STEM is a hot topic in science centers and museums around the world. One lens that’s not as often discussed is how STEM exhibit design is tackled within the context of religious education and understanding. Two museums of note are doing innovative work exploring the relationship between science, technology, and Islam. One is the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam, based in Saudi Arabia, and the other is the Istanbul Museum of Science and Technology in Islam.
While much of Europe was mired in the economic turmoil and conflict of the Dark Ages, a renaissance was happening in another part of the world. The Islamic Golden Age, which occurred during the 7th-15th centuries, marked a time in history where intellectual thought, science, and technology reigned supreme in the Middle Eastern region. Scholars inspired by Quranic passages and long-held beliefs set out to compile the entire world’s knowledge into the Arabic language. Houses of wisdom and mosques devoted to learning and discussion were created. Major cities in the region became hubs of science, medicine, and education. It was a period of scholarly advancement backed by the principles and traditions of Islamic culture.
Today, the Islamic Golden Age has been brought to life at the Saudi-based Museum of Science and Technology in Islam at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. The unique museum features nine different areas for visitors to learn and explore. The introductory area provides museum-goers with an overview of a dozen reasons why science and technology flourished during the prominent historical era.
Exhibits explore specific reasons that include the strongly positive influence of the Islamic faith on the development of a new society, a prevailing belief in innovation among Muslim scholars, the creation of paper and books for recording information, the use of Arabic numerals and the development of mathematics, translation of ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese works into Arabic, the universal language of the region, and the strong support and respect for intelligence and innovation at the time, as well as other themes.
Visitors to the museum can discover Muslim scholars’ contributions to the fields of astronomy, technology, chemistry, art and architecture, mathematics, and life and environmental science. Each cluster features modern replicas of ancient artifacts, books, and inventions developed by Islamic thinkers.
Museum of Science and Technology in Islam guests can study how ancient thinkers used astronomy to identify specific dates of important times of prayer; explore the development of iconic architecture such as the Madrasah of al-Mustansiriyya and Sultan Bayezid II Külliyesi in Erdine, Turkey; discover innovations in life sciences and chemistry developed by Islamic scholars; learn more about unique contributions to technology that used wind and water to generate energy and power machinery; and see how many of the creations of the time laid the groundwork for modern-day tools, machines, and inventions. After making their way through the museum, visitors have the option of participating in an interactive quiz to test how well they’ve remembered all they’ve learned about Islamic scholars’ important contributions to science and technology.What makes the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam so unique is that it brings scientific concepts to life within the context of religion. It does this by leveraging an interpretation and curation style that’s highly innovative and makes good use of technology and hands-on engagement. Technology, science, and the Islamic faith is interwoven into a story that is unveiled across several centuries. Its mission is displayed prominently throughout the exhibits, and the artifacts and inventions showcase how learning and discovery played such a pivotal role during the innovative era. We’re excited to see such a different approach to a science center that’s anchored around a novel theming context carried throughout the institution in thoughtful and creative ways.
Images: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)