Thursday 28 November 2019

#SharjahSaturday - The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation

The flowering of Islamic science resulted not only in the translation and preservation of the knowledge of the ancients, but in a remarkable flourishing of scientific investigation, discovery and achievement. To this day, a significant amount of our scientific and mathematical vocabulary is peppered with words that have their root in Arabic, a result not only of Baghdad's remarkable Bait Al Hikmah, but of observatories and centres of knowledge in Cairo, Alexandria, Cordoba and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Mantissa, algebra, zenith, alkaline, alchemy and alcohol all trip off the tongue, but they're all rooted in Arabic. So's the word assassin, before you get too uppity over there in the Arabic corner. Something like 60% of the stars in our modern night sky remain named in Arabic - a remarkable testament to the legacy of Islamic achievements in astronomy. This efflorescence of the sciences in the Islamic 'golden age' provided the base for the subsequent explosion of scientific thought following the dark ages in Europe, but it also underpinned the exploration of our world and the opening up of global trade networks.

As we discover in Children of the Seven Sands (ahem), the Arab traders of this area sailed the seven seas (the number of seas between here and China, as it happens) thanks to the navigational skills and observation of the stars that Islamic scientific discovery underpinned. It was from here that the first intercontinental trade networks were formed. The Emirates' most famous son, Ibn Majid of Julfar, left us a remarkable legacy built on the long-standing Arab navigational capability that sustained trade networks across Asia from before the C8th BCE through to the C15th and led to a virtual monopoly of the eastern trade until the Portuguese embarked on their bloody and cruel conquest of those networks in the early 1500s.

All of this and more are awaiting you at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. The building was originally a souk, but it turned out not to be a terribly successful one. The Museum, I am glad to be able to report, is an altogether more successful venture and provides a brilliantly put together display of the eye-opening ethnography of the Islamic world.

Which is why it's included in #SharjahSaturday, natch...

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