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johnny-automatic-marching-band-1The m
arching band was not a Muslim invention.

Journalist Sebastian Christ of the Huffington Post website (after Huffington Post became a subsidiary of wireless service giant Verizon) made many errors in his list of the greatest scientific discoveries and inventions of Islamic Civilization.
Claim #1. “Al-Khwarizmi, for whom algorithms are named, is known as the developer of modern algebra.”
Although the word “algorithm” is named after al-Khwarizmi, algebra and algorithms were invented by Hindus in India, but were taught using actual numbers in examples. The Hindus arranged quadratic equations into categories, and gave step-by-step instructions for solving each category. The mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria invented the concept of using letters of the alphabet to represent unknowns, symbols instead of abbreviations for + – * ÷ and a symbol that means equals.
Al-Khwarizmi added the symbols of Diophantus to Hindu algebra. Later Muslim mathematicians added symbols instead of words for squared and square root, and investigated additional categories of algebraic equations.
Claim#2. Huffington Post admits that Muslims did not invent the frayed-twig toothbrush, but credits the Muslims with making the frayed-twig toothbrush “known to a wider public”.
The frayed-twig toothbrush was in use in many parts of the world prior to the birth of the prophet Mohammed, but the conquests by Muslim armies may have spread its use to peoples who had not previously been using it.

Claim #3. Marching bands “date back” to the Ottoman Turks.
Non-Muslim nomadic Mongols were the first to use marching bands. The entire population and their herds of grazing animals were constantly on the move, never staying in one place more than a few weeks. Each tribe (band) of Mongols had its own marching band to communicate signals to coordinate the massive migration.
After the Mongols converted to Islam (probably Shia Sevener “Ismaili”), the Mongols gave a gift of a marching band to the Ottoman Turk ruler.
The Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta dictated to a scribe that Ottoman Turk marching bands were only a pale imitation of the magnificent Mongolian marching bands. In pre-islamic times, nomadic Mongolians used marching bands to direct the migration of people and their grazing animals.
Although many ancient civilizations blew a horn to give signals to its fighting men, Europeans probably borrowed the idea of a marching band from the Ottoman Turks.

Claim#4. The guitar “has its origins in the Arabic oud”.
It is probably true that musical instruments brought to Muslim Spain by Muslims were the ancestors of the lute, which is an  ancestor of the guitar. However, the Arab oud probably had no frets. That fact, and the similarity of the words guitar and setar, make it likely that Persian musical instruments (such as the pre-Islamic Persian setar, which had frets and 3 strings) had a huge influence on the guitar.

Claim #5A Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) “was the first person to describe how the eye works”.
Alhazen copied the incorrect Greek theory of Galen of Pergamon that vision took place in what they called the “crystalline humor” (which we now call the lens), did not know it was a lens, and did not know the function of the retina. They mistakenly thought that the optic nerve was connected to the “crystalline humor” (lens).

Claim #5B “up until” Alhazen, scientists believed that vision consisted of the eye emitting rays that bounced off the object and returned to the eye.
Different Greeks had different theories about light. Alhazen copied his entire theory and proof from a Greek named Euclid who had written that if we shut our eyes and later open our eyes to view a star, we can see the star instantly without waiting for a ray to make a round trip from from the eye to the star and back, thus proving [unless light travels at an infinite speed) that the ray was produced by the star, not by the eye.
Claim #5C Alhazen “discovered” that curved glass could magnify things.
Alhazen copied the concept of magnifying lenses from the Romans. An engraver’s magnifying lens was unearthed from ancient Pompeii.
Claim #5D Alhazen “wrote important scholarly texts on astronomy”.
Alhazen wrote many astronomy books comparing what Aristotle and the Roman Empire Greek astronomer Ptolemy had written. Alhazen harshly criticized Ptolemy for teaching a theory in which Allah permitted planets to travel in paths that were not perfect circles, but offered no alternative theory to account for the observations. [The non-circular paths were caused by both Ptolemy and Alhazen being sure that the sun and planets traveled around the Earth.]
Alhazen harshly criticized Ptolemy for teaching a theory in which the predicted variation in the apparent relative sizes of the sun and the moon were about twice those actually observed during eclipses of the sun.  [The error was caused by both Ptolemy and Alhazen not knowing that gravity causes the moon to travel faster when near the Earth than when further away from the Earth. To a lesser degree this is also true of the Earth’s path around the sun.] Alhazen offered no alternative theory to account for this observation.
The Greeks knew that stars on the horizon can be seen for about 36 seconds after they should have set, but could not explain why.
Alhazen’s contribution to astronomy was correctly explaining that the reason was that differences in density of the air in the atmosphere was refracting the light.
Claim #5E Alhazen “wrote important scholarly texts on meteorology”.
Alhazen repeated a false theory of Seneca the Younger that rainbows were caused by clouds that were huge concave reflecting mirrors.
Alhazen’s explanation of why the sun looked red at sunset (that sunlight traveling through more atmosphere weakens the light, turning it red) was not correct.
Aristotle, Seneca the Younger and Alhazen wrote about halos (probably about what is now called the 22 degree halo). Seneca the Younger incorrectly thought that light from the moon or sun caused a circular cloud to form. Aristotle was closer to a correct answer, writing that tiny particles in the air caused an optical illusion by reflecting the light into a circular pattern. Aristotle did not know what these particles were made of [we now know they are ice crystals] and did not know that it was caused by refraction rather than reflection.

I have not been able to locate the details of exactly what was written about halos by Alhazen.

Claim #6. Coffee brewing began by Muslims brewing it in Ethiopia, spread to Yemen and then to the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Turks brought it to England, but it arrived in Germany as a result of the Turks losing a battle in Vienna, resulting in Christians looting the army’s coffee beans.
Huffington Post’s explanation of the history of coffee brewing is correct

Claim #7. “The first modern hospital with nurses and a training centre … all patients received free health care”
In pre-Muslim times, the Byzantines had hospitals with training centers. [I presume the Byzantine doctors had assistants similar to nurses.]
The laws of the Byzantine Empire specified how many months of the year all medical doctors were required to work without pay at a free hospital.

Claim #8A. Abu al-Kasim in Muslim Spain was the first person to describe an ectopic pregnancy.
This claim is true.
Claim #8B. Abu al-Kasim invented some new surgical procedures.
Although most of Muslim surgery was copied from the Byzantines, some Muslim doctors, especially in Spain, invented procedures never mentioned in the Byzantine medical books, such as diverting urine to the anus, and treating fracture of the thumb.
Claim #8C Muslim surgeons wrote medical books that were later translated into Latin and used in Europe.
This claim is true.
The below claims were omitted in Huffington Post’s revised list:
Claim #9 Arabs invented Arabic numerals.
Arabs copied Arabic numerals from the Hindus of India.
Claim #10 Al-Zahrawi invented surgical needles, scalpels, surgical thread, catgut and surgical scissors.
Surgical needles, surgical thread, and catgut were copied by Muslim surgeons from the Byzantines. Nearly all the surgical instruments used by Al-Zahrawi have been found in Roman or pre-Islamic Byzantine archeological excavations.
Al-Zahrawi did modify a Byzantine forceps to remove a dead fetus. [Byzantine surgeons used their hands to do this.]

Scissors were in use in ancient Egypt in 1500 BC, and were used in surgery by the Romans. Delicate forceps (that look somewhat like scissors) for grasping things were used by Greek and Roman surgeons. Sebastian Christ is actually misquoting a claim on Muslim websites that Muslims of the Islamic Golden Golden Age used delicate scissors in eye surgery. These were almost certainly Roman delicate forceps, not delicate cutting tools. The Damascus steel (invented by Hindus in India) was not strong enough to make delicate cutting surgical instruments. Such delicate cutting surgical instruments were not used until after Pierre Berthier in France invented high-chromium “stainless” steel (also called razor blade steel) in 1821.

Image by johnny_automatic, via openclipart

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