Exciting Facts for Science and Social Studies Teachers – Part 2

In Part 1 we explored many innovations brought to us by Muslim scientists and inventors of the past.  Here are a few more items that I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning about.

11 Windmill:
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 Vaccination:
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 Fountain Pen:
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 Numerical Numbering:
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 mathematiciansal-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 Soup:
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:
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 Pay Cheques:
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 Earth is in a spherical shape?
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 Rocket and Torpedo:
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 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 Gardens:
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.

By Zafar Momin


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