Turkey's Science, Industry and Technology Minister Fikri Işık imparts nuggets of knowledge.
Muslim scientists working around 1,200 years ago were the first to determine that the Earth is a sphere, Turkey's science, industry and technology minister, becoming the latest Turkish official to inform the world about apparent scientific firsts on the part of Islamic world.
Speaking at a reception for business leader in the Central Anatolian province of Konya late Nov. 28, Minister Fikri Işık stressed the contributions of the Islamic world to science throughout history. "Some 700-800 years before Galileo, 71 Muslim scientists led by al-Khwarizmi convened by the order of the Caliph Al-Ma'mun and revealed that the Earth is a sphere," he said. Işık added that a copy of the original document is currently in the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology in Istanbul.
The museum was founded by Fuat Sezgin, a Turkish professor emeritus on Arabic-Islamic science who was recently referred by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, too. During a speech on Nov. 18, Erdoğan quoted Sezgin's theories for his controversial claim that the American
continent was "discovered by Muslim sailors" some 300 years before Christopher Columbus.
The concept of a spherical Earth remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC, when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given.
Galileo Galilei, on the other hand, was put to trial and convicted by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1616 and 1633 for his support of heliocentrism, a theory which is not directly related to the notion that the Earth is a sphere. Heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth was a planet that revolved around the Sun, contradicted geocentrism, the Aristotelian view that the earth was the center of the universe, which agreed with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Around 830 AD, Caliph Al-Ma'mun commissioned a group of Muslim astronomers and geographers to measure the distance from Tadmur (Palmyra) to Raqqah in modern Syria. They calculated the Earth's circumference, reaching to numbers very close to the currently modern values.
Today, the war-torn Raqqah is known as the stronghold of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.