From: Thomas Hockey et al. (eds.). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer Reference. New York: Springer, 2007, p. 837

Courtesy of

Nīsābūrī: al‐asan ibn Muammad ibn al‐usayn Niām al‐Dīn al‐Aʿraj al‐Nīsābūrī

Robert Morrison

BornNīshāpūr, (Iran)

Died(Iran), 1329/1330

Niām al‐Dīn al‐Aʿraj al‐Nīsābūrī composed several widely studied astronomy texts in the 14th century, which indicate the integration of astronomy within a tradition of religious scholarship in Islamic civilization. He was born into a Shīʿa family with roots in Qum.

The sources say little about Nīsābūrī's early life and education. By mid‐1303, Nīsābūrī had begun to write Shar Tarīr al‐Majisī (Commentary on the recension of the Almagest), a commentary on Naīr al‐Dīn al‐ūsī's Tarīr al‐Majisī (Recension of the Almagest) of Ptolemy. As was true for many commentaries in Islamic science, Nīsābūrī did not simply explain the meanings of the original text but included the results of his own work as well. In the Shar, Nīsābūrī devoted much space to observations of the obliquity of the ecliptic and to ʿUrī's work on instrument construction. Nīsābūrī also investigated whether Venus and Mercury had been observed to transit the Sun, an observation that would determine the position of the Sun with respect to Mercury and Venus. In 1304, Nīsābūrī arrived in Azerbaijan; by 1306 he was in Tabrīz, the largest city in Azerbaijan, where he completed the Shar. In Tabrīz, Nīsābūrī also began to study with the astronomer Qub al‐Dīn al‐Shīrāzī.

Nīsābūrī completed his second major text, Kashf‐i aqāʾiq‐i Zīj‐i Īlkhānī (Uncovering of the truths of the Īlkhānid astronomical handbook), in 1308/1309. The Kashf, a commentary on ūsī's astronomical handbook entitled Zīj‐i Īlkhānī, refers to the Shar. Nīsābūrī wrote the Kashf right after the Shar inasmuch as the Kashf focused on topics that were closely connected to the Shar, such as the observation and prediction of planetary positions.

The Tawī al‐Tadhkira (Elucidation of the Tadhkira), a commentary on ūsī's al‐Tadhkira fī ʿilm al‐hayʾa (Memento on astronomy), was Nīsābūrī's third and final text on astronomy. A cross‐reference to a Tadhkira commentary in the Shar shows that Nīsābūrī had begun to compose the Tawī before he finished the Shar.

In the Tawī, Nīsābūrī investigated theoretical topics, such as non‐Ptolemaic models for planetary motions, and topics that combined theory and observations, such as physical hypotheses that accounted for the observed variations in the obliquity of the ecliptic. Although the Shar and the Tawī evinced a mastery of the technical innovations of Islamic astronomy, Nīsābūrī did not make significant advances with the most difficult questions. Shīrāzī, however, did, and the weight of Shīrāzī's reputation may explain the coincidence of the date of the appearance of the Tawī with the date of Shīrāzī's death in 1311.

Īlkhānid ministers patronized Nīsābūrī's scientific work. The Īlkhānids were the descendents of Hülegü Khān (died: 1265), who had patronized the construction of the famous observatory at Marāgha, Azerbaijan, where both ūsī and Shīrāzī worked. Nīsābūrī dedicated the Shar to Khwāja Saʿd al‐Dīn Muammad ibn ʿAlī al‐Sāwajī. Sāwajī was chief minister (along with Rashīd al‐Dīn) under Īlkhānid Sultan Ghāzān (reigned: 1295–1304) and continued in that post until 1312 when Rashīd al‐Dīn had him executed. Shīrāzī's acquaintance with Sāwajī would have provided a way for Nīsābūrī to gain Sāwajī's patronage. There is a 1309 copy of the Kashf dedicated to al‐Sāwajī. Nīsābūrī dedicated the Tawī to a certain ʿAli ibn Mamūd al‐Yazdī.

Because the Shar and the Tawī were clearly written and intended for nonexpert astronomers, they became important components of a tradition of religious scholarship that included astronomy. Many manuscripts of the Shar and Tawī have ownership statements from the libraries of madrasas (colleges of religious studies). Two reports attest to how the Tawī was the most important text at Ulugh Beg's madrasa in Samarqand for the study of the Tadhkira. Later works on Islamic astronomy, also with madrasa library ownership statements, refer to Nīsābūrī as al‐shāri (the commentator).

Nīsābūrī's best‐known text, his Quran commentary entitled Gharāʾib al‐Qurʾān wa‐raghāʾib al‐furqān (The curiosities of the Quran and the desiderata of the demonstration), demonstrates the importance of science for religious scholars. Nīsābūrī in general relied heavily on Fakhr al‐Dīn al‐Rāzī's (died: 1209) al‐Tafsīr al‐kabīr (The great commentary), but frequently disagreed with Rāzī about the use of science and philosophy (falsafa) to portray nature. The Gharāʾib reflected Nīsābūrī's scientific education and privileged the views of the natural philosophers ( falāsifa), while Rāzī had favored the positions of the theologians (mutakallimūn). Through subtle rewordings and emendations of scientific detail, Nīsābūrī rebutted Rāzī's critique of science and falsafa in his portrayal of nature. Nīsābūrī completed Gharāʾib in 1329/1330, a date which the bio‐bibliographers consider to be the date of his death.

Selected References

Al‐Nīsābūrī, al‐asan ibn Muammad (1992). Gharāʾib al‐Qurʾān wa‐raghāʾib al‐furqān. Beirut: Dār al‐maʿrifa. (Reprint of Cairo: al‐Maṭbaʿa al‐kubrā al‐amīriyya, 1905. Contained in margins of al‐Ṭabarī's Jāmiʿ al‐bayān fī tafīr al‐Qurʾān).

Morrison, Robert Gordon (1998). “The Intellectual Development of Niẓām al‐Dīn al‐Nīsābūrī (d. 1329 A. D.).” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University.

——— (2002). “The Portrayal of Nature in a Medieval Qurʾan Commentary.” Studia Islamica 94: 115–137.

——— (2005). “The Role of Portrayals of Nature in Medieval Qurʾān Commentaries.” Arabica 52: 182–203.

Ragep, F. J. (1993). Naīr al‐Dīn al‐Ṭūsī's Memoir on Astronomy (al‐Tadhkira fī ʿilm al‐hayʾa). 2 Vols. New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Rashīd al‐Dīn, Fadl Allāh (1959). Jāmiʿ al‐tawārīkh, edited by Bahman Karīmī. Vol. 2. Tehran.

Rosenfeld, B. A. and Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu (2003). Mathematicians, Astronomers, and Other Scholars of Islamic Civilization and Their Works (7th–19th c.). Istanbul: IRCICA, pp. 238–239.