Fact or Fiction?: 1001 Muslim Inventions Comes to Washington D.C.


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Maybe the list of the 1001 inventions was in the book, but they were nowhere to be found in the exhibit hall.  But the book is available for school curricula teaching about the exhibit.

Instead of a list of 1001 inventions, there was more slippery language throughout the exhibit.  Consider the station boldly entitled “Creating the Chemical Industry.”  It starts, “some sources say” that in the 8th Century Jabir ibn Hayyan used an Islamic alembic for distillation.  How does distillation, a process that existed for 2,800 years before Jabir, have any bearing on “creating the chemical industry”?  The exhibit gets around to that question, sort of.

“Scientists of this period laid important foundations of the modern chemical industry.” These include new ways of “classifying substances,” sort of like Aristotle classifying Earth, Air, Fire and Water a millennium before Jabir.  But other Muslim scientists developed varnishes, synthetic chemicals, paints and pesticides, we are told.  No details are provided for these very specific inventions.

Other “inventions” or skills used (and therein lies the riddle) described in the exhibit are windmills, water pumps, and crop rotation.  One exhibit entitled “Home Life” claims that the influence of Muslim civilization on modern living is ubiquitous.  “From gardens to games, fashions to fabrics, clocks to cameras, today’s home life is packed with influences from early Muslim civilization.”

The Soviets were notorious for claiming communists were the first in everything.  At least with human rocket travel, they were right.  But the exhibit steals the Soviets’ thunder:

The desire to blast off in a rocket has been alive for centuries.  The famous traveler Evlia Celebi recorded that the first person to take a rocket powered flight into the sky was his brother, Lagari Hasan Celebi, in 17th Century Turkey.  Celebi’s gunpowdered fueled rocket is said to have carried him high into the sky, where he spread out his wings, glided down and plunged into the Bosporus.

Sounds like the Space Shuttle.  This story of Celebi is juxtaposed with a photo of an American Apollo moonwalker.

Notice, again, how the language hedges bets.  A “famous” traveler reported his brother was the first to fly in a rocket.  Since he is famous, it is likely to be true.  The exhibit does not say a gunpowder rocket carried him high into the sky, but rather, the rocket is said to have carried him high into the sky.

The rocket story borders on dishonesty, as do so many other parts of 1001 Inventions.  An exhibit purporting to present history, especially one sponsored by National Geographic, has an obligation to say what the history is.  Instead the language of the exhibit equivocates, prevaricates, and in the worst moments, tricks the unwary.

Naturally, all of this raises the question of whether the slipperiness of the exhibit is deliberate or accidental.  Knowing more about the sponsors may be illustrative.  The Abdul Latif Jameel  Community Initiatives sponsors the exhibit, a group which proudly sponsors scholarships at MIT.

One thing is for sure, 1001 Inventions has high-power support.

1001 Inventions is supported by Prince Charles who said it “highlights how many of the most important scientific and technological discoveries and building blocks of modern civilization came out of Muslim society during the centuries after the fall of ancient Rome.”  500,000 attended the exhibit when it was in Los Angeles.  Hillary Clinton praised the exhibit.  Clearly, this is no backwater traveling show.

History is often determined in great battles.  But ongoing battles about history can redefine it.  The 1001 Inventions exhibit is diminished with a more understandable me-too-ism, a desperate search for cultural pride despite the technological dominance of the West after the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.  But as Orwell noted, language and word choice are powerful weapons in battles about history.  National Geographic has an obligation to clarify whether the words and claims in 1001 Inventions is history, legend, or a mix of both, before another half-million Americans march through their doors.

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  • @a2mac

    Fascinating attempts to claim credit for writing in Arabic that which the world had already discovered. Camera Obscura wa documented/ known 1000 yrs before Muhammad was born. A Chinese man was first and this was followed by Greeks like Aristotle. We all know the story of Igarus flying to close to the sun again predating Islam by hundreds of years.

    When Arabs conquered north africa/persia Jewish & Coptic Christians Translated exciting scholarly works into Arabic. Some of this work was further developed most just plagiarised and passed of by later generations as innovation. They have invented very little in 1500 years for the population size. Compare to inventions of Scots or Jews.

    • Hani

      you may want to watch this, I think you need to know the facts.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsJ4Zrf8miA

      • BintAlAbla

        Thank you Hani. Unfortunately some people have disregarded the facts. Never mind, truth will triumph.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Why am I not surprised that you a)defend violent islam and b)know about violence?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Wee, you small little man.
    You are so full of hate for Christianity…

    Why an exact copy? Does paganism have grace? Does it have a savior that doesn't demand payment or rituals to earn our way to heaven?

    Christianity and Judaism may have some similarities in roots, but the mechanics and approach is totally opposite to paganism.

    You are simply a blinded bigot. Do you sit close to Trista Parsi's office?

  • Eyes_open

    Just back up a minute. Christianity stole almost everything it has from European pagans, but it didn't steal everything the European pagans had to offer. It took the holidays, and the myths, but left behind the good, humanitarian, neighborly basis that the pagans based their religions on.

    I resent the comparison. That is like saying that a rapist and a rape victim both had sex so they are basically the same. Not even close.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    I can read what you said, and the idea behind it was wrong. I explained why.

    Once again your ideas and claims are based on bigotry that doesn't stand up to the light of day.

    Wee, you're still just a small little man.

  • Eyes_open

    Does paganism have grace?

    Yes

    Does it have a savior that doesn't demand payment or rituals to earn our way to heaven?

    Yes, but we don't call it Heaven, different name.

    We also don't have a "hell" that was totally a Hebrew/Christian invention to scare little children into doing as the priest told them. (Now pull down those nickers little one and I will give you a great blessing, and if you tell anyone you will go straight to hell)

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    You silly little pagan. Christians never had to work their way to heaven never had to offer a single sacrifice. Never had to earn the approval of God.

    What theft of ideas are you talking about again?

    I resent your lies and insinuations.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Is that why pagans slaughtered so many human sacrifices to humor the gods they worshipped?

    You silly pagan you.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    You were just refusing to admit that suicide bombs as a way to paradise is a muslim invention.

    When the Tamil tigers used them it was a tactica offensive weapon to survive as a group. When islam uses it it's a forced tool to attack and go on the offensive.

    And you still a) defend violent islam b) know about violence.

  • WTE

    Evidentally you can't read that well. I was right and you were wrong……………..that is always thecase no matter what you say <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: times new roman, new york, times, serif; FONT-SIZE: 12pt”> <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: times new roman, new york, times, serif; FONT-SIZE: 12pt”> <DIV dir=ltr> <DIV style=”BORDER-BOTTOM: #ccc 1px solid; BORDER-LEFT: #ccc 1px solid; PADDING-BOTTOM: 0px; LINE-HEIGHT: 0; MARGIN: 5px 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 0px; PADDING-RIGHT: 0px; HEIGHT: 0px; FONT-SIZE: 0px; BORDER-TOP: #ccc 1px solid; BORDER-RIGHT: #ccc 1px solid; PADDING-TOP: 0px”></DIV>

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Poor little wee, you're sitting at your work terminal watching Trista Parsi walking around afraid that you're supervisors will realize how ineffective your style of propaganda is.

    A hate filled bigot, and you pretend to be a part of any real discussion…..it's not working is it?