`Alam al-Dîn Qaysar b. Abu'l-Qâsim b. `Abd al-Ghanî b. Musâfir al-Hânafî, called Ta`âsîf or Ta`âsîfî, was born in Asfûn (a town in Upper Egypt, above Luxor) in 574/1178 and died in Damascus in 649/1251.1 He was an astrolabist—a celestial globe in brass made by him is extant— a religious lawyer, engineer, and devotee of the mathematical sciences. It was very seldom that these accomplishments appeared in the same man. In view of his accomplishments it would be interesting to know more of his youth. A follower of his, Ilyâs b. `Abd Allâh, is recorded as having built a Great Mosque in Ramlah in 583/1187.2
He studied music with Kamâl al-Dîn b. Manâ, an illustrious polymath and mathematician, in Mosul, according to Ibn Khallikân, who wrote a biographical entry on Kamâl al-Dîn and reports correspondence between him and an unnamed Damascene in which he answered difficult problems in mathematics. In an interesting parallel, Maqrîzî, under the year 626/1228–29, describes similar correspondence in connection with the negotiations between Frederick, the Emperor of the Franks, and al-Malik al-Kâmil over Jerusalem. Frederick “was a learned man, deeply versed in geometry, arithmetic, and mathematics. He sent a number of problems on geometry (`ilm al-handasah), law, and mathematics to al-Malik al-Kâmil, who showed them to the Shaykh `Alam al-Dîn Qaysar al-Hanafî, commonly known as al-Ta`âsîf, and to other scholars, before he wrote replies.”3 See also Chapter Nine, “Logical Digression” s.v. “Jâmi` al-Taubah,” for Ibn al-Salâh, the man who fruitlessly studied logic: it was the same Kamâl al-Dîn; who taught him.
`Alam al-Dîn also served al-Malik al-Muzaffar II Tâqî al-Dîn Mahmûd of Hamah (r. 626–42/1228–45). Ibn Wâsil, a contemporary, says that al-Malik al-Muzaffar employed `Alam al-Dîn Qaysar, who was a renowned Hanafî faqîh and a savant of the mathematical sciences (`âlim al-rîyâdîyât). He was brought to Hamah to teach at the Madrasah al-Nûrîyah, for which he built a mill on the Orontes, and he also built towers remarkably engineered; in Ibn Wâsil's obituary of al-Malik al-Muzaffar he says that `Alam al-Dîn built for him towers of the greatest beauty in the walls of Hamah and a mill in the lowest part, and upon it a great tower protecting that area (ibrâjan li-sûr Hâmah fî ghâyah al-husn wa tâhûnan fi'l-jânib al-asfal wa `alayhâ burj `azîm hafiza bihû tilka al-nâhîyah. ). He also invented scientific instruments and made a wooden celestial globe, which was well received by al-Malik al-Muzaffar. Ibn Wâsil also states that `Alam al-Dîn built for al-Malik al-Muzaffar beautiful places, among them the palace known as Batîhah (or some name similar in orthography) in Râs al-`Āyn, of the utmost beauty in its prized form, opposite which flows the Khâbûr River (mawâdi` hasanah minhâ al-jausaq al-ma`rûf Bitîhah fî madînah Râs `Āyn fî ghâyah al-husn `alâ shakl muthamman wa bi-iza'ahu nahr yatasilu bi-balad al-Khâbûr ).4 In Abu'l-Fidâ''s obituary of al-Malik al-Muzaffar (his ancestor and predecessor as ruler of the city), he gives some of the same information, adding that the mill was on the Orontes.5 This mill was probably connected with one of the great water-lifting devices (nûrîyahs) for which Hamah is famous. It is noteworthy that the Bitîhah palace is listed among “beautiful places”—I wonder if `Alam al-Dîn's contribution here was connected with irrigation rather than architecture. Still, he built fortifications, so he was clearly an architect as well as an engineer.
Another of `Alam al-Dîn's celestial globes, dated 622/1225–26, and made for al-Malik al-Kâmil, survives. It is made of brass and signed “Qaysar b. Abi'l-Qâsim b. Musâfir al-Ashrafî al-Hanafî.” 6
1. Moaz, “Les madrasas de Damas et d'al-Sâlihiyya,” p. 365; Hasan `Abd al-Wahhâb, Rûsûmât al-handasîyah li'l-`imârat al-islâmîyah [Damascus, 1350?], kindly supplied to me by Dr. Moaz; L. A. Mayer, Islamic Astrolabists and Their Works, Geneva, 1956, pp. 80–81; Suter, op. cit., no. 358, p. 143. He is not to be confused with others of the same name, notably `Alam al-Dîn Qaysar al-Salâhî and al-Zâhirî, as I have done in the past.
2. Korn, “Ayyubidische Architektur,” catalogue, “Palästina und Südsyrien,” no. 7.
3. Maqrîzî, Sulûk,, v. 1, p. 232; trans. Broadhurst, A History of the Ayyûbid Sultans of Egypt, pp. 207–08. Cf. Ibn Wâsil, Mufarrij al-kurûb, v. 4, pp. 242–43. For others involved in this exchange, see Suter, op. cit., no. 354, pp. 140–42, Mûsâ b. Yûnus, and no. 364, pp. 145–46, Al-Mufaddal b. `Umar; al-Abahrî.
4. Mufarrij al-kurûb, v. 4, p. 242, n. 3, including details of his biography; v. 5, pp. 145–46; and v. 5, pp. 343–44, with further information about the celestial globe. On Ibn Wâsil, see EI 2, s.v. See also Ibn Khallikân, trans., v. 3, pp. 471–472, 473 on both `Alam al-Dîn and Kamâl al-Dîn b. Manâ.
5. Abu'l-Fidâ', Mukhtasâr, v. 3, p. 173.
6. Emilie Savage-Smith, Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction, and Use, Washington, D.C., 1985, pp. 25–26, 218–19; the globe is now in the Museo Nazionale, Naples.