Who invented Braille?

Knowledge is Light

Who invented Braille?

Maulana Gulfaraz Attari Madani

Reading was once something only afforded to the sighted. The blind had no such way to go about this. However, with the invention of Braille came the opportunity for them to read and write. This consists of six dots embossed onto paper in various ways, enabling the blind to easily read and write. Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman, presented this to the world in 1835, which is why this system was named after him.

Having said this, Muslim scientists and thinkers have had a wide host of their inventions and discoveries falsely attributed to others by the West. The latter then presented them as their own. Similarly, the impression given is that Braille was invented by Louis Braille in 1835, yet it was actually invented by a anbalī scholar named Zayn al-Dīn al-Āmidī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه.

The famous Egyptian philologist Amad Zakī Pāshā writes, “The first to pioneer a Braille-like system for writing was Zayn al-Dīn Āmidī. He invented this in 7 AH [13 CE]. Louis Braille merely took this system and presented it to the world in the 19th century.”[1] Hence, we come to know that this system was invented by a Muslim scholar, with the modern-day Braille being an advanced form of it.

Here we shall detail further information about the inventor, enhancing the reader’s knowledge pertaining to his life. His full name was Ali Bin Aḥmad Bin Yusuf Bin Khiḍr, whereas “Zayn al-Dīn” was his agnomen. His family hailed from the city of Diyarbakir, formerly known as Amid, which is where he got the demonym “Āmidī” from. He spent a large portion of his life in Baghdad; it is also here that he passed away.

Khayr al-Dīn al-Zirikli said, “He was the first to develop a reading system based upon embossed letters.” Zayn al-Dīn was a veracious and renowned anbalī scholar and reformer. He lost his eyesight at a young age, yet he was intelligent and astute. He was expertly skilled in dream interpretation and spoke Farsi, Turkish, Italian, and many other languages. By profession, he was a bookseller and gathered a large collection of them.

Because he was blind, he would wrap a book in paper whenever he bought one. He would then formulate some letters from it, determining its price through the Abjad numerals (ḥisāb al-jummal). He would then stick these letters to the book’s title page, followed by sticking another paper upon the letters with the intention of preserving them. In case of forgetting the price of a book, he would scroll his hand over the letters formed using said paper and know of its price. He also penned many works, such as “جَوَاہِرُالتَّبْصِیْر  فِی عِلْمِ التَّعْبِیْر”.[2]

[1] Al-Mujallad al-Sādis min Majallat al-Muqtabas, Baḥth Amad Zakī Pāshā

[2] Al-Durar al-Kāminah, vol. 3, p. 21; al-Aʿlām li al-Zirikli, vol. 4, p. 257




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