Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and unique Uzbekistan: Famous figures of Khorezm

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Khorezm Region
This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Khorezm Region

In order to better understand a particular country, it is very useful to get acquainted with the people who influenced its development with their minds, ebullient activities, research, and discoveries. Today I invite you to learn about two people who are inseparable from the history of their land – the Khorezm region. We are talking about such brilliant scientists as Al-Khorezmi, the inventor of algebra, and Al-Biruni’ aka “Father of modern geodesy”, “Father of Comparative Religion”, and the first anthropologist”.

Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi (783-850)

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Khorezm Region

Muhammad al-Khwarizmi was a scholar who made an invaluable contribution to world science with his genius discoveries. In historical notes given that in the early 800s he was invited to the palace of Mamun ibn Harun al-Rashid, the ruler of Khurasan in Baghdad, he studied in his native Khorezm and became a famous scholar at the age of twenty. In 813, Ma’mun ascended the caliphate and moved to Baghdad with the scholars gathered around Merv. Mamun, a great fan of science, founded the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), known in the history of science as the Baghdad Academy. Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi was the director of this scientific center until the end of his life. Many scholars from the Arabic East from Central Asia also worked here. They were served by a library rich in ancient manuscripts and a specially built observatory.

Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi was the author of more than 20 scientific works, 7 of which have survived to the present day. Here are some of them.

Al-kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr and al-muqabala – The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing (also known as Al-Jabr and Al-Muqabala – arithmetics in Arabic) is a book by the author establishing algebra as an independent discipline, and with the term “algebra” itself derived from the word Al-Jabr.

Ziji al-Khwarizmi (astronomical table in Arabic) is a work of small theoretical sections and tables describing the trigonometric functions of the sines.

“Kitab surat al-arz” (“Book of earth picture” in Arabic ) is a geographical treatise on the eastern hemisphere, the countries of the world, the Pacific Ocean (Bahr al-Muzallam), and a map of our planet, which was first inhabited by humans in the Middle Ages.

Here is Muhammad al-Khwarizmi’s important contribution to the sciences of mathematics, astronomy, and geography, and through them to the development of civilization in general:

  1. He founded a numeral system that represents nine numbers with a zero sign, representing the decimal positional account.
  2. He created algebra as science and gave it its name.
  3. The scholar Developed and implemented a new method of scientific and educational work through clear and comprehensible rules called “Algorithm” in European literature. The term “algorithm” in Latin derives from his name – al-Khwarizmi. This concept of algorithm is the basis of the whole concept of modern digital information and computer technology. It was through this method that the description of the works of Muhammad al-Khwarizmi spread to the general public.
  4. Muhammad al-Khwarizmi’s book “Ziji” tells us about the Sun, the Moon, the five planets, mathematical geography, trigonometry, solar and lunar eclipses. In 1126 the book was translated into Latin, in 1914 into German, and in 1962 into English.

Acknowledging the genius of the scientist, the famous American historian George Sarton said: “Al-Khwarizmi is the greatest mathematician of his time, and taking into account all conditions, is one of the greatest scientists of all time”.

Al-Biruni (973–1048)

This photo is courtesy of the Department of Tourism Development of the Khorezm Region

Abu Raikhan Biruni, known also as  Al-Biruni (973–1048) is also considered one of the greatest scientists of all times. He was an astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher, and studied physics and natural sciences.  He was conversant in Khwarezmian, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, and also knew Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac languages. 95 of 146 books known to have been written by Biruni were devoted to astronomy, mathematics, and related subjects like mathematical geography. He lived during the Islamic Golden Age when the Abbasid Caliphs promoted the research of astronomy. This contributed to his research of astronomy since in Islam worship and prayer require knowing the precise directions of sacred locations, which can only be accurately found using astronomical data.

The 1050th anniversary of the birth of Abu Raikhan Biruni will be widely celebrated with the participation of UNESCO in 2022-2023.  The decision was made at the 211th session of the Executive Board of UNESCO. This issue will now be submitted for approval to the 41st session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, France, in November 2021.



About the Author
Nadezhda Dukhovny was born and raised in Uzbekistan and made aliya in 2005. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University and works in translation. She has a true interest about her motherland and would like to tell more about that fascinating country to make Israeli readers familiar with another culture from other part of the globe.
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