Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Taqi al-Din

By Syed Aslam,


Taqi al-Din was born in Damascus, Syria, in the year 1521 CE. He received his education in Cairo, Egypt where he studied astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and Islamic law. He took the position of a Qadi and theologian at a mosque, and became teacher at a madrasah.

While in Cairo he published  a number of scientific books and treatises. Impressed by his talent and qualifications, Sultan Selim II of the Ottoman Empire gave him the position of chief astronomer of the court, and Taqi al-Din moved to Istanbul.

After the death of Sultan Selim,  Murad  became the new sultan and khalifa.  Taqi al-Din suggested Sultan Murad to built an observatory so that he could make accurate astrological predictions. A month after of the completion of the observatory, Taqi al-Din witnessed a comet and thought that the comet was an omen of Ottoman military victory–which was proved to be  incorrect. The sultan saw no other use for the observatory and issued an order  to destroy it. Taqi al-Din worked in the observatory for three more years before its destruction in 1580 CE. He lived in Istanbul for the rest of his life, working on many projects till he died in the year 1585 CE.

Taqi al-Din was a legendary figure and a brilliant scientist who wore so many hats at the same time. He was an astronomer, astrologer, mathematician, watch maker, Islamic philosopher and theologian, engineer, physician, Islamic Judge, botanist, zoologist   and an inventor. He authored  ninety books on a wide variety of subjects, but he is famous for his books on engineering, clocks, optics, mechanics, astronomy and mathematics.

Taqi al-Din was the inventor of mechanical alarm clock and a spring-driven astronomical clock. The astronomical clock, which he built himself for his observations, was set up in the observatory. This clock was more precise than those previously used, and considered to be one of the most significant inventions in the field of applied astronomy in the 16th century. In his book Al-Kawākib al-durriyya fÄ« wadh’ al-bankāmat al-dawriyya (The Brightest Stars for the Construction of Mechanical Clocks), published in  1559 he has given the details of how his alarm clock was capable of sounding at a specified time. He also discusses various mechanical clocks from a geometrical perspective.

Taqi al-Din invented an early practical steam turbine engine as a prime mover for the first steam powered and self-rotating spit. This invention proved for the first time that steam can be used generate mechanical power.   In his book, Al-Turuq al-samiyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya (The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines) he has discussed various mechanical devices, including the steam turbine, water clocks, devices for lifting weights, devices for raising water, fountains, continually playing flutes and  irrigation devices. He also discussed the working of a rudimentary steam engine in his book which finally lead to the discovery of more powerful steam engines in the 17th century.

Taqi al-Din invented a hydro powered water-raising machine with six cylinder engine  incorporating valves, suction and  piston rods and cams on the axle of a water-driven scoop-wheel. He used a crankshaft-connecting rod mechanism, earlier invented by Al-Jazari. He gave a detailed account of this unique pump in his book; The Sublime  Methods of Spiritual Machines.

Taqi al-Din’s work in the field of optics is very extensive, his momentous treatise; Kitab NÅ«r hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nÅ«r haqÄ«qat al-anzār (Light of the Pupil of Vision and the Light of the Truth of the Sights) was written in three volumes. The first volume deals with vision, which includes properties of light, the structure of the eye and many other related subject. The second  contains experimental investigations on light’s reflection, and the third deals with refraction of light, including global refraction, and the relation between light and color.  He  provides the first satisfactory explanation for the formation of color, clearly stating that color is formed as a result of reflection and refraction of light, two centuries before Isaac Newton. The  method of construction of a rudimentary telescope can also be found  in his treatise. It is a comprehensive book on optics.

Taqi al-Din built an observatory, in 1577 CE which consisted of two large structures placed on a hill overlooking the European section of Istanbul. He made use of his newly invented observational clock to produce a zij, (an astronomic table) more accurate than those of his predecessors or  contemporaries, like Nicolaus Copernicus. Taqi al-Din was also the first astronomer to employ a decimal point notation in his observations. He also  invented a framed sextant similar to what Tycho Brahe later used in his observation. He wrote 33 treatises on astronomy.

On astronomical instruments Taqi al-Din wrote a comprehensive  treatise   titled;   The Observational Instruments of the Emperor’s Catalogue. This treatise describes the astronomical instruments used in the Istanbul observatory, which included all ancient instruments, instruments by Arab astronomers, and several that he had invented himself.

In mathematics, Taqi al-Din made contributions in trigonometry, he was the first mathematician to determine the precise value of Sin 1. He wrote six books on mathematics, one on zoology and one dictionary on medicinal plants.

Taqi al-Din was a rare genius who invented so many mechanical devices and astronomical instruments.

His idea of the steam turbine gave birth to the modern steam turbine which produces 80% of electrical power worldwide.

He was the last known great scientist of the Muslim world, who gave new ideas and inventions to the human civilization.

His treatises were translated into European languages and they flourished.


1 reply
  1. mike
    mike says:

    Muslims are still great scientist and engineers but the stupid and narrow minded europ try to hide these facts