Bryn Barnard and Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd in dialog The Genius of Islam. How Muslims Made the Modern World.
The Middle Ages were a period of tremendous cultural and scientific advancement in the Islamic Empire—ideas and inventions that shaped our world.
I have a fresh opportunity to reflect about the role of Muslims, more particularly its role in How Muslims made the Modern World. At this point Bryn Barnard is going to speak about Genius of Islam and Muslim's role in Made the Modern World.
He is an author and illustrator whose previous books include Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History and Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters that Changed History.
His artwork for Outbreak has been on display across the country, including at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., and at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to illustrating books for children, Bryn has painted several large murals for the lobbies of the Melinda French Gates Building (featured on the cover of Healthcare Design magazine and China's Fantasy Art magazine) and the Janet Sinegal Building at Children's Hospital, Seattle and the children's library in Beaverton, Oregon.
Bryn has received honors from the both Societies of Illustrators New York and Los Angeles, and Voice of Youth Advocates award.
His books have been chosen by the American Library Association and the New York Public Library.
Bryn is the author and illustrator of several books for children: 'Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters that Changed History' (Crown 2003), 'Outbreak:Plagues that Changed History' (Crown 2005), and the forthcoming 'The Genius of Islam: How Muslims Made the Modern World' (Knopf, 2011).
He studied art at the University of California, Berkeley and illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives in Friday Harbor, Washington.
Q: The Genius of Islam is the important book, it is the definitive guide to a fascinating topic could you tell us How Muslims Made the Modern World?
Bryn Barnard: The Genius of Islam is meant to be a gateway of understanding to Islamic civilization's connections with Western civilization. Islam and the West have different, parallel, but interconnected narratives.
My book shows the overlaps.
Q: We know the numbers are used every day (Arabic numerals!) what about the most Muslim inventions?
Bryn Barnard: They're more properly called "Hindu-Arabic numerals" since they were invented in India in the first century AD and spread east to China and West to Arabia.
Muslims built their mathematical ideas on the Indian decimal system, the Indian invention of zero, the Babylonian base-12 system (that's why we have 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours in a day and 12 months in a year) and Greek geometry.
On this foundation Muslims invented algebra and several other branches of higher math.
Q: You told us in " The Genius of Islam " drinking orange juice at breakfast today thanks to Islamic farming innovations, Could you elaborate on that?
Bryn Barnard: Before the advent of Islam, Arabia and Persia traded with India and developed a taste for Indian agricultural products, like oranges, sorghum, lemons, limes, artichokes, eggplant, sugarcane, rice, and so on.
As Islam spread into the Levant, Central Asia, North Africa, and Spain, those tastes went along.
Muslims had to learn how to grow Indian tropical agricultural products in a desert environment, with elaborate irrigation systems (some improved from Roman innovations), water raising technology, underground canals (qanats),double and triple cropping, and so on.
After the Reconquista of Spain by Christian Europeans and the beginning of the European Age of Exploration, Muslim agricultural and water engineering innovations were spread to the New World. There are still qanats in South America today and saqidas and shadufs used in remote parts of the Yucatan peninsula.
The agricultural products Muslims introduced to Europe were spread by European colonial conquest around the world.
Q: What about Islamic architecture?
Bryn Barnard: When Muslims spread out of Arabia to the Levant they encountered Roman architectural technology (the dome, drum, column and semi-circular arch).
As was the case when Islam encountered new cultural ideas they were adopted and adapted to Muslim needs. In this case the Roman ideas were combined with another invention from Assyria - the pointed arch which allowed walls to be built thinner and higher than the Roman semi-circular arch. Muslim architects started "thinking up." The pointed arch spread from Jerusalem (al-Aqsa) across North Africa (Ibn-Tulun mosque in Cairo), jumped to then-Muslim Sicily to Christian Italy (Abbey of Monte Casino) and then into France where it finally showed up in what is considered the first Gothic building, the Cathedral of Saint Denis in Paris.
Later, the neo-Gothic Britisher architect Christopher Wren, writing in the seventeenth century, made the connection that "Gothic architecture is the architecture of the Saracens" (one of the European terms for Muslims).
In the twentieth century the American architect, Louis Sullivan, the father of the skyscraper and for many years the employer of Frank Lloyd Wright, incorporated many Islamic architectural elements into his buildings.
Q: Could you give us some examples of many of Islam's crucial innovations are hidden within the folds of history?
Bryn Barnard: Muslims have made many valuable contributions to engineering, such as the crank-and-rod mechanism developed by Al-Jazari. This is considered the second most important engineering innovation after the wheel.
It is the basis for the crankshaft, that makes automobiles, prop-driver planes and boats and many other kinds of machines operate. Al-Jazari came up with many different inventions but this is the most important.
Q: You're an author and illustrator, you used short, engaging text and gorgeous full-color artwork to bring Islam's contributions gloriously to life, how did you choose chockful of information and pictures, and eminently browsable?
Bryn Barnard: "The Genius of Islam" is meant to be accessible to readers of all ages. Each chapter is arranged so that the subjects are introduced with an interesting picture.
If that engages your attention, there's a fascinating caption. If you want to know more, I've provided a few paragraphs of succinct text. If you want to know more, the book has a rich bibliography with websites and other books.
Q: Some of Islamic innovations changed the world , Could you elaborate on that?
Bryn Barnard: I've already mentioned the crankshaft. The philosopher Al-Haytham (known to Europeans as Alhazen) perfected Aristotle's ideas about optics and developed the beginnings of the scientific method. His book "Optics", translated into Latin, revolutionized European understanding of the nature of light and led to the development of lenses, the telescope, microscope, spectacles, and the camera. Most of the instruments in the European orchestra have their antecedents in instruments from the Muslim world.
Q: What about Islamic inventors you're fascinated but you didn’t write down in?
Bryn Barnard: An illustrated color book like this can be no more than 48 pages to be affordable (it costs $17.99) so I had to be very brief in my descriptions and leave a lot out, like chemistry, navigation, map-making, and much more. It takes a lot of time to do all the paintings and maps, too.
Q: What can we do to bring Islam's contributions gloriously to life again?
Bryn Barnard: Buying my book would be a good start.
Q: The Middle Ages were a period of tremendous cultural and scientific advancement in the Islamic Empire , do you think the Islamic Empire is going to come back quickly?
Bryn Barnard: I don't think history repeats itself. The future will be different than the past.
Q: What made The Genius of Islam is the definitive guide to a fascinating topic?
Bryn Barnard: All the information in my book is well known to scholars but is not, for the most part, taught in American or European schools. That's a shame, because it leaves out a big chunk of history, clouding our understanding of the past, and thus the present. I've made presentations on my book at mosques, libraries, schools, universities and World Affairs Councils across North America. I've had both Muslims and non-Muslims tell me again and again, I had no idea there were so many connections between Islam and the West.
Q: The Muslim world has often been a bridge between East and West, but do you agree that the society wholeheartedly rejects them and segregates them into a kind of hermetically sealed box of poverty and discrimination? And Why should not Islam become part of the "normal" religious landscape of North America and Western Europe?
Bryn Barnard: I've had an almost universally positive reception to my book in many different settings. People want to know this stuff. They want accurate historical information."The Genius of Islam" is a start.
The traveling art-science exhibition "1001 Inventions" is also a positive contribution. The show has been in London, Istanbul, New York and soon Los Angeles and Washington DC.
I hope other authors will write other books building on this idea of civilizational connections. I think that the more we know, the more Muslims and non-Muslims talk to one another, without proselytizing, without an agenda, just talking, the better it will be for everyone.
We have a lot in common. We just don't know it.
Visit my website www.geniusofislam.com to get links to more information at many different places on the web and to learn how topurchase a copy of my books
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you very much.
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