Other Fisking on Muslim Inventions

The list in the Independent has 20 Muslim inventions.

The first is coffee.

Muslims do appear to have been the first to drink coffee, to make a drink from the coffee beans. But Ethiopians, not Muslims, first started using the bean’s caffination. “Prior to 1000 A.D.: Members of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia notice that they get an energy boost when they eat a certain berry, ground up and mixed with animal fat.” from The History of Coffee

The fourth is flight.

The man supposedly flew. But there is no more flying after that. So he didn’t invent something useful. He simply did something interesting. Several other people throughout history have been said to fly, including Daedalus and Icarus, from long before Islam began. But they didn’t invent anything useful either.

The fifth is the recipe for soap.

Supposedly Muslims have strict bathing rules. If so, they probably came from the Old Testament, because Moses handed some of those over from God.

But the Egyptians were already using soap in 1500 BC. “Records show that ancient Egyptians bathed regularly. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical document from about 1500 B.C., describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material used for treating skin diseases, as well as for washing.” from Soap History

And the Romans, while not using soap, scrubbed themselves clean with pumice and then used those aromatic oils the author claims as an Arabic addition, to make themselves smell nice.

I think most of us know of Roman bathing. By the 2nd century AD Galen, famous Roman physician, recommended soap for washing and medical purposes.

“In the very early stages of human history, soap made from animal fats and potash (the water in which wood ashes were macerated) was mainly used to clean fleece and fabrics. Several archeological findings show that Babylonians, Egyptians and Phoenicians were already using something very similar to soap to prepare raw wool for dyeing, but the first written mention of how soap was made and used in ancient times comes from one of the most important Western historians, Gaius Plinius Secundus (Plinius the Elder). Talking about the inhabitants of Gallia, the Celts, Plinius narrates of a product, made by mixing goat’s fat and potash from birch ashes, which was used to ligthen the colour of their hair and make it stiffer (sounds like hair gel is as old as soap, then! 🙂

And apparently, the Celts themselves are responsible for teaching the Romans, who preferred to use oils mixed with fine sand or aromatic herbs to clean and massage their skin, how to use soap for personal cleaning. The meaning of the Late Latin word “sapo”, indeed, was “a mixture of tallow and ashes used to discolour hair, of Celtic or Germanic origin”.” from Soap Naturally

Or, if you like some initials after the expert, here’s John A. Hunt PhD writing for the Pharmaceutical Journal Online:

Two mentions appear in the Old Testament. “For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me,” says the book of Jeremiah. A more modern translation reads: “Though you wash with soda and use soap lavishly. . . .”1 There are doubts as to whether this is a reference to true soap. It has been suggested that possibly a lye, made by mixing alkaline plant ash with water, was referred to, or possibly some form of Fuller’s earth.2 This view is perhaps supported by the second mention, on virtually the final page of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi, in which both the authorised version of 1611 and the modern translation read virtually identically: “He is like a refiner’s fire, like a fuller’s soap.”3 It has been suggested that some form of soap, made by boiling fat with ashes, was being made in Babylon as early as 2800BC, but probably used only for washing garments. Pliny the Elder (7BC–53AD) mentions that soap was being produced from tallow and beech ashes by the Phoenicians in 600BC.4 This might have been used as a hair pomade rather than a washing soap.5

Bathing in classical times

In classical times, perfumed oils were in extensive use for bathing and were combined with the use of the strigil, a metal implement used to scrape the skin free of oil and dirt. It is claimed that, for washing themselves, the Romans used a type of clay found near Rome called “sapo” from which the word soap is derived.4 An alternative suggestion for the derivation of the name is that the Romans learned the art of soap-making, using animal fats and plant ashes, from the Celts, who called it “saipo”.6
The use of soap in personal hygiene does not appear to have been adopted until the second century when the physician Galen (130–200AD) mentions its use for washing the body. Another physician, Priscianus (circa 385AD), reported the use of soap as a shampoo and made the first mention of the trade of “saponarius”, or soap-boiler.6

None of this is a Muslim invention.

Number seven is the crankshaft and the combination lock.

The oldest known lock was found by archeologists in the Khorsabad palace ruins near Nineveh. The lock was estimated to be 4,000 years old. It was a forerunner to a pin tumbler type of lock, and a common Egyptian lock for the time. This lock worked using a large wooden bolt to secure a door, which had a slot with several holes in its upper surface. The holes were filled with wooden pegs that prevented the bolt from being opened.

from About.com

4000 years ago was about 2600 years before Mohammed.

Several sources said that the first combination lock was invented in the 17th century.

I did find a discussion of water irrigation methods. Most of these pre-date Islam by centuries. The article included a discussion of Al-Jaziri’s machine that was a huge leap, in fact, an invention.

Al-Jazari’s fifth machine, a water-driven pump was a more radical device. A water wheel turned a vertical cog wheel which in turn turned a horizontal wheel. The latter caused two opposing copper pistons to oscillate. The cylinders of the pistons were connected to suction and delivery pipes which were guarded by one-way clack valves (i.e. hinged at one end). The suction pipes drew water from a water sump down below and the delivery pipes discharged the water into the supply system about 12m above the installation. This pump is an early example of the double-acting principle (while one piston sucks the other delivers) and the conver sion of rotatory to reciprocating motion.

from Water Raising Machines written by a Muslim scholar for Muslim Technologist

Obviously one would expect a Muslim scholar to know more about a Muslim inventor. But I could not find anyone other than Muslims writing on this guy. Of course, his work is in Arabic, so that might be expected.

Nine covers multiple points. I will not cover these in order.

First, “Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones.” These came from Muslims. Perhaps at the time, but the Celts, ancient beyond the days of Islam, had round keeps to which they fled under siege.

Second, “The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture.” As far as I could see, this was accurate. The pointed arch was developed, as far as I could find, in the Omayyad period, in the bulbous domes, just after the prophet died when the first Islamic government was formed in Syria. If pointed arches were there before the caliphate, I could find no reference to it. The article I did find is Introduction of the Bulbous Dome into Gothic Architecture by Wolfgang Born.

I did find the one author who wrote on the history to say that “There are no remaining bulbous domes which clarify the origin of this form.” This was Born again, in another article.

Another author wrote in “Tents and Domes of Persia” that the pointed domes came from the tents of the ancient Altai-Iran region. If that is so, then they are from the 1100 and don’t match with the mosaics of the Omayyad period discussed above.

So, as far as I can tell, this is actually correct. Number 9, at least the pointed arches reference, is accurate.

Number 10 is on medicine.

The first point is that 200 medical instruments have not changed since the 10th century when al-Zahwri invented them. That’s interesting. It’s not what I found when I went looking.

Scalpels were used long before Islam came around.

Work on hands and feet are clearly depicted and many Egyptologists believe tending, feet both medically and personally, probably spanned the whole of ancient Egyptian civilisation. The placement of carvings at the entrance of a tomb typically signified the profession of the buried individual and The Tomb of the Physician dates from 2400 BC. No one can be sure, of course, whether podiatry was practised continuously throughout the two millennium. Corns and calluses were described by Hippocrates who recognised the need to physically reduce hard skin, followed by removal of the cause. He invented skin scrapers for this purpose and these were the original scalpels.

from the History of Podiatry

So were forceps.

The history of obstetrical forceps is long and, often, colorful. Sanskrit writings from approximately 1500 BC contain evidence of single and paired instruments; Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Persian writings and pictures refer to forceps.

The credit for the invention of the precursor of the modern forceps to be used on live infants goes to Peter Chamberlen of England (circa 1600).

from eMedicine

If you want to see drawings of Egyptian surgical instruments that predate Islam go to this page and scroll down.

Description of circulation is claimed, in the Muslim invention article, by Ibn Nafis, who described it 300 years before it was detailed in pictures by William Harvey.

But that was already done, years before, in an Egyptian papyrus from about 1700 BC (although it is believed to refer to older works from about 3000 BC).

The papyrus in question, the Edwin Smith papyrus, is discussed as “In the papyrus, the examination of peripheral was described together with an understanding that pulses reflected the action of the heart from which vessels went to the limbs.” History of Orthopaedics and said this and Ancient Egyptian Medicine says, “Texts on anatomy and physiology exist, showing a degree of knowledge of the workings of the human body, its structure, the job of the heart and blood vessels, including, the ‘treatise of the heart’ contained in the Ebers Papyrus. ”

Catgut originated with al-Zahrwi?

“Antyllus of the 3rd century is said to have practised subcutaneous tenotomy to relieve contractions around a joint. It is said that he used both linen and catgut sutures for thee procedures. Various drills, saws and chisels were also developed during this period.”

Sounds like that’s not true either, according to History of Orthopaedics.

I think that the problem of attribution that the Independent article makes is that the Arabs did have early medical discussions, but only because they translated earlier works. ” From the late eleventh century, Arabic translations of Galen’s works and their associated commentaries began to be translated into Latin. These translations formed the foundation of medical education in the new universities. ” Greek Medicine

Number 12 is inoculation.

But according to Vaccines–How and Why? the Chinese came up with the idea first. And eventually a means of variolation made its way to Turkey where it was seen and brought to Europe.

Perhaps it was these types of observations that led the Chinese to try to prevent smallpox–a deadly disease characterized by pus-filled blisters–by exposing uninfected individuals to matter from smallpox lesions. This process, known as “variolation,” took a variety of forms. One form consisted of removing pus and fluid from a smallpox lesion and using a needle to place it under the skin of the person to be protected. Another method involved peeling scabs from lesions, drying and grinding them to a powder, and letting an uninfected person inhale this powder. The third method involved picking up a small amount of the scab powder with a needle and then using the needle to place the powder directly into the individual’s veins. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador to Turkey, observed this third method in the early 1700s and brought it back to England.

So when did the Chinese discover this? According to The History of Smallpox “The first written account of variolation describes a Buddhist nun practicing around 1022 to 1063 AD. She would grind up scabs taken from a person infected with smallpox into a powder, and then blow it into the nostrils of a non-immune person. ” The article then goes on to say “By the 1700’s, this method of variolation was common practice in China, India, and Turkey.” So Turkey got it from a Buddhist nun.

Yes, it was brilliant of the Arabs to adopt it, but the practice was not begun with them.

Number 13 says fountain pens were invented in 953 for the Sultan of Egypt.

Dip pens were used by the scribes of the Egyptian kings over 4000 years ago. Scribes used a sharp stick or goose quill shaved to a point and dipped in berry juice to keep inventory of write a letter. An improvement on the quill was not made until the late 1700s with the introduction of the metal pen point in a plain or fancy holder. Reliable fountain pens were not perfected until the 1880s.

from Fountain Pen History

The Romans created a reed-pen perfect for parchment and ink, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses, especially from the jointed bamboo plant. They converted bamboo stems into a primitive form of fountain pen. They cut one end into the form of a pen nib or point. A writing fluid or ink filled the stem, squeezing the reed forced fluid to the nib.

from A Brief History of Writing Instruments

The same article goes on to say “Introduced around 700 A.D., the quill is a pen made from a bird feather. The strongest quills were those taken from living birds in the spring from the five outer left wing feathers. The left wing was favored because the feathers curved outward and away when used by a right-handed writer.”

Pen Lovers has a translation of the Sultan story. But it is followed with this caveat “The instrument described here appears to meet each of our criteria for a fountain pen. We can never know whether the pen actually performed as described, or what its design may have been. We do know that until 17th century Europe, there appears no evidence that anyone overcame the problem between the need for a steady flow of ink, and the tendency to leak.”

However, if the Pen Lovers article is correct, then the Independent article is at least partially correct. The sultan received the earliest fountain pen that I have been able to find referenced. But it was not useful if no one else used the invention. Apparently it was 800 years before the next fountain pen came into use. While the pen might be an example of Muslim ingenuity, it was not the basis for our modern pens. Instead they had to be invented all over again after the sultan, what? got rid of his pen, died, or killed the craftsman? I don’t know. But we do know there wasn’t another one for 800 years.

Number 16 claims Persian carpets as an Arabic invention and introduction.

But Persian carpets were old before Mohammed ever set foot on the earth.

“The earliest known Persian carpet was discovered by Russian Professor Rudenko in 1949 during excavations of burial mounds in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. Called the Pazyryk rug, its central field is a deep red color and it has two wide borders, one depicting deer and the other Persian horseman. It dates from the fifth century B.C. and is now kept in the Hermitage museum of Leningrad.

Another rug found in the same area, this time with a Senneh knot, dates to the first century B.C. However, historical records show that the court of Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian monarchy over 2,500 years ago, was bedecked by magnificent carpets long before the time of these discoveries. Classical tales recount how Alexander the Great found carpet of a very fine fabric in the Cyrus tomb.”

from history of Persian carpets

For a history of carpets that includes not only the ones above, but the first documented references, from before Mohammed again, see Iran Saga, Persian carpets, a brief history.

Number 17 is on checks.

“Some experts think the Romans may have invented the check about 352 BC. But even if that were true, the idea apparently didn’t catch on. Banks or bank-like institutions existed in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, and probably transferred deposits from one account to another, but no documentary evidence of such transfers has survived.” from a brief history of checking.

I think that 352 BC is pretty early on. A good 900 years before Mohammed. And ancient Mesopotamia, while the area became Muslim later, was not Muslim in the BC era.

Number 19 is on gunpowder, gunpowder rockets, and torpedoes.

Rockets were not invented by the Muslims.

The date reporting the first use of true rockets was in 1232. At this time, the Chinese and the Mongols were at war with each other. During the battle of Kai-Keng, the Chinese repelled the Mongol invaders by a barrage of “arrows of flying fire.” These fire-arrows were a simple form of a solid-propellant rocket. A tube, capped at one end, contained gunpowder. The other end was left open and the tube was attached to a long stick. When the powder was ignited, the rapid burning of the powder produced fire, smoke, and gas that escaped out the open end and produced a thrust. The stick acted as a simple guidance system that kept the rocket headed in one general direction as it flew through the air. It is not clear how effective these arrows of flying fire were as weapons of destruction, but their psychological effects on the Mongols must have been formidable.

from The History of Early Fireworks and Fire Arrows

Though the Muslims did use rockets during the Crusades, they were probably not the Europeans first introduction to the things.

“Following the battle of Kai-Keng, the Mongols produced rockets of their own and may have been responsible for the spread of rockets to Europe. All through the 13th to the 15th centuries there were reports of many rocket experiments. In England, a monk named Roger Bacon worked on improved forms of gunpowder that greatly increased the range of rockets. In France, Jean Froissart found that more accurate flights could be achieved by launching rockets through tubes. Froissart’s idea was the forerunner of the modern bazooka. Joanes de Fontana of Italy designed a surface-running rocket-powered torpedo for setting enemy ships on fire.”

from The History of Early Fireworks and Fire Arrows

So Fausta’s blog debunks several of the “Top 20 Muslim Inventions and I have looked at several others.

Of the 20, only some of the points have some validity as you can see from the two fisks of the Independent article.

Note: The Independent article was available completely when I was writing this. However, it is now required that you log in to read the entire article.