Al-Khwārizmī – Biography, Notable Achievements & Facts
Many researchers believe that algebra can reveal the ultimate make-up of our universe because of its versatility. Despite the fact that flight and high-speed transportation rely on algebraic equations, their historical roots are of little interest in today’s world. The story of the mathematical roots runs deep, and one prominent figure at the core of it all is al-Khwārizmī, the Persian polymath regarded by many as “The Father of Algebra”.
Below, World History Edu takes an in-depth look into the life and major achievements of this great mathematician.
al-Khwārizmī and the Islamic Golden Age
The significant scientific breakthroughs seen today are founded on the contributions made by scientists from many parts of the world over the ages. The Arab world is one area that has made huge contributions to scientific understanding and application. The period between the eighth and thirteenth centuries CE saw the greatest scientific development. During this time, which historians like to refer to as the “Islamic Golden Age,” many important scientific advances were made in the Muslim world.
It is interesting to note that while the Muslim world had a flourishing cultural and scientific transformation, Europe “wallowed” in the Dark Ages. The Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was one of those scholars that contributed tremendously to the Islamic Golden Age. His contributions were mainly in mathematics and astronomy.
Known simply as “Al-Khwarizmi,” Abu Abdalla Muhammad Ibn Musa was born in the city of Khwarazm, a region that is now part of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It’s been stated that he was born around 780 CE. At a young age, he and his family relocated from Persia to a neighborhood in southern Baghdad.
In his youth, served as a scholar in the court of Caliph Al-Mamun of Baghdad, who was also a science enthusiast. After his long years of service to Caliph Al-Mamun, Al-Khwarizmi was invited to join the Da’rul Hikma. To promote the development of science and philosophy in the Arab world, the Fatimid caliphs of Baghdad founded an educational institution known as the Dar-el-Hikma (Arabic for “House of Wisdom ”). Al-Khwārizmī was appointed as the head of the library.
Many scientists and academics from all over the world would travel to this institution to either add to the body of global knowledge or to take advantage of its resources. The resources available to Al-Khwarizmi at this institute were invaluable to his studies in mathematics and astronomy. During the years 813-833 CE, Al-Khwarizmi produced most of his works; and since he could also communicate effectively in Arabic, he was able to take advantage of the vast academic literature produced in that language. The mathematician reached a huge audience with his own publications, despite being a Persian speaker by birth.
Achievements and Contributions of al-Khwārizmī
The following are some of the most notable accomplishments of Al-Khwārizmī:
Development of Algebra
As a mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions to the field of algebra had far-reaching significance. Before his time, algebraic problems were often solved by turning to geometry; therefore until his work came, algebra was not considered a distinct area of study. Due to this, he devoted many hours to studying the topic, and his efforts paid off with the development of groundbreaking discoveries.
Al-Khwarizmi pioneered a methodical approach to solving algebraic problems. He developed the first systematic technique to solving algebraic problems by presenting analytical solutions to linear and quadratic equations. When solving linear or quadratic equations with Al- Khwrizm’s approach, the equation was first reduced to one of six standard forms. For example, squares equal roots (ax2 = bx) and squares and roots equal number (ax2 + bx = c), (where b and c are positive integers).
Coining the number Zero
One of the first academics to realize the significance of the Hindu number system to mathematics was Al-Khwarizmi. His groundbreaking work that defined these signs paved the way for the widespread adoption of the 10-digit system across the Arab world. This 10-digit system is commonly referred to as the Arabic number system since it was originally widely adopted and used by Arabs. Al-Khwarizmi was also one of the first mathematicians to employ zero in the positional base. This made the advances in arithmetic algorithms spread much faster since it allowed mathematicians to find quick and easy solutions to mathematical problems that had previously taken a long period to solve.
Advances In the Trigonometric and Algorithmic Concepts
Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions expanded the body of knowledge in trigonometry. He was able to acquire several mathematical notions from the Indians since he studied Indian mathematics at length. He made significant progress in Islamic trigonometry by using the Indian sine function. Trigonometric functions developed by Muslim mathematicians prior to the introduction of the sine function were based on absolute lengths rather than ratios. This approach was inefficient, and it couldn’t be used to perform sophisticated calculations. The sine function, which Al-Khwarizmi introduced, allowed mathematicians to improve upon previous methods of tabulation.
Al-Khwarizmi is also widely regarded as the creator of the algorithm concept. To answer mathematical issues, he advocated following a logical progression, which was a central theme in his work. He proposed that accurate results could be obtained by following the detailed technique he provided for solving linear equations using logic-based Algorithmic concepts. In the 20th century, computer scientists have made use of this method of problem solving by breaking it down into smaller steps and inculcating it into the modern computer.
Contributions to Astronomy
Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions to astronomy were just as important as those he made to mathematics. He developed detailed astronomical tables, which became standards in modern astronomy. Both Islamic and Western Astronomers relied heavily on the astronomical guidebook with tables known as an Islamic Zij.
Around the year 844, a collection of astronomical writings was compiled and later proved to be an invaluable resource for researchers. Numerous calculations and calculation methods derived from Indian astronomers were incorporated into these tables. Indian astronomy included mathematical calculations that connected the angular diameters of the sun and moon to their angular velocities. Al-Khwarizmi applied a number of those ideas. Khwarizmi’s tables included not just information from Indian publications, but also data from Greek and Iranian pre-Islamic astronomy.
His work was the first to introduce Indian-inspired astronomical techniques to the Western world, attracting a large readership. They were eventually translated into Latin, which exposed them to an even wider public. Maslama of Madrid, a prominent Western astronomer, used Al-Khwarizmi’s work to further his own research.
Contributions to Geography
The geographical book called “Kitab Surat al-ard” (“Book of the Form of the Earth”) was written by Al-Khwrizmi in 833 with the intention of revising Ptolemy’s Geography. He straightened out the length of the Mediterranean Sea, which was distorted on Ptolemy’s map. Even though it was a lot more accurate, it was not accepted as a viable alternative to Ptolemaic geography in Europe.
In his groundbreaking geography work, Al-Khwarizmi provided the coordinates of 2,402 cities and other points of interest around the world, providing the basis for a map of the globe. The maps in his book were, on the whole, more precise than Ptolemy’s. In the nutshell, Al-Khwarizmi organized Ptolemy’s geographical and astronomical findings and rectified them with his own. He directed the efforts of seventy cartographers to draw a map of the “known world.” Amazingly, the Pacific coast of South America is depicted on this map of the “known world” almost 700 years before the famous explorer Christopher Columbus stumbled upon America.
- The mathematician was the director of the House of Wisdom, a renowned library in Baghdad.
- He is commonly cited as the person who first developed algebra. The word “algebra” is derived from the name of one of his most influential books, “Hisab Al-Jabr Al-Muqabala”.
- Al-Khwarizmi is so well known for his contributions to mathematics and astronomy that a large crater on the moon bears his name.
- His most notable works include, “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion” and “Book of the Description of the Earth” and “Astronomical Tables of Siddhanta”.
Legacy and Death
Originally written in Arabic, Al-Khwarizmi’s treatise on algebra was translated into Latin in 1140 and had a profound impact on the advancement of science in Europe. His book quickly became the mandated textbook and was used to teach mathematics across all ages for many years. He died some time after 847.