Contributions by Muslims in Mathematics and Philosophy



Arabic Numerals were introduced to Europe in the 10th century by Arabs of North Africa, who were then using the digits from Libya to Morocco.
The IBM World Book Encyclopaedia raises the question as to how the Arabic Numerals originated, as appeared in an article contributed by Nadine L. Verderber, Ph.D., Prof. of Mathematics, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville. The article states, as such, “Scholars do not know how Arabic numerals originated.” “The Hindus developed the zero sometime after 600 AC.”

Apparently the Arabic Numerals originated based on the concept of trigonometry. This explanation is easily justifiable in a time where mathematics had flourished in various directions under the guardianship of the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad functioning as the centre of study and research in the Islamic world of the 9th century. Creating appropriate mathematical symbols was, in fact, part of the process to develop advanced mathematical techniques required by the ever expanding needs for mathematical solutions to all forms of life. The Islamic civilization expanded over three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe. Many nations were part of this great empire. The need for finding mathematical solutions were vital in every field: building engineering, astronomy, navigation, statistics of population, wages and taxes, and so on. Under such circumstances the knowledge of numbers and all related symbols had to be universally understood and adopted by all people. By 3,000 BC, the people of the very same land, Mesopotamia, invented the world’s first writing system.

Their descendants, the Arabs, who had great experience in inventing codes and scriptures, invented a singular symbol that is remarkably simple and universal. Each Numeric Symbol represents “Angle”. Thus Symbol “1” represents “one angle,” symbol “2” represents “two angles” and so on as shown above. (M Erhayiem)

Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (801-873 AC), a Philosopher and Mathematician, who wrote many works on arithmetic, including: the numbers, relative quantities, measuring proportion and time, and numerical procedures, He also wrote on space and time.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, born in 780 A.D, was the founder of modern Algebra. He developed sine, cosine and trigonometrical tables, which were later translated to the West. He flourished under the Abbasid state at Baghdad through 813-833 AC. His book on algebra Hisab al Jabr wa-al-Muqabalah (The Calculation of Integration and Equation) was used until the 16th century as the principal textbook of European universities. In it he writes that given an equation, collecting the unknowns in one side of the equation is called al-Jabr and collecting the knowns in the other side of the equation is called al- Muqabalah. He also described six basic types of equations: nx=m , x^2=nx , x^2=m , m+x^2 =nx, m+nx +x^2 and x^2=m+nx. He also solved the particular equation x^2+21=10x using geometrical arguments.

Al-Khawarizmi also helped introduce Arabic numerals, the decimal position system, and the concept of zero. Algebra and Algorithm are in fact corruption’s of his work and name. Interestingly, this first every book on algebra included many examples from the Islamic inheritance laws and how they could be solved using algebra. Under al-Mamun the caliph of the time, he with some others were the first to map the globe.

Within a decade of the death of Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) the Muslims had conquered all of the Arabian peninsula. Within a century, Islam had spread from Al-Andalus in Spain to the borders of China. Islam unified science, theology, and philosophy. Muslims were commanded to study, seek knowledge, and learn and benefit from others’ experiences by Allah in the Qur-aan and by Nabi Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) in the Sunnah. It was this that inspired the Muslims to great heights in sciences, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy, art and architecture.
Muslim scholars began obtaining Greek treatises and started their study and translation into Arabic a few centuries after the Hijrah (622 A.D.) They critically analyzed, collated , corrected and supplemented substantially the Greek science and philosophy. After this period began what is known as the Golden Age of Islam, which lasted for over two centuries. It is here we find many of the great scientists of Islam who literally left behind hundreds and thousands of books on the various branches of science. (Huma Ahmad)

The forgotten brilliance that The World Book Multimedia Encyclopaedia has largely ignored is the work of the Scientists during the Islamic and the Arabic medieval era. The contributions of the Muslims and Arabs in the field of Mathematics were very significant. The great Harvard historian of science, Professor George Sarton wrote in his monumental Introduction to the History of Science: “From the second half of the 8th to the end of the 11th century, Arabic was the scientific, the progressive language of mankind… When the West was sufficiently mature to feel the need of deeper knowledge, it turned its attention, first of all, not to the Greek sources, but to the Arabic ones.” (M Erhayiem)

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