The Islamic Golden Age is generally agreed to have run between the 8th and 14th Centuries AD. It was a period of time noted for a flourish in Islamic culture, economic and scientific development.
It ended with the devastating Mongol Invasion and the subsequent Seige of Baghdad in 1258 AD. Throughout this time, Islamic thinkers were able to develop some interesting devices, concepts, architecture, and instruments that helped improve mankind as a whole.
In the following article, we’ll tackle some commonly asked questions about Islam and highlight seven of their most important inventions throughout their “Golden Age”.
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Who is the first Muslim in the world?
The answer to this depends on what is meant by the first Muslim. According to sources like definitions.net the word “Muslim” means: –
“One who submits to God”
In this sense, it follows that the ‘first Muslim’ has to be the faith’s founding prophet, Muhammad.
What God do Muslims believe in?
The “big three” religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all believe in the same god. While they may give God different names, it is the same God.
This is the God of Abraham, who is commonly called Yahweh by Jews and Christians, and Allah by Muslims.
What did Muslim mathematicians invent?
One area that the Islamic world made significant contributions to the world was in mathematics. Most of their work would build on the great leaps and bounds made by Greek polymaths like Archimedes and Euclid.
They were able. for example, to fully develop the decimal-place value system. Islamic mathematicians also made the first systematic study of algebra and made huge advances in geometry and trigonometry.
1. Horizontal-plane Windmills first appeared during the Islamic Golden Age
Whilst early forms of windmills were developed by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st Century AD, horizontal plane windmills were first described by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan in the 10th Century AD.
These windmills, technically called panemone windmills, were made of six to twelve sails that were covered in reed matting or cloth. Like later “true” windmills, these ones were used to grind grain or draw up water from aquifers.
Vertical windmills would begin to appear in Europe from the 12th Century. It is unclear whether these were developed from earlier panemone ones that become widespread throughout the Middle and Far East from the 10th Century AD.
2. The Astrolabe was refined by Muslim astronomers
Astrolabes are a blend between a planisphere (basic star chart mechanical computer) and dioptra (sighting tube).
These mechanical navigational aids are very ancient devices indeed. From archaeological and literary evidence they appear to have first been invented during the Hellenistic period in Greece between 220 and 150 BC.
They were written about extensively by Theon of Alexandria in the 4th Century AD as well. Astrolabes continued to be widely used throughout the Greek-speaking world throughout the Byzantine period following the fall of the Roman Empire.
During the medieval period, Muslim astronomers refined the technology further by adding angular scales to its design. They also added circles indicating azimuths on the horizon.
The first person credited with this new innovation was the eighth-century mathematician Muhammad al-Fazari.
These modified devices were widely used thereafter, and were used for navigation and finding the Qibla in Mecca.
3. The Oud was an Islamic invention
The Oud, a short-neck lute-like, pear-shaped stringed instrument, first appeared in the Islamic world during their “Golden Age”. For many musical historians, it is widely considered the forerunner to the European Lute.
Interestingly that is not the end of the story. Ouds, in turn, might well have been derived from earlier Persian barbats, and other similar instruments have been used in the Middle East for thousands of years.
Evidence of the first description of the Oud comes from the 11th Century Muslim musician Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham. Today the Oud is still widely used around the Middle East and is still a fond favorite amongst musicians around the world.
4. The Rebab may be the forerunner to the fiddle
The Rebab, also known as a jawza or djooza, is a type of stringed instrument that first appears during the 8th Century AD. It quickly spread around the Islamic world via trade routes throughout much of North Africa, the Middle and the Far East, and parts of Europe.
Not all Rebabs were bowed, but those that were had/have a characteristic spike on their base. For this reason, it can also be called a spike fiddle in certain parts of the world.
It is often claimed that the Rebab is the forerunner of all string bowed instruments that followed it, like the fiddle (10th Century AD) in Europe. Whatever the case, one of the oldest stringed bowed instruments, called the ravanastron, first appeared in Sri Lanka many thousands of years before.
5. The Marching Military Band might be an Islamic thing
Instruments like drums and bugles have been used by standing armies for millennia. In fact, drums and gongs, in particular, are mentioned in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” almost 2,500 years ago.
The Roman Legions were also noted for their use of horns performed by special professionals called Aeneators.
But, these were mainly used for giving instructions and orders to units on the battlefield and not necessarily primarily for ceremonial purposes. The first example of an official military band for non-combat activities comes from the Ottoman army around the 11th Century AD.
Called a “Nevbet”, these prototype military bands would eventually become the famed Mehtaran of the Ottoman Empire.
6. Magnifying glasses might also be an Islamic invention
The first written evidence of a device similar to a magnifying glass comes from Aristophanes‘ 5th Century BC work, “The Clouds“. Within this document, he jokes about how lenses could be used to ignite tinder were sold in pharmacies of the time.
Pliny the Elder also later rights about glass globes filled with water could be used to cauterize wounds. Seneca also wrote about how such devices could be used to read letters “no matter how small or dim”.
But, the first description of a convex lens used for magnification comes from the Book of Optics by Ibn al-Haytham in the 11th Century AD. This book was later translated into Latin which appears to have introduced (well re-introduced) the concept to Europe during the 13th Century.
7. Paper Mills might be an Islamic invention too
Paper Mills, or factories that make paper, might well have first appeared in the Islamic world during their “Golden Age”. But the problem is that there is scant physical evidence, and documents of the time are often confusing and conflicting.
What is “known” is that human and animal powered mills were used by Muslim and Chinese papermakers around this time. But rather than a dedicated building, we might generally call a “mill”, references often refer to production centers called, roughly “paper manufactories”.
If true, then an early candidate could be “mills” that may have existed during the Abbasid-era in Baghdad in the 8th Century AD. Whatever the case, the first clear evidence for a paper mill dates to 1282 AD in the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon.
Source: Interesting Engineering