Celebrating the Magnificent Achievements of Muslims

As part of Class 3’s ongoing study of India, Chapin moms Dr. Yumna Jafri and Zainab Akbar were eager to share their perspectives as Muslims with the curious students. With a goal of challenging the misconceptions about Islam that are prevalent in our nation’s media coverage, they recently spent time visiting each Class 3 homeroom to discuss the Islamic world’s many changemakers and inventors.

The presentation began with a photograph of a young woman projected onto the screen. “Does anyone know who this is?” the women asked the students gathered around them on the floor. The classroom erupted with cheers of “Malala!!” “Yes! Malala is from Pakistan and was probably around your age when she first started talking about helping every girl in the world to get an education,” they replied. “She is a great example of a woman being persistent. She faced a lot of challenges, even bodily harm, but she still kept working towards her goal.” The students also learned about Fatima Al Fihri, a Muslim woman who in 859 CE used her large inheritance to found what is considered by many historians to be the world’s first university, Al Qaraouyine University.

“How many of you play chess?” the parents asked the students next. Almost every hand in the classroom was eagerly raised. “Did you know that this game you still play today was invented in India and Persia?” they shared. The students were amazed as they heard the story of how the game of chess spread slowly west, to Europe, and eastward, to Japan. They also learned that the earliest version of today’s Rubik’s Cube was invented by the Banu Musa brothers, three 9th century scholars from Baghdad.

Throughout the discussion, the students learned an abundance of facts about the Muslim world’s vibrant history of discovery and forward-thinking inventions, including:

-A Persian astronomer born in 903 CE named Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi described a galaxy beyond our Milky Way and named many of the stars scientists still observe today. 

-10th-century Syrian female astronomer Miriam Al-Astrulabiya invented very complex (and accurate) devices known as “astrolabes” that used the sun and stars to tell time and direction.

-Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a Persian Muslim scholar from Baghdad, Iraq, wrote a book around 820 CE that introduced the basics of what is now modern algebra.

-The first hospital in Egypt was built in 872 CE and was open to patients, rich or poor, of all faiths. It sparked the creation of public hospitals all over the empire.

-Many modern surgical instruments are of the same design as those created in the 10th century by Muslim surgeon al-Zahrawi.

-Ibn Sina, a Persian physician from Uzbekistan, invented a method for healing fractured bones that is still used today.

The Class 3 students also discussed how the arches, domes and pillars of Islamic mosques, which help enhance sound for the call to prayer and sermons, served as inspiration for architecture throughout the world.                                                                                

At the conclusion of one of these captivating presentations, a student asked the guests to name their own favorite Muslim changemakers. One shared her admiration for the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. “She was very young but she proved herself. She wanted to change peoples’ views of the Muslim world. And, much like Malala, she wanted to bring education to women.” The other mother shared her respect for the Islamic prophet Muhammad. “He encouraged equality and tolerance and he faced a lot of hardship, but he prevailed.” She explained that during his lifetime Muhammad shared messages of peace, mindfulness and kindness, and stood by these messages even when they weren’t well received.

“The roots of Islam and the Arab world were very progressive and very tolerant – much different than the messages about Islam that you may hear today,” the women explained in conclusion. “There are good people and bad people in every group,” Class 3 Head Teacher Rachel Prottas added. “We always have to remind ourselves that, [despite what we may hear], there is a lot of good in this world.”