Ah! The irresistible, mouth-watering smell of cake baking!
“Mom! Are you baking a chocolate cake? Can I, please, have just a little piece?” Ali peeked in through the kitchen window.
“Sure, call in your sisters. You can all sit at the table and enjoy your cake, so I don’t have to clean up the crumbs from everywhere,” Ali got an automatic response from his Mom.
Hannah came running downstairs, as soon as she heard Ali shout: “Come and get your chocolate cake!” But Samrah Apa was nowhere to be found. “Where is Samrah?” inquired Mom.
“She is reading her book of 1001 inventions as usual,” Hannah replied. She could not wait to get her hands on Apa’s share of cake as well.
After a few calls from Mom, Samrah came down with her nose still in the book. “If you are going to eat the book, then can I have your cake slice?’ asked Ali expectantly.
“Mom, look!” Samrah showed her mother a picture of a haunted bottle – a uniquely designed bottle with two heads. If water is poured in one and juice in the other, the two liquids don’t mix.
When the liquids are poured out from the bottle, the water comes out of the head in which the juice was poured and the opposite for the juice – it comes out of the head in which water was poured.”
“Wow!” Ali forgot all about the cake and peeked in the book curiously.
“How does this work, Mom?” Samrah wanted to know more.
Mom took the book from Samrah and sat down at the table. All three kids sat around her in a circle. She looked at the picture, smiled and explained the mechanism to the children.
“What a genius device!”
“Which Muslim scientist invented this?” Ali felt proud of this Muslim mastermind, but he was even more surprised when he found out that it was not one but three inventions!
Meet Banu Musa
“The three brothers Mohammed, Ahmed, and Al-Hasan lived during the golden age of Muslim civilization. Each excelled at a field of science – astronomy, mechanics and mathematics – but together they formed one scientific team.” Mom read aloud from the book.
“If their work is thousands of years old, how do we know about it today?” asked Ali.
“From their books, of course. Banu Musa wrote more than 20 works of science and used to sign their books with their collective name. Their most famous book is the Book of Tricks or the Book of Ingenious Devices,” replied Samrah, as she had already read the book.
“Did they learn this from their parents or school?” asked Hannah.
“Banu Musa were orphans who grew up in Baghdad. Caliph Al-Mamoon sent them to the House of Wisdom (Bayt Al-Hikmah), where the brightest minds of the time gave them the best possible knowledge.” Samrah replied again, as if she had memorized the book by heart.
“Why is their book called the science of tricks?” This time Ali popped the question directly at Samrah.
“The ‘science of tricks’ or ‘mechanica’ is the old name for mechanics. The most famous work of Banu Musa, the Book of Ingenious Devices, includes detailed description of 100 mechanical devices, showing how they work and what their functions are.” Samrah replied without reading from the book.
“The book is full of magic… temperamental moody jugs, bottles that take different liquids without mixing them, jars that dispense measured quantities of water automatically, oil lamps with non-diminishing oil, fountains that change their form automatically and many more…” continued Samrah, building Ali and Hannah’s curiosity.
Everyone had forgotten the cake by now, and Mom had also gone out smiling.
“But isn’t magic Haram?” one could always depend on Ali for the most unexpected questions.
“Mostly Banu Musa’s devices were used to help people in their daily lives. They also made some devices to impress the people who worked on key scientific principles in pneumatics and mechanics. People were tricked by the appearance of a simple device and were surprised by the unexpected outcomes.”
“Like the Environmentally Friendly Jar – Banu Musa designed this jar so that a measured quantity of water was dispensed when the tap opened. The jar would then stop dispensing water for a period of time before the water started to flow again, until all the water in the jar was used up.” Samrah Apa explained the picture.
“It’s the same as the sink in Dolmen Mall’s washrooms!” Hannah exclaimed.
Banu Musa were three remarkable ninth century scientists, who left a huge mark on the ‘science of tricks’. They devised machines that functioned automatically. They left a legacy and were among the masterminds of Muslim civilization’s Golden Age.
If we could imagine them appearing in the modern world, one would wonder what they may make of modern robots!
Samrah Apa was still in awe and all three kids were wondering if they could be the next wiz-kidz! What do you think?