The Father of Algebra: Al-Khwarizmi

By Neenah Payne

Islamic civilization served as the main source of science and philosophy in the West for six centuries between 1000 and 1600 CE. During the Renaissance created by those contributions, “Humanists” strove starting in the late 13th century to erase awareness of Arab pioneers, promoting instead a fictitious narrative of Western origins of everything directly from Greece and Rome. Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance discusses Renaissance humanism’s rejection of Avicenna, Averroes, Mesue, Rhazes, and other luminaries of the Arabic medieval tradition. See The Hidden Debt To Islamic Civilization and The House Of Wisdom: How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization.

Dr. Glenn Cooper points out in the video Memory and Erasure in the Story of the West: Or, Where have All the Muslims Gone?

500 years ago, in an academic setting such as this, we would be discussing the works of Avicenna, Averroes, Algorismi, Alhazen, alongside those of Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and Euclid. Every educated person in the West knew who these Muslim thinkers were and that they had contributed much to the West.

Nowadays, few Westerners have heard of them. What happened? In brief, their ideas became part of the genealogy of Western knowledge, and then they passed into oblivion, disavowed by some Western thinkers, and forgotten by others. Why do we in the West not celebrate the Arabic/Islamic part of our heritage? I argue here that the historical process of translation and appropriation of the intellectual legacy of another culture involves power relationships that affect how the recipient culture receives and remembers the legacy of the received culture.

In the case just mentioned, western Europeans at first encountered Arabic thinkers with awe, from the position of a less advanced culture, eager to learn what they could from them. Gradually, however, Western thinkers saw themselves as heirs equally of Greek and Islamic thinkers, and eventually as the rivals of the Arabs as heirs of the classical past.

Meet the Hero: Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi

Even if you’re not looking at complex mathematical formulas every day, you’re surrounded by them. Algorithms covertly drive even our most routine daily activities like taking an UberPool, using Spotify Discover playlists and typing something on Google.

It’s possible we wouldn’t be here without the contributions of early 9th century Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi. The word “algorithm” is actually derived from a Latinized version of Al-Khwarizmi’s name. Further, the word “algebra” is drawn from a portion of the title of his most famous book, “Al-Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wa’l-muqabala,” translated as “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing.”

Muhammad started his career in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad as a translator, whose main role was to translate the major mathematical and astronomy texts from (mostly) Greek and Indian to Arabic. He was soon promoted to become the director of the House of Wisdom. As he perused all the problems, theories and rules presented in the texts he was translating, he realized that there might be a simpler way to problem-solve. His first approach was staunchly advocating for a wide-scale switch to the Hindu numeric system (1-9 and 0), which would simplify the language used to dissect problems. Second, he developed a more general way of analyzing problems in an abstract mathematical language, which is what we now call algebra.

Muhammad’s seminal work, written in 830 AD and considered the foundational text of modern algebra, didn’t include symbols of algebraic notation as we know them today. He explained problems with words and used diagrams to solve them, but the book’s usage of fundamental algebraic methods of reduction, completion and balance were new. Reduction is rewriting an expression in more simple terms. Completion is moving a negative from one side of an equation to another and flipping the other side’s sign. Balancing is the process of solving an equation by doing the same operation on both sides of the equals sign.

The discovery of these methods wasn’t Muhammad’s ultimate conclusion. He posited that we could use these methods to solve exceedingly complex problems in easier ways. Chinese mathematicians were able to solve some quadratic equations (ones involving variables to the power of 2), but it was through convoluted methods that weren’t easily replicable or digestible. Therefore, Muhammad used completion and balancing to reduce the quadratic equations to one of six standard forms, which were then more easily solvable.

The director of the House of Wisdom’s contributions to mathematics broke new ground in their day and the shockwaves of these discoveries reverberate to our daily lives now. Hindu-Arabic numerals were soon adopted by the entire Islamic world and, later, with translations of his works into Latin, were adopted by all of Europe as well.

Muhammed’s revolutionary approach to mathematics makes much of our current algorithmically-based technology possible, but it has also raised some issues. While they provide major benefits such as delivering targeted messages to micro-audiences through social media, they have also been taken advantage of to manipulate public opinion for political purposes. As the great Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The work that Muhammad set in motion has given us the power. Now, how can we make sure it’s being used for good?

Al Khawarezmi – Great Muslim Minds 6/6/18

Imagine a time and place where people from all around the world worked together to develop new inventions, discover new knowledge and understand more about our universe. A place where the language was science, used to make the world a better place. Such a time and place existed, it was a long time ago.. and has almost been forgotten..

Al-Khwarizmi: named the ‘father of algebra’, being the mathematician who introduced the world to the concept of algebra. As he worked in the House of Wisdom, he published his renowned book, Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabrwal-muqābala, from which the term ‘algebra’ was derived (al-jabr). Furthermore, he introduced the Hindu-Arabic numbers (whole numbers) (“Top 20 Greatest Muslim Scientists And Their Inventions”).

Muslim Mastermind Who Founded “ALGEBRA” 2/6/20

How One Man Changed The World

How The Islamic Golden Age of Science Changed History As We Know It 10/21/20

The Islamic Golden Age of Science is largely to thank for our scientific developments today. Around 750-1250 CE, the Islamic empire made incredible scientific advancements that changed the course of history! Join Michael Aranda for a fascinating new episode of SciShow where we travel back in time to the Islamic Empire, and see what really happened all those years ago.


How one man invented algorithms and changed the world! 12/19/22

In this video, we’ll take a look at the life and work of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, an Arab mathematician who is credited with the invention of algorithms. We’ll explore his contributions to number system, mathematics, and other fields, and learn how his work has changed the world!

Al-Khwarizmi was a hugely influential mathematician and scientist, and his work has had a major impact on the development of mathematics and computer science. If you’re interested in learning more about algorithms and the history of mathematics, this video is for you!

The Arabic numbers by Al-Khwarizmi explains how Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c.778 – c.850), known as “Al-Khwarismi” in the West, introduced Arabic numerals to Europe. He used the abacus to develop the decimal system. The computer revolution which continues to transform the world in the 21st century, uses ones and zeros for computer code.

The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero A Natural History of Zero

Amazon Description

A symbol for what is not there, an emptiness that increases any number it’s added to, an inexhaustible and indispensable paradox. As we enter the year 2000, zero is once again making its presence felt. Nothing itself, it makes possible a myriad of calculations. Indeed, without zero mathematics as we know it would not exist. And without mathematics our understanding of the universe would be vastly impoverished. But where did this nothing, this hollow circle, come from? Who created it? And what, exactly, does it mean?

Robert Kaplan’s The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero begins as a mystery story, taking us back to Sumerian times, and then to Greece and India, piecing together the way the idea of a symbol for nothing evolved. Kaplan shows us just how handicapped our ancestors were in trying to figure large sums without the aid of the zero. (Try multiplying CLXIV by XXIV).

Remarkably, even the Greeks, mathematically brilliant as they were, didn’t have a zero–or did they? We follow the trail to the East where, a millennium or two ago, Indian mathematicians took another crucial step. By treating zero for the first time like any other number, instead of a unique symbol, they allowed huge new leaps forward in computation, and also in our understanding of how mathematics itself works.

In the Middle Ages, this mathematical knowledge swept across western Europe via Arab traders. At first, it was called “dangerous Saracen magic” and considered the Devil’s work, but it wasn’t long before merchants and bankers saw how handy this magic was, and used it to develop tools like double-entry bookkeeping.

Zero quickly became an essential part of increasingly sophisticated equations, and with the invention of calculus, one could say it was a linchpin of the scientific revolution. And now even deeper layers of this thing that is nothing are coming to light: our computers speak only in zeros and ones, and modern mathematics shows that zero alone can be made to generate everything.

Robert Kaplan serves up all this history with immense zest and humor; his writing is full of anecdotes and asides, and quotations from Shakespeare to Wallace Stevens extend the book’s context far beyond the scope of scientific specialists. For Kaplan, the history of zero is a lens for looking not only into the evolution of mathematics but into very nature of human thought.

He points out how the history of mathematics is a process of recursive abstraction: how once a symbol is created to represent an idea, that symbol itself gives rise to new operations that in turn lead to new ideas. The beauty of mathematics is that even though we invent it, we seem to be discovering something that already exists.

The joy of that discovery shines from Kaplan’s pages, as he ranges from Archimedes to Einstein, making fascinating connections between mathematical insights from every age and culture. A tour de force of science history, The Nothing That Is takes us through the hollow circle that leads to infinity.

Why The Catholic Church Rejected The Zero For Centuries

The story of zero: How ‘nothing’ changed the world explains that mathematician Charles Seife is the author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea who says:

For early Christians, the very existence of God relied necessarily on a refutation of any absolute void – and zero had no place in the church’s cosmology.  “Greek philosophy, and by extension early Christian philosophy, more or less rejected the idea of nothing,” said Seife. “It was dismissed.” ‘We often take it for granted. But it’s one of the greatest inventions of all time.’

The article says:

Ian Stewart points to zero, to mathematics, and to physics ‘and everything that goes with it’ as the hero for propelling us out of the Middle Ages into the modern world.

However, it took a long time for the West to accept the concept of zero “the something that is nothing”. Zero & Christianity points out:

The fact is that Christians were opposed to mathematics because of two important mathematical concepts, zero and infinity…While Christianity avoided the concept and symbol of zero (it was a symbol of the devil!!!) both Hinduism and Buddhism embraced it with open arms.…So afraid of zero were the early Christians that the Venerable Bede, a monk preparing the Christian calendar, around the year 731, left out the year zero….

Many merchants and traders found the Hindu-Arabic numerals easier to use than the old Roman numerals. Nevertheless, the Church refused to accept the “heathen symbol”, that accursed zero. It represented that which was an anathema to Church doctrine, the void. For according to Aristotle, there could be no void. (Physics, Book IV) The Aristotelian doctrine was the doctrine of the Church….

However, a new wind was blowing. In 1543, Nicholaus Copernicus, a Polish monk, published his great work contradicting the Aristotelian doctrine and thereby shaking the very foundations of the Church. The Church was extremely unhappy about this and while Copernicus was the instigator, Giordano Bruno paid the ultimate price.

Copernicus was able to escape the wrath of the Church probably because he died soon after the publication of his work. Not so fortunate, however, was Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake and Galileo Galilei who was severely admonished and ordered by the Church to desist from any further publication….

Enter Rene Descartes

More and more the Catholic Church started losing control of its flock. In the 16th and 17th centuries philosophers and theologians were gradually accepting the new philosophies. One such person was the mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes. “Rene Descartes was trained as a Jesuit, and he too, was torn between the old and the new. He rejected the void but put it at the center of his world.” (Charles Seife, Zero, the Biography of a Dangerous Idea.)

Although he recognized the symbol zero and used it in what is now known as his Cartesian plane, as a devout Catholic, he found it difficult to admit the existence of the void. He was torn between two loyalties. His loyalty to his faith won.

It was inevitable that the new ideas would overtake the Church and force its hands, however grudgingly, to abandon Aristotle and accept the new philosophy. I used the term grudgingly because even in the 18th century mathematicians were still being ridiculed by prominent churchmen. Isaac Newton was severely criticized by Bishop Berkeley who said that Newton’s theory of fluxions was incompatible with Christianity. Quite a few prominent Churchmen still felt that way up to that time….

Slowly the Church has changed its views on mathematics and science. No longer are mathematicians and scientists considered sorcerers and purveyors of black magic. (I am sure both Giordano Bruno and Galileo would have preferred to live in these enlightened times.)

The Catholic Church burned everyone who said zero was a number for a while
See Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Documentary Film | Al-Khawarizmi | Father of Mathematics and Computers 5/23/23

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, one of the geniuses of the Abbasid state in mathematics, the founder of algebra, the founder of zero, the owner of the first foundations for solving mathematical equations that programmers benefited from in writing what is known as algorithms. To him the world owes its technological development which humanity enjoys now.

Al-Khwarizmi and Algorithms

Algorithms drive much of the world today. The term “algorithm” is derived from the name of Al-Khwarizmi, the ‘father of algebra’.

What is an algorithm and why should you care?

Why algorithms are called algorithms 7/11/19

Why are algorithms called algorithms? It’s thanks to Persian mathematician Muhammad al-Khwarizmi who was born way back in around AD780.

Who is Al Khwarizmi? The Grandfather of Algorithms and Algebra | The House of Wisdom 3/21/22

We live in a new age of algorithms and that’s all thanks to the man who invented them, the Muslim Persian Polymath Al Khwarizmi.

Islamic Golden Age: Scientific Method DOCUMENTARY 1/21/21

History of Mathematics Overview 2/2/20

Most of the mathematicians that this video talks about had been dead for a long time, but their ideas are very much alive today. Knowing the contributions of these mathematicians to our present day mathematics leads us to a greater appreciation of their legacy to us. These mathematicians are interesting people and they made mathematics interesting.

What are the contributions of the Islamic Golden Age? 1/15/22

The House of Wisdom and The Golden Age of Islam

Islamic Golden Age – Philosophy and Humanities 4/30/20

The video points out, “It’s tough to conceive of Western civilization without the contributions of the Muslim philosophers of the Islamic Golden Age.” It explains that the House of Wisdom, a massive library in Bagdad, was the symbol of the Golden Age of Islam traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 13th century.

From Chinese prisoners, Muslims learned how to make paper which was easier to use than velum or parchment. The House of Wisdom was one of the world’s largest assortments of rare books in Persian and Arabic. The House of Wisdom and its contents were destroyed in the Siege of Baghdad in 1258. Its construction and obliteration are viewed as the start and end of the Islamic Golden Age.

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who lived during the Islamic Golden Age, is considered the founder of economics, sociology, demography, and historiography. Much of his work would not see serious development until the 19th century.

The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

Amazon Description

For centuries following the fall of Rome, Western Europe was a benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflict. Meanwhile Arab culture was thriving, dazzling those Europeans fortunate enough to visit cities like Baghdad or Antioch.

There, philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers were steadily advancing the frontiers of knowledge, as well as keeping alive the works of Plato and Aristotle. When the best libraries in Europe held several dozen books, Baghdad’s great library, The House of Wisdom, housed four hundred thousand. Jonathan Lyons shows just how much “Western” ideas owe to the Golden Age of Arab civilization.

Even while their countrymen waged bloody Crusades against Muslims, a handful of intrepid Christian scholars, hungry for knowledge, traveled East and returned with priceless jewels of science, medicine, and philosophy that laid the foundation for the Renaissance. In this brilliant, evocative book Jonathan Lyons reveals the story of how Europe drank from the well of Muslim learning.

For More Information

Al-Razi: A Father of Western Medicine
How Coffee Created The Modern World
How Arabs Revolutionized Western Culture
How Islamic Architecture Transformed Europe
Europe’s Dark Ages Were Islam’s Golden Ages!
How Muslims Transformed Western Civilization
How Muslims Inspired The European Renaissance
Ibn Sina/Avicenna: Founder of Western Medicine.
When Moors Rescued Europe From The Dark Ages
How The Islamic Golden Age Revolutionized The West
Ibn Rushd/Averroes: Grandfather of European Enlightenment – Activist Post

Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post

Top image credit

Become a Patron!
Or support us at SubscribeStar
Donate cryptocurrency HERE

Subscribe to Activist Post for truth, peace, and freedom news. Follow us on SoMee, Telegram, HIVE, Flote, Minds, MeWe, Twitter, Gab, and What Really Happened.

Provide, Protect and Profit from what’s coming! Get a free issue of Counter Markets today.

Activist Post Daily Newsletter

Subscription is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL
Free Report: How To Survive The Job Automation Apocalypse with subscription

Be the first to comment on "The Father of Algebra: Al-Khwarizmi"

Leave a comment