Muslims and the Moon
On July 21st 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface and Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. However, long before Armstrong made his first step on the moon and uttered his now famous lines, a number of great Muslims became associated with Earth's closest astronomical neighbour.
When viewed with the naked eye, the surface of the moon appears unevenly bright, with dark and light patches. These features are called ‘lunar formations' and their names were finally decided upon at a conference of the International Astronomical Union in 1935. Of the 672 lunar formations, 609 were named after distinguished persons and the rest were borrowed from terrestrial designations. 13 formations were given the names of major Muslim astronomers.
In 1651 Joannes Baptista Riccioli (1598-1671), a Jesuit professor of astronomy and philosophy in Bologna, compiled a comprehensive work on astronomy, the Almagestum Novum, with a complete map of the moon. He named the lunar formations after distinguished astronomers of the Middle Ages. Ten formations were designated with Muslim names and these were kept at the 1935 conference.
Two stamps issued by Ras Al Khaima depicting the Apollo 11 mission, show the lunar module and Neil Armstrong.
In 1953, China commemorated its scientific heritage. The stamp depicts the Armillary Sphere built in 1437 CE. The observatory was built by a Muslim astronomer, Jamal-ud-Din.
Morocco issued a stamp depicting the astrolabe. In this article we shall highlight the formations named after Muslim astronomers and scientists, with brief accounts of their contributions to science and culture. One method of studying the physical features of the moon is to divide the face of the full moon into 25 parts.
(1) Masha'Allah is a plain in the 13th section of the moon. Masha'Allah (died 815 CE) was a Jew of Egypt who embraced Islam during the time of the Abbasid Khalifah, Al-Mansur. Two of his books on astronomy, De Scientia Motus Orbis and De Composition et Utilitat Astrolotic, were translated into Latin in the 16th century.
(2) Al-Mamun is a crater in the ninth section. Abd-Allah Al-Mamun was the son of Harun Al-Rashid. In 829 CE he built an observatory in Baghdad. In his academy, Bayt-al-Hikmat, the greatest scientists and philosophers of his age carried out their researches.
(3) Al-Farghani is a crater in the second section. Abu-al-Abbas Ahmad Ibn Kathir Al-Farghani was one of Al-Mamun's researchers into astronomy. His most famous book Kitab fi Harakat Al-Samawiyah wa Jamawi Ilm al Nujum was the main influence for the Italian Dante.
(4) Al-Battani is a plain in the first section. Abu Abd-Allah Muhammad Ibn Jabir Ibn Sinan Al-Battani was born in 858 CE. He determined many astronomical measurements with great accuracy.
(5) Thabit is a prominent circular plain in the 8th section. Thabit Ibn Qurrah Ibn Marwan Al-Harrani was born in 826 CE. He translated into Arabic a large number of Greek and Syrian works on science. He also made major contributions to pure Mathematics.
(6) Al-Sufi is a mountainous ring in the ninth section. Abd-al-Rahman Al-Sufi, born in 903 CE, was one of the most outstanding practical astronomers of the Middle Ages. Al-Sufi's book Suwar al-Kawakib al-Thabit was a masterpiece on stellar astronomy.
(7) Al-Hassan Al-Haytham is a ring-shaped plain in the 12th section. Abu Ali Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Haytham was born in Basrah around 987 CE. He was one of the foremost investigators of optics in the world. It was he who discovered that light travels in straight lines.
(8) Al-Zarqali is a plain in the eighth section. Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Al-Zarqali, born in 1028 CE, was a Spanish Arab. In collaboration with other Muslim and Jewish astronomers he prepared the famous Toledan Tables. His work influenced that of Copernicus.
(9) Jabir Ibn Aflah is a circular, flat plain in the 9th section. Jabir Ibn Aflah, who died 1145 CE, was also a Spanish Arab. He was the first to design a portable celestial sphere to measure and explain the movements of celestial objects.
(10) Nasir Al-Din is a crater 30 miles in diameter. Nasir Al-Din Tusi, born in 1201 CE, was a minister of the Tartar Hulagu II, Khan of Persia. Nasir Al-Din was put in charge of the observatory installed at Maraghah by Hulagu. He prepared the II-Khani Tables and the catalogue of fixed stars which remained in use for several centuries throughout the world, from China to Western Europe.
(11) Al-Bitruji is a crater in the eighth section. Nur Al-Din Ibn Ishaq Al-Bitruji was born in Morocco, lived in Ishbiliah (Seville) and died around 1204 CE. He worked hard, unsuccessfully, at modifying Ptolemy's system of planetary motions. Al-Bitruji's book ‘Kitab-al-Hay'ah' was popular in thirteenth century Europe.
(12) Abu Al-Fida - is a circular plain in the ninth section. Ismail Ibn Al-Fida, born in 1273 CE, was the last Muslim geographer and astronomer trained and nurtured on the traditions established by Al-Mamun. He was also a great historian, the most famous of his works being Mukhtasar Tarikh Al-Bashar.
(13) Ulugh Beg is a prominent elliptical ring in the 18th section. Ulugh Beg, born in 1394 CE, constructed a magnificent observatory in Samarkand equipped with astronomical instruments of excellent make and accuracy. His most commendable and enduring work was a new catalogue of stars.
Reference: Issue 47, ‘The Islamic Banner', United Kingdom, October 1990.
Further Reading: The Jordanian Astronomical Society (JAS),
Professor Paul Kunitzsch.
by: FSTC Limited, Fri 13 June, 2003