Turkish minister claims Muslims discovered Earth is round

The Turkish Science Minister has become the latest public figure to make outrageous claims over Islam's hand in science and technology, the Hurriyet Daily News reported Friday - this time, claiming that Muslims discovered that the world is round. 

"Some 700-800 years before Galileo, 71 Muslim scientists led by al-Khwarizmi convened by the order of the Caliph Al-Ma'mun and revealed that the Earth is a sphere," Minister Fikri Işık stated on Thursday. 

Işık further claimed that a copy of the original document proving Islam's role in astronomy is currently in the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology in Istanbul.

The Earth was widely regarded as flat until the 3rd century BCE, when the Hellenists proposed that the Earth was a sphere based on astronomical calculations. Plato was among the early supporters of the concept of a spherical Earth, writing in Phaedo that "my conviction is that the earth is a round body in the centre of the heavens, and therefore has no need of air or of any similar force to be a support."

Işık's statement does have a kernel of merit to it: indeed, around 830 AD, Caliph Al-Ma'mun did commission a group of Muslim scientists to calculate the Earth's circumference, using measurements of the distance from Tadmur (Palmyra) to Raqqah, the current capital of ISIS in Syria. The commission did, in fact, reach measurements close to modern values. 

Işık's fundamental error, however, is in who Galileo Galilei was; instead of pioneering Western acceptance of the Earth as a sphere, he supported heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He was subsequently persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church in the seventeenth century for holding these views.

Moreover, the Caliph's commission was not the first group of astronomers to produce measurements for the Earth's circumference close to modern values. The classical Indian astronomer Aryabhatta (476-550 CE) stated that the circumference of the Earth is 39,968 km (24,835 mi) - close to the current equatorial value of 40,075 km (24,901 mi) - in his magnum opus, the Arabhatiya

Mere decades later, early Christian authorities, including Bishop Isidore of Seville (560–636), and later, the monk Bede (c. 672–735) would write that the Earth was spherical.

This is not the first time a Turkish official has made wild claims about Muslims. Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Muslims discovered America


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