Tuesday, September 4, 2007
al-Khawarizmi (c 780-840)
The Father of Algebra
Abu Abdullah Mohammad Ibn Musa al-Khawarizmi was born at Khawarizm (Kheva), south of Aral sea. Very little is known about his early life, except for the fact that his parents had migrated to a place south of Baghdad. The exact dates of his birth and death are also not known, but it is established that he flourished under Al-Mamun at Baghdad through 813-833 and probably died around 840 A.D.
Khawarizmi was a mathematician, astronomer and geographer. He was perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived, as, in fact, he was the founder of several branches and basic concepts of mathematics. In the words of Phillip Hitti, he influenced mathematical thought to a greater extent than any other mediaeval writer. His work on algebra was outstanding, as he not only initiated the subject in a systematic form but he also developed it to the extent of giving analytical solutions of linear and quadratic equations, which established him as the founder of Algebra. The very name Algebra has been derived from his famous book Al-Jabrwa-al-Muqabilah. His arithmetic synthesised Greek and Hindu knowledge and also contained his own contribution of fundamental importance to mathematics and science. Thus, he explained the use of zero, a numeral of fundamental importance developed by the Arabs. Similarly, he developed the decimal system so that the overall system of numerals, algorithm or algorizm is named after him. In addition to introducting the Indian system of numerals (now generally known as Arabic numerals), he developed at length several arithmetical procedures, including operations on fractions. It was through his work that the system of numerals was first introduced to Arabs and later to Europe, through its translations in European languages. He developed in detail trigonometric tables containing the sine functions, which were probably extrapolated to tangent functions by Maslama. He also perfected the geometric representation of conic sections and developed the calculus of two errors, which practically led him to the concept of differentiation. He is also reported to have collaborated in the degree measurements ordered by Mamun al-Rashid were aimed at measuring of volume and circumference of the earth.
The development of astronomical tables by him was a significant contribution to the science of astronomy, on which he also wrote a book. The contribution of Khawarizmi to geography is also outstanding, in that not only did he revise Ptolemy's views on geography, but also corrected them in detail as well as his map of the world. His other contributions include original work related to clocks, sun-dials and astrolabes.
Several of his books were translated into Latin in the early 12th century. In fact, his book on arithmetic, Kitab al-Jam'a wal-Tafreeq bil Hisab al-Hindi, was lost in Arabic but survived in a Latin translation. His book on algebra, Al-Maqala fi Hisab-al Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, was also translated into Latin in the 12th century, and it was this translation which introduced this new science to the West "completely unknown till then". He astronomical tables were also translated into European languages and, later, into Chinese. His geography captioned Kitab Surat-al-Ard, together with its maps, was also translated. In addition, he wrote a book on the Jewish calendar Istikhraj Tarikh al-Yahud, and two books on the astrolabe. He also wrote Kitab al-Tarikh and his book on sun-dials was captioned Kitab al-Rukhmat, but both of them have been lost.
The influence of Khawarizmi on the growth of science, in general, and mathematics, astronomy and geography in particular, is well established in history. Several of his books were readily translated into a number of other languages, and, in fact, constituted the university text-books till the 16th century. His approach was systematic and logical, and not only did he bring together the then prevailing knowledge on various branches of science, particularly mathematics, but also enriched it through his original contribution. No doubt he has been held in high repute throughout the centuries since then. [Adapted from Muslim Scholar's Page]
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