Preferred Frames of Reference

By Sean Carroll | November 29, 2006 4:58 am

Submitted without comment: how to pray facing Mecca from low-Earth orbit. An excerpt from “The Determination of Prayer Times and Direction of the Qiblah in Space,” by Dr. Zainol Abidin Abdul Rashid, translated from Malay by Jessica Ramakrishnan, published in the November issue of Harper’s, and also here. Presented at a conference on Islam and Life in Space.

As trips to space become commonplace, human civilization will no longer be tied to the surface of the Earth. But Muslims, wherever they are- whether on Earth or in space – are bound by duty to perform the obligations of worship.

A Muslim who wants to travel must study the techniques of determining prayer times and the direction of the Qibla ahead of travel in order to achieve complete worship. I will elaborate the method of determining prayer times and the Qiblah direction in space, primarily on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is more than 200 miles from the earth’s surface and orbits the earth every ninety-two minutes, or roughly sixteen times a day. Do we have to worship eighty times a day (sixteen orbits a day multiplied by five prayer times?) This seems unlikely, since it is compulsory for a Muslim to pray five times a day according to an Earth day, as determined by Allah during the creation of Heaven and Earth – no matter where in space the Muslim is located.

As for the Qiblah, for Muslims there is only one the Kaaba, located in Mecca. A Qiblah that changes in references to a specific system is not in order! It must be remembered that Allah’s creation is ordered.

A user-friendly, portable Muslims in Space calculator , could determine the direction of the Qiblah and prayer times on the ISS. Its essential feature would be the use of the Projected Earth and Qiblah Pole concepts. These are based on the interpretation of the holy house of angels in the sky above Mecca. The place is always rich with angels worshipping. As many as 70,000 angels circumambulate it every day. Thus, one virtual Qiblah pole can be taken as a universal reference to determine the direction of the Qiblah. When Earth is projected to the height of the ISS, every point on its surface is projected also, including the Qiblah point, which can be projected upwards and downwards along the Qiblah Pole. This allows the direction of the Qiblah to be determined in space and in the bowels of the Earth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Science and Society
  • Robert

    There are more complications than only determining prayer times and directions as for example the rules for Ramadan (feast during hours of daylight, which?). That’s already pretty complicated on earth and is discussed with great scientific accuracy in this excellent book.

  • Peter Erwin

    Fascinating… my naive thought would have been that you’d want to figure out the direction to the Kaaba itself, not to some notional projected Kaaba.

    This particular approach looks like it would get increasingly awkward the further from Earth you get. A devout Muslim astronaut out at, say, Saturn would have to keep track of a “Qibla point” which wandered back and forth across almost 180 degrees of the sky every day. Much simpler to keep track of where Earth itself is.

    But, hey, I’m not an Islamic theologian, so what do I know…

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  • Arun

    In reading up what a “loxodrome” is, I found the comment that while most Muslims use the great circle to figure out the Qibla, some use the loxodrome. So even on the surface of the earth, there are complications.

    There is the story of the Prophet’s ascent to heaven, a description of which can be found here:

    The part relevant to this thread is:

    After seeing prophets and angels,

    “…Muhammad went on to the presence of Allah where he was commanded to order the Muslims to pray fifty times a day:

    Then Allah enjoined fifty prayers on my followers. When I returned with this order of Allah, I passed by Moses who asked me, “What has Allah enjoined on your followers?” I replied, “He has enjoined fifty prayers on them”. Moses said “Go back to your Lord (and appeal for reduction) for your followers will not be able to bear it”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, p. 213).

    Muhammad allegedly went back and forth between Allah and Moses till the prayers were reduced to five per day. Moses then told him to seek yet a further reduction but Muhammad stopped at this point and answered Moses:

    I replied that I had been back to my Lord and asked him to reduce the number until I was ashamed, and I would not do it again. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p. 187).

    Allah then said whoever observed the five times of prayer daily would receive the reward of fifty prayers.”

    The number of prayers is determined by hard bargaining with Allah.

  • Robert

    Thinking more about this over lunch I realised that there are things to consider for followers of other religions. For example, what about orthodox jewish astronauts? What are the exact rules to observe sabbath in orbit (when?)? How do you survive without making fire on sabbath and is there kosher astronaut food?

  • Rob Knop

    Eh, Commander Sinclair figured out a good answer to this sort of question in the Babylon 5 episode “By Any Means Necessary.”


  • Concept of Sleep

    Have you, people, heard of sleep?
    I understand that the topic is of most fascinating nature yet hardly does it deserve the awarded attention at such an awe hour of the day…But maybe Sean was projecting…no pun in ten did…

  • Peter Erwin

    Concept of Sleep — have you heard of time zones? 😉

    I realize my post has a “7:16am” timestamp, but it was rather later in the day in Germany when I wrote that!

    (Now, why Sean’s post has a 4:58am timestamp… well, that is somewhat worrying.)

  • Xenophage

    These are based on the interpretation of the holy house of angels in the sky above Mecca. The place is always rich with angels worshipping. As many as 70,000 angels circumambulate it every day.

    In heaven as on Earth, middle management is overstaffed and kiss-ass. Looks like LRon Hubbard went to the well for a cheap drink of thetans.

  • Eugene

    Haha! I actually know this guy rather well personally from my old spacecraft building days!

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  • LucysGranddaughter

    Why does the number of angels (and specifically 70,000) floating above the Qiblah Pole have anything to do with its projection into space? Also, what methods determined the daily 70,000 count? How do they know it’s not closer to 80k or 100k?

  • Sean

    I am surprised that numbers like the density of angels, number of virgins, Number of the Beast, etc. don’t ever come with error bars. I suspect that the authors are significantly under-estimating their systematic errors.

  • Q9

    “Both the contemplation of and the creative skill in making patterns lead in their own way to an understanding of Universal Nature as it moves the elements”
    Islamic geometry and floral patterns

    But, which direction one must face when one is on “The Dark Side of The Moon”? – perhaps One could ask Pink Floyd

  • Possibly Anonymous for a Good Reason

    Dr Zainol used to be my boss when I worked for the Malaysian Ministry of Science and Technology.

    I still can’t stop laughing at the circularity of the whole thing blasting back to haunt me. I hate to crap on my own home country, but in a sad sad way, that’s why science back home never progress beyond the superficial. This paper is all the rage back in Malaysia when it came out.

  • Plato

    Quickly, I thought of Gravity Probe B, so there will be no mistakes about “orientation” from earth’s point of view?

    gyro spin axis orientation of the day…and….The experiment will check, very precisely, tiny changes in the direction of spin of four gyroscopes contained in an Earth satellite orbiting at 400-mile altitude directly over the poles. So free are the gyroscopes from disturbance that they will provide an almost perfect space-time reference system.


    If one did not appreciate the tessellations of Penrose’s early work and Escher, what value would one of found in early Islamic Geometry and Floral Patterns?

    In 1070 he wrote his great work on algebra. In it he classified equations according to their degree, and gave rules for solving quadratic equations, which are very similar to the ones we use today, and a geometric method for solving cubic equations with real roots. He also wrote on the triangular array of binomial coefficients known as Pascal’s triangle.

    Omar Khayyám

  • Sam Gralla

    Even the question of where to face when praying on earth must be re-evaluated in light of modern science. When scripture dictates that we pray “facing” Mecca, does Allah mean that we are to point along the most “natural” choice of the geodesic connecting us and Mecca, or that we are to point according to the man-made (but pole-inspired) guidelines of latitude (and longitude) lines? We certainly should organize a conference to debate this point. Sean, would you like to Chair?

  • one intelligently designed

    I was told by my GR professor that once he was consulted regarding the direction of Mecca for some mosque in north america. I do not remember exactly, the description of directions, but story goes something like that the first inclination of the people building the mosque was to chose south east as the direction to mecca (inspired by the usual maps), but the professor convinced them that this is not actually the geodesic to the mecca ( i guess the geodesic was north west or north east which is completely counter intuitive, but apparently they litsned to him)

  • kapakapa

    The simplest answer seems to me to create Muhammad Version2.0, and renegotiate with Allah to exempt the space travellers. If that is not possible, then go virtual. If Allah allows ‘one virtual Qiblah pole’, why not take a virtual Kaaba into ISS. Solved, if someone can figure out how to keep it stationary – and facing Mecca at all times – in the ISS.

    According to the recent Lancet’s estimate, there is a spike in demand for angels – 72 for each jihadist? As a result, the welcoming angels may be dwindling in number presto. If Allah can tinker with the supply of angels at will, might as well upgrade the whole creation OS to the space age.

    What do they offer a female astronaut? 72 jihadists?

  • Arun

    Deceased jihadists are not offered angels.

  • Aramael

    If the ISS completes an orbit every 92 minutes, then the direction to Mecca, wherever it may lie, would be changing fairly rapidly during the course of a single prayer. Perhaps the answer is to install a sort of rotating prayer mat, similar to what you might find on a table in a Chinese restaurant. But motorised I guess.

  • Manas Shaikh

    Hmm… I see all of you are very sure about 72 virgins. Can any of you kindly help me locate the verse that promise it?

    Science owes a lot to Muhammad. A critical look at history will perhaps convince you. Had there been no Muhammad, the Greek philosophy might be lost for ever. Astronomy, Mathematics, Surgery, Medicine and Chemistry will perhaps not reach where it has.

  • andy.s

    The number of the Beast is sort of approximate. The most popular version is 666, but some texts give 616.

    “Here is wisdom, for it is the number of a man, and the number of the beast is 641, plus or minus 25.”

    And that Qiblah projection thing kind of makes sense if your cosmology is geocentric. Too bad they coupled the Ptolemaic model to their theology.

  • beajerry

    You’re gonna need a laser guided prayer system also, because if your prayer hits any of those angels and kills one of them, then that’s it for you – you’re definitely not getting into heaven.

  • PK

    Hmm… I see all of you are very sure about 72 virgins.

    I think you might be overstating things a bit. Assuming that you are familiar with the Koran, would you say this is made up?

    And yes it is true that in the great merry-go-round of human civilization the Arab world was instrumental in the survival of the Greek tradition while in Europe the light was out. (Unfortunately, most of the Arab world is now in the dark.)

    I wouldn’t attribute this enlightened period to Islam, though. It probably had more to do with the trade wealth and contact with other cultures at the time.

  • Stephen Uitti

    An orthodox Jew was quite upset to find herself on a commercial aircraft as the sabboth started (sunset). She said she’s not allowed to travel on the sabboth, since that’s hard work. How sitting on an airplane and being served your veggie (kosher) meal is hard work is beyond me. The plane lifted off of the ground just after sunset, and once airborne, the Sun was clearly visible. And as we were quite a ways North, and as we were flying to the West, it turns out that the Sun had not set by the time we landed. There was still a half hour before sunset.

    Now, by the time we landed, she had come up with a loophole in the law, and felt herself not in violation. I won’t go into it. From my perspective, she saw an additional sunset, and her week was now a day out of sync with everyone else. That one sabboth was only about 15 minutes long. That is, unless the sacred texts require that the Sun rise in the East, rather than in the West. I’ve read them, but don’t recall the details.

    Even when the Bible was written, people could have walked to Norway and experienced a three month long day or night. I don’t expect that the Bible authors could have foreseen air travel. If you flew the Wright Flyer, the circumpolar flights would have been hard to imagine.

    Perhaps that’s why i’m not a Biblical literalist.

  • Manas Shaikh

    Yes, PK, I would say it is made up. Jihad in its popular meaning and its original one are completely different. Basically it means to strive against evil. Mainly against your own shortcomings like lust, anger etc. etc. Islam is not what we know it to be.

    “Unfortunately, most of the Arab world is now in the dark.” I disagree. I feel it is almost all, if not all.

    “I wouldn’t attribute this enlightened period to Islam, though” Unless Islam were friendly towards gathering knowledge(‘ilm) you would not see what you see. We know that scientific temper and the Church don’t go well (I like to differntiate between the Church and Christianity). It did not come from void either. A deep look at the current scietific temper, Islam and history will tell you that much(not all) of it actually comes from Islam. We just don’t know where it comes from. The Mullahs of the present are fools at best. Hardly a good source to learn or form an impression of Islam.
    There would be no political stability in Arab had there been no Islam. Arab was it turmoil before Islam came. It even gave eastern Europe and Spain a breath of peace. Perhaps you will agree that science advances only under a sympathetic peaceful regime.

    I bet you would be surprized if I tell you that the paradigm shift from deductive(example Euclidean geometry) to inductive (experiment and observation based) science actually occured in Arab. And it was influenced by the provocation of the Qur’an (there are verses like “have you ever reflected upon how rain falls” and similar ones.) that urges you to draw conclusion from observation.

    Did you know that the current definition of religious tolerance come from Islam? I bet you didn’t. You could have a quick review of the history of Spain, Bulgaria, Palestine (it will be counterintuitive if you try to project backwards from present, though ), India and many other places. An article by an Isaeli peace activist will tell you.

    Did you know that modern war ethics (like not attacking civilians, civilian property and the ethics of handling the prisoners) can be traced back to Muhammad?

  • Manas Shaikh

    But yup! After all this, I did not like so much fuss about ‘Quiblah pole’. Calling a big conference to discuss such trivial thing when you can’t make your own rockets is…

    Well I don’t like it.

  • Hektor Bim


    I’m not sure how you can characterize Spain under Islam as a “breath of peace”. Under Cordoba, there were frequent raids into Christian areas (see e.g. the sack of Barcelona 985) and raids from the Christians into Spain. After the collapse of the caliphate, there was a lot of warfare between the taifas, not to mention struggles with the Christian kingdoms in the North of Spain, crusade and jihad, and two full blown invasions from the Almohads and the Almoravids.

    It’s also curious to characterize Eastern Europe as peaceful under Islam – I assume you mean the Turks? This would be the same Turks who specialized in kidnapping the sons of Christian subjects, forcing them to convert to Islam, and sending them out every few years to campaign against Christian states in Eastern Europe? Was it peace that the Turks brought to Vienna in 1529 and 1683? Or was it peace that the Turks brought to Hungary in 1526, 1541, or in 1620?

    India is a rather strange example to bring up of religious tolerance. It’t true that the Mughals did have periods of religious tolerance under Akbar, but then they also had periods of extreme intolerance under Aurangzeb, who destroyed countless Hindu temples, and converted many to Islam by force. That led directly to what you might expect: constant rebellion by Hindus and the formation of the Sikh religion in opposition to the Mughals. It’s also true that Islam came to North India mainly through conquest and horrific bloodshed – how many times was Delhi sacked?

    I’m also very dubious about your claim that our ideas about religious tolerance comes from Islam. I don’t recall us requiring non-Muslims to pay a head tax (required under sharia), or to wear clothes of a certain color (sharia again), or forbidding construction of non-Muslim place of worship (sharia law – still law in Egypt by the way!). I also don’t remember us having no legal protections for religions not of the Book.

    I’m curious – would these modern war ethics of Mohammed include the execution of all the male members of a tribe after they surrendered to you, and then the sale of their women and children into slavery (the Banu Qurayza)?

    I guess you’re right – there was never religious tolerance before Islam, and no one ever elucidated modern war ethics before Mohammed. After all, at the signing of the Geneva conventions, I well remember the many speeches given on the example of Mohammed.

  • Maynard Handley

    cf Christmas as brought to India and the Southern Hemisphere by the British.
    (Or for that matter in Los Angeles and Phoenix.)
    White plastic snow, santa claus in red flannels + reindeer, christmas trees, all with blazing hot sun outside.

    And this is, to be fair, not even completely the work of the Christians, and thus to be blamed on religous stupidity. Human culture is a beast of epic idiocy, whether yoked to religion or not.

  • Manas Shaikh

    Dear Hektor Bim,

    I feel
    1. You suffer from generalization.
    2. Islam is not always reflected in what a Muslim does

    Just as the Church often failed to practice love and equality as preached by Jesus, Muslims have failed in their duty too.
    Given that, the general environment under Muslim rule was far more conductive than under a Christian rule. In Muslim Spain (which interestingly was invaded by African Moors, blacks, who came as a civilizing force) Christians and Jews held positions in Office as well as scholars among them were patronized. Isolated incidents do not prove the rule.
    As opposed to that, when the Moors were defeated by Ferdinand and Isabella, the minority Jews and Muslims had either to convert to Christianity or they had to flee. A population of 15% Muslim reduced to almost nothing. Whereas when the Muslims had ruled, Christians remained majority and no systematic effort was in place to convert them.

    Do not generalize from isolated incidents. If Islam preached forced conversion, whole of Bulgaria and a number of other countries would be Muslim now.

    Have a look at history of Europe and you will know what I mean when I say Islam came as breath of peace. Killings and fights were normal in Europe. No country that was ruled by Christian rulers had any of their original religions left. There was a systematic effort by the rulers to create a monolithic society.

    I well remember the many speeches given on the example of Mohammed.

    This is the problem. You do not cite the source and then deny the author his credit. Same with science. There is a deliberate effort in all science texbooks to use as far as possible Greek and European names and avoid Arab or Indian names, so that nobody grows suspicious that Arabs contributed significantly to Science and Technology. Even as an eager ear as myself never knew that until recently.

    In the example that you cite you do not tell the whole story. As far as I am aware, the people you say surrendered were actually defeated and captured. And you do not talk about what they did before being captured. Please learn to tell the whole story.

    Islam is not always reflected in what a Muslim does

    Just as what a scientist says may alway not be right.

    Islam does not teach you to oppress others.

    There are a lot of things to take into consideration. The kings found religion as a good vehicle of generating sympathy. So they slaughtered people in the name of religion. It holds for everyone, the Muslims the Christians, the Jews. The question is how do they fare in relative terms.

    You mention Jihad. Please get your history right. It was the Church that called for Crusade. The Muslims were surprized and overwhelmed in the first Crusade. In the second they united and defeated the Christians. And did not lose after that in the third and fourth Crusade. Crusade is a shame in the Church’s history (but again, then the Church was wrong and not Christianity).

  • Manas Shaikh

    Do not think I am for the oppression that occured here and there. I hate it more than you do. “for oppression is worse than killing”.

  • Manas Shaikh

    I’m also very dubious about your claim that our ideas about religious tolerance comes from Islam. I don’t recall us requiring non-Muslims to pay a head tax (required under sharia), or to wear clothes of a certain color (sharia again), or forbidding construction of non-Muslim place of worship (sharia law – still law in Egypt by the way!).

    You just have to contrast it with how the Christians dealt with Jews and occasionaly Muslims. Or maybe how the Hindus dealt with the Buddhists. Buddhists, on the other hand (again not without exception, but you should not generalize) has had a good tolerant history. That is why in Buddhist China Jorathrustians (spelling must be wrong) still survive.

    I never said religious tolerance did not exist before advent of Islam. I am saying the modern version comes from Islam. Tolerance got buried under old rug. Islam pulled it out.

    I also don’t remember us having no legal protections for religions not of the Book.

    Have a look at the Qur’an, you will. I’ll give three verses

    “your (Muhammad’s) duty is only to proclaim”.

    “if they (still) do not believe, say ‘peace’ and turn away”

    “had it been your Lord’s will, everyone of them would have believed, will you then force them to believe?”

    Sidenote: there are many debates about Sharia laws. They are not unchallenged. (I mean within the Musilms too)

  • Oy…..

    On a similar theme,

    Especially nice quote:

    “When someone asked if it was true that there will be fire in hell that will consume sinners, the team of rabbis replied they didn’t know, since no one has reported back to them. “

  • Chinmaya Sheth


    I just wanted to point out that there wasn’t as much oppression of Buddhists under Hindu rulers as you like to think. I haven’t seen anything about forced conversions, for example. I am sure it was not without exception, but you should not generalize :-)

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Sorry, but a second note on Manas-spins “Buddhists, on the other hand (again not without exception, but you should not generalize) has had a good tolerant history. That is why in Buddhist China Jorathrustians (spelling must be wrong) still survive.” The Hindu history isn’t that intolerant either otherwise Islam (and a host of other religions) in India would not have survived :-)

  • PK

    Manas, I think it is generally broadly recognized that the survival of the Greek tradition through the Middle Ages is almost exclusively due to the Arabs, and that they contributed much to mathematics. However, I do not see so many Arab contributions in physics (or “natural philosophy”) that have survived. No improvement over Ptolemy that was finally superseded by Copernicus, no refutation of Aristotle to keep us going until Galileo. I may well be wrong, so if I have missed something I would very much like to hear about it.

    I would say that the “deliberate effort in all science textbooks to use as far as possible Greek and European names and avoid Arab or Indian names […]” is a bit of a conspiracy theory. I think it is ignorance at worst. Think about it: for a textbook writer to find an earlier source of a concept is a major bonus. If I were to write a textbook on celestial mechanics and knew about a pre-Copernian heliocentric system, I would most definitely include it!

  • Quasar9

    So Sean, which way should one face when in the North Pole, and which way should one face when sitting on the other side of the moon

    Incidentally on Earth whether one faces east or faces west, isn’t one ultimately facing the same ‘point’ whether it be the short or long way? – or can one only cross the atlantic from east to west, that is from the west coast of europe + africa, to the east coast of america (north & south) or Canada.

    Funny, there was a time when you could only go to the Indies heading east until not so long ago (514 years ago?), and the story goes a certain chap called christopher columbus had to wait till the ‘reconquest’ of Spain by Isabela & Ferdinand, to get his ships to travel west in search of the Indies. But this could all be myth, hearsay or ‘Spanish’ propaganda.

  • Manas Shaikh


    I do not see so many Arab contributions in physics (or “natural philosophy”) that have survived.

    As far as I am aware, you are right. There was not much work on ‘natural philosophy’ or rather topics related to physics. You can have a look at the book referred at the end of this post.

    Chemistry, on the other hand, was almost exclusive gift of the Arabs. And it was based on experiments. Now remember that all textbooks do tell us that they started the tradition. But while discussing chemicals, their preparation etc. they fail to remember the relevant Arab names. Whereas while discussing ‘recent’ advancements, it hardly forgets tha man/woman behind.

    …is a bit of a conspiracy theory. I think it is ignorance at worst. Think about it: for a textbook writer to find an earlier source of a concept is a major bonus. If I were to write a textbook on celestial mechanics and knew about a pre-Copernian heliocentric system, I would most definitely include it!

    A simple test: you ask any man on the street about Arab’s contribution to science and that of Greek. Their answer will point to the different amount of emphasis placed on the two nation’s contribution. (don’t generalize from your own point of view). The bonus you talk about is actually a threat to white superiority for some. It may be hard to believe for you. Fact of life is the Greek contribution to ‘natural philosophy’ is easily accessible information, while that of Arabs is not that much.

    Greeks used to observe stars. So did the Arabs. And Arabs identified and named a significant number of visible stars. There was a famous observatory somwhere in Iraq. I did not know that until recently. But from my childhood I knew quite well about Tycho Brahe and his student, (they ofcourse deserve to be known, but so do the Arab observers).

    It is not that Arabs are competely denied credit. It is that texbooks often do not refer to specific names.

    Have a look at this book ‘Arab Scientists’ by Francis Bacon. (I could not find it on Amazon) or this.

  • Manas Shaikh

    During the Mourya Dynasty there was a significant number of Buddhists in India. When it fell, and Gupta dynasty rose to power, Buddhists suddenly almost disappeared from the demographic map of India.

    Muslims would not have survived had Hindus been rulers of significance for significant time. You see the process going on now. But this is not the place to debate that.

  • Manas Shaikh

    and the story goes a certain chap called christopher columbus had to wait till the ‘reconquest’ of Spain by Isabela & Ferdinand, to get his ships to travel west in search of the Indies. But this could all be myth, hearsay or ‘Spanish’ propaganda.

    It’s all in your mind. You want to know why ‘a certain chap called christopher columbus’ had to go in search of Indies.

    It was because of the fall of Constantinople (remember, if you knew that fall of constantinople and fall of Moorish empire occured around same time.) Perhaps you are aware that there was trade relation between India/China and Spain/Europe through Constantinople/Arab. As Constantinople fell, and the new rulers of Spain were not particularly friendly with them, they had to look for alternative rout, which was the sea rout.

    There is no spanish propaganda, you imagined it! :)

  • Jack

    “Hmm… I see all of you are very sure about 72 virgins. Can any of you kindly help me locate the verse that promise it?”

    Worse yet — where in the sayings of the Prophet is it declared that those virgins will be HUMAN???? Will all good suicide bombers be presented with a shoebox full of 72 virgin mice???

  • Manas Shaikh

    Ohh… I completely misunderstood the post of Quaser9. I take my last post back.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    I think your are being dishonest manner.
    Show me a single source that shows that a single Hindu ruler was as barbaric as Aurangzeb (someone who is still admired in Pakistan). And you say there is some “process” going on in India where the Hindus don’t want Muslims to survive. Pathetic! I think Hektor Bim is exactly right.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    #44 line 1, should read “I think you are going on in a dishonest manner.”

  • Manas Shaikh

    Chinmaya, I already said I do not want to debate about that here. If you really want to, then contact me through my blog. You are always welcome.

  • Arun

    Manas Sheikh brought something up but does not want to debate it here.
    In that vein, let me bring up a point and not debate it here – in 1193, Bakhtiar Khilji sacked the center of Buddhist learning, the university of Nalanda. That was a key milestone of the decline of Buddhism in India.

    Regarding the survival of Hinduism in India – most of the “high civilization” – philosophy, sciences, arts was destroyed or greatly diminished by the Islamic invasions, and what survived was the decentralized, the “folk” arts and religion. There is no need to sugarcoat this fact.

  • Manas Shaikh

    I regret bringing it up here. But not what I said.

    This is not the place to discuss Indian history. Lets stick to the topic. I have already said I am open to discussion where it is relevant.

  • Manas Shaikh

    PK it seems I was wrong about ‘natural science’. Arabians did indeed contributed a lot to ‘natural science’. You can watch this BBC program at YouTube

  • PK

    Thanks Manas. The presenter, Adam Hart-Davis, is well-known here for these programs, and I must have missed this episode when it was first aired.

    Interestingly, the Arabs improved the precision of the earth’s tilting angle in order to better tell the time to pray. But in practice I’m sure economics (travel and all that) had something to do with it as well (cf. the multitude of uses for the astrolabe). As Hart-Davis says at the end: The Arabs preserved, expanded, and improved the knowledge of the ancient Greeks. Without them, modern life would look very different indeed.

  • Manas Shaikh


    What I find most interesting is: In order to calculate the tilting angle, you have to be sure about earth being round and it rotating around the sun. These are the conclusions that Galeleo and Coparnicus drew (most likely independently) and faced the wrath of the Church.
    I am amazed to know that Arabs knew all these before them.

    If that is true, then Galeleo and Coparnicus were not the first to draw these conclusions, (rather they were the first to convince the Europeans about it).

    What do you think?

    Apart from that, the discovery of pin-hole camera has fascinated me.

  • Arun
  • Arun
  • Arun
  • PK

    Manas, I am pretty sure you can account for the tilted axis of the Earth in the Ptolemaic system (though they wouldn’t call it a tilt; moreover, we tend to reinterpret ancient findings within present-day scientific context), so that in itself is not proof either way. Nevertheless, the story of Aryabhata is compelling, and should probably be mentioned every time we speak of Copernicus.

    Of course, there is still the problem that this insight by Aryabhata has not influenced modern thought at all, because nobody knew about it when it could have made a difference. Even his contemporaries thought he was wrong there. I would therefore still credit Copernicus and Galileo with overturning the Ptolemaic system (in the absence of further evidence, of course).

  • Manas Shaikh

    Yup! You are perhaps right about both being compatible.

  • Manas Shaikh

    Nevertheless it stands that they did a good job in ‘philosophae naturalis’. :)

    Aryabhatta was a genius. India has sent up a satellite in his name.

  • Hektor Bim

    I realize that by responding to Manas in greater detail here, I’m straying from the topic at hand, but since this site regularly has posts on religion, I hope you all will indulge me.

    Of course Islam is what Muslims do. That’s as true for Islam as for any other religion. There is no other practical way to evaluate the precepts of a religion then by observing it in action, since there is no way to get followers of the religion to agree on its precepts. Ismailis and Salafis aren’t going to agree on much, even if they think they follow the same religion. (Interestingly, there is a fair amount of doctrinal support for this position within Islam itself.) I would be very careful of considering Muslims in the past to be paragons and the Muslims of today to be “in the dark”. From there it is far too easy to become a takfiri. The Muslims of history are worse then you think and the Muslims of today not as bad, simply because of human nature.

    As per your forced conversion statement: a large number of Muslim countries are close to or wholly Muslim now that weren’t in the recent past. See, e.g. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Turkey. It is a historical fact that many (though not all) Muslim countries are hostile to religious minorites, even ones of long standing – like Bahai in Iran or Christians in Egypt. There are essentially no Muslim countries that wholly respect freedom of religion – in most Muslim-dominated countries there are legal barriers to the practice of non-Muslim religions. God help you if you belong to a Muslim sect viewed as heretical by most Muslims, see e..g the Ahmadis in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

    Yes, the Crusades were bloody and horrific, but I assure you the Muslim leaders involved were not blameless. The proximate cause for the First Crusade was a call for help from the Byzantine Empire to fend off invading Muslim armies, attempting to conquer regions that had never been Muslim. Another rallying cry was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Fatimid Al-Hakim, an event that could be compared to destroying the Dome of the Rock.

    It’s a natural reaction to attempt to cut off disreputable or horrific actions from oneself and declare the people involved “not true Muslims”, but it is not going to fly. Aurangzeb, for example, did exhibit many admirable qualities, like humility and charity, while being a bloodthirsty bastard, and people to this day honor him for that. You need to accept the bad with the good: Aurangzeb and Akbar, the Taliban fighters who executes teachers of girls and the teachers who risk their lives to teach Afghani girls, Dawood Ibrahim and Shah Rukh Khan, the janjaweed fighter who burns Darfuri villagers and the Darfuri refugee who flees them. All are Islam.

  • Sean

    Really none of this is on-topic. No more comments about whose religion is more awesome, or who was oppressed by whom.

  • Manas Shaikh

    PK even though you can describe the solar system with earth at centre. But in that case everything gets too complex. Apparently the ’tilt’ will be something very different, the motion of the orbit of the sun :)

    can you throw some light as to what the arabs thought about it?

  • Pingback: The absolute frame of reference, finally « White Noise()

  • Ser Feenix

    Hey Maynard Handley Mr.Santa in red flannels was the invention of the Church of Coca Cola.
    I came to this blog when somebody joked that an absolute frame of reference was found by a ‘great’ scientist.
    This insanely idiotic article gave me such a great laugh.
    Hey did anybody account for the time dilation in outerspace. The 5 prayers would never reach Mr.Allah if they they are not directed to the precise point at the precise time.
    Maybe we need DHL.
    On a more serious note algebra as well as the decimal system of numerals and a whole of geometry was learnt by the arabs from the indians . The europeans borrowed it from the arabs. The ancient greeks anyway knew a lot of this geometry to begin with. But Europe I suppose was suffering from amnesia and needed a knock on the head ( the crusades ).

  • Nick Fabry

    I think investigating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin would be similiarly fruitful. Perhaps I am too cynical, but if you really need to be facing Mecca in order to worship properly, perhaps it’s time for the worshippee to send some new instructions. Let me know when they arrive.

  • Ser Feenix

    Why does no islamic country have a space program?
    Coz the pious scientists were afraid their prayers wouldnt reach their God from outer space. Not for the lack of any other technological capability. But now thanks to the genius Zainol they can start their galactic exploration programs and still send their prayers to the right place.

  • Manas Shaikh

    Recently i had been reading a wonderful book by Muhammad Assad, who was the envoy of Pakistan to the UN.

    He states in his book (in chapter ‘midway’ (or something like that) that the Arab astronomers proposed a heliocentric world.

    That should settle the confusion.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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