A Thousand Years of the Persian Book

The article below A Thousand Years of the Persian Book” was originally posted on the US Library of Congress website.

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Beginning in ancient times Persia has been a center of scientific achievement and was often the conduit of knowledge from China and India in the East to Greece and Rome in the West. Persian-speaking scholars have been active in furthering knowledge in fields of science and technology, such as astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, biology, botany, cosmology, mathematics, engineering, and architecture.

Ancient Sassanid Persia was home to some of the earliest universities and libraries of the ancient world. After the Islamization of Persia (651), middle Persian Pahlavi texts as well as Indian, Chinese, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin scientific texts were translated into Arabic. Although Arabic remains the primary language used for scientific writing in the Islamic world, many scholars have also produced a range of scientific manuscripts and works in the Persian language. The Mughal court in India (1526–1858) became a major center for the production of scientific works in Persian.

Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence

Over the centuries many scholars and scientists of Persian origin have written in Arabic, the preferred language for religious and scientific subjects. The iconic Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence, originally written in the thirteenth century, is a popular work of cosmography that has been translated into various Islamic languages. The Library holds manuscripts in the original Arabic, as well as Turkish and Persian translations. This sixteenth-century Persian text contains several unique illustrations, including these depictions of mythical creatures.

Zakariya ibn Muhammad Qazvīnī. عجايب المخلوقات و غرائب الموجودات (Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence). Persia, 1565. Manuscript. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (016.00.01).

This sixteenth-century Persian text contains several unique illustrations, including a gold leaf map that clearly demonstrates how the world was viewed in the medieval Islamic period.

Zakariya ibn Muhammad Qazvīnī. عجايب المخلوقات و غرائب الموجودات (Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence). Persia, 1565. Manuscript. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (016.00.01).

The Book of Indian Castes and Kinsfolk

In India from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, during the reign of the Mughal court and the subsequent British Raj period, many manuscripts were written in Persian. The manuscript on display, illustrated in vibrant colors and detailing the distinguishing characteristics and customs of India’s various castes, religious communities, and the trades and technologies of each group, is by James Skinner (1778–1841). The son of a Scottish lieutenant colonel and an Indian Rajput princess, Skinner was fluent in Persian and wrote extensively in the language. His manuscript portrays professions ranging from surgery to papermaking with miniature paintings produced primarily by Mir Khalan Khan.

James Skinner. کتاب تشريح الاقوام (Book of Indian Castes and Kinsfolk). India, 1825. Manuscript. Page 2. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (020.00.00, 20.00.01).

The Study of Medicinal Plants

The study of medicinal plants and their effects on humans has been an age-old tradition in Persian-speaking lands. This publication, written by two commanding officers in the Muhammadzai Pashtun tribal confederacy during the Barakzai period (1826–1973), is a lithographic printing of a pharmacology. By the 1860s, lithographic book printing extended from India to the frontier territories of Afghanistan and was preferred to typographic printing because it better retained the traditional calligraphy. This book, the earliest work in the field of medicine printed in Afghanistan, contains a list of various substances, herbs, flowers, minerals, and potions used for healing purposes in traditional medicine.

Ṣāliḥ ibn Ṣāliḥ Muḥammad and Gul Muḥammad Khān Muḥammadzāī. کتاب عمل الصالحين (Book of Effects [Medicinal Plants]). Kabul, 1898. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00).

Explanation of Human Anatomy

This comprehensive manual in three volumes deals with the human body, ailments, and the medicinal properties of plants. The book was the first detailed handbook of modern medicine in Iran and was probably used for teaching purposes at the Polytechnical College (Dar al-Funun) in Tehran. The first volume contains numerous detailed images illustrating human anatomy, such as this one showing the lower half of the female body. The illustrations are most likely copied from a European book.

‘Abd al-Sabur Mirzā Muhammad.‏ تشريح البشر و توضيح الصور (Pictorial Explanation of Human Anatomy). Tabriz, Iran, 1855–1856. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00).

Geographic Survey of Persian Lands

This lithographic book, of which apparently only volumes one, two, and four were published, aims at a comprehensive treatment of the geography of Iran in an alphabetical arrangement. The volume displayed here follows the model of the famous Mu‘jam al-buldān (Dictionary of Countries) compiled by thirteenth-century Arab author Yāqūt. It includes entries from Persian letters “alif” through “te,” including a lengthy entry on Tehran and its history from the early Safavid period through the 1870s. The image on display, most probably copied from a contemporary photograph, shows the Ayvān (or Tāq)-i Kasrā (Palace of Khusraw), which was the legendary palace for the Sassanid kings (224–651) located in the vicinity of modern Baghdad.

Muhammad Hasan-Khān. مرآة البلدان ناصرى (Mirror of the Lands, A Geographic Survey of Persian Lands). Volume 1. Tehran: Nasiri Publishing House, 1877. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00).

Khwarazmi: The Father of Algebra

The article below was originally posted on the Al-Jazeera News Outlet on October 20, 2015. Excepting the video, the version posted below contains pictures and accompanying captions not featured in the original Al-jazeera report.

Kindly note that in recent decades, especially after 1979, there while there has been a tendency to de-emphasize the Iranian origins of “Islamic” scholars, original Arab and Muslim sources themselves have been clear as to the contributions of the Iranians to Learning, Mathematics, Sciences and Medicine.

A statue of Arabo-Islamic historian, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in Tunisia. Ibn Khaldun emphasized the crucial role of the Iranians in promoting learning, sciences, arts, architecture, and medicine in Islamic civilization.

Arab scholar and historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 CE) ranked among the greatest in history, on par with the earlier Greco-Roman historians such as Plutarch or Xenophon; states the following in his work, The Muqaddimah Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91):

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

For more on the historical role of Iranians in the promotion of progress see: Learning, Science, Knowledge, Technology & Medicine

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None of the great achievements of modern science would be possible without the mathematisation of science and the development of algebra.

The word algebra stems from the Arabic word al-jabr, which has its roots in the title of a 9th century manuscript written by the mathematician Al-Khwarazmi.

Statue of Khwarazmi in Tehran’s Amir Kabir University in Tehran (Source: M. Tomczak in Public Domain). Khwarazmi was born around 780 CE in the Persianate-region of Khwarezm (one of the regions that Khaldun described as being among the Persian countries). He passed away in Baghdad in around 850 CE.

Al-Khwarazmi’s Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) was a pioneering piece of work – offering practical answers for land distribution, rules on inheritance and distributing salaries.

A page from Khwarazmi’s al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wa-l-muqābala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing) (Source: Public Domain taken from John L. Esposito. The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press).

Originally Persian, Al-Khwarazmi spent his academic life in the city of Baghdad from where the Abbasid caliphs ruled and established the Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), a renowned center of learning.

In this episode of Science in a Golden Age,theoretical physicist, Jim al-Khalili explores Al-Khwarazmi’s 9th century treatise that also underpins the science of flight and the engineering behind the fastest car in the world.

With Professor Ramazan Sesen and Dr Peter Starr, Jim discusses the origins of the House of Wisdom and how the translation of Greek, Persian and other texts was central to the progressive scientific and mathematical revolution that originated in Baghdad.

And, in the Sulemaniye Library in Istanbul, Jim uncovers a rare text by Al-Kindi, a philosopher, polymath, and musician – and perhaps the world’s earliest mathematical code breaker.

A postage stamp of Khwarazmi printed in the former USSR on September 6, 1983 in commemoration of his (approximately) 1200th birthday (Source: Public Domain).

Khwarazmi is one of Iranian/Persianate civilization’s foremost scholars who has contributed to progress in mathematics, science and learning in not just Islamic but also greater human civilization.

Professor Dariush Borbor’s Works in 1954-2018

Dariush Borbor Compendium of Articles, Presentations and Interviews 1954-2018, Sahab Geographic and Drafting Institute, Tehran, 2018, 728 pp. has just been published in hard cover. The articles are written in several languages, and the subject matter, deals with architecture, Urban Planning and Iranian Studies, including a complete bibliographical reference. Foreword by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Distinguished Professor of Persian Language, Literature and Culture, University of Maryland MD.

Cover of Textbook Outlining Professor Borbor’s Exhaustive Academic Works since 1954.

distribution by: www.ketabsara.ir

داریوش بوربور مجموعه مقالات، سخنرانی ها و مصاحبه ها 1333-1397، موسسه جغرافیایی و کارتوگرافی سحاب، تهران، 1397، 728 صفحه به چاپ رسیده است. مقالات ارائه شده به چند زبان میباشند و مطالب آنها مربوط به معماری، شهرسازی و ایرانشناسی است. پیشگفتار از احمد کریمی حکاک، استاد ممتاز زبان، ادبیات و فرهنگ فارسی دانشگاه مریلند.

پخش کتاب: www.ketabsara.ir

About the Book

“Everybody knows that culture is a complex, multifarious concept, but few people contemplate all the diverse dimensions of a culture and still fewer produce works – informed opinions, in fact – in almost all the dimensions of a given culture. Dariush Borbor’s Compendium of Articles, Presentations and Interviews makes us aware of the many sides, not only of modern and contemporary Iranian culture, but of the world as he has experienced it.  That multidimensionality is precisely what makes Dariush Borbor’s observations on making cultures, on cultures of making, and on culture in-the-making – all written with a sojourner’s mental agility and clarity, so compelling for us as to think of culture as a whole. Dariush Borbor’s Compendium of Writings encapsulates a life well and fruitfully lived. In that sense, it stands as a monument to one self-made man’s professional accomplishments as well as to the human capacity for inner and outer growth” (Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Los Angeles, October, 2017).

About the Author

Dariush Borbor is a multi-faceted Iranian architect, urban planner, designer, sculptor, painter, researcher, author and Iranologist. At the age of thirteen he went to the United Kingdom for his secondary schooling, after which he obtained his General Certificate of Education from University of Cambridge (1952), a Bachelor of Architecture (1958) and a Master of Civic Design (1959) both from the University of Liverpool. He then went to specialize on architecture of hot dry regions at the University of Geneva (1959).

Professor Dariush Borbor in 2017.

He has an outstanding record as an entrepreneur: in 1963, he created his own office under the name of Borbor Consulting Architects, Engineers, City Planners; in 1976, he set up Sphere Consultants and proposed a comprehensive National Environmental Master plan for Iran; a few months prior to the 1978 Iranian Revolution, he moved to Paris where he founded the Borbor International Management Consultants (BIMC) that offered consultancy services in design, management and documentation to architects and urban planners; six years later, in 1984, he moved to Los Angeles where he was involved in architectural consultancy and research on Iranian and Persianate subjects; in 1992, he created the Research Institute and Library of Iranian Studies (RILIS) as a private, independent and non-profit institution dedicated to the promotion of research in the field of Iranian and Persianate studies with special emphasis on novel and creative subjects; in 2009, he initiated the Dariush Borbor Series of Seminars on Iranian Studies, for which distinguished scholars and specialists from outside of Iran have been invited.

Cover of Textbook in Persian, Outlining Professor Borbor’s Exhaustive Academic Works since 1954.

He has won many competitions and received a number of international prizes and awards, including the Gold Mercury International Award from Italy (1976), the Pahlavi Royal Award (1978), and the 50 Outstanding Architects of the World from the Second Belgrade Triennial of World Architecture (1988).

He has been described by famous international critics as one of the most avnt-garde architects of the 20th century and the “father of modern urban planning” in Iran. He has made an enormous contribution to Iranian studies, particularly in history, ethnography and linguistics.