by Sairah Yassir

It came as no surprise to me when the news broke that a 14-year-old American schoolboy of Sudanese descent [1] had been arrested for bringing a time-measuring device that he had built to school.

Perhaps because I am a person of colour who also happens to be Muslim, and have spent years trying to promote science from non-European civilisations, this turn of events seemed inevitable.

My work involves challenging assumptions that place Europe at the centre of scientific progress; whilst this seems simple, it is in fact a radical break from the norm.

Centuries of explorations made by non-European civilisations are starkly absent from our academia, history books and mainstream media, and it’s children like Ahmed who are now paying the price. Had our academia, history books and mainstream media been inclusive – balanced and with a longer view of history – it wouldn’t be quite so easy to believe that boys named Ahmed are only capable of making bombs. If it were better known that this is a child whose heritage boasts a long tradition of learning and scholarship that nurtured noteworthy personalities such as Idris Alooma, renowned for being a pioneering 16th century king who patronised scholarship then perhaps then perhaps a clock wouldn’t have looked so jarring in this adolescent[2]. After all, many Muslim scholars such as Al-Jazari excelled in producing time pieces, in particular water clocks [3], some historians even assert that it was Ibn Yunus who discovered the pendulum [4].

The problem we are faced with is summed up clearly by the images below, one showing a white British child applauded for building a nuclear fusion reactor, and the other showing Texas schoolboy Mohamed arrested for building a clock.

Aside from the lack of legal due course, the fact that as a minor Ahmed was refused a parent or guardian to attend his interrogation, along with the blatant racial and religious stereotyping, how and when did it become acceptable to view such a large amount of people with fear and/or contempt?

If people truly say that #IStandWithAhmed, they should start campaigning for more balanced and inclusive education systems that celebrate diversity in their curriculums, teacher training, resources, material and content. Dubious initiatives to ‘prevent violent extremism’ serve only to ‘other’ children like Ahmed. Rather it would be far more impactful to build need education systems that recognise all civilisations’ contributions to the sciences, rather than painting science as anathema to societies of the Global South. It is only then that children from minority backgrounds will stop being perceived as dangerous anomalies when they show innovation and ingenuity.


[1] Ahmed’s story sweeps social media

[2] Sub-Saharan Centres of Learning

[3] Al-Jazari, Ibn Al-Razzaz. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Translated by Donald R. Hill. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1974.

[4] Carlisle, Rodney. Inventions and Inventors. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.

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Sairah Yassir is a graduate in French and International Politics who currently works as a Research and Editing Officer for an organisation promoting non-European civilisations contributions to the sciences. She is active in international, national and community campaigns and has a keen interest in social and political affairs. Find more of her writing at elghuraba and on Twitter @ElGhoraba

This article was edited by Henna Butt

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