Image: Ibn al-Haytham as perceived by an artist and illustrations of his theories.
Photography is undoubtedly one of the most important inventions in history — it has truly transformed how people conceive of the world. A still film camera is made of three basic elements: an optical element (the lens), a chemical element (the film) and a mechanical element (the camera body itself).

Let’s have a look at the optical component or element. At its simplest, a lens is just a curved piece of glass or plastic. Its function is to take the beams of light bouncing off of an object and redirect them so they come together to form a real image — an image that looks just like the scene in front of the lens. The film in older cameras is sensitive to light, and when ‘exposed’ to it for a short time, it can capture an image of whatever objects it was exposed to.

When you press the button to take a shot, a tiny mirror moves in the camera to reflect the image onto the film causing the exposure. Though the lens focuses the light, it’s the shutter that is the actual light control. By using the shutter you can choose a long or short exposure (to light) to control the finished image on the film.

The iris works by further reducing the exposure light to the film. The aperture located inside the iris also changes the field of focus to allow objects both close to the camera and far away from the camera to stay clear and sharp. Without the iris parts of the image would remain blurry.

So far so good but two parts are important for this post – The shutter and the Iris. It just happens that the male human body has a part that has a shutter and an iris. You know its name so there is not need to repeat it. It stars with “p” but it is not “pregnancy” although it is its main culprint.

For the average non-Muslim male, the head of the glans has a covering, called the foreskin (prepuce). This covering folds in on itself, forming a double layer. On “standing up”, the outer foreskin layer retracts exposing the glans and the meatus (the iris). It functions the same way like a shutter but it takes a bit longer to shut down.

Now, how on earth did the Italians forget to ask Arab scientists what does the bloody shutter mean exactly, and went on circulating the camera principle as their own invention?

Lisan Al Arab, the most important 12th century dictionary can explain: “Kamar: The head of the “p” thing, pl. Komor. A man who’s ‘makmour’ has a great glans. Ex. The two men ‘takamara’, i.e. they compared their glans to ascertain which one is bigger. A woman who is ‘makmura’ is one that had sex.” Another example is covering (kamar) the dough to ferment.

Of course the lexicographer, Ibn Manzoor, is a Muslim so he’s circumcised and his foreskin is history. However, ‘kamar’ also means to cover something or to retreat into something. From the root *KM ‘kum’ “sleeve” because it covers the arm and which can be retracted to expose the arm.

Notice in Akkadian how ‘retreat’ was applied to wars, but see other meanings please:

1- kamāru (2): [Army → War]: a defeat [kamāru šakānu]: to vanquish, to accomplish defeat of someone, to beat, to win a victory over [sikiptu šakānu]: to defeat, to vanquish, to lick, to give a licking, to crush, to win a complete victory

2- kamāru: G. to pile up, heap up, accumulate; to add (Mathematics) Gt. to pile up permanently; to secrete (poison) D = G Dt. to be piled up; to come in crowds.

3- kamāru: [Army] defeat.

English ‘camouflage’, from a french origin, derives from the same root, *KM (CM), but in all cases it is a migration from an original *GM.

Camera appears to have been attested in 1708 to mean “vaulted building,” from Latin camera “vaulted room” (source of Italian camera, Spanish camara, French chambre), from Greek kamara “vaulted chamber.”
This is from the Online Etymology Dictionary the dedicated people working on its development may not have seen the Akkadian attestation of the word.

Light is a fundamental player in our lives and it is hardly surprising that optics as a physical phenomenon has been studied and inquired about by all the great knowledge cultures, most noticeably Islam. From the time of Aristotle there were two contradictory theories about how we were able to see objects.

The ideas were: that light radiated from the eye toward the object seen and that seeing came about from entry into the eye of an intermediary entity from the object. Both could not be equally true, but both were found to explain certain effects.

The answer might seem basic and intuitive to us today, but the method and reasons backing the scholars’ stance reflect their motivation and values, which in turn can be understood in the framework of Islam. In Kitab al Manazir, Ibn al Haytham (965-1040) resolves this issue through the ‘intermediary entity’ which has become the photon of modern science. He attributed the confusion to imperfect human senses and inadequate observed evidence.

The optical sciences were nurtured, developed and utilised during the era in which the Islamic knowledge culture led the world. He determined virtually everything that Newton advanced regarding optics centuries later and is widely regarded as the founder of optics, having studied the structure of the eye, and explained for the first time why the sun and the moon appear larger on the horizon. Very simply put, it is because the thicker layer of atmosphere at the horizon acts as magnifying lens compared to overhead.

Al-Haytham became the most quoted physicist of the Middle Ages. His works were consulted by a greater number of European scholars during the 16th and 17th centuries; more than those of Newton and Galileo combined. His research was continued two centuries later by Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi and Kamal al-Din al-Farisi.

It was Qutb al-Din who gave the first correct explanation of the formation of the rainbow. Scientists of the European knowledge revival accessed works on optics through Latin translations of Arabic texts. Robert Bacon, Kepler, Snell and Fermat had directly referred to and were influenced by Ibn Al –Haythems work.

Non-etymological texts are extracts from these websites and so is the image. Thanks to all of you, guys and girls.

Adel Bishtawi is author of Origin of Speech otherwise knows as the Origin of Semitic Languages.

Image: Ibn al-Haytham as perceived by an artist and illustrations of his theories.



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