9 World Changing Inventions from the Middle East

The Arab mind is golden.

1. Algebra

The term algebra is derived from Al Jebr (الجبر ) in Arabic which means “reunion of two broken parts”. Earliest traces of this mathematical phenomenon have been discovered in Babylon (Ancient Syria/Iraq) and Egypt circa 1 million BC. Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi of Baghdad (780–850) wrote The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, which established algebra as a mathematical discipline in its own right.

Al-Khwarizmi’s notes


2. University

The world’s first university was founded in 859, Morocco by Fatima Al Fihri and her sister.


3. Human flight

Hundreds of years before the Wright brothers, a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. Apart from his penchant for risk taking, the inventor of Cordoba also gave birth to a number of other inventions including; a means of manufacturing colourless glass, corrective lenses and a process for cutting rock crystal – ending Spain’s dependence upon Egypt for cut quartz.

4. Soap

The earliest traces of soap have been found on Babylonian tablets from 2200 BC alongside Ancient Egyptian records of bathing which cite a mixture of oils, salts and ashes. Documents describing the step by step process of creating soap date back to the 12th century and over the next 100 years, the product became mass produced in Palestine, Morocco and Syria.

5. Distillation

The son of a Syrian, Jabir Ibn Hayyan, has almost 3000 bodies of work attributed to his name. His passion for alchemy (Al Kemia,الكيمياء ) made him the creator of numerous, now basic, laboratory techniques and tools including crystallisation and various types of alchemical distillation.


6. Fountain pen

The inky capsule with which you carefully printed out spelling exercises at school was invented in 953 Egypt when the Sultan demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes.

7. Toothbrush

The Prophet Muhammed popularised the use of the first toothbrush in 600 AD. Still in common use today, the Meswak, a type of bark, is used to clean teeth and freshen breath.


8. Hospitals

The first medical centre, as we recognise them today, was founded in 972 in Cairo. The Ahmad Ibn Tulun Hospital provided free care to anyone who needed it.


9. Water saving polymers and fire extinguishing technology (2014)

Ibrahim M. Alalim, a Saudi engineer, has invented a polymer which absorbs 600 times its own weight in water that will help save H2O for agricultural purposes and has developed a foam which is able to put out fires of up to 2000 degrees in under 30 seconds.


This list is only a drop in the ocean of Middle Eastern inventions.  Let us hope for a future full of greater discoveries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s