The next time you enjoy a baked potato and some green beans with your t-bone, be sure to utter a quiet prayer of gratitude to Allah for the portentous invention of the three-course meal.
But of course, there are many more things for which we owe gratitude to Islam, cars, carpets, and cameras among them — at least according to a new exhibition in Al-Britannia: “1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage of Our World,” which has gotten support from the Home Office and the Department for Trade and Industry.
I have several reactions to this. The first is skepticism. In my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), I examine several of the most common inventions and innovations attributed to Muslims and find that actually they are the work of Christians and Jews who lived in Muslim societies. Does this mean that Muslims aren’t capable of creating something on their own? Of course it doesn’t. But it does mean that for various purposes, political and otherwise, the historical achievements of Muslims have been exaggerated. This exhibition is not the first time it has happened. So caveat emptor.
Second: cars and cameras? I am no expert on the genesis of either one, but I don’t recall ever hearing about Henry Ford or Louis-Jacques-MandÃ© Daguerre working closely with Muslims who gave them a few tips about how to get where they wanted to go. I don’t remember ever seeing photos of, say, the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (d. 1839) or Muhammad Ali of Egypt (d. 1849) — or even a photo of people tooling around Constantinople or Cairo in automobiles circa 1890 or 1900.
Of course, the exhibition most likely intends to establish that Muslims invented not the car or camera as such, but some component of each, without which the thing itself could not have come into being. But such an argument is extremely tenuous. It depends, in the first place, on the assumption that those who actually came up with the finished product could not have developed on their own whatever component Muslims supposedly supplied. But if the infidels were able to take this component so much farther than Muslims ever could — using it to develop cars and cameras, both of which originated in the West, not in the Islamic world — is that a fair assumption?
Second, such an argument is subject to endless atomization. If Muslims developed some key element of the car and the camera, were they perhaps building upon earlier discoveries made by non-Muslims? If so, would this vitiate their achievement in the minds of those who mounted this exhibition? If it wouldn’t, but were instead discounted as irrelevant, than would not the the development of these key components of cars and cameras by Muslims also be irrelevant?
And third, in what way did the Muslim development of these key components depend on their Islam? Did these putative innovators innovate because they were Muslim? There is some considerable evidence that if any actually did innovate, they did it in spite of being Muslim — I explain why in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). But even leaving that aside, were they Muslim inventors or inventors who happened to be Muslim? This is a fair question to ask whenever inventions are attributed to any group: i.e., if Daguerre was a Christian, that still wouldn’t make the daguerreotype a Christian invention, because his creed is simply irrelevant to his development of a practical process of photography — except in the most indirect or contextual way, as it may have made for a cultural environment in which such investigations were desirable and welcome. So if we owe cars and cameras to Muslims, it is fair to ask whether or not that is because of their Islam, or if their Islam is incidental to whatever it was they contributed.
Ultimately, the question that must be asked of this exhibition is: so what? What if Muslims really did give us all things? What point is being made? Professor Mark Halstead sums it up at the end of this article: “Islam needs to take its place alongside other historic groups, such as the ancient Romans and Greeks. When Europe was living in the dark ages, Islamic civilisation was blossoming, and the advances during this period are more relevant to the modern world than those of the Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs.”
Of course they’re more relevant to the modern world, because there aren’t any ancient Romans or Greeks or ancient Egyptians or Aztecs immigrating to Western countries in large numbers today, but there are Muslims. The point of this exhibition is to lessen anxieties among Western non-Muslims about this immigration, and to turn their attention away from honor killings, boasts about the coming domination of Islam, and jihad violence — all of which we are already seeing in Western countries.
But you see, we’re told, that isn’t the true face of Islam. The true face of Islam is the car and the camera and the three-course meal. Aside from the What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately aspect of this, which is an important question in light of the relative development of Islamic societies today, ultimately this is completely irrelevant — as The Religious Policeman riotously pointed out in his Muslim Offense Level chart. He explains the “Elevated — Quite Offended” level as: “We are definitely cross, because people keep blaming us for 9/11, Parisian cars getting torched, Saudi women getting stoned.” And the non-Muslim response? “Pretend that these things have nothing to do with Islam or Muslims, tell everyone how we brought algebra to 9th Century Spain.”
So what if Muslims did bring algebra to 9th-century Spain and three-course meals to gourmands everywhere? Would that change the jihad ideology? Would that eradicate the traditional Islamic imperative, affirmed by all the schools of Islamic law, to fight to impose Sharia and the hegemony of the Islamic social order everywhere?
Of course it wouldn’t. It would just make that hegemony easier to live under. This UK exhibition is offering the British public a spoonful of sugar to help them swallow the idea of imminent Islamic supremacy more easily.
From The Guardian, with thanks to Sandi:
It is the thread that links cars, carpets and cameras and is also responsible for three-course meals, bookshops and modern medicine.
The Islamic civilisation, according to the curators of a national exhibition that opened this week, has made an enormous but largely neglected contribution to the way we live in the west.
The project, 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage of Our World, supported by the Home Office and the Department for Trade and Industry, uncovers the Islamic civilisation’s overlooked contribution to science, technology and art during the dark ages in European history.
It lifts the veil on hundreds of innovations – from kiosks and chess through to windmills and cryptography – that are often popularly associated with the western world but originate from Muslim scholarship and science.
Based on more than 3,000 peer-reviewed academic studies, the exhibition charts Islamic innovations during ten decades of “missing history” spanning from the 6th to the 16th century and covering an area stretching from China to southern Spain.
Tailored to appeal to school children and their teachers, and accompanied by a book and online resource, the project was launched at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry and will tour the country.
Professor Salim al-Hassani, who has led a five-year project to collate and validate the research behind the exhibition, said: “If you ask the average person where their spectacles or camera or fountain pen come from, few people would say Muslims.
“A lot of these scientific and cultural developments are accepted as fact in the academy, but the vast majority of people – because of the nature of the education system – are completely unaware of their origins.”
In his own field, mechanical engineering, Professor al-Hassani has used original 13th century manuscripts to produce virtual reconstructions of sophisticated water pumps and cranks.
“The technology behind these mechanisms was incredibly sophisticated for its time and eventually gave birth to pioneering machinery which still features in every single car,” he said.
A central theme is the exchange of knowledge and culture between civilisations and their lasting significance today.
For example, the 9th century musician and fashion designer known as Ziryab, who travelled from Iraq to Andalusia in Spain, is said to have introduced the concept of the three-course meal.
Meanwhile, it was Caliph al-Ma’mum’s interest in astronomy that led to the development of large observatories, sophisticated astronomical instruments and a rigorous analysis of the stars.
The organisers, the Manchester-based Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, hope to use the compilation to bring about an audit of the national curriculum to ensure it recognises Islamic achievements and the full extent of knowledge transfer between civilisations through the ages.
“For a lot of children in schools, the history of science seems untouchable and remote,” said Yasmin Khan, the exhibitions project manager. “We need to change the way we explain civilisation’s progress in our schools.”
Last year, the government’s preventing extremism working group on education proposed that the entire education system should be instilled with “a more faithful reflection of Islam and its civilisation”.
Professor Mark Halstead, a lecturer in moral education at Plymouth University, said there was scope in the existing curriculum to teach the contributions of Islamic civilisation, but teachers required better training.
“Islam needs to take its place alongside other historic groups, such as the ancient Romans and Greeks,” he said.
“When Europe was living in the dark ages, Islamic civilisation was blossoming, and the advances during this period are more relevant to the modern world than those of the Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs.”