Thursday, July 9, 2009

1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, by Salim T. S. Al-Hassani

This is a must-read book for anyone who teaches world history or is interested in it. Western education skips from the advances of Archimedes, in the 200's BCE, all the way to Gutenberg's press in the 1400's CE. Was all the world in the dark ages for 1,600 years -- or just Europe?

The answer: just Europe. While Europeans where burning people at the stake for inappropriate religious leanings, disdaining bathing and general hygiene, and wandering about in a stupor, the Islamic civilizations of Turkey and the middle-east were thriving.

Some examples: the camera, invented by Ibn al-Haitham, born 965. Surgical instruments, by Al-Zahrawi born 936, and a complete (and correct) model of blood circulation by Ibn Nafis, born 1210. Free healthcare in hospitals - with druggists, barbers, and physicians - existed in the 1100s, with health inspectors to assure standards.

Algebra, of course, is due to Al-Khwarizmi, born 780. Did you know that coffee dates to the 8th century, due to Khalid the goat hearder? The Arabic al-qahwa was served as coffee in Vienna's coffee houses in 1645.

Do you like your bath? The Islamic bath picked up from the Roman Tepidarium and Caldarium, and became an integral part of the culture, as cleanliness is linked to purity in the Quaran (e.g., 2:222). So warm baths were the norm in Islamic lands throughout the dark ages. Even in 1529, Sir John Treffy was opposed to bathing, writing, "many folke that hath bathed them in colde water have dyed." [Reference check: see "The old English herbals," Eleanour Rohde, 1922.] Smelly!

There are dozens more of well written examples in the book.

You get the idea that I'm a fan of this book. And horribly dismayed that in the West we largely manage to skip over the extraordinary advances that came from Islamic cultures.