1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World

This event has now finished. Until Jun 30 2010

© 1001 Inventions

Time Out says  

Posted: Thu Apr 1 2010

We have a lot to thank the Islamic world for. Without the scientific and technological developments of Muslim scholars from the seventh century onwards, we would be without our decimal system and without universities as we know them. The Arab world has given us a great number of words including 'traffic', from the word 'taraffaqa' (meaning 'to walk along slowly together'), which may strike you as apposite as you shuffle en masse round this exhibition.

It is a show of stark contrasts. Almost everything exquisite and contemplative about it can be found in display cases near the entrance. Here you'll discover a range of objects from the museum vaults, including a tenth-century alembic used for distillation - one of the oldest examples in the world. In the darkened echo chamber of the exhibition proper, meanwhile, the apparently necessary evil of edutainment occurs.

Divided into zones ('home', 'market', school', 'hospital', 'town', 'world' and 'universe') that broadcast their information like competing rides at a fairground, this part of the experience seems designed to appeal to older primary school kids. A frequently repeated, cinema-loud introductory film has a 'Harry Potter' vibe and production values to match.

So what do we learn? While a five-metre-high replica of the thirteenth-century 'Elephant Clock' - a mechanised beast designed by the polymath inventor Al-Jazari - is unmissable, the importance of timekeeping to prayer, fasting and pilgrimage is relegated to a few lines on a text panel. Elsewhere, the fact that Islam was born into an already cultured world - hothousing developments from ancient China, Greece and Rome - is acknowledged, even if the provenance of some of the ideas included is sometimes unclear.

The overriding message is that cultures are enmeshed, that Muslim history is everybody's history. Yet, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect the Science Museum to broach the issue of faith's influence over reason. We end up knowing a lot about the things that Islamic culture gave the world without learning much about Islam itself. Al-Jazari's pachyderm timepiece is by no means the largest elephant in this room.

Science Museum details

Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2DD

Science Museum

The Science Museum features seven floors of educational and entertaining exhibits, including the Apollo 10 command module and a flight simulator....

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Transport South Kensington 


0870 870 4868


10am-6pm daily