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Bright Minds in the Dark Ages

Great Inventors of the Muslim World

Fiona Scoble

Published by CE4CE This document is copyright Fiona Scoble

Ziryab was an amazing musician and also the coolest guy around in the ninth century. He started life in Baghdad as a gifted pupil of a master musician. He had to leave Baghdad and move to Cordoba in Spain when he embarrassed his teacher by becoming better than him at music. When he arrived in Cordoba in 822 he revolutionized their music and fashion and helped to make Cordoba one of the most stylish cities in the world.
Fiona Scoble asserts the moral right to be identified as author of this work. She wants to encourage the circulation of this work as widely as possible without affecting the ownership of the copyright, which remains with the copyright holder. Users are therefore welcome to download, save, perform or distribute this work electronically or in any other format without requesting written permission, so long as wherever this work is used, Fiona Scoble is credited as originator. The work must not be resold, in any medium, under any circumstances, for financial gain.

Musical Magic Ziryab was a first class musician and loved his work. He used to compose his songs at night, sitting with two servants who played the lute. He wanted to pass on his knowledge and established one of the first schools of music. His schools accepted both male and female students and taught them how to sing and play instruments. He always liked his students to experiment and make new sounds and styles of music. Ziryab was an amazing musician and also the coolest guy around in the ninth century. He started life in Baghdad as a gifted pupil of a master musician. He had to leave Baghdad and move to Cordoba in Spain when he embarrassed his teacher by becoming better than him at music. When he arrived in Cordoba in 822 he revolutionized their music and fashion and helped to make Cordoba one of the most stylish cities in the world. Musical Magic Ziryab was a first class musician and loved his work. He used to compose his songs at night, sitting with two servants who played the lute. He wanted to pass on his knowledge and established one of the first schools of music. His schools accepted both male and female students and taught them how to sing and play instruments. He always liked his students to experiment and make new sounds and styles of music.

One brilliant gift he brought with him to Spain was musical instruments from the Middle East. He brought the Persian Lute (a stringed instrument which you pluck) to Cordoba, and this became the Spanish Guitar (a guitar with six strings). He also brought passionate songs, tunes and dances from Persia and Mesopotamia. Later, mixed with Romani and other influences, these became the famous Spanish flamenco. Always looking for something new, Ziryab improved instruments like the ud (which is like a lute). He added a fifth pair of strings and instead of using a piece of wood to pluck the strings, he used a quill or an eagles beak (dont worry - the eagle wasnt still attached). Fads and Fashions In the court at Cordoba Ziryab lived a life of luxury. The caliph paid him a huge salary and he was free to compose and play music as he pleased, but he also introduced elegance and luxury to the court. He introduced new games to play polo and chess both came to Europe from the Middle East. In fact, Checkmate in chess comes from the Persian word Shahmat, meaning The King is Defeated. 4

Ziryab livened up the dinner table. He brought new fruit and vegetables like asparagus, and introduced the three-course meal. After the Roman Empire collapsed in Europe in 476 AD, eating had become a bit boring in Europe. Food was served plainly on platters on bare tables. When Ziryab arrived he brought new types of food, fancy tablecloths and glasses, and he divided meals up into a starter, a main course and a pudding. The fashion spread across Europe and of course you still see all these things in use today. So next time youre rushing through your main course, desperate to get to the pudding, think of Ziryab (dont you wish hed said that pudding should come first?!). Fashion also changed thanks to Ziryabs influence. The Muslims were experts at making beautiful materials and dying them amazing colours. Ziryab encouraged the Cordobans to change the material and colour of their clothes for each season of the year. Think of all the clothes shops you see on our high streets what would they do without Ziryabs seasonal fashion sense?! Because we live in a time where TV and the internet allow us to see what is happening all over the world, its difficult to imagine how amazed the Cordobans would have been by all the new ideas that Ziryab brought to them. If theyd had magazines around then, heres what they might have said

Because these events happened so long ago, the story of Ziryabs influence might have been a bit exaggerated each time it was retold through the generations. It probably wasnt just Ziryab that made all these changes in Spain - but Ziryab was definitely a major part of the change, and his influence in Spain has become legendary.

placed on top of a piece of writing to magnify it and make it easier to read. Reading stones were used until the late 13th century when the modern idea of spectacles reading glasses started being used. Amazing Planetarium Ibn Firnas came up with another brilliant use for his glass he used it to construct an astounding planetarium. Planetariums are theatres that are used for recreating how the night sky looks. Modern day planetariums can use computers to show how stars are born and how they appear to move around the earth. Back in the 9th century, Ibn Firnas did something just as amazing. His planetarium not only had stars, it also had artificial clouds, thunder and lightning! Naturally his 9th century audience were amazed, and even now no one is quite sure how he managed it! First Flight As well as his other incredible inventions, Ibn Firnas is most famous for constructing a flying machine. It was the first machine able to carry a human into the air. His inquisitive mind led him to consider a lot of the things he saw around him. He once asked himself, What man-made machine will ever achieve the complete perfection of even the gooses wing? In 875, at the age of 65, Ibn Firnas tried his best to copy how birds fly. He made a flying machine which had two large wings and was 9

A man of many talents, Abbas Ibn Firnas did a bit of everything, including poetry, astronomy, engineering and music. He spoke Arabic but was also fluent in Greek and made translations of philosophical and musical manuscripts. He lived in Cordoba under the enlightened Umayyad Caliphate. Classy Glass Ibn Firnas was a bit of a genius at manipulating glass. He developed a technique of cutting rock crystal into useful shapes and he discovered a way of making colourless glass using sand and stone. He established a large crystal industry in Andalusia based on mined rocks. Looking at his colourless glass, Ibn Firnas realised there was a lot more to do with it than just making drinking glasses. He started experimenting with lenses and thinking of ways to magnify writing for people with poor eyesight. He created reading stones. These were oval shaped pieces of glass that could be 8

made with silk covered in eagle feathers. He tightened it with fine strips of silk and attached the wings to his arms. In the Rusafa area on the outskirts of Cordoba in Spain, Ibn Firnas climbed a hill and a large crowd of people gathered to watch his attempt at flight. He made a speech to the crowd: Presently, I shall take leave of you. By guiding these wings up and down, I should ascend like the birds. If all goes well, after soaring for a time I should be able to return safely to your side. Luckily, many of the onlookers recorded their eye-witness accounts of his flight. Heres what they said:

Having constructed the final version of his glider, to celebrate its success he invited the people of Cordoba to come and witness his flight. People watched from a nearby mountain as he flew some distance, but then the glider plummeted to the ground, causing him to injure his back...

He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture. We though Ibn Firnas certainly mad... and we feared for his life!



Ibn Firnas flew pretty high and hung in the air for over ten minutes, but then he plummeted down and crash landed. He broke the wings and a part of his back in the process. After the flight, he realised that a birds tail is just as useful as its wings. They use their tail to land and he crashed because he didnt have one. To honour Ibn Firnas fearless thinking, a crater on the moon has been named Ibn Firnas in his memory. The Ibn Firnas moon crater is 89km in diameter lets hope the crater that Ibn Firnas left in the earth when he crash-landed was a bit smaller! Unfortunately Ibn Firnas injury meant he wasnt able to try out any more flying experiments to test out tails on his flying machine. 600 years later Leonardo da Vinci came up with new flying machine ideas, and over 1000 years later the Wright brothers first flew a plane.

Try It Yourself! In 875 Ibn Firnas designed a pretty good glider by using the idea of a birds wings. His big mistake was not realising that birds use their tails to help them fly. You can make your own mini glider - and see how much better it flies with a tail just follow these instructions! Step 1 Start with a plain sheet of A4 paper.

Step 2 Fold the paper in half, lengthways, down the middle. (Make sure that every time you fold the paper, you press down hard along the edge to make a strong fold.)

Step 3 Unfold the paper and use the crease down the middle as a guideline.



Step 4 Fold the top corners of the paper in towards that middle crease.

Step 8 Lift up the flaps to make your planes wings. Your plane can now fly! See how far it gets without a tail, and then move on to Step 9.

Step 5 Starting from the newly made slants, fold the edges in towards the middle again. Step 9 With a pair of scissors, make a slit about 3cm from the black edge of the plane (the bit hanging below the wings).

Step 6 Fold the sheet of paper in half along the original crease.

Step 10 Take the little flap youve just created and invert it by pushing it up this is your planes tail. Step 7 Fold down each flap from the open end to the closed end. The paper should then look like a long, thin triangle. You can try making tails with different heights and angles because these will change how your plane flies. To make it even better, you can add wing flaps which will give your plane more lift follow Steps 11 and 12 to make these. 15


Step 11 With the scissors, make a small slit about a quarter of the way in from the outside of one of the wings. Make another small slit about a quarter of the way in from the inside of the wing.

Step 12 Take the little flap youve created and fold it up. If you like learning how to make super stinky stink bombs, or if you like practising your spying techniques, then Al Kindi is your guy. Al-Kindi came from a pretty important family he was the son of the governor of Kufa, in Iraq. He studied at home for a while but then went to live in Baghdad to study at the awesome House of Wisdom. He was highly respected and a number of the Abbasid caliphs employed him to lead the translations of ancient Greek writing. He was even asked to tutor the son of Caliph al-Mutassim. He wrote over 361 works on loads of different subjects phew! He also helped to introduce the Indian way of writing numbers to the Islamic and Christian worlds. This is how we got our current way of writing numbers - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 17

Step 13 Repeat Steps 11 and 12 on the other wing. Now your plane should be able to travel really far try experimenting with other ways of folding the paper to make even better designs!


You Smelt it? He Dealt it. Today nearly everyone wears a perfume. In fact, the only way to escape wearing a type of perfume would be to never ever take a bath or wash your hair, and to never wash your clothes. But then your own natural stinky human smell would start to take over and this might not be too great for your social life Our shampoos, deodorants, air fresheners, toothpastes and washing powders all contain perfumes to make them, and us, smell nicer. The man to thank for all these pongy perfumes is Al-Kindi. He wrote a book called the Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations. Inside there were 107 methods and recipes for perfume making, and even a description of the equipment needed. Sometimes he just mixed up lots of nice smelling plants and spices, and sometimes he made liquid perfumes using distillation. Distillation is a process that can be used to separate a pure liquid from a mixture of liquids. It works when the liquids have different boiling points meaning that they start to boil at different temperatures. Distillation is often used to separate ethanol (the alcohol in alcoholic drinks) from water. On the next page is a diagram showing the distillation process to separate ethanol from water.

The water and ethanol mixture is heated in a flask. Ethanol has a lower boiling point than water so it evaporates first. The ethanol vapour is then cooled and condensed inside the condenser to form a pure liquid. This is the sequence of events in distillation: Heating - Evaporating - Cooling - Condensing When Al-Kindi used distillation to produce ethanol he paved the way for loads of other inventions. Thanks to his discovery, we are now able to make things like ink, cement and imitation pearls. Distillation was also used to make rose water the liquid collected from distilling rose petals. It smelt lovely and they also used it in cooking! I wonder what rose flavoured gravy would taste like Probably best not to eat your mums roses to find out.



Getting on with the Greeks Al-Kindi spent a lot of his time translating books that all the clever Greeks had written centuries before. He was interested by what two Greeks called Aristotle and Euclid thought about how we see things. They both had slightly different ideas, and he was the first scientist to question their theories. His work helped a later scientist, Ibn al-Haytham, to come up with better theories. Making Music Al-Kindi was pretty keen on music. He published fifteen pieces of work on music theory and developed musical instruments. He was one of the main musicians at the time to use musical notation the system of writing music. Al-Kindi used a system based on the alphabet. This is what the system we use today looks like.

He and his fellow musicians also named the notes of a musical scale with syllables instead of letters, called solmization. The scale went like this:

And our modern musical scale goes like this:

Pretty similar, huh? 20 21

Al-Kindi was also one of the first to realize that music can help people feel better. He experimented by playing music to people that were ill. Today music therapy is often used to help people with physical, emotional and mental conditions. It can work to make you feel happier too. Have you noticed that listening to bouncy, upbeat music makes you feel good? Just be careful listening to the Indiana Jones theme song doesnt necessarily mean youll be able to outrun boulders or jump from moving trains. Code-breaking If you need to communicate top secret information, the main thing to do is make sure that it doesnt fall into enemy hands. For thousands of years societies have had to think up ways to get round this problem. One way to hide your information from enemies is to write it in a new secret language a code. The Greeks came up with a scytale in 6th century BC. The scytale was a stick with an exact width. They wrapped a long piece of paper round it and wrote on it horizontally. Then they unwrapped the paper and sent it to their 22

friends in a different camp. The friend could only read it if they had a scytale of exactly the same width to wrap the paper around. If the stick was wider or narrower, the message could not be read. What an Enigma! In World War II things got a lot more advanced. The Germans invented the Enigma machine, which was like a typewriter but would change the letters that were typed into a different code. The Germans transmitted their coded military messages over the radio. Only another German with an Enigma machine would be able to understand them. The code that decided how the letters would be changed would change every day, making the Enigma machine almost impossible to crack. This was an excellent system until some clever British and Polish code breakers managed to crack the codes. Al-Kindi was another excellent code cracker. He wrote a book called A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages. Part of this book used frequency analysis to break codes. Frequency Analysis sounds really complicated, but all it means is noticing the number of times you spot the same letter or symbol in a message. Al-Kindi noticed that if a normal letter was replaced with a different letter or symbol, the new letter would still act like the original one. If we replaced all the es in a sentence with the symbol n we could still read it Do you snn? It is quitn nasy to rnad this snntnncn!

Its a good idea to guess the letter e first in a game of hangman its quite likely to be in the word youre trying to guess. This is because in the English language the letter e is used most often 23

in our sentences. 13% of all the letters that we speak or write are the letter e. So if e was replaced by n then n would be used most often. 13% of all letters would be n. A code breaker then works out that n represents e. See if you can crack this code to find out two of Al-Kindis more unusual talents! 4 letters has been replaced by symbols. The symbols n, t, m and o each stand for a letter. Work out which letter each symbol stands for and read the hidden message Heres a clue E is the most frequent letter O is the second most frequent letter D is the third most frequent letter W is the fourth most frequent letter Work out which letter each symbol stands for and read the hidden message... Al-Kinmi oas a clnvnr fnllto. Hn liknm tt makn sotrms anm hn oas a vnry gttm cttk. Also sometimes called the first scientist, Ibn al-Haytham is regarded as the father of modern optics, the study of how light works. He scientifically explained much of what we know today about optics including how light travels, how we see, how rainbows happen, and how the earths atmosphere creates an optical illusion. The Greatest Discovery Ever? When Ibn al-Haytham was young, the ruler of the land, called the caliph, commanded him to find a way to control the floods of the river Nile. Ibn al-Haytham realised that the Ancient Egyptians had already tried this and failed. He knew that if they couldnt do it, neither could he. He needed to escape from the caliphs orders. Disobeying the caliph was a sure way to end up dead, so he came up with great idea and pretended he had gone mad! The ruler couldnt kill him because it would have been an unfair punishment to kill someone just because theyd gone crazy, 25


(Answer to code: Al-Kindi was a very clever fellow. He liked to make swords and he was a very good cook.)

but a madman obviously wasnt any use to the ruler either. The caliph decided to get him out of the way by putting him under house arrest. Safely in his house, Ibn al-Haytham was free to do anything he wanted without any fear of interruption. Genius! So next time you need to get out of chores or homework, why not fake a bit of madness? No one can get angry at you and the crazier you act with your new free time, the more theyll believe you!

This happens because the tiny hole only allows one light ray from each point on the object outside the box to get inside. An image is created inside the dark room that has exactly the same proportions as the object outside it. He realised that the smaller the hole, the clearer the picture. This happens because the tiny hole only allows one light ray from each point on the object outside the box to get inside. An image is created inside the dark room that has exactly the same proportions as the object outside it. He realised that the smaller the hole, the clearer the picture. Ibn al-Haytham proved his theories by inventing the first type of camera. He created dark rooms with a pinhole in one side and a white sheet on the other and called this set up the qamara. This is basically what happens inside a modern camera today.

Creating the Camera While under house arrest Ibn al-Haytham spent loads of time looking at the rays of light that came through holes in his window shutters. He realised that light must travel in a straight line. He saw that when light reflected off an object outside his room it passed through the small hole in his window shutters and reformed as an upside-down image on the wall opposite the hole. 26

You can do this yourself, even on a small scale. All you need is a dark room or container with a tiny hole in one side and a flat white surface on the other if the objects outside are bright enough, an upside-down image of them will appear on the white surface inside! 27

The Book of Optics Ibn al-Haytham included this, and many other discoveries, in one huge book called the Book of Optics, which is considered his greatest work. In his book, Ibn al-Haytham was the first person to totally reject the Greeks theories about light. Early Greeks thought that we see by sending rays out of our eyes that are cut off by objects in our vision. Later Greeks like Aristotle and Galen thought that we see because something enters our eye that represents an object, but they never backed this up with experiments. Ibn al-Haytham was the first to prove that we see because light reflects off an object and enters our eyes. He also said that because the image would be upside down when it first entered our eye, we must have a connection between our eyes and our brain to turn the image up the right way for us. We now know that the optic nerve carries information from the eye to the brain, which turns it the right way round. The Book of Optics was translated from Arabic into Latin in 1270 and helped scientists in the West to think up great inventions like the telescope, the modern camera, the microscope, and even new ways of drawing in Renaissance art. Great Western thinkers like Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes and Johan Kepler were all influenced by his work. (You can read more about these men in the back of the book). The Scientific Method One of the main reasons Ibn al-Haytham found out so much useful stuff was his revolutionary method for working out his theories. Most ways of thinking before Ibn al-Haytham had come from the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks believed that by arguing and 28

reasoning about ideas, they could discover which idea was correct. They didnt think experiments were very important. Ibn al-Haytham decided that experiments were essential for proving what is true and what isnt. This was such a good idea that all scientists use it today nothing is believed until an experiment proves that it works. This is called the scientific method. Of course it makes a lot of sense how can you be sure whether an idea works without trying it out in practice?! The scientific method is considered to be so fundamental to modern science that some scientists say Ibn al-Haytham was the worlds first scientist. The Influence of Music on Animals

Another amazing discovery of Ibn al-Haytham was the effects of music on animals. He demonstrated that a camel could be made to walk faster or slower depending on the music you played to it - just think what you could do today with a quality sound system! Now many studies show that music can affect the mood of animals and humans. Try it yourself does music with a strong, fast beat make you want to go to sleep or to get up and dance? 29

Try It Yourself! Ibn al-Haytham created his camera obscura by making a tiny hole in dark room. This let a small amount of light through and created an image on the far wall. You dont need a whole room to make a camera obscura you can make your own miniature one! Check out the things you need, which are listed below, and then follow the steps for a miraculous demonstration of how light works. You Will Need: A cardboard box or tube (size doesnt really matter, but the image will be clearer if the diameter is larger than about 6cm) A piece of translucent (slightly see-through) paper - tracing paper, greaseproof paper, or tissue paper will do. Sticky tape A pair of scissors A compass or something to make a small hole with Step 1 Tape up the box or tube so that it cannot open and so no light can get in. Step 2 Use the scissors to cut away one of the smaller sides of the box or tube get a handy adult to do this bit.

Step 3 Tape your piece of translucent paper over the side youve just cut away. Try to keep it as flat as possible because this is where youll see the image. Step 4 On the side opposite the screen, make a small hole about 3mm wide. Your camera obscura is ready! The side with the small hole lets the light in, and the side with the translucent paper is the viewing screen. Step 5 Point the side with the small hole in it towards a bright light, and keep the side with viewing screen in the dark. You can do this either by standing in a dark room indoors and pointing the camera obscura at a bright window. Or to make it darker around the viewing screen, hold it close to your face and keep a coat or dark material over your head while you look at it. (This is how they used to take photos using old-fashioned Pinhole cameras). You should be able to see an inverted (upside down) image of whatever your camera obscura is pointed at. If you widen the hole in the front, the image on your viewing screen will look brighter, but less sharp. People also use camera obscuras to watch eclipses of the sun. Because the camera obscura lets in much less light than the sun gives out, there is no risk of the suns light damaging your eyes when you watch it through the viewing screen. 31


Try your hand at these Tricky Questions!

1. Today 1.6 billion cups of coffee are drunk worldwide every day. But when and how was coffee first discovered? (a) By some frisky Ethiopian goats in 10th century (b) By some Egyptian academics in the 16th century (c) By a Viennese monk in the 17th century 2. The word mafia, tabby and ghoul come from Arabic words true or false? 3. What kind of poo did the medieval Muslims believe was the best fertilizer for their crops? (a) Horse poo (b) Pigeon poo (c) Camel poo 4. A bag of coins is quite heavy, and Arab merchants travelled huge distances for their trade. What cunning invention allowed them to transfer large amounts of money over great distances? (a) They invented the credit card (b) They invented the cheque (c) They trained huge eagles to fly between banks with bags of gold tied to their feet 5. Caravans were huge processions of people travelling together with their goods and animals, covering enormous distances for either pilgrimage or trade. Which of these would you NOT be able to find in a caravan? (a) A mosque (b) A market (c) A kitchen with ovens

1. (a) In the 900s a few naughty goats started eating some berries theyd found while grazing. The man looking after them noticed that when they ate the berries the goats got more jumpy and excited. News spread and people started boiling the berries to create coffee, which they called al-qahwa, to help them stay awake. A Viennese monk (choice (c)) was involved in the history of coffee though in 1683 Marco dAviano, a Capuchin monk, was fighting the Turks who were besieging Vienna. When the Turks retreated the Viennese made coffee from abandoned sacks of Turkish coffee, but they found the coffee too strong for their taste so they mixed it with cream and honey. This made the coffee turn the same kind of colour brown as the Capuchin monks clothes so they named their new style of coffee after him and created cappuccino! 2. True Mafia comes from an Arabic word mahiyah meaning boastful or flashy. In Sicily an unusually ornate or demonstrative cockerel is described as mafioso. Tabby meant silk cloth with a striped pattern which came from the Arabic attabi. By 1695 the phrase had come to refer to a striped cat. Ghoul comes from the Arabic ghul, meaning demon.



Whats with the Names? A lot of the people in this book have the same bits in their name like Ibn. Some also have really long names. This may seem odd but it actually makes a lot of sense.
3. (b) Pigeon poo was used to help crops grow, especially in Iran. They built huge 20 meter high towers for their precious poopers to live in so that the bird droppings would collect inside. Once a year they cleaned them out and spread the muck all over the fields what a job! Apparently at one time there were 3000 pigeon towers outside Isfahan in Iran, collecting the manure from thousands and thousands of pigeons. What a stink! Maybe we should learn a lesson and start using pigeon poo as our organic fertilizer with all the pigeons living in London today, we could turn Trafalgar Square into one big pigeon poo collector! 4. (b) The word Cheque comes from the Arabic word saqq, which was a promise written on paper to pay money to the papers owner when they reached a bank. In the 9th century an Arab businessman could cash a cheque in Canton, China, using money coming from his bank account in Baghdad, thousands of miles away. 5. Sorry trick question! You could find all these things if you travelled with a caravan. Ibn Battuta, a 14th century traveller, described the Sultans caravan as a vast city on the move with its inhabitants, its mosques and bazaars in it, the smoke of its kitchens rising in the air (for they cook on the march), and horse drawn wagons transporting the people.

Arab names tell you loads more information about someones family. A lot of names include the word Ibn. Ibn means son of. So the name Abbas Ibn Firnas means that this is a man called Abbas who is the son of a man called Firnas. So everyone, even though they have their own name, can also be named by how they fit into their family. If you meet a boy called Dan and his dad is called Paul, then Dan could be called Dan Ibn Paul. And the list can go on and on. If Dans grandfather was called Bob and his great-grandfather was called Edgar and his great great-grandfather was called Gerald then Dan could also be called Dan Ibn Paul Ibn Bob Ibn Edgar Ibn Gerald But that might take up a bit too much space on his homework. Why not ask your mum or dad about the names of your ancestors and see how long you can make your Arab name?