Indian influence on Islamic science

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The Golden Age of Islam saw a flourishing of Islamic science, notably mathematics and astronomy, especially during the 9th and 10th centuries. While Islamic science mostly relied on Hellenistic predecessors, there was also significant input from the Sanskrit scholarly tradition of India, which had seen a period of fruitful development during the Gupta era (4th to 6th centuries).


For the best part of a millennium, from the Seleucid era and through to the Sassanid period, there had been an exchange of scholarship between the Greek, Persian and Indian cultural spheres. The origin of the number zero and the place-value system notably falls into this period; its early use originates in Indian mathematics of the 5th century (Lokavibhaga), influencing Sassanid era Persian scholars during the 6th century.[1]

The sudden Islamic conquest of Persia in the 640s drove a wedge between the Mediterranean and Indian traditions, but scholarly transfer soon resumed, with translations of both Greek and Sanskrit works into Arabic during the 8th century. This triggered the flourishing of Abbasid-era scholarship centered in Baghdad in the 9th century, and the eventual resumption of transmission to the west via Muslim Spain and Sicily by the 10th century.

There was continuing contact between Indian and Perso-Arabic scholarship during the 9th to 11th centuries while the Muslim conquest of India was temporarily halted. Al Biruni in the early 11th century travelled widely in India and became an important source of knowledge about India in the Islamic world during that time.[2]

With the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century, northern India fell under Perso-Arabic dominance and the native Indian tradition fell into decline, while at an about the same time the "Golden Age of Islam" of the Arab caliphates gave way to Turko-Mongol dominance, leading to the flourishing of a secondary "Golden Age" of Turko-Persian literary tradition during the 13th to 16th centuries, exemplified on either side of Timurid Persia by the Ottoman Empire in the west and the Mughal Empire in the east.


The mathematical astronomy text Brahmasiddhanta of Brahmagupta (598-668) was received in the court of Al-Mansur (753–774). It was translated by Alfazari into Arabic as Az-Zīj ‛alā Sinī al-‛Arab,[3] popularly called Sindhind. This translation was the means by which the Hindu numerals were transmitted from the Sanskrit to the Arabic tradition.[4] According to Al-Biruni,

As Sindh was under the actual rule of the Khalif Mansur (AD 753–774), there came embassies from that part of India to Bagdad and among them scholars, who brought with them two books.[5]

With the help of these Pandits Alfazari, perhaps also Yaqūb ibn Tāriq, translated them. Both works have been largely used, and have exercised a great influence. It was on this occasion that the Arabs first became acquainted with a scientific system of astronomy. They learned from Brahmagupta earlier than Ptolemy.[5]

Alberuni's translator and editor Edward Sachau wrote: "It is Brahmagupta who taught Arabs mathematics before they got acquainted with Greek science."[5]

Alfazari also translated the Khandakhadyaka (Arakand) of Brahmagupta.[5]

Through the resulting Arabic translations known as Sindhind and Arakand, the use of Indian numerals became established in the Islamic world.[6]


Much of the Hindu approach to mathematics was certainly conveyed to western Europe through Arabs . The Algebraic method formerly considered to have been invented by Al Khowarizimi can now be seen to stem from Hindu sources[7]

As in the rest of mathematical science so in Trigonometry, were the Arabs pupils of the Hindus and still more of the Greeks, but not without important devices of their own.[8]

For over five hundred years Arabic writers and others continued to apply to works on arithmetic the name Indian.[9]

Another important early treatise that publicized decimal numbers was Iranian mathematician and astronomer Kushyar ibn Labban's Kitab fi usul hisab al-hind ( principals of Hindu reckoning ) a leading arithmetic book .[10]

Medical texts[edit]

Manka, an Indian physician at the court of Harun al-Rashid is said to have translated the Sushruta (the classical (Gupta-era) Sanskrit text on medicine) into Persian.[11]

Al-Razi's Al-Hawi (liber continens) of c. 900 is said to contain "much Indian knowledge" from texts such as the Susruta Samhita.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ D. Reidel, The Arithmetic of Al-Uqlîdisî, Dordrecht, 1978: "It seems plausible that it [decimal notation] drifted gradually, probably before the 7th century, through two channels, one starting from Sindh, undergoing Persian filtration and spreading in what is now known as the Middle East, and the other starting from the coasts of the Indian Ocean and extending to the southern coasts of the Mediterranean."
  2. ^ Max Müller, Lectures on the science of language delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in April, May, and June, 1861, 1868, p. 150.
  3. ^ E. S. Kennedy, A Survey of Islamic Astronomical Tables, (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, 46, 2), Philadelphia, 1956, pp. 2, 7, 12 (zijes no. 2, 28, 71).
  4. ^ Smith, D. E.; Karpinski, L. C. (2013) [first published in Boston, 1911]. The Hindu-Arabic Numerals. Dover. ISBN 0486155110. 
  5. ^ a b c d Alberuni, Abu Al-Rahain Muhammad Ibn Ahmad (2015) [1910]. Sachau, Edward C. (and trans.), ed. Alberuni's India [The Indika of Alberuni] (PDF) (facsimile reprint ed.). Scholar's Choice [Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co.] p. xxxiii. ISBN 978-1-297-45719-7. 
  6. ^ Avari, Burjor (2007). India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Sub-Continent from C. 7000 BC to AD 1200. Routledge. pp. 168–170. ISBN 1134251629. 
  7. ^ The Origins of the Infinitesimal Calculus By Margaret E. Baron Page 65
  8. ^ Advanced Book Search A Brief History of Mathematics By Karl Fink, Wooster Beman, David Smith Page Cosimo Classics 285
  9. ^ The Hindu-Arabic Numerals By David Eugene Smith Page 92
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non western countries By Helaine Selin Page 69, Published by Kluwer Academic Publishers
  11. ^ Max Müller, Lectures on the science of language delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in April, May, and June, 1861, 1868, p. 150. The work was again translated several times over the following centuries, Müller cites an Arabic translation dated 1381.
  12. ^ India, the ancient past: a history of the Indian sub-continent from c. 7000 BC to AD 1200 By Burjor Avari page 219
  13. ^ History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4, Part 2 By C. E. Bosworth, M.S.Asimov, page 300
  14. ^ A History of Medicine: Byzantine and Islamic medicine By Plinio Prioreschi Volume iv Page 121 , ISBN 1-888456-02-7
  15. ^ A History of Medicine: Byzantine and Islamic medicine By Plinio Prioreschi, Page 367
  16. ^ India, the ancient past: a history of the Indian sub-continent from c. 7000 BC to AD 1200 By Burjor Avari page 220

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