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Arabic mathematics : forgotten brilliance?

Recent research paints a new picture of the debt that we owe to Arabic/Islamic mathematics. Certainly many of the ideas which were previously thought to have been brilliant new conceptions due to European mathematicians of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth 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 the Arabic/Islamic contribution than to that of the Greeks.

There is a widely held view that, after a brilliant period for mathematics when the Greeks laid the foundations for modern mathematics, there was a period of stagnation before the Europeans took over where the Greeks left off at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The common perception of the period of 1000 years or so between the ancient Greeks and the European Renaissance is that little happened in the world of mathematics except that some Arabic translations of Greek texts were made which preserved the Greek learning so that it was available to the Europeans at the beginning of the sixteenth century.


Muhammad Our Prophet

Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Mecca ( Makkah), Arabia, on Monday, 12 Rabi’ Al-Awal (2 August A.D. 570). His mother, Aminah, was the daughter of Wahb Ibn Abdu Manaf of the Zahrah family. His father, ‘Abdullah, was the son of Abdul Muttalib. His genealogy has been traced to the noble house of Ishmael, the son of Prophet Abraham in about the fortieth descend. Muhammad’s father died before his birth.

Before he was six years old his mother died, and the doubly orphaned Muhammad was put under the charge of his grandfather Abdul Muttalib who took the most tender care of him. But the old chief died two years afterwards. On his deathbed he confided to his son Abu Talib the charge of the little orphan.

When Muhammad was twelve years old, he accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on a mercantile journey to Syria, and they proceeded as far as Busra. The journey lasted for some months. It was at Busra that the Christian monk Bahira met Muhammad. He is related to have said to Abu Talib: ‘Return with this boy and guard him against the hatred of the Jews, for a great career awaits your nephew.”

After this journey, the youth of Muhammad seems to have been passed uneventfully, but all authorities agree in ascribing to him such correctness of manners and purity of morals as were rare among the people of Mecca. The fair character and the honorable bearing of the unobtrusive youth won the approbation of the citizens of Mecca, and b y common consent he received the title of “Al Ameen,” The Faithful.

In his early years, Muhammad was not free from the cares of life. He had to watch the flocks of his uncle, who, like the rest of the Bani Hashim, had lost the greater part of his wealth.

From youth to manhood he led an almost solitary life. The lawlessness rife among the Meccans, the sudden outbursts of causeless and bloody quarrels among the tribes frequenting the Fair of Okadh (The Arabian Olympia), and the immorality and skepticism of the Quraish, naturally caused feelings of pity and sorrow in the heart of the sensitive youth. Such scenes of social misery and religious degradation were characteristic of a depraved age.

When Muhammad was twenty five years old, he traveled once more to Syria as a factor of a noble and rich Quraishi widow named Khadijah; and, having proved himself faithful in the commercial interests of that lady, he was soon rewarded with her hand in marriage. This marriage proved fortunate and singularly happy. Khadijah was much the senior of her husband, but in spite of the disparity of age between them, the most tender devotion on both sides existed. This marriage gave him the loving heart of a woman who was ever ready to console him in his despair and to keep alive within him the feeble, flickering flame of hope when no man believed in him and the world appeared gloomy in his eyes.


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