10 everyday inventions that you used today but never knew were invented by Muslims

Along with the first university, and even the toothbrush, there are many surprising Muslim inventions that have shaped the world in which we live today. The origins of these fundamental ideas and objects are the focus of “1001 Inventions”, a book celebrating the forgotten history of 1,000 years of Muslim heritage. From this book, I have summed up ten outstanding Muslim inventions which we still use today.

1. Coffee

More than twelve hundred years ago, hard-working people have fought to stay awake without this stimulant, until a herd of curious goats and their watchful master, an Arab named Khalid, discovered this simple, yet life-changing substance. As his goats grazed on the Ethiopian slopes, he noticed they had become lively and excited after eating a particular berry. Instead of just eating the berries they were taken and boiled to create “al-qahwa”.


2. Clocks

An ingenious man called al-Jazari from Diyarbakir in South-East Turkey was a pious Muslim and a highly skilled engineer who gave birth to the concept of automatic machines. By 1206, al-Jazari had made numerous clocks of all shapes and sizes. Just as we need time today to structure our lives, so did Muslims over seven hundred years ago. Al-Jazari was sticking to the long Muslim tradition of clock-making. They knew it was important to know the time so it could be used well through doing good deeds: knowing when to pray at the right time each day and announce the call to prayer in mosque.

The elephant clock was a medieval invention by al-Jazari (1136–1206), consisting of a weight powered water clock in the form of an Asian elephant


3. Camera

Ibn al-Haitham revolutionized optics, taking the subject from one being discussed philosophically to an actual science based on experiments. He rejected the Greek idea that an invisible light emitting from the eye caused sight, and instead rightly stated that vision was caused by light reflecting off an object and entering the eye.

The camera obscura, a precursor to the modern camera

By using a dark room with a pinhole on one side and a white sheet on the other, he provided the evidence for his theory. Light came through the hole and projected an inverted image of the objects outside the room on the sheet opposite. He called this the “qamara”. It was the world’s first camera obscura.


4. Cleanliness

A Muslim’s faith is based on purity and cleanliness, whether it is in its physical or spiritual form. In the Islamic world of the 10th century, the products found in bathroom cabinets and hygiene practices could compete with those we have today. In the 13th century, the same engineer, al-Jazari, wrote a book describing mechanical devices, including “wudhu” machines. This machine was mobile, and it was brought in front of a guest. The guest would then tap the head and water would ensue in eight short bursts, providing enough water for ablution. This method also conserved water.

Muslims wanted to be really clean and not just splash themselves with water, so they made soap by mixing oil (usually olive oil) with “al-qali”, a salt-like substance. This was then boiled to achieve the right mix, left to harden and used in the hammams, the bath houses.

Al-Kindi also wrote a book on perfumes called “Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations”. He was best known as a philosopher, but was also a pharmacist, opthalmologist, physicist, mathematician, geographer, astronomer and chemist. His book contained more than a hundred recipes for fragnant oils, salves and aromatic waters. The centruries-old tradition of perfume-making was all made possible by Muslim chemists and their methods of distillation: they distilled plants and flowers and made perfumes and substances for theapeutic pharmacy.


5. Universities

The quest for knowledge is close to the heart of Muslims. In the Quran, they are urged to seek knowledge, and to observe and reflect. So Fatima al-Fihri, a devout and pious young woman, wanted to give the Fez community a learning centre. Like some of the grand mosques, al-Qarawiyin in Fez soon developed into a place for religious instruction and political discussion. It gradually extended its education to all subjects, particularly the natural sciences, and so it earned its name as one of the first universities in history.

Apart from astronomy, there were studies of the Quran and theology, of law, rhetoric, prose and verse writing, logic, arithmetic, geography and medicine. There were also courses on grammar, Muslim history, and elements of chemistry and mathematics. This variety of topics and the high quality of its teaching drew scholars and students from all over. Still operating almost 1,200 years later, Hassani says he hopes the center will remind people that learning is at the core of the Islamic tradition and that the story of the al-Firhi sisters will inspire young Muslim women around the world today.

6. Flying machine

Abbas ibn Firnas was the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and actually fly. In the 9th century he designed a winged apparatus which roughly resembled a bird costume. In his most famous trial, near Cordoba in Spain, Firnas flew upward for a few moments, before plummiting to the ground and partially breaking his back. His designs would have undoubtedly been an inspiration for the famous Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci some six hundred years later.

7 . Surgical instruments

If we journeyed back into the 10th century, we could look over the shoulder of a cutting-edge surgion called Abul Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbad al-Zahrawi, a man known in the West as Abulcasis. He wrote al-Tadrif, his medical encyclopedia which included a treatise called “On Surgery”. This held a staggering collection of over two hundred surgical tools. Using instruments for surgery was a revolutionary concept because it enabled science to change from being speculative to something experimental. This was the first treatise in the history of medicine to illustrate the use of surgical instruments. In fact, their design was so accurate that they have had only a few changes in a millennium. It were these illustrations that laid the foundations for surgery in Europe.


8. Maps

Muhammad al-Idrisi drew a map of the world in Sicily in 1154 and it is said to be one of the most advanced ancient world maps.

Maps have helped people find their way for about 3,500 years, the earliest ones being on clay tablets. The introduction of paper was a huge leap forward in the art of map making. Modern technology uses a system of satellites and other receiving devices to compute positions on the earth. Back in history, maps were made from travellers’ and pilgrims’ accounts. The bug of traveling had bitten the 7th century Muslims, and they soon began to leave their homes for trade and for religious reasons, to explore the world they lived in. They walked routes, sometimes simply gathering knowledge about new places, and when they returned they gave accounts of the ways they had trodden and the people and sights they had encountered. First this was by word of mouth, but with the introduction of paper in Baghdad in the 8th century, the first maps and travel guides could be produced.


9. Music

Do 20th century artists and singers know that much of their craft lies in the hands of Muslims from the 9th century? These artists, al-Kindi in particular, used musical notation: the system of writing down music. They also named the notes of a musical scale with syllables instead of letters, called solmization. These syllables make up the basic scale in music today and we are all familiar with doh, ray, me, far, so, la, tee. The Arabic alphabet for these notes is Dal, Ra, Mim, Fa, Sad, Lam, Sin. The phonetic similarity between today’s scale and the Arabic alphabet used in the 9th century is astonishing. On top of that, Muslims were also developing musical instruments.

10. Algebra

The word “algebra” comes from the title of a Persian mathematician’s famous 9th century treatise “Kitab al-Jabr Wa l-Mugabala” which roughly translates into “The Book of Reasoning and Balancing”. Al-Khwarizmi introduces the beginnings of the algebra. It’s important to understand just how significant this new idea was. In fact, it was a revolutionary move away from the Greek concept of mathematics, which was essentually based on geometry. The same mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, was also the first to introduce the concept of raising a number to a power.

Source: mvslim.com


8 thoughts on “10 everyday inventions that you used today but never knew were invented by Muslims

  1. I think you better study history before you make such wild claims about so called “Muslim Inventions”. The corrections to your fancies are below:
    1. Coffee: LOL trying to claim a Muslim Arab as the inventor of coffee. Coffee came from Ethiopia, Africa. Christianity was adopted in Ethiopia early in 340 CE. The region where coffee is thought to have come from is Oromo, and the Oromo people were animists later converting to Christianity. The Kingdom of Kaffa was founded c.1390 by Minjo. The Kingdom’s religion was officially Christianity. According to legend, ancestors of today’s Oromo people in a region of Kaffa in Ethiopia were believed to have been the first to recognize the energizing effect of the coffee plant,though no direct evidence has been found indicating where in Africa coffee grew or who among the native populations might have used it as a stimulant or even known about it, earlier than the 17th century.The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee when he noticed how excited his goats became after eating the beans from a coffee plant, did not appear in writing until 1671 and is probably apocryphal.

    2. Clocks: The first mechanical watches used water as their power source. Even though Greek and Roman engineers tried to perfect these types of clocks even in 1st millennia BC (Pluto famously created first water based alarm clock), it was Chinese polymath (person whose expertise spanned significant number of various subject areas) Su Sung who devised first mechanized water clock that worked on the principle of escapement. Even though this exact water clock never found popularity outside of china, its mechanical engineering proved to be basis for modern European and Islamic clocks that were created during following centuries. The Greek astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus supervised the construction of the Tower of the Winds in Athens in the 1st century B.C. The Greek and Roman civilizations are credited for initially advancing water clock design to include complex gearing, which was connected to fanciful automata and also resulted in improved accuracy. These advances were passed on through Byzantium and Islamic times, eventually making their way back to Europe. Independently, the Chinese developed their own advanced water clocks in 725 A.D., passing their ideas on to Korea and Japan.

    3. Camera: The earliest mention of this type of device was by the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti (5th century BC). He formally recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a darkened room. He called this darkened room a “collecting place” or the “locked treasure room.”

    4: Cleanliness: Legend says that soap was first discovered on Sappo Hill in Rome when a group of Roman women were washing their clothes in the River Tiber at the base of a hill, below which animal fats from the sacrifices ran down into the river and created soapy clay mixture. They soon found that using this same cleansing substance the clothes were coming clear easier. Since that time we know soap as soap.
    However, the ancient Babylonians were the ones who invented soap and evidence for this are Babylonian clay containers dated at 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the containers present the earliest known written soap recipe and they state that the product was made from fats combined with wood ash and water. These early references to soap and soap making were for the use of soap to wash wool and cotton in preparation for weaving into cloth, soap was not necessarily used to wash the body.

    The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) reveals that ancient Egyptians combined both animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. They used this mixture for treating sores, skin diseases as well as washing.

    According to the Pliny the Elder, the Phoenicians made soap from goat’s tallow and wood ashes in 600 BC.

    The ancient Greeks were said to have combined lye and ashes as a cleanser for pots and the statues of their gods.

    Early Romans used urine to make soap like substance in the first century A.D. Later, they combined goat’s tallow and the ashes of the beech tree to make both hard and soft soap products. The discovery of an entire soap factory in the ruins of Pompeii, one of the cities destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D suggest that the industry was established and that soap was widely known in the Roman Empire. During the early century of the Common Era, although the Romans are well known for their public baths, generally soap was not used for personal cleaning; it was used by physicians in the treatment of disease. Soap for personal cleaning and hygiene became popular during the later centuries of the Roman era.

    The Celts, who used animal fats and plant ashes to make their soap, named the product saipo, from which the word soap is derived.

    The Arabs produced the soap from vegetable oil as olive oil or some aromatic oils such as thyme oil. Sodium Lye NaOH formula was used for the first time and it hasn’t changed from the current soap sold in the market. Arabian soap was perfumed and colored, and they made both liquid and hard soaps.

    5.Universities: Institutions of learning date back many thousands of years and, as Anubhav Srivastava has said, the oldest known are probably those in ancient India. But the modern university, with its system of degrees recognised by a network of other such institutions across the world, has its origins in Europe in the Middle Ages.

    Roman education had been in decline in the western Empire since the Third Century and all but collapsed with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the Fifth Century. In the centuries of invasion and chaos that immediately followed the only institution which maintained systematic education was the Catholic Church, with monasteries educating their novices and cathedrals maintain schools to educate priests and provide literate clerks for the administration of the Church and of local government. As medieval Europe recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire, populations rose, economic activity increased and greater political stability was established.

    The development of law and the increasing complexity of government required more and more sophisticated levels of education. The Church also increased in the complexity of its administration and together these needs provided a market demand for more education. It became viable for educated men to set themselves up as “masters” and take on paying students, much as craftsmen took on apprentices.

    Some cities began to attract more of these entrepreneurial private tuition schools than others and their governors saw the economic benefit of welcoming these teachers and their students. They granted them rights and privileges, usually by means of written charters, as a way of attracting more masters to their city.The masters saw the benefit of banding together, both to pool resources and for legal protection in an age of increasing litigation.They modelled these new bodies on craft guilds and called them a universitas or “a number of persons associated in one body”, from which we get the word “university”.

    As time went on, these new universities developed a common structure that was adopted in the first such bodies – the earliest being in Bologna, Paris and Oxford – and this system was adopted in the universities that followed. A student began by studying the Seven Liberal Arts, which were divided into the Trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and the more advanced Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). After three years they were regarded as a Bachelor of Arts, though more serious students went on to another three years of study to became a Master of Arts. Their study came to include the further subjects of metaphysics, physics and moral philosophy once Aristotle’s works on these subjects became available in Europe again in the Twelfth Century.

    A Master of Arts could then undertake a further degree in one of the higher faculties of Law, Medicine or Theology. This could take up to twelve more years, before finally being awarded a licentia docendi (“licence to teach”) also known as as a doctorate.

    The difference between these universities and earlier institutions of learning was that they formed part of an informal network of independent institutions which mutually recognised each other’s qualifications. A graduate with a Master of Arts from Bologna could travel to England to do his Doctorate in theology at Oxford. He could then teach in any university from Kraków to Barcelona.

    Almost all of the universities established in the Middle Ages are still in operation, with the oldest of them tracing their history as far back as 1167 (Oxford) or even 1088 (Bologna). Many of the structures and traditions of modern universities trace their origins to the Middle Ages as a result. For example, a modern academic gown, still worn for graduations and other ceremonial occasions, has its origin in the gowns worn by medieval students and most still have a tab on the back which is the vestigial remains of the hoods on late medieval outer garments.

    So while there are much older institutions in other parts of the world, the modern university is one of the gifts to the world of the European Middle Ages.

    6.Flying Machine: From the earliest times there have been legends of men mounting flying devices or strapping birdlike wings, stiffened cloaks or other devices to themselves and attempting to fly, typically by jumping off a tower. The Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus is one of the earliest to come down to us. According to Ovid, Daedalus tied feathers together to mimic the wings of a bird. Other ancient legends include the Indian Vimana flying palace or chariot, Ezekiel’s Chariot, various stories about Magic carpets, and mythical British King Bladud, who conjured up flying wings.

    Eventually some tried to build real flying devices, typically birdlike wings, and attempted to fly by jumping off a tower, hill, or cliff. During this early period physical issues of lift, stability, and control were not understood, and most attempts ended in serious injury or death when the apparatus lacked an effective horizontal tail, or the wings were simply too small.

    In the 1st century AD, Chinese Emperor Wang Mang recruited a specialist scout to be bound with bird feathers; he is claimed to have glided about 100 meters. In 559 AD, Yuan Huangtou is said to have landed safely following an enforced tower jump.

    In medieval Europe, the earliest recorded tower jump dates from 852 AD, when Abbas ibn Firnas made a jump in Cordoba, Spain, reportedly covering his body with vulture feathers and attaching two wings to his arms; on landing he is said to have crashed and sustained a back injury which some critics attributed to a lack of a tail. In 1010 AD, English monk Eilmer of Malmesbury flew from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey in a primitive glider. Eilmer was said to have flown over 200 yards (180 m) before landing, breaking both his legs. Eilmer later remarked that the only reason he did not fly further was that he forgot to give his machine a tail. This burst of activity was followed by a lull of several centuries.

    7.Surgical Instruments: The House of the surgeon is the oldest and one of the most famous houses in Pompeii, which is located in the Italian region of Campania. It is named after ancient surgical instruments that were found there. It was destroyed by the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and uncovered in 1770 by Frances La Vega, (Spain). The house today still stands partially and it is open for tourists to see. You can see reproductions of the instruments here: http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/romansurgical/

    8.Maps: The Greeks are credited with putting map making on a sound mathematical footing. The earliest Greek known to have made a map of the world was Anaximander. In 6th century BC, he drew a map of the then known world, assuming that the earth was cylindrical. The first Greek to draw a world map using the assumption of a spherical earth was Eratosthenes. Ptolomey first drew maps of the world using latitudes and longitudes and conic projection.

    In 150 AD he produced a six-volume atlas called Geographia containing several maps of the world known during his time.

    9.Music: The earliest form of musical notation can be found in a cuneiform tablet that was created at Nippur, in Sumer (today’s Iraq), in about 2000 BC. The tablet represents fragmentary instructions for performing music, that the music was composed in harmonies of thirds, and that it was written using a diatonic scale. A tablet from about 1250 BC shows a more developed form of notation. Although the interpretation of the notation system is still controversial, it is clear that the notation indicates the names of strings on a lyre, the tuning of which is described in other tablets. Although they are fragmentary, these tablets represent the earliest notated melodies found anywhere in the world.

    Scholar and music theorist Isidore of Seville, writing in the early 7th century, considered that “unless sounds are held by the memory of man, they perish, because they cannot be written down.”[10] By the middle of the 9th century, however, a form of neumatic notation began to develop in monasteries in Europe as a mnemonic device for Gregorian chant, using symbols known as neumes; the earliest surviving musical notation of this type is in the Musica disciplina of Aurelian of Réôme, from about 850.

    10.Algebra: Ancient Babylon and Egypt are the two places that were at the center of the development of algebra. Both of these civilizations used algebra in different ways and for different reasons, but it’s generally accepted that it was the Babylonians who first made basic use of algebra and pioneered its beginnings in the field of mathematics. There is evidence of this that dates back as far as 1900 to 1600 BC. The tablet known as the Plimpton 322 tablet displays Pythagorean triples and other forms of mathematics.

    Babylonian algebra may have occurred in tandem with Egyptian algebra, but Babylonian algebra was much more advanced. They explored cubic and quadratic equations, whereas the Egyptians remained focused on linear equations, which are much more simple. They also had flexible operations, which the Egyptians had not yet developed or started to use. Things like factoring and using positive roots were all within their understanding.

    There are a number of documents that remain from the ancient Egyptian period that show us that they used simple linear equations. But nothing has been found by historians that would suggest they were at the same level as the Babylonians, even though the documents date back to the same period of time. The Egyptians did develop a method known as “false position”, which allows a wide variety of equations to be solved in an iterative fashion.

    Greek Mathematics (Hellinistic Period)

    Its a misconception that the ancient Greeks didn’t have algebra. However, they did. Geometric algebra is what they used. The application of areas is a part of this, and it was included in Elements by Euclid. This form of algebra would be used by the Greeks to solve linear equations, and Euclid is considered by many to be the father of geometry. Basic equations were solved using geometry, and this is one of the major developments that the Greeks brought to algebra.

    However, many may argue that another Greek mathematician did work that can be considered even more important than that done by Euclid. His name was Diophantus. He wrote 13 books on the subject, but only six of them have survived. He was the first person to begin using symbols to represent unknown numbers. He also abbreviations for things like powers and operations. This was a big development, and it has shaped our understanding and use of algebra extensively.

    Of course, many of the symbols that Hellenistic mathematicians that followed Diophantus began to use are not in use today. Things have changed and developed. But what matters most is that the use of symbols was first employed during this period, and this concept has remained, even if the symbols themselves have changed.


  2. Trying to claim Coffee? Nonsense.. Coffee is an original Ethiopian product. Go see the elaborate coffee ceremonies throughout the region and examine the reports of ethnobotanists who know that there are more varieties of coffee in Ethiopia than elsewhere. Even if there was ever a man named Khalid, he and his goats were in Ethiopia eating Ethiopian grass and learning from Ethiopians.


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