12 Inventions By Muslims That Shaped The Modern World

There are a disturbing number of people looking to spread hate towards the more than 1.6 billion Muslims who inhabit this planet. Like all prejudice of this kind, these calls are unfounded. The truth is that despite the nefarious actions of a few, Islam has a long and rich history of promoting social and scientific progress. Here are just a few of the many ingenious inventions that Muslims have given the world.

1. Coffee

It’s hard to imagine Western culture without coffee. This caffeinated beverage fuels the world and has long been a symbol of free thought. During the Enlightenment Era, the great thinkers who built the foundation for modern science and democracy congregated in coffee shops. And none of this would be possible without the Muslims of the Arab world.

Historians believe that coffee first originated in Ethiopia, and was later popularized in the Arabian Peninsula. It is here that the first coffee houses began to develop. Muslim merchants are also credited without introducing the drink to Europe.

2. Surgery

The Muslim doctor Abu al-Kasim is one of the most important physicians in history and is the father of modern surgery. Not only did he author dozens of books on medicine and invent new methods of treatment for the ear, esophagus, and urethra, but he was also an advocate for social justice. He stressed the importance providing medical care to all patients, regardless of their social standing.

3. Universities

More than a thousand years before women were allowed to attended universities in the United States, a Muslim woman started the first degree-granting university in the world. Islam has a long tradition of valuing both religious and secular education. In the earliest days, Mosques served as places of learning and of worship. Eventually, communities created separate institutions for learning, known as madrasas. These developed into the world’s first universities, where students could select a concentration and learn from experts. 

Teachers and students traveled from across the region to study, and qualified students were given a ijaza, the first formal degrees. Universities spread all across the Muslim world long before early European Universities such as Oxford ever adopted the tradition.

4. Algebra

Algebra is the study of mathematical symbols that enables much of modern mathematics. While the earliest work in Algebra is attributed to the ancient Babylonians, Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi is often considered the single most important contributor to the field. It’s through his work that Algebra was introduced to the Western world. Al-Khwarizmi served in Baghdad as court astronomer to Al-Mamun, a famous Muslim patron of the sciences.

5. Hospitals

While people have been treating their sick since before civilization, there have not always been institution designated to providing professional medical care. The early Caliphs built the first hospitals, known as Bimaristans, where patients could seek treatment for their ailments. Many of the basic organizational features of the modern hospital were developed at this time.

6. The Toothbrush

Islam places a special religious importance on purity and hygiene. In a time when most of Europe believed that bathing would spread plague and pulling teeth was good dentistry, Muslim cities pioneered the hygienic practices that would eventually lead to germ theory. Muslims were some of the first people to practice regular dental hygiene using primitive toothbrushes made from miswak sticks.

7. Science Fiction

If you can’t stop reading Ender’s Game or watching Star Trek you may also have Muslim to thank. While many consider Frankenstein to be the first work of science fiction, there are several tales from the Islamic world describing odd technologies and strange worlds. These are at the very least a precursor to the genre, if not its origins outright.

 8. The Guitar

We wouldn’t have the guitar in Rock, Blues, Country, or Pop without Muslims. Guitars evolved from the “oud,” which came to Europe by way of then-Muslim Spain. This instrument became a key influence in the evolution of the guitars we use today.

9. Marching Bands

There are few things more American than a marching band at a football game. This tradition originated in Ottoman Empire, where solders used drums and other instruments to frighten their enemies. The story goes that this tactic was so effective that the armies of Europe mimicked it. This is how marching bands spread across the world and into the stadiums of college football.

10. Clocks

Time can have a special importance for many Muslims, because it helps keep track of prayer time throughout the day. The mechanical genius Al-Jizari help solved this problem by pioneering some of the first time-telling devices. He powered his clocks using water or candles. They are not only functional, but also beautiful to look at. He details these and many other mechanical inventions in his opus, “The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.”

11. Shampoo

Once again, it’s hard to overstate the Muslim world’s influence on hygiene. Middle Age Islam produced many of the oils, perfumes, and cleaning agents that were the forefathers of modern self-care. One of these inventions was the world’s first shampoo.

12. Chess

The history of chess is long and complicated. Most historians believe that the game began development somewhere in India or possibly in Egypt. This first version of the game is far different from modern Chess, however. The game eventually moved to Persia, where after the Arab conquest it developed into what we would now recognize as Chess. Arab Muslims also contributed the first player manuals to game.

And there are so many more…

Of course these are only a few of the many inventions that people of this faith have given to the world. There are millions of Muslims continuing to invent, create, and provide the services that good people always do to make this world function. Like all prejudices, “Islamaphobia” serves only to divide the human race—better to come together and celebrate our common achievements as a species.

Featured image by Pixabay, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.