And The Heaven He Raised

In History by Brian Koberlein28 Comments

Modern astronomy has a rich Islamic history. As with many cultures, the motions of the Sun, Moon and stars are an important part of Islam, and so Muslim astronomers needed to develop sophisticated astronomical techniques. To this day, many stars in the northern hemisphere continue to bear the Arabic names given them by Muslim astronomers. 

Using a quadrant to measure the stars.

Some of the biggest achievements in astronomy stem from the Islamic golden age, spanning the 9th to the 12th century. During this period, sophisticated mathematics was developed to accurately determine the first appearance of the crescent moon. Tools such as the quadrant were developed to make precise measurements of stellar positions. In the 9th century, Sunni astronomer Alfraganus wrote The Compendium of the Science of the Stars, where he gave a summary of Ptotemaic astronomy, giving revised values for the motions of the Sun and Moon, as well as the circumference of the Earth.

In the 10th century, Azophi wrote the Book of Fixed Stars, which contains the earliest recorded observation of the Andromeda galaxy, which he describes as a small cloud. He also recorded the Large Magellanic Cloud, which wasn’t identified by Europeans until the 16th century. In the 11th century, the great scientist Al-Biruni wrote Canon Masudicus, where he discussed Earth as a moving body, and the ideas of a heliocentric universe, five centuries before Copernicus’ model was widely adopted by astronomers.

Although it’s common to focus on Islamic scientists of the golden age, Muslim scholars have continued made significant contributions to astronomy and other sciences. Farouk El-Baz worked on NASA’s Apollo mission, and helped to select the landing sites. Kerim Kerimov played a central role in the development of Russia’s space program. Abdus Salam won the Nobel prize in physics with  Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for his work on the electroweak theory. Human progress and understanding has been made richer for the efforts of these scientists.

Unfortunately, the leadership of my country has seen fit to paint people such as these as dangerous and unwelcome because of their heritage and place of birth. Such a view not only goes against the ideals of scientific advancement, it goes against basic human decency. It is to our loss and shame that such Muslim contributions to humanity are buried with racism and hate.


  1. Muslim isn’t a place of birth but a religious affiliation, which a man can choose freely. Except in those places where the choice is “be Muslim, emigrate or be killed”.

      1. So it’s OK to bash Germans for what some of them they did during WW2, but not OK to bash Muslims for what some of them are doing today?

          1. Well, if you want to, certainly. But I was thinking more along the lines of stoning improperly dressed women to death and exterminating Christians. Please understand, I never meant to deny that a person may be a Muslim and a brilliant scientist at the same time. But the Quran does not command all its followers to do great feats of science. It does, however, command to stone improperly dressed women. So I have all reasons to believe that brilliant Muslim scientists were brilliant not because they were Muslim, but despite that. That goes for all theistic religions, by the way.
            As for Kerim Kerimov, he was a Soviet general, that means a member of CPSU and, therefore, atheist.

      2. And, by the way, no. Nuremberg race laws were race, not religion-based.

  2. Ok they probably won’t let me post.An here it is the universe travels In spiral motion completes itself 360000 years.Ann travels so fast it’s impacts it’s own sonic boom if u will!This means that the universe travels So fast it takes 360000 years to catch itself.the pressures of the wave impacts hard it turns inside out

    1. Author

      Your statement makes no sense. The Universe doesn’t have an inherent rotation. We would notice this by its affect on light, and there’s no such effect.

  3. Thank you so much. The world is a darker, bleaker place today. Interesting column. Never realized the quadrant was a muslim invention but it makes sense – muslim traders had been sailing to China, east asian islands as early as the 9th C. carrying textiles and Indonesian spices among other items (long before Marco Polo was dazzled).

  4. To understand the President an understanding of malignant narcissism is required.,

      1. Do you deny that what you call “arab astronomy” was not at all performed by any arabs? It was a continuation of non-arabic astronomy worked on by people who the arabs had invaded and occupied. And after a few generations that pre-islamic tradition had died out and no cultural development occurred, they are stuck in their 1,400 years old ideal. Calling the occupied former world leading civilizations “arab” is like calling Einstein a nazi because he was a professor in Berlin. Completely anti-historic.

        1. Author

          See, Mike Peterson? I’ll leave this comment because it’s a good representation of the kind of comments I’ve been deleting. Despite clear evidence of the Islamic golden age, and modern contributions to science by Muslims (many of whom are Arabic, but certainly not all). A commenter sees fit to compare them to Nazis. Of course “LocalFluff” has to say these things behind a pseudonym. That’s what racist cowards do.

          1. Koberlein, why don’t you move to Saudi Arabia if that is your paradise on Earth?
            Why do you religiously deny that islam means to never change, to never tolerate any differences, to never evolve? Islam is the first written arabic nomadic cultural inheritance. They refused to earn anything for 1400 years.First and only. That’s their tragedy.

        2. The Arab invasions of the Middle East, Northern Africa and Spain was completed by the early eighth century.
          The flowering of Islamic science and mathematics began in the ninth century.

          Perhaps you would like to explain to us why the Islamic conquerors would hang around for a century before tapping into the resources of “non Arabic” astronomy (and mathematics).
          Who exactly did the Arabs steal from?
          Was it from the Persians or Byzantines from the Middle East, or perhaps the Moors from North Africa or Visigoths from Spain?
          Only the Byzantines and Persians (Sassanids) were advanced and familiar with Greek observational astronomy and mathematics.
          Whoever the Arabs “stole from” it’s up to you to show that observational astronomy and mathematics was already advanced beyond the Greeks before the Arabs came on the scene.
          The fact is you can’t because there was no advancement prior to Islamic influence.
          The advancement came from Islamic scientists and scholars.

          Historically the pre-eminence of Islamic science came to an end in 1258 when the Mongols sacked Baghdad which was the intellectual capital for both Europe and the Middle East.
          Baghdad never recovered.

  5. Considering the telescope wasn’t invented until the 1700s, makes their information, numbers and theories, even more powerful. We should have Mr. Trump work on the budget using Roman numerals. (The national debt is XX with 4 — IV — bars drown over the x’s.

  6. Wrong man everything in it is moving if it’s all moving how would u notice.Next

    1. And how do you think we know our galaxy is rotating…….next.
      Here is a hint try reading up on the Doppler shift of the 21 cm hydrogen line.

  7. “the leadership of my country has seen fit to paint people such as these as dangerous” — No, the USA has not painted Muslim scientists as dangerous. The Executive Order mentions neither Muslims nor scientists. When Obama banned Iraqis for 6 months in 2011 no one complained. When Jimmy Carter banned Iranians in ’79-’80 no one complained. Scanning the authors of peer reviewed science journals hardly yields an abundance of Muslims. Stick to science, not poorly informed polemics.

  8. Brian, my highest respect for making such a clear statement. It would be easy just to paddle along, put your blinkers on and write another post purely about physics or/and astronomy. But no, you have connected some dots and highlighted some very important issues occurring within your country – and knowingly upset a significant percentage of your followers. You spoke out against a racist tyrant and his crowd – good on you for doing so.

    First they came for the scientists, then they came for the Jews (or the Muslims in your case) Please make sure you don’t end up in a camp.

  9. Scientists should fight for science. There is a lot of “people” who fighting for islam, and be sure, if you support them, as a result your kids will grow cannabis, and astronomy would be banned.

    1. Author

      Funny how arguing in favor of basic human dignity is seen as “fighting for Islam,” and that somehow that makes me an anti-science pothead…

  10. Thanks Brian. I wish more people could think objectively and without prejudice or not from a place of ignorance about these issues.

    I am an atheist which was brought up in one of those 7 banned countries; I know everyone cherry-picks the religious texts to prove a point, but there are “good” cherries to pick too. (yeah, I know I know; the majority of those texts are “literally” unacceptable to a descent and moral modern human. I am talking about “cherry-picking”) For instance I remember from my Religious Studies and Quran classes that you actually “had” to learn about the world because humans were supposed to be the “caliphs” of Earth and therefore had to KNOW it. It was a “duty” to study the workings of the world and cosmos and there might actually be a few places in Quran that you are discouraged from learning. So, if you wanted to cherry-pick, there were cherries that actually promoted science. There are many verses in Quran that end with “these are signs for those who think”. And these were the major forces behind the golden age of Islamic Empire. Scholar saw it as their religious “duty” to question things and find answers. There are philosophers from that era who would have been hanged or beheaded if made the arguments they made in many of the Muslim majority countries.

  11. In re: conversion to Christianity:

    (before 1933-1945 era) possible acceptability by “German society” as seen in the phenomenon of Assimilation and the life of Fritz Haber;

    (1933 – 1945 era) not possible whatsoever.

    A comparison of Haber and Einstein’s personal lives is surprisingly instructive.

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