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A Project that Enlightens History

1001 Inventions is a global educational initiative that promotes awareness of a thousand years of scientific and cultural achievements from Muslim civilisation from the 7th century onwards, and how those contributions helped build the foundations of our modern world.

The 1001 Inventions global touring exhibition and the educational products that accompany the exhibition all highlight the scientific and technological achievements made by men and women, of different faiths and cultures that lived in Muslim civilisation.

Launched in the United Kingdom in March 2006, 1001 Inventions was created by the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), a British based non-profit, non-religious and academic organization. Working with leading academics from around the world, FSTC engages with the public through educational media in order to highlight the shared cultural and technological inheritance of humanity, in order to improve social cohesion. “1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World”, which traces the forgotten story of a thousand years of science from the Muslim world, from the 7th century onwards. The exhibition, looks at the social, scientific and technical achievements that are credited to the Muslim world, whilst celebrating the shared scientific heritage of other cultures. The exhibition is a British based project, produced in association with the Jameel Foundation. Featuring a diverse range of exhibits, interactive displays and dramatisation, the exhibition shows how many modern inventions, spanning fields such as engineering, medicine and design, can trace their roots back to Muslim civilisation.

As Lastprophet.info we interviewed the founder and Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, Professor Salim T. S. Al-Hassani, about the project and the exhibition which is currently in display in Sultanahmet, Istanbul until October 5 2010. The exhibition will shortly after be on display in New York, USA.

                             

 

Please tell us about this wonderful project, and how it all came about?

 

Salim Al-Hassani: This project is a compilation of stories that tell the history of science dating back to a thousand years, which school books, particularly in the West, lack. This thousand year time frame corresponds to a period after the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe, the period commonly known as the ‘Dark Ages.’ This is a misnomer as this period was not really dark, and outside of Europe people were living in a golden age, in the sense that the age of discovery and science had never really ceased. This period also corresponds to a time when the Muslim civilization was flourishing. Yet, when we look at European sources on mathematics, chemistry, physics and medicine, we find a one thousand year gap. Does this mean that the readers who derive their knowledge from these sources suffer from a thousand years of amnesia? This amnesia is a dangerous type, in that it both feeds the superiority complex, and introduces an inferiority complex among other nations, particularly those that are Muslim.

This gap in our history is destructive, rather than productive. Moreover, it will not help create or maintain peace in the world. Therefore, we are using the history of science as a new platform for dialogue. Our foundation is non-religious and non-political. Our researchers have chosen from among thousands of inventions to bring life into some of those that still are present in modern society. We have gathered together a large number of academics and experts in this field to ensure that the information we place in the public domain meet high academic standards.

The significance of this new platform is its ability to use the roots and routes of scientific inventions to enhance social cohesion and to induce cultural inter-appreciation.

 

How did you put these on display?

We divided the chosen inventions into seven zones that surround people’s daily lives. We call them home-zone, school-zone, hospital-zone, market-zone, world-zone and universe-zone. Within each zone, we find that much of if not the majority of the terminology we use, the food we eat, the tools we use, and the scientific ideas we refer to have originated in many cultures before and after Greek civilization. When the Muslims came, they used knowledge from previous civilizations, and supplemented it with their own knowledge. Therefore, when the whole of Muslim heritage arrived in Europe, it was the heritage of the world’s civilizations, not just that of Arabs or Turks.

 

But, didn’t the Europeans have knowledge of Greek civilization or Aristotle, for example?

The Greek advances in science and medicine could not have been discovered by Renaissance Europe had it not been for the Arabs who had previously translated them into Arabic. Most of the original Greek manuscripts had perished and disappeared. European scholars had to translate them from the Arabic into Latin to find out what scholars like Galen and Aristotle had said. This is why we say that Muslim heritage is actually like a big treasure chest that contains the heritage of humanity. If we want to find out about the development of inventions in science, we cannot neglect this one thousand years of scientific development.

 

You also have a website that includes all of this information.

We established our foundation about 10 years ago, and we also launched the website www.muslimheritage.com. This portal soon became extremely popular. It now attracts an average of fifty thousand page views per day, with an average stay per page of around twelve minutes. It is undoubtedly now the most powerful portal on this subject in the whole world. Much of the feedback we receive influences the direction of our work.

We have aimed to use a simple language and entertainment techniques, while keeping the academic rigor and authenticity of the given information.

 

What kind of responses do you receive?

The feedback we receive is incredibly encouraging. We get responses from people of all kinds, male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim from all over the world. Some responses have affected our strategy. For example, when I gave a lecture in the city of Watford in the North of London, the guest of honor was the Lady Mayor of that city. After finishing my presentation on the influence of Muslim inventions on our daily lives, she stood up and said, “I am extremely angry. I am angry because of two things; one is because I do not understand why Muslims don’t talk to us in this language. We just learned something that should make us friendly with one another. Instead of talking about politics and religion, we 

need to talk about how in debt we are to the Muslim inventions.” The second reason that was angering her was that the information she had heard is not found in school curriculum. She expressed the importance of the new generations’ knowledge of these facts. This is a typical response we get from many people who come to our exhibitions and lectures. These two concerns have actually inspired our vision and strategy in leading our foundation.

 

What is the message you want to give to your Muslim and Western audiences?

Our message comes from our work, as well as from our campaign. For the non- Muslims, we would like to say that they need to please be 

aware of this gap in history, and try to fill it by allowing other civilizations and other cultures to have their rightful place in the scientific knowledge that is being used today. This will create respect and appreciation of other cultures. We would also like them to know that non-European and non-Western cultures have made major contributions to modern civilization and are not culturally inferior, and that there is no room for cultural superiority in the present and future. We would like the Muslims in particular to know that although this also applies to a lot of other developing countries, we feel that filling this gap in knowledge will give them an identity, a new resume that they can be proud of. They should feel a sense of belonging in terms of the vital scientific contributions that were made by their ancestors, which the world is currently enjoying, and continue to make such contributions today. Although they may be behind now, they were in the lead before, and thus they have a place in today’s world.

This also can inspire Muslims to participate in and contribute more to science and technology so that they may emulate their ancestors. For example, there were women who were actively involved in the building of society, in terms of science, medicine and technology. This, unfortunately, is not adequately known. For instance, the first university in history was founded by a young woman in the city of Fez, in the year 859. Her name was Fatima Al-Fihriya. This was a Muslim lady who devoted her wealth and her life to building a university! She built a university and her sister built a mosque. Incidentally, the Arabic word for mosque is jami’ whilst the word for university is its feminine counterpart jami’ah, an institution for universal knowledge, where both men and women from all different races and cultures could learn and research all the sciences in addition to religious teachings. Such was the original Muslim concept which is now the norm in modern universities.

We also have a message to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslim World at the time embraced a harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims, that included  the joint efforts of men and women who worked together to build a society. There were many Christian, Jewish, and Sabean scholars who contributed to the betterment of life in the society. Such an atmosphere still remains in many Muslim-majority countries particularly in Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq

 

Then one must ask what has happened. Why the decline?

Well, this is a question I refrain from answering, because it requires  knowledge and expertise in sociology and political history. However, if this question was posed by Muslims, I would say that they are asking the wrong question. The reason I say this is because if one is walking and suddenly falls into a large, deep pit, the question that should come to mind is not how one fell, but how one can get out. So, in this context, the question should be 

“How can the Muslim people get out of the trough that they find themselves in?”

 

How?

Having examined the development of science, technology and the arts in Muslim civilization, I would venture into finding an answer. Before that however, I would ask “How is it that suddenly after the emergence of Islam there was an explosion in knowledge, scientific thought, research and new developments in technology, agriculture, economics, education, engineering and so on? How did that happen?” My humble opinion is that the people of that time mainly looked at Islam in its simplicity, and not as a complicated religion and way of life as many recent Muslim teachers make it to be. For example, in the early years of Islam, people interpreted a frequently recited verse of the Qur’an in a different manner than many of the Muslims of today. That verse is Allatheena aamanu wa A'milu as-salihat, “Those who have faith, and do good deeds...” Other similar verses in the Qur’an say man amana wa amila saliha, “he or she who believes and does good deeds...”

Their understanding of amalu’s saliha in the early days is different from that which was developed in the past 300 years; it had obviously changed. Amalu's saliha in the early days meant “useful deeds” or “beneficial deeds.” Now, since about 300 hundred years ago, if you ask many of today’s scholars, they will say 

 

Amalu's saliha

 

 means virtuous deeds or pious deeds; meaning, more Qur’anic recitations, more prayers, more fasting, more nawafil, and so on. However, though this is useful and good, it narrows down the meaning that was originally understood and practiced. 

Iman is defined as what has precipitated (or rested) in the heart, but it is testified and demonstrated by amal, by deeds. Iman is the input, whereas amalu’s saliha is the output. So, as an engineer, I tend to compare iman to the gas/petrol  put into the car to make the car run. Thus, the car’s movement is amalu’s saliha, because it then takes you to where you want to go; hence, a useful deed. So many people have occupied themselves too much in the perfection of the gas. We have many schools of thought just like we have many different oil refineries, many chemical formulas, which is the input, but unfortunately not many people talk about the output. Early Muslims understood this well and therefore connected to Allah through faith and at the same time  they engaged in solving the problems besetting society, whether scientific, medical, economic, industrial or social.

 

 


Muslims need to look back and see how their ancestors developed a paradigm shift in which an environment was created where an individual would respond to the requirements of faith by doing useful and beneficial works to enrich the society without waiting to be told by an Imam or an organization or the government

 

There is a very famous hadith of the Prophet narrated by Omar b. al-Khattab, which says your deeds are measured by your intention. Intention requires thinking, aiming, planning and strategizing. So, in my view most Muslims have a good heart and strong faith, but the problem is in their minds, in the translation of intention to useful action. They need a check-up from the neck up.

Therefore, I believe that in order to revive the Muslim society, Muslims need to look back and see how their ancestors developed a paradigm shift in which an environment was created where an individual would respond to the requirements of faith by doing useful and beneficial works to enrich the society without waiting to be told by an Imam or an organization or the government. It was a very simple thing; the society understood that their faith had to be demonstrated by the work and the deeds which pleased Allah. Allah expected them to do useful deeds, which would be useful to the environment and to the society. So if the society was in need of economic progress, then this became their “useful deed.” They needed an abundance of food, so they worked in agriculture and planted trees. They had medical requirements, so they carried out research in medicine and pharmacology. This is how it was; everybody was trying to do something good, a useful deed. I believe that if only this same simple idea could spread in the Muslim world, it would instigate a paradigm shift. What is needed, therefore, is effectively a journey to the past for designing a better future.

 

How do you think this will affect the rising tide of Islamophobia?

Those who have seen the 1001 Inventions Exhibition, read the book “1001 Inventions,” or seen our website have been influenced in a very positive way. Our work is not a reaction to Islamophobia; we did not start our work in response to this. We started our foundation and website before 9/11. The intention was to create an atmosphere within which various cultures would respect and appreciate one another. Unfortunately, that 1000 years amnesia has caused a cultural imbalance. Eliminating this amnesia engenders cultural inter-appreciation and cultural convergence.

It is unfortunate that this ignorance has produced this so called “Islamophobia,” but mind you it takes two factors to enforce this new phenomenon. Ignorance induced racism in the West, accompanied by unacceptable behavior of some Muslims. These forces then feed on each other. The fact is, whether a society is majority Muslim or not, a Muslim living in that society must be seen to contribute to its wellbeing. This is the only way that a good example can be set for the Muslim world, and thus non-Muslims will begin to see Muslims in a different light. They will see that Muslims are trustworthy, clean and generous; they pay their taxes and they are good citizens. If this were to actualize, then very little could be said against Muslims, and racist extremist propaganda would fail. Yet, unfortunately there are some Muslims who misbehave, and that bad example is often against mainstream Muslims.

 

You are trying to include this project in English school curriculum How is that going?

Yes we are working currently with educational institutions by providing them educational resources. We now have a teacher’s pack on our website www.1001inventions.com, which teachers can use to introduce this material into their curriculum. This pack can be downloaded for free.

 

Why 1001 Inventions?

 

We chose the name 1001 Inventions because what springs to the minds of most westerners when the name Turk, Arab, Pakistani or Muslim is mentioned is the subliminal messages in the story of “1001 nights,” which is about Ali Baba, Aladdin, Sinbad the sailor and belly-dancing women. This has formed a negative, stereotypical image that we are trying to change. This is why we chose the name 1001 Inventions, to effectively counter that image and give a cultural shock by replacing “nights” with “inventions.” This then will open the minds for allowing the contributions of all previous cultures wich were preserved and brought to us through Muslim Heritage. 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s next?

 

Well, this project will become global. After people become more educated in this subject, we obviously would like them to continue visiting the website 1001inventions.com and muslimheritage.com. We also want the book “1001 Inventions” to be read in schools. There are two and a half million English speaking schools in the world, and this book should reach  them. We hope that people will sponsor these schools so that they may have access to the book. The book can also be a wonderful Eid gift for Muslims or Christmas gift for Christians, or a gift for any other occasion. What we would like to see in the long run is that the school curriculum in every country in the world has been enriched by the inventions from Muslim heritage. The West needs to change their curriculum in order to recognize the inventions from other cultures Muslimfrom China to India. Muslims also need to change their school curriculum so to reflect the harmonious relationship between Muslim and non-Muslim scientists and scholars during the golden age of Muslim civilization; including Christians, Jews, sabeans and others. It should reflect that women were scientists, astronomers, mathematicians and doctors. They built universities, schools, and they had businesses.

I would like to finish by telling you the story of the first minister of health and safety in Muslim civilization, a woman by the name of Shifa. She lived at the time of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. He appointed her in charge of all the safety and health of the market place of Madina, and she reported directly to him. She had the authority to punish and discipline people. So, when she went into the market place she commanded great respect and authority. She ensured that there was no cheating, that the food was good, and that all buildings were constructed properly. She did very well. When the Muslims went into Iraq, Basra city was a very complicated city, being a seaport for imported goods from India and China. Caliph Omar appointed Shifa to be the governor of Basra, but not many Muslims are aware of this. Actually, recent research at Oxford University has discovered that in the early years of Islam there were eight thousand women who taught and narrated the Qur’an and hadith, and who taught fiqh. Now, this is in the inner sanctum of religion, while Christianity still struggles with the idea of allowing women to be priests. In contrast, 1400 years ago Muslim women were masters; they were teaching men about Islam and about religion.

Before we finish I would also like to mention that there are five million manuscripts in the world today, of which, only fifty thousand have been edited. Only fifty thousand in the whole world out of five million! When you think about the power and money in the Muslim world, it is truly sad that there are only fifty thousand edited versions of these manuscripts. What about the other four million nine hundred fifty thousand? And most of those fifty thousand are mainly about political intrigues, and dynasties killing each other, or about religious arguments, poetry and art. The remainder is mostly about science. So in the five million, we expect to find much of the information we are after, like the role of women in previous centuries.

The Muslim world should take up this challenge and work towards learning more about their heritage.

 

Thank you very much, Professor Hassani. nsha’Allah there will be many more exhibitions and books to come in the following years.

Thank you!

 

 
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