Continuing with our series of fascinating Muslim inventors, let’s take a brief look at the great Al-Jazari (may Allah be pleased with him)
Full name: Badi’al-Zaman Abu al’-Izz Isma’il bal-Razzaz al-Jazari
Born: Birth date not known; he served the Artuq kings of Diyarbakir (now in southeast Turkey) from 1174 to 1200.
Died: Not known
Most influential work: ‘The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices’
Today, we might call Al-Jazari a mechanical engineer, and he was an outstanding one at that. There is little known about his life, but we do know that he was in the service of Nasir al-Din, the Artuqid, king of Diyarbakir, who asked him to document his inventions in a manual, ‘The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices’ which he completed in 1206.
Before this, he had built many machines, including clocks and water-raising machines, and a large number of mechanical devices that revolutionised engineering, like the craftshaft. He is possibly the first to use robotics, as many of his machines incorporated moving figures.
The King said to him, “You have made peerless devices, and through strength have brought them forth as works; so do not lose what you have wearied yourself with and have plainly constructed. I wish you to compose a book for me which assembles what you have created separately, and brings together a selection of individual items and pictures.”
This book became an invaluable resources for people of different engineering backgrounds, as it described 50 mechanical devices in six categories, including water clocks.
Just as we need to know the time today, so did Muslims 700 years ago, and Al-Jazari was keeping to a Muslim tradition of clock making. Muslims knew that time could not be stopped, that we are always losing it, and that it was important to know the time to use it well doing good deeds. Muslims also needed to know when to pray at the right time each day. Mosques had to know the time so they could announce the call to prayer, as well as other annual events e.g. Ramadhan and when to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca had to be anticipated.