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Friday, 28 November 2008

In Memory of Al-Jazari, A Genius Mechanical Engineer

Al-Jazari(1136-1206) was an important Arab Muslim scholar. He was an inventor and mechanical engineer who gained fame and glory with his famous book of mechanics, Al-Jami `bayn al-`ilm wa 'l-`amal al-nafi `fi sina `at al-hiyal (A Compendium on the Theory and Useful Practice of the Mechanical Arts), the most significant treatise of the Islamic tradition of mechanical engineering and a ground breaking work in the history of technology.

Al-Jazari's greatest treatise has always aroused great interest from historians of technology and historians of art. Indeed, alongside his accomplishments as an inventor and engineer, al-Jazariwas also an accomplished artist. The surviving manuscripts of his book provide detailed instructions for all of his inventions and illustrate them using miniature paintings, a medieval style of Islamic art, to make it possible for a reader to reconstruct his inventions.

The historian Lynn White who writes: "Segmental gears first clearly appear in al-Jazari, in the West they emerge in Giovanni de Dondi's astronomical clock finished in 1364, and only with the great Sienese engineer Francesco di Giorgio (1501) did they enter the general vocabulary of European machine design

Some 800 years in the past, in 1206, a brilliant Muslim scholar died: Badi` al-Zaman Abu al-‘Izz ibn Isma`il ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari. He was one of the most important inventors and mechanical engineers in the history of technology. His magnum opus book of mechanics, the famous Al-Jami` bayn al-`ilm wa 'l-`amal al-nafi` fi sina`at al-hiyal (A Compendium on the Theory and Useful Practice of the Mechanical Arts) was the most significant treatise of the Islamic tradition of mechanical engineering and a ground breaking work in the history of mechanics.

Al-Jazari's achievements in the history of mechanical engineering


Figure 2: Drawing of al-Jazari's "Elephant Clock" depicted by Fakhr ibn 'Abd al-Latif on a leaf. Source: The The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New Yourk. Online at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/07/wae/ho_57.51.23.htm

Al-Jazari's book deals with a whole range of devices and machines, with a multiplicity of purposes. What they have in common is the considerable degree of engineering skill required for their manufacture, and the use of delicate mechanisms and sensitive control systems. Many of the ideas employed in the construction of ingenious devices were useful in the later development of mechanical technology.

The American pioneer historian of science George Sarton says about the special status of al-Jazari's book in the history of science and technology: "this treatise is the most elaborate of its kind and may be considered the climax of this line of Moslem achievement [6]." Donald R. Hill concludes also that "until modern times there is no other document, from any cultural area, that provides a comparable wealth of instructions for the design, manufacture and assembly of machines."

Al-Jazariinherited the knowledge of his predecessors, but he improved on their designs and added devices of his own invention. The merit of his book is that it was the only book to discuss such a large variety of devices and to present them with text, illustrations and dimensions so that a skilled craftsman is able to construct any device on the basis of al-Jazari's description. This is why several of his inventions were reproduced, from the monumental water clock created for the World of Islam Festival in 1976, until the huge "Elephant clock" that stands 8 meters high in the "India" court at the Ibn Battuta shopping mall in Dubai and the recreation by FSTC scholars in Manchester of 3D-model animations of some machines of al-Jazari, such as the reciprocating pump with a water wheel as the drive source. The recreated machines as well as their animated models proved to be real machines, working perfectly well, and far from being just toys described in al-Jazari's book, as some historians have assumed erroneously.

1- Source refer to http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm
2- http://muslimheritage.com/
3-http://www.history-science-technology.com/

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