Learning about Muslim Contributions to Civilization

The Medieval period that directly preceded the Renaissance is often regarded as a primitive age of thought for civilizations at this time but as the Western world struggled to develop, the Islamic world flourished from the development in sciences and advancing their culture. The time of Islamic enrichment is often misrepresented and under-appreciated to common historical accounts of this era, therefore it is important to appreciate all contributions that come from various regions in order to create a global understanding of different cultures.

On Tuesday, March 4th Go Eat Give partnered with The Atlantic Institute to host a lunch and learn event to educate the Atlanta community about Muslim contributions to society presented on contributions that the Islamic world had brought into society during the European middle ages. Georgia State University Political Science Professor Rashid Naim and Fairyal Halim  from the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta shed light on the Islamic Golden Age, depicting it as a spread of humanism from Arab states to Europe which was the underlying philosophical movement that led to the era of the Renaissance.

muslim contributions

The presentation weighed heavily on the impact Muslims had on public education. Halim spoke about the Islamic civilization as the first that placed importance on educating the masses by democratizing education. Arabic was the “language of civilizations” and attracted scholars from all over the world. The city of Cairo in Egypt houses the oldest university that has been continuously open till date. Many educational awards used today come from the Islamic culture, such as the concept of achieving a diploma, and wearing a graduation cap. Have you ever wondered why the graduation cap is flat? Traditionally, scholars would balance the Qur’an on their heads so it was designed to be flat.

muslim contributions

With the growth of educational programs, the Arabic world also advanced health care at the time. Cairo became home to the Ahmad ibn Tulun hospital that opened it doors citizens of all faiths and backgrounds and is considered to be one of the first institutions to offer assistance for the mentally ill. Throughout the Arabic world, other hospitals were opened, mimicking the secular structure of Tulun Hospital. Another great invention that society has probably taken for granted was soap. These fundamental necessities that we rely on everyday for health safety and overall cleanliness are all due to the advancements made by the Arabic world during the Medieval era.

muslim contributions

The mission of Go Eat Give’s speaker series is to educate the public of the cultural contributions of Islam in society, an often overlooked segment of the population in the west. The programs are funded by the One Region Atlanta grant, dedicated to building a more inclusive region by providing civic engagement and community building opportunities that connect metro Atlanta residents of all cultural and faith backgrounds.

~ By guest blogger, Lilly Iijima. Lilly is a student at Oglethorpe University pursuing a major in International Studies with a minor in Japanese. Growing up in a multi-cultural household, she has seen first-hand the power of personally experiencing a different culture to eliminate previous misconceptions. Through this work, Lilly is committed to educating others about different countries and regions while learning about them herself.  

Dinner with the Yavuz family in Konya

One of my favorite experiences when visiting new places is dining with the locals at their homes. Thanks to The Atlantic Institute and Hizmat or the Gulan movement, the Yavuz family invite me and my fellow travelers from Atlanta for a traditional Turkish dinner. They lived in a modern flat in a posh residential area of Konya. Located in the central Anatolia region of Turkey, Konya attracts visitors to Dervish school and tomb of the famous poet, Rumi.

We were greeted by Ahmet (father), Munire (mother), Seyma (daughter) and Neskihan (daughter). Ahmet has a grain business and spends most of his time overseeing his farms outside the city. His wife, Munire is a homemaker and an amazing cook (as we were to find out that evening), and his daughters are educated and ambitious young women.

Turkish host family in Konya

As we walked into the small but comfortable living room, neatly decorated with crystals and leather furniture, we couldn’t help but notice a grand setup prepared for us. On the floor of the living area was a round table with cushions spread around. Carefully set china and silverware were laid out, suggesting a multiple-course feast about to unfold.

Traditional Turkish dinner

We went around the room introducing ourselves to our host, Mr Ahmet, who was a little conscious about his English, but always smiled in agreement. It was nice to have a few bilingual diners with us, including his daughters who spoke English fluently. When he found out that I was a food critic, he alerted his wife and told her to “up her game.” Then he started addressing me as “Miss gourmand.”

It wasn’t long before we were served a variety of freshly baked breads, stuffed with meat and cheese, and topped with black cumin seeds. Munire had painstakingly prepared, Gozleme, a speciality layered flatbread of this region. This giant pizza shaped platter was devoured within a matter of seconds.

Turkish stuffed bread

Next came Ezogelin Çorbası (aka bride’s soup), the famous red lentil soup served at every Turkish dinner. Light and flavorful, the staple soup has a delicate lemon and mint flavors.

red lentil soup

The family outdid themselves when they brought out a whole roasted lamb in our honor. It was served with bulgar rice pilaf, stuffed bell peppers, green beans, fruits and more.

Turkish lamb & rice

When there was no more room in our bellies, we had to get a bite of the honey dipped shredded wheat called Kunefe (Künefe) along with Turkish tea. And as if the lavish dinner prepared for complete strangers was not enough, the family gifted each of us a goody bag to take home. I received a wall hanging with Rumi’s sayings and a box of sweets. We also gave them some tokens of appreciation we had brought from the US.

I was extremely moved by the generosity of our Turkish host family and the amount of effort they put to give us a dinner experience. They did it solely out of their good heart, to be good citizen diplomats, and keep on living the mission of Hizmat.

host family5Click here to read more about my travels to Turkey.