1001 Inventions Our Heritage and Our Future

Hat tip to Noura who gave me a heads up on 10001 Inventions when we were discussing the camp curriculum. I really wish we had an exhibit like this in the states. I think it would go over well in Philadelphia, with such a large Muslim population. In addition, it could do well in helping bridge the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims and dispel myths and stereotypes.

Ben Kingsley, the default Muslim in so many films, starred in the award winning short film “1001 inventions and the Library of Secrets. I like him better as Ibn Jazay over Nizam any old day.

While Persian, Arab, South Asian, and many Muslim actors were excluded from this Hollywood film, Muslims have done a lot in history besides protest Danish cartoons.

It is nice to feel part of that rich intellectual heritage dating back 1400 years. Although people believe that Muslim societies are basically stagnant and that most Muslims are anti-science, the reality is that there are many Muslims involved in scientific development. Many of the American Muslim are highly trained professionals with degrees in medicine or engineering. There are brilliant Muslims working in the sciences, from genetics to sub-atomic physics. We even have some Nobel Laureates, such as Ahmed Zewail, who won a prize in chemistry and Muslims involved in developing travel in space such as Kerim Kerimov and Fouk al Baz.

I believe our children’s understanding Muslim cultural and intellectual heritage, as well as our continual contributions to today’s society, will have the similar effect on their self esteem as when I learned about Black American inventors in Junior High. When I was in elementary school, I used to feel that the only thing that Black people contributed to American society was menial work and slavery. I remember the day one of my teachers brought up Black History and pointed me out in class, “Margari do you have any ancestors who were slaves?” I felt that sinking feeling, a sense of shame. That year the little white boys began to tease me calling me “slave!” The question constantly ran through my head, “If I came from nothing, how am I going to be something?” Then I learned about George Washington Carver, Granville T. Woods, Elijah McCoy, and Charles Drew.

It opened up so many possibilities. Some time in High School I decided my ultimate education goal was to earn a PhD. I just never thought I’d be in the humanities.

While many immigrant Muslims encourage their children to go into the hard sciences, American Muslims often decide to study sacred knowledge or worse become rappers or performers. In fact, we’re encouraged to either go on the lecture or tour circuit by our brothers and sisters who have family obligations and expectations to keep them on that more stable career track. The other problem is that many Black Americans are anti-intellectual and believe that their children will be corrupted at “kafir” institutions. This is why we have to begin rethinking what does it mean to live authentic lives as Muslims. You will find that many of the greatest Muslim thinkers mastered several disciplines, worked for their governments or public institutions (even if they acknowledged that there were problems), and had their own independent means. Muslims were innovative and creative in the arts and sciences. My hope is that we inspire some of our young Black American Muslims to become doctors and engineers. Many of my students are thinking about careers in medicine, but most of my Black American girls only want to go as far as nursing. Why not researchers? Why no chemists? Why not doctors? It has a lot to do with our imagination about the possibilities for the future. My goal as a teacher is for my students to discover their strengths and explore the possibilities. It is hard work, but definitely worth it.

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