Islam House

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Arab contributions to mathematics and the introduction of the Zero

Starting around 750 AD, science flourished under the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, gradually spreading its influence as far west as Spain and eastwards into Central Asia, over a period of more than 600 years.

By drawing on a variety of texts - Greek, Indian and Persian - and translating them into Arabic, the early scholars accumulated the greatest body of scientific knowledge in the world … and built on it through their own discoveries.

Often, there was a practical Islamic relevance. Astronomy could be used to work out the direction of prayer. Mathematics was needed for dividing property according to the Islamic law of inheritance.

Although science flourished under Arab-Islamic patronage, by no means all the important figures in science were Muslims, or even Arabs.

The common factor, however, was the Arabic language, which for a time became the international language of science. It was only later, in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Arabic works began to be translated into Latin, that such knowledge passed to the west.

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