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Please note: Paul Vallely- The author of 'How Islamic inventors changed the world' has been contacted concerning the claims in his article but we have yet to receive a response.


These past few years have seen many inventions falsely claimed and attributed to Islamic inventors, which in fact either existed in pre-Islamic eras, were invented by other cultures, or both. Such claims have even been forced upon the unsuspecting public in a nationwide tour which opened with an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the University of Manchester, England. To celebrate this 'momentous' series of events, an article titled “How Islamic inventors changed the world” was written by Paul Vallely and published in The Independent on the 11th of March 2006. This inaccurate piece of propaganda has received much praise from Muslims and is still being widely circulated on Islamic websites, forums, blogs, and is even used as a source (to validate false claims of Islamic inventions) in over twenty[1] separate articles on Wikipedia. This article boldly opened with the following statement: "From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them."[2] This article lists and examines all twenty of these “Islamic inventions that changed the world”, and in doing so, it will reveal their actual inventors and the true role of Islam/Muslims, if any, behind the inventions.

The Inventions


The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.[2]
Christian monks at the monastery on the island of Daga Estephanos- Ethiopia, still produce and market coffee today under the "Lake Tana Monastery Island Coffee" brand.

The legend being referred to by Paul Vallely is expounded upon in the Coffee History, found on

"Arabian coffee-drinking began almost 12 centuries ago (850 A.D.) when an Abyssinian goat herder named Khalid noticed that while the afternoon sun made him drowsy, his flock frolicked and skipped about after nibbling at some berries. Khalid either ate the berries whole, or ground and boiled them.

When his wife saw how energetic the normally exhausted Khalid was, she urged him to share this miraculous discovery with the local holy man at the monastery. The chief monk did not share Khalid's enthusiasm. Declaring the berries "the work of the Devil," he flung them into a fire to banish their offending presence. Soon the room filled with the delicious aroma of roasting berries, and other monks hurried in to discover the source of this new delight."

Notice above, that the passage says the goat herder named Khalid (or Kaldi as he is named in another version of the story) was an Abyssinian. Abyssinians were predominantly Orthodox Christians. In addition, there is no such thing as monasteries or monks in Islam. In fact, it is forbidden (Quran 57:027). Therefore, if this legend were to be true, Khalid (or Kaldi) would not have been a Muslim, but a Christian.

Also, the discovery of coffee, according to the maronite monk Antonius Faustus Naironus (1635 - 1707 AD), differs somewhat from the above tale. In "De saluberrima potione Cahue, seu Cafe nuncupata discursus" (1671) he writes, that a herdsman complained to the Prior of a nearby monastery in Abyssinia, that his animals could not sleep. Two monks, together with the herdsman, were sent by their superior to investigate what it was the animals were eating. They discovered coffee plants which they took back to the monastery, where they brewed a beverage from its fruits. They passed the whole night in pleasant conversation, without any fatigue. Undoubtedly, the evidence shows that it were Christian monks who first cultivated the coffee plant and prepared the beverage from its roasted beans.[3]


The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.[2]
The first picture of a pin-hole camera; an illustration from De Radio Astronomica et Geometrica (1545).

The basic optical principles of the pinhole are commented on in Chinese texts from the 5th century BC. Ibn al-Haitham might have been the first to realize that light enters the eyes, but the claim that he invented the pin-hole camera is false. Giovanni Battista della Porta (1538 – 1615), a scientist from Naples, was long thought to have been the inventor, due to his description found inside Magia naturalis (1558). However, the first published picture of a pin-hole camera is a drawing in Gemma Frisius' De Radio Astronomica et Geometrica (1545).[4]

While both the Latin and Arabic languages have borrowed from each other, the Latin language actually pre-dates classic Arabic (the precursor to modern Arabic) by at least 1,600 years. The term “camera” was not derived from the Arabic word “qamara”. “Camera” is a Latin word meaning a vaulted or arched space, derived from the Greek καμαρα, which refers to anything with an arched cover. The Italian word "camera", the French word "chambre", and the English word "chamber" all share the same Latin root. "Camera obscura" literally meaning a “dark room”.[5][6] The term “camera”, as applied today, was first coined by Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). The Arabic word “qamara” has almost certainly been borrowed from the Latin word "camera", and at best the similarity between the two words is a coincidence.[4]


A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.[2]
The 6th Century chess piece found in Butrint, Albania.

British archaeologists in July 2002 unearthed an ivory chess piece, at a Byzantine palace in southern Albania proving that Europeans were playing chess a lot earlier than what was previously thought. The recent discoveries, dating back to the 6th Century (500 years older than any other), seem to have been largely ignored to allow Muslims to claim that they were the real brains that introduced chess to the idiotic West 400 years later, through Spain in the 10th Century.[7] And while the form of chess we know today was largely (though not completely) developed in Persia, it was by Zoroastrian (rather than Islamic) Persians prior to the Muslim Arab invasions. Also ironic is the fact that chess is forbidden in Islam, as it was condemned by Muhammad who compared playing chess with dying ones hand with the flesh and blood of swine.[8][9] So in reality, Paul Vallely and Muslims themselves claiming Islam was the cause of the spread of chess to Europe is an offence to the pious, and would no doubt have Muhammad rolling in his grave.


A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.[2]

To get to the root of the facts concerning who was the first to fly, one must go to the very basics first. As far as flying is concerned, at the beginning were the kites, and these were a Chinese invention. They date back as far as 3,000 years, where they were made from bamboo and silk in China. The earliest written account of kite flying was about 200 BC. In 478 BC a Chinese Philosopher, Mo Zi, spent three years making a hawk from light wood or bamboo which sailed with the wind. It could fly, but after one day’s trial it was wrecked. Kites were also used in Chinese warfare for years. They carried hideously painted faces, pipes and strings that gave noises to frighten the enemy.

Many attempts to use kites to fly men were also made, the earliest recorded success was very brutal. In AD 550 Emperor Kao Yang overcome his powerful enemies the Thopa and Yuan families. He ordered that the surviving Thopas and Yuan to be fitted out with bamboo-mat wings and cast from the top of the Tower of the Golden phoenix. All died. Other captives were attached to kites cut out in the form of owls and launched from the tower. Only one of the captives survived after flying 2.5 Km. Later that survivor, named Yuan Huang-Thou was starved to death. The Chinese also tried to produce flying machines. In the book Pao Phu Tzu, dated AD 320, Ko Hung states: “Some have made flying cars with wood, using ox-leather straps fastened to returning blades to set the machines in motion”. He is clearly describing rotating blades attached to a spinning axle and driven by a (leather) belt that is a rotor top the principal of which underlie the modern-day helicopter. It seems that the system worked because flying cars had been used. The machine, known as “bamboo dragonfly”, is still used today as a child’s toy.[10][11][12]

In the West, the ancient Greek engineer, Hero of Alexandria, worked with air pressure and steam to create sources of power. One experiment that he developed was the aeolipile, which used jets of steam to create rotary motion. The importance of the aeolipile is that it marks the start of engine invention - engine created movement will later prove essential in the history of flight.[13]

Given all of the above information, how can anyone possibly accredit the invention of flight to a 9th century Muslim jumping off a mosque in Spain?


Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.[2]
Partially restored Trajan (98 - 117 AD) bath house in Rome.

The first issue we need to address here, is the "Muslim" that Paul Vallely is referring to. His name was Sake Dean Mahomed and he was not a Muslim, but a convert to Christianity.[14] Born to Muslim parents in 1759, He converted to Christianity and married the Anglo-Irish gentlewoman, Jane Daly, in an Anglican ceremony in 1786[15] (long before opening "Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths" in 1821).[16] Two of his children (Amelia and Henry) were also baptised into the Anglican faith, and one of his grandsons, Rev. James Kerriman Mahomed, was appointed as the vicar of Hove, Sussex.[17] Also worthy of mention is the fact that Islam is not the only religion which dictates rules on personal cleanliness. The Jews too have rules governing hygiene.

A soap-like material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon is evidence that soapmaking was known as early as 2,800 BC. Inscriptions on the cylinders say that fats were boiled with ashes, which is a method of making soap, but do not refer to the purpose of the "soap." Such materials were later used as hair styling aids. Like the ancient Egyptians before them, daily bathing was an important event in the ancient Roman world[18] and a common custom in Japan during the Middle Ages. And in Iceland, pools warmed with water from hot springs were popular gathering places on Saturday evenings. Soapmaking was an established craft in Europe by the 7th century. Soapmaker guilds guarded their trade secrets closely. Vegetable and animal oils were used with ashes of plants, along with fragrance. Gradually more varieties of soap became available for shaving and shampooing, as well as bathing and laundering. The English began making soap during the 12th century. The soap business was so good that in 1622, King James I granted a monopoly to a soapmaker for $100,000 a year. Well into the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in several countries. When the high tax was removed, soap became available to ordinary people, and cleanliness standards improved. Commercial soapmaking in the American colonies began in 1608 with the arrival of several soapmakers on the second ship from England to reach Jamestown, VA. The science of modern soapmaking was bom in the 1820's with the discovery by French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul, of the chemical nature and relationship of fats, glycerine and fatty acids. His studies established the basis for both fat and soap chemistry.[19]


The means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.[2]
Distillation apparatus from the Chinese Han dynasty, dated around the first century AD.[20]

Speculation has linked some Egyptian illustrations with distillation, but the earliest evidence for its invention so far is a distillation apparatus and terra-cotta perfume containers recently identified in the Indus Valley (pre-Islamic Pakistan) dating from around 3,000 BC, and Miriam the Prophetess (also known as “Maria the Jewess”) invented the kerotakis, an early still dated around the 1st century AD.[21] The first firm documentary evidence for distillation in the West comes from Greek historian Herodotus' record of the method of distilling turpentine dated 425 BC.[22] Also, the origins of whisky is dated to the 5th century AD, introduced to Ireland by Saint-Patrick (390 – 461 AD), the patron of the Irish.[23]So the Arabs may have improved upon the process of distillation some 3,500 years later, but they most definitely did not invent it.

It is also of great interest to note that the authorship of many books previously attributed to Jabir ibn Hayyan (including "his" most famous work, 'Summa Perfectionis') have now been attributed to an unknown European alchemist, sometimes to the little-known Paul of Taranto, writing shortly after 1300 AD.[24] According to the Encyclopædia Britannica:

"[Geber was an] unknown author of several books that were among the most influential works on alchemy and metallurgy during the 14th and 15th centuries.

The name Geber, a Latinized form of Jābir, was adopted because of the great reputation of the 8th-century Arab alchemist Jābir ibn Ḥayyān. A number of Arabic scientific works credited to Jābir were translated into Latin during the 11th to 13th centuries. Thus, when an author who was probably a practicing Spanish alchemist began to write in about 1310, he adopted the westernized form of the name, Geber, to give added authority to his work, which nevertheless reflected 14th-century European alchemical practices rather than earlier Arab ones.

Four works by Geber are known: Summa perfectionis magisterii (The Sum of Perfection or the Perfect Magistery, 1678), Liber fornacum (Book of Furnaces, 1678), De investigatione perfectionis (The Investigation of Perfection, 1678), and De inventione veritatis (The Invention of Verity, 1678). They are the clearest expression of alchemical theory and the most important set of laboratory directions to appear before the 16th century. Accordingly, they were widely read and extremely influential in a field where mysticism, secrecy, and obscurity were the usual rule."[25]

The crank-shaft

A device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.[2]

Unfortunately for our ingenious Muslim engineer al-Jazari, the crank-shaft was known to the Chinese of the Han Dynasty.[26] The Han Dynasty lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD. By the 1st century AD cranks were used on Roman medical devices, but it was not until 834 AD where we find proof of the crank in Europe. A picture in a graphic codex of a man sharpening a sword on a grindstone turned by a crank.[26][27] 206 BC to 834 AD is certainly a lot earlier than when Paul Vallely claims a 12th century Muslim invented 'one of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind'.

Piston technology was also used by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD with the creation of the worlds first steam-powered engine- the aeolipile, more than a thousand years before al-Jazari. (please refer to Invention 4 - Flying for further details.) In his works "Pneumatica" and "Automata" he also described over a hundred machines and automata, including mechanical singing birds, puppets, a fire engine, a wind organ (please refer to Invention 11 - The windmill for further details), and a coin-operated machine, so if anyone deserves the title given to al-Jazari by Paul Vallely as the "father of robotics" its Hero of Alexandria. It must also be noted that Hero's works "Mechanica" (in three books) survive only in their Arabic translations, so the Muslims had access to all this pre-Islamic genious,[28] yet writing a factually accurate article on Islamic achievements seems to have proved too much for some.

As for the water clock, the ancient Egyptians used a time mechanism run by flowing water. One of the oldest was found in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh buried in 1500 BC, and the Chinese began developing mechanized clocks from around 200 BC. The Greeks also measured time with various types of water clocks. The more impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 BC and 500 AD by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers.[29] What we now know as the Antikythera mechanism was discovered among a shipwreck in 1900 off the island of Antikythera.

An ancient Chinese letter-combination padlock.

Science historian Derek Price, concluded that it was an ancient computer used to predict the positions of the sun and moon on any given date. Michael Wright, the curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, thinks that the original device modelled the entire known solar system. Ancient Greek sources make references to such devices so this is highly plausible. Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC), writes of a device “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer Archimedes of Syracuse (287 – 212 BC) is also said to have made such a device.[30][31] By the 9th century AD a mechanical timekeeper had been developed that lacked only an escapement mechanism.

And what of the Combination Lock, did al-Jazari invent it? Again, the answer is an emphatic 'no'. The earliest known combination lock was unearthed in a Roman period tomb in Kerameikos, Athens.[32] The ancient Chinese were also responsible for the creation of some of the earliest key-operated padlocks and beautiful letter-combination padlocks.[33][34]


A method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.[2]

It is interesting that the author states himself that it is "not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world", yet still chose to include quilting as an Islamic invention. However, the evidence against quilting being a Muslim invention is very clear, though it may have come to Europe through the middle East. The actual origins of quilting remains unknown, but its history can so far be traced to ancient China and Egypt as long ago as 3,400 BC[35] with the discovery of a quilted mantle on a carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh of the Egyptian First Dynasty. Moreover, in 1924 archaeologists discovered a quilted floor covering in Mongolia.[36] The estimated age somewhere between the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD. There are also numerous references to quilts in literature and inventories of estates,[36] and more recently in September 2007 an ancient male mummy was discovered in Xinjiang- China, wrapped in a cotton quilt.[37]


The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and domebuilding techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.[2]

When it comes to revolutionary architectural inventions, nothing is greater than the creation of concrete, a material perfected by the Romans. This enabled them to erect buildings that would have been impossible to construct using the traditional stone post-and-lintel system. This development made possible the construction of the amphitheatres, baths and hillside temples of the Roman world.[38] With that said and done, although the pointed arch only came into general use in the 13th century, it was in fact the Assyrians (not the 'Muslims') who first used it as early as 722 BC.[39]

A view of the impressive dome from inside the Pantheon in Rome, which was built almost 500 years before Islam in 118 - 135 AD.

As for the 'Islamic' techniques of domebuilding; the best example of a “Dome” in the ancient world is the Pantheon in Rome, built almost 500 years before Islam in 118 - 135 AD by Apollodorus of Damascus and again only made possible through the concrete mixture perfected by the Romans. Originally a temple to the Roman deities, it has been a Christian church since the 7th century. It is an important and impressive feat of design, a building which after almost 2,000 years of continuous use has its original roof intact. The dome has a span of 43.2 metres (142 feet). It remained as the largest dome in the world until the 15th century construction of the Florence Cathedral (1420-36).

The second most impressive pre-Islamic dome is that of the Hagia Sophia (the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul, Turkey. Built under the supervision of Byzantine Emperor Justinian during the years 532 - 537 AD, it was converted into a mosque by the invading Muslims who conquered Constantinople in 1453 AD. The dome has a diameter of 31 metres (102 feet) and opposed to the articles claims, we find Muslims borrowing from older Christian architecture. It was in fact this 6th century Byzantine church which was used over a thousand years later as a model for many of the Ottoman mosques including the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (completed 1616 AD), the Şehzade Mosque (completed 1548 AD), the Süleymaniye Mosque (completed 1557 AD), the Rüstem Pasha Mosque (completed 1563 AD), and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque (completed 1580 AD).[40]

The Article also mentions that rose windows are an Islamic invention, but its origins may be traced back to the Roman oculus, again found on top of the dome of the Pantheon. Also, the invention of Rose windows depend entirely on glass and craftsmanship. Glass making originated in the Near East around 2,000 BC. The earliest makers pressed glass into crude molds. Around 1500 BC, finer vessels were being made in Egypt. The best glass manufacturers and exporters of this time were the Phoenicians who had a great supply of silica rich sands. Glass blowing developed around the 1st century BC in Palestine.[41] The earliest known stained glass is Saxon (7th century, Jarrow), and the making of it was regarded as a mystery.

And finally, we have ribbed vaulting which was developed from Romanesque architecture by medieval European builders[42] and which was first used in St. Etienne, France. The earliest surviving example of ribbed vaulting can be found in Durham Cathedral (built from 1093 - 1133 AD) in Durham, England.[43]

With all these facts considered, we think its safe to assume that architectural development in Europe and the rest of the non-Islamic world would have and indeed did move along fine without the so-called 'Muslim genius'.


Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.[2]
Ancient pre-Islamic scalpels had almost the same form and function as their modern-day counterparts. These are dated to 79 AD, found in Pompeii, Italy.

More than a thousand years before al-Zahrawi, the Greek and Roman physicians in the Classical World had access to a variety of surgical instruments. This is known through several ancient texts which give brief descriptions and also from a 1887 find in the ruins of Pompeii. A house that belonged to a Greek surgeon in 79 AD was identified by its large stores of surgical equipment numbering over a hundred. These medical instruments, which are now on display in museums around the world, were all available to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) who lived more than a thousand years before Islam, and many of them in a similar form are still being used today. These instruments include a variety of scalpels, Hooks, Uvula Crushing Forceps, Bone Drills, Bone Forceps, Catheters and Bladder Sounds, Vaginal Speculum and even a Portable Medicine Chest to carry them in.[44] It was also the Greek physician and medical researcher Claudius Galenus (129 – 217 AD) someone who greatly influenced Western medical science, who first used catgut to close wounds, and not al-Zahrawi. In fact "Muslim" physician Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) 700 years later (920 AD) used a pig product.[45] The actions of a pious Muslim, we're sure.

As for the circulation of the blood, it may have been described by Muslim medic Ibn Nafis 300 years before William Harvey, but the Chinese Book of Medicine describes this 1,600 years before Ibn Nafis.[46]

The article also alleges that Muslim doctors first developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from the eye, and anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes. This in not true. Cataract surgery has been performed for many centuries. The earliest reference to cataract surgery was written by the Hindu surgeon Susruta in manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC. In Rome, archaeologists found surgical instruments used to treat cataract dating back to the 1st and 2nd century AD. Hollow needles were used to break up the cataract and remove it with suction.[47] Anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes were used both by the ancient Chinese and Romans. Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (40 - 90 AD) in his work Materia Medica (one of the most influential herbal books in history) referred to the taking of an alcoholic extract before an operation. This would suggest that it was typical for the surgeons of ancient Rome to decrease pain of an operation by giving their patients sedative drugs.[48]

The windmill

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.[2]
Reconstruction of the windwheel described by Hero of Alexandria in the first century A.D.

The windmill was not invented in the year 634 for a Persian Caliph. Although the Arabs invaded Persia in 634 AD, contrary to the articles claims, there was no Caliph in Persia at that time, he was in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Caliph Abu Bakr died early that year and Umar ibn al-Khattab took over. Fīrūz (Abu-Lu'lu'ah), the Arab-owned non-Muslim slave, who in 644 AD assassinated Caliph Umar in the mosque at Medina, is described by Islamic sources as a Persian builder of windmills.[49] Therefore, the construction of windmills was an already established craft in Persia, pre-dating the presence of Islam.

If we look to the history behind the development of windmills, the first rotary mills were discovered in Catal Hayuk in Turkey and existed 8,000 years ago,[50] while the first windmills were developed much later to automate the tasks of grain-grinding and water-pumping. One of the earliest watermills mentioned can be found in 1st century BC Greek writings, where a watermill was called a hydraletēs, but because of the heavy use of slave labour we do not find the first archeological evidence of watermills until the 4th and 5th century AD. [51] The earliest mention of a type of windmill can be found in the book Pneumatica written by a 1st century AD writer called Hero, in it he describes the creation of a type of windpowered organ. [52] The idea was never worked out however and we don't find the earliest-known design of the vertical axis system until developed in Persia about 500 - 900 AD. China, is also often claimed as the birthplace of the windmill. The belief that it was invented in China more than 2,000 years ago is widespread and may be accurate, but the earliest actual documentation of a Chinese windmill was in 1219 AD by the Chinese statesman Yehlu Chhu-Tshai.[53]


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.[2]

It was smallpox that was used for inoculation by the Turks, not cowpox. It was in fact Jenner who first used cowpox to vaccinate against the much more lethal smallpox, hence he invented vaccination. And Yes, Jenner and Pasteur were not the inventors of inoculation but neither were the Muslims. What Paul seems to be continually doing is referring to anything that originated from the Eastern hemisphere (regardless of whether or not it was before or after the advent of Islam) as originating from 'the Muslim world' when even the most unenlightent amongst us will realise that China and India are not a part of this so-called Muslim world. It has been said that Inoculation against smallpox began in China during the 10th century,[10] but the earliest documented reference to smallpox inoculation in China comes from text written in 1549.[54] The earliest known attempts to produce artificial immunity involved powdered smallpox scabs being blown into the sinuses, and in the 17th century, they prepared pills made from the fleas of cows in an effort to prevent the disease. In India, physicians conferred immunity by applying scabs to the scarified skin of the healthy. The technique of inoculation spread west to Turkey and then Europe.[55]

The fountain pen

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.[2]

The history of the fountain pen cannot begin otherwise than with the quill pen. The quill pen was used for the writings of Egyptian kings 4,000 years ago. They most often used a goose feather carved into a sharp tip and dipped into ink of vegetable origin. Though the first pencil was invented by Conrad Gessner In 1567, [56] it remained like this until the end of the 18th century when the metal pen was invented. Daniel Schwenter wrote about the idea of creating a fountain pen in his Delicia Physic-Mathematicae in 1636 [57], efforts to manufacture a pen with its own ink supply began in the year 1656. For example, Samuel Pepys had one in the year 1663. It functioned in such a way that a small pipe above the tip of the feather was filled with ink by means of a small piston. But a slightly more practically usable pen came to the world in the 19th century. A fountain pen which functioned on the same principle (a pen with a piston) was created by the inventor Folsch in 1809.[58] Later in 1931, László Bíró presented the first ballpoint pen at the Budapest world fair,[59] the ballpoint pen was designed to use better ink that would not clog or smear.[60]

Those who claim that the fountain pen was invented in AD 953 by a Muslim need to produce both the evidence of a fountain pen, and evidence of the type of ink used.

The system of 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 mathematicians al-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.[2]
Todays system of numbering evolved from the Indian Brahmi numerals which were developed in the beginning of the first century. Before their introduction, Arabs were still using the Greek numeral system, and even the Arabs themselves refer to what many mistakenly call "Arabic numerals" as "Hindu numerals."

Algebra may have been named after a book by al-Khwarizmi titled "Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah", but the origins of algebra itself can be traced to the ancient Babylonians who were able to do calculations in an algorithmic fashion.[61] Having something named after what popularised or refined it by no mean makes it the inventor, and by doing so you would have to discount the works of mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria (200 and 214 AD - 284 and 298 AD) who authored a series of books called "Arithmetica" and is commonly referred to as "the father of algebra".

Paul Vallely begrudgingly admits that the system of numbering in use all round the world is 'probably' Indian in origin, yet the title of the supposed Islamic invention still remains "The system of numbering". The first known use of numbers dates back to around 30,000 BC, but it is universally accepted that the system of numbering we use today (the digits 0 to 9) was invented in India.[62][63] The reason why they are referred to as "Arabic" numerals in the West is due to them being introduced to the Europeans through the Arabs, who in the same way had earlier received them from the Hindus. Likewise, the Arabs themselves commonly refer to them as "Hindu numerals."[64]

The use of zero as a number is found in many ancient Indian texts. The concept of negative numbers was recognised between 100 - 50 BC by the Chinese. Greek and Indian mathematicians studied the theory of rational numbers (The best known of these works is Euclid's Elements, dated 300 BC. Euclid is also often referred to as the "Father of Geometry"). The earliest use of irrational numbers is in the Indian Sulba Sutras (800 - 500 BC). The first results concerning transcendental numbers were made by Johann Heinrich Lambert in 1761. The earliest known conception of mathematical infinity appears in the Hindu text Yajur Veda (1,400 and 1,000 BC). The earliest reference to square roots of negative numbers were made by Greek mathematician and inventor Heron of Alexandria (10 – 70 AD). Prime numbers have been studied throughout recorded history. The mathematical branch of Trigonometry has been studied by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, but it was the ancient Greeks who proved theorems that are equivalent to modern trigonometric formulae. And finally, the earliest known algorithms were developed by ancient Babylonians (1,600 BC).[65][66][67][68][69]

As for al-Kindi; While he is thought to be the earliest to describe frequency analysis, the technique itself may not not have been discovered by al-Kindi as claimed. Nobody knows who actually discovered/invented/realized that the frequencies of letters could be used to break chiphers,[70] and cryptology itself can be traced back to the time of Julius Caesar.

Three course meal

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).[2]

Having to include the 'Three course meal' in any religions top 20 list of inventions is embarrassing. The expression 'scraping the barrel' comes to mind, but did a Muslim actually invent it? Unsurprisingly, the answer is 'no'. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD (almost 600 years before the advent of Islam) and with them they brought the concept of the three-course meal[71] which consisted of a first course, main course, and dessert.[72] A typical starter/first course would be Haddock, herring, mullet or mackerel. The main course; roasted beef, pork or venison served with a prepared sauce and boiled vegetables. Followed by a dessert of stuffed fried Dates, apples soaked in a cream sauce or Pastries covered in honey and pepper. And to wash it all down, plenty of wine.[73] It was the pre-Islamic Persians who introduced the dessert into Asia Minor as far as Ephesus (condemning the Greeks for its omission in meals).

Also, Abbas ibn Firnas did not invent crystal glass. Clear glass appeared during the 15th century in Venice, and was called cristallo. Crystal was invented 175 years later, after glassmaker George Ravenscroft added lead oxide to glass, creating lead crystal glass.[74][75]


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.[2]
The Pazyryk rug, dated from the fifth century BC, is the oldest known surviving carpet in the world. Pre-dating Islam by over a millennium.

The earliest known carpet was discovered by Russian Professor Rudenko in 1949 during excavations of burial mounds in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. Called the Pazyryk rug,[76][77] it dates from the fifth century B.C.[78] and is now kept in the Hermitage museum of St. Petersburg.[79] It was preserved from decay, due to water seeping into the burial mound and freezing.[80] The advanced weaving technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in this art. Most experts believe that the Pazyryk carpet is a late achievement of at least one thousand years of technique evolution and history. Evidence suggests that some forms of rug-weaving were used in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Middle East and Asia about 4,000 years ago. Therefore, the carpet is a pre-Islamic invention.

What of the West and the flooring being referred to by Paul Vallely? The Colosseum in Rome which was completed in 80 AD had wooden (not earthy) flooring. In fact, the typical Roman home as early as the 2nd century BC had mosaic flooring, as found in the "House of the Tragic Poet" in Pompeii, Italy.[81][82] The Romans also made use of rugs on the floors and the walls of their palaces. In 47 BC When the Egyptians banished Queen Cleopatra from Egypt, replacing her with her brother, she had herself delivered to the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, smuggled inside a rolled up carpet. Their love for carpets was so great that many considered them to be more valuable than money and they even used them to pay their taxes.[83]

The modern cheque

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.[2]

The ancient Romans are believed to have used an early form of cheque known as praescriptiones in the first century BC,[84] and the saqq (or 'sakk', which developed into the modern word 'cheques')[85] system being referred to by Paul Vallely was a 3rd century pre-Islamic innovation of the Persian Sassanid Empire. Modern cheques need paper to be written, so clues to the invention of cheques can be traced following the lead of the invention of paper. Closely related is also the history of money and banking.

Paper is thought to have been invented in China 1st century BC. It was kept as a secret for 5 centuries and went to Japan in AD 610. It was not used only for writing and books (The Chinese are also responsible for the invention of printing, possibly between the 4th and 7th century AD.) but also for making umbrellas, flags, house holds, toilet paper and even amour so strong as to resist arrows. More to the point of cheques, they used it for the first promissory note, the first paper money. The invention was necessitated by the highway men who became so numerous that the merchants were not able to pay their taxes to the state. The state machinery was vital to the Chinese Empire to survive for so many thousand years. The civil servants brought the idea of notes marked with certain value that can be exchanged to gold at the end of the journey. Thus was developed the first cheques in history.[10][86][87][88]

Earth is round

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 200 km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.[2]
A pre-Islamic Byzantine coin Struck 607 - 609 AD. It features the depiction of a crowned emperor Focas holding a globus cruciger (an orb representing the spherical Earth) more than 400 years before the realisation dawned on Ibn Hazm and 532 years before al-Idrisi took a globe to the court of King Roger.

The fact that the Earth is spherical was common knowledge among medieval Europeans as proven by the dominant textbooks of the Early Middle Ages, the orb (globus cruciger; Latin for "cross-bearing orb") a Christian symbol representing Christ's (the cross) dominion over the world (the orb) used in the regalia of many kingdoms and of the Holy Roman Empire from as early as 395 and throughout the the Middle Ages,[89] and the writings of early Christian scholars including Anicius Boëthius (480 - 524 AD), Bishop Isidore of Seville (560 - 636 AD), Bishop Rabanus Maurus (780 - 856 AD), the monk Bede (672 - 735 AD), Bishop Vergilius of Salzburg (700 - 784 AD) and the most important and widely taught theologian of the Middle Ages; Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274 AD). The belief that medieval Christians believed in a flat earth is false,[90] and was listed by the Historical Association of Britain in 1945 as the second of twenty in a pamphlet on common errors in history. [91] This should not really come as much of a surprise when you consider that the Ancient Greeks Pythagoras (570 - 495 BC), Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) and Hipparchus (190 - 120 BC) also concluded that the earth is spherical half a millennium earlier.

Eratosthenes (275 - 194 BC) in 240 BC measured the circumference of the earth to a figure very close to what we know of at present He measured the distance between Alexandria and Aswan by pacers and also measured the curvature of the earth between these two points on the surface of the sphere (earth) and came to the figure of the circumference of the earth. Eratosthenes' method was later to be employed by Hermannus Contractus (1013 - 1054 AD) a medieval Christian scholar. The Greek philosopher and mathematician Aristarchus (320 - 230 BC) even knew the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around (i.e. geocentrism).[92]

In the East, the works of the classical Indian astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata (476 - 550 AD), also deal with the sphericity of the Earth and the motion of the planets. The final two parts of his Sanskrit magnum opus the Aryabhatiya, which were named the Kalakriya ("reckoning of time") and the Gola ("sphere"), state that the earth is spherical and that its circumference is 4,967 yojanas, which in modern units is 39,968 km (24,835 mi), which is close to the current equatorial value of 40,075 km (24,901 mi).[93] He also stated that the apparent rotation of the celestial objects was due to the actual rotation of the earth, calculating the length of the sidereal day to be 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds.[94]

In conclusion; everything that has been attributed to Muslim Arabs by Paul Vallely, had already been discovered by not only the pre-Islamic East, but also by the pre-Christian Greeks. The Islamic faith stifles scientific progress and nothing demonstrates this as well as the modern-day belief that the Earth is flat. As recently as 1993 the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia Sheik Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baaz declared "The earth is flat. Whoever claims it is round is an atheist deserving of punishment."[95] and in October 2007 on Al-Fayhaa TV in Iraq, a Muslim scientist also declared that the Earth is flat as evidenced by Qur'anic verses and that the Sun is much smaller than the Earth and revolves around it.[96]


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 egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pearshaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.[2]

As the article readily admits; the Chinese invented saltpetre (from Medieval Latin sal petrae: "stone salt" or possibly "salt of Petra") gunpowder, and saltpetre is in fact potassium nitrate.[97] There is also only one reference from the Crusade of the Muslims launching a missile of some kind, but it did no damage. Were gunpowder in actual military use by the times of the Crusades, the first device to apply it in would have been a cannon, but it was in fact the Chinese who fired the first cannon.[98]

A cave mural from Dunhuang- China, dated 950 AD. It features the earliest known representation of a gun (a fire lance) and a grenade.

Although the date of their introduction is uncertain, writings indicate that in 994 AD the Chinese used fire arrows in battle. Fire arrows were traditional arrows tipped with flammable materials like pitch, bitumen or resin. In 994 AD the Chinese city of Tzu T'ung was attacked by an army of 100,000 men. The commander of the defensive forces, named Chang Yung, ordered a response to the attack using artillery fire made up of catapulted stones and fire arrows launched by bows.

In 1045, a Chinese government official named Tseng Kung-Liang wrote a complete account of the Chinese use of gunpowder, including its adaptation to weaponry. Called "Wu-ching Tsung-yao" (Complete Compendium of Military Classics) the work detailed the use of ballistic fire arrows not launched by bows, but by charges of gunpowder. While the date of their introduction is uncertain, the fire arrows launched by gunpowder are considered to be the first true rockets. These fire arrows were traditional feathered arrows propelled by ignited gunpowder housed in a tube tied to the arrow. The fire arrows carried flammable materials or sometimes poison-coated heads. In a form more closely resembling modern rockets, the gunpowder tube was lengthened to the tip of the arrow and given a pointed nose, eliminating the need for a traditional arrowhead.

In 1258, the Mongols were reported to have used gunpowder propelled fire arrows in their effort to capture the Arab city of Baghdad. The Mongols reportedly launched gunpowder propelled fire arrows from ships during their attacks on Japan in 1274 and 1281. By the end of the 13th century, armies of Japan, Java, Korea and India are believed to have acquired sufficient knowledge of gunpowder propelled fire arrows to begin using them against the Mongols. Use of the weapons quickly spread throughout Asia and Eastern Europe.

At the same time gunpowder propelled fire arrows were blazing in battle, scientific papers on the subject of the preparation of gunpowder and its application in weaponry were being published in Europe. Notable works were prepared by Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and Marchus Graecus before the close of the 13th century. In 1379, an Italian named Muratori used the word "rochetta" when he described types of gunpowder propelled fire arrows used in medieval times. This is believed to be the first use of the word later translated in English as "rocket".[99]


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.[2]
A painting of a garden. Taken from the Egyptian tomb chapel of Nebamun, an accountant at the Temple of Amun at Karnak, who died around 1350 BC- almost two thousand years before Muhammad's first alleged 'revelation'.

Gardens were an Arab tradition long before Islam, so for Islam to claim this as an invention ignores thousands of years of pre-Islamic Arab culture, not to mention the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon which were built by the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC to please his sick wife, Amytis of Media.[100] It also ignores the Roman tradition of gardens and fountains used for meditation and the beautifully artistic Chinese Suzhou gardens (770 - 476 BC) which were designed specifically for relaxation.[101] The oldest pictorial records of gardens are from Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. Much like modern gardens, they came complete with shelters, pools, shady walks, pergolas, and plants growing in terracotta pots. In ancient times, temples contained what would be recognised as gardens. When they were closed to the public they became compounds for priests. Planting positions have been located in the Egyptian Temples of Hatshseput and Mentuhotep, and the Greek Temple of Hephaistos.[102] Also one of the centerpieces of a Roman Period home was the oeci or (peristyle) garden. Sometimes the center included a fish pond or swimming pool instead of a garden. Depending on the size of the home, the floorplan could continue indefinitely, with gardens leading to rooms leading to other gardens.[81]


The article written by Paul Vallely is fundamentally misleading. It omits, distorts, and makes blunders concerning the most basic of historical facts to give the reader a false impression. It leaves you wondering what could have possibly motivated him into writing such a deceptive piece of journalism? This exhibition claimed to have shown 1001 Islamic inventions. If the best twenty are proven false, what of the other 981? Should not the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Manchester search out and preserve the truth instead of helping sites like perpetuate historical inaccuracies and rob other cultures of the recognition they rightfully deserve?

If this is the sort of thing Islamists are ready to propagate openly with the approval and endorsement of authorities, Universities and so many sponsors, then what other lies do they feed to children at Muslim schools, and to young adults at mosques? Why are so many of the non-Muslim governments and individuals who continue to perpetuate these myths via websites and forums so eager to appease Muslims and show that their culture produced superior inventions by taking rightful credits from other civilizations such as ancient China, ancient Rome, and pre-Islamic Egypt?

Regardless of Paul Vallely's factually devoid attempt at altering the world's history in order to show Islam in a better light and his backhanded attempt to belittle non-Islamic civilizations and their historical heritage, it remains painfully obvious that scientific and literary progress is slow or stagnant in the Islamic world specifically due to the Islamic faith and its restrictions upon adherents.

Additionally, Sir Isaac Newton, who was listed by Michael H. Hart as the second most influential figure in history, was a devout Christian,[103] but his discoveries are never referred to as "Christian discoveries." Indeed this recent labeling of inventions by the supposed religious beliefs of their inventors is a rather peculiar practice. If the same were to be done for inventions created by the followers of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or even Graeco-Roman Paganism, the list would be endless.

See Also

  • Golden Age - A hub page that leads to other articles related to the "Golden Age"

External Links


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