MKA RA at the Golden Age of Islam

The recent post by The Art of Misinformation, reminded me to post an old report on a trip organised by the MKA Research Association to the 1001 Inventions exhibitions in the Science Museum, the above is a video trailer and below is the report. Enjoy and be inspired! 

Since 21st January 2010, the London Science Museum has been playing host to a new Exhibition titled, ‘1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World’ done in association with Jameel Foundation. The 1001 Inventions Exhibition was created by the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), a British based non-profit, non- religious and academic organisation. It has toured the nation throughout since 2006. However, the current exhibition in the Science Museum is the most extensive of them all, and is part of a much larger, global initiative to increase awareness of the thousand years of scientific contribution made by the Muslim Civilisation since the 7th Century onwards.

It was then only natural that members of the MKA Research Association visit the exhibition and take inspiration from the great works done by past Muslim scientists. Therefore, on Saturday 27th March 2010, a group of young enthusiasts set their eyes on the 1001 Exhibition. The group included ten Khuddam and two Atfal, who all initially congregated in front of Imperial College, London.

Once all the members had arrived at the designated meeting point at the entrance of Imperial College, they went to the science museum as a group. Before heading off to the exhibition, however, the group took a detour into the space exploration section, briefly looking at the various space shuttles and the history of human space exploration. It was an awesome site to see the various space shuttles and satellites man has launched into space. Insha’Allah one day, Ahmadi astronauts will also go into space.

The two Atfal present thoroughly enjoyed this section. They had the opportunity to play the “Guidance on the Huygens Lander” game. The game required the participants to estimate the correct weight for the Lander by considering the heat shields, parachute and its load. Ibrahim Sahib, who is an undergraduate student at Imperial College, gave the youngsters advice and explained the basic physical concepts involved.

After spending roughly half an hour in the space exploration section, the group went off to the main event of the day: The 1001 Inventions Exhibition. Outside the entrance were some small exhibitions displaying various artefacts and books of which one was of Al-Khwarizmi’s Al-Kitāb al-mukhtasar fī hīsāb al-ğabr wa’l-muqābala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing): the renowned book that introduced us to a completely new field of mathematics, now known as Algebra (derived from Al-Jabr).

Once entering the exhibition, one immediately gravitates towards the mesmerizingly huge display of an elephant clock! As you can see below by the child like wonder induced into the members of the Research Association, it is a site to behold, though equally bemusing are its workings, it does take some time to figure out how it exactly works. The clock invented by the Muslim inventor Al-Jazari, is not only a masterpiece in timing, but is also an example of multiculturalism. The dragon represents the Chinese culture; the elephant represents the Indian and African cultures; the phoenix represents the Egyptian culture; the water works represents the Greek culture and the turban represents the Islamic culture. It is a wonderful way to introduce the exhibition; Muslim science was truly a multicultural endeavour bringing together scientists from across the vast empire in pursuit of knowledge, irrespective of culture or creed.

The next display was of the School in the Muslim civilisation, looking into the centres of learning, how knowledge was investigated and subjects were taught across the Islamic Civilization. The display also introduced us to Fatima al-Fihri who founded the world’s first degree-awarding university, still in existence: University of Qarawiyyin in Morocco.

After this there was a section on the market place in the Muslim Civilisation, looking at the usage of currency and other novel innovations such as the windmill with vertical blades, or the ingenious invention of Al-Jazari that converts circular motion into linear motion. Visitors got the chance to read about the advances introduced by the Muslims in farming, transport, energy and production of other household goods. News & Events

Next the visitors were treated to a short video starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari. With the use of clever graphics and animations, the viewer was truly enlightened by the wonderful and majestic works of the Muslim scientists, inventors and innovators.  The video starts with a group of children told to go and investigate the Dark Ages. They fittingly come to a man dressed as a librarian (Sir Kingsley) who introduces them to the true picture of the Dark Ages, and rightly renames that age as the Golden Age after magically transforming into Al-Jazari! The kids in the video seem dumbstruck, so much so that the only word they can use to describe all these inventions is ‘cool’. However, a bit of variation in their vocabulary might have made the video a tad bit cooler! The video titled ‘1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets’ is available online to view on the main Exhibition website.

Another exhibit was of the Hospital, and how ancient approaches to health have influenced today’s medicine. It highlighted the contribution of great Muslim doctors to the field of Medicine. Ibn Sina was a polymath who developed a compendium of medical knowledge in his Al-Qanun, the book of medicine that was used for 800 years. Also on display was Al- Zahrawi, a 10th-century surgeon, who revolutionised surgery by becoming the first person to use catgut systematically to stitch internal incisions. We also learnt about the 13th-century doctor Ibn al-Nafis, who was the first to explicitly state that the blood moves from the heart, transits through the lungs to mix with air and returns to the heart – many centuries before the discovery of circulation made by William Harvey.

After the video there is another set of display units for the towns, exploration of the Earth, and exploration of the universe, in the Muslim Civilisation. One is introduced to the various architectures created by the Muslims such as the dome and spires. We find out about legendary explorers, who in their pursuits would make excellent maps. Ibn Battuta who travelled the world, only returning to his home after 30 years! The spirit of exploration was great among Muslims and the exhibition also showed the Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng, who is in a class of his own in global exploration. He commanded numerous expeditions, with large fleets. His treasure ships are reported to have been humongous in size; some have put it as being 10 times larger in capacity than the ship Christopher Columbus used in his historic voyage, if true this would make them bigger than many ships of today! In aviation, we also have spirited Muslims like Abbas ibn Firnas (9th century) who attempted to fly using a wooden glider.

The visitors are finally treated to a display on “The Universe and the Muslim Civilisation”. We are introduced to Merriam’ al-Ijliyah: a woman who constructed astrolabes for the ruler of northern Syria in the 10th century. This became a guide for explorers and is analogous to the modern day GPS system. The Muslims, it seemed, invested great interest in the stars and built observatories to measure constellations as precisely as possible. We are also made aware of Lagari Hasan Celebi who was the first recorded man to brave a rocket-powered flight in 17th century Turkey. After going through the exhibition one is truly humbled by the spirit of exploration, determination and hunger that was shown by the Muslim Civilisation for the improvement of society and in pursuit of knowledge. Glancing over history, there is no time in human history other than the modern age that we find such activity in a plethora of fields of study. We can only pray that we are able to emulate and improve on the example set by the Muslim scholars. May Allah make it so! [ameen].

The group concluded its visit with a group photo and lunch at Nando’s.

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