Far, far away (from Muslims) you say?


By Heba Abdel-Karim, 6/23/08 • You have an everyday link to Muslims. Yes, you do. You may not realize it, but there are many things we use in our daily lives that come from a “Muslim” background. From math and science to education and commerce, it may surprise you how much Muslim inventions have influenced the world, starting centuries ago and making their overlooked way into our day-to-day lives.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

You were taught that the Greeks were the developers of trigonometry, right? Not exactly. Take out the word developers and replace it with “continuers.” Trigonometry was “developed to a level of modern perfection” by Muslim scholars, meaning that it’s of Muslim origin, even though the Greeks take the credit.

Such inventions vary from equipment, to concepts, to food, to science and medicine—you name it.

Al-Jabr was the founder of algebra, hence the root of that word. Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain was the first, long before the Wright brothers, to theoretically develop the concept of flight. He also tested his ideas in the 800’s, and left written records of these findings. The pendulum was discovered by Ibn Yunus al-Masri during the 10th century, who was the first to study and document its oscillatory motion. Al-Haytham of the 11th century studied lenses, light and prisms, and formed the foundation of optics. Al-Jazari invented the crank-connecting rod system, which was used for lifting huge buckets of water with minimal effort lifting a finger. A blind Syrian professor, Zain-Din Al-Amidi, was an expert in reading Braille 600 years before Louis Braille invented such a system.

Even the all-so-amazing coffee that we drink today has its historic roots back during these times – a Muslim by the name of Khalid was tending goats in South Ethiopia when he noticed that the goats became more energetic after eating from a certain berry. He invented the first cup of coffee after boiling the berries. After the drink traveled to Turkey, Italy, and the rest of the world, the Arabic “qahwa” was converted to Turkish “kahve,” then the Italian “caffe,” and finally the English “coffee.” These are just few of the many, many examples of how we have benefited from Muslim inventions that were created decades ago.

Current Society Can’t Be Understood Without Untold History

Many of these indispensable items were invented during the time called the “Dark Ages,” from around the 6th century after the Roman Empire to about the 16th century before the Renaissance, a time in which some history is missing, inaccessible, vague or unknown. While Europe was in the “Dark Ages,” The Islamic Empire experienced its “Golden Age” or “Islamic Renaissance.”

The Islamic Empire, one of the largest ten empires in history, arose during the Muslim conquests of the 7th and early 8th centuries, when the Abbasid Caliphate transferred its capital from Damascus to Baghdad. The Abbasids were inspired by some Quranic verses and hadith of the prophet (pbuh) such as “The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of martyrs,” which emphasized the significance of knowledge. It was during this time that the Muslim world became the heart of development in many fields, such as science, math, philosophy, education, and medicine.

The Abbasids then formed the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad, where Muslim and non-Muslim scholars sought to translate all of the world’s knowledge into Arabic. Many of the important works, such as those of ancient Rome, Egypt, China, Persia, and Greece, that would have otherwise been lost, were translated into Arabic and then later translated into the various languages of the world.

Much of the learning and development that occurred during this time was linked to trade, which provided a method of exchanging ideas as well as goods. Muslim merchants had a large influence on the African-Arabian as well as the Arabian-Asian trade routes. This allowed the Islamic civilization to grow alongside the prospering merchant economy.

And So…?

So before you assume that you have nothing to do with Muslims, take a moment to reflect upon this largely untaught history. It may amaze you how well the past ties into the present. For if there had really been nothing but a thousand years of “Dark Ages,” we wouldn’t have our present light.

As Prince Charles, Heir to the British Monarchy in a public speech at Oxford University stated:

“If there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilization owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure, which stems, I think, from the straight-jacket of history, which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world, from central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society, and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history.” (www.muslimheritage.com)

Sites where you can learn more:

* www.1001inventions.com. This site lists 1,001 Muslim inventions.
* www.zero-net.net. This site tells how the number “zero” was invented by Muslim mathematicians, specifically Al-Khawarizmi, and is the link between the Muslim civilization of the second millennium and the 21st century.
* www.muslimheritage.com. Discover 1,000 years of missing history.

Heba Abdel-Karim currently resides in Fridley, Minn. and is a student at the University of Minnesota.