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Arab Inventions That Changed the World

posted on: Nov 4, 2021

By: Third-Party Arab America Contributor

The Arab world has given human civilization many gifts (inventions) that have changed the way we live our lives today. In fact, most of us probably owe our everyday habits to the inventions created in the Middle East. 

Coffee

Most of us have a morning routine. It helps get everything done first thing when our brains haven’t quite reached their optimum operating level. It usually involves showering, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, and pouring ourselves a cup of coffee. 

If you enjoy this latter ritual, then you owe your thanks to the 9th-century Yemeni people who used the caffeine of the beans to help them stay up late. 

Coffee later made its way to Egypt and then Turkey by the 1200s. However, it would be another 400 years before Europeans were able to enjoy the delicious morning kick provided by coffee. 

Playing Cards

Today, we mostly know playing cards as decks of 52 cards split into four suits and numbered from ace to king. They play an important role in pop culture, with references in songs like Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ and in books, like the Queen of Hearts’ courtiers from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

We still use playing cards to play games like blackjack and baccarat, both in person and online. Even as online casinos have risen to prominence, cards have remained mostly unchanged, retaining the same suits, numbers, and pictures. Playing cards still also play a prominent role in slots games, as they did when the machines were first invented in the late 19th century. Despite new technology allowing developers to create hundreds of different themed titles that range from space to the wild west, most continue to feature the same card symbols.

The exact origins of playing cards are hotly debated by historians, but some have argued that Persia and Arabia are where the uniform suits first appeared. 

Mamluk playing cards contained 48 separate pieces and were divided into four suits, comprising 10 “pip” cards and two “court” cards, which is very similar to what most of us play with today. 

Hospitals and Surgery

The western world has developed many marvelous treatments and interventions that can prevent, cure, and treat all sorts of ailments, but without the Arab world, there would be nowhere for these treatments to be administered. 

While doctors have always had to work from somewhere, the hospitals that we know today, with their separate wards and facilities designed to help train new medical professionals, originated in Egypt. 

This first of its kind was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital which was founded back in the year 872. It treated all that needed it, regardless of who they were or whether they had the means to pay for it. 

Just over a century later, Abu al-Qusim Al-Zahrawi is credited with pioneering many different surgical procedures, including the caesarian section, early forms of plastic surgery, and dissolving stitches. 

Music from the Arab World

We take music for granted today. It soundtracks our life, helps us relax, improves concentration, and is an important part of dancing. There are also many commercial applications for music too. 

In the 20th century, it was used in factories to help improve the pace of production line workers. In fact, it was so effective at this that the BBC created a daily radio show called “Music While You Work” which aired for several decades. This same principle, but in reverse, is deployed by many shops to make us walk more slowly while we browse because this has been shown to increase sales. 

It’s also used in marketing through a technique called sonic branding which helps to create associations with brands. Famous examples including McDonald’s with its “I’m Lovin’ It” tune and Intel’s “Intel Inside” jingle. 

While music has touched just about every part of our lives today, none of this would have been possible without the advancements made in the Arab World. Musical scales are believed to have been derived from the Arabic alphabet, while many famous European instruments are descendants of the lute and rahab. 

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