Monday, March 13, 2006

Islamic Inventors changed the world

  How Islamic inventors changed the world   From coffee to cheques and
the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations
that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul
Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of
genius behind them Published: 11 March 2006
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/article350594.ece

1 The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in
the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals
became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make
the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans
exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all
night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had
arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645.
It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who
opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The
Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then
English coffee.

2 The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser,
which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the
eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician,
astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole
camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window
shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and
set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or
private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift
physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

3 A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was
developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread
westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the
10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from
the Persian rukh, which means chariot.

4 A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet,
astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts
to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the
Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden
struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his
fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving
him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine
of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain.
He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but
crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not
given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad
international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.

5 Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which
is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use
today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who
used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils
with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the
Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they
did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened
Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was
appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

6 Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences
in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's
foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into
chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use
today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification,
oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and
nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense
rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking
them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic
experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.

7 The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear
motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not
least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important
mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an
ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His
1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also
invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the
first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of
robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

8 Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a
layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was
invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from
India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They
saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas
shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an
effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and
was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a
cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.

9 The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals
was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger
than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the
building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other
borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and
dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy
the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and
parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round
ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.

10 Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as
those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called
al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and
many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern
surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches
dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his
lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In
the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the
circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it.
Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes
and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique
still used today.

11 The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used
to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of
Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was
the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had
six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years
before the first windmill was seen in Europe.

12 The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and
Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey
by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in
Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at
least 50 years before the West discovered it.

13 The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after
he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held
ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a
combination of gravity and capillary action.

14 The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably
Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears
in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and
al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr
wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of
Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the
Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of
trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of
frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and
created the basis of modern cryptology.

15 Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came
from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept
of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit
and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented
after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).

16 Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims,
thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic
chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were
the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's
floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and
Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors
were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that
the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring
expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings,
scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets,
unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.

17 The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay
for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be
transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman
could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.

18 By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that
the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that
the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500
years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of
Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned
the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The
scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King
Roger of Sicily in 1139.

19 Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in
their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be
purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices
terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a
rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a
torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which
impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.

20 Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs
who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and
meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in
11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the
carnation and the tulip.

Taken from
www.1001inventions.com

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