Debunking The Golden Age Of Islam #6: Why Al-Jazari Wasn’t Responsible For The Industrial Revolution
The last inventor to describe his achievements in 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets is the Ben Kingsley character, Al-Jazari, who describes himself as someone who “made some groundbreaking advances in engineering” and that his most significant discovery converted rotary motion into linear motion using a crank and connecting rods, essentially pumps and engines” and goes on to make the exaggerated claim that “he doesn’t know how the the Industrial Revolution could have happened without such a device” and complains that he never gets the credit he deserves.
His “crowning glory”, however, was his “amazing time-telling machine” his “legendary elephant clock”, which comprises of “dozens of component collected from different cultures around the world, Indian, Greek, Arabian, Egyptian, Chinese” and one of the schoolchildren describes it as “a United Nations clock”.
So 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets are two parts to this story. Firstly, the crank shaft and the Industrial Revolution and secondly, the elephant clock and the United Nations.
This is what Paul Vallely says about Al-Jazari and the invention of the crank shaft in his How Islamic inventors changed the world article:
“A device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.”
This is what WikiIslam’s How Islamic Inventors Did Not Change The World article has to say about the the crank shaft and other mechanical devices.
“Unfortunately for our ingenious Muslim engineer al-Jazari, the crank-shaft was known to the Chinese of the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD. By the 1st century AD cranks were used on Roman medical devices, but it was not until 834 AD where we find proof of the crank in Europe. A picture in a graphic codex of a man sharpening a sword on a grindstone turned by a crank. 206 BC to 834 AD is certainly a lot earlier than when Paul Vallely claims a 12th century Muslim invented ‘one of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind’. What Al-Jazari described was a crank and connecting rod system in a water pump. He incorporated a crankshaft, but it was unnecessarily complex indicating that he did not fully understand the concept of power conversion.
Piston technology was also used by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD with the creation of the worlds first steam-powered engine—the aeolipile, more than a thousand years before al-Jazari. In his works “Pneumatica” and “Automata” he also described over a hundred machines and automata, including mechanical singing birds, puppets, a fire engine, a wind organ, and a coin-operated machine, so if anyone deserves the title given to al-Jazari by Paul Vallely as the “father of robotics” it’s Hero of Alexandria. It must also be noted that Hero’s works “Mechanica” (in three books) survive only in their Arabic translations, so the Muslims had access to all this pre-Islamic genius, yet writing a factually accurate article on Islamic achievements seems to have proved too much for some.”
So without wanting to denigrate Al-Jazari’s work, he can hardly be considered the man responsible for the Industrial Revolution. This tendency to make exaggerated and obviously false claims is what annoys me about 1001 Inventions. The continually calling of everything as part of Muslim civilisation when patently it isn’t.
The other theme in the video is the United Nations elephant clock with Muslim civilisation being a perfect example of diversity. This expansion of Islam and the idea of a multiracial Umma united by faith also fits very well with globalisation and today’s multicultural narrative.
This is what WikiIslam’s How Islamic Inventors Did Not Change The World article has to say about the elephant clock:
“As for the water clock, the ancient Egyptians used a time mechanism run by flowing water. One of the oldest was found in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh buried in 1500 BC, and the Chinese began developing mechanized clocks from around 200 BC. The Greeks also measured time with various types of water clocks. The more impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 BC and 500 AD by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers. What we now know as the Antikythera mechanism was discovered among a shipwreck in 1900 off the island of Antikythera. Science historian Derek Price, concluded that it was an ancient computer used to predict the positions of the sun and moon on any given date. Michael Wright, the curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, thinks that the original device modelled the entire known solar system. Ancient Greek sources make references to such devices so this is highly plausible. Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC), writes of a device “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer Archimedes of Syracuse (287–212 BC) is also said to have made such a device. By the 9th century AD a mechanical timekeeper had been developed that lacked only an escapement mechanism.
And what of the Combination Lock, did al-Jazari invent it? Again, the answer is an emphatic no. The earliest known combination lock was unearthed in a Roman period tomb in Kerameikos, Athens. The ancient Chinese were also responsible for the creation of some of the earliest key-operated padlocks and beautiful letter-combination padlocks.”
In order, to provide a little context for 1001 Inventions and its associated Muslim cultural diplomacy groups, let’s look at the biography of the organisation founder Salim Al-Hassani.
“Iraqi-born Professor Al-Hassani is one of the UK’s senior-most professors in Mechanical Engineering, appointed to a chair at the University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology (UMIST) in 1991. He is emeritus professor in civil engineering. In September 2009, Professor Salim granted a Fellowship of the British Science Association for his work to promote the scientific and technological achievements within Muslim cultures. He was an undergrad at UMIST (1962-65), participating during his student days in the fledgling Muslim student organisations of the 60s, including the Muslim Student Society (MSS) and the Federation of the Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS).
He is today a world expert in the decomissioning offshore installations and in major plant-related accident investigations. His research area is the deformation and fracture of solids and structures to impact and explosions, particularly under water. He served as an expert witness in the enquiry into the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster (1988). His other special interest is the history of Islamic science where he has made his mark in the application of applied modern engineering analysis to the machines of Al-Jazari and Taqi Al-Din, recreating their work in 3-D. He is Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (www.muslimheritage.com).
Since 1968, Professor Al-Hassani, has published over 200 papers in international journals and books. He has supervised 40 PhD, 50 MSc students and numerous post-doctoral Fellows from all parts of the world.
He is actively involved in philanthropy and has spent over fifteen years championing education and cross cultural dialogue. His personal passion is the study of the contributions made by early Civilisation in helping to create the foundations of modern science and technology. Professor Al-Hassani is a world-renowned and powerful public speaker on this subject.
In 1999, Professor Al-Hassani founded and continues to be the Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC); a not-for-profit educational foundation which aims to generate social cohesion, inter-cultural appreciation, and to promote science and learning as an alternative to negative and extremist behaviour. It does this by illuminating the shared scientific heritage of humanity with its initial efforts centring on uncovering the very significant scientific contributions by the Muslim Civilisation and is supported by a large global network of historians of science.
FSTC’s initiatives include 1001 Inventions which has become a global success story attracting one million to its travelling exhibition which has toured London, Istanbul, New York and Los Angeles and its Library of Secrets film starring Sir Ben Kingsley has received 21 international awards and has been downloaded 12 million times; Curriculum Enrichment for the Common Era (CE4CE) was established in 2009 to further develop work with education in schools, prisons and communities around the world and receives 200 monthly users of its online teaching materials; the Muslim Heritage Awareness Group is expanding globally with networks in the UK, Turkey and the USA. The Arabick Roots exhibition opened in June at the Royal Society is proving to be yet another great success story.”
The organisations that are associated with the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation are 1001 Inventions, MuslimHeritage.com, Muslim Heritage Awareness Group and Curriculum Enrichment for the Future. I know this is the soft cuddly part of Islam but it definitely has its eye on school syllabuses so we need to be careful.
Watch on YouTube
Watch on VidMe
1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets – starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari
How Islamic inventors changed the world
Science in a Golden Age – Pioneers of Engineering: Al-Jazari and the Banu Musa
How Islamic Inventors Did Not Change The World
Professor Salim Al-Hassani
Salim Al-Hassani: 1001 Inventions | Nat Geo Live