5 things you don’t know were invented by Arabs

Do you know that some of the objects we use every day nowadays were invented by Arab people? Some inventions from Arab countries have indeed inspired the western ones to make more sophisticated tools. Only western countries have deliberately ignored or downplayed Arabs’ role in the European civilization modernization. In the Middle Ages, scholars from the Arab world have yet transmitted their knowledge in all areas of science, from mathematics, astronomy, medicine, warfare techniques, chemistry, marine navigation, agriculture, vocabulary and even art of living. These are also the Arab scholars who spread the knowledge of Greek civilization, Roman, Persian, Chinese and Saharan in the Western world. Here are 5 objects and innovations from the Middle East.

Photo cameras

It is the Iraqi scholar Al-Hassan Ibn Al-Haithamqui who invented the first obscura camera which inspired modern camera devices. The camera name is also derived from the Arabic word “qamara” meaning a dark or private room. This Arab scholar was born in 965 in Basra and died in 1039 in Cairo. He was a mathematician, astronomer and physicist. He discovered that light enters the eye and not the reverse. He invented the first pinhole camera after studying the way light passes through the window shutters. He was also the first scientist who transformed physics, which used to be regarded as a philosophical activity, in a concrete experimental activity.

The coffee

According to legend, this is an Arab shepherd named Khalid, while trying to keep his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia who noticed that these animals seemed more vibrant after eating some kind of bay. He boiled the grain and created the first infusion of coffee in the world. One thing is sure, coffee was first spread in Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the late 15th century before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to arrive in Venice around 1645 and in England in the mid-17th century. The Arabic “qahwa” became the Turkish “kahve”, then the Italian “caffe” and the English “coffee”.


“Arabic numerals” we use today have been adopted by Muslims and inherited from Indian science. The word “cypher” comes from the Arabic word “art sifr”, and is literally translated empty and designating 0. Arab world mathematicians have also created many inventions in the mathematics history. The word “algorithm” comes for example from the great mathematician name Al Khwarizmi, the father of algebra and the author of the Kitab al-Jabr. Unknown designed by the letter “x” is “chay” meaning “thing” was also invented by the Arabs. The purposes of these inventions have made calculations more practical.

The arabesque

The ornament in the Arab way, known as the arabesque, was obviously invented by the Arabs. It mentions a steady pace, an endless movement, unrelenting change, a promise of infinity. According to the Qur’an, paradise is “a beautiful garden with fruits that will be at your fingertips”, the reason why arabesque is used in most areas and techniques: illustration, vegetal ornament etc.

Medicine practice

Arabs are pioneers in the field of medicine in the Middle Ages. They used antiquity knowledge and Hippocrates and Galen’s teachings to develop their own knowledge. Arab doctors have refined the art of diagnosis and clinical practice and have established the regulations of the medicine profession. They discovered the virtues of alcohol, vitriol, turpentine, ether or mercury, the anesthetic properties of opium and cannabis. They also studied many plants, animal drugs, mineral extracts, ointments, poultices, tablets to be used in medical treatment.

Muslim surgeons were already using precision instruments like scalpel in these times. The construction of the first hospitals in Baghdad and Cairo enabled Arab to improve and disseminate hygiene principles.

The Avicenna’s Canon encyclopedia is the greatest Arab legacy in the medicine field. Nearly 800 remedies are presented inside, results of his chemical and pharmacological research. Drugs, still, alcohol, benzoin, benzene, elixir, soda, talc, amber, saffron, sandalwood, senna … are Arab origin terms. Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1037) found meningitis and pleurisy descriptions and wrote over 100 medical and philosophical books.

3 thoughts on “5 things you don’t know were invented by Arabs

  1. I like that you are showing the history of these professions tracing back to the Middle East. But it is important to note that Avicenna, Khwarizmi, Al- Razi, and many of the famous scholars of the “Islamic Golden Age” period were actually Persian and not Arab. They were made to take Arab names by the caliphate rulers because of being in academia. We learned this is in my “Arabic Culture and History” class in college

  2. Now Khwarizmi and Avicenna are Arab world and Arab legacies??! You certainly have confused “Arab” with “Muslim”, because up until now, they’ve been renowned Persian figures! There are lots of Muslim Arab figures you could’ve simply included here, though.

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