Muslim Mothers of Invention

I was going to write an essay about the Muslim inventors showcase 1001 Inventions–the big, splashy exhibit at the New York Hall of Science till April–but then there was a massacre in Tucson. Since the attempt on Congresswoman Giffords’ life called to mind the ghastly and vicious intolerance that has come to describe American political discourse (no, I’m not blaming Caribou Barbie’s insane target map, though there’s a reason why she popped into everyone’s head when the catastrophe happened), I thought I might use the public’s positive reaction to 1001 Inventions as an example of tolerance. How long that tolerance is going to last I don’t know.

According to 1001 Inventions, while Europe was weltering in what they call the Dark Ages, Muslims from Spain to China were inventing just about everything. Then, for some reason, everyone forgot this, and a few centuries later Europeans reinvented the same stuff.

Some of the Muslim inventors were women, as back in the day the thorough education of boys and girls was encouraged.

  • Fatima Al Fihri founded Al Qarawiyin, one of the great universities in Fes, Morocco. The university is still in existence.
  • Merriam al-Ijliyah al-Astrulabi hand-crafted astrolabes for the ruler of Aleppo in northern Syria, so necessary for navigation and to keep track of prayer times.
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wasn’t a Muslim, but she learned about rudimentary inoculations against smallpox in Turkey, where her husband was ambassador, and brought the technique back to England. There’s a reproduction of Charles Jervas’ quirky portrait of her, where she wears what she might have interpreted as harem threads.

Best of all, the exhibit is giddily interactive. Actors, dressed in traditional Muslim costumes, walk around and gently waylay visitors, relating their stories and answering questions. Videos of the various inventors, played by some of the same actors, beckon the viewer like vendors in a market till you mash a button, pick up the telephone and listen to their stories.

Best of all, there are no anti-Muslim picketers, much less wingnut Islamaphobes. Only fascinated children and their parents, who might just learn something. All’s well.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Violet Socks says:

    "Caribou Barbie"? This is Ms. Magazine, and you're referring to a female politician as a Barbie doll? Dear God.

  2. "Caribou Barbie"?

    I thought Ms. was a feminist publication. But I guess sexist cr*p is ok if it's aimed at women we don't like, eh? 'Cuz that's not gonna rebound back on any of the ones we do, or anything like that.

  3. Caribou Barbie? I thought Ms. was for feminists.

  4. Now we have nut cases who kill their daughters for being "too American" trying to get held accountable under Sharia Law in Tuscon and and one who beheaded his wife for trying to divorce him in New York. Any judge who allows this will (hopefully) get thrown off of the bench, since to allow that into a state's penal code or into the Constitution would basically negate the autonomy of the American female and I for one will NOT put up with that. When they come here, they live by American law–period. I don't intend to lose my right to vote OR my right to choice (whether it be to a marriage partner, or even to vote) because someone could not abide by OUR laws when they moved here. BTW, the vaccine was invented in 1788 by Edward Jenner–who was British.

  5. edgeoforever says:

    You are not blaming the Caribou Barbie, except you are. Because MS's feminist is Obama and any woman who tries to get power is a threat to you. Just dandy.

  6. "caribou Barbie"… nice, you have proven once again that MS is now the girls auxiliary of the democratic male's caucus. Other people use that term, most of them also had CDS (Clinton derangement syndrome) and helped the DNC cheat us out of the people's nominee Hillary Clinton. Instead we got the moneyed interest's nominee and the third bush term.
    BTW, Palin's campaign chart was not unusual or insane. Politics is all about targeting, which those of us who have actually been involved realize. You do not have to agree with another woman's politics to be respectful of her as a woman. How would you like it if some right winger called Michelle Obama the "Ghetto Barbie" or "Black Barbie" because of her supposed focus on fashion? MS Magazine would be screaming "racism and sexism". But Ms Magazine can't even recognize it's own sexism. Freaking amazing. Is there anyone there who is NOT a clueless elitist, blogging and writing for political access?

  7. I couldn't even read past "Caribou Barbie". What magazine is this again? Like her or not, have some respect for the gender you are supposed to be supporting.

  8. I am stunned that Ms. Magazine would post such an article firstly due to the Islamic mistreatment of women. And even more concerning is your then referring to Palin as Caribou Barbie? Do not expect any female I know to renew their subscription. What happened to your years of highlighting women are fabulous and encouraging their enlightment? Highlighting their successes? What I see here is not pretty and very demeaning of women as a whole.

  9. womencount says:

    Calling the first woman in our history who was picked to be on a republican presidential ticket “Caribou Barbie” does two things:

    1. plays into male sexist meme of demeaning women politicians.

    2. Belittles a woman politicians’ worth. If you are a liberal feminist why don’t you write a piece about Palin’s practically single handed fight to oust the corrupt republican all boy establishment from the governorship in Alaska and her fight to bring big oil to its knees – which she accomplished. This, Ms. Magazine is leadership.

    Caribou Barbie? Sexism. Ms. Magazine should rename itself.

  10. I was a member of NOW before most of you were probably born. Marched for the ERA and against violence. MS magazine and NOW used to stand for something. Now it is an embarassment. Caribou Barbie? Are you kidding me?

    Replace CLICK with WTF.

  11. Ms. magazine should issue an apology for using the sexist slur against palin. If not perhaps a name change is in order…. Mrs. Might be more fitting.

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