Islamic Mathematics

In the history of mathematics, mathematics in medieval Islam, often termed Islamic mathematics, is the mathematics developed in the Islamic world between 622 and 1600, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age, in that part of the world where Islam was the dominant religion. Islamic science and mathematics flourished under the Islamic caliphate (also known as the Islamic Empire) established across the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, Southern Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, and, at its peak, parts of France and India as well. Islamic activity in mathematics was largely centered around modern-day Iraq and Persia, but at its greatest extent stretched from North Africa and Spain in the west to India in the east.

While most scientists in this period were Muslims and wrote in Arabic, many of the best known contributors were Persians as well as Arabs, in addition to Berber, Moorish and Turkic contributors, as well as some from other religions (Christians, Jews, Sabians, Zoroastrians, and the irreligious). Arabic was the dominant language—much like Latin in Medieval Europe, Arabic was the written lingua franca of most scholars throughout the Islamic world.

Origins and influences

The first century of the Islamic Arab Empire saw almost no scientific or mathematical achievements since the Arabs, with their newly conquered empire, had not yet gained any intellectual drive and research in other parts of the world had faded. In the second half of the eighth century Islam had a cultural awakening, and research in mathematics and the sciences increased. The Muslim Abbasid caliph al-Mamun (809-833) is said to have had a dream where Aristotle appeared to him, and as a consequence al-Mamun ordered that Arabic translation be made of as many Greek works as possible, including Ptolemy's Almagest and Euclid's Elements. Greek works would be given to the Muslims by the Byzantine Empire in exchange for treaties, as the two empires held an uneasy peace. Many of these Greek works were translated by Thabit ibn Qurra (826-901), who translated books written by Euclid, Archimedes, Apollonius, Ptolemy, and Eutocius. Historians are in debt to many Islamic translators, for it is through their work that many ancient Greek texts have survived only through Arabic translations.

Greek, Indian and Babylonian all played an important role in the development of early Islamic mathematics. The works of mathematicians such as Euclid, Apollonius, Archimedes, Diophantus, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta were all acquired by the Islamic world and incorporated into their mathematics. Perhaps the most influential mathematical contribution from India was the decimal place-value Indo-Arabic numeral system, also known as the Hindu numerals. The Persian historian al-Biruni (c. 1050) in his book Tariq al-Hind states that al-Ma'mun had an embassy in India from which was brought a book to Baghdad that was translated into Arabic as Sindhind. It is generally assumed that Sindhind is none other than Brahmagupta's Brahmasphuta-siddhanta.[9] The earliest translations from Sanskrit inspired several astronomical and astrological Arabic works, now mostly lost, some of which were even composed in verse. Biruni described Indian mathematics as a "mix of common pebbles and costly crystals".

Indian influences were later overwhelmed by Greek mathematical and astronomical texts. It is not clear why this occurred but it may have been due to the greater availability of Greek texts in the region, the larger number of practitioners of Greek mathematics in the region, or because Islamic mathematicians favored the deductive exposition of the Greeks over the elliptic Sanskrit verse of the Indians. Regardless of the reason, Indian mathematics soon became mostly eclipsed by or merged with the "Graeco-Islamic" science founded on Hellenistic treatises. Another likely reason for the declining Indian influence in later periods was due to Sindh achieving independence from the Caliphate, thus limiting access to Indian works. Nevertheless, Indian methods continued to play an important role in algebra, arithmetic and trigonometry.

Besides the Greek and Indian tradition, a third tradition which had a significant influence on mathematics in medieval Islam was the "mathematics of practitioners", which included the applied mathematics of "surveyors, builders, artisans, in geometric design, tax and treasury officials, and some merchants." This applied form of mathematics transcended ethnic divisions and was a common heritage of the lands incorporated into the Islamic world. This tradition also includes the religious observances specific to Islam, which served as a major impetus for the development of mathematics as well as astronomy.

A major impetus for the flowering of mathematics as well as astronomy in medieval Islam came from religious observances, which presented an assortment of problems in astronomy and mathematics, specifically in trigonometry, spherical geometry, algebra and arithmetic.

The Islamic law of inheritance served as an impetus behind the development of algebra (derived from the Arabic al-jabr) by Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī and other medieval Islamic mathematicians. Al-Khwārizmī's Hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala devoted a chapter on the solution to the Islamic law of inheritance using algebra. He formulated the rules of inheritance as linear equations, hence his knowledge of quadratic equations was not required. Later mathematicians who specialized in the Islamic law of inheritance included Al-Hassār, who developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions in the 12th century, and Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī, who developed an algebraic notation which took "the first steps toward the introduction of algebraic symbolism" in the 15th century.

In order to observe holy days on the Islamic calendar in which timings were determined by phases of the moon, astronomers initially used Ptolemy's method to calculate the place of the moon and stars. The method Ptolemy used to solve spherical triangles, however, was a clumsy one devised late in the first century by Menelaus of Alexandria. It involved setting up two intersecting right triangles; by applying Menelaus' theorem it was possible to solve one of the six sides, but only if the other five sides were known. To tell the time from the sun's altitude, for instance, repeated applications of Menelaus' theorem were required. For medieval Islamic astronomers, there was an obvious challenge to find a simpler trigonometric method.

Regarding the issue of moon sighting, Islamic months do not begin at the astronomical new moon, defined as the time when the moon has the same celestial longitude as the sun and is therefore invisible; instead they begin when the thin crescent moon is first sighted in the western evening sky.The Qur'an says: "They ask you about the waxing and waning phases of the crescent moons, say they are to mark fixed times for mankind and Hajj." This led Muslims to find the phases of the moon in the sky, and their efforts led to new mathematical calculations.

Predicting just when the crescent moon would become visible is a special challenge to Islamic mathematical astronomers. Although Ptolemy's theory of the complex lunar motion was tolerably accurate near the time of the new moon, it specified the moon's path only with respect to the ecliptic. To predict the first visibility of the moon, it was necessary to describe its motion with respect to the horizon, and this problem demands fairly sophisticated spherical geometry. Finding the direction of Mecca and the time of Salah are the reasons which led to Muslims developing spherical geometry. Solving any of these problems involves finding the unknown sides or angles of a triangle on the celestial sphere from the known sides and angles. A way of finding the time of day, for example, is to construct a triangle whose vertices are the zenith, the north celestial pole, and the sun's position. The observer must know the altitude of the sun and that of the pole; the former can be observed, and the latter is equal to the observer's latitude. The time is then given by the angle at the intersection of the meridian (the arc through the zenith and the pole) and the sun's hour circle (the arc through the sun and the pole).

Muslims are also expected to pray towards the Kaaba in Mecca and orient their mosques in that direction. Thus they need to determine the direction of Mecca (Qibla) from a given location. Another problem is the time of Salah. Muslims need to determine from celestial bodies the proper times for the prayers at sunrise, at midday, in the afternoon, at sunset, and in the evening.


J. J. O'Conner and E. F. Robertson wrote in the MacTutor History of Mathematics archive:

"Recent research paints a new picture of the debt that we owe to Islamic mathematics. Certainly many of the ideas which were previously thought to have been brilliant new conceptions due to European mathematicians of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries are now known to have been developed by Arabic/Islamic mathematicians around four centuries earlier. In many respects, the mathematics studied today is far closer in style to that of Islamic mathematics than to that of Greek mathematics."

R. Rashed wrote in The development of Arabic mathematics: between arithmetic and algebra:

"Al-Khwarizmi's successors undertook a systematic application of arithmetic to algebra, algebra to arithmetic, both to trigonometry, algebra to the Euclidean theory of numbers, algebra to geometry, and geometry to algebra. This was how the creation of polynomial algebra, combinatorial analysis, numerical analysis, the numerical solution of equations, the new elementary theory of numbers, and the geometric construction of equations arose."


Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf ibn Maṭar (786 – 833)
Al-Ḥajjāj translated Euclid's Elements into Arabic.
Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780 Khwarezm/Baghdad – c. 850 Baghdad)
Al-Khwārizmī was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and geographer. He worked most of his life as a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. His Algebra was the first book on the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. Latin translations of his Arithmetic, on the Indian numerals, introduced the decimal positional number system to the Western world in the 12th century. He revised and updated Ptolemy's Geography as well as writing several works on astronomy and astrology.
Al-ʿAbbās ibn Saʿid al-Jawharī (c. 800 Baghdad? – c. 860 Baghdad?)
Al-Jawharī was a mathematician who worked at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. His most important work was his Commentary on Euclid's Elements which contained nearly 50 additional propositions and an attempted proof of the parallel postulate.
ʿAbd al-Hamīd ibn Turk (fl. 830 Baghdad)
Ibn Turk wrote a work on algebra of which only a chapter on the solution of quadratic equations has survived.
Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (c. 801 Kufa – 873 Baghdad)
Al-Kindī (or Alkindus) was a philosopher and scientist who worked as the House of Wisdom in Baghdad where he wrote commentaries on many Greek works. His contributions to mathematics include many works on arithmetic and geometry.
Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808 Al-Hirah – 873 Baghdad)
Hunayn (or Johannitus) was a translator who worked at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Translated many Greek works including those by Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Hippocrates, and the Neoplatonists.
Banū Mūsā (c. 800 Baghdad – 873+ Baghdad)
The Banū Mūsā were three brothers who worked at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Their most famous mathematical treatise is The Book of the Measurement of Plane and Spherical Figures, which considered similar problems as Archimedes did in his On the Measurement of the Circle and On the sphere and the cylinder. They contributed individually as well. The eldest, Jaʿfar Muḥammad (c. 800) specialised in geometry and astronomy. He wrote a critical revision on Apollonius' Conics called Premises of the book of conics. Aḥmad (c. 805) specialised in mechanics and wrote a work on pneumatic devices called On mechanics. The youngest, al-Ḥasan (c. 810) specialised in geometry and wrote a work on the ellipse called The elongated circular figure.
Ahmed ibn Yusuf
Thabit ibn Qurra (Syria-Iraq, 835-901)
Al-Hashimi (Iraq? ca. 850-900)
Muḥammad ibn Jābir al-Ḥarrānī al-Battānī (c. 853 Harran – 929 Qasr al-Jiss near Samarra)
Abu Kamil (Egypt? ca. 900)
Sinan ibn Tabit (ca. 880 - 943)
Ibrahim ibn Sinan (Iraq, 909-946)
Al-Khazin (Iraq-Iran, ca. 920-980)
Al-Karabisi (Iraq? 10th century?)
Ikhwan al-Safa' (Iraq, first half of 10th century)
The Ikhwan al-Safa' ("brethren of purity") were a (mystical?) group in the city of Basra in Irak. The group authored a series of more than 50 letters on science, philosophy and theology. The first letter is on arithmetic and number theory, the second letter on geometry.
Al-Uqlidisi (Iraq-Iran, 10th century)
Al-Saghani (Iraq-Iran, ca. 940-1000)
Abū Sahl al-Qūhī (Iraq-Iran, ca. 940-1000)
Abū al-Wafāʾ al-Būzjānī (Iraq-Iran, ca. 940-998)
Ibn Sahl (Iraq-Iran, ca. 940-1000)
Al-Sijzi (Iran, ca. 940-1000)
Labana of Cordoba (Spain, ca. 10th century)
One of the few Islamic female mathematicians known by name, and the secretary of the Umayyad Caliph al-Hakem II. She was well-versed in the exact sciences, and could solve the most complex geometrical and algebraic problems known in her time.
Ibn Yunus (Egypt, ca. 950-1010)
Abu Nasr ibn `Iraq (Iraq-Iran, ca. 950-1030)
Kushyar ibn Labban (Iran, ca. 960-1010)
Al-Karaji (Iran, ca. 970-1030)
Ibn al-Haytham (Iraq-Egypt, ca. 965-1040)
Abū al-Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī (September 15, 973 in Kath, Khwarezm – December 13, 1048 in Gazna)
Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
Al-Jayyani (Spain, ca. 1030-1090)
Ibn al-Zarqalluh (Azarquiel, al-Zarqali) (Spain, ca. 1030-1090)
Al-Mu'taman ibn Hud (Spain, ca. 1080)
al-Khayyam (Iran, ca. 1050-1130)
Ibn Yaḥyā al-Maghribī al-Samawʾal (ca. 1130, Baghdad – c. 1180, Maragha)
Al-Hassār (ca. 1100s, Maghreb)
Developed the modern mathematical notation for fractions and the digits he uses for the ghubar numerals also cloesly resembles modern Western Arabic numerals.
Ibn al-Yāsamīn (ca. 1100s, Maghreb)
The son of a Berber father and black African mother, he was the first to develop a mathematical notation for algebra since the time of Brahmagupta.
Sharaf al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (Iran, ca. 1150-1215)
Ibn Mun`im (Maghreb, ca. 1210)
Ibn al-Banna al-Marrakushi (Morocco, 13th century)
Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (18 February 1201 in Tus, Khorasan – 26 June 1274 in Kadhimain near Baghdad)
Muḥyi al-Dīn al-Maghribī (c. 1220 Spain – c. 1283 Maragha)
Shams al-Dīn al-Samarqandī (c. 1250 Samarqand – c. 1310)
Ibn Baso (Spain, ca. 1250-1320)
Ibn al-Banna' (Maghreb, ca. 1300)
Kamal al-Din Al-Farisi (Iran, ca. 1300)
Al-Khalili (Syria, ca. 1350-1400)
Ibn al-Shatir (1306–1375)
Qāḍī Zāda al-Rūmī (1364 Bursa – 1436 Samarkand)
Jamshīd al-Kāshī (Iran, Uzbekistan, ca. 1420)
Ulugh Beg (Iran, Uzbekistan, 1394–1449)
Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī (Maghreb, 1412–1482)
Last major medieval Arab mathematician. Pioneer of symbolic algebra.


The term algebra is derived from the Arabic term al-jabr in the title of Al-Khwarizmi's Al-jabr wa'l muqabalah. He originally used the term al-jabr to describe the method of "reduction" and "balancing", referring to the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation.

There are three theories about the origins of Islamic algebra. The first emphasizes Hindu influence, the second emphasizes Mesopotamian or Persian-Syriac influence, and the third emphasizes Greek influence. Many scholars believe that it is the result of a combination of all three sources.

Throughout their time in power, before the fall of Islamic civilization, the Arabs used a fully rhetorical algebra, where sometimes even the numbers were spelled out in words. The Arabs would eventually replace spelled out numbers (eg. twenty-two) with Arabic numerals (eg. 22), but the Arabs never adopted or developed a syncopated or symbolic algebra, until the work of Ibn al-Banna al-Marrakushi in the 13th century and Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī in the 15th century.

There were four conceptual stages in the development of algebra, three of which either began in, or were significantly advanced in, the Islamic world. These four stages were as follows:

* Geometric stage, where the concepts of algebra are largely geometric. This dates back to the Babylonians and continued with the Greeks, and was revived by Omar Khayyam.

* Static equation-solving stage, where the objective is to find numbers satisfying certain relationships. The move away from geometric algebra dates back to Diophantus and Brahmagupta, but algebra didn't decisively move to the static equation-solving stage until Al-Khwarizmi's Al-Jabr.

* Dynamic function stage, where motion is an underlying idea. The idea of a function began emerging with Sharaf al-Dīn al-Tūsī, but algebra didn't decisively move to the dynamic function stage until Gottfried Leibniz.

* Abstract stage, where mathematical structure plays a central role. Abstract algebra is largely a product of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī commemorated on an Iranian stamp upon the 700th anniversary of his

Static equation-solving algebra

Al-Khwarizmi and Al-jabr Wa'l Muqabalah

The Muslim Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780-850) was a faculty member of the "House of Wisdom" (Bait al-hikma) in Baghdad, which was established by Al-Mamun. Al-Khwarizmi, who died around 850 A.D., wrote more than half a dozen mathematical and astronomical works; some of which were based on the Indian Sindhind. One of al-Khwarizmi's most famous books is entitled Al-jabr wa'l muqabalah or The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, and it gives an exhaustive account of solving polynomials up to the second degree. The book also introduced the fundamental method of "reduction" and "balancing", referring to the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation. This is the operation which Al-Khwarizmi originally described as al-jabr.

Al-Jabr is divided into six chapters, each of which deals with a different type of formula. The first chapter of Al-Jabr deals with equations whose squares equal its roots (ax² = bx), the second chapter deals with squares equal to number (ax² = c), the third chapter deals with roots equal to a number (bx = c), the fourth chapter deals with squares and roots equal a number (ax² + bx = c), the fifth chapter deals with squares and number equal roots (ax² + c = bx), and the sixth and final chapter deals with roots and number equal to squares (bx + c = ax²).

J. J. O'Conner and E. F. Robertson wrote in the MacTutor History of Mathematics archive:

"Perhaps one of the most significant advances made by Arabic mathematics began at this time with the work of al-Khwarizmi, namely the beginnings of algebra. It is important to understand just how significant this new idea was. It was a revolutionary move away from the Greek concept of mathematics which was essentially geometry. Algebra was a unifying theory which allowed rational numbers, irrational numbers, geometrical magnitudes, etc., to all be treated as "algebraic objects". It gave mathematics a whole new development path so much broader in concept to that which had existed before, and provided a vehicle for future development of the subject. Another important aspect of the introduction of algebraic ideas was that it allowed mathematics to be applied to itself in a way which had not happened before."

The Hellenistic mathematician Diophantus was traditionally known as "the father of algebra" but debate now exists as to whether or not Al-Khwarizmi deserves this title instead. Those who support Diophantus point to the fact that the algebra found in Al-Jabr is more elementary than the algebra found in Arithmetica and that Arithmetica is syncopated while Al-Jabr is fully rhetorical. Those who support Al-Khwarizmi point to the fact that he gave an exhaustive explanation for the algebraic solution of quadratic equations with positive roots, introduced the fundamental methods of reduction and balancing, and was the first to teach algebra in an elementary form and for its own sake, whereas Diophantus was primarily concerned with the theory of numbers. In addition, R. Rashed and Angela Armstrong write:

"Al-Khwarizmi's text can be seen to be distinct not only from the Babylonian tablets, but also from Diophantus' Arithmetica. It no longer concerns a series of problems to be resolved, but an exposition which starts with primitive terms in which the combinations must give all possible prototypes for equations, which henceforward explicitly constitute the true object of study. On the other hand, the idea of an equation for its own sake appears from the beginning and, one could say, in a generic manner, insofar as it does not simply emerge in the course of solving a problem, but is specifically called on to define an infinite class of problems."

Ibn Turk and Logical Necessities in Mixed Equations

'Abd al-Hamīd ibn Turk (fl. 830) authored a manuscript entitled Logical Necessities in Mixed Equations, which is very similar to al-Khwarzimi's Al-Jabr and was published at around the same time as, or even possibly earlier than, Al-Jabr.The manuscript gives the exact same geometric demonstration as is found in Al-Jabr, and in one case the same example as found in Al-Jabr, and even goes beyond Al-Jabr by giving a geometric proof that if the determinant is negative then the quadratic equation has no solution. The similarity between these two works has led some historians to conclude that Islamic algebra may have been well developed by the time of al-Khwarizmi and 'Abd al-Hamid

Abū Kāmil and al-Karkhi

Arabic mathematicians were also the first to treat irrational numbers as algebraic objects. The Egyptian mathematician Abū Kāmil Shujā ibn Aslam (c. 850-930) was the first to accept irrational numbers (often in the form of a square root, cube root or fourth root) as solutions to quadratic equations or as coefficients in an equation. He was also the first to solve three non-linear simultaneous equations with three unknown variables.

Al-Karkhi (953-1029), also known as Al-Karaji, was the successor of Abū al-Wafā' al-Būzjānī (940-998) and he was the first to discover the solution to equations of the form ax2n + bxn = c. Al-Karkhi only considered positive roots. Al-Karkhi is also regarded as the first person to free algebra from geometrical operations and replace them with the type of arithmetic operations which are at the core of algebra today. His work on algebra and polynomials, gave the rules for arithmetic operations to manipulate polynomials. The historian of mathematics F. Woepcke, in Extrait du Fakhri, traité d'Algèbre par Abou Bekr Mohammed Ben Alhacan Alkarkhi (Paris, 1853), praised Al-Karaji for being "the first who introduced the theory of algebraic calculus". Stemming from this, Al-Karaji investigated binomial coefficients and Pascal's triangle.

Linear Algebra

In linear algebra and recreational mathematics, magic squares were known to Arab mathematicians, possibly as early as the 7th century, when the Arabs got into contact with Indian or South Asian culture, and learned Indian mathematics and astronomy, including other aspects of combinatorial mathematics. It has also been suggested that the idea came via China. The first magic squares of order 5 and 6 appear in an encyclopedia from Baghdad circa 983 AD, the Rasa'il Ihkwan al-Safa (Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity); simpler magic squares were known to several earlier Arab mathematicians.

The Arab mathematician Ahmad al-Buni, who worked on magic squares around 1200 AD, attributed mystical properties to them, although no details of these supposed properties are known. There are also references to the use of magic squares in astrological calculations, a practice that seems to have originated with the Arabs.

Geometric Algebra

Omar Khayyám (c. 1050-1123) wrote a book on Algebra that went beyond Al-Jabr to include equations of the third degree. Omar Khayyám provided both arithmetic and geometric solutions for quadratic equations, but he only gave geometric solutions for general cubic equations since he mistakenly believed that arithmetic solutions were impossible. His method of solving cubic equations by using intersecting conics had been used by Menaechmus, Archimedes, and Alhazen, but Omar Khayyám generalized the method to cover all cubic equations with positive roots.He only considered positive roots and he did not go past the third degree. He also saw a strong relationship between Geometry and Algebra.

Dynamic Functional Algebra

In the 12th century, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Tūsī found algebraic and numerical solutions to cubic equations and was the first to discover the derivative of cubic polynomials. His Treatise on Equations dealt with equations up to the third degree. The treatise does not follow Al-Karaji's school of algebra, but instead represents "an essential contribution to another algebra which aimed to study curves by means of equations, thus inaugurating the beginning of algebraic geometry." The treatise dealt with 25 types of equations, including twelve types of linear equations and quadratic equations, eight types of cubic equations with positive solutions, and five types of cubic equations which may not have positive solutions. He understood the importance of the discriminant of the cubic equation and used an early version of Cardano's formula to find algebraic solutions to certain types of cubic equations.

Sharaf al-Din also developed the concept of a function. In his analysis of the equation \ x^3 + d = bx^2 for example, he begins by changing the equation's form to \ x^2 (b - x) = d. He then states that the question of whether the equation has a solution depends on whether or not the “function” on the left side reaches the value \ d. To determine this, he finds a maximum value for the function. He proves that the maximum value occurs when x = \frac{2b}{3}, which gives the functional value \frac{4b^3}{27}. Sharaf al-Din then states that if this value is less than \ d, there are no positive solutions; if it is equal to \ d, then there is one solution at x = \frac{2b}{3}; and if it is greater than \ d, then there are two solutions, one between \ 0 and \frac{2b}{3} and one between \frac{2b}{3} and \ b. This was the earliest form of dynamic functional algebra.

Numerical analysis

In numerical analysis, the essence of Viète's method was known to Sharaf al-Dīn al-Tūsī in the 12th century, and it is possible that the algebraic tradition of Sharaf al-Dīn, as well as his predecessor Omar Khayyám and successor Jamshīd al-Kāshī, was known to 16th century European algebraists, of whom François Viète was the most important.

A method algebraically equivalent to Newton's method was also known to Sharaf al-Dīn. In the 15th century, his successor al-Kashi later used a form of Newton's method to numerically solve \ x^P - N = 0 to find roots of \ N. In western Europe, a similar method was later described by Henry Biggs in his Trigonometria Britannica, published in 1633.

Symbolic algebra

Al-Hassār, a mathematician from the Maghreb (North Africa) specializing in Islamic inheritance jurisprudence during the 12th century, developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions, where the numerator and denominator are separated by a horizontal bar. This same fractional notation appeared soon after in the work of Fibonacci in the 13th century.

Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī (1412–1482) was the last major medieval Arab algebraist, who improved on the algebraic notation earlier used in the Maghreb by Ibn al-Banna in the 13th century and by Ibn al-Yāsamīn in the 12th century. In contrast to the syncopated notations of their predecessors, Diophantus and Brahmagupta, which lacked symbols for mathematical operations, al-Qalasadi's algebraic notation was the first to have symbols for these functions and was thus "the first steps toward the introduction of algebraic symbolism." He represented mathematical symbols using characters from the Arabic alphabet.

The symbol x now commonly denotes an unknown variable. Even though any letter can be used, x is the most common choice. This usage can be traced back to the Arabic word šay' شيء = “thing,” used in Arabic algebra texts such as the Al-Jabr, and was taken into Old Spanish with the pronunciation “šei,” which was written xei, and was soon habitually abbreviated to x. (The Spanish pronunciation of “x” has changed since). Some sources say that this x is an abbreviation of Latin causa, which was a translation of Arabic شيء. This started the habit of using letters to represent quantities in algebra. In mathematics, an “italicized x” (x\!) is often used to avoid potential confusion with the multiplication symbol.


Arabic numerals

The Indian numeral system came to be known to both the Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, whose book On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals written circa 825, and the Arab mathematician Al-Kindi, who wrote four volumes, On the Use of the Indian Numerals (Ketab fi Isti'mal al-'Adad al-Hindi) circa 830, are principally responsible for the diffusion of the Indian system of numeration in the Middle-East and the West . In the 10th century, Middle-Eastern mathematicians extended the decimal numeral system to include fractions using decimal point notation, as recorded in a treatise by Syrian mathematician Abu'l-Hasan al-Uqlidisi in 952-953.

In the Arab world—until early modern times—the Arabic numeral system was often only used by mathematicians. Muslim astronomers mostly used the Babylonian numeral system, and merchants mostly used the Abjad numerals. A distinctive "Western Arabic" variant of the symbols begins to emerge in ca. the 10th century in the Maghreb and Al-Andalus, called the ghubar ("sand-table" or "dust-table") numerals, which is the direct ancestor to the modern Western Arabic numerals now used throughout the world.

The first mentions of the numerals in the West are found in the Codex Vigilanus of 976 . From the 980s, Gerbert of Aurillac (later, Pope Silvester II) began to spread knowledge of the numerals in Europe. Gerbert studied in Barcelona in his youth, and he is known to have requested mathematical treatises concerning the astrolabe from Lupitus of Barcelona after he had returned to France.

Al-Khwārizmī, the Persian scientist, wrote in 825 a treatise On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals, which was translated into Latin in the 12th century, as Algoritmi de numero Indorum, where "Algoritmi", the translator's rendition of the author's name gave rise to the word algorithm (Latin algorithmus) with a meaning "calculation method".

Al-Hassār, a mathematician from the Maghreb (North Africa) specializing in Islamic inheritance jurisprudence during the 12th century, developed the modern symbolic mathematical notation for fractions, where the numerator and denominator are separated by a horizontal bar. The "dust ciphers he used are also nearly identical to the digits used in the current Western Arabic numerals. These same digits and fractional notation appear soon after in the work of Fibonacci in the 13th century.

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