The inventions and discoveries in scientific and medical advancement during the Islamic Golden Age between the 8th and 14th centuries have played an important role ever since in many fields. But even today, Muslim researchers and physicians are helping the fight against the pandemic. Here we look at some of these discoveries which are in use today in the fight against the Coronavirus.
Which Muslim discoveries are helping the fight against the pandemic today?
With the relentless onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, the first advice by the medical experts was to use items that were invented by Muslims, some over a thousand years ago:
- Ethanol discovery. The physician and alchemist, amongst other expertise, Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (854-932 CE) discovered ethanol. According to the American FDA, a product can be sold as a hand sanitizer if it contains ethyl alcohol (ethanol) as an active ingredient. The use of alcohol based hand gels has become an essential method in the fight against the Coronavirus today.
- Alcohol distillation. Although alcohol distillation existed earlier, it was the Muslims who extensively used the process for the distillation of alcohol which could then be used medically as in extracting the ethanol mentioned above, (Al-Kindi 800-873 CE mentioned the distillation of wine). Distilling is where a liquid made of two or more parts is separated by heating and cooling. This was an important discovery that is in use even today fighting the virus.
- Hard soap. Soap making became an established industry in the Islamic world much earlier than in Europe which at that time could only manufacture soft soaps from animal fats and fish oils which gave an unpleasant odour. The soap in the Middle East was made using olive oil which made it hard and manageable and pleasant to smell. This also meant it could be used for personal cleansing. Al-Razi described recipes for making soap in the 9th century. Since the start of this pandemic, soap has been the most effective form of prevention advised by experts.
- Clinical and drug trials. Ibn Sina (c. 980-1035 CE), among his many achievements, was his approach to scientifically test drugs for efficacy and dosage which in reality meant a structure was created for clinical trials for the first time. He also suggested ‘that in a trial, a remedy should be used in its natural state in disease without complications’. Today, the whole procedure of creating an effective vaccine comes about from many clinical trials, one after another, changing little parts and testing them, following a framework that can be reproduced exactly.
- Magnifying glass and the convex lens. Ibn al-Haytham (c. 965-1040 CE) is referred to as the ‘father of modern optics’. He created the first magnifying glass around 1020 CE and his book describes the use of a convex lens to create a magnified image which is the basis of great advancements in science. In the fight against the Coronavirus today, the magnifying glass plays an important role in equipment being able to see viruses so that they can be studied and countered.
- BioNTech vaccine. If you thought it was only in ‘ancient’ history that Muslims made great scientific and medical achievements, you would be wrong. Uğur Şahin and his wife Özlem Türeci, the co-founders of BioNTech, the company which developed the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved anywhere in the world, are Muslim. The vaccine was granted approval in December 2020 with the highest efficacy rate so far at 95% and is already helping hundreds of millions of people around the world. They are following in the great line of Muslim scientists who have researched to bring benefit to humanity.
There have been many other discoveries made by Muslim scientists throughout the ages. Many times they are overlooked in history books that we read, their names being Romanized or even completely ignored, as though nothing happened in between the Greco-Roman period and the Middle Ages. It is important that we read and learn about them so it can inspire us and our children.