Do Muslim inventions and innovations validate or exculpate Islam?

I’ve noticed that all the clickbait sites are starting to converge on HuffPo, with headlines like “Ten genius hacks for discarded corncobs,” “KimK throws shade on TSwift,” “Amy Schumer has an important message for haters,” and so on. Looking at a piece on BuzzFeed (about cats, of course), I noticed that it was barely distinguishable from HuffPo. And, of course, all these sites are Authoritarian Left, which I find depressing. Better to read Quillette, which has substance, serious, non-kneejerk thought, and no fluff.

A reader called my attention to a similar piece on the website Good: “Islamophobe on Tumblr gets completely owned“, which is in the Authoritarian Left genre (viz., “owned”, meaning “demolished”), but also factually dubious. It begins with a provocative picture of the pre-9/11 World Trade Center, which would indeed be standing without Islamist terrorism. But it’s an image that I wouldn’t use because it does promote bigotry:


In that sense the meme is “Muslimophobic.” But to refute it, the author, Todd Perry, reproduced a list, posted by Tumblr user “whatpathall”, of the innovations in our world that wouldn’t exist without Muslims. That’s a decent tactic in principle, but oy, the things he lists! To wit:

Yes, lets imagine a world WITHOUT MUSLIMS, shall we?

Without Muslims you wouldn’t have:

Experimental Physics
Crank-shaft, internal combustion engine, valves, pistons
Combination locks
Architectural innovation (pointed arch -European Gothic cathedrals adopted this technique as it made the building much stronger, rose windows, dome buildings, round towers, etc.)
Surgical instruments
Treatment of Cowpox
Fountain pen
Numbering system
Modern Cryptology
3 course meal (soup, meat/fish, fruit/nuts)
Crystal glasses
Gardens used for beauty and meditation instead of for herbs and kitchen.
Mariner’s Compass
Soft drinks
Plastic surgery
Manufacturing of paper and cloth

I’m not going to examine every one of these claims, but there are three things wrong with such a list in principle. The two most important are these. First, Islamic doctrine had absolutely nothing to do with any such inventions or discoveries, and that’s the doctrine that the invidious meme above is directed at. Second, even if all these things did come from Muslims (they didn’t), that does nothing to buttress or validate the tenets of Islam, which are based on the fictitious story of a dictation by an angel (prompted by Allah) to an illiterate merchant.  So one can criticize Islamic doctrine, especially the hateful and xenophobic bits, and still recognize that Muslims made contributions to society. After all, many of us criticize Christianity and its subspecies Catholicism, but of course Christians have made tons of contributions to the world, few of which had anything to do with Christianity itself. And those contributions don’t do anything to establish the truth of Scripture.

Finally, of course, even if Muslims hadn’t invented some of this stuff, other people would have invented it anyway. Rarely are inventions one-off things that wouldn’t exist if their inventors hadn’t lived. That’s one of the points that Matt Ridley made in his new book The Evolution of Everything: How Ideas Emerge. (I criticized that book in the Times Literary Supplement, but some of Ridley’s claims, like the parallelism of inventions like the light bulb, were correct.) It’s just wrong to say that “If Muslims hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have inventions X, Y, or Z.”

The list above is impressive, and indeed, lots of the stuff mentioned was either devised by Muslims (fountain pens) or promulgated by them after discovery by non-Muslims (coffee). But I was dubious about many of these claims, for we have to remember that Islam didn’t exist till the late sixth and early seventh centuries A.D. A few minutes on the Internet showed that the following items were almost certainly not devised by Muslims (I didn’t check everything, of course): numbering systems (devised by Greeks Romans, Egyptians, and, in our modern form, Hindus); toothbrushes (Chinese, Romans, Greeks); bathing (Greece, ancient India); Braille (invented by Louis Braille in the 19th century, though a blind 14th-century Muslim, Ali Ibn Ahmed Al Amidi, had a personal system for organizing his books); calligraphy (early Christians, ancient Chinese and Indians); manufacture of paper (Chinese), vaccination against cowpox (China and India, roughly 11th century), and so on. Readers are welcome to check other claims themselves. I’m pretty sure you’ll find many dubious ones.

But remember, even the true claims don’t do anything to validate the tenets of Islam or render them immune from criticism. What my rudimentary fact-checking shows is that the author didn’t do a very good job, and this article should never have been published.

But wait! There’s more! The Tumblr user added these:

It was a Muslim who realized that light ENTERS our eyes, unlike the Greeks who thought we EMITTED rays, and so invented a camera from this discovery.

It was a Muslim who first tried to FLY in 852, even though it is the Wright Brothers who have taken the credit.

It was a Muslim by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan who was known as the founder of modern Chemistry. He transformed alchemy into chemistry. He invented: distillation, purification, oxidation, evaporation, and filtration. He also discovered sulfuric and nitric acid.

It is a Muslim, by the name of Al-Jazari who is known as the father of robotics.

It was a Muslim who was the architect for Henry V’s castle.

It was a Muslim who invented hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes, a technique still used today.

It was a Muslim who actually discovered inoculation, not Jenner and Pasteur to treat cowpox. The West just brought it over from Turkey

It was Muslims who contributed much to mathematics like Algebra and Trigonometry, which was imported over to Europe 300 years later to Fibonnaci and the rest.

It was Muslims who discovered that the Earth was round 500 years before Galileo did.

The list goes on…

Okay, I’m not going to check all of these. In fact I looked at just two that stood out: flying and the idea of a round earth. The claim that both came from Muslims is dead wrong.

Flight. “whatpath” is probably referring to Abba ibn Firnas, a Moorish Muslim about whom Wikipedia says this:

Some seven centuries after the death of Firnas, the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari (d. 1632) wrote a description of Firnas that included the following:

Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one.

Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works “many early sources no longer extant”, but in the case of Firnas, he does not cite his sources for the details of the reputed flight, though he does claim that one verse in a 9th-century Arab poem is actually an allusion to Firnas’s flight. The poem was written by Mu’min ibn Said, a court poet of Córdoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), who was acquainted with and usually critical of Ibn Firnas. The pertinent verse runs: “He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture.” No other surviving sources refer to the event.

It has been suggested that Ibn Firnas’s attempt at glider flight might have inspired the attempt by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England, but there is no evidence supporting this hypothesis.

If you want to take that as an antecedent to the Wright Brothers, be my guest!

Round earth: the roundness of the earth was in fact known to the ancient Greeks in the third century B.C., with the classic (and remarkably accurate) measurement of the Earth’s circumference made by Eratosthenes in Egypt. Islam did not exist then.

Again, readers are welcome to check the other claims for themselves. This is not, as I said, to denigrate the contributions made by ancient Islamic scholars, but to criticize the idea that those somehow validate Islamic beliefs or refute the claim that modern terrorism has been largely inspired by extremist Islam.


  1. Cindy
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    It is the tribalistic, wahhabist/salafist Islam that is so anti-science. This is also the Islam that is being aggressively promoted by KSA. Wahhabist Islam spread the way ISIS is spreading today – through genocide and force. This is political Islam.

    • somer
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:58 am | Permalink

      Even the orthodox legal manuals of the most moderate sunni schools – Hanifi and Shaafi (also called Sy’afi and not in any way connected to Salafists)explicitly call for the Islamic ruler to engage in permanent war against unbelievers and for at least some part of the Muslim community to be actively engaged in that war (fighting) at all times. This is in both books and for both books truce is only to be concluded for strategic advantage not as a road to peace, and only for maximum 10 years at a time. Things about dimemis, rules of war and options open to commanders once they’ve conquered are eye opening too. As the intro to G of Traveller says, 75% of the content of the 4 sunni schools is the same – they only differ on the 25%. The Salafis and Wahhabis differ in their level of intolerance towards those Muslims not deemed to be real muslims (particularly shias but even other sunnis deemed to be following an irreligious ruler or leader)

      The stuff about women is eye opening and very unequal in both books. There’s plenty of mention of about slavery also.

      Im talking the Guidance of the Traveller (Shaafi manual by medieval scholar) and the
      Hidaya guide to the Islamic Laws – a Hanifi manual by another medieval scholar. The Hidaya is actually used as reference in South Asian courts. No doubt the Guidance of T is too – if only for marriage matters in Muslim states with secular but Islam friendly law as the main law of the land. Unlike the Hidaya, the Guidance now even has some modern updates added for dealing with phenomena like mobile phones that didn’t exist in the prophets time but its overwhelmingly the medieval stuff in there and its all orthodox.

  2. Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I think there’s a good argument that, during the period 800AD to 1500AD or so, Islam was more benign and tolerant than the Christianity of that era, and thus that Muslims over that period did indeed do a lot to promote science, technology and civilisation.

    But, Islam then is a different matter to Islam today. And meanwhile the West has thrown off most of the bad aspects of Christianity as it has become much more secular and consequently advanced hugely.

    Criticism of Islam is about how it affects the world today. If one has to go back deep into history to find good stuff coming out of Islamic lands, then that itself is revealing. What would be more interesting is a list of inventions or advances from the last 50 years.

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t agree it was really more benign and tolerant than Christianity even then. I think this is an illusion born of lack of knowledge of the classical texts of Islam and of what Muslim rule was actually like for non muslim subjects in it

    • rickflick
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      “What would be more interesting is a list of inventions or advances from the last 50 years.”

      The notorious Dawkins tweet about no Nobel Prizes comes to mind. Boy did he get “owned” for that!

      • Christopher
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Could we credit some muslims with advances in roadside bomb and suicide vest technologies? They certainly seem to be leaders in that field at the moment.*

        *and before I get labeled an islamophobe, yes, this is a bit tongue-in-cheek.

        • Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          Well actually the idea of setting off a bomb in a public place was invented by Jewish terrorists in 1925 in Jaffa.*

          *Comment made for future reference for the next time I get labeled a Zionist child murderer.

      • colnago80
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        There have been 2, Abdus Salam in physics from Pakistan and Ahmad Zewail in chemistry from Egypt. However, it should be noted that both man spent their productive years in the West, Zewail at Cal Tech and Salam at several British universities and his own institute in Trieste.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          The instant I sent that comment, I remembered there were at least a few. Thanks for clarifying.

        • Posted July 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

          Ironically, Abdus Salam was an Ahmadi, who mainstream Muslims often regard as heretical non-Muslims. So they might be unable to claim him!

          • josh
            Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

            As you may know, the Pakistani government in fact removed the word “Muslim” from his tombstone.

            • somer
              Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

              They even have on Pakistani passports, a declaration that the holder does not recognise the Ahmadia as Muslims

    • eric
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes exactly. Its like a reverse genetic fallacy; we should excuse bad conduct today just because you’re in a group that did good things 1,000 years ago?

      What would be more interesting is a list of inventions or advances from the last 50 years.

      I’m happy to give credit to Muslims who, today, work for good causes. Malala Yousafzai springs to mind. But again, it would be a genetic-type fallacy to judge her by the conduct of someone else or judge someone else by her conduct, merely because of a shared religion.

  3. Joseph McClain
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Newton said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.” So, you could make a case that universal gravitation is a Christian contribution to science, but you’d be hooted down. In Newton’s time, people thought he was peering into God’s set of blueprints, but that was back then.

    • colnago80
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Actually, Newton was an Arian, which is considered heresy by most Christians. In fact, if Newton’s theological speculations had become known in his lifetime (they didn’t become known until some 150 years after his death), he would have been in big trouble with the authorities.

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      He had to say that – actually Edward Grant
      A history of Natural Philosophy – writes that Newton never ever mentioned God as a cause of any physical phenomena – he separated religion from physics. and the trend just got greater (he was writing in the seventeenth century)

  4. Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I would trash that and any other list and replace it with one item — the great Persian physician Al Razi who said that as the prophets all contradict each other, they can be ignored and revelation disregarded, but reason is equally accessible to all.

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink


  5. Tom
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a perusal of S Frederick Starr’s Lost Enlightenment may help to clarify which “muslims” engaged in science.
    Anyway,I thought Needham had proved that the Chinese discovered and invented everything, and if not it must have been the Greeks or Persians or the Romans or the Atlanteans or the ancient aliens or………..?
    And what does it matter?

  6. Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    The list of ancient Muslim inventors makes the common fallacy that all the people in Islamic regions must have been Muslim. In many cases we don’t know exactly who invented what, much less what their personal beliefs may have been. For those who are confirmed to have been Muslim, we have no way to know if they would have chosen Islam if they had any other option.

  7. Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Chess? Did not a Saudi grand mufti recently declare chess anti-Islam?

    This is a laughable list of unverifiable claims, not unlike those lists of Russian inventions during the Soviet era.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Covered his body in feathers, attached a couple of wings to his body and off he goes. Yes, anyone could see that was flying. The feathers are a nice touch.

    He was gliding, or at least attempting to glide, not flying. The Wright Bothers did gliding with their airplanes constructed of wood and fabric and wires but then they actually installed an engine and constructed their own homemade propeller and then sustained flight under power.

    There is gliding and there is flying – not the same.

    • David Evans
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      That’s true, and the whole account becomes suspect when it says he alighted again on the place where he started. It would need a fierce updraft and improbably good control to do that with the kind of wings one can imagine being simply attached to his body.

      • Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        Which is part of why it is quite obviously fiction.

  9. Kevin
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    “Imagine the world without General Relativity.” Physicists and historians of science have long pondered this philosophically interesting question. It is deeply interesting to those who know GR just how phenomenal it is and the requisite jumps to enable that understanding are pretty strong evidence that only a person might have been able to synthesize the mental construction of what it means to describe not only the motion of all matter but the entire cosmos.

    That being said, there is also significant evidence directed by a centuries of observation and mathematics that other people (plural) could have devised GR as well.

    Coffee…optics…algebra…etc. You’ve got to be kidding me. My nine year old could have discovered any of those. Muslims and/or any other Theists need to reach a great deal deeper before they can prove these discoveries are restricted by “Religion only findings.”

  10. colnago80
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Actually, Baghdad was the center of intellectual achievement from 800 to 1100 CE. It was brought down by a man named Al-Ghazali around 1100 who preached that mathematics was the work of the devil. See attached presentation by Neil Tyson.

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I think China was more technologically and scientifically sophisticated but we don’t hear about that. A lot of knowledge was from the Greeks and other ancients and it wasn’t just Al Gazhi that opposed the Mutalazites –
      the clergy as a whole threatened any study they deemed “foreign sciences” of the Greeks – philosophical or theoretical at all – maths was usually OK but things got more and more limited. Tanner Edris, An Illusion of Harmony. By a physicist about the supposed harmony between Islam and science based on its past is really clear on this, as is Edward Grant, A History of Natural Philosophy, and Pervez Hoodboy another Physicist, who points out the science was only ever carried out in the courts of sultans or rulers who protected them.

      Islam is hostile to investigation of the world because of the rigidity of the text and various structural characteristics in it.
      Roman Christianity – ALWAYS separated church and state – this didn’t continue so much in the Eastern church but its a western Tradition Thus church law just applies to the church. Of course St Pauls rejected the Mosaic law and said Grant to Caesar what is Caesars – Christianity is not a law based religion.The protestant churches are even more for this kind of thing.
      (e.g. Bertrand Russell, history of Western Philosophy)
      The Jews had to reinterpret their story because of their reverses – many were Hellenised even before the Roman sack of the temple and they always had a reputation for learning and became increasingly friendly to philosophy – many say Spinoza was one of the first atheistic philosophers tho its unclear if he was

      Secondly Roman Christianity always encouraged a scholastic school and Greek philosophy as a means to demonstrate the truth of its dogma. It has hence never been a purely revelatory dogma. When more philosophers got better translated from the sack of Constantinople on they continued – they only got a little testy about scholasticism with the Reformation – and even then they just stuck to certain versions of Aristotle and Plato. The Christian trinity idea and various ideas about the nature of the soul are largely derived from NeoPlatonist philosophy. (again Bertrand Russel and especially Edward Grant – A history of Natural Philosophy.

      Thirdly according to Edward Grant – the Islamic world did not really contribute the university culture we credit it with.
      Whereas medieval western universities were from the start granted the status of corporations (a latin concept) with their own legal standing and democratically elected governing body and (initially) complete autonomy, unlike the madrassa model that was funded and directed by an individual, constrained by law to not contradict Islamic tennets, such that individuals wishing to learn science or natural philosophy beyond some types of logic needed to find a suitable tutor for themselves. Western universities were established in the 1200s and lasted hundreds of years because of their legal status – they were teaching only institutions and all taught Aristotelian Natural Philosophy – and a few other degrees but the former had to be the base of any other learning in the University. Students were taught to argue and probe issues vigorously – something which had no equal elsewhere before on this scale.

      From three European universities in 1200 to around 64 in 1500 AD matriculating around 1400 students a year. By the early modern period new ideas were overturning the established Aristotlean curriculum of the academe and various changes – led on to the modern scientifc revolution.

      • somer
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        The Western universities first appeared around 1200 AD

      • colnago80
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        I think it fair to state that, if Islam didn’t itself contribute directly to scientific achievement, it did contribute indirectly in Baghdad by not standing in the way. This is to be contrasted with the Catholic Church and it’s suppression of Galileo.

        • somer
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          But it only quieted science in Italy and Spain – not at all in the rest of Europe . For a whole array of reasons too long to go into here the 17th Century took science from the Aristotlian Natural Philosophy stuff – which had begun to change by this time – to something completely different. Galileo was in the vanguard of this process. Before him were Copernicus and Kepler.
          Edward Grant, A History of Natural Philosophy, Cambridge 2007
          (explains the transition out of Aristotelian natural philosophy)
          J.D. Bernal, The Extension of Man (he is a physicist) –

        • somer
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Yes 800-1100 – Religion killed it. Al Ghazi though was the most prominent of many detractors.

      • colnago80
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        By the way, Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg spoke at the same conference from which the excerpt from Tyson posted and said essentially the same thing.

        • somer
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          It was a higher level than medieval Europe but a lot of it came from the Greeks – others from China and India,Persia and some of it developed during Islamic period – however Edward Grant argues as does Taner Edris – in his book An Illusion of Harmony that there were always limits to how far this could go set by the religion

    • nwalsh
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      That’s the closest I have ever heard NDT shoot down religion. Usually he’s quite guarded in that respect.

  11. Sastra
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I think this is about as useful as a “Trump for President” campaign which wonders what the world would be like “without Republicans” and then proceeds to list all the scientific discoveries and technological inventions which just happened to be done by Republicans. Big deal. That’s only germane to the topic if the prior belief was “all and any Republicans are incapable of thought in every aspect of their lives.” And if that’s not true — vote Trump!

    It would be much more relevant to focus on the politics and make a list of successful Republican bills and policies. It would be even more significant if anyone could do that for Trump. And in the same vein, wondering what the world would be like “without Muslims” ought to change into wondering what the world would be like without Islamic theological doctrines and revelations.

    Answers to that one might run the gamut from “no different” to “better.”

  12. Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Without the Nazis we wouldn’t have Geiger counters. We might not have got to the moon yet either.

    And autobahns, Volkswagen, Fanta…

    • Kevin
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Or nuclear weapons.

    • bonetired
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      The Geiger counter was invented in 1928. Before the Nazis …

      • Steven Carr
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Would we have rockets without the Nazis?

        Of course not.

        And the Nazis used Islamic algorithms (invented by Muslims) when they did algebra (invented by Muslims)

        • Lars
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          If by “rockets” you mean solid-fuel ballistic missiles, then those go back to the Chinese. Liquid-fuelled rockets were worked upon by Goddard, an American non-Nazi, well before the rise of the Third Reich. For that matter, there was at least one amateur German rocketry society before Hitler took over. So I think that we’d have rockets without Nazis.

          • phil
            Posted July 28, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

            IIRC the Germans admitted that they used Goddard’s experimental results.

  13. Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Other than the fundamental problems described the list itself is complete nonsense. Without Islam we would not have music? Really? And that is just the most obvious one, there are others that were not originated in the Muslim world at all.
    And as it is mentioned even the ones that originated in the Muslim world did not necessarily come from Islam itself.

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Music might well have evolved before speech. I’ve heard that some apes hum to themselves.

      Babies make musical noises before they learn to say ‘moma’

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Oh, I forgot to mention music!

    • Kevin
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Music is the great hijacker of all pleasures we have evolved to desire.

      Pinker has written on this before, though I cannot find his most recent thoughts on the subject, here is something online:

    • RAJ
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      The interesting point is that music is either completely forbidden or, more often, heavily restricted in much of islamic teaching. Only music praising Allah is allowed and „immoral“ music of all kind forbidden. This cancels most of music developed in the last 500 years: French chansons and Italian madrigals, operas from Monteverdi to Figaro, Don Giovanni, Rheingold and Lulu etc. but also orchestral and instrumental works. At least here in Germany muslims do not appear in recognizable numbers in musical academies, neither as students nor as teachers, in contrast to Russians, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese etc. Indeed, the general poorness of cultural life in any higher sense is well reflected in the absence of interest in music and literature. If the Muslims should have invented music, they were uncapable of developing it. That was the work of others, as well as Greeks and Romans before.

      With regard to the other alleged inventions the questions simply is: Why did the Western culture develop all of the major science, technology, philosophy, music, literature, art in the last 500 years, whereas there came nothing comparable from the islamic world (until today)? Abdus Salam tried to implement (basic) science there 30 years ago. Without success. They feared for religion.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      The music claim is so utterly false, one wonders how such an unqualified and obviously false claim could be made.

      Bone flutes were in use in the Stone Age. I quite like traditional Chinese music, some of which long pre-dates Islam.

      (And for those who might be interested, the most wonderful tune of all, variously known as Parting at Yangguan or Three Variations of Yangguan, dates from the Tang Dynasty, which was contemporaneous with early Islam. YouTube has several performances.)

  14. Christopher
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The low-hanging fruit, if you will, Coffee, Ethiopia, possibly the Oromo people, we think, who practice the native religion of Waaq, although, according to wikipedia, about 46% are practicing muslims today. Actually, if we are to believe the traditional story, it’s the goats, not any fictitious muslim for coffee.

    What the pinhead fails to mention is that without islam, just think of all the progress that those people in muslim nations COULD have made, had they not been hobbled by fear, hatred, and ignorance of religion. And same goes for the christian nations. How much further along could we have been without the dark ages, the inquisition, the wars of religion, the crusades, and so on. if you are going to blame or praise a religion for things, then go whole hog. Let’s write a history of humanity sans superstition and see where that takes us. oh, wait, that’s what science fiction does already.

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      If DaVinci had spent less time on religious art we might have had helicopters during the Renaissance.

      • jimroberts
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Or better art?

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Bernard Lewis, the Middle East historian, suggests that coffee originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa. By the early sixteenth century it was in Yemen being used to drive away lethargy and when the importer became a Sufi, it helped his study. By the end of the century, coffee exports from Egypt to Europe were up and running, largely replacing the spice trade.

      Lewis has chess as being from pre-Islamic Persia.

      The oldest known songs are more than twice as old as Islam itself, predating Tutankhamen by about 70 years. They are the Hurrian songs from ca. 1400 BCE. Experts disagree on an accurate transcription, but here is one delightful and evocative version.

      Other old songs are of course in the Bible and there are Classical Greek songs out there.

      • Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for embedding: I’m tired from work.

      • jimroberts
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        “The Oldest Known Melody c. 1400 BC! Unfortunately, this video is not available in your country [Germany] because it could contain music, for which we could not agree on conditions of use with GEMA”

        (If Google wants to give me an English version of its excuse for refusal, it should at least have left out the ungrammatical comma after “music”.)

        • Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          Oh, bad luck, Jim. Try // or google Michael Levy, lyre player. I know little about him but he seems to specialize in ancient music. The song is Hurrian, from Anatolia: he says that the song may be a transcription from much earlier in a culture which dates back to 3000 BCE.

          • jimroberts
            Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            Thank you. There is a lot of interesting information and music on that site. Unfortunately, when it links to YouTube, as for “The Oldest Known Melody”, YouTube’s (Google’s) attitude remains the same.

      • Lars
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for this – listened to it with great enjoyment.

    • phil
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      I occasionally wonder how many people may have been spared miserable lives and horrid deaths if all the intellectual effort squandered on theology had been put to use advancing medicine. Or even just developing some system of hygiene, inventing soap or building workable sewerage systems.

  15. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I suggest the very concept that without the inventors (or their religion) that these inventions or concepts would not have come about. Most inventions and concepts sprout up in many places at the same time, often because the knowledge that is required for that invention is available or created at that time. There were many people working on heavier than air flight. We see inventions like the laser and transistor, they were only invented because the knowledge for their basis was already invented, quantum physics. Knowledge and inventions are built on the ‘backs of giants’.

    As were the preceding technologies that they were built on. In some cases one person came up with something unique, sometimes by accident, but can we say it wouldn’t have come about anyways? Personally, I think the vast majority would have.

    As to the actual instances cited, many of the inventions cited from early Islam originated in other countries. Because it was a hub for commerce, they were disseminated from there.

    Notice how the author writes “numbering system”, rather than Arabic numerals. The name gives it away. They are Arabic numerals, NOT Islamic or Muslim numerals. The religion didn’t create the numeral system, anymore than Newton’s genius was a product of the Catholic religion. The man did the work. He was a genius among men, yet he believed the Bible contained prophecies and spent time looking for hidden messages and prophecies in the Bible. And naturally he failed. If not for the Bible and his time spent on it, would he have invented something else that would have shaped our world? Perhaps he would have spent his time examining Tarot cards for prophecy.

    I’ve pointed out to Islamic apologists that it’s called the Arabic numeral system, not the Islamic numeral system, and it was only spread by them, not invented by them, it was invented centuries before Islam. And it’s not as if the religion was spreading the Hindu numeric system because the Koran tells them to. It has nothing to do with religion.

    “It was invented between the 1st and 4th centuries by Indian mathematicians.”

    I get so tired of this assertion that you can’t criticize religion because “invention”. It’s silly. I want a direct link between the religion and the invention, showing the religion was the cause, then I’ll accept the assertion. Even then it’s likely it would still have been invented by someone else. Good ideas tend to show up over and over, but it’s only the first that gets credited, unless tribalism gets in the way. Many countries claim to be the originator of the same inventions.

    I think it’s likely the author got the list from an Islamic apologist site.

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      I suspect Mandel an Lemaitre would still have been high-achievers even without Christianity.

      Darwin would almost certainly have published earlier.

    • phil
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Don’t mention the pavlova!

  16. Anty
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Chess is Indian in origin, not Muslim.

    • Larry Smith
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      True, though what used to be referred to as “the Arab world” did much to spread chess from India and into Europe, where it ultimately flourished.

  17. somer
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the only things that are truly Muslim inventions above are coffee, fountain pens, carpets and optic lenses, and frequency analysis cryptology. It strikes me as blatantly dishonest. Even algebra including trigonometry a la wikipedia and encyc Brittanica – was not invented by the Muslims. Moreover Algebra is not just trigonometry. Whilst the Arabs contributed very important developments algebra started with the Sumerians and many other civilisations including the Greeks chipped in some contributions, before the Muslims made a big contribution, then the west made other big contributions. The Greeks and Romans made some very important findings in trigonometry – they developed a primitive form of calculation for the sine, cosine and cosecant. The Muslims did however invent optic lenses (J.D. Bernal, The Extension of man)and improved existing cryptology with a major new innovation in that field using frequency analysis cryptanalysis by Al Kindi – with the next major breakthrough occurring in Europe in the fifteenth century.

    In addition to the things Professor Coyne identified as not originally Muslim, I can add more

    As I mentioned earlier on this topic the Muslims invented the university … sort of but not really – not in any form we would recognise.
    I know the Greeks had surgical instruments. The compass was first used by the Han dynasty of China 206BC – 220ADLater it was used for navigation by the Song dynasty 920-1279ad. Music! Ridiculous – all that stuff about music in the Old Testament, dug up in ancient archaeology and referred to constantly by Greeks and Romans – they had flutes, Lyres etc. and there are many ancient instruments that predate Islam. Chess is believed to have been invented in India some time before the 7th century. Soap comes from ancient Babylon and Egypt almost 2,000 years before Islam. The ancient Egyptians used cosmetics (clear in their art and these have been excavated)
    The earliest known combination locks were excavated from a roman period tomb in Athens.
    Pointed arches were used in some ancient architecture before Islamic times. The Pendulum was invented in Han China (206BC– 220AD)

    Anaesthesia – the ancient Mesopotamians are known to have used alcohol for this purpose thousands of years ago and the Sumerians are said to have grown opium poppy for this purpose 3400BC. 300 BC The Chinese surgeon Pi’en Chiao reportedly used general anaesthesia for operations. Plastic Surgery was used in ancient egypt (nose) and reconstructive surgery in India by 800 BC.
    The Greeks and Romans definitely had windmills. Irrigation was definitely pre islamic and it was Archimedes who invented the archimedian screw to say nothing of the amazing Roman water canals. Experimental physics has many components and its generally agreed that started with the Greeks – Archimedes again and the bath – volume displacing equal amount of water. and even before that – Pythagorus his observation of progress of notes mathematical relationship to length of string – but there were lots of other examples from ancient greece. Crystal glass is lead glass – first made in ancient Mesopotamia but perfected in Han china and the Muslims knew of it via the silk road (as with Chinese paper technology) Perfume definitely predates Islam – mentioned a lot in the Old testament and they also used gardens for relaxation. Their claim about the eye operations is a straight rip off from wikipedia about the ancient Roman physician Galen, where it says that Galen “To correct cataracts in patients, Galen performed an operation similar to a modern one. Using a needle-shaped instrument, Galen attempted to remove the cataract-affected lens of the eye.”

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      “The Greeks and Romans definitely had windmills” I meant watermills. A greek wind powered musical organ was invented but nothing more practical – the Muslims were the first to invent a large scale one for agricultural tasks in the ninth century

      • Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        Are you sure that you’re not thinking of the hydraulus, a water-powered Greek organ?

        • somer
          Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          I know there was that but apparently the greeks also made windmill powered ones (believe it or not!) My source is only wikipedia but the greeks built a lot of ingenious novelty machines for amusement being a slave society. Apparently the Muslims built it as a large complex windmill in its own right for agricultural use.

    • phil
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      If Muslims invented irrigation how did the Inca come to know about it before the Spaniards arrived?

  18. TnkAgn
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    As the Starship Enterprise’s Commander Pavel Checkov could tell you, “Nyet, they were Russian inwentions!”

    • harrync
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      I am sure I read a book once that proved that the Irish invented everything – or maybe it was the Italians .

      • Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        One thing the Irish did invent is the name for the stretch of Dublin’s River Liffey between James Joyce Bridge and Samuel Beckett Bridge – the Stream of Consciousness.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    The one invention on this list that actually does have an Arabic name is algebra, Al being the Arabic “the” just as in Al-Jeezra, or Al-Quida.

    You CAN make a valid list of inventions by Muslims. For example, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi is a very important contributor to trigonometry. Jamshid al-Kashi discovered the “Law of Cosines”. Ibn Sahl discovered the laws of refraction and created the focusing lens.


    Universities are absolutely an invention of Roman Catholicism created as a substitute for monastic schools by papal decree!!!
    University of Paris and University of Bologna being two of the earliest.

  20. Marina
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I don’t even begin to find fault with the list. But let’s face it, as of today a world without fanatic Islamists would absolutely be a better place: less murdered people in general, much less dead, battered and humiliated women in particular.

  21. Christopher
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, I just noticed one that’s very interesting. Braille. Ummm…Louis Braille was not muslim. Probably christian, if anything, but muslims did not invent HIS system of raised writing code, based on 6-dots per cell. Is there really no end to this type of stupidity that these tumblr regressive lefties would try to steal the invention of a man blinded in childhood who went of to develop the most useful writing system for those with visual impairments? That’s pretty fucking low, even for these mindless belly-crawling twats.

  22. Gareth
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the vaccination claim. Inoculation was known to some Caucasian peoples (Circassian I think), and spread to the Ottoman Empire from there. But it was also known elsewhere, and isn’t vaccination per se.

    AFAIK early attempts to induce innoculation to smallpox involved putting infected skin into someone else’s wound or somesuch. Hardly a shot in the arm.

  23. Brian Davis
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Domes and round towers certainly predate Mohamed. And didn’t the ancient Egyptians practice irrigation?

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      The Sumerian civilization in ancient Mesopotamia was built on irrigation. And that’s where the Babylonian and Biblical flood myths come from.

      My favourite building is the Pantheon in Rome, dating from the 2nd century CE, with its perfect oculus and mathematical harmony which raise your eyes to the heavens from the quotidian lateral lines of the entrance. And this guy Perry claims the dome for Islam? Dear, oh dear.

    • murali
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Irrigation was around before 500AD. So it predates Muhammad.

  24. Steven Carr
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    ‘It is a Muslim, by the name of Al-Jazari who is known as the father of robotics.

    It was a Muslim who was the architect for Henry V’s castle.’

    I think they count as a tiny minority of Muslims.

    So the author of the list of inventions wants us to take a tiny minority of Muslims as representative of Islam as a whole.

    Was that a good idea on his part?

  25. Steven Carr
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It is a Muslim, by the name of Al-Jazari who is known as the father of robotics.

    It was a Muslim who was the architect for Henry V’s castle.

  26. bonetired
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    The question is not what Islamic scholars actually invented but what they did with it. Which is most cases was sod and all. Although, of course, some Islamic ideas, or at least ideas that passed through them, became mainstream (the so-called Arabic numbers being a case in point), the vast majority of the list never became part of their culture, and this is the key point, even within Islamic society of the day. Sure they invented them but it took another, more dynamic (and probably more violent) society to either reinvent or to make the inventions part of the modern world.

    Btw the original list seems, at least in part, to be here:

    • somer
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      That’s a very interesting article – many of the inventions are there – I didn’t realise all the distillation processes of chemistry were discovered and developed by Muslims. The Huffpo article though put it as a meaningless list that didn’t convey the real flavour of what was meant –
      Interesting to see nearly all discovered/developed in that 800-1100 period before the clerical clampdown.

  27. Cephus
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Of course you would have all of those things. Just because a Muslim did create them doesn’t mean that only a Muslim was capable of creating them. They would all have been discovered eventually by someone else.

  28. Jim Smith
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Name anything ever created or invented. Someone on the internet will claim their group did it first. Especially if the thing being cited is claimed to have been discovered/invented/created by a white Western male.

    My theory, the Simpsons did it.

  29. keith cook + / -
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Well then, who gives a flying funk I think it was a brain that invented or discovered one and all on the list and that was “invented” by something I actually care about.

  30. Damien McLeod
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I envision a world with out Religion, christian, muslim, or any other mythological sky-fairy nonsense.

  31. Al
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    On this topic I can’t recommend enough Steven Weinberg’s book “To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science”. He goes in detail into various contributions Islamic scientists made but concludes that ultimately scientific revolution could only happen in Reformation Europe.

  32. eric
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I find it curious that the list mentions experimental physics but not chemistry, when Geber is largely responsible for alchemy being introduced to the west from then-muslim Egypt.

    I’m not disappointed he decided to lay claim to physics but not chemistry, mind you, just surprised.

    • Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      I would take it as evidence that the list-compiler doesn’t actually know anything about the origins of the things on his list.

  33. Dionigi
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I was talking to a friend in Kuwait about tomatoes and a muslim joined in to tell me that our word tomato was arabic in origin. I pointed out to him that tomatoes originated in South America and were introduced to the muslim world possibly through Spain or that there is a story that a British diplomat to somewhere in the middle east started to grow them in his garden. I therefore asked him what he thought that all the people called them before the arabs even saw a tomato.

  34. Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    A few bits on the place of Islamic scholars in the history of mathematics:

    It is plainly false that Islamic scholars contributed much of anything new to trigonometry. Yes, they studied the stars and updated astronomical maps, but all the necessary trigonometric techniques were developed centuries earlier by Euclid and the other Greeks (mainly), dating back at least to the 3rd Century BCE. As far as I know, there were no novel contributions to the field from Islamic scholars.

    However, the field of algebra was in fact largely created by scholars of the early Islamic caliphates, most notably al-Khwarizmi. Until his work, algebraic questions were treated geometrically, in the style developed by Euclid, Diophantus, and other Greeks. While algebra as we recognize it today, with its symbolism and structure, was not invented until Descartes came along, al-Khwarizmi was the first to treat algebraic problems in what could be recognized as an “equational” form, where there are abstract quantities that need “balancing” in order to make sense of a problem. (He did this all in words, no symbolism.) The ubiquitous algebraic idea of “what you do to one side of an equation, you must do to the other” comes directly from his work. In fact, the word “algebra” is derived from the Arabic al-jabr, meaning to “restore”, and was used explicitly by him to communicate this idea. (Incidentally, our word “algorithm” comes from the Latinization of al-Khwarizmi’s own name, although he certainly didn’t invent the idea of algorithmic calculations – this goes back all the way to the Babylonians.)

    Of course, all of this would have been discovered by others at some point – Diophantus, al-Khwarizmi, even Descartes’ work – but the accomplishments, and the legacy, of some early Islamic scholars are certainly present within the field of algebra.

    As for modern cryptology (or more appropriately, cryptography), the author is probably referring to al-Kindi’s work on the frequency of letters in a cipher, the predecessor of modern frequency analysis. The field of cryptography existed long before the 9th Century though (at least to 2000 BCE), and certainly “modern” cryptography can’t be considered existent until at least the advent of basic group theory in the 19th Century.

    The “numbering system” referred to is also not a product of Islamic scholars. Arabic numerals existed before Islam, and the numbering system we have today is based off the Indo-Arabic numerals. Crucially, it is Indian mathematics that gave us the concept and notation for zero, arguably one of the greatest achievements in abstract thought in human history.

    A final minor correction: none of this stuff was “imported to Fibonacci”; he is the one who did the importing (much of it anyway).

    • Steven Carr
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:52 am | Permalink

      So if Islam is to be credited because of 2 (two) Muslims , al-Khwarizmi and al-jabr, whi is Islam not to be discredited because of 50,000 Islamic fighters in IS?

      If 50,000 is a tiny, negligible minority, not representative of Islam as a whole, then surely a minority of two (2) is even more unrepresentative.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the history. It’s always nice to have some facts.

  35. Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    to me the issue is like ‘spandrels’.alot of people make arguments that the ‘advances’ like math, computers, biolohy, nuclear weapons, etc were indirect byproducts of a culture. Harpending and Rogers are famous for arguing that ashekanazi jews score higher on iq tests and get alot of noble prizes because of the discipline of the Talmud as well as their being forced into trades like moneylending and being merchants.

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