Science: Muslim Engineer – Al-Jazzari

By Prof. STS Al-Hassani, UMIST, Manchester, UK

Al-Jazari was the most outstanding Mechanical Engineer of his time. His full name was Badi Al-Zaman AbulI-Ezz Ibn Ismail Ibn Al-Razzaz Al-Jazari and he lived in Diyar-Bakir (in Turkey) during the 6th century AH (12th century CE).

He was called Al-Jazari after the place of his birth, Al-Jazira, the area lying between the Tigris and the Euphrates in Iraq. Like his father before him he served Urtuq kings of Diyar-Bakir, from 570-597 AH (1174-1200 CE) as a Mechanical Engineer. In 1206 he completed an outstanding book on engineering entitled “Al-Jami Bain Al-Ilm
Wal-Amal Al-Nafi Fi Sinat’at Al-Hiyal” in Arabic. It was a compendium of theoretical and practical mechanics. Writes Sarton (1884-1956):
“This treatise is the most elaborate of its kind and may be considered the climax of this line of Muslim achievement.” Sarton vol.2; page 510.

Al-Jazari’s book is distinctive in its practical aspect because the author was a competent engineer and skilled craftsman. The book describes various devices in minute detail hence an invaluable contribution in the history of engineering. British charter engineer Donald Hill (1974) who has a special interest in Arab technology writes:
“It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of Al-Jazari’s work in the history of engineering, it provides a wealth of instructions for design, manufacture and assembly of machines.”

Al-Jazari describes fifty mechanical devices in six different categories, including water clocks, hand washing device (wadu machine) and machines for raising water etc. Following the “World of Islam Festival” held in the United Kingdom in 1976 a tribute was paid to Al-Jazri when the london Science Museum showed a
successfully reconstructed working model of his famous “Water Clock.”

Hill translated Al-Jazari’s work in 1974, seven centuries and 68 years after it was completed by its author. Al-Jazari’s book includes six main categories of machines and devices. Several of the machines, mechanisms and techniques that first appear in this treatise, later entering the vocabulary of European mechanical
engineering, including double acting pumps with suction pipes and the use of a crank shaft in a machine, accurate calibration of orifices, lamination of timber to reduce warping, static balancing of wheels, use of paper models to establish a design, casting of metals in closed mould boxes with green sand etc. Al-Jazari also
describes methods of construction and assembly in scrupulous detail of the fifty or so machines in it to enable future craftsmen to reconstruct them.

And he was successful in that, for many of his devices were constructed following his instructions. The work by al-Jazari is also unique in the way that other writers often fail to give sufficient details, because amongst others, they are not craftsmen themselves, or kept their secrets, or if they were craftsmen, they
could have been illiterate. Al-Jazari in this respect was unique, and this gives his work immense value. His book, Hill states, is an absolute wealth of Islamic mechanical engineering.

In their paper in the charter Engineer of the I.Mech.E., Ludlow and Bahrani have raised the important point that it is more than likely that there is more on the subject in some of the thousands of Arabic
manuscripts in the European and North American libraries which have been inspected closely, and obviously require looking into. Hill, too, and constantly raises the two major issues with respect to the history of engineering in general, and that of fine technology in particular. He first states the fact that the field, which is absolutely immense, is yet totally unexplored. The other issue is related to fine technology. One of his concluding points states that `it is hoped that, as research proceeds, firmer evidence for the transmission of Islamic fine technology into Europe can be provided.’ Hill also offers some hints for such transmission. The most likely route being Spain. Such fine technology could have followed the same route as the astrolabe (itself part of this fine technology.) Apart from Spain, there was Sicily, another land of transfer, Byzantium, and Syria during the Crusades. And Hill is also right on a further account, that what will be seen in this work is just a fraction of the whole process, which, as with much else has hardly been explored.

The animation shows a virtual model of one of al-Jazari’s water raising pumps. The details of this unique pump were obtained from his manuscript and Hill’s diagrams. We see two suction pumps in synchronous motion driven by a paddle wheel, which is driven by a water stream.

The other animation is for a 3D model recreated from the description of the elephant clock as described by Al-Jazari. Full details of this animation are given in the book by Prof. S T S Al-Hassani on “The History of Muslim Engineering”, to be published.

Author : By Prof. Al-Hassani
Source : Foundation for Science Technology & Civlilsation