Dixit Algorizmi (So Said Al-Khwarizmi)

Recently, I had to present a speech for one my classes on the achievements and contributions of Islamic civilization. I was so pleased with the response from my peers that I decided to share a portion of my presentation on my blog. I’ve decided this will be a continued discussion on my blog and I will focus on different aspects each time I write about it! Islamic history is one of my favorite subjects, and while it is amazing to note all the achievements that Muslims have contributed over the centuries, it is also disappointing that this is a history often untold, forgotten, and even rewritten. Unfortunately during a time when the U.S. is at war with Muslim nations, people tend to generalize, stereotype, and forget about how the “enemy’s” civilization has also played a significant role in shaping our world. Without acknowledging this lost history, many misconceptions about Islam are bound to persist. Islam and democracy, for example, is considered to be incompatible by harsh critics of Islam. However they neglect the Muslim Empire when it expanded across the Middle-East after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Tolerance and coexistence was widely practiced and many of the Muslim Caliphs and leaders knew that in order to have a successful and civilized society, free-thinking and freedom of expression was very essential.

The Latin words in the title of this entry are found in 12th century manuscripts and translations of Mohammad Al-Khwarizmi’s work. Al-Khwarizmi was an extraordinary 9th century mathematician who was among many of the great Muslim contributors during the Golden Age of Islamic civilization. His very name “Al-Khwarizmi” is where we get the word “algorithm” from. He also invented algebra (derived from the Arabic word “al-jabir” which means “to restore”) and discovered the Indian numeric system, which he later adopted and systemized into society. These are the same numerals (Indic-Arabic numerals) that we use today: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. I made a poster board for my presentation and displayed the evolution of these numerals which were used in different parts of the Muslim world – Spain, Baghdad, Cairo, etc. – and eventually in Europe. The Europeans used this numerical system since it was an easier way to compute numbers rather than using Roman Numerals! Could you imagine Roman Numerals on your cell phones or using them to make calculations at the store? This was an enormous achievement which is still evident today, but there are some extremely biased and anti-Islamic historians who say that the Muslims “stole” the brilliance of the numeric system from the Indians. It would be a faulty accusation to state that the Muslims arrogantly claimed that the numerals were an Islamic invention. Anyone who studies the actual history will learn that Al-Khwarizmi was thirsting for knowledge and learning. He was in a library in the great city of Baghdad where he came upon the texts of Indian mathematicians. Al-Khwarizmi ordered the Sanskrit texts to be translated into Arabic and once they were, he acknowledged the genius of the Indian mathematician. One of his works attributed the invention to Indians even in the title: Kitab al-Jam wal tafriq bi-hisab al-Hind – “The Book of Addition and Subtraction to the Hindu Calculation.” Another profound discovery Al-Khwarizmi made from the Hindu mathematicians was the number “zero”, which did not exist in Roman Numerals. The term “zero” started as “sunya” in Sanskrit which means “void” and “empty”. In Arabic it is “sifr”, and in Italian “zefiro”, and finally “zero” in French. Not only was this a huge breakthrough in mathematics, but also in the fields of engineering, technology, astronomy, philosophy, and even in theology. In respect to theology, the “zero” – nothingness – taught Al-Khwarizmi that reason and revelation ultimately leads us to the same source (i.e. God). Reason and revelation, or Intellect and Love, must coexist. This was also a fascinating topic all throughout the Islamic world (and eventually beyond) because it re-confirmed the Qur’anic declaration that God is in the numeral (see Qur’an 72:28 and footnotes below) as well as how God created us out of “nothing”:

“Did the human being forget that we created him already, and he was nothing.(Qur’an19:67)

God reveals Himself in numbers, the physical world, as much as He reveals Himself through the Unseen. This is the way of Islamic living, to use both the practical mind and the feeling heart. Where does Reason and Love spring from? Where is their Source? Certainly God is the Source and He blesses us with these capabilities. If one is simply Loving, then how will he know his boundaries, how will he know his limits? If one is simply Reasoning, then how will he know that to overcome his doubts, he would have to listen to his heart? How will he find Happiness? Certainly, the notion of living forever is not logical or rational; it comes from revelation, from Faith. This intercommunication of Reasoning and Love is the balance that Muslims strive to establish.

It is also worth mentioning the significance of algorithms. They are a set of numerical calculations and instructions that produce various kinds of results when carried out. Algorithms are critical to computers, programming, engineering, and software design. Without algorithms, typing this blog entry (or using a computer at that) would not be possible! As mentioned earlier, Algebra is probably the greatest of all of Al-Khwarizmi’s achievements because it is considered the first step into moving mathematics from the physical to the abstract. In other words, mathematics wasn’t just about counting how many items you purchased or calculating the cost anymore, it would extend far beyond physicality. As stated by Michael H. Morgan, author of “Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists”, Al-Khwarizmi’s new ways of calculating will “enable the building of a 100 story towers and mile-long buildings, calculating the point at which a space probe will intersect with the orbits of one of Jupiter’s moons, the reactions of nuclear physics… intelligence of software, and the confidentiality of a mobile phone conversation.”

His other achievements included writings on astronomy and a treatise on the Jewish/Hebrew calender. A lot of Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions to the world as we know it has been forgotten. Many historians agree that the European Renaissance would not have shaped in the way it did if it were not for the accomplishments of great Muslim thinkers like Al-Khwarizmi. Nowadays, when we watch anything about the war, we tend to see a clash of civilizations, but we do not see the forgotten history; we do not see how both East and West have learned and developed from one another. Insha’Allah, if others have found this entry intriguing and enjoyable, I will continue to post more about the great Islamic contributions to the world.

It’s sad at how the Muslim world is crumbling these days because of war and disunity. The fact that Al-Khwarizmi was Persian and a Shia Muslim represents the level of tolerance and coexistence that was enjoyed during the reign of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad. This is the kind of unity that needs to be established in the current Muslim world. I believe the young Muslims, especially in the West, have serious potential to resurrect the spirit of our ancestors! Insha’Allah, may we all strive for that.

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11 Comments

  1. March 2, 2008 at 9:43 am

    A very good article on History in general touching verious subjects such as mathematics,religions, linguistics.

    Webmaster – Translations
    http://freetranslationblog.blogspot.com

  2. March 2, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    “The fact that Al-Khwarizmi was Persian and a Shia Muslim represents the level of tolerance and coexistence that was enjoyed during the reign of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad”

    But what tolerance are you talking about, they are all Arabs in Iraq except for very small Kurdish and turkic minorties as well as Iranian invaders. Back then Iran was ruled by Arabs, so tolernace meant giving Iranian muslims in Iran the same rights as Arab ones.

    By th way Kawarismy was ” Turkish” not Persian. And What islamic civisation are you talkinhg about???

    It is an Arab civilsation where Artabic was the lingua- franca of scienses, Alphabet of all conquered nations became Arabic….etc Thje reign , politicy and systems were all Arabic. The roots of the civilsation go back to to the semitc ancestors of Arabs in Babylon and Pharoanic Egypt where the Iranian colonials of Iraq transfered the Arab baylonian learnings to Mohamedaen Arabs.

    That is very irrelvent.

    Look there will never be tolerance with Iranians, unless they learn to mind their own business and stay within their borders.

  3. seekingnoor said,

    March 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Salaam brother :) I always learn so much from your wonderful posts, but most especially I learn from the goodness that radiates from your heart. Because of people like you and the positivness that you share there is still a glimmer of hope in the world that we can all live together in peace. Thank you for sharing!

    “Know that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that all Muslims constitute one brotherhood.” ~The Prophet (pbuh)~

  4. March 2, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    correction

    Kharesmy was an Arab not Turkic. His familly moved from what isnow known as Ozbekastan to Iraqi city of Bahgdad where he grew up and carried al his work in “ARABIC”. Nothing is certain all esources about his ethnicity. However all evidence refer to his being most probaly an an Arab, since Arabs remained in central asia after the conquests of the Ummayid prince Quatayba Ibn musim-, and since he wrote and spoke in Arabic and since Bahgdad is an Arab city.

    Kind regards

  5. Shawna said,

    March 2, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I like the hope this post holds. And I think that regardless of what nationality the man was, it’s wonderful that Allah blessed him with such intelligence, and that he has played such an important role in the development of modern civilization.

  6. brokenmystic said,

    March 2, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Webmaster – Thanks for visiting, I appreciate your comments!

    Amre – According to the sources I have (including the book I mentioned in my entry), Al-Khwarizmi was Persian and during that time, many non-Arabs could speak Arabic since it was the dominant language (as you pointed out). Salah Al-Din, for example, was Kurdish but he still spoke Arabic. The only reason why I mentioned Al-Khwarizmi’s ethnicity and religious background was to show how tolerance was practiced at that time. My point was that the current Muslim world can learn a lot from our ancestors. I didn’t mention anything about what is going on in Iran or Iraq today. It doesn’t matter to me what ethnic group that Al-Khwarizmi belonged to, my point was just to show how diversity and coexistence was practiced.

    As for the term “Muhammadan Arabs,” I hope you know that the word “Muhammadan” is frowned upon by many Muslims because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa salaam. The word “Christian” means follower of “Christ”, and Christians worship Jesus alayhi salaam. “Muhammadan” was a term used in medieval Europe by writers who harshly criticized Islam. They called it “Muhammadanism”, not Islam.

    I will post another entry soon, insha’Allah, about how Salah Al-Din unified most of the Muslim world and established peace with the Shia Fatimids right before he conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders. The history is very relevant to what is happening today. Stay tuned :)

    Seeking Noor – So nice to see that your blog is up again! Thanks for the visit and I’m glad you found this informative and enlightening. That’s a very beautiful Hadith too, may we all practice that and build peaceful relations. Ameen!

  7. brokenmystic said,

    March 2, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Shawna – thanks! I’ve been meaning to get back to you. Insha’Allah I will soon. I agree with you that Al-Khwarizmi’s ethnicity should not be a big issue. He was a Muslim and a gifted human being, may Allah be pleased with him.

  8. April 16, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    [...] on elephant or throne, …http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Apr62008/finearts2008040561212.aspDixit Algorizmi So Said Al-Khwarizmi Recently, I had to present a speech for one my classes on the achievements and contributions of [...]

  9. Khoshroo said,

    May 15, 2009 at 2:19 am

    Thanks for the article. I did not want to comment but I read others’ comments and I had to.
    1. Khwarazm was not turkic. It was persian during that time and its culture was based on Persian culture. Please see Encyclopedia of Islam entry.
    2. Khwarazmi was indeed a Zoroasterian (and maybe later) convert to Islam. This is seen by its Kunya given as “al-Majousi” by the Persian scholar Tabari.
    3. Historian of science all agree that Khwarazmi was a Persian. Forget about the rest who say he was not.

  10. Syed Hasan Ahmed said,

    November 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    During the Abbasid reign there was hardly unity between Sunni and Shia. Watch the series ‘Ghareeb Toos’ and you will realise.
    Harun ul Rashiid’s sons KILLED eachother for a STOLEN khaliphate. Ma’mum even had doubts as to whether he should keep the khaliphate or actually pass it to the true heir of Muhammad (swt), Imam Musa Ridha (a.s). Alas, power corrupts everything.
    My brothers, if you are here to rediscover the true, unbiased history, then please learn about the succession of Muhammad (a.s) and you will learn what the true line is.
    BTW there are lots of misconceptions and LIES about Shia by people who wish to disunite us Muslims, who needn’t but should be of one school of thought, such as the statement that Shia believe in another quran.

  11. WhirlingPoet said,

    October 8, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Jazak’Allah


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