400 not a reference

The role of Islam in the education system

By Raheel Mohammed

Recent reports have expressed worries that the historical relationship between Muslim societies and Britain, will be ignored by the Department of Education in the new draft history curriculum.

Understanding the role of Islam in the transmission of scientific and philosophical knowledge, for instance, is to better understand the Renaissance and the development of Europe. Importantly, it is also a vital way to understand the development of an Islamic culture and earlier Muslim societies. It is precisely this exchange of ideas that occurs across societies and across time that our Book of Travels (www.thebookoftravels.org) exhibition explores. Commissioned by the British Council the exhibition explores the continuous exchange of ideas and trade between Muslim societies and Europe. It shows that the idea of a monolithic civilisation is too blunt a notion and ignores complexity and nuance in the development of any society.

Using a 17th century Ottoman traveller, Evliya Celebi, as a dramatic device, we showed for instance the how the Ottoman Empire socially, culturally, and financially touched the lives of English people directly, literally shaping their tastes and the future development of the country. A document of the time lists major imports to England:

“The commodities they bringe from those partes are all sortes of Spices, Rawe Silke, Appoticarie drugs, India blewe, and Cotton Woll, as also yarne and cloaths made thereof, Galles, Currants, Sweet Oyle, Sope, Quiltes, Carpete and divers other commodities.”

One contemporary commentator reckoned that between 1590 and 1630 the number of people working in the city and suburbs of London alone who were employed in the “winding and twisting only of forraign raw silk” rose from 300 to “over fourteen thousand souls”.

This more insightful approach to history and the curriculum will also enable pupils to think more critically and creatively. It will enable young people to become individuals who can confidently re-work systems of knowledge, tear down silos, and solve some of our greatest social issues where our generation has failed. To enable this we need to create an environment where young people understand that history is unavoidably mutual and therefore complex and needs to be approached with a suitable amount of respect and open-mindedness.