Debunking The Golden Age Of Islam: Why 1001 Inventions Exhibition Is An Exercise in Cultural Propaganda!
As someone who is interested in and has written about history, I’m extremely irritated by the fact that in recent years many inventions have been attributed to Islamic inventors, which in fact either existed in pre-Islamic eras or were invented by other cultures. This is historical revisionism and is obviously being done for political reasons. It is yet another example of the stealth jihad that is slowly chipping away at the cultural confidence of the West.
These Islamophilic claims are being forced upon the general public through a variety of means, including television series, articles in the mainstream media as well as blog posts and videos on YouTube. I am obviously not claiming that Muslims have never invented anything but I definitely am challenging the idea that Islam is an ideology that actively encourages learning and discovery. The intellectual flourishing of the Islamic world came about because the territory under Muslim control was inhabited by millions of people representing diverse cultures and languages not because of the religion that ruled over them.
Examples of Cultural Stealth Jihad
A very clear example of Islam making exaggerated claims about its intellectual legacy is the international touring exhibition called “1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization”, which first opened at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in 2006. The exhibition has since toured the world from China to New York and from Brazil to Bahrain. It has presented before the United Nations and the exhibition has been visited by members of the British Royal Family and world leaders.
The fact that such exaggerations are given any credence is very disturbing. For example, the 1001 Inventions exhibition home page has, amongst other things, an article on the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was built in the 3rd century AD but is in Egypt so is claimed as Muslim. There’s another piece on Ibn Sina’s Canon book, which it accurately describes as a medical reference in Europe for 500 years but fails to mention that most of its contents have been superseded by modern medical advances. Another post is entitled Extraordinary Women from the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation so you get a clear idea of 1001 Inventions’ politically correct position and why it appeals to the multicultural Islamophiles of the Left.
Here’s how the exhibition describes itself on its website “1001 Inventions is an award-winning international science and cultural heritage organisation that raises awareness of the creative golden age of Muslim civilisation that stretched from Spain to China. From the 7th century onwards, men and women of different faiths and cultures built on knowledge from ancient civilisations making breakthroughs that have left their mark on our world. Join us on a journey to the past to inspire a better future!”
Another example of Islam’s creeping influence is an article by Paul Vallely entitled “How Islamic inventors changed the world”. It was written to celebrate the opening of the 1001 Inventions exhibition and was published in The Independent on the March 11th 2006.
This inaccurate piece of writing has received much praise from Muslims and is still being widely circulated on Islamic websites, forums, blogs, and even more worryingly, according to WikiIslam.net, by 2009, the article had even been used as a source to validate false claims of Islamic inventions in over twenty separate articles on Wikipedia.
Paul Vallely’s article boldly begins with the following statement: “From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential – and identifies the men of genius behind them.”
As one of my aims is to debunk Islamic misinformation and propaganda, I plan to write and make separate articles and videos that examine all twenty of these “Islamic inventions that changed the world”, and in doing so, I will inform you of their actual inventors and the true role of Islam and Muslims, if any, behind the inventions. If you want to research this yourself, I recommend an excellent article on WikiIslam called “How Islamic Inventors Did Not Change The World“.
Were The Dark Ages Dark?
The 1001 Inventions exhibition begins with a short movie starring Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley, who gives an incredibly contrived performance as a librarian confronted by a trio of young uniformed British students seeking information about “the dark ages.”
Kingsley’s unsympathetic librarian is dismissive of the children’s assumptions about the Dark Ages. “Never was a period of history so poorly named,” he bristles, critical of those “filling your head with such nonsense and ripping down the good of former civilisations.”
When one of the children retorts with “Everyone knows the Greeks and Romans invented everything, anyway!”, that’s when the librarian springs into life and puts the children right about their misconceptions.
What the librarian has to say on the Dark Ages is interesting because it confuses concepts. He describes the period as “a thousand wasted years, a black hole in history”. Mentioning “a thousand wasted years” means he’s referring to the popular concept of what the Dark Ages is. This is the Middle Ages as a whole, which is the period spanning from the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century to the Renaissance in the fifteenth century.
However, while most historians avoid the term Dark Ages these days, if it is used, it generally now refers to the Early Middle Ages, which lasted from the fall of Rome to when the Christian Kingdoms began to recover in the tenth century.
One has to ask why this period was dark. Well, firstly, the collapse of one of the world’s great civilisations led to a period of disorder and disarray. There were continual attacks from tribes from the north and the rulers that replaced Rome never really had time to establish themselves before a new threat appeared in the Mediterranean, which under the Greeks and Romans had been the cradle of Western civilisation. Let me extrapolate from my knowledge of Spanish and more specifically, Catalan history.
The View From Spain
Following the fall of Rome in 410, modern Spain and the southern half of France was occupied by the Visigoths, who adopted Latin as the lingua franca, left most of the Roman systems of government in place and eventually adopted Christianity. As they changed very little and were almost a continuation of Roman rule, they left relatively few documents or examples of art and architecture for posterity.
Muhammad began preaching Islam in 610 and a century later, after conquering the Arab peninsula and North Africa, the Umayyad Muslims crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered almost the whole of Visigoth Hispania in less than a decade. They received their first setback in 732, when they were defeated by Charles Martell at the Battle of Tours just south of Paris.
The Franks began their pushback and Barcelona was retaken in 801 and what is now known as Catalunya Vella or Old Catalonia was distributed among a number of Counts. The reason why this period was dark was that these were difficult times and the fact that the threat of Muslim attack was always present made it difficult to establish stable systems of government.
For example, Barcelona was sacked by the Caliph of Cordoba, Al-Mansur in 985. The Catalan nobles were continually fighting the Muslims to the south and the borders of modern Catalonia weren’t established until the Conquest of Tortosa in 1148. Furthermore, due to attacks by Muslim pirates based in Mallorca, maritime trade was virtually impossible until the Catalans took the island in 1232.
Having said that, whenever the Catalans felt their territory was secure, they built churches and one can almost trace the confidence of the culture by first visiting the 9th century early Romanesque churches in the Pyrenees and then going on to the magnificent Gothic Monastery of Poblet, which was built in the 1150s.
The Myth of the Magical Muslims
In the next section of the film, the librarian takes the children into the library, and Harry Potter-style magic takes over. Kingsley is transformed with beautiful flourish from an English librarian into the exotic turban wearing historical figure of Al-Jazari.
This is pretty impressive stuff and calls on subconscious associations the exhibition title has with 1001 Arabian Nights, Open Sesame and Aladdin . You can see that the children on the screen are enthralled. However, given that the film screening normally starts the 1001 Inventions exhibition, the real aim is to enchant and captivate the children in the audience and prepare them and their parents for the misinformation and exaggeration that they will be force-fed throughout the rest of the exhibition.
The key quote in this section is “Of course there were parts of the world that were not dark at all. But in a civilisation that stretched from Spain to China, the golden rays of discovery and invention shone over everything.” When asked “What civilisation?” “The Muslim civilisation, my friend,” Al-Jazari replies.
Defining the Islamic Golden Age
The claim is bold but it’s what’s omitted that’s important. This is that the vast areas of the world under Muslim control incorporated the knowledge of previous civilisations, such as the Chinese, Hindus, Byzantines, Egyptians and Persians, under one or sometimes various Muslim rulers. This doesn’t mean that we’re talking about Muslim civilisation but rather a meeting of different civilisations under a single polity.
For example, it is pretty clear that the Translation Movement, which is rightly lauded as a highly enlightened project and was sponsored by the Abbasid Dynasty, was initially borne out of the political necessity of ruling over so many different languages. The Abbasid Caliphs weren’t stupid and once they realised that there was powerful knowledge to be had, the translation project was broadened to include philosophical and scientific texts. The fact that Aristotle’s works were recovered in the conquered Byzantine Empire, translated into Syriac and Arabic and then translated into Latin in Islamic Spain doesn’t make Aristotle a Muslim.
The House of Wisdom, which was founded in Abbasid Bagdhad in 825 was modelled on the earlier Christian Academy of Gondishapur, and most of the scholars employed there were Christians. Similarly, the physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians, who brought knowledge that had been translated from Greek into Syriac and would later be translated into Arabic by state-sponsored translators.
He mentions the coming together of different peoples but doesn’t mention the status of these peoples under Islam. The Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus and others who were responsible for many of the so-called Muslim civilisation’s inventions were at best dhimmis, which meant they were second or even third class citizens, who were forced to pay the jizyah and often publicly humiliated.
Islamic apologists will say that the last statement is a generalisation that specifically doesn’t apply to the Golden Age of Islam so that implies the need for a definition. This is difficult because the idea of the Islamic Golden Age is almost as difficult to define as the concept of the Dark Ages. Let’s have a look at what Wikipedia has to say on the subject.
“The metaphor of a golden age began to be applied in 19th-century literature about Islamic history, in the context of the western aesthetic fashion known as Orientalism. The author of a Handbook for Travelers in Syria and Palestine in 1868 observed that the most beautiful mosques of Damascus were “like Mohammedanism itself, now rapidly decaying” and relics of “the golden age of Islam”.
There is no unambiguous definition of term, and depending on whether it is used with a focus on cultural or on military achievement, it may be taken to refer to rather disparate time spans. Thus, one author would have it extend to the duration of the caliphate, or to “six and a half centuries”, while another would have it end after only a few decades of Rashidun conquests, with the death of Umar and the First Fitna.
During the early 20th century, the term was used only occasionally, and often referred to the early military successes of the Rashidun caliphs. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that the term came to be used with any frequency, now mostly referring to the cultural flourishing of science and mathematics under the caliphate during the 9th to 11th centuries (between the establishment of organised scholarship in the House of Wisdom and the beginning of the crusades), but often extended to include part of the late 8th or the 12th to early 13th centuries.
Definitions may still vary considerably. Equating the end of the golden age with the end of the caliphate is a convenient cut-off point based on a historical landmark, but it can be argued that Islamic culture had entered a gradual decline much earlier; thus, Khan (2003) identifies the proper golden age as being the two centuries between 750–950, arguing that the beginning loss of territories under Harun al-Rashid worsened after the death of al-Ma’mun in 833, and that the crusades in the 12th century resulted in a further weakening of the Abbasid empire from which it never recovered.”
Having read around the subject, I had independently come to the conclusion that the Islamic Golden Age was the perioid 750 to 950, when the Abbasid Dynasty was at the height of its powers in Baghdad and the Umayyads ruled Muslim Spain from Cordoba. The reason for this is because various projects such as the Translation Movement or the House of Wisdom clearly received state sponsorship so, despite the diverse cultures and peoples involved, they were inspired and propelled by the Muslim governments of the day.
However, Islamic apologists, such as the 1001 Inventions exhibition, seem to take Muslim civilisation as any object invented, text written or idea thought at any time in history in any country that has ever been Muslim for however a short a period.
An Exercise In Cultural Propaganda
In an article for Front Page magazine entitled “Fact or Fiction?: 1001 Muslim Inventions Comes To Washington D.C. When myth mingles with science and rumor becomes history.” J. Christian Adams describes his visit to the exhibition in Washington in August 2012. He is particularly aware that 1001 Inventions is nothing more than slick propaganda and is concerned about the brainwashing effects it has on his children.
“And herein lies the most fascinating characteristic of the entire exhibit – the slipperiness of its language. Indeed, language throughout the exhibit, as we shall see, becomes a way to trick attendees. Cleverly chosen words nudge readers toward unsupported conclusions. Myth mingles with science. Rumour becomes history.
Consider the “invention” of the camera. Al-Jazari, portrayed masterfully and magically on screen by Kingsley, says “he” was responsible for explaining “how our eyes work” and developed camera obscura. Even if it is historically accurate that Al-Jazari pioneered camera obscura, the slithery language of the screenplay generates an inference that Al-Jazari is somehow legitimately involved in the chain of inventions culminating in my Nikon 35mm.
I was reminded of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language when he wrote: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Kingsley’s Al-Jazari fulfills Orwell’s warning in the film when he introduces another Muslim inventor, Abbas Ibn Firnas, who “dared to dream man could fly 1000 years before the Wright Brothers.”
Outside the theater, Firnas is featured in a flight exhibit. Firnas is “said to be the first person who tried to fly. His first attempt which has passed into legend took place when he leapt from the minaret of the Great Mosque in Cordoba. Equipped with a glider with wooden struts, he managed to fly and landed more or less unharmed. [His] next flight was more ambitious. From the top of a nearby hill, he launched himself and his flying machine, apparently gliding for some distance before falling, a problem blamed on the lack of a tail.”
Notice all of the tricks of language. He was the first “who tried to fly,” and “passed into legend,” “more or less unharmed,” the “flying machine,” (implying moving parts), and “apparently gliding for some distance.” Naturally he also diagnosed that that cause of his failure was the want of a tail. The exhibit neglects to inform us about whether he applied this fix to his “machine.”
The exhibit also features an interactive game for children where they can help Firnas fly by flapping their arms.
This all might seem harmless, but consider the argument I had with my 8-year-old after leaving the exhibit. She was convinced that the Wright Brothers were not the first to fly, and instead it was Firnas launched from the mosque at Cordoba a millennium ago. This would not be the only instance when thought corrupted the language of the exhibit, which in turn corrupted thought, at least among the more impressionable.”
In future articles and videos, I’ll be looking at the specific claims, such as the invention of flying or chess or Muslim contributions to modern mathematics or medicine, but it’s obvious that propaganda is the main aim of 1001 Inventions. This can be seen very clearly from the way Al-Jazari says goodbye to the children.
In his round-up, he say’s “Remember spread the word” as if the children have been let into some kind of secret knowledge. He then goes on to whet their intellectual appetites saying “There are countless other scientists and inventions directly connected to your modern world. You’re just going to have to find out for yourselves.”
And sure enough, with the support of National Geographic, 1001 Inventions provides a massive amount of literature aimed directly at children and schools with teacher’s packs specially designed to help ignorant teachers indoctrinate a new generation of dhimmi children. This is Sharia in action because it is being used to tell children that as Muslims are responsible for everything, they are in fact superior and for that reason we should bow down to their will and submit to Allah.
There are many reasons why this insidious disinformation trick works and how our ignorance and politeness as well as our desire not to look stupid is exploited. No one knows the names of most of these so-called scientists and inventors so it’s easy to make extravagant claims without ever being challenged. This is particularly true when the claimant is a brown person, who practices an exotic religion we know little or nothing about.
Having now spent quite a lot of time looking into the subject, it is worrying just how prevalent the kind of propaganda exhibited in 1001 Inventions is. The minds of our children and their gullible teachers are being poisoned and for this reason, we have a moral obligation to call it out.
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