SCIENCE AND SCHOLARSHIP IN AL-ANDALUS [an excerpt]
For Europe and Western civilization the contributions of Islamic Spain were of inestimable value. When the Muslims entered southern Spain – which they called al-Andalus – barbarians from the north had overrun much of Europe and the classical civilization of Greece and Rome had gone into eclipse. Islamic Spain then became a bridge by which the scientific, technological, and philosophical legacy of the ‘Abbasid period, along with the achievements of al-Andalus itself, passed into Europe.
‘Abd al-Rahman III was passionately interested in both the religious and the secular sciences. He was also determined to show the world that his court at Cordoba equaled in greatness that of the caliphs at Baghdad. Sparing neither time nor expense, he imported books from Baghdad and actively recruited scholars by offering hand some inducements. Soon, as a result, scholars, poets, philosophers, historians, and musicians began to migrate to al-Andalus. Soon, too, an infrastructure of libraries, hospitals, research institutions, and centers of Islamic studies grew up, establishing the intellectual tradition and educational system which made Spain outstanding for the next four hundred years.
One of the earliest of the scholars drawn to al-Andalus was ‘Abbas ibn Firnas, who came to Cordoba to teach music (then a branch of mathematical theory) and to acquaint the court of ‘Abd al-Rahman with the recent developments in this field in Baghdad. Not a man to limit himself to a single field of study, however, Ibn Firnas soon began to investigate the mechanics of flight. He constructed a pair of wings out of feathers on a wooden frame and made the first attempt at flight, anticipating Leonardo da Vinci by some six hundred years. Later, having survived the experiment with a back injury, he also constructed a famous planetarium. Not only was it mechanized – the planets actually revolved – but it simulated such celestial phenomena as thunder and lightning.
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