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Inventions of the Islamic Golden Age

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A significant number of inventions were developed in the medieval Islamic world, a geopolitical region that has at various times extended from Spain and Africa in the west to the Indian subcontinent and Malay Archipelago in the east.[1]

The inventions listed here were mainly developed during the Islamic Golden Age, which is usually dated from the 9th to 13th centuries.


Chemical industries

Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), the "father of chemistry", invented the alembic still and many chemicals, including distilled alcohol, and established the perfume industry.
Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi (Rhazes) isolated many chemical substances, produced many medications, and described many laboratory apparatus.
Laboratory setup for steam distillation, invented by Avicenna in the 11th century.
Aqua regia was first isolated by Geber.
Hydrochloric acid, a mineral acid, was first isolated by Geber.
Nitric acid, a mineral acid, was first isolated by Geber.
Sulfuric acid, a mineral acid, was first isolated by Geber.
Arsenic, a chemical element, was first isolated by Geber in the 8th century.
Coloured stained glass windows in the Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran.

Early forms of distillation were known to the Babylonians, Greeks and Egyptians since ancient times, but it was Muslim chemists who first invented pure distillation processes which could fully purify chemical substances. They also developed several different variations of distillation (such as dry distillation, destructive distillation and steam distillation) and introduced new distillation aparatus (such as the alembic, still, and retort), and invented a variety of new chemical processes and over 9,000 chemical substances.[2]

Will Durant wrote in The Story of Civilization IV: The Age of Faith:

"Chemistry as a science was almost created by the Moslems; for in this field, where the Greeks (so far as we know) were confined to industrial experience and vague hypothesis, the Saracens introduced precise observation, controlled experiment, and careful records. They invented and named the alembic (al-anbiq), chemically analyzed innumerable substances, composed lapidaries, distinguished alkalis and acids, investigated their affinities, studied and manufactured hundreds of drugs. Alchemy, which the Moslems inherited from Egypt, contributed to chemistry by a thousand incidental discoveries, and by its method, which was the most scientific of all medieval operations."[3]

Robert Briffault wrote in The Making of Humanity:

"Chemistry, the rudiments of which arose in the processes employed by Egyptian metallurgists and jewellers combining metals into various alloys and 'tinting' them to resemble gold, processes long preserved as a secret monopoly of the priestly colleges, and clad in the usual mystic formulas, developed in the hands of the Arabs into a widespread, organized passion for research which led them to the invention of distillation, sublimation, filtration, to the discovery of alcohol, of nitric and sulphuric acids (the only acid known to the ancients was vinegar), of the alkalis, of the salts of mercury, of antimony and bismuth, and laid the basis of all subsequent chemistry and physical research."[4]

Chemical processes

The following chemical processes were invented by Muslim chemists:

  • Cocotion (or digestion), ceration, lavage, and mixture.[5]
  • Distillation, pure (al-taqtir): Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) was the first to fully purify chemical substances through distillation, using the alembic, in the 8th century.[4]
  • purification and oxidisation: Invented by Geber.[6]
  • Water purification

Chemical substances

  • Arsenic, alkali, alkali salt, borax, and pure sal ammoniac: Isolated by Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) in the 8th century.[8]
  • Plated mail: Invented by Geber.[9]
  • Ethanol: Isolated by Arabic chemists.[10]
  • Lead carbonatic: Isolated by Geber.[11]
  • Medicinal substances: Muslim chemists discovered 2,000 medicinal substances.[2]
  • Rose water: First produced by Muslim chemists in the medieval Islamic world through the distillation of roses, for use in the drinking and perfumery industries.[8]
  • Sal nitrum: Isolated by Geber.[8]
  • Aqua regia: Isolated by Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan) in the 8th century.[8]
  • Carboxylic acids: Geber isolated Acetic acid from vinegar.[12][13] He is also credited with the discovery and isolation of Citric acid, the sour component of lemons and other unripe fruits.[12]
  • Arsenic: Isolated by Geber in the 8th century.[11]
  • Antimony: Isolated by Geber.[4][11]

Food and drink

  • Coffee
  • Confectionery: Due to advances in sugar production and the invention of sugar refineries, this led to the production of early confectioneries by the Arabs.[16]
  • Pure distilled alcohol and ethanol: First isolated by Al-Kindi (Alkindus) in the 9th century.[8][17] Ahmad Y Hassan wrote: "The distillation of wine and the properties of alcohol were known to Islamic chemists from the eighth century. The prohibition of wine in Islam did not mean that wine was not produced or consumed or that Arab alchemists did not subject it to their distillation processes. Jabir ibn Hayyan described a cooling technique which can be applied to the distillation of alcohol."[18]
  • Restaurant and three-course meal: The earliest restaurants came into existence throughout the Islamic world from the 10th century, shortly before restaurants appeared in China in the 11th century. The Islamic world had "restaurants where one could purchase all sorts of prepared dishes." These restaurants were mentioned by Al-Muqaddasi (born 945) in the late 10th century.[19] Restaurants in medieval Islamic Spain served three-course meals, which was earlier introduced in the 9th century by Ziryab, who insisted that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, the main course, and dessert.[20]

Glass industry

  • Coloured stained glass windows: Muslim architects in Southwest Asia were the first to produce stained glass windows using coloured glass rather than stone producing a stained glass-like effect, as was the case in early churches. In the 8th century, the Arab chemist Geber scientifically described 46 original recipes for producing high-purity coloured glass in Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna (The Book of the Hidden Pearl), in addition to 12 recipes inserted by al-Marrakishi in a later edition of the book.[21][22]
  • Quartz glass and Silica glass: The production of glass from stone (including quartz) and sand, was pioneered by Abbas Ibn Firnas in the 9th century.[23]

Military technology

A picture of a 15th century Granadian siege cannon from the book Al-izz wal rifa'a.
The Ottoman Janissary corps were using matchlock muskets since the 1440s. They are depicted battling the Knights Hospitaller in this 1522 painting.
  • Damascus steel: One of the most famous steels produced in the medieval Near East was Damascus steel used for swordmaking, and mostly produced in Damascus, Syria, in the period from 900 to 1750. This was produced using the crucible steel method, based on the earlier Indian wootz steel. This process was further refined in the Middle East using locally produced steels. The process allowed carbides to precipitate out as micro particles arranged in sheets or bands within the body of a blade. The carbides are far harder than the surrounding low carbon steel, allowing the swordsmith to make an edge which would cut hard materials with the precipitated carbides, while the bands of softer steel allowed the sword as a whole to remain tough and flexible. A team of researchers based at the Technical University of Dresden that uses x-rays and electron microscopy to examine Damascus steel discovered the presence of cementite nanowires[24] and carbon nanotubes.[25] Peter Paufler, a member of the Dresden team, says that these nanostructures give Damascus steel its distinctive properties[26] and are a result of the forging process.[26][27]
  • Hand cannon, handgun, and small arms: The first portable hand cannons (midfa) loaded with explosive gunpowder, the first example of a handgun and portable firearm, were used by the Egyptians to repel the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, and again in 1304. The gunpowder compositions used for the cannons at these battles were later described in several manuscripts in the early 14th century. According to Shams al-Din Muhammad (d. 1327), the cannons had an explosive gunpowder composition (74% saltpetre, 11% sulfur, 15% carbon) almost identical to the ideal compositions for explosive gunpowder used in modern times (75% saltpetre, 10% sulfur, 15% carbon).[28]
  • Matchlock: The Janissary corps of the Ottoman army were using matchlock muskets as early as the 1440s.[29] The first dated illustration of a matchlock mechanism in Europe dates to 1475.
  • Purified potassium nitrate: Muslim chemists were the first to purify potassium nitrate (saltpetre; natrun or barud in Arabic) to the weapons-grade purity for use in gunpowder, as potassium nitrate needs to be purified to be used effectively. This purification process was first described by Ibn Bakhtawayh in his al-Muqaddimat in 1029. The first complete purification process for potassium nitrate is described in 1270 by the Arab chemist and engineer Hasan al-Rammah of Syria in his book al-Furusiyya wa al-Manasib al-Harbiyya ('The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices', a.k.a. the Treatise on Horsemanship and Stratagems of War). He first described the use of potassium carbonate (in the form of wood ashes) to remove calcium and magnesium salts from the potassium nitrate.[28][30] Hasan al-Rammah also describes the purifying of saltpetre using the chemical processes of solution and crystallization, and this was the first clear method for the purification of saltpetre.[31] Bert S. Hall,[32] however, disputes the efficacy of al-Rammah's formula for the purification of potassium nitrate.

Oil industry

  • Essential oil: Invented by Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) in the 11th century.[7]
  • Oil field, petroleum industry, naphtha, and tar: An early petroleum industry was established in the 8th century, when the streets of Baghdad were paved with tar, derived from petroleum through destructive distillation. In the 9th century, oil fields were first exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan, to produce naphtha. These fields were described by al-Masudi in the 10th century, and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of its oil wells as hundreds of shiploads.[34]


Tin-glazed Hispano-Moresque ware with lusterware decoration, from Spain circa 1475.
  • Albarello: An albarello is a type of maiolica earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East. Brought to Italy by Hispano-Moresque traders, the earliest Italian examples were produced in Florence in the 15th century.
  • Fritware: It refers to a type of pottery which was first developed in the Near East, where production is dated to the late first millennium AD through the second millennium AD. Frit was a significant ingredient. A recipe for “fritware” dating to c. 1300 AD written by Abu’l Qasim reports that the ratio of quartz to “frit-glass” to white clay is 10:1:1.[36] This type of pottery has also been referred to as “stonepaste” and “faience” among other names.[37] A ninth century corpus of “proto-stonepaste” from Baghdad has “relict glass fragments” in its fabric.[38]
  • Hispano-Moresque ware: This was a style of Islamic pottery created in Islamic Spain, after the Moors had introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe: glazing with an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of it decoration.[39]
  • Iznik pottery: Produced in Ottoman Turkey as early as the 15th century AD.[40] It consists of a body, slip, and glaze, where the body and glaze are “quartz-frit.”[41] The “frits” in both cases “are unusual in that they contain lead oxide as well as soda”; the lead oxide would help reduce the thermal expansion coefficient of the ceramic.[42] Microscopic analysis reveals that the material that has been labeled “frit” is “interstitial glass” which serves to connect the quartz particles.[43]
  • Lusterware: Lustre glazes were applied to pottery in Mesopotamia in the 9th century; the technique soon became popular in Persia and Syria.[44] Lusterware was later produced in Egypt during the Fatimid caliphate in the 10th-12th centuries. While the production of lusterware continued in the Middle East, it spread to Europe—first to Al-Andalus, notably at Malaga, and then to Italy, where it was used to enhance maiolica.
  • Stonepaste ceramic: Invented in 9th-century Iraq,[45] it was a vitreous or semivitreous ceramic ware of fine texture, made primarily from non-refactory fire clay.[46]
  • Tin-glazing: The tin-glazing of ceramics was invented by Muslim potters in 8th-century Basra, Iraq. Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first examples of this technique can be found as blue-painted ware in 8th-century Basra.[47]
  • Tin-glazed pottery: The earliest tin-glazed pottery appears to have been made in Iraq in the 9th century, the oldest fragments having been excavated during the First World War from the palace of Samarra about fifty miles north of Baghdad.[48] From there, it spread to Egypt, Persia and Spain, before reaching Italy in the Renaissance, Holland in the 16th century, and England, France and other European countries shortly after.

Civil engineering

The interiors of the Alhambra in Spain are decorated with arabesque designs.
The minaret is a distinct feature of Islamic architecture. The spiralling minaret located at the Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq built in 852, is one of the oldest.
At 72.5 meters, the Qutab Minar was the tallest minaret until the 20th century, and remains the tallest brick and stone minaret in the world.
An illustration of patterned Girih tiles, found in Islamic architecture dating back over five centuries ago. These featured the first quasicrystal patterns and self-similar fractal quasicrystalline tilings.
The norias in Hama on the Orontes River in Syria. The flywheel was first employed in a noria byIbn Bassalin the 11th century.
The first windmills were built in the Islamic world and introduced to Europe through Spain.

During the Muslim Agricultural Revolution, the early Muslim Arab Empire was ahead of its time regarding domestic water systems such as water cleaning systems and advanced water transportation systems resulting in better agriculture, something that helped in issues related to Islamic hygienical jurisprudence.[49] Al-Jazari invented a variety of machines for raising water in 1206,[50] as well as water mills and water wheels with cams on their axle used to operate automata in the late 12th century.[51]

Litter collection facilities: Cordoba had the first facilities and waste containers for litter collection.[52]

  • Surveying instruments: Muslim engineers invented a variety of surveying instruments for accurate levelling, including a wooden board with a plumb line and two hooks, an equilateral triangle with a plumb line and two hooks, and a "reed level". They also invented a rotating alidade used for accurate alignment, and a surveying astrolabe used for alignment, measuring angles, triangulation, finding the width of a river, and the distance between two points separated by an impassable obstruction.[53]
  • Tar roads and pavements: The streets of Baghdad were the first to be paved with tar from the 8th century AD. Tar was derived from petroleum, accessed from oil fields in the region, through the chemical process of destructive distillation.[34]
  • Ventillator: The first ventillators were invented in Islamic Egypt and were widely used in many houses throughout Cairo during the Middle Ages. These ventillators were later described in detail by Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi in 1200, who reported that almost every house in Cairo has a ventillator, and that they cost anywhere from 1 to 500 dinars depending on their sizes and shapes. Most ventillators in the city were oriented towards the Qibla (the direction of Mecca), as was the city in general.[54]


  • Arabesque: An elaborative application of repeating geometric forms often found decorating the walls of mosques. Geometric artwork in the form of the Arabesque was not used in the Middle East or Mediterranean Basin until the Islamic Golden Age. Euclidean geometry as expounded on by Al-Abbās ibn Said al-Jawharī (ca. 800-860) in his Commentary on Euclid's Elements, the trigonometry of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta as elaborated on by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (ca. 780-850), and the development of spherical geometry[55] by Abū al-Wafā' al-Būzjānī (940–998) and spherical trigonometry by Al-Jayyani (989-1079)[56] for determining the Qibla (direction to Mecca) and times of Salah prayers and Ramadan,[55] all served as an impetus for the art form that was to become the Arabesque.
  • Bridge dam: The bridge dam was used to power a water wheel working a water-raising mechanism. The first was built in Dezful, Iran, which could raise 50 cubits of water for the water supply to all houses in the town. Similar bridge dams later appeared in other parts of the Islamic world.[57]
  • Central heating through underfloor pipes: The hypocaust heating system used by the Romans continued to be in use around the Mediterranean region during late Antiquity and by the Umayyad caliphate. By the 12th century, Muslim engineers in Syria introduced an improved central heating system, where heat travelled through underfloor pipes from the furnace room, rather than through a hypocaust. This central heating system was widely used in bath-houses throughout the medieval Islamic world.[58]
  • Geared and hydropowered water supply system: Al-Jazari developed the earliest water supply system to be driven by gears and hydropower, which was built in 13th century Damascus to supply water to its mosques and Bimaristan hospitals. The system had water from a lake turn a scoop-wheel and a system of gears which transported jars of water up to a water channel that led to mosques and hospitals in the city.[59]
  • Girih tiles, quasicrystal pattern, and self-similar fractal quasicrystalline tiling: Geometrical quasicrystal patterns were first employed in the girih tiles found in medieval Islamic architecture dating back over five centuries ago. In 2007, Professor Peter Lu of Harvard University and Professor Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University published a paper in the journal Science suggesting that girih tilings possessed properties consistent with self-similar fractal quasicrystalline tilings such as the Penrose tilings, predating them by five centuries.[60][61]
  • Minaret: The minaret is a distinctive architectural feature of Islamic architecture, especially mosques, dating back to the early centuries of Islam. Minarets are generally tall spires with onion-shaped crowns, usually either free standing or much taller than any surrounding support structure. The tallest minaret in pre-modern times was the Qutub Minar, which was 72.5 meters (237.9 ft) tall and was built in the 12th century, and it remains the tallest brick and stone minaret in the world.

Industrial milling

A variety of industrial mills were active in the medieval Islamic world, including fulling mills, gristmills, hullers, paper mills, sawmills, stamp mills, steel mills, sugar mills, and windmills, many of which were original inventions by Muslim engineers. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Islamic world had these industrial mills in operation, from Al-Andalus and North Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia.[62] These advances made it possible for many industrial operations that were previously driven by manual labour in ancient times to be driven by machinery instead in the Islamic world. The transfer of these technologies to medieval Europe later laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution in 18th century Europe.[63]

  • Bridge mill: The bridge mill was a unique type of water mill that was built as part of the superstructure of a bridge. The earliest record of a bridge mill is from Cordoba, Spain in the 12th century.[64]
  • Factory milling installation: The first factory milling installations were built by Muslim engineers throughout every city and urban community in the Islamic world. For example, the factory milling complex in 10th century Baghdad could produce 10 tonnes of flour] every day.[65] The first large milling installations in Europe were built in 12th century Islamic Spain.[66]
  • Fulling mill: The first references to fulling mills are reported in Persia from the 10th century. By the time of the Crusades in the 11th century, fulling mills were active throughout the Islamic world, from Islamic Spain and North Africa to Central Asia.[62]
  • Geared and wind powered gristmills with trip hammers: The first geared gristmills[67] were invented by Muslim engineers in the Islamic world, and were used for grinding corn and other seeds to produce meals, and many other industrial uses such as fulling cloth, husking rice, papermaking, pulping sugarcane, and crushing metallic ores before extraction. Gristmills in the Islamic world were often made from both watermills and windmills. In order to adapt water wheels for gristmilling purposes, cams were used for raising and releasing trip hammers to fall on a material.[68] The first wind-powered gristmills driven by windmills were built in what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries.[66]
  • Paper mill: Paper was introduced into the Muslim world by Chinese prisoners after the Battle of Talas. Muslims made several improvements to papermaking, mainly the use of hydropower rather than manual labour to produce paper, and they built the first paper mills in Baghdad, Iraq, as early as 794. Papermaking was transformed from an art into a major industry as a result.[69][70]
  • Stamp mill: Stamp mills were first used by miners in Samarkand from as early as 973. They were used in medieval Persia for the purpose of crushing ore. By the 11th century, stamp mills were in widespread use throughout the Islamic world, from Islamic Spain and North Africa to Central Asia.[62]
  • Sugar refinery: The first sugar refineries were built by Muslim engineers.[62] They were first driven by water mills, and then windmills from the 9th and 10th centuries in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.[66]
  • Underground watermill: Other innovations that were unique to the Islamic world include the situation of watermills in the underground irrigation tunnels of a qanat and on the main canals of valley-floor irrigation systems.[66]
  • Windmill: The first windmills were built in Sistan, Afghanistan, sometime between the 7th century and 9th century, as described by Muslim geographers. These were vertical axle windmills, which had long vertical driveshafts with rectangle shaped blades.[71] The first windmill may have been constructed as early as the time of the second Rashidun caliph Umar (634-644 AD), though some argue that this account may have been a 10th century amendment.[72] Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind corn and draw up water, and used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.[68] The first horizontal windmills were built in what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in the 9th and 10th centuries. They had a variety of uses, such as grinding grain, pumping water, and crushing sugar-cane.[66] A small primitive wind wheel operating an organ is described as early as the 1st century AD by Hero of Alexandria, marking probably the first instance of a wind powering machine in history.[73][74] Horizontal axle windmills of the type generally used today were developed in Northwestern Europe in the 1180s.[75]


A number of hygienic cosmetics were invented by Muslim chemists, cosmetologists and physicians.[76]

  • Cosmetic dentistry and tooth bleaching: In his Al-Tasrif (c. 1000), Abulcasis described methods for strengthening the gums and introduced the method of tooth bleaching using tooth whiteners.[77]
  • Beauty parlour and cosmetology school: In the 9th century, Ziryab opened the first beauty parlour and "cosmetology school" for women near Alcázar, Al-Andalus."[78]
  • Chemical depilatory for hair removal: In the 9th century, Ziryab taught women in Al-Andalus "the shaping of eyebrows and the use of depilatories for removing body hair".[78]
  • Hair care and hair dye: In his Al-Tasrif (c. 1000), Abulcasis first described hair dyes for changing human hair color to blond or black hair, and hair care for correcting kinky or curly hair.[77] Dyestuff was also created by earlier Muslim chemists.[79]
  • Lipstick, solid: In 1000 CE, the Andalusian Arab cosmetologist Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) invented solid lipsticks, which were perfumed stocks rolled and pressed in special molds, and he described them in his Al-Tasrif.[77]
  • Pomade: Produced by Arabs.[10]


  • Hand cream and lotion, and suntan lotion: In his Al-Tasrif (c. 1000), Abulcasis described the first hand creams and lotions, and the first early suntan lotions, describing their ingredients and benefits in depth.[77]
  • Modern soap: The soap now used in modern times is made of vegetable oils (such as olive oil) with sodium hydroxide and aromatics (such as thyme oil). This formula was invented by Muslim chemists, and differed from the earlier soap-like detergents used in ancient times.[6][8] Sodium lye (al-soda al-kawia), perfumed and colored soaps, and liquid and solid soaps, were also produced by Muslim chemists.[76]
  • Soap bar: The first hard soap bars were produced by Muslim chemists.[6][8] They gave recipes for soaps made from sesame oil, potash, alkali, lime, and molds, leaving hard soap.[76]
  • Toothpaste, functional and pleasant: In the 9th century, the Persian musician and fashion designer Ziryab is known to have invented a type of toothpaste, which he popularized throughout Islamic Spain.[80] The exact ingredients of this toothpaste are not currently known,[78] but unlike the earlier Egyptian and Roman toothpastes, Ziryab's toothpaste was reported to have been both "functional and pleasant to taste."[80] In circa 1000, Abulcasis recommended a toothpaste made from cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and coriander leaves, as a remedy for bad breath resulting from eating garlic or onions.[77]


Perfume usage was recorded in the Arabian Peninsula since the 7th century, and Muslims made many advances in perfumery in the proceeding centuries. This included the extraction of numerous fragrances, as well as the cheap mass-production of incenses. Muslim scientists such as Al-Kindi elaborated a vast number of recipes for a wide range of perfumes, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

  • Perfume industry: Established by Geber (Jabir) (b. 722, Iraq) and Al-Kindi (b. 801, Iraq).[81] Jabir developed many techniques, including distillation, evaporation and filtration, which enabled the collection of the odour of plants into a vapour that could be collected in the form of water or oil.[81] Al-Kindi carried out extensive research and experiments in combining various plants and other sources to produce a variety of scent products.
  • Camphor: In the 9th century, the Arab chemist Al-Kindi (Alkindus) provided the earliest recipe for the production of camphor in his Kitab Kimiya' al-'Itr (Book of the Chemistry of Perfume).[82]
  • Deodorants, under-arm and roll-on: In the 9th century, Ziryab invented under-arm deodorants in Al-Andalus.[20] In circa 1000, another under-arm deodorant was described in Al-Andalus by Abulcasis,[77] who also invented perfumed stocks, rolled and pressed in special moulds, similar to modern roll-on deodorants.[83]
  • Extraction of fragrances through steam distillation: Introduced by Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) in the 11th century.
  • Ghaliya: The preparation of a perfume called ghaliya, which contained musk, amber and other ingredients, and the use of various drugs and apparatus], was produced by al-Kindi.
  • Musk and floral perfumes: Produced in the 11th-12th centuries in the Arabian Peninsula.[79]
  • Jasmine and citrus perfumes: Muslims introduced new raw ingredients in perfumery, which were produced from different spices, herbals, and other fragrance materials, which are still used in modern perfumery. These included jasmine from South and Southeast Asia, and citrus fruits from East Asia.


A number of important economic, educational, legal and scientific institutions previously unknown in the ancient world have their origins in the medieval Islamic world.

  • Academic degree-granting university:[84] If the definition of a university is assumed to mean an institution of higher education and research which issues academic degrees at all levels (bachelor, master and doctorate) like in the modern sense of the word, then the medieval Madrasahs known as Jami'ah ("university" in Arabic) founded in the 9th century would be the first examples of such an institution.[85][86] The University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is thus recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri.[87] Also in the 9th century, Bimaristan medical schools were founded in the medieval Islamic world, where medical degrees and diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be a practicing Doctor of Medicine.[86][88] Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in 975, was a Jami'ah university which offered a variety of post-graduate degrees (Ijazah),[86] and had individual faculties[89] for a theological seminary, Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, early Islamic philosophy, and logic in Islamic philosophy.[86] The modern academic robe worn by graduates was also adapted from the robe worn by the Alim (alumni).[90]
  • Agency and Aval: The first agencies were the Hawala, mentioned in texts of Islamic jurisprudence as early as the 8th century. Hawala itself later influenced the development of the agency in common law and in civil laws such as the Aval in French law and the Avallo in Italian law. The words Aval and Avallo were themselves derived from Hawala. The transfer of debt, which was "not permissible under Roman law but became widely practiced in medieval Europe, especially in commercial transactions", was due to the large extent of the "trade conducted by the Italian cities with the Muslim world in the Middle Ages." The agency was also "an institution unknown to Roman law" as no "individual could conclude a binding contract on behalf of another as his agent." In Roman law, the "contractor himself was considered the party to the contract and it took a second contract between the person who acted on behalf of a principal and the latter in order to transfer the rights and the obligations deriving from the contract to him." On the other hand, Islamic law and the later common law "had no difficulty in accepting agency as one of its institutions in the field of contracts and of obligations in general."[91]
  • Assize of novel disseisin and contract protected by the action of debt: According to Professor John Makdisi, the "royal English contract protected by the action of debt" has origins in "the Islamic Aqd", and "the English assize of novel disseisin" has origins in "the Islamic Istihqaq", in classical Maliki jurisprudence.[92]
  • College: The origins of the college lie in the medieval Islamic world. The madrasah was a medieval Islamic college of law and theology, usually affiliated with a mosque, and was funded by early charitable trusts known as Waqf, the origins of the trust law.[85][93]
  • Jury and jury trial: The closest predecessor to the English jury trial was the Lafif in the Maliki school of classical Islamic law and jurisprudence, which was developed between the 8th and 11th centuries. Like the English jury, the Islamic Lafif was a body of twelve members drawn from the neighborhood and sworn to tell the truth, who were bound to give a unanimous verdict, about matters "which they had personally seen or heard, binding on the judge, to settle the truth concerning facts in a case, between ordinary people, and obtained as of right by the plaintiff." According to John Makdisi, "no other institution in any legal institution studied to date shares all of these characteristics with the English jury."[92]
The first observatories to serve as research institutes were built by Muslim astronomers. The most famous was the Maragheh observatory, the current status of which is pictured here.
  • Observatory as a research institute: As opposed to a private observation post as was the case in ancient times,[94] the astronomical observatories in the Islamic world were the first true observatories, in the sense that they functioned as early research institutes, like modern observatories.[84] The Islamic observatory was the first specialized astronomical institution with its own scientific staff,[95] director, astronomical program,[94] large astronomical instruments, and building where astronomical research and observations are carried out. Islamic observatories were also the first to employ enormously large astronomical instruments in order to improve the accuracy of their observations.[95] Famous examples include the observatories at Baghdad and Ray, Iran, the Maragheh observatory, Ulugh Beg's observatory at Samarqand, and the Istanbul observatory of al-Din.
  • Public library and lending library:[84] A number of distinct features of the modern library were introduced in the Islamic world, where libraries not only served as a collection of manuscripts as was the case in ancient libraries, but also as a public library and lending library, a centre for the instruction and spread of sciences and ideas, a place for meetings and discussions, and sometimes as a lodging for scholars or boarding school for pupils. The concept of the library catalogue was also introduced in medieval Islamic libraries, where books were organized into specific genres and categories.[96]
  • Trust institution and charitable trust: The Waqf in Islamic law, which developed in the Islamic world from the 7th to 9th centuries, were the first charitable trust.[97] Every waqf was required to have a waqif (founder), mutawillis (trustee), qadi (judge) and beneficiaries.[98] Under both a waqf and a trust, "property is reserved, and its usufruct appropriated, for the benefit of specific individuals, or for a general charitable purpose; the corpus becomes inalienable; estates for life in favor of successive beneficiaries can be created" and "without regard to the law of inheritance or the rights of the heirs; and continuity is secured by the successive appointment of trustees or mutawillis."[99]

Medical institutions

  • Apothecary, Drugstore, and Pharmacy: The first drugstores and pharmacies were opened by Muslim pharmacists in Baghdad in 754,[2] while the first apothecary shops were also founded by Muslim practitioners at the time.[100]
  • Medical school: The Islamic Bimaristans were not only hospitals, but also the first medical schools and universities to issue diplomas. The first of these institutions was opened in Baghdad during the time of Harun al-Rashid. They then appeared in Egypt from 872 and then in Islamic Spain, Persia and the Maghreb thereafter. Physicians and surgeons at Islamic hospital-universities gave lectures to medical students and diplomas were issued to students who completed their education and were qualified to be doctors of medicine.[101]
  • Public hospital: The Islamic Bimaristans were the first free public hospitals, and replaced the healing temples and sleep temples found in ancient times.[84] They were hospital in the modern sense, an establishment where the ill were welcomed and cared for by qualified staff. In this way, Muslim physicians were the first to make a distinction between a hospital and other different forms of sleep and healing temples, hospices, assylums, lazarets and leper-houses, all of which in ancient times were more concerned with isolating the sick and the mad from society "rather than to offer them any way to a true cure." The medieval Bimaristan hospitals are thus considered "the first hospitals" in the modern sense of the word.[103]
  • Quarantine: The discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases and the use of quarantine to limit the spread of contagious diseases was introduced by Avicenna in The Canon of Medicine (1025).[104]
  • Geriatric medicine: Arabs were the first to write books on Geriatric medicine.

Mechanical technology

Al-Jazari (1136-1206)
Al-Jazari's candle clock employed a bayonet fitting for the first time in 1206.
Drawing of the self-trimming lamp in Ahmad ibn Mūsā ibn Shākir's 9th century Arabic treatise on mechanical devices, the Book of Ingenious Devices.
Diagram of a hydropowered water-raising machine from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by Al-Jazari in 1206.
The double-action reciprocating suction piston pump with a valve and crankshaft-connecting rod mechanism, from a manuscript of Al-Jazari.
The programmable humanoid robot band of Al-Jazari.
An artist rendition based on a description of a programmable humanoid robot band described to be designed by Al-Jazari in 1206.
The hand washing automaton with a flush mechanism designed by Al-Jazari in 1206.
  • Artificial thunder, lightning and weather simulation: Abbas Ibn Firnas invented an artificial weather simulation room, in which spectators saw stars and clouds, and were astonished by artificial thunder and lightning, which were produced by mechanisms hidden in his basement laboratory.[105][106]
  • Bayonet fitting: Al-Jazari's candle clock in 1206 employed, for the first time, a bayonet fitting, a fastener mechanism still used in modern times.[107]
  • Camshaft: The first known use of cams on a camshaft were invented in Iraq by Al-Jazari in 1206.[108] His camshaft was attached to a water wheel and was used to operate levers moving robotic musicians in his castle clock (see Analog computers below).[109]
  • Bolted lock, and mechanical controls: According to Donald Routledge Hill, Al-Jazari first described several early mechanical controls, including "a large metal door...and a lock with four bolts."[68]
  • Complex segmental and epicyclic gearing: Segmental gears ("a piece for receiving or communicating reciprocating motion from or to a cogwheel, consisting of a sector of a circular gear, or ring, having cogs on the periphery, or face."[110]) and epicyclic gears were both first invented by the 11th century Arab engineer Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi from Islamic Spain. He employed both these types of gears in the gear trains of his mechanical clocks. Simple gears have been known before him, but this was the the first known case of complex gears used to transmit high torque.[14] Segmental gears were also later employed by Al-Jazari in 1206. Professor Lynn Townsend White, Jr. wrote: "Segmental gears first clearly appear in Al-Jazari, in the West they emerge in Giovanni de Dondi's astronomical clock finished in 1364, and only with the great Sienese engineer Francesco di Giorgio (1501) did they enter the general vocabulary of European machine design."[111]
  • Design and construction methods: According to Donald Routledge Hill, "We see for the first time in Al-Jazari's work several concepts important for both design and construction: the lamination of timber to minimize warping, the static balancing of wheels, the use of wooden templates (a kind of pattern), the use of paper models to establish designs, the calibration of orifices, the grinding of the seats and plugs of valves together with emery powder to obtain a watertight fit, and the casting of metals in closed mold boxes with sand."[68]
  • Escapement mechanism in rotating wheel: Al-Jazari invented a method for controlling the speed of rotation of a wheel using an escapement mechanism in 1206.[112]
  • Foot pedal and pedal-operated loom: The foot pedal was originally invented for the purpose of operating a loom, for use in weaving. The first such devices appeared in Syria, Iran and Islamic parts of East Africa, where "the operator sat with his feet in a pit below a fairly low-slung loom." By 1177, it was further developed in Islamic Spain, where having the mechanism was "raised higher above the ground on a more substantial frame." This type of loom spread to the Christian parts of Spain and soon became popular all over medieval Europe.[113]
  • Fountain pen: The earliest historical record of a reservoir fountain pen dates back to the 10th century. In 953, Al-Muizz Lideenillah, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib via gravity and capillary action. As recorded by Qadi al-Nu'man al-Tamimi (d. 974) in his Kitdb al-Majalis wa 'l-musayardt, al-Mu’izz instructed and commissioned the construction of a fountain reservoir pen.[114][115]
  • Gate operator: The first automatic doors were created by Hero of Alexandria and Chinese engineers under Emperor Yang of Sui prior to Islam. This was followed by the first hydraulics-powered automatic gate operators, invented by Al-Jazari in 1206.[116] Al-Jazari also created automatic doors as part of one of his elaborate water clocks.[68]
  • Metal block printing and printed amulet: Printing was known as tarsh in Arabic. After woodblock printing appeared in the Islamic world, which may have been adopted from China, a unique type of block printing was invented in Islamic Egypt during the 9th-10th centuries: print blocks made from metals such as tin, lead and cast iron, as well as stone, glass and clay. The first printed amulets were invented in the Islamic world, and were printed with Arabic calligraphy using metal block printing. This technique, however, appears to have had very little influence outside of the Muslim world, since metal and other non-wooden forms of block printing were unknown in China or Korea, which later developed metal movable type printing instead. Block printing later went out of use in Islamic Central Asia after movable type printing was introduced from China at least 100 years ago.[118]
  • On/off switch: The on/off switch, an important feedback control principle, was invented by Muslim engineers between the 9th and 12th centuries, and it was employed in a variety of automata and water clocks. The mechanism later had an influence on the development of the electric on/off switch which appeared in the 1950s.[119]
  • Spinning wheel: The earliest clear illustrations of the spinning wheel come from Baghdad (drawn in 1237), and then from China (c. 1270) and Europe (c. 1280). There is evidence that spinning wheels had already come into use in the Islamic world long before that, as can be seen in an Islamic description of the spinning wheel dating from before 1030, while the earliest Chinese description dates from around 1090.[120]

In the 9th century, the Banū Mūsā brothers invented a number of automata (automatic machines) and mechanical devices, and they described a hundred such devices in their Book of Ingenious Devices. Some of their original inventions include:

  • Differential pressure[122]

In 1206, Al-Jazari also described over fifty mechanical devices in six different categories in The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, most of which he invented himself, along with construction drawings. Along with his other mechanical inventions described above, some of the other mechanical devices he first described include: phlebotomy measures, linkage, water level, and devices able to elevate water from shallow wells or flowing rivers.[50][51][123][124]


Mark E. Rosheim summarizes the advances in robotics made by Arab engineers as follows:

"Unlike the Greek designs, these Arab examples reveal an interest, not only in dramatic illusion, but in manipulating the environment for human comfort. Thus, the greatest contribution the Arabs made, besides preserving, disseminating and building on the work of the Greeks, was the concept of practical application. This was the key element that was missing in Greek robotic science."[125]

"The Arabs, on the other hand, displayed an interest in creating human-like machines for practical purposes but lacked, like other preindustrial societies, any real impetus to pursue their robotic science."[126]

  • Programmable automatic flute player: The Banū Mūsā invented an automatic flute player which appears to have been the first programmable machine, and which they described in their Book of Ingenious Devices.[127]
  • Programmable humanoid robot band: Al-Jazari (1136-1206) created the first recorded designs of a programmable humanoid robot in 1206, as opposed to the non-programmable automata in ancient times. Al-Jazari's robot was originally a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operate the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around.[128] According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a "robot band" which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection."[129]
  • Hand washing automaton with flush mechanism: Al-Jazari invented a hand washing automaton first employing the flush mechanism now used in modern flush toilets. It features a female humanoid automaton standing by a basin filled with water. When the user pulls the lever, the water drains and the female automaton refills the basin.[130]
  • Peacock fountain with automated humanoid servants: Al-Jazari's "peacock fountain" was a sophisticated hand washing device featuring humanoid automata as servants which offer soap and towels. Mark E. Rosheim describes it as follows: "Pulling a plug on the peacock's tail releases water out of the beak; as the dirty water from the basin fills the hollow base a float rises and actuates a linkage which makes a servant figure appear from behind a door under the peacock and offer soap. When more water is used, a second float at a higher level trips and causes the appearance of a second servant figure — with a towel!"[125]
  • Wind powered statue: The first wind-powered automata in history were the wind-powered statues invented by the Abbasids in the mid-8th century. The statues "turned with the wind over the domes of the four gates and the palace complex of the Round City of Baghdad". The "Green Dome of the palace was surmounted by the statue of a horseman carrying a lance that was believed to point toward the enemy. This public spectacle of wind-powered statues had its private counterpart in the 'Abbasid palaces where automata of various types were predominantly displayed."[131]


  • Crankshaft-driven and hydropowered saqiya chain pumps: The first known use of a crankshaft in a chain pump was in one of Al-Jazari's saqiya machines described in 1206.[117] Al-Jazari also constructed a water-raising saqiya chain pump which was run by hydropower rather than manual labour, though the Chinese were also using hydropower for other chain pumps prior to him. Saqiya machines like the ones he described have been supplying water in Damascus since the 13th century up until modern times,[132] and were in everyday use throughout the medieval Islamic world.[117]
  • Crankshaft-driven screw and screwpump: In ancient times, the screw and screwpump were driven by a treadwheel, but from the 12th and 13th centuries, Muslim engineers operated them using the crankshaft.[133]
  • Double-action piston suction pump with reciprocating motion: In 1206, al-Jazari demonstrates the first suction pipes and suction piston pump, the first use of double-action, and one of the earliest valve operations, when he invented a twin-cylinder double-action reciprocating suction piston pump, which seems to have had a direct significance in the development of modern engineering. This pump is driven by a water wheel, which drives, through a system of gears, an oscillating slot-rod to which the rods of two pistons are attached. The pistons work in horizontally opposed cylinders, each provided with valve-operated suction and delivery pipes. The delivery pipes are joined above the centre of the machine to form a single outlet into the irrigation system. This pump is remarkable for being the earliest known use of a true suction pipe in a pump.[134]
  • Flywheel-driven chain pump and noria: A flywheel is used to smooth out the delivery of power from a driving device to a driven machine. The mechanical flywheel was first invented byIbn Bassal(fl. 1038-1075) of Islamic Spain, who pioneered the use of the flywheel in the chain pump (saqiya) and noria.[135]
  • Weight-driven pump: Most ancient and medieval pumps were either driven by manual labour or hydraulics. The first weight-driven pump was described as part of a perpetual motion water-raising machine in a medieval Arabic manuscript written some time after Al-Jazari. It featured a mercury-powered clockwork escapement mechanism and had two out gear-wheels driven by lead weights which mesh with a large central gear-wheel.[136]

Medical products

Drugs and medications

Muslim physicians pioneered a number of drugs and medications for use in medicine, including:

Avicenna, considered the "father of modern medicine", pioneered clinical pharmacology, and described inhalational anesthetics and various drugs and medications, in The Canon of Medicine (1025).
  • Alcohol as an antiseptic: The application of pure alcohol to wounds as an antiseptic agent, and the use of alcohol as a solvent and antiseptic, was introduced by Muslim physicians and surgeons in the 10th century.[34]
  • Cancer therapy, pharmacotherapy, and Hindiba: Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine (1025) attempted the earliest known treatments for cancer. One method he discovered was the "Hindiba", a herbal compound drug which Ibn al-Baitar later identified as having "anticancer" properties and which could also treat other tumors and neoplastic disorders. Avicenna wrote a separate supplement treatise dedicated to the pharmacotherapy of Hindiba, giving details on the drug's properties and uses, and he then gives instructions on its preparation as medication.[137] After recognizing its usefulness in treating neoplastic disorders, Hindiba was patented in 1997 by Nil Sari, Hanzade Dogan and John K. Snyder.[138]
  • Chemotherapeutic drugs: Pioneered by Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (Rhazes), who introduced the use of chemical substances such as vitriol, copper, mercuric and arsenic salts, sal ammoniac, gold scoria, chalk, clay, coral, pearl, tar, bitumen and alcohol for medical purposes.[139]
  • Clinical pharmacology, clinical trial, randomized controlled trial, and efficacy test: The origins of clinical pharmacology date back to Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine in 1025.[140] His emphasis on tested medicines laid the foundations for an experimental approach to pharmacology.[141] The Canon laid out the rules and principles for testing the effectiveness of new drugs and medications, which still form the basis of clinical pharmacology[142] and modern clinical trials,[143] randomized controlled trials[144][145] and efficacy tests.[146][147]
  • Cough medicine and syrup: The use of syrups for treating coughs originates from medieval Arabic physicians.[10][148]
  • Drugs, foods, herbs, plants and chemical substances: In antiquity, Dioscorides listed about 500 plants in the 1st century. Muslim botanists, chemists and pharmacists discovered many more during the Middle Ages. For example, Al-Dinawari described more than 637 plant drugs in the 9th century,[149] and Ibn al-Baitar described at least 1,400 different plants, foods and drugs, 300 of which were his own original discoveries, in the 13th century.[150] In total, at least 2,000 medicinal substances were discovered by Muslim botanists, chemists and pharmacists.[2]
  • Epilepsy and seizure medications: Abulcasis, in his Al-Tasrif (c. 1000), invented medications called Ghawali and Lafayfe for the treatment of epilepsy and seizure.[77]
  • Medicinal-grade alcohol: Produced through distillation. These distillation devices for use in chemistry and medicine were manufactured on a large scale in the 10th century.
  • Parasitology: Parasites were first discovered by Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), when he discovered the cause of scabies.[151] He recommended specific substances to destroy microbes, and the application of sulfur topically specifically to kill the scabies mite.
  • Pharmacopoeia: The first pharmacopoeia books were written by Muslim physicians.[152] These included Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine and other pharmacopoeia books by Abu-Rayhan Biruni in the early 11th century,[153] Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) in the 12th century (and printed in 1491),[154] and Ibn al-Baitar in the 14th century.[34]
  • Phytotherapy, Taxus baccata, and calcium channel blocker: Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine introduced the medicinal use of Taxus baccata L. He named this herbal drug "Zarnab" and used it as a cardiac remedy. This was the first known use of a calcium channel blocker drug, which were not used in the Western world until the 1960s.[155]
  • Sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction drugs: Muslim physicians identified the issue of sexual and erectile dysfunction, and they were the first to prescribe medication for the treatment of the problem. They developed several methods of therapy for this issue, including the single drug method where a drug is prescribed, and a "combination method of either a drug or food." These drugs were also occasionally used for recreational drug use to improve male sexuality in general by those who did not suffer from sexual dysfunctions. Most of these drugs were oral medication, though a few patients were also treated through topical and transurethral means. Sexual dysfunctions were being treated with tested drugs in the Islamic world since the 9th century until the 16th century by a number of Muslim physicians and pharmacists, including al-Razi, Thabit bin Qurra, Ibn Al-Jazzar, Avicenna (The Canon of Medicine), Averroes, Ibn al-Baitar, and Ibn al-Nafis (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine).[156]
  • Topical cream: For the relief and treatment of common colds, Abulcasis invented Muthallaathat, which was prepared from camphor, musk and honey, similar to the modern Vicks Vapour Rub.[77]

Surgical instruments

A wide variety of surgical instruments and techniques were invented in the Muslim world, as well as the refinement of earlier instruments and techniques. In particular, over 200 surgical instruments were listed by Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) in the Al-Tasrif (1000), many of which were never used before by any previous surgeons. Hamidan, for example, listed at least twenty six innovative surgical instruments that Abulcasis introduced.

  • Bone saw: Invented by Abulcasis.[6]
  • Cancer surgery: Another method for treating cancer first described by Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine was a surgical treatment. He stated that the excision should be radical and that all diseased tissue should be removed, which included the use of amputation or the removal of veins running in the direction of the tumor. He also recommended the use of cauterization for the area being treated if necessary.[157]
  • Catgut, use of: The use of catgut for internal stitching was introduced by Abulcasis.
  • Cotton dressing and bandage: The earliest known use of cotton (derived from the Arabic word qutn) as a dressing for controlling hemorrhage, was described by Abulcasis.[157]
  • Curette, retractor, sound, surgical spoon, surgical hook, and surgical rod: Invented by Abulcasis in his Al-Tasrif (1000).[160]
  • Fetus extraction: Abulcasis, in his Al-Tasrif (1000), first described the surgical procedure of extractiing a dead fetus using forceps.[161]
  • General anaesthesia, general anaesthetic, oral anesthesia, inhalational anaesthetic, and narcotic-soaked sponge: Surgeries under inhalant anesthesia with the use of narcotic-soaked sponges which were placed over the face, were introduced by the Muslim anesthesiologists, Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis) and Ibn Zuhr, in Islamic Spain. Sigrid Hunke wrote: "The science of medicine has gained a great and extremely important discovery and that is the use of general anaesthetics for surgical operations, and how unique, efficient, and merciful for those who tried it the Muslim anaesthetic was. It was quite different from the drinks the Indians, Romans and Greeks were forcing their patients to have for relief of pain. There had been some allegations to credit this discovery to an Italian or to an Alexandrian, but the truth is and history proves that, the art of using the anaesthetic sponge is a pure Muslim technique, which was not known before. The sponge used to be dipped and left in a mixture prepared from cannabis, opium, hyoscyamus and a plant called Zoan."[162]
  • Illustrated surgical atlas: Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu's Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye (Imperial Surgery), produced in the 15th century, was the first surgical atlas. Surgical operations were illustrated for the first time in the Cerrahiyyetu'l-Haniyye.[163]
  • Ligature: Introduced by Abulcasis in the Al-Tasrif, for the blood control of arteries in lieu of cauterization.[164]
  • Tracheotomy, correct description of: While tracheostomy may have possibly been portrayed on ancient Egyptian tablets, the first clear and correct description of the tracheotomy operation for suffocating patients was described by Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) in the 12th century.[165][166]

Navigational technology

The 32-point compass rose was invented by Arab navigators. Shown here is the one by Jorge de Aguiar (1492).


  • Baculus: The baculus, used for nautical astronomy, originates from Islamic Spain and was later used by Portuguese navigators for long-distance travel.[167]


  • Kamal: Arab navigators invented a rudimentary sextant known as a kamal, used for celestial navigation and for measuring the altitudes and latitudes of the stars, in the late 9th century.[173] They employed in the Indian Ocean from the 10th century,[174] and it was adopted by Indian navigators soon after,[175] followed by Chinese navigators some time before the 16th century.[176] The invention of the kamal allowed for the earliest known latitude sailing,[174] and was thus the earliest step towards the use of quantitative methods in navigation.[176]
  • Rudder with tackles, permanent sternpost-mounted: The Arabs used a sternpost-mounted rudder which differed technically from both its European and Chinese counterparts. On their ships "the rudder is controlled by two lines, each attached to a crosspiece mounted on the rudder head perpendicular to the plane of the rudder blade."[177] The earliest evidence comes from the Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Marifat al-Aqalim ('The Best Divisions for the Classification of Regions') written by al-Muqaddasi in 985.[178] According to Lawrence V. Mott, the "idea of attaching the rudder to the sternpost in a relatively permanent fashion, therefore, must have been an Arab invention independent of the Chinese."[177]
Minaret of the Great Mosque at Córdoba, where Abbas Ibn Firnas flew from in the 9th century.


  • Heavier-than-air glider: In 875, Abbas Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain made the first attempt at a heavier-than-air glider flight in aviation history.[179][180] This may have inspired two later attempts at flight: one by Jauhari who died in either 1003 or 1008 while attempting flight from the roof of a mosque in Nishapur, Khorasan, Iran, and the other by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England.[180]
  • Parachute: In 852, Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firnas) invented a primitive version of the parachute.[181][182][183][184] John H. Lienhard described it in The Engines of Our Ingenuity as follows: "In 852, a new Caliph and a bizarre experiment: A daredevil named Armen Firman decided to fly off a tower in Córdoba. He glided back to earth, using a huge winglike cloak to break his fall."[185]
  • Rocket flight: According to an account given by Evliya Çelebi in the 17th century, Lagâri Hasan Çelebi launched himself in a rocket from Sarayburnu, the point below Topkapı Palace. The flight was said to be undertaken at the time of the birth of Sultan Murad IV's daughter, in 1633. Lagari proclaimed before launch that he would "speak with Jesus in the heavens". Following ascension, Lagari reportedly descended by wing into the Bosporus. He was rewarded by the Sultan with gold and the rank of sipahi.[186]

Scientific instruments

Muslim astronomers developed a number of astronomical instruments, including several variations of the astrolabe, originally invented by Hipparchus in the 2nd century BCE, but with considerable improvements made to the device in the Muslim world. These instruments were used by Muslims for a variety of purposes. In the 10th century, Al-Sufi first described over 1,000 different uses of an astrolabe, related to astronomy, astrology, horoscopes, navigation, surveying, timekeeping, Qibla (direction to Mecca), Salah prayers, etc.[187]

Analog computers

The universal latitude-independent astrolabe was invented by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Arzachel) in Islamic Spain circa 1015. The one shown here is from Persia in the 18th century.
The spherical astrolabe was invented by Muslim astronomers. This is the earliest surviving example from the 14th century.
  • Equatorium: Invented by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Arzachel) in Islamic Spain circa 1015,[14] it was a mechanical analog computer device for finding the longitudes and positions of the moon, sun, and planet]s, without calculation using a geometrical model to represent the celestial body's mean and anomalistic position.
  • Saphaea: The first universal latitude-independent astrolabe, invented by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-Zarqālī (Arzachel) in 11th century Islamic Spain. Unlike its predecessors, it did not depend on the latitude of the observer, and could be used anywhere on the Earth.[188]
  • Fixed-wired knowledge processing machine: Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī's hodometer[190] was an early example of a fixed-wired knowledge processing machine in the early 11th century.[191]
  • Mechanical lunisolar calendar computer: Featured a gear train and gear-wheels, and was invented by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī.[192]
  • Mechanical geared astrolabe: Invented by Ibn Samh (c. 1020).[193]
  • Programmable analog computer: The castle clock, an astronomical clock invented by Al-Jazari in 1206, is considered to be the earliest programmable analog computer.[109] It displayed the zodiac, the solar and lunar orbits, a crescent moon-shaped pointer travelling across a gateway causing automatic doors to open every hour,[68][195] and five robotic musicians who play music when moved by levers operated by a camshaft attached to a water wheel. The length of day and night could be re-programmed every day in order to account for the changing lengths of day and night throughout the year.[109]
  • Mechanical geared astrolabe with calendar computer: Invented by Abi Bakr of Isfahan in 1235.[196]
  • Plate of Conjunctions: A computing instrument used to determine the time of day at which planetary conjunctions will occur,[197] and for performing linear interpolation,[198] invented by al-Kashi in the 15th century.
  • Planetary computer: The Plate of Zones, a mechanical planetary computer which could graphically solve a number of planetary problems, was invented by al-Kashi in the 15th century. It could predict the true positions in longitude of the sun and moon,[198] and the planets in terms of elliptical orbits;[199] the latitudes of the Sun, Moon, and planets; and the ecliptic of the Sun. The instrument also incorporated an alidade and ruler.[200]

Laboratory apparatus

Geber invented the alembic, the first still with a retort, and the first distillation device to fully purify chemical substances.
  • Alembic, still, and retort: Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) invented the alembic in the 8th century. This was the first still[3] with a retort,[201] and the first distillation device to fully purify chemical substances.
  • Refrigerated coil and refrigerated tubing: In the 11th century, Avicenna invented the refrigerated coil, which condenses aromatic vapours.[205][206] This was a breakthrough in distillation technology and he made use of it in his steam distillation process, which requires refrigerated tubing, to produce essential oils.[7]
  • Thermometer and air thermometer: Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) in the 11th century.[207]

Mural instruments

The first sextant was built in Ray, Iran by Abu-Mahmud al-Khujandi in 994. The earliest surviving sextant is Ulugh Beg's mural "Fakhri Sextant" constructed in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, during the 15th century, pictured above.
  • Almucantar quadrant: Invented in the medieval Islamic world. It employed the use of trigonometry. The term "almucantar" is itself derived from Arabic.[209]
  • Horary quadrant: For specific latitude]s, by al-Khwarizmi in 9th century Baghdad.[208]
  • Sine quadrant: - also known as the "Sinecal Quadrant", the Arabic term for it is "Rubul Mujayyab" – used for solving trigonometric problems and for astronomical calculations, by al-Khwarizmi in 9th century Baghdad.[208]
  • Quadrans Vetus: Meaning "Old Quadrant", this was a universal horary quadrant which could be used for any latitude and at any time of the year to determine the time, as well as the times of Salah, invented by al-Khwarizmi in 9th century Baghdad. This was the second most widely used astronomical instrument during the Middle Ages after the astrolabe. One of its main purposes in the Islamic world was to determine the times of Salah prayers.[210]
  • Quadrans Novus: An astrolabic quadrant invented in Egypt in the 11th century or 12th century, and later known in Europe as the "Quadrans Novus" (New Quadrant).[211]
  • Sextant: The first sextant was constructed in Ray, Iran, by Abu-Mahmud al-Khujandi in 994. It was a very large sextant that achieved a high level of accuracy for astronomical measurements, which he described his in his treatise, On the obliquity of the ecliptic and the latitudes of the cities.[212] In the 15th century, Ulugh Beg constructed the mural "Fakhri Sextant", which had a radius of approximately 36 meters. Constructed in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the arc was finely constructed with a staircase on either side to provide access for the assistants who performed the measurements.

Optical instruments

  • Observation tube: The "observation tube" (without lens) was invented by al-Battani (Albatenius) (853-929) and first described by al-Biruni (973-1048). These observation tubes were later adopted in Europe, where they influenced the development of the telescope.[213]
  • Optics: Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), with his Book of Optics (1021), refuted the emission theory of vision, and correctly explained and proved the modern intromission theory of vision, through extensive experimentation. [214] and visual perception,[215].
  • Camera obscura: Ibn al-Haytham worked out that the smaller the hole, the better the picture, and set up the first camera obscura,[6] a precursor to the modern camera.
  • Magnifying glass: The earliest evidence of "a magnifying device, a convex lens forming a magnified image", dates back the Book of Optics published by Ibn al-Haytham in 1021. The Latin translation of his work was instrumental to the later inventions of eyeglasses,[216] the telescope,[217] and the microscope.[218]

Other instruments

An alidade (al-idhâdah "ruler" in Arabic).
  • Alidade: Invented in the Islamic world. The term "alidade" is itself derived from Arabic word al-idhâdah "ruler".
  • Astrometric devices: Produced in Islamic Spain around 1015.
  • Astronomical compass: The first astronomical uses of the magnetic compass is found in a treatise on astronomical instruments written by the Yemeni sultan al-Ashraf in 1282. This was the first reference to the compass in astronomical literature.[220]
  • Compendium instrument: A multi-purpose astronomical instrument, first constructed by the Muslim astronomer Ibn al-Shatir in the 13th century. His compendium featured an alidade and polar sundial among other things. Al-Wafa'i developed another compendium in the 15th century which he called the "equatorial circle", which also featured a horizontal sundial. These compendia later became popular in Renaissance Europe.[221]
  • Shadow square: An instrument used to determine the linear height of an object, in conjunction with the alidade for angular observations, invented by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī in 9th-century Baghdad.[222]

Timekeeping devices

A sundial in Seville, Andalusia. The first universal and polar-axis sundials were invented by Muslim engineers.
The elephant clock from Al-Jazari's manuscript in 1206. This was the earliest clock to employ a flow regulator, a closed-loop system, and an automaton like a cuckoo clock].

Astronomical clocks

Muslim astronomers and engineers constructed a variety of highly accurate astronomical clocks for use in their observatories. [34]

  • Timekeeping astrolabe: In the 10th century, al-Sufi described over 1,000 different uses of an astrolabe, including timekeeping, particularly for the times of Salah prayers and Ramadan.[187]
  • Geared mechanical astrolabe: Featured a calendar computer and gear-wheels, and was invented by Abi Bakr of Isfahan in 1235.[196]
  • Monumental water-powered astronomical clocks: Al-Jazari invented monumental water powered astronomical clocks which displayed moving models of the sun, moon, and stars. His largest astronomical clock displayed the zodiac and the solar and lunar orbits. Another innovative feature of the clock was a pointer which travelled across the top of a gateway and caused automatic doors to open every hour.[68]

Clocks with gears and escapements

  • Geared clock: The first geared clock was invented by the 11th-century Arab engineer Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi in Islamic Iberia; it was a water clock that employed both segmental and epicyclic gearing.[14] Other monumental water clocks constructed by medieval Muslim engineers also employed complex gear trains and arrays of automata.[223] The first European clock to employ these complex gears was the astronomical clock created by Giovanni de Dondi in c. 1365.[14]
  • Weight-driven mercury clock: A mercury clock, employing a mercury escapement mechanism[223] and a clock face similar to an astrolabe dial, was described in a Spanish language work for Alfonso X in 1277, compiled from earlier Arabic sources that likely date back to the 11th century.[14] The Jewish author of the relevant section, Rabbi Isaac, constructed the mercury clock using principles described by a philosopher named "Iran", identified with Heron of Alexandria (fl. 1st century AD), on how heavy objects may be lifted.[224] Knowledge of the mercury clock was later transmitted to other parts of Europe through translations.[14][34]
  • Weight-driven water clock: Arab engineers invented weight-driven water clocks, where heavy floats were used as weights and a constant-head system was used as an escapement mechanism,[14] which was present in in the hydraulic controls they used to make heavy floats descend at a slow and steady rate.[223]
  • Weight-driven water-powered scribe clock: In 1206, Al-Jazari invented some of the earliest weight-driven water clocks, including the water-powered scribe clock. This water-powered portable clock was a meter high and half a meter wide. The scribe with his pen was synonymous to the hour hand of a modern clock. This is an example of an ingenious water system by Al-Jazari.[51][225] Al-Jazari's famous water-powered scribe clock was reconstructed successfully at the Science Museum (London) in 1976.


  • Universal sundial: A universal sundial for all latitudes, used for timekeeping and for the determination of the times of Salah, was produced in 9th-century Baghdad.[226]
  • Navicula de Venetiis: A universal horary dial used for accurate timekeeping by the sun and stars, and could be observed from any latitude, invented in 9th century Baghdad.[227] This was later considered the most sophisticated timekeeping instrument of the Renaissance.[168]
  • Polar-axis sundial: The ancient sundials were nodus-based with straight hour-lines, they indicated unequal hours—also called temporary hours—that varied with the seasons, since every day was divided into twelve equal segments; thus, hours were shorter in winter and longer in summer. The idea of using hours of equal time length throughout the year was the innovation of Ibn al-Shatir in 1371, based on earlier developments in trigonometry by Muhammad ibn Jābir al-Harrānī al-Battānī (Albategni). Ibn al-Shatir was aware that "using a gnomon that is parallel to the Earth's axis will produce sundials whose hour lines indicate equal hours on any day of the year." His sundial is the oldest polar-axis sundial still in existence. The concept later appeared in Western sundials from at least 1446.[228][229]

Water clocks

  • Elephant clock: The elephant clock described by al-Jazari in 1206 is notable for several innovations. It was the first clock in which an automaton reacted after certain intervals of time, which in this case was a humanoid robot in the form of a mahout striking a cymbal and a mechanical bird chirping like a cuckoo clock; the first mechanism to employ a flow regulator; and the earliest example of a closed-loop system in a mechanism.[230] The float regulator employed in the clock later had an important influence during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, when it was employed in the boiler of a steam engine and in domestic water systems.[14]
  • New water clocks discovery in the Book of Secrets is shown in the Museum of Islamic Art; Doha, Qatar. References here: The Book of Secrets

Other inventions

Al-Kindi's 9th century Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages was the first book on cryptanalysis and frequency analysis.
Geomantic instrument, Egypt or Syria, 1241-1242 CE, made by Muhammad ibn Khutlukh al Mawsuli. British Museum.
The lute was adopted from the Arab world. 1568 print.
The Arabic four-stringed oud was the ancestor of the lute and guitar.
The Arabic rebab was the ancestor of the rebec and the violin.

Other inventions from the Islamic world include:

  • Cryptanalysis and frequency analysis: In cryptology, the first known recorded explanation of cryptanalysis was given by 9th-century Arabian polymath, Al-Kindi (also known as "Alkindus" in Europe), in A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages. This treatise includes the first description of the method of frequency analysis.[234] It has been suggested that close textual study of the Qur'an first brought to light that Arabic has a characteristic letter frequency. Its use spread, and similar systems were widely used in European states by the time of the Renaissance.
  • Experimental psychology: Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) is considered to be the founder of experimental psychology,[235] for his experimental approach to the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions.[236]
  • Geomancy: The most widely accepted origin for this practice is in the medieval Arabic world.[237]
  • Fireproof paper, glow-in-the-dark ink, rust-free iron, and waterproof textile: According to Ismail al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, "In response to Jafar al-Sadik's wishes, [Jabir ibn Hayyan] invented a kind of paper that resisted fire, and an ink that could be read at night. He invented an additive which, when applied to an iron surface, inhibited rust and when applied to a textile, would make it water repellent."[238]
  • Fustian: The original medieval fustian was a stout but respectable cloth with a cotton weft and a linen warp, derived from El-Fustat, the name of a suburb of Cairo where this cloth was originally manufactured.[239][240]
  • Graph paper, and orthogonal and regular grids: The first known use of graph paper dates back to the medieval Islamic world, where weavers often carefully drew and encoded their patterns onto graph paper prior to weaving.[241] Islamic quadrants used for various astronomical and timekeeping purposes from the 10th century also introduced markings with orthogonal and regular grids that are still identical to modern graph paper.[242][243]
  • Persian carpet and cheque system[6]
  • Scientific method, experimental science, and experimental physics: The scientific method was pioneered by the Muslim scientist and physicist, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), who emphasized the role of experimentation and mathematics in obtaining the results in his Book of Optics (1021).[244] Due to his formulation of a modern quantitative, empirical and experimental approach to physics and science, he is also considered the pioneer of experimental science[245] and experimental physics,[246] and some have described him as the "first scientist" for these reasons.[247]

Musical instruments

  • Albogue, alboka, hornpipe, clarinets, and single-reed instrument: The earliest known hornpipes, clarinets and single-reed instruments were the albogue and alboka, both derived from the "al-bûq" (البوق) (literally "the trumpet" or "the horn") used in medieval Arabic music and Islamic music. The instrument was brought into Iberia by the Arab conquest.[248]
  • Guitar, lute, and oud: The modern guitar (qitar in Arabic) is descended from the four-string oud brought by the Moors after the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the 8th century, and which evolved into the modern lute.[249] The four-string guitar introduced by the Moors had eventually evolved into two types in Spain: the guitarra morisca (Moorish guitar) which had a rounded back, wide fingerboard and several soundholes, and then by 1200, the guitarra latina (Latin guitar) which resembled the modern guitar with one soundhole and a narrower neck.[250]
  • Hurdy gurdy and stringed keyboard instrument: The earliest stringed instrument with a musical keyboard, an ancestor of the piano, was the hurdy gurdy, but its origins are uncertain. According to a theory proposed by Marianne Bröcker, an instrument similar to the hurdy gurdy is first mentioned in an Arabic musical compendium written by Al Zirikli in the 10th century.[251]
  • Long-distance organ: A long-distance hydraulic organ that could be heard from sixty miles away was first described in the medieval Arabic treatise Sirr al-asrar and later translated into Latin by Roger Bacon in the 13th century.[252]
  • Mechanical musical instrument and automatic hydraulic organ: The Banū Mūsā brothers invented "the earliest known mechanical musical instrument", in this case a hydropowered organ which played interchangeable cylinders automatically. According to Charles B. Fowler, this "cylinder with raised pins on the surface remained the basic device to produce and reproduce music mechanically until the second half of the nineteenth century."[253]
  • Programmable automatic flute player: The Banū Mūsā invented an automatic flute player which appears to have been the first programmable machine, and which they described in their Book of Ingenious Devices.[127]
  • Timpani, naker, and naqareh: The modern timpani (kettle drum) evolved from the naker, the direct ancestor of most timpani, were were derived from the Arabic naqareh and brought to 13th century Continental Europe by Saracens and Crusaders.[248][254]
  • Rebec and rebab: The rebec was in use since the 10th century,[255] and was derived from the rebab which originated in medieval Arabic music and Islamic music.[248]

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