Discovering science: Golden Age of Islam

Artefacts and ancient manuscripts show that Islam is responsible for any number of contributions to the science and technology world. Now a travelling exhibition aims to educate the world about these great achievements

Muslim civilisation has contributed an incredible amount to science and technology over the centuries, with early-thinkers laying the foundations for life as we currently know it in a variety of fields.

The 7th – 17th centuries, known as the Dark Ages in Europe, are by contrast also referred to as the Golden Age of Islam, whose scholars many suggest laid the foundations for the European Renaissance.

In a bid to educate the world on the feats achieved during this era, UAE and Cape Town-based company MTE Studios created Islamic Science Rediscovered. One of the main aims of the exhibition is to create an awareness of this civilization, whose work is undoubtedly part of Islamic heritage.

This civilization thrived on seeking knowledge and this led to inventions, innovations, discoveries and prosperity. It was then that mathematicians invented algebra and algorithms that enabled the development of computers, while doctors during that era discovered the pulmonary heart circulation, undertook operations with surgical instruments very similar to modern day implements and established efficient public hospitals.

Astronomers also developed tools to calculate their position on earth, paving the way for satellites and travel in space, and engineers such as Al-Jazari and Banu Musa brothers laid the foundation of modern engineering and developed ingenious devices such as the first robot.

And while the Wright brothers are widely acknowledged as the pilots of the first powered airplane, in 1903, visitors to the exhibition might be surprised to discover that as far back as the 9th century, Muslim polymath Abbas ibn Firnas from Cordoba was pioneering manned flight technology.

Ludo Verheyen, CEO of MTE Studios, describes how the idea for the show grew from an initial project to design a large themed mall in Dubai. 

“During the research stages whereby we studied the 14th-century architecture of Muslim Spain, North Africa, Egypt, India, Persia and China, we came across a most interesting image of an old manuscript, depicting a life-size Indian elephant, with an Arabic castle on top and various sculpted figurines and animals such as Chinese serpents. 

“To our delight we discovered that this beautiful sculpture was, in fact, a clock, an ingenious device named, as per the manuscript, the Elephant Water clock and designed by the 14th-century Muslim engineer Al Jazari.”

Such a find led to further research into the achievements of that era, until the company eventually had enough material that they felt deserved to be shared with the public.

Since beginning in Dubai, the touring exhibition has spent time at various prestigious science museums in New York, Toronto and across North America. Now on the Asian leg of the tour, it touches down at the National Science Museum in Thailand in August.