Abbas Ibn Firnas – A Muslim Scientist


Abbas Ibn Firnas (810 – 887 A.D.), also known as Abbas Qasim Ibn Firnas and العباس بن فرناس (Arabic language), was an Arabic-speaking Berber polymath, born in Izn-Rand Onda, al-Andalus (today’s Ronda, Spain), who lived in the Caliphate of Córdoba.

Ibn Firnas designed a water clock called Al-Maqata, devised a means of manufacturing colorless glass, made corrective lenses (“reading stones”), developed a chain of rings that could be used to simulate the motions of the planets and stars, and developed a process for cutting rock crystal that allowed Spain to cease exporting quartz to Egypt to be cut.

In his house he built a room in which spectators witnessed stars, clouds, thunder, and lightning, which were produced by mechanisms hidden in his basement laboratory. He also devised “some sort of metronome”. He is also said to have made an attempt at flight using a set of wings.

“ Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one. ”

He has been commemorated on stamps from Libya, by a statue near the Baghdad International Airport, and by a namesake airport north of Baghdad. The crater Ibn Firnas on the Moon is also named in his honor.

The story is described 750 years later by the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari (d. 1632) who also cited a verse in a 9th century poem which appears to refer to Firnas’ attempt at flight.


A brief documentary to credit Ibn Firnas for his successful attempt to fly.