Ever wondered where the hot cup of coffee you hold in your hands every morning came from? Too often than not, fancy places like Italy come to mind. And too often than not, people are not aware that the origin of coffee came from Yemen (and not Italy, mind you!).
There’s a gaping hole in the knowledge pool of today’s generations, where we automatically assume that all devices and scientific breakthroughs originated in the West. But in reality, Muslim scientists and scholars have been the inventors and discoverers of numerous things that have driven the human race towards progress and modernity. Muslims, throughout history, have been the authors of countless books catering to the field of philosophy, surgery, physics, medicine, chemistry, astrology, geometry and so much more. Hence, it is safe to say that without Muslim inventions and their significant discoveries, the world that we know today, would not be what it is right now.
Following are some of the greatest Muslim inventions that still play a role in our lives today:
There was a time when people struggled to keep themselves awake and alert in order to go about their busy lives, until a mere herd of goats, owned by an Arab named Khalid in Kaffa, Southern Ethiopia, uncovered this life-changing brew. As his goats were grazing, he noticed that they had suddenly become really excited and lively after ingesting a particular kind of berry. Khalid boiled these berries to make al’qahwa, the first cup of coffee. It was in the 9th century in Yemen that coffee was first brewed. Later, it was brought to Cairo and the locals soon caught onto this coffee frenzy. Turkey welcomed coffee in the 13th century and then Europe brewed its first cup of coffee around the 16th century.
Basically, the Arabic word “qahwa” turned into the Turkish “kahve” which then turned to the Italian “caffé” and finally, to the English word we all know; “coffee”.
Even though today’s generation of students are not particularly fond of their math classes, this particular Muslim invention is one of the most crucial contributions by the Muslim Golden Age in today’s world.
This numbering system, which is used all over the globe, is considered to have Indian or Greek origin but the particular style of the numbers is in fact Arabic and they first appeared in 825, in the famous work of the Muslim mathematicians, Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Kindi. The name of Al-Khwarizmi’s book contains the word “al-jabr”, which means “completion”, from which the Latin word “algebra” originated. Without algebra, practical applications of mathematics in the modern world, such as engineering, would not have existed.
Islam, as a religion, places great emphasis on not only inward purification but also outward cleanliness and hygiene. The Holy Quran itself mentions the mandatory rituals of daily cleansing and purification that every Muslim must follow. It, therefore, becomes clear that dental hygiene gained great popularity during the time. The Egyptians are known to have used twigs, “miswak”, as toothbrushes from the “toothbrush tree” and chewed on them.
However, the wider population only came to know about miswak when our Holy Prophet (PBUH) used miswak to brush his teeth every day.
There was a time when Greeks believed that human eyes emitted laser rays, which allowed us to see the world around us. However, a 10th-century Muslim mathematician, Ibn al-Haitham, discovered otherwise; light goes into the eye instead of going out. He observed and studied the behavior of the light coming through a small hole in the windows which led to his invention of the world’s first pin-hole camera. He discovered that the minor the hole is, the better the picture turns out; Al-Haitham set up the first Camera Obscura. Hence, without his research on apertures and light, the complex mechanisms inside our everyday cameras would cease to exist today.
The first ever Medical Center or hospital, which comprised of wards, nurses, doctors, beds etc. was known as the “Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital” situated in Cairo, named after the founder of the Tulunid dynasty. It was created in 872. This hospital provided health care services to everyone and anyone who was in need of it. Basically, this hospital followed the Muslim tradition of taking care of all those individuals who’re ill and need medical assistance. Slowly and eventually, such hospitals started springing up all over the Muslim globe. Simpler and more basic hospitals had been founded before this in Baghdad, but it was Tulun Hospital which served as an example for hospitals all over the world.
Born in Andalusia, Abul Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbad al-Zahrawi, who was also known as Albucasis in the West, became the first surgeon known to this world and thus was one of the most noteworthy figures in the domain of medicine especially in the Middle Ages.
During the 10th century, the Al Zahrawi wrote an illustrated encyclopedia, 1500 pages, based on surgery called “Al-Tadrif”, which was later used as medical reference in Europe for the next five hundred years. Amidst his numerous inventions, he also possessed astounding knowledge when it came to which scalpels, bone saws, fine scissors can be used for eye surgery and devised up to two hundred different surgery tools, which are still in use by modern surgeons today.
A devout young woman by the name of Fatima Al-Firhi wanted to build a community education institution in the Fez community and in 859, she developed the first degree-granting university in Fez, in Morocco. Along with her sister, Miriam, she expanded the university to the adjacent mosque and together it became the “Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University”. It eventually offered various subjects like natural sciences, astronomy, Quran and theology of law, geography, writing etc. and therefore, earned its well-deserved title of being one of the first universities in history. It is still functional today and this center stands to represent the core belief that the pursuit of knowledge is an innate trait to all humans and reflects the essence of Islamic tradition.
A highly skilled Muslim engineer, Al-Jazari, from Diyarbakir in South-East Turkey, was the one who invented automatic machines. He designed and developed various clocks, of all shapes and sizes. The importance that time holds in today’s world and the role it plays in structuring our lives, was also true for Muslims 700 years ago. Al-Jazari essentially focused on the Muslim traditions of developing clocks because in Islam, time plays a major role in answering our divine call to execute good deeds and our daily duties, for example, knowing the right time to offer our daily prayers.
Shampoo and Soap
Washing and cleanliness in general, is a religious requirement for Muslims, which explains why Muslims took the lead in perfecting the formula for the shampoo and soaps we still use today. It is Hazrat Saalih (A.S) who created the formula for soap. Egyptians did use a kind of soap, so did the Romans but they utilized it more as a pomade. However, the credit eventually goes to the the Arabs who mixed vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics like thyme oil. On the other hand, shampoo was invented by a Muslim, in England, 1759 and was eventually hired as the ‘shampooing surgeon’ to King George IV and William IV.
Years before the popularity of the Wright brothers, there lived a Muslim engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas, who made the first real attempt to build a flying machine and actually fly. In the year 1852, he created a winged machine, similar to a bird costume. He ran his first trial in Spain and flew upward for a couple of minutes, before he fell to the ground and injured his back. According to modern engineers, his machinery’s blueprints would have served as an inspiration to artists and inventors later on.
These are only a handful of the wondrous orks and inventions by Muslims but they greatly reflect the Muslim contribution in today’s modern world.