Did You Know…?

Islam: What has it given us? Other than the obvious furious debates surrounding it and hatred in Western countries which has stemmed from some spectacular ignorance…

But that’s another story.

Today, I don’t want to kick-start a massive hoo-ha (in British English that word means trouble/ruckus, in case any Americans out there thought I meant something slightly off colour), but I do want to look at some of the lesser known facts and figures of the world’s second-largest religion.

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Dervish’s Patchwork Cloak
Iran, mid-19th century
Cotton, Felt, Fur
Collection of Julius Heinrich Petermann, 1857
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

1.)    Islam has been around for around 1400 years.

2.)    This has led to the medieval Islamic inventions or discoveries of:

–  Sulfuric Acid and Hydrochloric Acid. Chemists, you may say thank you.

– For art, Arabesque : if you’re unfamiliar with the design, just check out a Mosque… or the Spanish Alhambra!

– Marching bands. So you thought that was American? Think again! This has been around since the 1500’s… and was started by the Ottoman Empire (today known as Turkey).

– Coffee! The earliest evidence of knowledge of brewing coffee beans as a beverage comes from the Yemen, in approximately the 1400’s. Everyone: you may say thank you!

– The watch… this timeless accessory (bad joke intended) certainly has made it through the ages!

– The submarine. Ottoman Ibrahim Effendi invented a working submarine in 1720… Ok, so not exactly contemporary, but we’re out of the medieval period.

3.)    Did you know that there is such a thing as a Burqini?! (Swimsuit for Muslim women, which looks a bit like a wetsuit, but is made from swimwear fabric.)

4.)    The first Muslim Palestinian to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Yasser Arafat. This was in 1994.

5.)     The first (and so far only) Iranian, and first female Muslim, to win the same prize is Shirin Ebadi. The rumour goes that her prize was confiscated in 2009 by the Revolutionary Court. Needless to say, this was later denied by the authorities.

6.)    Some very well-known figures in Western culture are Muslim. These include:

–          Muhammad Ali

–          Mike Tyson

–          Jermaine Jackson

–          Dave Chappelle

–          Said Taghmaoui (you may recognise him from Lost, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)

7.)    The Turkish architect Sinan, one of the most famous Islamic architects, built the Suleymaniye Mosque in the latter half of the 16th century. This Mosque is still one of the dominant features of the Istanbul skyline.

Now, did you know all of that? If so…. Well done.  If not, why not try looking up a few more fun facts? Disclaimer: not guaranteed to defuse all volatile debates, but dropping one or two nuggets of information into the argument may calm events down a tad. At any rate, isn’t it better to be thought of as rather odd, than start a game of fisticuffs in the local?

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Child’s Dress
Turkmen, Afghanistan, mid-20th century
Cotton, Silver, Coins, Cowry shells, Pearls
Collection of Hans Burkhard
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

Art and architecture – with 1400 years worth of history, it is of course to be expected that such a powerhouse that is Islam would bring some degree of art history to the table. You can get an insight of just how much diversity and richness of art Islamic culture has produced at the National Museum of Berlin. Running since November 2011 (and currently still ongoing), the Muslims’ Worlds exhibition welcomes you! If Berlin isn’t your next port of call, why not get yourself a copy of Gaston Migeon and Henri Saladin’s Art of Islam?

-Fiona Torsch

Author: Parkstone International

Parkstone International is an international publishing house specializing in art books. Our books are published in 23 languages and distributed worldwide. In addition to printed material, Parkstone has started distributing its titles in digital format through e-book platforms all over the world as well as through applications for iOS and Android. Our titles include a large range of subjects such as: Religion in Art Architecture Asian Art Fine Arts Erotic Art Famous Artists Fashion Photography Art Movements Art for Children