Algorithm: Origins of Artificial Intelligence in Islamic Golden Age

When Gmail completes your sentences or Netflix offers you recommendations for movies to watch, do you wonder where it all came from? Do you know how airplanes fly or autonomous vehicles drive on auto-pilot? What algorithms are used to make it happen? Who made these possible? Where did the word "algorithm" come from? Have you heard of Mohammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi?


The word algorithm comes from Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, the name of a Muslim mathematician and scientist who developed the concept of algorithms. He was appointed the head of the House of Wisdom (Darul Hikma) in Baghdad in 820 AD. He is also credited with the invention of Algebra (hisab al-jabr). Darul Hikma, also known as the Grand Library of Baghdad, was a major public academy and intellectual center in Baghdad during the Abbasid rule.

The House of Wisdom was founded by Caliph Haroon al-Rashid in the late 8th century that later turned into a public academy during the reign of Al-Ma'moon. It was destroyed by the Mongols in the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, leaving very little archaeological evidence.

AI Algorithms:

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure developed for accomplishing specific tasks. In artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms help  accomplish tasks that used to require human judgment —such as flying airplanes, driving vehicles, composing emails and making recommendations for books and movies. High-powered computers help execute these algorithms at high speeds.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Google have long used AI algorithms relying on user profile data to help advertisers target potential customers.  Now, under tremendous pressure from governments and civil society, the companies operating social media platforms are attempting to use AI algorithms for censoring hate speech.

Such algorithms are designed to be self-learning. They are trained by feeding lots data and examples selected by humans to help their ability to make judgements. Success rate of these algorithms improves with more data over time.

Artificial Intelligence Applications

Muslim Contributions to Math and Science:

A recent Twitter poll by Texas-based American journalist Wes Trueblood III asked the question: “Should schools in America be forced to teach Arabic numerals as a part of their curriculum?” He was shocked to see that 90% of respondents said "No".  It was obvious that they did not know the fact that Arabic numerals are already taught in American schools because all mathematics today is based on Arabic numerals. And without mathematics, there can be no STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Most people today are unaware of how much the Islamic civilization has contributed to mathematics, science and technology.  Dick Teresi, author of 'Lost Discoveries', says it is partly attributable to the reluctance of the western scientists to acknowledge the work of Muslim scientists. The claim of Muslims as being mere "conduits" of knowledge has been rejected by Dick Teresi. Says Teresi, "Clearly, the Arabs served as a conduit, but the math laid on the doorstep of Renaissance Europe cannot be attributed solely to ancient Greece. It incorporates the accomplishments of Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, India, China and the far reaches of the Medieval Islamic world.

Teresi describes the work done by Copernicus. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, a Persian Muslim astronomer and mathematician, developed at least one of Copernicus's theorems, now called The Tusi Couple, three hundred years before Copernicus. Copernicus used the theorem without offering any proof or giving credit to al-Tusi. This was pointed out by Kepler, who looked at Copernicus's work before he developed his own elliptical orbits idea.

A second theorem found in Copernican system, called Urdi lemma, was developed by another Muslim scientist Mu'ayyad al-Din al-Urdi, in 1250. Again, Copernicus neither offered proof nor gave credit to al-Urdi. Columbia University's George Saliba believes Copernicus didn't credit him because Muslims were not popular in 16th century Europe, not unlike the situation today.

Tipler completely ignores the great contribution of another giant of science from the Islamic world, Ibn Haitham (Alhazen), who developed the "Scientific Method". Alhazen is also considered the father of modern optics. The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to explain that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.

The algebra as we know today came from the Muslim world. Al Khwarizmi wrote the first book on algebra. The term "algebra" was first used by him. Al Khwarizmi was born about 790 in Baghdad, Iraq, and died about 850.

The word for "Algebra" comes from the Arabic word for "al-jabr" which means "restoration of balance" in both sides of an equation. Algebra was based on previous work from Greeks, Alexandrians in Egypt, and Hindus who had preserved the work from ancient Egyptians and Babylonians.

In the ninth century, al-Khwarizmi wrote one of the first Arabic algebras with both proofs and examples. Because of his work, he is called "the Father of Algebra." Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian born in the eighth century. He converted (changed) Babylonian and Hindu numerals into a workable system that almost anyone could use. He gave the name to his math as "al-jabr" which we know as "algebra".

A Latin translation of al-Khwarizmi's book on algebra appeared in Europe in the 12th century. In the early 13th century the new algebra appeared in the writings of the famous Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci. So, algebra was brought into Europe from ancient Babylon, Egypt and India by the Arabs and then into Italy.

In his 1864 book "The History of the Intellectual Development of Europe", English-born American scientist J.W. Draper wrote that “I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has contrived to put out of sight our scientific obligations to the Mohammedans. Surely they can not be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancor and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever".

University of Al Quaraouiyine:

University of Al Quaraouiyine (also spelled al karaouine) was founded by Fatima Al Fihri in 859 CE in Fez, Morocco. It is believed to be the world's oldest continuously operating university.

Al-Fihri, born in Kairouan (Qayrawan) in what is now Tunisia, was a well-educated daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her family migrated to Fez where she started the world's oldest continuously operating university named after her place of birth.

The University started as a madrassa affiliated with a mosque. It had the basic infrastructure and systems associated with modern universities. It had a formal curriculum, administered examinations and awarded degrees. It became part of the foundation of the glory days of the Islamic Civilization.

The University currently has staff and faculty of over 1000 and it has over 8000 students enrolled. The list of its most distinguished alumni includes Ibn Khaldun, widely regarded as the forerunner of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography. Other notable alumni are Jewish philosopher Maimonides,  Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Muslim geographer Mohammad Al-Idrisi.

The world's second oldest continuously operating university is Al Azhar in Cairo, Egypt established in 970 CE.

Universities in Europe:

University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, was established in 1088 CE, more than two centuries after  University of Al Quaraouiyine was founded by Fatima Al-Fihri in Fez, Morocco.

Then came Oxford University in 1096, Salamanca University in 1134, Paris University in 1160 and Cambridge University in 1209.

Brigham Young University (BYU) history professor Glenn Cooper has traced the concept of receiving a degree to Islam and is associated with completing a set curriculum. The ceremonial cap and gown used in graduation ceremonies is also a legacy of Islamic tradition.

Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization:

Where did star names like Ain ( عين),  Betelgeuse (إبط الجوزاء ) and Cursa ( الكرسي) come from? Who named Californium and Berkelium elements of the periodic table?  Famous American scientist Dr.Neil deGrasse Tyson answered these and other questions in some recent video presentations.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator, according to Wikipedia. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City.

What Dr. Tyson describes as "naming rights" simply means that those who discover new things get to name them. Californians got the naming rights to some of the elements of the periodic table  while the Arabs got to name vast majority of the stars in the Cosmos. In modern western astronomy, most of the accepted star names are Arabic, a few are Greek and some are of unknown origin.

Continuing on the naming rights theme, Dr. Tyson also describes the Islamic origins of Arabic numerals, Algebra, Algorithm, Alchemy and Alcohol as products of the Islamic Golden Age of Science in 800 to 1100 AD.

The lesson Dr. Tyson draws from the rise and fall of Muslims is as follows: Islamic civilization remained dominant in sciences and mathematics as long as Muslims practiced Ijtihad to ask questions and find answers to questions. What led to their decline was Taqlid, the unquestioning faith in Revelation.

Dr. Tyson credits the great Muslim philosopher Alhazen (Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham 965-1040 AD) with inventing the modern scientific method. Alhazen questioned everything, especially the things everyone took for granted, says Dr. Tyson. Alhazen's work was lavishly funded by the Muslim Caliphs. All of it changed when Imam Al Ghazali, or Algazel, a highly influential Islamic scholar of his time, succeeded in persuading Muslims to accept Taqlid that triggered rapid decline of the Islamic world.

Dr. Tyson has used the example of the great Islamic Civilization's decline to warn Americans against repeating it. He has particularly targeted those in America who denounce Darwin's theory of evolution or reject the validity of climate science.

World Changing Inventions/Discoveries:

While the concept of universities has had the biggest impact on the world, there are several other innovations and-or discoveries by Muslims that have changed the world. A short list includes coffee, Algebra, marching band and camera. Here is a video about the top 5 Muslim inventions that changed the world:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Rise and Fall of the Islamic Civilization

Artificial Intelligence in Pakistan

Pakistani Woman Leads Global Gender Parity Campaign

Muslims Have Few Nobel Prizes

Ibn Khaldun: The Father of Modern Social Sciences

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World

Lost Discoveries by Dick Teresi

Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler

What is Not Taught in School

How Islamic Inventors Changed the World

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

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Comment by Riaz Haq on July 25, 2019 at 7:26pm

Rejection of #secular knowledge led to #Muslims’ regression: “They become people who are ignorant of the knowledge that are changing the world. They started to regress,” #Malaysia PM Dr Mahathir said in his speech on the topic of “knowledge”.| Malay Mail

ANKARA, July 25 — The academic dominance of the Muslim world has declined after its ancient scholars rejected the pursuit of secular knowledge, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

In his opening speech to the Council of Higher Education Ankara here, the prime minister said the rejection has caused the Muslim world to fall to Western colonialists and eventually weakened.

“They become people who are ignorant of the knowledge that are changing the world. They started to regress,” Dr Mahathir said in his speech on the topic of “knowledge”.

The rejection, Dr Mahathir said, came following a fatwa, or religious decree by those scholars, deeming secular knowledge such as mathematics and science as having no merit for the afterlife.

In comparison, he said that European powers had instead acquired the knowledge previously pioneered by the Muslim world and subsequently took a leap over the latter.

He also again lambasted modern Muslims for simply parroting other scholars and taking their interpretations of Islam for granted.

The prime minister also reiterated his message that religious terrorism and jihadism go against “true” Islamic teachings.

Dr Mahathir was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University following his speech.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 28, 2019 at 7:36am

Dr #Mahathir Mohammad wants ‘#Turkey , #Malaysia , #Pakistan to lead #Muslim renaissance'

Experts have welcomed visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's statement that Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan can pave the way forward for development in the Muslim world.

"The Islamic world needs a renaissance," said Huseyin Bagci, an expert in International relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.

“And Prime Minister Mahathir made a right point that these countries at least start new projects which make Muslim world compatible and competitive in Islamic sciences, technology, defense, etc.,” Bagci said.

The Malaysian premier arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday evening to kick off his four-day official visit.

Corroborating words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that solidarity among Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan “is necessary for the unity of the Islamic world”, Mahathir told reporters at a joint news conference Thursday that it is crucial to relieve the Muslim Ummah from being subjugated by others.

"That is why I proposed that three Muslim countries should work together. At least these three [Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan]. So that we can speak with a louder voice in terms of many areas; defense, for example,” the Malaysian premier said.

Bagci agreed saying the three countries have common values in democracy, human rights and free press.

“People relatively feel free,” he said, adding: “[However], there is stagnation in Islamic world… there can be kingdoms like in the U.K. but governments come and go which is not the case in most of the Muslim world.”

He noted that Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan stand out from the Arab world.

“It is interesting that why Prime Minister Mahathir did not mention any Arab country,” Bagci said, referring to their dismal track record in upholding human rights.

Notably, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia are among the founders of the Muslim-majority D-8 group that seeks to establish strategic relations, increased trade, and more cooperation among its members. However, the group is yet to realize its potential.

On the apparent failure of D-8, Bagci blamed “too much divisions, corruption and stagnation in Islamic world”.

“The new mechanism which Mahathir has suggested can bring together even Afghanistan and central Asian states,” he said.

Professor Sami A. Al-Arian, director of Istanbul-based Center for Islam and Global Affairs, described the ongoing visit as “historic”.

“This visit by Prime Minister Mahathir to Turkey to meet President Erdogan is historic, as the two leaders have been repeatedly and frequently democratically elected by their people,” Al-Arian said.

He said that these leaders have demonstrated over the years "political stability and economic dynamism”.

According to Al-Arian, Mahathir's visit comes at a time when the economic and political challenges faced by the two governments are “enormous in light of the looming global economic uncertainty as well as the geopolitical shifts across the Middle East because of the U.S. trade war with China, and other regional problems”.

“The U.S. sanctions against Iran and the latest tension with Turkey with regard to the S-400 air defense system, have resulted in having other regional powers, such as Turkey and Malaysia, to come closer together to restructure their relations in order to stand up to the pressure being applied against their economy and security,” he added.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 28, 2019 at 5:36pm

Medieval Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun quoted on tax theory by two US Presidents: Kennedy and Reagan

Ibn Khaldun was the first major contributor to tax theory in history. He is the philosopher who shaped the minds of several rulers throughout history. More recently his impact was evident on John F. Kennedy and later on Ronald Reagan. "Our true choice is not between tax reduction on the one hand and avoidance of large federal deficits on the other. An economy stilled by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget, just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits." John F. Kennedy said that back in 1962, when he was asking for a tax decrease, a cut in tax rates across the board. But when John Kennedy said those words, he was echoing the words of Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim philosopher back in the fourteenth century, who said the following: "At the beginning of the dynasty taxation yields large revenues from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty taxation yields small revenue from large assessments….This is why we had to have the tax program as well as the budget cuts, because budget cuts, yes, would reduce government spending."

According to Ibn Khaldun, tax revenues of the ruling dynasty increase because of business prosperity, which flourishes with easy, not excessive taxes. He was therefore the first in history to lay the foundation of a theory for the optimum rate of taxation, a theory which has even affected contemporary leading advocates of supply-side economics such as Arthur Laffer and others. The well-known Laffer curve is nothing but a graphical presentation of the theory of taxation developed by Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century.34

"When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mount. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of the individual assessments, increases";35 whereas with large tax assessments, incomes and profits are adversely affected, resulting, in the final analysis, in a decline in tax revenue. Ibn Khaldun made a strong case against any government attempt to confiscate or otherwise affect private property. Governments' arbitrary interferences in man's property result in loss of incentives, which could eventually lead to a weakening of the state. Expropriation is self-defeating for any government because it is a form of oppression, and oppression ruins society.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 30, 2019 at 9:38am

First steam turbine was invented by a #Muslim #inventor Taqi al-Din in #Egypt during #Ottoman rule in 1551, more than a century before Thomas Newcombe and James Watt invented the steam engine.

Steam engine history dates back to the 1st century AD when the “aeolipile” was described by the Hero of Alexandria for the first time. More than 1500 years later, the primitive forms of turbines driven by the power of steam were explained by Taqi al-Din in 1551 as well as Giovanni Branca in 1629. These were either small steam jacks or escapement devices. They were mainly used by inventors to demonstrate that steam power engineering shouldn’t be underestimated.


Thomas Savery: A biography of Thomas Savery with information about his engine.
Steam Engine Development: The article highlights the steam engine development covering Savery’s contributions and the atmospheric engines.
Low-Pressure Engines
The high consumption of coal which was common in Newcomen’s steam engine was reduced through innovations in engine design by James Watt. The low pressure engine’s cylinder contained heat insulation, a separate condenser, and a pumping out mechanism for condensed water. In this manner, the low pressure engine was successful in reducing fuel consumption by more than 50%.

Watt’s Low-Pressure Steam Engine: The Deutsches Museum offers some information on this early engineering marvel.
Thomas Newcomen Steam Engine
In 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented an effective and practical steam engine. The steam engine designed by him consisted of a piston or a cylinder that moved a huge piece of wood to drive the water pump. The engine did not use steam pressure to exert any pressure on the piston but it was the wooden beam that was heavier towards the main pump. It was gravity that pulled down the pump side of the wooden piece. The Newcomen beam engine remained in use for more than 50 years but they turned out to be inefficient as a lot of energy was required for the engine to run effectively. The cylinder was required to be heated as well as cooled every time, which used up most of its energy causing a huge amount of wastage.

Newcomen’s Steam Engine: The BBC provides information on the steam engine by this man with an illustration.
Thomas Newcomen’s Steam Engine: Come here to learn all about the steam engine created by Thomas Newcomen.
Ivan Polzunov and the First Two-Cylinder Steam Engine
Ivan Polzunov was a Russian inventor who in 1766 built the first steam engine in his country and the first two-cylinder engine in the world. Polzunov’s two-cylinder steam engine was more powerful than the English atmospheric engines. It had a power rating of 24 kw. Polzunov’s model of a two-cylinder steam engine is presently displayed the Barnaul Museum.

Ivan Polzunov: The article provides information on how this Russian scientist built the two-cylinder steam engine.
Two-Cylinder Steam Engine: Here’s a picture of a two-cylinder steam engine from the 1880s.
James Watt-Improved Steam Engine
Finally, it was James Watt who revolutionized the steam engine by making use of a separate condenser in the original design. He came up with a separate condenser in 1765.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 10, 2020 at 10:50pm

Can you name one, just one name of pre Islamic well known Persian scientist in ANY field. I am not saying that Persian Empire was not a powerful empire for several centuries but it simply failed to produce a single world class scholar / scientist in almost 700 years of its existence. Here are names of some great Persian scholars who flourished under the true light of a man inspiring religion;

1. AVICENNA, or Abu Ali Sina. The greatest medieval physician ( he was also an astronomer, mathematician and religious scholar). His book “ the Canon of Medicine “
Was the standard Text book of Medicine all over the world till the mid 17!th century. He was the inventor of Quarantine which has saved millions of lives over the last 10 centuries.

2. AL BAIRUNI: the greatest mathematician and astronomer of his time and writer of the first authentic history of India ( he was a courtesan of the great Mahmud of Ghazni ) who mastered Sanskrit. His book “ Tarikh al Hind ( History of India ) is still a reference book on this subject. The main impetus for astronomy in the Islamic Golden Era was the need to find the proper direction of the niche in the mosques to orientate the direction to Mecca.

ALKHAWARZIMI: The inventor of Algebra. Al-Khwarizmi invented Algebra in order to solve more and more complex fractions in order to distribute inheritances according to the Qur’anic rules.

Rumi: The greatest Sufi poet who has been the most popular poet in America for the last 15 years.

Al Ghazali: one of the greatest religious mind of ALL times. Thomas Aquila’s plagiarized him wholesale without giving him any credit.

So just name one great scientist of pre Islamic Persia.
I am a very eager student for everything under the sun.


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