How Muslims Did Not Invent Algebra |

TBC Staff - EN

How Muslims Did Not Invent Algebra [Excerpts]

Continuing on the theme of what Muslims did — or more likely did not do — for the world, there is a widespread misconception that they “invented algebra”. Maybe this fallacy is due to the fact that “algebra” is a word of Arabic origin, but historical questions are not solved by etymological answers.

Yes, the English word “algebra” derives from the Arabic. So does “sugar” (from the Arabic “sukkar”) but that doesn’t mean that Muslims invented sugar.

The word “algebra” stems from the Arabic word “al-jabr”, from the name of the treatise Book on Addition and Subtraction after the Method of the Indians written by the 9th-century Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who translated, formalized and commented on ancient Indian and Greek works. It is even doubtful whether al-Khwarizmi was really a Muslim. In all likelihood he was a Zoroastrian who was forced to convert (or die) by Muslim rulers because Persia had been conquered by the Islamic armies, and that was what Muslims did (and still do wherever they can). That could easily explain the “pious preface to al-Khwarizmi’s Algebra”.

There is archaeological evidence that the roots of algebra date back to the ancient Babylonians, and were then developed in Egypt and Greece. The Chinese and especially the Indians also advanced algebra and wrote important works on the subject.

The Alexandrian Greek mathematician Diophantus (3rd century AD), sometimes called “the father of algebra”, wrote a series of books, called Arithmetica, dealing with solving algebraic equations. Another Hellenistic mathematician who contributed to the progress of algebra was Hero of Alexandria, as did the Indian Brahmagupta in his book Brahmasphutasiddhanta. With the Italian Leonardo Pisano (known as Leonardo Fibonacci, as he was the son of Bonacci) in the 13th century, another Italian mathematician, Girolamo Cardano, author in 1545 of the 40-chapter masterpiece Ars magna (“The great art”), and the late-16th-century French mathematician François Viète, we move from the prehistory of algebra to the beginning of the classical discipline of algebra.

Even Bertrand Russell, who in no way is a critic of the Islamic world, writes in the Second Volume of The History of Western Philosophy [pdf]: "Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and in many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters. Its importance, which must not be underrated, is as a transmitter. Between ancient and modern European civilization, the dark ages intervened. The Mohammedans and the Byzantines, while lacking the intellectual energy required for innovation, preserved the apparatus of civilization — education, books, and learned leisure. Both stimulated the West when it emerged from barbarism — the Mohammedans chiefly in the thirteenth century, the Byzantines chiefly in the fifteenth. In each case the stimulus produced new thought better than any produced by the transmitters — in the one case scholasticism, in the other the Renaissance (which however had other causes also)."

In conclusion, there have been various attempts at historical revisionism concerning Islamic contributions to the world. These attempts are more political propaganda than academic scholarship. After all, taqiyya, lying to the infidels to advance Allah’s cause, is permitted, and even prescribed, to Muslims. Jihad does not consist only of violent aggression or terror attacks: it can be gradual, by stealth, through indoctrination and false reassurance.

(Ferreri, 'How Muslims Did Not Invent Algebra," Gates of Vienna Online Blog, 8/6/13).