Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science

By Roshdi Rashed; Regis Morelon | Go to book overview

2

Eastern Arabic astronomy between the eighth and the eleventh centuries

RÉGIS MORELON

Al-Qifṭī notes that the first Arab scientist to be interested in astronomy was Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Fazārī in the second half of the eighth century, at the beginning of the reign of the Abbasids. 1 His name is connected with a famous tradition according to which an Indian delegation with an astronomer in its ranks was received in Baghdad by Caliph al-Manṣūr around the year 770; the name of this astronomer is not known but the tradition reports that he had with him at least one astronomy text, written in Sanskrit, which was translated into Arabic under the title Indian Astronomical Table (Zīj al-Sindhind)2 by al-Fazārī and Ya‛qūb b. Ṭāriq 3 under the supervision and direction of this Indian astronomer. Whatever the historic value of this tradition as far as its details are concerned, the two mentioned authors have been presented by all their successors as the men who introduced scientific astronomy into the Arab world from its origins in India.

The works of al-Fazārī and Ya‛qūb b. Ṭāriq are lost but a certain number of fragments survive in the work of later authors. 4 It is known that al-Fazārī wrote The Great Indian Table (Zīj al-Sindhind al-kabīr), and later quotations from this text show that he mixed Indian parameters with elements of Persian origin from The Royal Table (Zīj al-Shāh). We have traces of three works by Ya‛qūb b. Ṭāriq: Table Solved in India Degree by Degree (Zīj maḥlūl fī-l-Sindhind li-daraja daraja), The Composition of Orbs (Tarkīb al-aflāk) and The Book of Causes (Kitāb al-‛ilal); the basis of his reasoning in these is clearly the same as that of his contemporary. These two authors had the great merit of introducing scientific astronomy into the Arab world but their works, to judge from what remains of them, appear to be a compilation of elements which they had at their disposal,

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