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The Influence Of Islamic Mathematicians Essay

1708 words - 7 pages

It’s hard to believe that a civilization consisting of once illiterate nomadic warriors could have a profound impact on the field of mathematics. Yet, many scholars credit the Arabs with preserving much of ancient wisdom. After conquering much of Eastern Europe and Northern Africa the Islamic based Abbasid Empire transitioned away from military conquest into intellectual enlightenment. Florian Cajori speaks of this transition in A History of Mathematics. He states, “Astounding as was the grand march of conquest by the Arabs, still more so was the ease hit which they put aside their former nomadic life adopted a higher civilization, and assumed the sovereignty over cultivated peoples” (Cajori ...view middle of the document...

In addition, they made significant contributions to both geometry and algebra crucial to mathematics today.
In the early 7th century, the civilization that would later become the forerunner in mathematical thought consisted of numerous warrior tribes who, for the most part, were unable to read or write. Motivated by religious enthusiasm, the tribes conquered Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, as well as parts of India and Northern Africa (Boyer 225). Boyer describes this society by saying, “The first century of the Muslim empire had been devoid of intellectual interest, and they had little culture”(Boyer 226). Because of this deficit in culture, the Islamic empire was forced to adopt the cultures of neighboring civilizations. Boyer makes an interesting observation on the tendency of the culture of captive lands to permeate that of its captors. He states “We see a repetition of the situation when Rome conquered Greece, of which it was said that, in a cultural sense, captive Greece took captive the captor Rome” (Boyer 226). From this quote it can be seen that Abbasid culture was molded by the civilizations it came in contact with in the same way Roman culture was molded by the Greeks. Cajori, speaks of the importance of geography on the intellectual success of the Abbasid Empire by saying, “The capital, Bagdad situated on the Euphrates, lay half-way between two old centres of scientific thought, India in the East, and Greece in the West” (Cajori 99). These two civilizations had a profound impact on the growth culture within Islamic society.
The Abbasid Empire did not just acquire knowledge from older civilizations, however. An important effect of its quest for knowledge was preservation. Boyer claims “Had it not been for the sudden cultural awakening in Islam during the second half of the eighth century, considerably more of ancient science and mathematics would have been lost” (Boyer 227). As the Abbasid Empire emerged as a cultural center, the rest of Europe and Asia was declining. According to Cajori, “The Arabs were destined to be the custodians of the torch of Greek Science, to keep it ablaze during the period of confusion and chaos in the Occident, and afterwards pass it over to the Europeans. This remark applies in part also to Hindu science” (Cajori 99). The Muslim House of Wisdom at Baghdad played a large role in the preservation of older works. In addition to housing the translated works, it attracted mathematicians and scientists from all over the world. Most notably amongst the faculty of the Muslim House of Wisdom was Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician, known as the father of algebra. Al-Khwarizmi used a unique style of Hindu-Grecian geometry to write his exhaustive book on quadratic proofs called, Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala. The term al-jabr is the origin for the word algebra. Al-Khwarzmi also wrote on the Hindu numerals in, The Hindu Art of Reckoning. He did not however, combine these two ideas....

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