Islamic culture and civilization

Islamic culture and civilization (15)

From the 3rd century AH to 7th century AH, this science was at its peak in the Islamic world spreading from Spain, North Africa, West Asia, Iran, to Central Asia.


Muslim scientists drew upon the scattered rules of mechanics set by ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, and the Chinese. Muslim scientists, then, developed mechanics and devised new techniques, which made it an important unique applied science, after it had been meant only for entertainment and magic. Mechanics was called by Muslim scientists as Ilm al-Hiyal “Science of Contrivances”, which means ways and means to which they resort to face hard conditions in order to achieve their goals and save human effort. Muslim scientists expanded in using mechanical power, thus turning slight effort into one that supersedes human or animals.

As for the purpose and goal of mechanics, Muslim scientists wanted to bring more benefits for mankind through using contrivance instead of human effort, mind rather than muscles and machine in lieu of body. Through mechanics, Muslim scientists aimed to dispense with forced labour, especially that Islam forbade charging slaves or servants with fatigue duty or even beasts of burden. Therefore, Muslims tended to develop machines to use them in doing drudgery work. This is a civilized characteristic of nations that made great progress in all fields of science and civilization for the sake of humankind’s comfort and wellbeing.

Mechanics represent the technical aspect of the Islamic civilization. Muslim engineers and technicians applied their theories to make use of them in all fields that serve Islam and promote civilization and development. All those who preceded Muslim scientists used mechanics only to serve religious purposes to influence their followers, such as mobile and vocalizing statues, pipe organs and resonant instruments used by priests in temples. With the advent of Islam, the relationship the new purpose of mechanics became to serve mankind through inventing machines and equipment based on aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and hydrostatics, such as valves, remote control systems, scientific tools and devices, bridges and arches and architectural ornaments etc. Among the pioneers in the fields of mechanical engineering, was the Banu Musa family of Iranians. These were the three brothers, the sons of Musa ibn Shakir, named Mohammed, (died 259 AH or 873 AD), Ahmad and Hassan (both died 261 AH or 874 AD). They were pioneers in mathematics, astronomy and applied and technological sciences. They were known for their masterpiece Kitab al-Hiyyal or the Book of Ingenious Devices, which contains one hundred mechanical devices with full explanations and diagrams for installation, operation and dismantlement.

The Banu Musa invented automatic valves, delayed-action systems and other principles of automatic control, including conic valves and automatic crankshafts in an unprecedented way. Banu Musa’s use of the crankshaft came 500 years before the first European description of mechanism of the modern crankshaft. There are many examples of Banu Musa’s mechanic devices: the hurricane lamp, which cannot be put out by wind, the self-feeding lamp, which automatically changes wick and oil, so much that anyone who watches it may think that fire does consume neither the wick or the oil, and a fountain from which water spurts out in the shape of a shield, or in the shape of a lily and so on and so forth. Banu Musa also invented machines for agriculture and farming purposes, such as mangers for animals of different sizes, in which they could eat and drink without being annoyed by other animals, water tanks for bathrooms, instruments for measuring density of liquids and machines installed in fields to control water consumption and prevent wastage and improve control of the irrigation process. All those creative ideas played a major role in accelerating the progress of mechanics.

Last week, we spoke of the astounding mechanical inventions including the clocks of Badi az-Zamaan al-Jazari. Today we focus on his water-raising machines, including the double-action suction pump, which modern historians consider as nearly similar to the steam engine. This pump is driven by a water-wheel, which drives, through a system of gears, an oscillating slot-rod to which the rods of two pistons are attached. The pistons work in horizontally opposed cylinders; each provided with valve-operated suction and delivery pipes. The delivery pipes are joined above the centre of the machine to form a single outlet into the irrigation system. There are three valves attached to each pump to allow water in one direction from bottom to top and not vice versa. That pump is a machine made of metal, which runs on wind power or by an animal making rotary movements. The goal of al-Jazari’s pump was to raise water from deep wells and from the river when the water level was low.

Another great Muslim inventor was Taqi ad-Din ad-Demashqi of Syria, a pioneer in technology. He wrote his famous book at-Turuq as-Saniyya fi’l-Aalaat ar-Ruhaniyya (The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines), in which he described various mechanical devices, such as water, mechanical and sand clocks, gear and pulley levers, water fountains and rotation machines running on steam turbines, which we know in modern times.

The Six-Cylinder (monobloc) Pump is one of Taqi ad-Din’s most important water-raising machines. In this pump, he used for the first time, a bloc of cylinders in one line. He also used the camshaft with six cams distributed in order on the circumference of the circle so that the cylinders work continuously and the flow of the water as well. This advanced understanding for the continuity, which avoids gush or cut off, beside the modern dynamic balancing concept form the base for the modern manufacturing of multi-cylinder engines and compressors. In his design of the Six-Cylinder (monobloc) Pump machine, Taqi ad-Din made a lead weight on top of each piston rod that outweighs the water column inside the going-up pipe. By his design, he preceded Samuel Morland who designed, in 1675, a pump in which he used lead disks above the piston so that the piston is forced down by the weight pushing water up to the desired height. That refutes the Western technological historians’ allegations that the Islamic technology in mechanical engineering had been meant only to entertain or kill time. The waterwheels invented by Muslim scientists prove that the allegations of those biased historians were untrue. Those waterwheels were used to drive mills of sugarcane, grains, and seeds. They were also used to raise water for irrigation purposes. Water power and wind power were used on a large scale. The relation was close between theoretical sciences and their applications in all practical fields of life, which include designing cities, irrigation facilities, dams, machines etc. During the Islamic civilization era, Muslim engineers and technicians adopted the scientific method in all their works. In some difficult cases, they started with designing plans, then they made maquettes for what they intended to carry out. Modern technicians rebuilt various structures and machines according to descriptions and explanations provided by Muslim scientists in their books.

The Muslim engineers gained many successes in development of mechanical devices. They cut their needed pieces with the substances at their disposal and then they assembled them.

For the construction of devices, they used metals, gold, silver, wood, glass and leather as well as cotton and silk rope.

The most common substances used by the Muslim scientists were wood and copper sheet. They used the copper sheet for building pipe, floating pieces and movable objects. The Muslim scientists built wire from copper and sometimes from iron.

They used the wire in building chains. Gears and pulleys were made of wood or copper. One of the issues of Muslims especially in the central field of Islamic civilization was to handle the problem of dry lands and dehydration. Some countries by using gentle slope raised the water to the ground level. But in some other regions raising the water to the ground level was a great problem for their residents. Last but not the least mention should be made of Abul-Fath Abdur-Rahman al-Khazini, who improvised upon the inventions of Ibne Haytham and Abu Rayhan al-Birouni. His famous book titled Mizan al-Hekma (or Balance of Wisdom) is one of his most prominent works in mechanics. In this book, Khazini has praised scientists like Razi, Birouni and Khayyam and their works in the field of mechanics. Various devices like timer, lift, scales and many others of his innovations have been registered in this book. Khazini has precisely referred to the impact of air pressure on the weight of bodies. The book contains studies of the hydrostatic balance, its construction and uses, and the theories of statics and hydrostatics that lie behind it, as developed by his predecessors, his contemporaries, and himself.


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