Some of the world's top Muslim scientists and their inventions were on display last week in an exhibition held at an Islamic center in Houston, Texas, where organizers aim to build cultural bridges by highlighting some of the lesser known aspects of Islamic civilization.
The exhibition, Sultans of Science: 1000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered, is a two month long display that honors the contributions of Muslim scientists from the eighth century right through to the eighteenth, an era known as the Golden Age of the Islamic world.
The name Abbas Ibn Firnas may not be known to western science buffs but the ninth century Muslim scholar was the first man in aviation history to attempt to fly, beating the infamous Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh.
Firnas was credited for the first piloted flight in human history as he tied himself to a feathered glider in Cordoba, Spain.
"Increasing awareness of Muslims’ contributions to the civilization and the field of learning is vital for building cultural bridges between different peoples," said Joanne Herring King, a member of the exhibition committee.
Shedding some light on the importance of Muslim civilization will show a different view of Muslims, which King said has been "obscured in the smoke of war generated by the bad ones.”
Another inventor is the tenth century optician and physicist Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, simply known as al-Haytham, who invented the pinhole camera and discovered how the eye works.
From art and astronomy, to optical sciences, mathematics and architecture, the exhibit offers visitors hands-on activities using models of artefacts and inventions that recreate what it was like to be a scientist in the middle ages.
Visitors, for instance, can map their pulse using a sensor that displays their heartbeats against a backdrop of famous scientist Ibn Nafi’s ninth century diagram of the human circulatory system.
Or they can get a feel of medieval “photography” through conducting experiments at al-Haytham’s recreated optical laboratory using the camera model he invented along with concave and convex lenses.
“We knew this nonreligious exhibit would attract people of Houston for its self-guided and non-imposing nature,” said Ameer Abuhalimeh, executive director of the Islamic Da’wah Center.
Another feature of the exhibition will include small replicas of Islamic scientific inventions designed for the Ibn Battuta Mall, a massive shopping center in Dubai featuring the travels of the infamous 14th century Moroccan traveler, who visited 40, 000 countries and crossed 75,000 miles in three decades.
The Houston museum of Natural Sciences will also feature the IMAX film Journey to Mecca, which documents Ibn Battuta’s extensive voyage.
"The exhibition sends a powerful message about the way we evaluate history and the need to embrace multi-cultural knowledge," said Ludo Verheyen, CEO of MTE Studios, the Cape Town and Dubai-based company which owns the exhibition.