7 Interesting Inventions of the Islamic Civilization

The Golden Age of Islam was a period of great economic and cultural development. But it also created some significant inventions.
Christopher McFadden
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The so-called Islamic Golden Age was a period of cultural, intellectual and economic boom throughout the Muslim world. Throughout this time, various important inventions were born, many of which have literally changed the world.

The period is traditionally dated to between the 8th and 14th Centuries AD and began with the rule of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid.

Whilst there are many claims of inventions from this time, many were in fact adopted from 'lost' knowledge of earlier civilizations or influenced by the Far East. By far the most important contribution for the West was their curation of many of the great thinkers from classical antiquity.

But it is fair to point out that 'invention' is an ongoing process throughout history. Many inventions throughout history are the product of improvement on earlier works.

James Watt's steam engine is a prime example.

Without Islamic scholarly work, much of this would have been lost when the Roman Empire fractured and finally fell in the 15th Century. 

However, Muslim thinkers did give the world some very important inventions of their own. Here are just seven notable examples.


What Muslim mathematicians invented?

Early Muslim mathematicians' work was built on earlier work by notable Greek polymaths like Archimedes and Euclid. Not only did they preserve and translate their work, but they also made some important progress too.


They were able to fully develop the decimal-place value system, make the first systematic study of algebra, and made huge advances in geometry and trigonometry.

Most importantly for the West was their reintroduction of many important mathematical principles to Europe during the 10th and 12th Century.

1. You can thank Muslims for Arabic Numerals

Have you ever wondered why the numeric system we use is called Arabic? You can thank the early Islamic world for that.

Arabic numerals first appeared in print in the early 9th Century AD and became widespread by the 10th Century.

But they may have had their own origins from Hindu-Arabic numerals dating to around the 6th Century AD. These were passed to Baghdad by Persian and Arabic mathematicians.

The current form we are all familiar with in the West was later developed in North Africa. It was later adopted in Europe around the 11th to 12th Century AD.

2. Coffee brewing is another Muslim thing

muslim inventions
Source: Depositphotos

Whilst there are some earlier accounts of coffee use, the first credible one is from around the 15th Century in Yemen. It was here that the first evidence of coffee seeds being roasted and brewed is first seen.

After this period, coffee use had reached the rest of the Middle East and was widely consumed around Persia, Turkey, and Northern Africa.

Coffee brewing was later introduced to Europe, namely Italy, in around the 17th Century. A vibrant coffee trade soon sprung up between the mercantile city of Venice and suppliers in Northern Africa.

Today it is one of the most popular beverages in the world.

3. The first modern standing army was Muslim

Much to the dismay of Europe during the late Middle Ages, the first modern standing army was developed by the Ottoman Empire. Whilst technically speaking a slave army (in the early days), the Janissaries were the first modern example of a standing army in Europe.

Of course, standing armies have existed in the past (Roman and Spartan Armies for example), they were the first modern example in Europe.

Records show that they were most likely formed in around the 14th Century AD. Early corps consisted primarily of kidnapped and captured (mainly Christian) boys who were forced to convert to Islam and fight for the Sultan.

However, unlike other slave armies before them, Janissary soldiers were actually paid a regular income. They were, however, forbidden to marry or engage in trade.

They would later become famed for their internal cohesion, strict discipline and fighting prowess. By the 17th Century, their power would grow to such a level that they were able to become 'kingmakers' in the Ottoman Empire and were later disbanded.

4. The counterweight trebuchet was probably Muslim

muslim inventions trebuchet
Source: Mardi ibn Ali al-Tarsusi/Wikimedia Commons

The earliest recorded description of a counterweight trebuchet comes from the 12th Century Islamic world. Commentaries were made during the conquests of Saladin by one Mardi ibn Ali al-Tarsusi.

What is unclear is whether it was developed independently by them or adopted from early Chinese models. Whatever the case the depiction seems very similar to the 'classic' trebuchet familiar to medieval battlefields.

The earliest solid evidence for this device comes from the siege of Castelnuovo Bocca d'Adda in 1199. After this battle, they slowly began to become widespread around Europe.

5. Damascus Steel was a Muslim invention

Damascus steel was forged steel created from ingots of wootz steel. It was used extensively for swords and were characterized by their distinctive banded and mottled pattern.

The name is derived from Damascus in Syria, where they first appeared. Whether they were superior to other steel blades is the realm of legend, but their beauty was probably their unique selling point.

Production of the metal ceased around 1750 and the process has since been lost to metalsmiths. The reason for this is unknown but a breakdown in wootz steel supply from India and Sri Lanka is probably the main course.

6. The Oud was the forerunner to the Lute

muslim inventions Oud
Source: Tdrivas/Wikimedia Commons

The Oud is a short-neck lute-like, pear-shaped stringed instrument that first appeared in the Islamic world. It is widely considered the forerunner to the European Lute.

Oud's are, in turn, thought to derive from earlier Persian's barbat's and other similar instruments have been used in the Middle East for thousands of years.

The first description of the "modern" Oud was by an 11th Century Muslim musician Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham.

Today it still widely used around the Middle East and is still a fond favorite amongst musicians around the world.

7. Alcohol distillation is probably a Muslim invention

The process of distillation is very old indeed. Some of the first evidence comes from Akkadian tablets that date to around the 12 Century BC.

But it would take the Muslim world to use it widely to distill alcohol. In fact, the very word is of Islamic origin (al-kohl).

Distillation was widely practiced by medieval Arabs and Al-Khindi is widely accepted as the first to describe the distillation of wine in the 9th Century.