Tag Archives: science

Did You Know… Muhammad Wrote A Letter Guaranteeing the Protection of Christians?

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, lived from 570-632 AD. Muslims believe that he is the final prophet of the monotheistic Abrahamic tradition, which includes Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

So although it may come as a shock to many, it’s really not that surprising that Muhammad frequently visited the Christian monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt.

For those who aren’t aware, Mt. Sinai is the mountain that Moses climbed to retrieve the 10 Commandments in the Exodus chapter of the Bible.

St. Catherine’s Monastery and the Sinai peninsula. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of BBC)

Muhammad had a great relationship with the monks, engaging them in discussions about science, philosophy and spirituality, among other topics. Their teachings had a great influence on the Muslim prophet.

In the year 622, Muhammad fled his hometown of Mecca in Saudi Arabia after hearing of an assassination attempt on his life. He and his followers (who left the city with him) settled in the city of Medina, where they officially established the religion of Islam. This pilgrimage is known in Islamic tradition as the Hijra.

In 626 (according to the current copy in St. Catherine’s Monastery), Muhammad personally granted a charter to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery to protect the rights of Christians and other non-Muslims “far and near” who were living in predominantly-Muslim areas.

In the letter, Muhammad made it known to his followers that Christians had the right to freedom of religion and movement within Muslim communities.

He decreed that they had the freedom to appoint their own judges and handle their own property, as well as exempting them from any taxes mandated by Islam or an Islamic government:

“They [Christians] must not give anything of their income but that which pleases them—they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religious order…

No taxes or tithes should be received from those who devote themselves to the worship of God in the mountains, or from those who cultivate the Holy Lands.”

A copy of the Achtiname from the 16th century. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He also told his followers that Christians would be exempt from any mandatory military service in a Muslim community, adding that the Muslims in that community still had a duty to protect them and fight for them in times of war:

“They shall not be imposed upon by anyone to undertake a journey, or to be forced to go to wars or to carry arms; for the Islams have to fight for them,”

and he declared Christian churches to be sacred places that should never be desecrated:

“No one is allowed to plunder the pilgrims, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam.

And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the oath of God, and, in truth, disobeyed His Messenger.”

St. Catherine’s Monastery, built in 565 AD, still stands today. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Muhammad prefaced the letter by saying that its message had been sent, “to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures,” though he added that its contents were, “directed to the embracers of Islam.”

Then, in no uncertain terms, Muhammad described what he believed was a sacred spiritual relationship between Islam and Christianity:

“This letter contains the oath given unto them [the people of Islam], and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disobeyer and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded.

He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam.

Whenever monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are [at the] back of them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by Myself, by My Friends and by My Assistants, for they are of My Subjects and under My Protection.”

Two modern-day monks sit and talk inside St. Catherine’s Monastery. The man on the left is a Bedouin server. Click to enlarge (Photo: Matthew D. Moyer)

The Achtiname pictured earlier in this post is not the original, but actually a copy of an original from the 16th century, which was likely already a somewhat altered version of the original text written by Muhammad in 626.

Dr. Aziz Suryal Atiya was a professor of Medieval History at Farouk University when he took part in The Monastery of St. Catherine and the Mount Sinai Expedition, a research project that looked into the history of the monastery and the authenticity of the Achtiname.

Here’s what he had to say:

“After the Arab conquest of Egypt in AD 640 , it was said that the Prophet Muhammad granted the monks of Mount Sinai a covenant whereby their lives and property became secure under Muslim rule. The existing tradition is that the original charter was taken from the Monastery by Sultan Selim I after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The Sultan, however, gave the monks a copy of it and sanctioned its terms.”

This timeline puts the emergence of Islam into some historical perspective. Click to enlarge

The copy now in the monastery is a copy of the certified copy given to them by the Sultan after he took the original in 1517 (supposedly for safe keeping at his palace in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul), prompting some to question its authenticity entirely.

However, the basic premise of the letter seems to have been maintained over the years, despite any small changes that may have been made to it as it passed between different hands.

Either way, the fact that St. Catherine’s Monastery has lasted for nearly 1500 years, surviving through countless different rulers (both Christian and Muslim) and years of bitter religious conflicts in the Middle East, speaks volumes about the mutual respect of the faiths on this hallowed ground.

BONUS: St. Catherine’s actually includes a 12th-century mosque within its walls, but it has never been used because it wasn’t built to face the Muslim holy city of Mecca in accordance with Islamic tradition.

How Ultraviolet Light Reveals All the Secrets Buried Just Below Your Skin (Video)

Ultraviolet or UV radiation is the radiation released by the sun. While the sun’s energy is obvious extremely important for our survival, the UV rays it emits can damage our skin over time.

Examining your skin through an ultraviolet lens can reveal things you never knew were there (a lot of people have freckles they can’t see).

It can also reveal changes and/or damage to the skin that is still invisible under normal light. Check it out in this awesome video posted by artist and photographer Thomas Leveritt:

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Just Set the Off-World Driving Distance Record

NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on the surface of Mars in January of 2004. As of Sunday (July 26), the Opportunity rover had driven a total distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers).

Opportunity took the top spot in total off-world distance traveled by surpassing Russia’s Lunokhod 2 lunar rover, which traveled a total distance of 39 kilometers across the surface of the moon between January and May of 1973.

The Russian rover helped to bring about a golden age of space exploration in the 70s. As a sign of respect, the Opportunity rover’s operators decided to commemorate the Russian rover by naming one of the first craters they encountered after it.

Tracing the path that Opportunity has taken since it landed on Mars in 2004. On the left rim of the large Endeavor Crater, you can see the Lunokhod 2 crater. Click to enlarge (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS)

The craziest part of this record is that the Opportunity rover was only expected to travel a short distance when it was first sent to Mars in 2004. Here’s John Callas, who manages the Mars Exploration Project at NASA’s Jet-Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California:

“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

The Opportunity rover is collecting data on Mars as part of a long-term plan for a manned mission to the planet around the year 2030.

The infographic below compares the distances driven by different rovers throughout the years. Click to enlarge (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech):

Read the original story from NASA here.

This Man Is Able to Reproduce Meticulously Accurate Cityscapes After A Single Fly-Over (Video)

They call him the human camera.

Stephen Wiltshire was born in London in 1974. As a child, Stephen was a mute. At the age of three he was diagnosed as autistic, and in that same year his father died in a motorcycle accident.

At five he was sent to the Queensmill School for the autistic in London. The instructors there discovered that Stephen had an intense passion for art. Even as a child, his skill and attention to detail was exceptional.

A drawing Stephen did of St. Paul’s Cathedral when he was 9. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the Stephen Wiltshire Gallery)

They used this passion to help teach him to talk. Stephen was a mute, and avoided communication with others as much as possible.

So his instructors at Queensmill would take away his art supplies when he wasn’t using them so that he was forced to communicate with them when he wanted to draw again. He started with just sounds, but eventually he said his first word: “paper”.

He learned to speak fully at the age of nine. By that time, his passion for art was already extremely developed. His favorite subjects were American cars (he’s said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of them) and the buildings of London.

A young Stephen Wiltshire thoroughly enjoying a catalog of architecture. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the Stephen Wiltshire Gallery)

During his time at Queensmill, Stephen’s instructors discovered that he had an extraordinary gift: he was able to reproduce extremely intricate sketches after seeing an image only once.

As an adult, Stephen used this skill to jump-start his career as an architectural artist by flying over massive cities and then reproducing huge, elaborate sketches of the cities, down to the number of windows in each building and the clothes on clothing lines.

I’ve gathered a few videos showcasing his mind-blowing talent. Enjoy!

Stephen draws New York City for UBS’s “We Will Not Rest” campaign in 2011:

Stephen draws Rome after flying over it for the first time:

Stephen draws Singapore after a helicopter fly-over (time-lapse):

Stephen takes on his largest ever panoramic drawing: a nearly 360 degree image of Tokyo:

Stephen is what is known as an autistic savant. Autistic savants have damage to the left anterior lobe of the brain, which plays a key role in processing sensory input and forming memories.

Because of this, they are able to access lower-level information like the extremely intricate details of buildings in Stephen’s works of art.

This information actually exists in all of our brains, but it’s normally unavailable to our conscious awareness because our brains classify this information as superfluous or non-essential.

However, studies and controversial experiments have proved that we can tap into these same talents by using transcranial magnetic stimulation: temporarily shutting down parts of the left anterior lobe using magnets.

Check out the video below to see how it effected creativity and other brain functions in the fascinating video below:

To view more of Stephen’s work and learn more about his life, you can visit his website, The Stephen Wiltshire Gallery.

Why Are People Paying As Much As $5,000 per Stem for This Orchid? (Photo Gallery)

The Rothschild’s orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum) is one of the rarest and most expensive flowers on the planet.

Those familiar with the black market say that the plant fetches sums of up to $5,000 a stem.

A close up of the rare orchid. Click to enlarge

So you are probably asking why in the world this plant is so valuable? Well, here are some of the key factors that put such a high price tag on this crchid:

  1. The  Rothschild’s orchid is only native  to Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia. This strain of the orchid species is scarce even there so it is protected by the government.
  2. This specific species of orchid was not discovered until 1987 and, according to MySabah.com, “the flower only grows on the slope of Mt. Kinabalu between 500 and 1,200 meters in altitude”.
  3. Since the plant is endangered and protected by the Malaysia government it is illegal to pick. The plant is only available from smugglers on the black market at a price of up to $5,000 per stolen stem.
  4. The flower itself can take up to 15 years to take bloom. This is one reason they are so rare, and even at Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia they are extremely difficult to find.

Scientists and plant lovers alike are extremely excited to learn more about the rare and relatively new species, but they were that illegal trade on the black market could wipe out the orchids before we really have a chance to study them.

According to the BBC…

“…scientists say the illegal collection of orchids is pushing species to the edge of extinction, with dire consequences for biodiversity. With some vulnerable species available on the black market before they can even be formally named, biologists and customs officers alike are battling to preserve the captivating plants.”

The flower is also known as the Rothschild’s Slipper orchid or the “Sumazau” orchid. The second name was given because the orchid’s long stretched side pedals resemble the arms of someone participating in Sumazau, the most traditional type of dance in the Malaysian state of Sabah, where the orchids are found.
A Malaysian woman performs the Sumazau dance
The orchid is also known to the locals as “The Gold of Kinabalu” because of the plants high value and rarity in Kinabalu National Park.

Check out a few more pictures of the extremely rare Rothschild’s orchid below: 

 

How In the World Is This Tree Able to Produce 40 Different Kinds of Fruit??

Sam Van Aken is an art professor at Syracuse University in New York. He wasn’t always immersed of the world of art though- as a child, he grew up working on his family’s farm before pursuing his art career.

So, in 2008, when Van Aken learned that the orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be destroyed because of a lack of funding, he knew he had to put his farming past to use.

Many of the trees in the orchard were 150-200 years old, and grew ancient, antique native stone fruits varieties that have been mostly hybridized or modified by modern agricultural practices (commercially-grown fruits are selected for their look and size more than any other factors, including taste).

Syracuse art professor and “Tree of 40 Fruits” creator Sam Van Aken

Aken knew he had to save these rare and ancient fruit varieties, so he bought the orchard and spent the next couple years trying to figure out how to graft parts of multiple trees onto one single tree.

He started by creating a timeline of when all the varieties of fruit (about 250 total) blossomed, so he could know precisely when to graft a new variety onto the main tree.

The grafting process basically involves making an incision in the main tree, and then inserting a shoot from the tree you want to add.

When the tree was young, he grafted directly onto its root structure. Once it reached two years old, Aken began using “chip grafting” to add new varieties of fruit to various branches.

An illustration of the grafting process

Chip grafting involves cutting a small notch into a branch of the main tree. Then, a sliver of the tree to be added (including a bud) is inserted into the notch and taped in place. Over winter, the tree heals the incision, and in doing so incorporates the new fruit variety into that branch.

After five years, Aken completed his first “Tree of 40 Fruit”, as he calls them.

For most of the year, it looks pretty much like a normal tree, but in spring, it explodes with white, red and pink blossoms before bearing its various ancient varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds.

Since then Aken has planted 15 more “Trees of 40 Fruit” in museums, community centers and art galleries around the country. His next plan is to create an orchard of them in a city setting.

Read the original story from Science Alert here.

You can watch a TEDx talk that Van Aken gave about his Tree of 40 Fruit below:

The Iodine Clock Reaction Happens So Fast That You Might Not Believe This Video Is Real

If I told you I could make a glass of liquid go from being totally clear to almost completely black in a split second, you would think I was crazy.

But science has a way of making crazy things happen. The iodine clock reaction is very real and very awesome. Check it out in the video below:

So what’s going on chemically? Well basically, it’s all comes down to the iodine and the sulfur.

Mixing ionic compounds into a solution with water causes them to separate into their basic components.

In the first glass, the ionic compound sodium sulfite (Na2SO3) divides itself into two sodium ions (2Na+) and a sulfite ion (SO3).

Na2SO3  → 2Na+ SO3

This sulfite then steals one of the hydrogens from the citric acid (C6H8O7) in the mixture, creating bisulfate, HSO3.

SO3− + H+  → HSO3

In the second glass, the sodium iodate (NaIO3), separates into sodium ions (Na+) and iodate ions (IO3).

NaIO3  → Na+ IO3

When the two glasses are mixed, a number of reactions happen. First, the iodate ions react with the bisulfite (HSO3) to produce hydrogen sulfate (HSO4). This leaves the iodide ions (I) by themselves.

IO3 + 3 HSO3 → I + 3 HSO4

Then the excess iodate reacts with the iodide ions and hydrogen ions to form iodine (I2) and water.

IO3 + 5 I + 6 H+ → 3 I2 + 3 H2O

But just as soon as the iodine is created, it is reduced back into iodide ions by the bisulfite still in the solution from the initial reaction.

I2 + HSO3 + H2O → 2 I + HSO4 + 2 H+

The first two reactions happen relatively slowly, but this third reaction happens almost instantaneously every time an iodine molecule is created.

Eventually though, the supply of bisulfite runs out, allowing the iodine molecules to survive. This gives the iodine an opportunity to react with the starch that was dissolved into the water at the beginning, producing an extremely dark shade of blue.

Adding a little bit of bisulfite back into the mix immediately re-ionizes the iodine (breaking it into separate I−  molecules again) turning the water clear once more until that bisulfite has been used up as well (which is why the water darkens back up).

The experiment is called the “clock reaction” because you can control how long it takes for the dark color to appear by adjusting the amount of bisulfite.