Finding Reveals Connection Between Gaelic Ireland and Islamic Worlds
The Avicenna Fragment is an Irish translation of parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back in the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sina (980–1037), better known as Avicenna, who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland. University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of a small Latin manual printed in London in 1534/1536. However it was not the book’s content that Professor Macháin was interested in but the binding which contained the fragment. The above image is a digitised version of the binding that was opened out after the binding was removed from the manuscript with the permission of the owners.
ByNEWS AND VIEWS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, IRELAND
“The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure” — Professor Macháin
A previously undiscovered 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, reveals an enchanting connection between Gaelic Ireland and the Islamic world, and illustrates how medieval Ireland was once at the centre of medical scholarship in the world. University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of an early printed book, with an exciting connection to medieval Irish learning.
A 15th-century discovery in a 16th-century book
The book, a pocket-sized Latin manual of local administration, was printed in London in 1534/1536 and had been in the family’s possession since that time. What was of interest to Prof. Ó Macháin was the binding of the book. This consisted of a sheet, full of text in Irish, cut from a 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, that had been trimmed and folded and stitched to the spine of the printed book to form a sturdy binding.
“The use of parchment cut from old manuscripts as a binding for later books is not unusual in the European tradition,” says Ó Macháin, “but this is the first time that a case has come to light of such a clear example of the practice in a Gaelic context.” From photographs of the binding supplied by the owners, Prof. Ó Macháin established that the Irish text was a medical one. “A quarter of what survives of late-medieval manuscripts in the Irish language is medical in content,” says Ó Macháin, ‘an indication of the practical purpose of these books in Ireland of the time.”
The identity of the text was established immediately by Ó Macháin’s collaborator of many years, Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the only living expert on medieval Irish medicine. It is a fragment of a translation into Irish — previously unrecorded — of the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sena (980–1037), also known as Avicenna, considered one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age.
The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland
The ‘Canon of Medicine’ was a great medical encyclopedia which, through translation into Latin (from which the Irish text itself is translated), achieved great popularity in Europe, where state-of-the-art medical theory and practice in medieval times had their origins in the Muslim world. The Irish fragment contains parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland.
Medical scholarship in medieval Gaelic Ireland was on a par with that practised on the Continent and was the most outward-looking of all the native branches of learning. There is evidence of Irish scholars travelling to European medical schools, and bringing their learning back to the medical schools of Ireland.
Because of the importance of the manuscript fragment to the history of Irish learning and medicine, the owners agreed that the binding should be removed from the book by John Gillis of TCD, opened out and digitised under the supervision of Prof. Ó Macháin to whom they entrusted the book, and a new binding provided. This was completed and ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ is now available for viewing on the Irish Script on Screen website.
“The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure,” says Ó Macháin, “one of those occasions when many people, not least the owners of the book, were working together towards a common purpose for the cause of pure learning. It was a pleasure to have been able to make it happen and to have been part of it.”
Following the discovery, a public seminar on ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ and on aspects of Gaelic medieval medicine was hosted by University College Cork on Thursday, March 7, 2019.
The following piece has been adapted from the NASA website; see notes  and  for links
One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s OPPORTUNITY rover mission came to an end in February 2019 after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.
The OPPORTUNITY rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive OPPORTUNITY in February 2019, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as OPPORTUNITY that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.” And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of OPPORTUNITY, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), the rover vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.
This image taken by the panoramic camera aboard the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the rover’s empty lander, the Challenger Memorial Station, at Meridiani Planum, Mars. The image was acquired on the rover’s 24 sol, or Martian day. Time. This mosaic image consists of 12 color images acquired with the camera’s red, green and blue filters. The color balance has been set to approximate the colors that a human eye would see. Opportunity is celebrating its seventh anniversary on the Red Planet, having landed on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, Pacific Time), for what was to be a 90-day mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
During one of its drives on the surface, the rover examined soil targets that were designated as “Mobarak” in honor of Persian New Year for a period of 3 sols between March 25 – March 27, 2005. (The term sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars. A mean Martian solar day, or “sol”, is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds).
OPPORTUNITY had its head down in a trough trying to figure out what the trough soil is made of. Two days later, the rover studied two other targets, “Norooz” and “Mayberooz,” again studying the soil properties.
It may be of interest to note that several craters on the moon are named after famous Muslim scientists including Fatimid astronomers Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) and Ibn Yunus, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and the Alamut scholar Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.
Excerpts from NASA
Sol-by-sol summaries: Sols 415 to 417 (March 25-27, 2005):
Zeroing in on a soil target called “Mobarak” in honor of Persian New Year, Opportunity has had its head down in a trough for three sols trying to figure out what the trough soil is made of. During an observation like this, it uses all of its in-situ instruments taking microscopic images, alpha particle X-ray spectrometer readings and Moessbauer spectrometer readings.
After Opportunity had looked at the soil in the trough, it was time to examine the soil at the top of the ripple. The rover planners perfectly executed a 7-meter (23-foot) drive that placed the rover right at the top of the ripple. Opportunity deployed its arm once again and inspected the soil.
Sols 419 and 420:
Here, Opportunity has the chance to look at two targets, “Norooz” and “Mayberooz,” again studying the soil properties.
The recent CNN photo piece On the trail of Iran’s ‘Assassins’ in the Alborz Mountains has stirred an immense amount of interest on the subject of Alamut and the Ismaili community that for more than 150 years protected itself from its enemies by securing fortresses like Alamut in Iran and Syria.
In a high powered and moving poem penned originally for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There, Shariffa Keshavjee reminds all our readers about the tragedy that took place in Alamut nearly 800 years ago when the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan had declared his intention to destroy the Ismailis with the following chilling words, “None of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.”
The context of Shariffa’s poem can further be appreciated through the following 2 excerpts taken from recent non-Ismaili sources.
1. In his extraordinary historical fictional book Samarkand relating to the turbulent history of Iran from the 11th to the 20th century, which was partially inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubayat, the award winning French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf writes:
“He [the Mongol officer] was carrying a torch in his hand and to show [the historian – Juvayni] just how much in a hurry he was, he placed it next to a pile of dusty scrolls. The historian gave in and gathered into his hands and upto his armpits as many [manuscripts] as he could grab and when a manuscript entitled Eternal Secrets of Stars and Numbers fell to the ground, he did not bend over to pick it up again.
“Thus it was that the Assassins’ library burnt for seven days and seven nights causing the loss of innumerable works, of which there was no copy remaining, and which are supposed to contain the best guarded secrets of the universe.”
2. The online website Iran.com offers the following description:
“The Mongol leader [Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan] journeyed himself to the citadel in 1256 and ordered everything to be destroyed, including the famous library. Among the precious writings that disappeared were the works of Hasan himself and the complete history of the Assassins and their doctrines. But just before the burning he allowed his historian Juvainy (who was writing a biography of the Mongol prince) to enter the library and bring out a few of the books, enough as would fit into a small wheelbarrow. No time was allowed to consider the matter.
“Juvainy hurriedly saved a few Qurans, a chronicle of Alamut and a biography of Hasan Sabbah. Everything else perished in the flames. The vast library filled with….hundreds of thousands of manuscripts burned for seven days and seven nights bringing to an end the history of the Ismailis of Alamut. Over the years, knowledge of the Ismailis degenerated into misunderstandings, romances and other fanciful nonsenses such as those popularised by the explorer Marco Polo.”
Inferno of Alamut
By SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
I often go back in my mind To a time when giant forts dwarfed Our human form But great minds soared Soared about the forts of Alamut Where great minds thought The scribes told wonders Of the worlds of new continent New passages in the oceans Of search for truth.
I often go back in my mind To the pain of persecution The fear of the self Above all the anguish The anguish of lost knowledge Beautifully bound skillfully crafted Books of great knowledge Of mathematics and cartography Of mystical passion for the divine The deep yearning
I often go back in my mind to the Night the books were burnt The pages curled in fires of doom The ink evaporates Loving thoughts of seers up in smoke Parchments and tomes flung into Feeding the bonfire of lost knowledge What the mind perceived What the pen had scribed Was gone for ever
The smoke rises over Over the fort The charred air rises The effort to stop in vain The scream of anguish Stuck in the throat As the gaze falls upon The lost knowledge of Alamut The human form dwarfed Dwarfed
Gagged In its inability to act.
This however is renaissance Where time and knowledge Laid at the feet of the Master Not sepulchered in the fort But given birth by the vision No longer subjugated Free to search into cyberspace Following vision without boundaries Reaching over mountains across seas Reaching heights
Unthought of in the sojourn in Alamut.
Date posted: February 8, 2019.
Shariffa Keshavjee is a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. She is the founding member and director of the Hawkers Market School and the Kigera Girl Guides Centre which provide educational opportunities for destitute girls in the country’s slums. Her Hawkers Market Girls Centre has been the recipient of the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2004 in which the centre was given $85,000. In addition, she is also the founding member of FONA (Friends of the Nairobi Arboretum) which is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s forest and preserved arboreta. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.
[Numerous reports in the Iranian media in November 2014 announced that Iran was planning to offer the castle of Alamut to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The historical significance of the fortress dates back to 1090 A.C. when the Ismaili dai Hassan Sabbah chose the Alamut region as the headquarters of Ismailis following the Nizari-Musteali split in Fatimid Egypt. But four years after the announcement, Iran Daily reports that numerous factors have prevented the registration of Alamut as a World Heritage Site site.]
A winter view of the unassailable rock of Alamut and the famous castle of Alamut nesting on top of this huge mountain of granite stone. This was the Capital of a Confederation of the Ismaili State founded in 1090 AC, by a great genius of all times, Hasan-i Sabbah which lasted for 171 years against formidable enemies and ultimately surrendered before the Mongols in 1256 AC. The Ismaili State was defended by a string of castles, over one hundred in number and Alamut being the capital of the State. This photo of was taken on December 31, 2011 by Alireza Javaheri. Photo credit: Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.
By CULTURAL HERITAGE DESK, IRAN DAILY
Alamut located in the northwestern province of Qazvin as an untapped and historical region deserves to be registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List but various factors have prevented the goal from being reached.
Director General of Qazvin Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Department Mohammad Ali Hazrati said that a limited number of foreigners travel to Qazvin Province because it doesn’t have any registered site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
He added efforts are underway to send the dossier of Alamut natural and historical site to UNESCO for world registration.
Hazrati said Alamut with beautiful natural landscape has several ancient structures including Hassan Sabbah Castle and Pich Bon Caravanserai.
A number of regulations should be observed for registration of any site on UNESCO’s List.
“Illegal construction of buildings within the boundary of the historical structures, including Hassan Sabbah Castle, is among the problems faced by Alamut in this respect”, he said.
He added that a decree was issued for destruction of structures located in Alamut historical texture, but the resistance of local officials as well as some social considerations prevented it from being enforced.
Hazrati said the registration of Alamut on UNESCO’s World Heritage List would help the ancient site to be recognized more internationally, draw a large number of the visitors to the province and boost tourism and employment in the region.
The Former head of Iranian Center for Archeological Research, Hamideh Choobak, said all ancient sites located worldwide are of high value but international recognition would help increase the governments’ responsibility to protect and maintain them.
“Specific funds will also be made available to the sites by the government and international organizations”, she added.
Choobak, who is the head of Alamut Cultural Heritage Site, noted that Alamut deserves to be registered on UNESCO’s List but it is not enough.
She stressed that a number of conditions should be provided to help realize the target.
The Milky Way extends across the sky above the mountain fortress of Alamut in this all-sky view from Iran. The light dome at the lower right is from the capital Tehran, over 100 kilometers away to the southwest. The light on the upper right is from Qazvin, the closest major city to Alamut. Photo: Copyright. Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net.
The official said Hassan Sabbah Castle has been registered on the National Heritage List in the year to March 2002, adding some organizations failed to perform their responsibility toward the structure.
She reiterated that related organizations should raise the local people’s awareness about the benefits of the site’s registration on UNESCO’s List and encourage them to cooperate with officials in this respect.
“Sabbah’s rule from Alamut is shrouded in mystery and enigma…partly because most Ismaili records of the era were destroyed by the Mongols while the writings of their detractors survived. Fused with the half-truths and fanciful tales of European travelers including Marco Polo along with the sensationalist confections of pseudo-scholars, the Ismailis were long cast in lurid light”…MORE ON CNN: A PHOTO TOUR OF ALBORZ MOUNTAINS
Click on image for CNN article and photo gallery
PIECES ON SIMERG: SPECTACULAR NIGHT TIME PHOTO OF ALAMUT AND ESSAYS ON THE MYTH OF THE ASSASSINS
In this spectacular starry night scene of Alamut published on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News, a meteor’s streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.
“Prophet Muhammad believed that freedom of religion and civic rights were important components of a ‘Muslim Nation’….His covenants with Christians can be viewed as a kind of medicine to cure the diseases of Islamic extremism and Islamophobia.” — Rice University Study
The Covenant with the Monks of Mount Sinai was commissioned by Prophet Muhammad, with Hazrat Ali as its scriber. Manuscript copies are from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, and Simonopetra. Photo: Wikipedia.
The following piece is adapted from a report released by Rice University – ed.
Prophet Muhammad believed that freedom of religion and civic rights were important components of a ‘Muslim nation,’ according to a Rice University analysis of the Prophet’s covenants with Christians.
Researcher Craig Considine, a lecturer in Rice’s Department of Sociology, argues that the covenants can be used to develop a stronger democratic partnership between Muslims and Christians in the Islamic world and elsewhere. His study is published in the journal Religions under the title “Religious Pluralism and Civic Rights in a ‘Muslim Nation’: An Analysis of Prophet Muhammad’s Covenants with Christians.” It can be downloaded through the link provided at the bottom of this post.
“These covenants were designed to protect and even defend peaceful Christian communities, not attack them,” Considine said. He found that these agreements established freedom of religion and civic rights for Christians living within the “ummah” (Arabic for “community”). “The research clearly shows that contemporary Islamic states that mistreat and discriminate against Christians cannot be justified in light of Prophet Muhammad’s covenants,” adds Considine.
The covenants were written between 622 and 632 A.D. Considine said it is assumed they were written because of Prophet Muhammad’s desire to build alliances to bolster his new community and because of his positive interactions with members of the Christian faith. The paper explores the Prophet’s covenants with the monks of Mount Sinai, the Christians of Najran, the Christians of Persia and the Christians of the World.
In “The Covenant of the Prophet with the Christians of Persia,” the Prophet was emphatic on the issue of complete religious freedom:
“And even as they honor and respect me, so shall Muslims care for that people as being under our protection and whensoever any distress or discomfort shall overtake (Christians), Muslims shall hold themselves in duty bound to aid and care for them, for they are a people subject to my Nation, obedient to their word, whose helpers also they are. It therefore is proper for my sake to attend to their comfort, protection and aid, in face of all opposition and distress, suppressing everything that becomes a means to their spoliation,” the Prophet wrote.
Considine said a similar — if not identical — passage is found in the three other covenants addressed in this paper.
Article continues after Aga Khan quote….
HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN ON THE ETHIC OF PLURALISM
“A cosmopolitan ethic is one that welcomes the complexity of human society. It balances rights and duties, freedom and responsibility. It is an ethic for all peoples, the familiar and the Other, whether they live across the street or across the planet…..Sadly, the world is becoming more pluralist in fact, but not necessarily in spirit. “Cosmopolitan” social patterns have not yet been matched by “a cosmopolitan ethic.”…..As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Qur’an which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says: “Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women…” I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.” — Excerpts from the Aga Khan’s speech made to the Parliament of Canada, Ottawa, February 27, 2014.
“Prophet Muhammad made it clear that freedom of religion is an inherent right for Christians living in a Muslim nation,” he said. “His cordial relations with Christians were not due merely to political expediency or personal aspirations, but rather they resulted from his belief that Christians should be able to freely practice their own faith in accordance with their own will. Christian Persians were under no compulsion whatsoever to accept or reject Islam.”
Considine also noted that Prophet Muhammad believed that a Muslim nation must also extend civic rights to Christian religious leaders, as discussed in “The Covenant of the Prophet with the Christians of the World.” The Prophet wrote:
“The covenant of Allah is that I should protect their land, their monasteries, with my power, my horses, my men, my strength and my Muslim followers in any region, far away or close by, and that I should protect their businesses. I grant security to them, their churches, their businesses, their houses of worship, the places of their monks, the places of their pilgrims, wherever they may be found.”
“The Prophet Muhammad did not want to inflict harm on Christians, nor interfere or encroach on their privacy or private property,” Considine said. “For the state to give preference to one or more groups means devaluating citizens based upon their ethnic or cultural backgrounds.”
Considine said documents have been located in obscure monasteries around the world and books that have been out of print for centuries.
Considine said the rediscovery of these documents provides an opportunity to give new birth to Islam and regenerate the essence of Islamic teachings. He hopes that the findings will have a positive impact on the impressions of Muslims in today’s society and will combat anti-Muslim sentiments.
“Prophet Muhammad’s covenants with Christians can be viewed as a kind of medicine to cure the diseases of Islamic extremism and Islamophobia,” Considine said. “His message radiates compassion and peace. This is what American society — and indeed the world — needs now more than ever.”
Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London, highlights in his latest book Philosophy in the Islamic World just how influential certain theologians and mystics from this milieu have been. Asked to single out one thinker, he names the Persian polymath Avicenna (980-1037) who invented “probably the most influential and interesting medieval attempt to show that God exists”…. Read More
To mark the 1,000th birth anniversary of the most influential of Islam’s philosopher-scientists, UNESCO minted this commemorative medal in 1980. Designed by sculptor-medallist Victor Douek, the obverse depicts a scene showing Avicenna surrounded by his disciples. Please click on image for article in Irish Times.
An important note to our readers: The website is undergoing maintenance and format changes over the next few days. The pages may look different each time you visit Simerg, and we ask you to bear with us during this temporary phase.
Chandra’s image of SN 1006 shows X-rays from multimillion degree gas (red/green) and high-energy electrons (blue). In the year 1006 a “new star” appeared in the sky and in just a few days it became brighter than the planet Venus. We now know that the event heralded not the appearance of a new star, but the cataclysmic death of an old one. It was likely a white dwarf star that had been pulling matter off an orbiting companion star. When the white dwarf mass exceeded the stability limit (known as the Chandrasekhar limit), it exploded. Material ejected in the supernova produced tremendous shock waves that heated gas to millions of degrees and accelerated electrons to extremely high energies. Photo and caption: Wikipedia.
Editor’s note: Just over a thousand years ago, the stellar explosion known as Supernova SN 1006 was observed and recorded by Fatimid astronomer Ibn Ridwan (see Aliza Moledina’s piece Ibn Ridwan and Supernova 1006). Scientists have now studied a text by Avicenna which describes the explosion in his Kitab al-Shifa (Book of Healing), a masterpiece written in several volumes that tackles Earth sciences, logic, philosophy, physics, mathematics, astronomy, music, psychology and theology. The report on the findings that appears below is taken from the April 24th, 2016, issue of the popular Russian science magazine http://www.sputniknews.com. The explanation of the findings by German scientists in Avicenna’s Book of Healing may be read at the Astronomical Notes Journal by clicking on http://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.03798v1.pdf.
For the first time, scientists have studied a text by noted tenth century polymath Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in Latin), in which the scholar described observations of a supernova in the year 397 of the Islamic Hijri calendar, calculated as 1,006 AD.
Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) was a Persian physician and philosopher who is regarded as the most famous and influential of the medieval Islamic world’s philosopher-scientists.
The German scientists who studied Ibn Sina’s account believe it was written when he was in present-day Iran, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan, most probably the latter. They translate his description of the supernova’s form, direction and appearance.
Ibn Sina wrote that the object was “tailless,” which distinguished it from the more common transient objects, comets with tails.
The new star was “getting fainter and fainter until it disappeared,” and that it “became fainter and disappeared,” he wrote.
“At the beginning it was towards a darkness and greenness, then it began to throw out sparks and then it became more and more whitish.”
To mark the 1,000th birth anniversary of the most influential of Islam’s philosopher-scientists, UNESCO minted this commemorative medal in 1980. Designed by sculptor-medallist Victor Douek, the obverse depicts a scene showing Avicenna surrounded by his disciples. Photo: UNESCO/N. Burke. Copyright.
His Arabic-language report is one of several historical observations of supernovas that have helped scientists in their understanding of these celestial events, and adds to previous information about the supernova in 1006 AD from observers in Yemen, Morocco, China and Japan.
Contemporary scientists have also provided today’s astronomers with information about supernova sightings in 1054 (from Eastern Asia and Arabia), 1181 (Eastern Asia), 1572 and 1604 AD (the latter two sighted in Eastern Asia and Europe).
“Historic reports can deliver the date of the observation (hence, the age of the supernova remnant and, if existing, of the neutron star) together with a light curve (hence, possibly the supernova type), sometimes the color and its evolution, and the position of the supernova,” the scientists explained in their paper, which can be viewed by clicking http://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.03798v1.pdf.
Equinox on a Spinning Earth. Image Credit: NASA, Meteosat, Robert Simmon. Please click to watch a 12 second time-lapse video (see explanation below).
When does the line between day and night become vertical? In 2016, the spring equinox in the Northern hemisphere ( it is the start of autumn in the Southern hemisphere) comes on March 20 at 4:30 UTC (March 19 at 11:30 p.m. CDT). Also, according to http://www.earthsky.org, the 2016 spring is the earliest spring since 1896. The website explains:
“The March equinox can come on March 19, 20 or 21. And 2016 has the earliest March equinox since the year 1896. Is it a coincidence that 2012 also had the earliest spring since 1896? No. Recall that both 2012 and 2016 are leap years. But 2016’s spring comes even earlier than the spring of 2012.” 
At that time the day and night are most nearly equal. At an equinox, the Earth’s terminator — the dividing line between day and night — becomes vertical and connects the north and south poles. The above time-lapse video from 2010-2011 demonstrates this by displaying an entire year on planet Earth in twelve seconds. From geosynchronous orbit, the Meteosat satellite recorded these infrared images of the Earth every day at the same local time. 
The video started at the September 2010 equinox with the terminator line being vertical. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the terminator was seen to tilt in a way that provides less daily sunlight to the northern hemisphere, causing winter in the north. As the year progressed, the March 2011 equinox arrived halfway through the video, followed by the terminator tilting the other way, causing winter in the southern hemisphere — and summer in the north. The captured year ends again with the September equinox, concluding another of billions of trips the Earth has taken — and will take — around the Sun. 
SPRING TIME PLEASURE FOR LITTLE GIRLS AT A VANCOUVER BEACH
On a lovely spring like day at the Kitsilano beach in Vancouver, Canada, a little girl attempts to “pop” one of the several soap-bubbles released moments earlier by her mother. Photo: Nurin Merchant, Guelph, Canada.
This long stretch of soap-bubble eludes the girl, as her sister watches her but…
…then a similar dolphin like bubble reaches her at the right height which she is about to pop to her delight. Photo: Nurin Merchant, Guelph, Canada.
After a very brief explanation by the mother, the keen girl wastes no time in learning the art of creating a soap-bubble, and manages to release a little bubble of her own as her sister watches her. Photo: Nurin Merchant, Guelph, Canada.
Conceived and created by Nurin Merchant of the University of Guelph, this Navroz greeting incorporates the rose and jasmine flowers which are extremely popular in Iran during the celebration of Navroz. The base of the picture shows shoots of wheat grass signifying robust evergreen health throughout the year. Image: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.
Editor’s note: Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the USA in 2001 which killed almost 3000 people in an instant, numerous articles began to appear in the media around the world that drew parallels between the actions of Al-Qaeda and the warfare activity of the Ismailis during the 12th and 13th centuries that over time grew into fantastic legendary tales. In response to one such column that appeared in the October 8 edition of Canada’s National Post newspaper, Professor Azim Nanji and Dr. Farhad Daftary of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London contributed the following letter in the newspaper:
“It is unfortunate that the search for historical connections in the aftermath of the terrible events of Sept. 11 has made historical truth itself a casualty. George Jonas’s column, Mortal Enemies Are to be Destroyed (Oct. 8) attempts to draw parallels between the ancient history of the Ismaili Muslims and the actions of these terrorists. In the last 25 years, scholarship, Muslim and Western, has shown the legend about the Assassins to be a fabrication concocted by contemporary enemies of the Ismailis. The Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims organized a state in Iran and Syria in the 12th and 13th centuries. It flourished for almost two centuries, as a place of learning, scholarship and international influence, in spite of adverse circumstances and militant hostility from its neighbours. These Ismailis were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded Cairo and established the University of Al‑Azhar, acts which represented a truly brilliant epoch in medieval Muslim history However, due to hostility prevailing in political and military spheres, the Ismailis became the object of theological and intellectual attacks, as their society attracted many scholars and scientists to their libraries and observatories. This climate of threat was accentuated by direct military attempts to destroy their centres and communities. It is in this context that their attempts at self‑defence need to be understood. These were directed at political and military figures and never against the general populace: a fact recognized by their enemies. Reporters obsessed with tracing tenuous historical links to current episodes of violence can learn much from history about the rich intellectual and cultural interactions among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others.”
Sporadic responses like the letter above, academic books by Dr. Daftary and the late Dr Peter Willey and many others as well as scholarly articles in journals do not appear to have made any impact in demystifying and debunking the myth of the assassins. Furthermore, the non-availability and non-distribution of important historical and theological works on Ismailis, in giant brick and mortar stores like Chapters and Indigo in Canada haven’t helped the cause either. There are a number of enjoyable, accessible and easy to comprehend books, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies and other academic and non-academic publishers, that should be on bookstore shelves alongside numerous Sunni, Shia and general works on Islam and other religions to counter misperceptions and negative stereotyping about the Ismailis as well as to impart an understanding of the community’s religious doctrines from Ismaili sources.
The plot of the highly popular video game “Assassins’ Creed” which is now available on almost all computer platforms revolves around the legendary “assassins” of the 12th and 13th centuries. The video game, which was created in 2007, was inspired by the 1930’s novel Alamut by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol. New versions of the game have appeared annually since but the 2016 edition has been bypassed to prepare for a greatly enhanced 2017 version. However, a movie version of the video game is planned for release at the end of this year under the title “Assassin’s Creed: The Movie.”
Now, in response to the idea that ISIS or IS (Islamic State) is based on the Assassins, Dr. Farhad Daftary has contributed the following piece for the February 21, 2016, (USA) edition of The Conversation, which has a mission to provide readers with a reliable source of high quality, evidence based information.
Islamic State and the Assassins: reviving fanciful tales of the medieval Orient
(How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of Islamic State? Our series on the jihadist group’s origins tries to address this question by looking at the interplay of historical and social forces that led to its advent.
Today, historian Farhad Daftary debunks the idea that Islamic State is based on the so-called Assassins or hashishin, the fighting corps of the fledgling medieval Nizari Ismaili state).
Many Western commentators have tried to trace the ideological roots of Islamic State (IS) to earlier Islamic movements. Occasionally, they’ve associated them with the medieval Ismailis, a Shiʿite Muslim community made famous in Europe by returning Crusaders as the Assassins.
But any serious inquiry shows the teachings and practices of medieval Ismailis, who had a state of their own in parts of Iran from 1090 to 1256, had nothing in common with the senseless terrorist ideology and ruthless destruction of IS and its supporters.
Attacks on civilians, including women and children, and engaging in the mass destruction of property are forbidden both by Prophet Muhammad and in the tenets of Islamic law. Needless to say, the Ismailis never descended to such terrorist activities, even under highly adversarial circumstances.
Significant discordance exists between the medieval Ismailis and contemporary terrorists, who – quite inappropriately – identify themselves as members of an Islamic polity.
Fanciful Oriental tales
The Ismailis, or more specifically the Nizari Ismailis, founded a precarious state in 1090 under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah. As a minority Shi’ite Muslim community, they faced hostility from the Sunni-Abbasid establishment (the third caliphate after the death of the Prophet Muhammed) and their political overlords, the Seljuq Turks, from very early on.
Struggling to survive in their network of defensive mountain fortresses remained the primary objective of the Ismaili leadership, centred on the castle of Alamut (in the north of modern-day Iran). Their state survived against all odds until it was destroyed by the all-conquering Mongols in 1256.
During the course of the 12th century, the Ismailis were incessantly attacked by the armies of the Sunni Seljuq sultans, who were intensely anti-Shiʿite. As they couldn’t match their enemies’ superior military power, the Ismailis resorted to the warfare tactic of selectively removing Seljuq military commanders and other prominent adversaries who posed serious existential threats to them in particular localities.
These daring missions were carried out by the Ismaili fidaʾis, who were deeply devoted to their community. The fidaʾis comprised the fighting corps of the Ismaili state.
But the Ismailis didn’t invent the policy of assassinating enemies. It was a practice employed by many Muslim groups at the time, as well as by the Crusaders and many others throughout history.
Unfortunately, almost all assassinations of any significance occurring in the central lands of Islam became automatically attributed to the Ismaili fidaʾis. And a series of fanciful tales were fabricated around their recruitment and training.
These tales, rooted in the “imaginative ignorance” of the Crusaders, were concocted and put into circulation by them and their occidental observers; they’re not found in contemporary Muslim sources.
The so-called Assassin legends, which culminated in Marco Polo’s synthesis, were meant to provide satisfactory explanations for the fearless behaviour of the fidaʾis, which seemed otherwise irrational to medieval Europeans.
The very term Assassin, which appears in medieval European literature in a variety of forms, such as Assassini, was based on variants of the Arabic word hashish (plural, hashishin) and applied to the Nizari Ismailis of Syria and Iran by other Muslims.
In all the Muslim sources where the Ismailis are referred to as hashishis, the term is used in its pejorative sense of “people of lax morality”. There’s no suggestion that they were actually using hashish. There’s no evidence that hashish, or any other drug, was administered to the fida’is, as alleged by Marco Polo.
The literal interpretation of the term for the Ismailis as an “order of crazed hashish-using Assassins” is rooted entirely in the fantasies of medieval Europeans.
Modern scholarship in Ismaili studies, based on the recovery and study of numerous Ismaili textual sources, has now begun to dispel many misconceptions regarding the Ismailis, including the myths surrounding their cadre of fidaʾis.
And the medieval Assassin legends, arising from the hostility of the Sunni Muslims to the Shiʿite Ismailis as well as the medieval Europeans’ fanciful impressions of the Orient, have been recounted and deconstructed.
A culture of learning and tolerance
Living in adverse circumstances, the Ismailis of Iran and Syria were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded the city of Cairo and established al-Azhar, perhaps the earliest university of the world. Although preoccupied with survival, the Ismailis of the Alamut period maintained a sophisticated outlook and a literary tradition, elaborating their teachings within a Shiʿite theological framework.
An entirely fictional illustration from The Travels of Marco Polo showing the Nizari imam Alâ al Dîn Muhammad (1221-1255) drugging his disciples. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Their leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, was a learned theologian. And the Ismaili fortresses of the period, displaying magnificent military architecture and irrigation skills, were equipped with libraries holding significant collections of manuscripts, documents and scientific instruments.
The Ismailis also extended their patronage of learning to outside scholars, including Sunnis, and even non-Muslims. They were very tolerant towards other religious communities.
In the last decades of their state, in the 13th century, even waves of Sunni Muslims found refuge in the Ismaili fortress communities of eastern Iran. These refugees were running from the Mongol hordes who were then establishing their hegemony over Central Asia.
All this stands in sharp contrast to the destructive policies of IS, which persecutes religious and ethnic minorities and enslaves women.
The medieval Ismailis embodied qualities of piety, learning and community life in line with established Islamic teachings. These traditions continue in the modern-day Ismaili ethos. And the present-day global Ismaili community represents one of the most progressive and enlightened communities of the Muslim world.
The Ismailis have never had anything in common with the terrorists of IS, who murder innocent civilians at random and en masse, and destroy monuments of humankind’s shared cultural heritage.
Global terrorism in any form under the banner of Islam is a new phenomenon without historical antecedents in either classical Islamic or any other tradition. IS’s ideology reflects a crude version of the intolerant Wahhabi theology expounded by the Sunni religious establishment of Saudi Arabia, which is itself a narrow perspective that fails to recognise any pluralism or diversity of interpretations in Islam.
Date posted on Simerg:Monday, February 29, 2016. Last updated:March 1, 2016 (12:50 EST).
This is the fifth article in The Conversation website’s series on the historical roots of Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days on The Conversation website.