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.


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.

What is Eid al-Adha, and how is it being celebrated during the pandemic?


People are social distanced as they gather to pray at Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque, at the start of Eid al-Adha, in London, Friday, July 31, 2020. Britain???s health secretary is defending the government???s abrupt re-imposition of restrictions on social life across a swath of northern England. Matt Hancock says it’s important to clamp down quickly on new outbreaks of COVID-19. The affected region has a large Muslim population, and the restrictions come prior to the Eid al-Adha holiday starting on Friday. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

(CNN) One of the most important festivals of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha marks the height of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

It commemorates the story in the Quran of God appearing to Ibrahim — also known as Abraham — in a dream and commanding him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.
Muslims believe that as Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped his hand and gave him a sheep or ram in place of his son. A version of the story also appears in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament and in the Torah.
To commemorate God’s test of Ibrahim, many Muslim families have an animal slaughtered — often through their local butcher — and distribute the meat to family, neighbors and the poor.
As the timing of Eid al-Adha depends on the sighting of the new moon, Muslims in different countries sometimes celebrate it on different days, though most follow the lead of Saudi Arabia, as the site of the Hajj.
This year, in Saudi Arabia, the United States and in many other countries, the festival begins on Friday and lasts for four days.
It is a time of celebration when families gather for meals, visit relatives and friends, and children are given money and new clothes. It’s also a time when families visit the graves of their loved ones, pray in a congregation and donate to the poor.

Muslims in America experience over-policing too

While the nation engages in a long overdue discussion about policing and minorities, catalyzed by yet another innocent Black person ­­— George Floyd — killed by law enforcement, we need to remember another group that has suffered overly zealous policing: Muslims.

Many of the worst dynamics at play now, including the militarization of police, were heightened in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and have made blameless Muslims prime suspects. While we engage in critical changes to the policing of Black Americans, we must work to ensure that Muslim Americans also benefit.Ads by TeadsADVERTISING

The use of law enforcement to subjugate, marginalize and persecute Black Americans is centuries old. In the 20th century, this occasionally intersected with Islamophobia, as when J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation surveilled the Nation of Islam in concert with local police departments. But antagonistic policing of Muslims — Black and non-Black alike — has broadened significantly with the war on terror, which redoubled the militarization of police departments.

The rearmament of the police through federal programs such as the 1033 Program, which has allowed police departments to receive military hardware, emerged initially in the 1990s from the war on drugs. After 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security prominently expanded this program by offering grants to state and local law enforcement agencies, distributing equipment worth $7.4 billion among 8,000 agencies.


Muslims to mark 2nd holiest day on Islamic calendar by gathering in cars for prayer on grounds of Big E (Massachusetts)

Dr. M. Saleem Bajwa is a Holyoke physician and member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts that is organizing a congregational prayer gathering July 31, the second holiest day on the Islamic calendar, on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition for members with social distancing guidelines observed. (Douglas Hook / MassLive)

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Muslims here will celebrate the second holiest day on the lunar-based Islamic calendar by gathering to pray together on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition Friday, while observing social distancing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will have congregants come in their cars and park at least six feet apart,” said Dr. M. Saleem Bajwa, a Holyoke physician and member of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, which is organizing the gathering.

“At the time of congregational prayer, they will stand next to the car and use their prayer mats on the ground,” he said. “Family members can stand together, but otherwise everyone will be at a prescribed social distance. There will be no intermingling or socializing on the grounds.”

He added, “While driving out, each car will be offered food bags to enjoy and goody bags will be given for children.”

“The members of the society are advised to have social gatherings and festivities in their homes on a limited scale,” Bajwa said. “The observance follows the day on which Muslims around the world travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to make their pilgrimage.”

The event on July 31 is scheduled for 8 to 10 a.m.

The pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, is one of five pillars of Islam and is what Muslims are expected to do at least once in their lifetime during the last month of the Islamic year. The year’s first 10 days are considered the holiest for Muslims with Hajj on the ninth day and celebrated over four days.


MAKING HISTORY: U.S. House of Representatives Passes First Muslim Civil Rights Bill

Bipartisan Passage of NO BAN Act Marks Beginning of the End of the Muslim Ban

WASHINGTON, DC — On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 233-183 to pass the NO BAN Act (HR 2486, formerly HR 2214). The NO BAN Act is a historic Muslim civil rights bill that would end the Trump administration’s Muslim and African Bans and close loopholes in immigration law to prevent future presidents from enacting similar discriminatory bans ever again. Muslim Advocates worked with members of Congress to shape the bill and helped lead the effort to get it passed. The following is a statement from Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera:

“For the first time ever, a chamber of Congress has passed a Muslim civil rights bill. We went office-to-office and district-to-district to gain support for the NO BAN Act and convince House leaders to make it a priority. But most importantly, this vote marks the beginning of the end of the Muslim Ban—a cruel policy that continues to tear families apart. Now we must take the fight to the Senate where we refuse to stop fighting until every senator hears from us and the bill lands on the president’s desk.”

On Thursday July 23, at 2 PM ET, Farhana Khera will join Reps. Judy Chu, Ilhan Omar, André Carson, Rashida Tlaib, Zoe Lofgren, Pramila Jayapal, Jamie Raskin and Don Beyer at a celebratory press conference for the NO BAN Act. Click here to register and also send an RSVP to


Facebook post takes Biden’s comments on teaching Islam in schools out of context


  • At a voter outreach event aimed at Muslims, Biden said, “I wish we taught more in our schools about the Islamic faith… about all the great confessional faiths.”
  • Conservative commentators said Biden was anti-Christian and against prayer in schools, leaving out the context of him talking about theology in general.
  • Biden is Roman Catholic and has talked about how faith led him to run for public office. He has said he supports the separation of church and state.

See the sources for this fact-check

As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke in support of increasing Muslim American voter turnout at a recent summit, he said he wished American schoolchildren were taught more about Islam.

Biden thanked advocacy group Emgage Action for endorsing his campaign and having him at their “Million Muslim Votes” event July 20. Then he said: “I wish we taught more in our schools about the Islamic faith.”

Biden said more than that, but the backlash on social media didn’t catch it. Conservative activists, including Charlie Kirk, tweeted out the comment and went on to say Biden didn’t support prayer or studying the Bible in schools. One former Republican candidate called him anti-Christian. Biden is a lifelong Roman Catholic.

On Facebook, a text post quoted Biden incorrectly as saying: “We need to teach our children the ISLAMIC FAITH in our schools!”

The misquote left out important context from the rest of Biden’s speech and his campaign as a whole.

Biden said he wished schools taught not only the Islamic faith but “all the great confessional faiths.” He also said that he is interested in theology and “we all come from the same root here in terms of our fundamental, basic beliefs,” referencing his own Catholic background.

His reference to “confessional religions” includes different denominations of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which are religions that each have their own statements of faith, sometimes called a confession. 


Racial Justice and Interfaith Cooperation

Another opportunity for an interfaith coalition to come together and move forward together for a just world.

Eboo Patel July 14, 2020

Recently, my Muslim family joined a Hindu family and a Jewish family at a protest for racial equity near our home on the North Side of Chicago. A couple of days ago, my older son and I went to an event on the near South Side with fellow Muslims. As we talked about the verses of the Qur’an and the values of Islam that inspired our involvement, I made sure to point out the people wearing crosses around their necks, the clergy with collars or kippahs, the religious scripture prominently displayed on several signs. On the way back, I talked about how Sikhs were setting up makeshift kitchens to feed protesters, a sacred practice called langar. 

I want my kids to know from an early age that racial equity is an interfaith movement. It is imperative across religious traditions, and therefore a site where people from different faiths meet, get inspired by one another, deepen their own convictions and advance a cause that we view as a sacred command. 

I was considerably older than my children are now when I realized the powerful relationship between racial equity and interfaith cooperation. In fact, I remember the exact moment. It was early December of 1999 and I was at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. I had gone largely for personal reasons, namely because my own spiritual journey had been deeply influenced by multiple religious traditions. But then Nelson Mandela spoke, and what he said changed everything. 

He began by pointing out into the cape, towards Robben Island, where he spent over 25 years in prison and uttered these words: ”I would still be there if it were not for the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Baha’is, the Quakers, those from indigenous African religions and those of no religion at all, working together in the struggle against apartheid.”

Marcel Proust famously said that the true journey of discovery was not in seeing new landscapes but in developing new eyes. It felt like Mandela had given me new eyes. In South Africa, a movement of racial equity had been a site for interfaith cooperation. I had taken a range of courses on race in college, but my explorations into faith had been largely private, and mostly about my own personal spirituality. The idea that racial equality could be advanced through interfaith cooperation was brand-new and totally inspiring.