A number of inventions were made in the medieval Islamic world, a
geopolitical region that has at various times extended from Spain and
Africa in the west to Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent in the
inventions developed during the medieval Islamic world, which covers a
period from the early Caliphate to the later Ottoman, Safavid and
Mughal empires. In particular, the majority of inventions here date
back to the Islamic Golden Age, which is traditionally dated from the 8th - 13th centuries.
During this period, artists, engineers, scholars, poets, philosophers,
geographers and traders in the Islamic world contributed to
agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, Islamic law, literature,
navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology, both by
preserving earlier Greco-Roman philosophy, inventions and discoveries,
then by adding inventions and innovations of their own, according to
Think of the origins of that staple of modern life, the
cup of coffee, and Italy often springs to mind. But in fact, Yemen is
where the ubiquitous brew has its true origins, according to CNN
Along with the first university, and even the toothbrush,
it is among surprising Muslim inventions that have shaped the world we
live in today.
The origins of these fundamental ideas and objects
-- the basis of everything from the bicycle to musical scales -- are
the focus of "1001 Inventions," a book celebrating "the forgotten" history of 1,000 years of Muslim heritage.
"There's a hole in our knowledge, we leap frog from the Renaissance to the Greeks," Professor Salim al-Hassani, chairman of the foundation for science, technology and civilization, and editor of the book told CNN.
"1001 Inventions" is now an exhibition at London's Science Museum. Hassani
hopes the exhibition will highlight the contributions of non-Western
cultures like the Muslim empire that once covered Spain and Portugal,
Southern Italy and stretched as far as parts of China to present day
Around the year 1,000, the celebrated doctor Al Zahrawi
published a 1,500 page illustrated encyclopedia 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
catgut to stitch wounds beforehand a second surgery had to be performed
to remove sutures. He also reportedly performed the first caesarean
operation and created the first pair of forceps.
Even the coffee
that now the Western world's drink it called, drink du jour (drink of
the day), was first brewed in Yemen around the 9th century. In its
earliest days, coffee helped Sufis stay up during late nights of
devotion. Later brought to Cairo by a group of students, the coffee buzz
soon caught on around the empire. By the 13thcentury it
reached Turkey, but not until the 16th century did the beans start
boiling in Europe, brought to Italy by a Venetian trader.
Regarding the flying machine "Abbas Ibn Firnas was the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly," said Hassani. In the 9th century he designed a winged apparatus, roughly resembling a bird costume. In his most famous trial near Cordoba in Spain, Firnas
flew upward for a few moments, before falling to the ground and
partially breaking his back. His designs would undoubtedly have been an
inspiration for famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci's
hundreds of years later, said Hassani.
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, 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.
The word algebra comes from the title of a Persian mathematician's famous 9th century treatise "Kitab al-Jabr Wa l-Mugabala" which translates roughly as "The Book of Reasoning and Balancing."
Built on the roots of Greek and Hindu systems, the new algebraic order
was a unifying system for rational numbers, 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," says Hassani. 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
Muslim musicians have had a profound impact on Europe,
dating back to Charlemagne tried to compete with the music of Baghdad
and Cordoba, according to Hassani. 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.
According to Hassani,
the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) popularized the use of the
first toothbrush in around 600. Using a twig from the Meswak tree, he
cleaned his teeth and freshened his breath. Substances similar to Meswak are used in modern toothpaste.
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," explained Hassani. 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 a policy based on
the Muslim tradition of caring for all who are sick. From Cairo, such
hospitals spread around the Muslim world.
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