mentioned below are some of the most prominent Islamic astronomers.
Musa Al-Khawarzmi: He was among the most important of the early 9th century astronomers. Apart from his notable contribution to mathematics, he also wrote on Astronomy, especially on Ptolemy's "Almagest" (Syntaxis). He prepared a set of "Zij" (astronomical tables) of future planetary and stellar positions, called "Zijal Sindhind", since they were based on some Hindu tables that were brought to Baghdad. These tables are the first of the major Islamic Astronomical works that have survived in its entirety.
Abu Al-Abbas Al-Farghani: He wrote a more general book on Astronomy, a critical commentary on Al-Khawarzmi's "Zij" and a commentary on "Almagest". This was of utmost importance, since it gave in Arabic, a thorough account of Ptolemaic Astronomy in a clear well organized text which enjoyed considerable popularity.
Abu Abdullah Al-Battani: Of all the early Arabian astronomers he was the greatest and the most famous was. Al-Battani, a Sabian from Harran, made astronomical observations from Al-Raqqa on the north bank of Euphrates. He made observations of eclipses and other celestial phenomena. His most notable contribution to the field was his "Kitab Al-Zij" (Book of Astronomical Tables). He also constructed several astronomical instruments to make accurate observations and measurements.
Abdul Wafa Al-Buzjani: He was another great representative of astronomical and mathematical school that had grown up after the founding of Baghdad. He wrote a complete text book on Astronomy from a mathematical point of view, with explicit solutions.
Abdul Hussain Al-Sufi: He was a late 10th century astronomer from Iran, renowned for his observations and descriptions of the stars and his "Book of the Constellation of the Fixed Stars". This book became a classic in Islamic Astronomy and Abul Hussain was recognized in the West as Azophi.
Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni: A multifaceted intellectual from Iran also contributed to the field of Astronomy, even though his primary interests were in Astrology. His contributions were in Astronomical Geography, using eclipses to determine the longitude of places on Earth. He also made astronomical observations to determine the distance of a degree of the Meridian.
Abdul Hassan Ibn Yunus: He was another great astronomer as the close of the 10th century, from Egypt with major contributions in the area of astronomical determination of the prayer times. His tables were very extensive - they had more than 10,000 entries of the Sun's position throughout the year. These tables were so accurate that they were used in Cairo until the 19th century.
Ulugh Beg: He was the grandson of the famous Mongol Conqueror Tamerlane. Ulugh Beg also made astronomical observations and was a dynamic force behind the cultural life of Samarkhand which was abruptly cut off due to his untimely assassination.
The great efforts of the Islamic Astronomers became very handy for the European Renaissance Astronomers to learn and further develop the field of Astronomy.
The Islamic Bulletin
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