Fuat Sezgin A living library of Islamic Sciences
Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin is an Islamic scholar who specializes in the history of Arabic-Islamic science. He is professor emeritus of the History of Natural Science at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and the founder and honorary director of the Institute of the History of the Arab Islamic Sciences there. Today the Institute houses the most comprehensive collection of texts on the history of Arabic-Islamic science in the world. He also founded a unique museum in Frankfurt, bringing together more than 800 replicas of historical scientific instruments, tools and maps, mostly belonging to the Golden Age of Islamic science. A very similar museum was opened in 2008 in Istanbul.
Fuat Sezgin is the author and editor of numerous publications. His 13-volume work on “History of Arabic Literature” (1967-2000) is the cornerstone reference on the history of science and technology in the Islamic world. He knows more than 27 languages including Arabic, Latin, English, German, French, Persian, and others. He has argued that Muslim seafarers had reached the Americas by 1420, citing as evidence the inscription on a map and the fact that the high longitudinal precision of early maps of the Americas would not have been attainable using Western navigational technology. He received several awards, including the King Faisal International Prize of Islamic Studies in 1978 and Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He is member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco and academies of Arabic Language in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad.
He was born in Turkey on 24 October 1924. He graduated the middle and high schools in Erzurum, a city of Turkey, and then came to Istanbul to study mathematics and become an engineer according to his first plan. On the advice of a relative, Sezgin attended a seminar in the Institute for the Oriental Studies at Istanbul University that was given by the German orientalist Hellmut Ritter, who was one of the most renowned specialists in his field. This caused Fuat Sezgin to change his plans radically. Under the influence of what Hellmut Ritter talked about, the following day Fuat Sezgin went to the Institute to enroll on the courses. Neither the expired deadline for enrollment on the courses nor Hellmut Ritter’s warnings regarding the difficulties of the field dissuaded him the decision.
When the university education was suspended because of the advance of the German army as far as Bulgaria in 1943, Ritter recommended his students to spend this long interval of time profitably and learn Arabic. Fuat Sezgin decided to compare Taberi’s exegesis of Qur’an with the translations of the Qur’an, and for 17 hours a day during six months he studied Arabic to understand the exegesis written in a difficult language. At the end of the six months he was reading the Arabic of the Taberi’s exegesis easily as if he was reading a newspaper. When Hellmut Ritter put the Ihya Ulum al-Din by al-Gazzali in front of Fuat Sezgin to read, he was very happy when his student succeeded in reading this easily. He suggested to Fuat Sezgin, who is very capable in learning languages, that he learns five languages simultaneously and start to learn a new language every year. Sezgin sustained this fast pace of work into his old age. Now he knows more than 27 languages.
In 1947, after Sezgin finished his thesis about the development of the science of al-Badii, under the supervision of Hellmut Ritter, he prepared a second thesis regarding the philological exegesis in Abu Ubayda Ma’mar ibn al-Musanna’s Majaz al-Qur’an. While Fuat Sezgin was working on the Majaz al-Qur’an for his doctoral thesis, he noticed that some places in Majaz al-Qur’an were also found in the hadith book by al-Bukhari. Bukhari’s use of written sources proved that the claims of the previous academics regarding hadith scholars just using oral traditions were wrong. Fuat Sezgin published in 1956 his dissertation titled ‘‘Studies in the Written Sources of al-Bukhari’’.
When Fuat Sezgin saw his name on a list of the names of the 147 academics to be taken away universities which had been and prepared by the new government following the military coup of 1960, he was forced to continue his studies outside Turkey. Leaving his homeland in desperation, he continued to teach and research at Frankfurt University. In 1965, he wrote his second doctoral dissertation on Jabir ibn Hayyan in the Institut für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften at Frankfurt University and one year later received the title of professor.
In 1967, he published the first volume of “History of Arabic Literature” which is the most comprehensive book in its field, and it was the beginning of the history of science until today. He is writing these days the 18th volume of his multi-volume book. Some subjects in different volumes of this comprehensive book are as follows: Qur’anic Sciences, sciences of hadith, history, Islamic law, dogmatics, sufism, poetry, medicine, pharmacology, zoology, veterinary, alchemy, astrology, meteorology and relevant topics, grammar, mathematical geography and cartography in Islam.
In 1978, Fuat Sezgin received the King Faysal International Prize for Islamic Studies. When this award was presented to him, he used it to found the Institute at Goethe University in Frankfurt, German, and he is still the head of the institute. He has been able to make over 800 instruments at the Museum of History of Islamic Science he founded in Frankfurt. In the same building there exists the History of Sciences Library of 45,000 books which he founded, carefully chosen and in spite of all difficulties. This library, which contains some books that are unique copies, is a reference library.
In 2008, a second museum, containing nearly 700 objects, was founded by the extraordinary efforts of Fuat Sezgin. All these objects were gained as a gift Fuat Sezgin and are displayed in the building inside Gülhane Park. These museums present comprehensively the inventions and discoveries which are Muslim scientist’s gift to humanity, the evolution of the history of science in its different disciplines, and innovations in their field. The objects are exhibited attractively and in a systematic order, and they cover the fields of astronomy, geography, navigation, timekeeping, geometry, optics, medicine, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, architecture, instruments and military technology. They show the great inventions and discoveries of the Islamic sciences and present to the visitors the fact that those inventions and discoveries in different ways reached Europe and were received and assimilated there. Thus, in realistic and objective ways, far away the feelings and prejudices, the museum demonstrates that the history of sciences is a unified whole.
Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin wrote a five-volume work of 1,121 pages entitled Science and Technology in Islam which introduces the instruments in these museums. Such a comprehensive work could for the first time be written and was translated into four languages; Turkish, English, German and French. He is, indeed, an amazing and great historian of our sciences.
Jobayer Al Mahmud, Student, Uludag University, Bursa, Turkey.