Ali Abdul Malik was an apprentice to the court astronomer in Baghdad during the height of the Islamic Golden Age. It is likely his name is incorrectly attested, and that many other minor details may be garbled, as the only surviving records are Greek translations of lost originals made after the sack of Baghdad in the court of Emperor Theophilios.

In any case, surviving accounts state that Ali Abdul Malik became engrossed in stellar observations and algebraic calculations around the time of the legendary Dark Comet, a natural phenomenon that he became obsessed with explaining. Modern-day scholarly consensus is that the Dark Comet was mass hysteria and that Malik never witnessed it in person, but in any event he became withdrawn and disheveled as he plunged down a mathematical rabbit hole.

Concerned, the court astronomer consulted with the Sultan, who decreed that Ali Abdul Malik be examined by the physicians at the medical school. Unexpectedly, Malik ferociously resisted being removed from his quarters, and killed three of the Sultan’s men before he was reluctantly killed.

The Sultan ordered a search of Ali Abdul Malik’s quarters, and retrieved an incomplete manuscript, now lost, that was entitled “Of Light and Dark Comets.” A summary of the work appears in the Byzantine Codex Nemeses, however.

According to the Codex, which again is a summary of a translation of an incomplete and lost original, Ali Abdul Malik had accurately determined the orbital period of a comet, but the time scales and distances involved had consumed him. “Of Light and Dark Comets” quickly veers off topic, and posits a metaphor for human civilization: as it approaches its zenith, it burns brightly but is also partly consumed, and a long slow inevitable decline into darkness follows. The dark comet is then replaced, or perhaps subsumed, by another.

The Byzantines saw this as a prediction of the sack of Baghdad, but others since–notably Stenos of Athos–have argued that Ali Abdul Malik’s mathematics applied to civilization as a whole, and that his lost original manuscript represents a Rosetta Stone into the lifespan of human civilization worldwide.

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