Medieval robots? They were just one of this Muslim inventor’s creations

peacock-fountainFrom water pumps to musical automatons, Ismail al-Jazari’s extraordinary machines ranged from practical to playful, delighting farmers and kings alike.

Fountains that could be programmed to switch on and off. A model of an Indian mahout (driver) who struck the half hour on his elephant’s head. Automatons in the form of servants that could offer guests a towel.

These are just some of the marvellous creations of the 12th-century Muslim inventor Ismail al-Jazari, who laid the groundwork for modern engineering, hydraulics, and even robotics. While some of his lavish and colourful creations were made as novelty playthings for the very wealthy, al-Jazari also made practical machines that helped normal people, including water-drawing devices that were used by farmers for centuries.

Passion for invention

Badi al-Zaman Abu al-Izz Ismail ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari was born in 1136 in Diyarbakır in what is today central-southern Turkey. The son of a humble craftsman, he was born in a time of political turmoil, a result of local power struggles as well as the effects of the Crusades.

Al-Jazari served as an engineer in the service of the regional rulers, the Artuqids. This dynasty had once expanded its empire into Syria. In the course of al-Jazari’s lifetime, however, Artuqid power came under the sway of the more powerful neighboring Zangid dynasty, and later still by the successors of the Muslim hero, Saladin. (Here’s why the “Assassins” were sent to kill Saladin.)

Despite the upheaval of the Crusades, and the turbulent relations between different Muslim powers, life for the brilliant engineer was peacefully spent serving several Artuqid kings, for whom he designed more than a hundred ingenious devices. Unlike other practical inventors of the period, who left little record of their work, al-Jazari had a passion for documenting his work and explaining how he built his incredible machines.

In 1206, drawing on a quarter of a century of prodigious output, he gave the world a catalogue of his “matchless machines,” which is known today as The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Al-Jazari included meticulous diagrams and colourful illustrations to show how all the pieces fit together. Several incomplete copies of his work have survived, including one held by the Topkapi Sarayi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, prized for its artistic detail and beauty.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (UK)

Ireland’s Muslims flock to sporting grounds to celebrate Eid

Croke Park, a historic venue in Dublin, opened its doors to hundreds of Muslims this Eid al-Adha.

40086714e945437fac16cb749dbb29e7_18Dublin, Ireland – On a crisp, bright morning in Dublin, worshippers sit on prayer mats spaced across a sport pitch, listening to a woman dressed head-to-toe in white recite the Quran.

From over the looming, concrete walls of the stadium, Catholic prayers barked into a microphone can be heard from the “rosary rally” protest outside.

Ireland’s hallowed sporting grounds, Croke Park, opened its doors to Muslims this Eid al-Adha so that they could gather in large numbers for the first time since the country’s coronavirus lockdown put strict limits on all indoor religious services.

Initially, the organisers had hoped 500 worshippers could attend Friday’s event, but a surge in new COVID-19 cases delayed an expected easing of restrictions.

Instead, only 200 people were allowed on the field, suitably spaced apart, aside from some children who stayed close to their parents, running around the prayer mats in circles or waving miniature Irish flags.

For many of the worshippers, Friday’s event was also a cherished opportunity to celebrate their dual identities – they are Muslim and Irish, and proud to be both.

The Problem With the ‘Judeo-Christian Tradition’

The concept was always an unstable foundation on which to build a common American identity.

originalLast week, the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights issued its draft report on the global status of human rights. The report, which resulted from a year of cerebral discussions with a carefully curated set of scholars and activists, brought the conversation back to where it started: an impassioned celebration of religious freedom as the most important human right. Anticipating criticisms of advancing a highly selective, conservative-Christian reading of human rights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended the focus on religious freedom as a distinctively American birthright now applicable to all manner of “faith traditions.” In fact, he argues, the original American human-rights vision was inspired equally by another non-Christian religion, Judaism. The report, he has said, will “return America’s understanding of human rights … back to the fundamental moorings of the Judeo-Christian tradition on which this country was founded.” Except that tradition never existed.

The “Judeo-Christian tradition” was one of 20th-century America’s greatest political inventions. An ecumenical marketing meme for combatting godless communism, the catchphrase long did the work of animating American conservatives in the Cold War battle. For a brief time, canny liberals also embraced the phrase as a rhetorical pathway of inclusion into postwar American democracy for Jews, Catholics, and Black Americans. In a world divided by totalitarianism abroad and racial segregation at home, the notion of a shared American religious heritage promised racial healing and national unity.