Author: Romela Nadeem
Editor: Hira Islam
Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ma’ruf al-Shami al-Asadi (1526–1585) was a renowned Turkish polymath: a scientist, astronomer, engineer, and inventor.
While Taqi al-Din wrote more than 90 books on many subjects, only 24 have survived. His book, Al-Turuq al-samiyya fi al-alat al-ruhaniyya or The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines (1551), discussed the elementary workings of the steam engine (Virk, n.d.). This book is fascinating given that the discovery of steam power by Giovanni Branca occurred in 1629, a little over 75 years since the publishing of Taqi’s book. This work shows that Muslim engineers such as Taqi al-Din and Al-Jazari recognized that water could be harnessed to increase the output of work, an idea that was recognized by western scientists nearly 100 years later (Al-Hassani, 2012).
In 1559, Taqi al-Din invented the six-cylinder ‘Monobloc’ pump, which allowed six delivery pipes to collect water from one turn of the wheel (Virk, n.d.). Taqi al-Din used components associated with modern technology, including pistons and non-return valves (5 Amazing Mechanical Devices from Muslim Civilisation, n.d.). Even in 1559, Taqi al-Din had extensive knowledge of kinematics and fluid dynamics (5 Amazing Mechanical Devices from Muslim Civilisation, n.d.). Moreover, al-Din’s water pump eased the process of irrigation and not only made the lives of farmers easier but increased their productivity.
Taqi al-Din invented a range of accurate clocks, including the first mechanical alarm clock, the first spring-powered astronomical clock, the first watch measured in minutes and the first clocks measured in minutes and seconds from 1556 to 1580 (Virk, n.d.).
Taqi al-Din convinced the Sultan of Istanbul to build an observatory in 1577. In his observatory, al-Din built many instruments (Al-Hassani, 2012), including a mechanical clock for measuring the position and movement of the planets. While Taqi al-Din had many goals, his time in the observatory was short-lived as the Sultan had the observatory destroyed. Despite this, he wrote a large number of books on astronomy, mathematics and engineering (Al-Hassani, 2012).
Taqi al-Din built a sextant, which he called mushabbahah bil-manatiq or “replication by areas” right around the time Danish Tycho Brahe built his. While Brahe is generally credited for this discovery, research indicates that al-Din and Brahe built a similar tool around the same time. This technology preceded the modern Global Positioning Systems.
In addition to his work on astronomy, mathematics, and engineering, Taqi al-Din wrote about his career in the field of optometry. He published his ideas in three volumes titled, Kitab Nūr hadaqat al-ibsār wa-nūr haqīqat al-anzār or book of the Light of the Pupil of Vision and the Light of the Truth of the Sights. This set has been described as the last major Arabic work on optics (Virk, n.d.).