Navigator’s Reverie

This section fondly remembers the navigators – the term used here metaphorically to represent the Muslim Scientists and Contributors in earlier times who directed and led us to progress, advancement and the betterment of society through their contributions in numerous fields including astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry and medicine among others. The degree of perfection achieved by the Muslims in science remains unparalleled in history.

 

Our aspirations should always be in the celestial. That’s why almost all of the early scholars of Islam were astronomers.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

This chapter features images from the famous Bimaristaan al Nouri in Syria, which was an amazing experience to visit. Built as a hospital and medical school by Nur ud-Din Zangai in 1154, this noteworthy building was the most advanced medical institution of its time, and continued to function as a hospital until the 19th century. There is a large central pool and fountain inside the main courtyard. In each of the four walls there is a deep iwan, and on either side of each iwan is a door leading through to a room containing exhibits of the Museum of Arab Science and Medicine, which is housed here. A varied collection of items from the world of Arab medicine is displayed in the rooms; bottles of medicinal herbs, pharmaceutical accessories for measuring, grinding, distilling, etc, surgical instruments for dentistry and operations, other ‘spiritual medicine’ accessories and also various astronomical instruments.

During this period, Arab medicine was far more advanced than anything practiced in Europe, and Western medical knowledge only really began to progress with the translation of Arabic texts into Latin. One of the greatest medical schools in that age in the east, it was considered a central hospital with different departments under the supervision of specialized doctors. Bimaristan Al-Nouri was similar to the palaces due to the luxuries it offered, the facilities available and the quality of food given to patients. The medication was for free for both the poor and the rich and they were also given free clothes and money so they could rest at home for two weeks without having to work. The directorate general for the antiquities and museums renovated the Bimaristan to become a medical museum for the Arabs in appreciation of this unique construction and the distinctive role it played in developing the medical and pharmaceutical sciences. The museum contains four main halls, one for the sciences, the other for medicine, the third for pharmacology and the last for the stuffed animals and birds, in addition to a small room that includes a library for specialized science books. Medicine for the Arabs during the Middle Ages was a noble industry and was not allowed to be practiced unless one had a wide experience, familiarity of the functions of the organs and a great knowledge of all the sciences related to medicine.

The other images in this section were taken in Dubai where I happened upon a temporary exhibit displaying astronomical instruments from the golden age of Arabic science. The art in this gallery hence showcases montages created by the merging of photographs with old scientific documents, illustrations, maps and manuscripts as a celebration of the golden days of Muslim Science.

 

We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.

 Hazrat. Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (r.a)

 

The knowledge that arises from contemplation is that knowledge that whirls the earth about the sun, that raises and lowers the tides, that opens eyes and eventually, for the devoted student, the heart. Those whose desire to see is strong enough will discern the hand of the designer in the symmetrical pattern of the leaves, the paint strokes of the artist in the strata of the rocks, the blueprints of the engineer in the placement of the stars.

Essential Sufism by James Fadiman & Robert Frager

 

Na Tu Zameen Ke Liye Hai, Na Aasmaan Ke Liye 

Thou art not for the earth,
Or for the heaven alone;
The world is for thee,
Not thou for the world.

The mind and the heart
Are sparks in the flame of love;
One for a moment’s flash,
The other for—a blazing fire.

This garden of’ delight
Is not for thy delight;
Thou art here to yearn,
To seek a beatific vision.

Equipped for unfathomed seas,
Thy vessel should not
Confine itself to rivers,
And to familiar shores.

They were a beacon once
To the brightest stars of heaven,
But now they languish in darkness,
In search of a guide to lead them.

A lofty vision, gracious speech,
And a passionate soul—
These are the attributes
Of the leaders of all men.

My soul has a secret song,
A defiance to Gabriel—
A song I have preserved
For life in eternity.

Allama Iqbal | Translation: Naeem Siddiqui

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