Islamic Mathematics: History & Achievements

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

In this lesson, we will go over the large contribution of Islamic Mathematics to math today, including the adoption of Arabic numbers, algebra and algorithms, and trigonometry.

Math and Conquest

When we think of math, we often just think of equations and formulas. Do you ever think, 'Who came up with this stuff?' Can you imagine doing math without pen and paper?

You probably know that the numbers in the decimal number system are called Arabic Numerals, but did you know that Islamic mathematicians made great contributions to geometry, algebra, and other fields of mathematics?

The history of mathematical advancements in the Islamic Empire is closely related to conquest driven expansion. Before his death in 632 AD, Mohammad had united the Arabian Peninsula under one rule and speaking one language. For the next two hundred years, subsequent rulers expanded the Islamic Empire through wars of conquest and by 850 AD the Islamic Empire encompassed a great swath of land: from Spain in the west to Northern India in the east.

All of this land being under one rule coupled with the Qur'an's encouragement of gathering knowledge greatly aided the advancement of science, including mathematics. Trade, communication, and the acceptance of new ideas were also encouraged. The House of Wisdom was a center for learning set up in 810 in Baghdad where scholars could meet and discuss the ideas and translations of manuscripts kept there.

The study of science was even further developed in the 10th century, when Abul Hasan al-Uqlidisi expanded the use of pen and paper for sharing thoughts and calculations. Prior to that time, most calculations were done using a temporary 'dustboard' system.

Achievements of Islamic Mathematicians

The safety, expanse and knowledge gathering of the Islamic Empire made many advances in science and the arts possible. Just in the field of mathematics there were a number of notable achievements:

  • Arabic Numerals

A huge contribution was the adoption of a number system from India, which included the numbers 1-9 and the concept of 0 as a number. It turns out that the 'Arabic Numerals' did not originate in Arabia! They get credit for them because they recognized the power of this concept, expanded the use of them, and shared the concept with other parts of the world.

Arabic Numerals
arabic numerals

  • Algebra and Algorithms

One of the early directors of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad was a mathematician named Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 AD). Besides being a strong proponent of the adoption of the Indian numeral system, Al-Khwarizmi is also considered to be the father of Algebra. He developed methods for manipulating and simplifying algebraic expressions. This is even more remarkable considering that the equals symbol '=' was not invented for another 700 years!

The word algorithm, in very common use in computer languages today, comes from Al-Khwarizmi's Latin name: Algoritmi.

  • Decimals

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