Historical Approach to Iranian / Persian Mathematics

Persian or Arabic Mathematics?

A Historical Approach to Maths of Ancient Persia by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour

Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. - Edmund Burke


The Persian Mathematician and Father of Modern Algebra

Al-Khwarizmi, earlier transliterated as Algoritmi


The Persian Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher, and Poet

Omar Khayyam


A Historical Note on Persian Mathematics

by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour

Before I start criticizing the great works of two Scottish mathematicians who have worked on the history of mathematics, I congratulate for their great research and I express that I have tried to seek for reality and there in no place for nationalism in my critics.
The question is that why most of the historical Iranian (Persian) scholars are considered as Arabs. For example while Khayyam is considered as a Persian poet, he is introduced as an Arab mathematician!
Iran is a large country and different ethnics live beside each other and some of them are Arab as well who live in Kuzestan, a southern province of Iran. Also we should not forget that in the past Iran (Persian Empire) was larger and during the history and after different separations, Iran's political borders have changed.
This is right that many of those scholars have written their works in Arabic (the international scientific language among people of that time), but this should not cause us to think that they were Arab. Today most of the scholars write in English, then should this cause us to consider them American for instance?
Though it is wonderful that the two esteemed mathematicians have started publishing some great articles about the contribution of Iranian mathematicians in the history of mathematics in Internet, but it is surprisingly strange that why they have categorized it as Arabic, the mathematics that has been nurtured and flourished by these great mathematicians, most of them non-Arab mathematicians!
The title of this great article is “Arabic mathematics: forgotten brilliance?” and then they start their article by this passage that “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.”
Again the question is why Arabic/Islamic contribution?

And this passage becomes more interesting when they add that “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.

That such views should be generally held is of no surprise. Many leading historians of mathematics have contributed to the perception by either omitting any mention of Arabic/Islamic mathematics in the historical development of the subject or with statements such as that made by Duhem in [3]:

... Arabic science only reproduced the teachings received from Greek science.”

And at the end when they want to describe the period that they want to discuss they write:

“Before we proceed it is worth trying to define the period that this article covers and give an overall description to cover the mathematicians who contributed. The period we cover is easy to describe: it stretches from the end of the eighth century to about the middle of the fifteenth century. Giving a description to cover the mathematicians who contributed, however, is much harder. The works [6] and [17] are on "Islamic mathematics", similar to [1] which uses the title the "Muslim contribution to mathematics". Other authors try the description "Arabic mathematics", see for example [10] and [11]. However, certainly not all the mathematicians we wish to include were Muslims; some were Jews, some Christians, some of other faiths. Nor were all these mathematicians Arabs, but for convenience we will call our topic "Arab mathematics".”

The inconvenience shows itself when they vividly express that “the regions from which the "Arab mathematicians" came was centred on Iran/Iraq but varied with military conquest during the period. At its greatest extent it stretched to the west through Turkey and North Africa to include most of Spain, and to the east as far as the borders of China.”

And when one refers to the biographies of these mathematicians understands that most of them have been from Persia (now Iran), so why those mathematicians must be considered as Arabs. And since Persians have had a very great and glorious culture and civilization in pre-Islamic ages, then why there is no mention to the probable influence of pre-Islamic Persian mathematics on “Persian mathematics from the end of the eighth century to about the middle of the fifteenth century”!

And at the end, despite of this critic to their work, I consider their works very useful for the history of mathematics, since thanks to the great efforts of these specialists of the history of mathematics, today we know that what those historical mathematicians did was not just a reproduction of the works of Greeks!

Amir Chakhmaq Complex, Yazd, Iran (Persia)