Digital Storytelling of Muslim Scholar Inventions Adapted from Islamic Ancient Manuscript

Literature Review

Digital art in the 21st century has evolved into a key fashionable form of art that has faced innumerable challenges with regard to conventional educational institutions, which have not indulged in the collection of digital art as well as adopted them in study curriculums. Islam contributed significantly to such academic disciplines as economics, philosophy, technology, art, law, sociology, science, agriculture, astronomy, navigation, and literature in the medieval period (Ceccarelli, 2009). Numerous designs as new inventions or the refinement of existing ones were put forth yet currently only a few have received proper accolade. A vast number of Western art and inventions have been instituted in study curriculums and with the advent of digitization, availability has been enhanced through the adoption of the 2D information into 3D form that is easily stored in as analog data in digital libraries (Selin,1997). This has overcome the challenge of spatial constraints that were infused by the requirement of physical presence say in a library for one to be able to access the information stored in printed media.

Digital storytelling of Muslim scholar inventions has been sidelined in this era of digitization leading to the inhibition of prominent artwork in the current discipline. One very prominent figure in Islamic art is Abu al-Jazari whose work was well renowned in the Middle Ages (Vatansever, & Uzun, 2008). Al-Jazari is thought to have lived between the periods 1136 and 1206 as acquired form his 1206 publication known as the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. His origins can be traced to the Al-Jazira locality, an area occupying parts of Iraq and Syria. Being the principal engineer in the Artuklu Palace, he was well skilled in the art of crafts. Al-Jazari was a pragmatic crafts man that focused on the creation of various machines in his period interestingly constructed though trial and error techniques as opposed to technological and hypothetical computations. His 1206 book has been written using a guiding format that is easy to follow in the assembly of the various machines presented.

With the technological advancements made since al-Jazari’s time to the present, most of his work may be regarded as trivial yet the devices, constituents, designs, techniques and drawings that he engaged in his work still remain a significant factor in today’s world (Al-Hassani, 2010). Al-Jazari used automatons in his work, which are mechanical self-operating devices to highlight his inventions. His initial automatons were humanoids that used the camshaft mechanism and they were included in the 1206 publication. The automata consisted of a boat that was accompanied by four automated instrumentalists that would be floated on water as a source of amusement for the guests that used to gather around the machines. The device used for the four players constituted of automated drum machinery with cams that were meant to strike into some joined miniature knobs whose work was to control the drumming. The cams were movable, the rearrangement of which created various rhythms.

The other notable automaton was a female humanoid that was used in the creation of the flush apparatus. The invention was towards the production of hand washing appliances that incorporated the humanoid and water vessel (Miller, 2009). Once a user pulled an attached lever and finished washing their hands, the humanoid would automatically move in and refill the vessel with more water. The peacock fountain was a more stylish hand-washing appliance that featured multiple humanoids holding soap and various towels. The peacock’s tail would be used as the lever for controlling the release of water that used the peacock’s beak as the tap. The running water had a built-in catchment base that housed a float that would rise with the water level until a certain height where the float would trigger a link that would consequently activate the soap-holding humanoid. These humanoids were housed in a compartment built under the peacock. As the used water still rose in the hand-washing event, the float would move to the second level where it would trigger the second lick for the towel-holding humanoid.

The third humanoid creation was styled as a waitress that was used in serving of fluids and beverages. The given beverage was stored in a central depository holding that would regulate the flow that was released in small manageable quantities (Rossi, et al., 2009). Upon the release of the drink from the depository vessel, it would be channeled to a smaller vessel that would house the fluid for seven minutes before releasing it to a cup. The waitress would then appear and serve the drink to the client. Historically, al-Jazari was the first human to express interest in the creation of humanoid machines that were solely for maneuvering the surroundings for human comfort. More so, this groundbreaking water mechanism innovation was refined by successive engineers into the system that is now used in the contemporary society for the flush toilet. The other camshaft creations were the water clock that acted in a similar way with the sundial (Wolf, 2000). Time would be measured in this by the controlled in and outflow of water in the clock.

Al-Jazari’s first water clock was the elephant clock that consisted of a huge elephant carrying a load and a rider (History of Science and Technology in Islam, 2010). The water was regulated on the load while the rider and other components were used for the production of musical percussions every thirty minutes. The clock was highly praised as the first technological innovation with multicultural connotations. The elephant embodied the Hindu and African communities, the dragon was a Chinese icon, the Egyptian society was symbolized by the phoenix, the turban was for the Islamic people and lastly, the waterworks were a depiction of the Greeks. The elephant housed the water bucket that was fitted with a bowl that had a punctured bottom. The bowl would seep the water in a period of thirty minutes and sink in the process. Upon this move, a string would pull a small ball placed at the highest point of the clock, this would in turn plunge in the dragon’s mouth, and a forward tilt would be achieved with the impetus of pulling the bowl from the bottom of the bucket.

This force would also be used to pull some string works that would initiate the elephant rider to strike on the drum as an indication of thirty minutes lapse. The system would then repeat allover again. The astronomical clock dubbed as the castle clock was more intricate in nature and scholars believe that it worked as analog computer. It had the capability of indicating time while showing the different zodiac patterns indicated by the attached sun and moon paths (Guo, & Yunini, 2008). The indicator was fashioned as a crescent moon and as it oscillated back and forth from the water levels, humanoids would be initiated each hour for the purpose of time telling. In addition to this, the castle clock had the provision for reprogramming that aided the owner to format the day and night durations according to the coinciding seasons. Modern uses of this water clock mechanism were incorporated in the cuckoo clocks that were fitted with birds that chirped upon regular time intervals like half or full hour lapses. Other clocks had humanoids instead of the birds that used to clang cymbals attached to the clocks.

Al-Jazari’s second major mechanism after the camshaft was the crankshaft and the crank-slider (Shakir, et al, 1979). His initial crankshaft had the form of a long rod that was fitted with crank pins that would be motioned by a circular mechanism in a patterned rhythm that resulted in the wheel moving in a spherical manner while the crank pins oscillated in a forward and backward manner within a straight arrangement. This would consequently translate the revolving movement into a linear reciprocating movement. The Saqiya machines that were a form of chain pumps were constructed on this principle. They were an early representation of hydraulic lifts that were used to lift heavy materials that were use din the construction field. This mechanism was used in the twin cylinder pump that later revolved into the basis of steam engine production, internal combustion engines and automated gears.

The double action pump was developed that employed the crank slider system that as opposed to the earlier creation was able to support two large pistons incorporated in a gear arrangement that was supported and driven by water (Singh). This was a major milestone in the discipline of engineering as it made three breakthroughs that are used to date in relation to crankshaft mechanisms. The first was that it acted as the initial and pragmatic translation of the suction pump from drawings into a working concept. Secondly, it was the initial and successful infusion of the law of double-action. Thirdly, it served as the initial conversion of the cyclical motion into a reciprocating one enabled by the combination of the circular wheel and the longitudinal crank pins. Al-Jazari used this mechanism to construct a water provision structure that combined the scoop-wheel mechanism and a system of gear that were able to convey water jars from the water source and into health centers and mosques. The double action pump has been used extensively in the production of car engines and specifically in the manufacture of the piston system used to circulate engine fluids like water, oil and fuel. Examples of such engines are the V6, V8 and GM 3800 engines used in car models like Cadillac, Chevrolet Corvette, Ferrari 355, among others (Pakistan Ministry of Science & Technology, National Hijra Centenary Committee (Pakistan), & Organisation of Islamic Conference, 2009).

The third major invention was made in the subject of mechanical controls and in particular, the use of combination locks that infuse the use of various symbols and/or numbers needed to open a locking system. This mechanism has been adopted in modern times in the production of multiple-dial combination locks as used in suitcases, briefcases, sophisticated padlocks and bicycle systems. In this mechanism, a number of rotating discs are wired through rod that has is fitted with a number of ridges equal to the number of discs used in the lock. On the other hand, the discs have notches that fit with the ridges. The lock is opened when the notches and the ridges align in a linear format that can allow the rod to slide from the discs smoothly. The more intricate of the combination lock mechanism is the single dial lock that is normally used in safes. This lock often combines the turning of a dial knob initially in a clockwise manner, followed by an anticlockwise dial. This is repeated iteratively until the last numerical number is realized and the safe is unlocked (Benedetti, 2008).

Fourthly, al-Jazari employed the escapement apparatus in his bid to manage the speed of wheel rotations. The escapement technique is that which is used in clocks and watches and it is solely responsible for the ticking sound produced from the movement of the clock hands. Pendulum clocks are also manufactured under this system. Al-Jazari used this in his segmental gear that is used in a cogwheel to take delivery of or correspond to the reciprocating motion initiated by the wheels. Lastly, al-Jazari contributed to the design and building techniques by introducing timber lamination in the bid to curtail the problem of warping, use of static wheel balancing that is vastly used in the automotive industry, and the employing timbered templates in the art field (Hill, 1996). In the design and architecture field, the utilization of paper craft in the creation of models that act as a simulation of the final product was introduced for a form of quality control in the subject. Al-Jazari introduced the idea of calibrate orifice that generally encompasses the use of restraining material fitted inside pipes for the purpose of regulating the amount, type and speed of fluid flow.

The proportional flow is achieved when the restriction is tight such that the fluid passes through in the form of a jet and this mechanism is largely used in motor vehicle carburetors. The chocked flow is less restrictive and it is majorly used in filtering and cooling systems like water filters and refrigeration systems to achieve clean and cold water respectively. The orifice is defined as the restriction in such a system. The use of emery concentrate as a waterproof material in the production of seats and regulator plugs, and the use of sand in metal casting was also introduced by al-Jazari (Clarke, 1978). From this discussion, it is quite evident that this Arabic engineer contributed much in modern engineering, art and building subject yet his work largely remains in his publications that have been adopted as manuscripts stored largely in the Suleymaniye Library located in Istanbul, although most of the manuscripts are scattered in other libraries too. This has led to the lack of recognition from the fact that most of the original work is housed in different localities hence infusing a major constraint in the digitization process.

Currently, al-Jazari’s work has greatly departed from his original stipulations since thy lack mathematical stipulations in his manuscripts. This has been used as the scapegoat in the argument for the delayed digitization of his manuscripts by artists. However, by citing Professor Al-Hassani’s work titled The Machines of Al-Jazari and Taqi Al-Din pursued in the University of Manchester, Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), we can conclude that digitization is possible. The professor was able to execute a complete arithmetical analysis of al-Jazari’s work incorporated in his 2001 project that can be validated by the Mechanical Engineering Department of UMIST. An intricate mathematic technique was infused in the study for the analysis part. The program MATHCAD was employed for drawing causal links and relations across the various equations used to express the motion for every machinery element (Al-Hassani, 2010). A few of the dimensions were acquired form the al-Jazari’s manuscripts. In the cases where the measurements were missing, the professor had to resort to a best estimate of the mechanical part.

Regarding the analysis, the professor reveals that the process has to begin with the equation of the various forces that are identified as subject to a given element. For instance, in al-Jazari’s double action pump, the professor would be required to equate the combined weight of all the pistons to the amount of water needed in the output channel. The piston weight is then balanced against the linking shaft force and the resulting figure is termed as the torque acting on the machinery’s camshaft. The torque defines the force needed to pump water from the source. These calculations have account for the friction created by the sliding faces incorporated in the machine. The form scoop-wheel mechanism has to be accounted for in the calculations too. With this, the professor then codes the set of equations into the MATHCAD and the computer is used to solve the equations as well as generate the geometrical and arithmetical components that can be used as statistical data to aid in the production of graphs (Al-Hassani, 2010). Once the graphs are completed, it becomes easy to appraise the machine efficacy. Efficacy is easily calculated from the torque and other forces to yield the level of stress that when compared to the strength and bulge aptitudes that are able to reveal whether the machine would be in a working condition.

3D Studio MAX R3.1 was the program used for modeling and simulation processes in the project. The objects were constructed with the defined measurements and the modeling aspect first carried out before the graphics were taken (Al-Hassani, 2010). This involved the simulation of the machines with the use of paper craft and upon the completion the objects, the pictures from al-Jazari’s book would be used to decide whether the objects were realistic or they required more work for the sake of resemblance. Some of the objects required modification for them to be modeled in a similar pattern that would resemble the real creations. Third, the objects would be allocated construction materials that would be used to infuse an element of realism on the object. Lastly, the items would be positioned in different settings as deemed suitable with different lighting and camera angles used to achieve the best look. These four steps encompassed the animation component.

With the graphics, the professor would combine a number of camera angles to amplify the different components covered. For instance, a long shot would be used to illuminate the object lengthwise and from the top to the bottom. A close up view would be used to draw the attention of the viewer to a specific component of the modeled machine by either blurring the unwanted parts or simply thinning the lens focus to the required component (Khatib, 2006). An extreme close up view could be used as an equivalent of exploded views that are used to show details that cannot be visible to the human eye like the fitting of tiny gear cots into wheel notches. Objects are also given close up and long shots for the front elevation, end (right and left) elevations and the plan. This gives an informed view of the different sided of the object. The 3D representation is able to give a 360-degree rotating view that is interactive in nature and able to display the movements of each section during a normal operation (Al-Hassani, 2010).

The user interactivity enables the user to manipulate the object into different viewing angles that are able to give an informed full view of the machine. The 3D sketching aid tool is stored up on compact discs that are able to support an iterative creation process that can be completed in a period ranging above a day’s work. In addition to this, the program offers the ability to incorporate changes in the construction procedure. This then marks the simulation process form 2D format to 3D (Al-Hassani, 2010). This aspect of measurement accordance and the creation of 3D animations for al-Jazari’s work are only known to few individuals either students of Professor Al-Hassani who have had the ability to interact with him or those individuals that have been able to attend his seminars. The professor’s technique is a clear indication that the manuscripts can be translated into 3D digital format that can easily be stored and accessed from various locations. This process can be sued to simulate and build the other remaining machines from al-Jazari’s collection (Bunch, & Hellemans, 1994). The advantage attached to the adoption of this modeling and 3D simulation process is that it has been tested for both its applicability and feasibility in the art field and it has emerged as successful.

If this study is pursued, the strength lies in the ability to digitally preserve al-Jazari’s work that can then be easily stored in libraries and other resource centers since the storage space required is small. These digital representations can be used in school curriculums to aid in the study of such significant Islamic works in history with interactive session that will make it easier for students to understand and comprehend the given intricate designs (Hand, 2008). The weakness of the study arises in the time factor. As noted, the process is very involving and with the refinements and remodeling sessions needed to model the objects into completely similar end products it may require more than one simulation until the final product can be arrived on. The process is also very tiring and it will consume a lot of resources from the trial and error sessions involved. Remodeling of equations and reanalysis of the whole mathematical and geometrical processes will be required once the remodeling process occurs meaning that the involved candidates should repeat the whole process again which is very tiring (Wyngaard, 2003). Decisions regarding materials use for the purpose of realism have to solely deliberated between the members involved in the study.     






Works Cited:

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Al-Hassani, Salim. Al-Jazari: The Mechanical Genius., 2010. Web. 3 Aug. 2010. <>

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