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1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

Between the 9th and 19th centuries, Arabic-speaking scholars translated Greek, Latin and even Sanskrit texts on topics such as medicine, mathematics and astronomy, fostering a vibrant scientific culture within the Islamic world. Some of the most influential texts are now available at the Qatar Digital Library.

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The library, a joint project of the British Library and the Qatar Foundation, offers free access to 25,000 pages of medieval Islamic manuscripts. Among some of the most significant texts:

The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (1206 A.D.), which was inspired by an earlier, 9th-century translation of Archimedes' writings on water clocks. Devices such as the "Elephant Clock" (pictured below) were the most accurate time-keeping pieces before the first pendulum clocks were built in the 17th century by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens.

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Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

Another water clock design features balls dropping onto a cymbal from a bird's head.

Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

This is one of the only three recorded copies of an influential treatise on the construction and use of astrolabes by Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), containing 122 diagrams.

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Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

A translation (615 AD) of Ptolemy's mathematical and astronomical treatise, The Almagest.

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Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

An Arabic version of De Materia Medica, an encyclopedia of herbs and medicine written in the first century AD by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek-born, Roman physician. This translation was completed in Baghdad in 1334 A.D.

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Illustration for article titled 1,000 Years of Scientific Texts From The Islamic World Are Now Online

See more manuscripts at the Qatar Digital Library.

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DISCUSSION

There is no way to overestimate the huge impact the medieval Muslim world had on the development of modern science and technology. Algebra, the introduction of the zero and decimal notation, optics, astronomy, logarithms, medicine and anatomy, engineering, natural histories, ship building, the highly accurate preservation of formerly lost Greek and Roman texts and on and on and on.

I've read that there are many moderate Muslims now who lament the loss of the cosmopolitan, confident openness of those days. They seek to accept the modern world and come to live with it and participate in it. But sadly, at the moment, the extremist xenophobes have the spotlight. (But I don't think they'll have it forever. The Arab Spring is one sign of that change.)

The hurtling, ambiguous, complex, inscrutable, unrelenting change of modern world seems to scare nearly everyone these days. For many, not just Islam, this makes them retreat into a false nostalgia of supposedly better, purer times.

That is always an illusion. These better days never existed. We must embrace change. We must learn to duck and weave with it.