x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE exhibition Sultans of Science goes on tour through Asia

The showcase of Islamic scholarly achievement includes a model of a 1,000-year-old glider invented by a Muslim aviator.

The exhibition features 50 exhibits across nine cluster zones. Courtesy National Science Museum Thailand
The exhibition features 50 exhibits across nine cluster zones. Courtesy National Science Museum Thailand

More than 1,000 years ago near Cordoba in Spain, a Muslim inventor and engineer climbed into the harness of his glider and launched himself into the air in front of a crowd of onlookers. At that moment, as Abbas Ibn Firnas flew across the Spanish countryside, he became the world's first aviator.

Today, a model of Ibn Firnas's 880 CE flying machine is one of the main highlights of the Sultans of Science, an exhibition from the UAE making its way across Asia, after a successful tour of North America. The next destination is the National Science Museum in Thailand, where it runs from August until mid-November, followed by a stop in Malaysia.

Back and forth

Researched and developed by the Dubai-based MTE Studios, which designed Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, Sultans of Science (also known as Islamic Science Rediscovered) aims to bring the contributions of Arab and Muslim scholars to science and technology during the Golden Age of Islam (seventh to 17th centuries) to the forefront.

The influence of their discoveries and inventions on contemporary society is also studied, said Ludo Verheyen, the CEO of MTE Studios, as is how they worked harmoniously alongside people of different faiths and races. "It educates visitors on the complexity and diversity of Muslim identities and dispels myths and misconceptions, and works towards creating an understanding, considerate and unified society," said Verheyen.

The highlights

There is plenty to be discovered, with more than 50 interactive, sensory and static exhibits and giant, functional replicas "that use cutting-edge technology to recreate the ingenuity of a golden age".

The nine dedicated cluster zones include "The Origin of Flight", "Explorers of the Middle Ages", "Optics", "Medicine", "Golden Age of Muslim Learning", "Mathematics", "Astronomy", "Irrigating an Empire" and "Engineering".

Pichai Sonchaeng, the president of Thailand's National Science Museum, said visitors will be "astonished". "The knowledge displayed in this exhibition is vital to everyone in our society. It reveals fundamental facts on today's science and technology," he said.

The beginning

When MTE Studios was commissioned to design Ibn Battuta Mall, research took them to the 14th-century architecture of Muslim Spain, North Africa, Egypt, India, Persia and China. The team also uncovered an image of an old manuscript depicting a life-size Indian elephant with an Arabic castle on top, plus various sculpted figurines.

"To our delight, we found that this beautiful sculpture was, in fact, a clock, an ingenious device named, as per the manuscript, the Elephant Water Clock and designed by the 14th-century Muslim engineer Al Jazari," explained Verheyen.

Al Jazari's inventions prompted further research on that era, which led to the iconic exhibition 1,000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered on permanent display at Ibn Battuta Mall. This became the platform to introduce the Sultans of Science,an exhibition that, "stimulates interest and consciousness of the impact Islamic scholars have had in founding today's global science and technological developments", said Verheyen.

The exhibition goes back to Canada after the Asia tour. In 2013, the European tour will begin in Norway.


Masters at work

The achievements of Islamic scholars through a variety of exhibits.


Ancient knowledge was combined with revolutionary new theories. "The study of celestial bodies was pursued initially to aid accurate time keeping and navigation, especially on the pilgrimage to Mecca and during long voyages across deserts and oceans," said Verheyen.


Islamic scholars invented algebra and made significant contributions to trigonometry and geometry. Mathematics was widely applied in navigation and astronomy, as well as in art and architecture.


Muslim scholars laid the foundations of modern engineering, said Verheyen. "They made the first robots, in the form of giant water clocks, and devices that explained technological innovations," he said.


Visitors will explore pioneering surgical procedures, sophisticated surgical tools and a groundbreaking 1242 CE diagram of the human circulatory system.

"Islamic physicians and scholars were centuries ahead of their European counterparts in the development of medical science," said Verheyen "They were also the first to establish efficient public hospitals."