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Al-Khwarizmi – the Founder of Algebra

Life Hussein Al-Bahir 14-Jan-2020
The monument to Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi in Khiva, Uzbekistan. © Evgeniy Fesenko | Dreamstime.com

The fundamental science of mathematics is commonly thought to be founded by Pythagorus and continued to be developed as a systematic science by the ancient Greeks. Later on during the Abbasid period, a very prominent input into the science came from the Persian and Arabic worlds revolutionising a series of conceptions and theorems which are taught in nearly every school today.

Amongst many great thinkers of the time, a man who has contributed an exceptional amount to the field of mathematics was a Persian named Al-Khwārizmī who is considered to be the founder of Algebra.

Unreasonably, in contemporary society and worldwide media, science is often seen and portrayed as an antonym and at times even an enemy of religion.

This is a fundamental misconception that stems from the assimilation of the change in the pioneering movements in history, to the epistemological nature of the two.

In other words, religion and its connotations, in this case, are attributed to the European period of obscurantism and inquisition, seemingly a horrible mistake of the past, whilst the uprise of science marks the start and flourishing of the Renaissance; thought to be the epicentre of philosophical thought and evolution.

Nevertheless, historically speaking, in the same way one could view the period of the Renaissance as the largest pro-slavery movement ever to exist, in contrast with the Abassid period, where religion and science walked gloriously hand in hand.

Indeed, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was a very pious man who, despite his profound study and contribution to mathematics, astronomy and geography, never considered Islam to be a hinderance to his sciences. In fact, his renowned works contain “ volumes of geometric figures and on the use of algebra to solve inheritance problems according to proportions prescribed by Islamic law “, states Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Born in 780 CE, Al-Khwārizmī has made the largest fraction of his works between 813 and 833 which have lead him to the honourable position as the head of the library in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in 820. In the same year, Al-Khwārizmī published ‘The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing’ which has been responsible for the propagation of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system across the Middle-eastern and European societies.

After the book was translated into Latin, the name Al-Khwārizmī translated came out as ‘Algoritmi’ and it is now widely considered that this latin equivalent gave birth to the famous term ‘algorithm’.

Al-Khwārizmī’s appeared to be the first who actually considered Algebra as a separate domain of study and provided the first systematic solutions to linear and quadratic equations, an element taught to nearly every high-schooler.

He introduced the now commonly known systems of reduction and balancing of equations which have permitted a facilitated solution of multiple equations, in addition to acquainting the world with the utility of his decimal positional notation and input into trigonometry by constructing accurate Sin and Cos tables alongside the first table of Tan.

Such seemingly trivial knowledge to the contemporary individual was not at all that back in the day and presented a worldwide achievement as much for the Persians as for the rest of the world.

Likewise, it is important to note that at the time, it was commonplace to be learned in many domains and thinkers and academics of the time were often poly-disciplinary scientists as opposed to now.

The fact demonstrates the extent to which Al-Khwārizmī’s achievements were impressive, as in all the domains he participated in, he had made a near revolutionary contribution.

His prolific study and works in astronomy and astrology have made a turning point in the history of Islamic astronomy and some of his original works still remain in libraries such as the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid or La Bibliothèque Mazarine (Paris) where one could come and witness first-hand the magnificent works of this extraordinary Persian scientist.