Along with the first university, and even the toothbrush, it is among surprising Muslim inventions that have shaped the world we live in today. Let’s have a brief look at these outstanding contributions to the modern world:
Around the year 1,000, the celebrated doctor Al Zahrawi published a 1,500-page illustrated encyclopaedia of surgery that was used in Europe as a medical reference for the next 500 years. Among his many inventions, Zahrawi discovered the use of dissolving cat gut to stitch wounds — beforehand a second surgery had to be performed to remove sutures. He also performed the first caesarean operation and created the first pair of forceps.
An Arab/Ethiopian named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly, the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London.
The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffÃ© and then English coffee.
3. Flying Machine
A thousand years before the Wright Brothers, a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852, he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn’t. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles’ feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing â€“ concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing.
His designs would undoubtedly have been an inspiration for famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci hundreds of years later.
Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.
In 859, a young princess named Fatima al-Firhi founded the first degree-granting university in Fez, Morocco. Her sister Miriam founded an adjacent mosque and together the complex became the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University. Still operating almost 1,200 years later, the center still reminds people that learning is at the core of the Islamic tradition and that the story of the al-Firhi sisters will always inspire young Muslim women around the world.
The word algebra comes from the title of a Persian mathematician’s famous 9th century treatise â€œKitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabalaâ€ which translates roughly as â€œThe Book of Reasoning and Balancing.â€ Built on the roots of Greek and Hindu systems, the new algebraic order was a unifying system for rational and irrational numbers, and geometrical magnitudes. The same mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, was also the first to introduce the concept of raising a number to a power.
Many of the most important advances in the study of optics come from the Muslim world. Around the year 1000 Ibn al-Haitham proved that humans see objects by light reflecting off of them and entering the eye, dismissing Euclid and Ptolemy’s theories that light was emitted from the eye itself. This great Muslim physicist also discovered the camera obscura phenomenon, which explains how the eye sees images upright due to the connection between the optic nerve and the brain.
Muslim musicians have had a profound impact on Europe, dating back to when Charlemagne tried to compete with the music of Baghdad and Cordoba. Among many instruments that arrived in Europe through the Middle East are the lute and the rahab, an ancestor of the violin. Modern musical scales are also said to derive from the Arabic alphabet.
The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) popularized the use of the first toothbrush in around 600. Using a twig from the Meswak tree, he (PBUH) cleaned his teeth and freshened his breath. Substances similar to Meswak are used in modern toothpaste.
9. The Crank
Many of the basics of modern automatics were first put to use in the Muslim world, including the revolutionary crank-connecting rod system. By converting rotary motion to linear motion, the crank enables the lifting of heavy objects with relative ease. This technology, discovered by Al-Jazari in the 12th century, exploded across the globe, leading to everything from the bicycle to the internal combustion engine.
Hospitals as we know them today, with wards and teaching centers, come from 9th century Egypt. The first such medical center was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, founded in 872 in Cairo. Tulun hospital provided free care for anyone who needed it â€” a policy based on the Muslim tradition of caring for all who are sick. From Cairo, such hospitals spread around the Muslim World.
A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe â€” where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century â€” and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.
Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders’ most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed’s Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.
Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam’s foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today â€” liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits. Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.
14. Pointed Arch
The pointed arch, a characteristic of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim geniuses included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe’s castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic World’s â€” with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V’s castle architect was a Muslim.
The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.
The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.
17. Fountain Pen
The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.
Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal â€” soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas who had also invented the flying machine).
19. Pay Cheques
The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.
20. Rocket and Torpedo
Though the Chinese invented salt-petre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a â€œself-moving and combusting eggâ€, and a torpedo â€” a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.