Global impact of Muslim discoveries

Updated: Thursday May 8, 2014 MYT 7:23:17 AM

Global impact of Muslim discoveries


Muslims are benefiting from other people’s inventions, but in Malaysia all sorts of schemes are invented to relieve other Muslims of their money.

AS those who are familiar with Japan will know, their toilets are the best in the world. Not only are they clean and odourless, they have also invented toilets that clean, dry and warm you. They can even provide music while you sit on the potty.

Going to the bathroom is a pleasurable experience in Japan almost anywhere.

Now they have gone one step further. Being used to such wonderful toilets at home, the Japanese find the very different bathroom experiences abroad a great chore.

Not only is it difficult to find clean toilets everywhere, they often come equipped with nothing more than paper.

Only a limited number of countries have embraced the hand bidet.

As always, necessity is the mother of invention, certainly to the Japanese.

So they invented the natural follow-up to the toilet bidet: the portable toilet spray.

This is a small battery-operated device with a nozzle that you attach to a water bottle and instantly you have a spray to wash yourself with when you go to a “dry” toilet.

Now you can feel fresh wherever you go and don’t have to desperately search for acceptable toilets or carry wads of wet tissues with you.

Now the really amazing thing is this: getting clean after going to the toilet is a very Islamic thing to do.

But the people who invented the super-duper toilets and the portable toilet spray are Japanese who are mostly NOT Muslim.

Yet we are the ones who are enjoying and benefiting from their innovation.

This is not the first time that Muslims are benefiting from other people’s inventions.

I found a very cool clock that tells the Muslim prayer times designed by some young men from Holland.

A whole slew of Muslim products are made in Communist China.

Once upon a time, Muslim scientists and inventors devised many things that benefited the world.

It turns out that five inventions by Muslims that had a great global impact were coffee, algebra, degree-granting universities, military marching bands and cameras.

Coffee was apparently discovered by shepherds in Yemen and its popularity spread all over the Ottoman Empire and then to Europe.

People gathered in European coffee houses to discuss ideas that then led to the Enlightenment.

Today our people gather in coffee shops to mostly gossip.

Algebra may not be everybody’s favourite subject in school but it was one of the greatest contributions of the Muslim Golden Age to the modern world.

Developed by the great scientist and mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi, who lived from 780-850 in Persia and Iraq (oops, he might have been a Syiah!), this was a system by which algebraic equations could be used to solve real world problems such as zakat contributions and inheritance divisions.

Without Al-Khawarizmi’s work in developing algebra, modern practical applications of mathematics, such as in engineering, would not be possible.

Education was always an important part of early Muslim culture.

Mosques doubled as schools and eventually more formal schools known as madrasawere established.

Interestingly, the first formal madrasa was Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri in Fes, Morocco.

The leading scholars in North Africa and the brightest students came to Al-Karaouine to study a range of subjects from “secular to religious sciences”.

At the end of their years of study, they would be given an ijazah which qualified them to teach.

This trend spread through Muslim Spain to Europe and now all universities grant degrees, not all of which are worth the paper they’re printed on.

I’m uncertain how military marching bands benefited the world but the ubiquitous modern camera owed its existence to Ibn Al-Haytham, one of the greatest scientists in Cairo in the 1000s who first noticed what happened when light went through a pinhole into a black box.

Before this discovery long before Mr Kodak, Ibn Al-Haytham also invented the scientific method, the basic process by which all scientific research is conducted.

Ibn Al-Haytham would be very bemused to see how people neglect his method in the way they think today.

I found out all of this through Google, which was also not invented by a Muslim.

The last Muslim I remember inventing something that benefited society was Prof Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit programmes which improved the lives of many poor women.

For that, no Muslim country has ever given him any awards in recognition of his effort.

Every day I read about all sorts of schemes invented by Malaysian Muslims to mostly relieve other Muslims of their money.

Given that so many people still feel the economic pinch despite these schemes, I’m putting my money on the Japanese toilet spray. At least it makes me feel clean.


> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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