Who invented algebra?

Historical revisionism and political correctness continue to gain space in the “Mailbag” section. Latest is the claim by Richard Bennett (Oct. 20) criticizing the Rev. Bryan Griem about yoga. Bennett claims “algebra … was invented by a Muslim.” This is utter nonsense.

A Muslim? Who? Well, several pro-Islamist websites claim he was Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa, described by them as the father of algebra. But there’s a slight problem: Abu Ja’far was a newcomer. He lived from 780 to 850 AD. The origins of algebra precede his birth by 2,500 years — in ancient Babylonia, Egypt and Athens.

The earliest known origins are the Rhind mathematical papyrus, written by the scribe Ahmes (or Ahmose) in Egypt around 1650 BC. Other authorities credit the Athenian Diophantus as the father of algebra, based on his series of books, “Arithmetica,” whose texts deal with solving algebraic equations. Diophantus lived and wrote 900 years before the founding of Islam in 610 AD — and 1,100 years before Abu Ja’far.

Indeed, the English word “algebra” comes from the Arabic word al-jabru. But al-jabru is not Arabic for invention or discovery — it means restoration or reunion. This clearly indicates acknowledgment of previous science, invention and use of algebra by others — not Muslims.

Let's get ancient history and the facts straight.

Allen E. Brandstater

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