Academic journal article Social Education

Trade, Travel, and Scholarship in Dar Al Islam: A Simulation Activity

Academic journal article Social Education

Trade, Travel, and Scholarship in Dar Al Islam: A Simulation Activity

Article excerpt

IN THE SPRING OF 2001, my seventh grade students at the Village Community School in New York City were concluding a yearlong study of the Islamic world. At that time, I developed the following simulation to give students a deeper understanding of how trade and travel in the Islamic world fostered the growth of intellectual achievement, as well as improvements in material life.

Two literary works and one historical account helped my students to learn about travel in the Islamic world, or Dar al Islam, a term used by Muslims, which means the abode of Islam. For travel on the seas, we used the "Sindbad the Sailor" cycle of stories from Tales From the Thousand and One Nights (1); for travel by caravan, students read Seven Daughters and Seven Sons. (2) Students learned about the diversity of the fourteenth century Islamic world through passages from Ibn Battuta's rihla, (3) an account of a scholar's far-reaching journeys in search of knowledge.

We returned at different stages in the curriculum to a study of the Five Pillars of Faith, the core of Islamic religious practices. We looked at how the hajj fostered travel; how the need to know the direction of Mecca and the correct times for daily prayers (salat) encouraged the study of geography and astronomy; and the ways in which zakat (charity) became an enlightened way to foster public works, from orphanages and hospitals to accommodations for travelers.

Cities were the magnets drawing both traders and scholars to the madina, or city center, where masjid(mosque) and suq (market place) lay side by side. By the tenth and eleventh centuries, cities like Cairo and Baghdad were by far the largest, and most diverse, in the Western hemisphere. In his 2001 New York Times article, "How Islam Won, and Lost, the Lead in Science," Dennis Overbye notes that "Jews, Christians and Muslims all participated in this flowering of science, art, medicine and philosophy...." (4) During the Abbasid dynasty, the chain of Islamic cities linking the Mediterranean world to that of Asia became a trade route not only for goods, but also of ideas drawn from many civilizations.

The following simulation enables students to understand how scholars living in Dar al Islam drew upon the works of the ancient Greeks, translated into Arabic, to further their own discoveries into mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and engineering. For the sake of simplicity, the simulation ignores the Indian and Persian traditions upon which Muslim scholars also drew.

While our textbooks acknowledge the indebtedness of the European Renaissance to the ancient Greeks, rarely are Muslim scholars credited with transferring classical learning to the West, much less transforming it. (5)

In setting up the simulation, I first needed to choose four cities that students, working in teams, would represent. Each corner of our room could thus be transformed into a Muslim metropolis in Europe, Asia, North Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa. Granada, Istanbul, Cairo, and Timbuktu proved ideal, as all were easy to research. (6) Because Constantinople was captured by the Ottomans in 1453 (and renamed Istanbul), and Granada fell to the Spaniards in 1492, travelers in my classroom go abroad between those years.

Members of each city conduct research on a Greek philosopher and a science advanced by Muslim scholars based on their knowledge of the ancient Greeks. In addition to researching their city and learning about their assigned scholarly topics, students create and sell a variety of goods and services (see Figure 1, Chart of City Assignments).

Teams are ready to travel, trade, and learn once they have completed a variety of tasks, culminating in a display of their material wares and intellectual accomplishments in their corner-cum-city. In the beginning, I encourage students to feel rather territorial about their city "being the best" and "having everything. …

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