Schools in Muslim Heritage

The link between universities, libraries and learning in Muslim civilisation and today.

Mathematics, science, languages…whatever subject interests you most, you might be surprised by its links with the distant past. In this zone of the exhibition, find out about the time when people assembled colossal libraries and paid for books in gold. See the intricate geometrical designs inspired by patterns in flowers and shells. And look back six centuries to when the love of learning brought Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars together to cooperate in creating knowledge.

Did You Know


...that there’s a hidden reason behind the way we write the numbers 1 to 10? 

...that everyday English words like cotton, giraffe and sofa come from Arabic words hundreds of years old? 

...that a pious and wealthy young woman called Fatima al-Fihri founded what became the world’s first university which still give degrees to the present day?

In this zone:

  • Meet Fatima al-Fihri in our film, and hear how she inherited a fortune and decided to spend it building a mosque and learning centre called Al-Qarawiyin, which continues to operate as a university today
  • Explore the connection between the modern university Bachelors and baccalaureate and the old degrees which Muslim scholars used to award their students, sometimes called Ijaza or behaq al-riwaya
  • Play a game to link up modern English words with their ancient roots in Arabic, Persian and Hindi, showing hundreds of years of interchange between cultures
  • Find out about the House of Wisdom, a prestigious academy and library that was founded a thousand years ago in Baghdad
  • Discover how translation of books and treatises between Arabic and European languages kept knowledge alive and fuelled scientific debate
  • Investigate the fate of the books held in the well-stocked libraries of early Muslim civilisation
  • Explore many mathematical breakthroughs made in Muslim civilisation, which in turn influenced characteristic designs in architecture and decorative arts
  • See a typical mortar board, part of academic dress today which has its roots in the traditional caps of the Muslim world and the old European universities
  • Examine a range of reed pens, each cut to a specific angle so that scribes could write in a variety of styles of scripts
  • Find out how scholars in Muslim civilisation developed the old concept of zero and used it in the system of decimal arithmetic we use today
  • Light up the angles in a series of numerals, revealing a possible reason why we write numbers the way we do

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