Debunking The Golden Age Of Islam #3 Abbas Ibn Firnas: The Precursor To Modern Flight Technology?
Today’s article and video is the third the series on Debunking The Golden Age Of Islam and I’m discussing Abbas Ibn Firnas, the second Muslim inventor to make an appearance in the 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets video. Apparently, he an inventor, physician, chemist, engineer, Andalusian musician, and Arabic-language poet and lived in Cordoba, the capital of Muslim Spain, between 810–887 A.D
Abbas Ibn Firnas was one of the main images of the exhibition, which credits him with being the first man who dared to dream of flying. I’m surprised they haven’t claimed that flying carpets are the origin of all commercial air travel but we’ll be dealing with the claim that carpets are a Muslim invention in another episode.
In his interview with Gad Saad, British author Douglas Murray describes the actual historical descriptions as “a guy who kept on flinging himself off high buildings and falling to earth at an incredible speed” and “a man who just plummetted a lot”.
The claim of being the first person to dream of flying doesn’t sound massively different from the story of Daedalus and Icarus so the claim about dreaming of flying is patently false.
In case you don’t know the story, in Greek mythology, Icarus is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth. Often depicted in art, Icarus and Daedalus attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that Daedalus had made from feathers and wax. Daedalus warns Icarus first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he fly neither too low nor too high, so the sea’s dampness would not clog his wings or the sun’s heat melt them. Icarus ignored his father’s instructions not to fly too close to the sun; when the wax in his wings melted he tumbled out of the sky and fell into the sea.
However, the 1001 Inventions propaganda machine is undeterred by the obvious. Ben Kingsley’s Al-Jazari character says he “gazed up to the heavens passionate in his belief that man could fly. Indeed he dared to dream about flying a thousand years before the Wright Brothers. You know you all take your jetsetting holidays for granted so it only seems fair to remember Abbas Ibn Firnas.” Admittedly, in the clip Abbas Ibn Firnas does end up plummetting to the ground but the seed that he was the first person to dare to fly and is consequently, responsible for modern air travel has been sown.
In FACT OR FICTION?: 1001 MUSLIM INVENTIONS COMES TO WASHINGTON D.C., an article I’ve quoted before, J. Christian Adams discusses the effect the Abbas Ibn Firnas exhibit has on his children
“Outside the theater, Firnas is featured in a flight exhibit. Firnas is “said to be the first person who tried to fly. His first attempt which has passed into legend took place when he leapt from the minaret of the Great Mosque in Cordoba. Equipped with a glider with wooden struts, he managed to fly and landed more or less unharmed. [His] next flight was more ambitious. From the top of a nearby hill, he launched himself and his flying machine, apparently gliding for some distance before falling, a problem blamed on the lack of a tail.”
Notice all of the tricks of language. He was the first “who tried to fly,” and “passed into legend,” “more or less unharmed,” the “flying machine,” (implying moving parts), and “apparently gliding for some distance.” Naturally he also diagnosed that that cause of his failure was the want of a tail. The exhibit neglects to inform us about whether he applied this fix to his “machine.”
The exhibit also features an interactive game for children where they can help Firnas fly by flapping their arms.
This all might seem harmless, but consider the argument I had with my 8-year-old after leaving the exhibit. She was convinced that the Wright Brothers were not the first to fly, and instead it was Firnas launched from the mosque at Cordoba a millennium ago. This would not be the only instance when thought corrupted the language of the exhibit, which in turn corrupted thought, at least among the more impressionable.”
It’s surprising that anyone takes the claim that Abbas Ibn Firnas seriously. However, there are hundreds of blog post, semi-scientific articles and videos on YouTube claiming Abbas Ibn Firnas was the first person to fly. This is what Paul Vallely has to say in his 2006 article How Islamic inventors changed the world.
“A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn’t. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles’ feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing – concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.”
“To get to the root of the facts concerning who was the first to fly, we must first go back to the basics. As far as flying is concerned, at the beginning were the kites, and these were a Chinese invention. They date back as far as 3,000 years, where they were made from bamboo and silk in China. The earliest written account of kite flying was about 200 BC. In 478 BC a Chinese Philosopher, Mo Zi, spent three years making a hawk from light wood or bamboo which sailed with the wind. It could fly, but after one day’s trial it was wrecked. Kites were also used in Chinese warfare for years. They carried hideously painted faces, pipes and strings that gave noises to frighten the enemy.
Many attempts to use kites to fly men were also made, the earliest recorded success was very brutal. In AD 550 Emperor Kao Yang overcome his powerful enemies the Thopa and Yuan families. He ordered that the surviving Thopas and Yuan to be fitted out with bamboo-mat wings and cast from the top of the Tower of the Golden phoenix. All died. Other captives were attached to kites cut out in the form of owls and launched from the tower. Only one of the captives survived after flying 2.5 Km. Later that survivor, named Yuan Huang-Thou was starved to death. The Chinese also tried to produce flying machines. In the book Pao Phu Tzu, dated AD 320, Ko Hung states: “Some have made flying cars with wood, using ox-leather straps fastened to returning blades to set the machines in motion”. He is clearly describing rotating blades attached to a spinning axle and driven by a (leather) belt that is a rotor top the principal of which underlie the modern-day helicopter. It seems that the system worked because flying cars had been used. The machine, known as “bamboo dragonfly”, is still used today as a child’s toy.
In the West, the ancient Greek engineer, Hero of Alexandria, worked with air pressure and steam to create sources of power. One experiment that he developed was the aeolipile, which used jets of steam to create rotary motion. The importance of the aeolipile is that it marks the start of engine invention—engine created movement will later prove essential in the history of flight.
Given all of the above information, how can anyone possibly accredit the invention of flight to a 9th century Muslim jumping off a mosque in Spain?”
What’s even more worrying is, as far as I can ascertain, the source is very sketchy and was written some 700 years after Abbas Ibn Firnas became the the first man to fly. This what Wikipedia has to say on the subject.
“Some seven centuries after the death of Firnas, the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari (d. 1632) wrote a description of Firnas that included the following:
Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one.
Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works “many early sources no longer extant”, but in the case of Firnas, he does not cite his sources for the details of the reputed flight, though he does claim that one verse in a 9th-century Arab poem is actually an allusion to Firnas’s flight. The poem was written by Mu’min ibn Said, a court poet of Córdoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), who was acquainted with and usually critical of Ibn Firnas. The pertinent verse runs: “He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture.” No other surviving sources refer to the event.
It seems that the 1001 Inventions organisation aren’t as proud of Abbas Ibn Firnas because there are now virtually references to him on their website. However, through the exhibition the seed has been sown in the minds of hundreds of thousands of children and the idea has propagated throughout the Internet. I mentioned Icarus earlier but the idea that Abbas Ibn Firnas inspired the Wright Brothers and so is the precursor to modern internationsl flight is quite simply preposterous.
At best, he is a rather unsuccessful precursor to Wingsuit flying, which was first developed in the late 1990s and creates a surface area with fabric between the legs and under the arms. These are the real “birdman suits” and Abbas Ibn Firnas would have been advised deploying a parachute rather than a tail but unfortunately in the Golden Age of Islam, the parachute hadn’t been invented yet.
Watch on YouTube
Watch on VidMe
Douglas Murray LAUGHS at claims of Islamic “Inventions” (with Gad Saad)
1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets – starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari
FACT OR FICTION?: 1001 MUSLIM INVENTIONS COMES TO WASHINGTON D.C.
How Islamic inventors changed the world
Abbas ibn Firnas عباس بن فرناس The Father of Aviation
How Islamic Inventors Did Not Change The World
Abbas ibn Firnas Wikipedia
1001 Inventions Website
Crazy Wingsuit Flight — Man Lands on Water Without Parachute?