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Arab Contributions

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Within a century of Muhammad's conquest of Mecca, Islamic armies conquered lands from northern Africa, southern Europe, through the Middle East and east up to India. Within a century of that the Caliphate split up into several parts. The eastern segment, under the Abbasid caliphs, became a center of growth, of luxury, and of peace. In 766 the caliph al-Mansur founded his capitol in Baghdad and the caliph Harun al-Rashid, established a library. The stage was set for his successor, Al-Ma'mum.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 In the 9 tex2html_wrap_inline195 century Al-Ma'mum established Baghdad as the new center of wisdom and learning. He establihed a research institute, the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), which would last more than 200 years. tex2html_wrap_inline191 Al-Ma'mum was responsible for a large scale translation project of as many ancient works as could be found. Greek manuscripts were obtained through treaties. By the end of the tex2html_wrap_inline199 century, the major works of the Greeks had been translated. In addition, they learned the mathematics of the Babylonnians and the Hindus.

What follows is a brief introduction to a few of the more prominent Arab mathematicians, and a sample of their work

Abu l'Hasan al-Uqlidisi

tex2html_wrap_inline191 In al-Uqlidisi's book Kita b al-fusul fi-l-hisab al-Hindii (The book of chapters on Hindu Arithmetic), two new contributions are significant: (1) an algorithm for multiplication on paper is given, and (2) decimal fractions are used for the first time. Both methods do not resemble modern ones, but the methods are easily understood using modern terminology.

Abu Ja'far Muhammad
ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi
Born: about 790 in Baghdad (now in Iraq)
Died: about 850


sometimes called the ``Father of Algebra''.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Al-Khwarizmi  most important work Hisab al-jabr w'al-muqabala written in 830 gives us the word algebra . This treatise classifies the solution of quadratic equations and gives geometric methods for completing the square. No symbols are used and no negative or zero coefficients were allowed.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Al-Khwarizmi  also wrote on Hindu-Arabic numerals. The Arabic text is lost, but a Latin translation, Algoritmi de numero Indorum in English Al-Khwarizmi  on the Hindu Art of Reckoning gave rise to the word algorithm deriving from his name in the title.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 To him we owe the words AlgebraAlgorithm

tex2html_wrap_inline191 His book Al-jabr wál Mugabala, on algebra, was translated into Latin and used for generations in Europe.

Other Arab mathematicians

Abu Kamil Shuja ibn Aslam ibn Muhammad ibn Shuja
Born: about 850 in (possibly) Egypt
Died: about 930

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Abu Kamil Shuja is sometimes known as al'Hasib and he worked on integer solutions of equations. He also gave the solution of a fourth degree equation and of a quadratic equations with irrational coefficients.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Abu Kamil's work was the basis of Fibonacci's books. He lived later than Al-Khwarizmi; his biggest advance was in the use of irrational coefficients (surds).

Abu'l-Hasan Thabit ibn Qurra
Born: 826 in Harran, Mesopotamia (now Turkey)
Died: 18 Feb 901 in Baghdad, (now in Iraq)

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Thabit was a native of Harran and inherited a large family fortune which enabled him to go to Baghdad where he obtained his mathematical training. He returned to Harran but his liberal philosophies led to a religious court appearance when he had to recant his 'heresies'. To escape further persecution he left Harran and was appointed court astronomer in Baghdad.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Thabit generalized Pythagoras's theorem to an arbitrary triangle (as did Pappus. He also considers parabolas, angle trisection and magic squares.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He was regarded as Arabic equivalent of Pappus, the commentator on higher mathematics.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He was also founder of the school that translated works by Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Eutocius but Diophantus and Pappus were unknown to the Arabs until the 10 tex2html_wrap_inline195 century. Without his efforts many more of the ancient books would have been lost.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Perhaps most impressive is his contribution to amicable numbers, that is two numbers who are each the sum of the divisors of the other.

Theorem. tex2html_wrap_inline229 tex2html_wrap_inline231 tex2html_wrap_inline233 , then tex2html_wrap_inline235 and tex2html_wrap_inline237 are amicable.

Theorem. (Generalization of Pythagorean Theorem.) From the vertex A of tex2html_wrap_inline241 , construct B' and C' so that tex2html_wrap_inline247 Then tex2html_wrap_inline249


Proof. Apply similarity ideas


tex2html_wrap_inline253 Note: If tex2html_wrap_inline255 , this is the Pythagorean Theorem.

tex2html_wrap_inline253 This is the third generalization of the Pythagorean Theorem.

Mohammad Abu'l-Wafa al'Buzjani
Born: 10 June 940 in Buzjan (now in Iran)
Died: 15 July 998 in Baghdad (now in Iraq)

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Abu'l-Wafa translated and wrote commentaries, since lost, on the works of Euclid, Diophantus and Al-Khwarizmi. For example, he translated Arithmetica by Diophantus.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He is best known for the first use of the tangent function and compiling tables of sines and tangents at 15' intervals. This work was done as part of an investigation into the orbit of the Moon.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 His trigonometric tables are accurate to 8 decimal places (converted to decimal notation) while Ptolemy's were only accurate to 3 places!!

Abu Bakr al-Karaji
( al-Karkhi)
early 11 tex2html_wrap_inline195 century)

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Arabic disciple of Diophantus - without Diophantine analysis.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Gave numerical solution to equations of the form


(only positive roots were considered).

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He proved


in such a way that it was extendable to every integer. The proof is interesting in the sense that it uses the two essential steps of mathematical induction.gif Nevertheless, this is the first known proof.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 al-Karkji's mathematics, more that most other Arab mathematics, pointed to the direction of Renaissance. mathematics.

Omar Khayyam
Born: May 1048 in Nishapur, Persia (now Iran)
Died: Dec 1122 in Nishapur, Persia (now Iran)

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Omar Khayyam's full name was Abu al-Fath Omar ben Ibrahim al-Khayyam. A literal translation of his name means 'tent maker' and this may have been his fathers trade. Khayyam is best known as a result of Edward Fitzgerald's popular translation in 1859 of nearly 600 short four line poems, the Rubaiyat.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Khayyam was a poet as well as a mathematician. He discovered a geometrical method to solve cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle but, at least in part, these methods had been described by earlier authors such as Abu al-Jud.

Consider the circle and parabola


Substitute and simplify to get


which factored gives


So, the intersection x is the solution of the cubic:


tex2html_wrap_inline191 Khayyam was an outstanding mathematician and astronomer. His work on algebra was known throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, and he also contributed to a calendar reform. Khayyam refers in his algebra book to another work of his which is now lost. In that lost work Khayyam discusses Pascal's triangle but the Chinese may have discussed triangle slightly before this date.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 The algebra of Khayyam is geometrical, solving linear and quadratic equations by methods appearing in Euclid's Elements.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Khayyam also gave important results on ratios giving a new definition and extending Euclid's work to include the multiplication of ratios. He poses the question of whether a ratio can be regarded as a number but leaves the question unanswered.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Khayyam's fame as a poet has caused some to forget his scientific achievements which were much more substantial. Versions of the forms and verses used in the Rubaiyat existed in Persian literature before Khayyam, and few of its verses can be attributed to him with certainty.

Ghiyath al'Din Jamshid Mas'ud al'Kashi
Born: 1390 in Kashan, Iran
Died: 1450 in Samarkand (now Uzbek)

tex2html_wrap_inline191 Al-Kashi worked at Samarkand, having partron Ulugh Beggif.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He calculated tex2html_wrap_inline303 to 16 decimal places and considered himself the inventor of decimal fractions. In fact, he gives tex2html_wrap_inline305 as


which was the best until about 1700.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 He wrote The Reckoners' Key which summarizes arithmetic and contains work on algebra and geometry.

tex2html_wrap_inline191 In another work, al'Kashi applied the method now known as fixed-point iteration to solve a cubic equation having tex2html_wrap_inline313 as a root.

Generally, for an equation of the form


we define the iteration


where tex2html_wrap_inline319 is some initial ``guess". If the iterations converge, then it is a solution of the equation. Such a method is called a fixed point iteration. Another more famous fixed point iteration is Newton's Method


tex2html_wrap_inline191 He also worked on solutions of systems of equations and developed methods for finding the tex2html_wrap_inline325 root of a number - Horner's method today. [Note. This method also appeared in Chinese mathematics in 1303 in the Ssu-yüan-yü-chien (Precious Mirror of the Four Elements)]

Horner's Method

Example. Solve


First determine that a solution lies between x=19 and x=20. Now apply the transformation


to obtain


We know there is a root between y=0 and y=1. Thus there are two ways to approximate the solution for y:

If tex2html_wrap_inline343 then tex2html_wrap_inline345 is even closer to zero, and this term may be taken as zero, giving the approximate solution


so that tex2html_wrap_inline349 . We may also factor the equation as


Letting the y in the parentheses be 1, solve for the other to get hence the approximation


so that tex2html_wrap_inline355 .

Clearly the first is slightly too large, while the second is slightly too small. Which should be selected? al'Kashi selects the second, tex2html_wrap_inline357 . Why?

tex2html_wrap_inline191 After Al-Kashi, Arabic mathematics closes as does the whole Muslim world. But scholarship in Europe at this time was on the up-swing.

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Don Allen
Thu Mar 6 09:44:30 CST 1997