Unfortunately, we Muslims have ignored him and his contributions, conveniently forgetting his teachings, but he is acknowledged loudly and clamorously by the West
The word “Al-Jabra”, like the subject, is a consequence of the intellectual ferment that occurred in Baghdad during the ninth-century reign of Caliph al-Ma’mun (813-33). The “Father of Al-Jabra” is acknowledged to be Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who coincides with the mathematical term algorithm, born in approximately 786 C.E.
The scholar “Al-Khwarizmi” was based there, beginning to compile and translate the great mathematical works that had emerged over centuries, succeeding in expanding them, creating a new branch of mathematics: Al-gabr. In his treatise, “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” (in Arabic: al-ğabr wa’l muqābala), Al-Khwarizmi was a polymath, with his primary focus lying in mathematics. One of the most important contributions of Muhammad al-Khwarizmi is that he might have invented zero but, for the first time, made a thorough study of solving equations. The writings of al-Khwarizmi about algebra served as a textbook in Europe for the study of the science of solving equations, strands of a new discipline of mathematics, in the 12th century.
Al-Khwarizmi authored a major work on geography, “Zijes,” which gives calculations of movements of planets and stars, latitudes, and longitudes for 2402 localities as a basis for a world map. Several other minor works on topics such as the astrolabe, the sundial, and the calendar were written by al-Khwarizmi. He also wrote a political history containing horoscopes of prominent persons, as noted by David W. Tschanz.
Al-Khwarizmi systematized and corrected Ptolemy’s data in geography concerning Africa and the Middle East. Another major book on geography was his “Kitab surat al-ard” or “The Image of the Earth,” translated as GEOGRAPHY. This presented the coordinates of localities in the known world, ultimately based on those in the Geography of Ptolemy but with improved values for the length of the Mediterranean Sea and the location of cities in Asia and Africa. This book laid the foundation for the development of the world map, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
While Europe remained mired in the long Middle Ages and had forgotten much of the knowledge of classical Greece and Rome, in the 9th century, the Islamic world was enjoying an age of splendour. During this period, the knowledge of the Greek, Indian, and Persian civilizations was brought together at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, as noted by the School of Mathematics in 2005.
In his roughly 70 years of life, al-Khwarizmi also found time to participate in the first sky-gazing meetings from the Shammasiya Observatory in Baghdad. He wrote a treatise on astronomy, with his ideas about the main objective being the calculation of the positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets, surviving until they were replaced during the Renaissance by the heliocentric ideas of Copernicus, according to Daniel Arias Mosquera.
Al Khwarizmi also wrote a significant text on astronomy, covering calendars and calculating the true location of the sun, moon, and planets (School of Mathematics and Statistics, 2005). His work spread all around Europe in the 1140s, helping spread the popularity of his books all over Europe, thereby creating the discipline of algebra. This was very significant in the development of science in the West, with Robert of the Chaster translating a number of his books.
Al Khwarizmi’s books were available in Latin translation in the early 12th century. As the Roman numerals had become cumbersome to scholars, the Arabic numerals came as a relief, as they were better and easier to deal with. This led to their fast popularity and approval from the universities. Development in Europe brought the entire continent out of the Dark Ages. It is on record that from the 4th century to the 12th century, Europe’s scientific knowledge was very insignificant because of the inefficient Roman numeral system. Clearly, the works of Al-Khwarizmi in mathematics brought light to the European Dark Ages and helped revive scientific developments. Blinded by religious alienation, Europe almost rejected the Muslim numeric approach introduced by Al-Khwarizmi. The Catholic institution, the strongest at the time, managed to influence the Christian followers, the majority, to reject the Arabic numeric system. It was not until the Italians adopted this approach that the system spread all over Europe, and with time, Europeans realized the system was better than the old Roman numeric system, as noted by the School of Mathematics in 2005.
From the second half of the eighth to the end of the eleventh century, Muslims, particularly Arabs, were the scientific language of mankind. When the West was sufficiently mature to feel the need for deeper knowledge, it turned its attention, first of all, not to the Greek sources but to the Arabic ones, as mentioned by George Sarton, a Harvard historian of science.
The significance of algebra is that through it, the brain can think in completely new patterns and intellectually come up with solutions to life’s challenges. The trick is that, like a muscle, the more the brain works, the better it becomes, and algebra causes the brain to think, making it work better. The brain is a muscle, and it becomes even better when constantly put to work. The advantages of algebra are varied and instrumental in mental health development. This is actually how Al-Khwarizmi’s works influenced Europe. It was a revolutionary move away from the Greek concept of mathematics, which was essentially geometry. Algebra was a unifying theory that allowed rational numbers, irrational numbers, geometrical magnitudes, etc., to all be treated as “algebraic objects,” according to J. J. O’Conner and E. F. Robertson, math historians.
Muslim countries should review their education policies and take steps to collect the scientific and intellectual work of their predecessors to start research from there.
By analyzing and reading the facts about Al-Khwarizmi, especially the views of Western intellectuals, I think throughout his life, he had substantially left deep impressions in the fields of geography, astronomy, and mathematics. The major contributing role he played in developing the Arabic number system was that this system replaced the clumsy Roman system so fast due to its easy and straightforward expressions. As you know, the Roman system used alphabetical letters, making mathematical calculations very difficult and tough. Most numbers in the Roman numeric had been just too awkward, and this made even the simplest calculations very hard and the complex ones impossible to solve. Al-Khwarizmi, nevertheless, was capable of using mathematics and algebra to simplify the calculation of inheritance through his number system. His discovery formed the foundation for calculating inheritance in the Arab world, and this method is still in use even today. The bottom line is that the technology industry would not have grown to the heights it has today if the Muslim mathematician was not actively involved in pursuing mathematical solutions to physical and practical problems, and their contribution is far beyond the normal solutions in mathematics. In fact, algebra is the basis of every field of study today, thanks to Al-Khwarizmi. His multidisciplinary contribution brought forth a number of debates among scientists only to praise his work. Nonetheless, his work has gained much approval and acceptance worldwide even today, and it sketches out the basis of European development, especially in technology.
The views of the writer are personal and not of the department he works in. He can be reached at [email protected]