The exhibition is built around three themes - the sky, the living world and art - and has drawn in more than 100,000 visitors at a rate of about 1200 a day, "which is an exceptional result for a difficult subject", according to the Arab World Institute (IMA) head of communications Philippe Lemoine.

The exhibition explores the Arab world's scientific achievement from the 8th to 15th centuries and is made up of about 200 pieces, from maps to manuscripts, astrolabes and globes.

"What is exceptional is that people are coming in such numbers for an exhibition that contains nothing spectacular," said Lemoine.

"They are coming because they want to understand a part of the world which is in the news every day for the worst of reasons. They want to get over the cliches," he added.

Knowledge

Alexandra, a 44-year-old French midwife visiting the show, agreed.

"When you look at these marvels, you leave behind the cliches of fundamentalism and violence. You start rearranging things in your mind," she said.

The exhibition uses verses from
the Quran and Hadith

The exhibition makes use of verses from the Quran and Hadith - narrations from the Prophet Muhammad - that suggest the pursuit of knowledge should be at the heart of Islam.

"God will place on higher levels those of you who believe and those who have received learning," according to a quotation for the Quran.

"A little learning is worth more than much devotion," reads a Hadith.

"It is good to recall that all this once existed," said Gabrielle, an Italian teacher who said she has never visited the Arab world.

Professor Ahmed Djebbar, who conducts tours of the exhibition, said it "contains much information that may not be new but which has never been well-disseminated ... about the role of Islamic civilisation in the sciences. 
  
Islamic civilisation

"It shows that the scientific links between the countries of Islam and Europe were much bigger than is generally realised," Djebbar said.

"They are coming because they want to understand a part of the world which is in the news every day for the worst of reasons. They want to get over the cliches"

Philippe Lemoine
IMA's head of communications

He tells visitors that during the golden age of Islamic civilisation, "the sciences were practised with absolutely no interference from religion".

Among the sages of the day were Muslims, Christians, Jews and even pagans, he said.
 
There were also "constant transgressions" into what was in theory forbidden.

While today the Muslim world is in uproar over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, back then the constellations of stars were represented with human faces.

"It was a clear breach of what was permitted," Djebbar said.