Blast from the past – Muslim scientists’ breakthrough in astronomy


SHAFAQNA – It is no known secret of the tremendous contribution of Muslim scientists to the world of astronomy. Amongst them is the astronomical table including data that was first set up by Arab astronomer Ibn al-Shatir that is almost 700 years old. Ibrahim Muteferrika, a Hungarian priest who converted to Islam was the first to bring the printing press to the Ottoman Empire as well Ibrahim Tiflisi providing detailed descriptions of a solar eclipse.Nearly 300 years ago İbrahim Müteferrika, the man who was able to bring the printing press to Turkey and the Ottoman world obtained the Ottoman Caliph’s permission to print secular and scientific books, and in 1720 he opened Islam’s first printing press in Istanbul.

Muteferrika was a former Hungarian priest who had converted to Islam, describing his background and religious beliefs in a book which he called Risale-yi Islamiyye. He was also very concerned with the technical and administrative backwardness of the Ottoman empire. Hence he wrote a book entitled Usul al-Hikam fi Nizam al-Umam, and published it himself in 1731. In this book he describes the governments and military systems prevailing in Europe, and told the Ottoman elite that independent Muslim states could only survive if they borrowed not only military technology, but also selectively from European styles of administration and scientific knowledge.

Ibrahim Muteferrika’s warnings about the rise of European civilisation were slowly heeded, and the Ottoman state set about the controversial business of modernizing itself, while attempting to preserve what was essential to its Islamic identity.

During the Tulip Era, under the rule of Sultan Ahmed III, İbrahim’s skills were highly valued. He was known as a publisher, printer, courier, diplomat, astronomer, historian, Islamic scholar and sociologist. In addition to all of those interests, he is best remembered as the first Muslim to establish a printing press facility with movable type. Although printing presses with movable type, which originated in China, had been in use in Europe for quite some time, this was an innovative, and somewhat controversial, development in the Muslim world. it was through his printing press, he printed the first known map of a solar and lunar eclipse.

Under the pseudonym Jeografi, Ibrahim Muteferrika also drew a diagram showing the order of the heavenly bodies according to the geocentric model of Ptolemy. According to the Ptolemaic model, the earth is imagined to be fixed at the center of the universe and surrounded by concentric spheres. The fixed stars of the Zodiac are found in the spheres of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Beyond these is the sphere of spheres (the atlas sphere), thought to embrace the entire universe. This was published in the book, Displaying the World.

Among the works published by Müteferrika was Katip Jalibi’s world atlas Jihan-nüma (The Mirror of the World). In the supplement of the book, Müteferrika discussed the Copernican theory of astronomy in detail with scientific arguments for and against it. In this regard, he is considered one of the first persons to have properly introduced heliocentric theory to the Ottoman scientists. He was also a geographer, astronomer and philosopher. He translated German cartographer, Andreas Cellarius (d1665) Atlas coelestis (1708) from Latin and printed it under the title Majmua’tul Haiy’a- Kadim wal-Jadid (1733).


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