If you’re one of the millions who depends on that morning jolt of caffeine to wake you up then you have a group of 9th century Muslims to thank for it. Around 800 AD Sufis in Yemen (Sufism is a spiritual discipline within the Islamic faith) were looking for a way to stay awake during their late devotions and brewed the first pot of coffee. By the 1200s the drink had made its way to Turkey and in the 16th century Venetian traders brought it to Europe for the first time. It was basically a hop, skip and a jump from there to Starbucks.
2. Optics (Eyeglasses and cameras)
Do you wear glasses or are you a master selfie taker? Both the invention of eyeglasses and cameras are due in large part to a discovery made by one of the greatest Muslim physicists, Ibn al-Haitham, around the year 1000 AD in Cairo. At the time scientists believed in the ancient Greek theory that the human eye’s ability to see was due to its own emission of visual light rays. Ibn al-Haitham proved instead, through one of the first known applications of the scientific method, that outside light rays reflected off objects, entered the eye, were focused, and then projected o to the back of the eye. With this knowledge he did the first study of a camera obscura (or pinhole camera). His greatest piece of writing, Optics, later made its way to Europe where scientists used it to help them create eyeglasses, magnifying glasses, cameras, and telescopes.
3. The Airplane
Hundreds of years before da Vinci dreamed up his famous flying machine, Abbas ibn Firnas, a 9th century Muslim in Cordoba, Spain, actually built one. Abbas ibn Firnas designed a winged machine that looked much like a feathered bird costume. He was able to glide upwards into the sky for a couple seconds, but ultimately crashed to the ground and broke his back. However, it’s thought his design helped influence da Vinci.
It’s pretty routine these days to get a few stitches in your hand if you slip while chopping veggies or to get your appendix out if it’s giving you trouble. The highly regarded doctor Al Zahrawi wrote an illustrated surgical encyclopedia around 1000 AD that became a key reference for doctors around the world for 500 years. Al Zahrawi was the first to use dissolving stitches utilizing cat gut. He is also thought to have invented forceps and performed the first Cesarean section.
You have mechanical engineer Ismail Al-Jazari to thank for shaping your daily commute. In the 12th century he became the first person to convert rotary motion to linear motion when he invented the crank. This technology quickly spread around the world and led to the creation of the bicycle, the internal combustion engine, the car, and countless other inventions.
6. Modern Music
Whether you’re a fan of classical music or rock n’ roll you’ll probably really appreciate this next contribution. Muslim musicians were the first to introduce a number of influential instruments to Europe. Sometime after being introduced, the lute developed into the guitar (a word actually derived from Arabic), the rahab eventually became the violin, and the Persian santur led to the creation of popular keyboard instruments like the piano. The musical scales we use today are also believed to have come from the Arabic alphabet.
If you were one of those kids in math class who always asked “when are we ever going to use this”, 9th century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi could have given you a pretty good answer. Al-Khwarizmi is credited with contributing the basis for algebra (which is Arabic and Farsi for “reunion of broken parts”) in his book The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing. The books offered early algebraic applications to problems of trade, surveying, and inheritance. The word algebra derives from one of the mathematical operations explained in the book, al-jabr, which means “restoration” and refers to the adding of a number to both sides of an equation in order to simplify or cancel terms.
Would you believe the first degree granting university was founded by a princess? In 859 Princess Fatima al-Firhi along with her sister Mariam founded what is now known as the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University in Fez, Morocco. It has continuously been operating for over 1200 years now and stands as both an inspiration to Muslim women and as an example of the important role education plays in the Islamic faith.
9. The Toothbrush
From hard bristled to soft bristled, manual to electric, there’s a whole aisle of choices today in a rainbow of colors. The Prophet Mohammed himself was actually the first to inspire the use of toothbrushes. Around the year 600 he used a small stick from a Meswak tree to clean his teeth. This particular tree had the added aromatic benefit of freshening his breath as well. Substances similar to Meswak are still used in toothpaste today.
One of the five pillars of Islam is charity which inspired the Muslim tradition of caring for the sick. Following this tradition, the first modern medical center and teaching hospital, Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, was founded in Cairo in 872. It provided free medical care for all and inspired the spread of such hospitals in the Muslim world.