Omar Al-Khayyam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali

OMAR AL-KHAYYAM (1044-1123 A.D.)

Ghiyath al-Din Abul Fateh Omar Ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam was born at Nishapur, the provincial capital of Khurasan around 1044 A.D. (c. 1038 to 1048). Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, physician and poet, he is commonly known as Omar Khayyam. Khayyam means the tent-maker, and although generally considered as Persian, it has also been suggested that he could have belonged to the Khayyami tribe of Arab origin who might have settled in Persia. Little is known about his early life, except for the fact that he was educated at Nishapur and lived there and at Samarqand for most of his life. He was a contemporary of Nidham al-Mulk Tusi. Contrary to the available opportunities, he did not like to be employed at the King's court and led a calm life devoted to search for knowledge. He traveled to the great centres of learning, Samarqand, Bukhara, Balkh and Isphahan in order to study further and exchange views with the scholars there. While at Samarqand he was patronized by a dignitary, Abu Tahir. He died at Nishapur in 1123-24.

Algebra would seem to rank first among the fields to which he contributed. He made an attempt to classify most algebraic equations, including the third degree equations and, in fact, offered solutions for a number of them. This includes geometric solutions of cubic equations and partial geometric solutions of most other equations. His book Maqalat fi al-Jabr wa al-Muqabila is a masterpiece on algebra and has great importance in the development of algebra. His remarkable classification of equations is based on the complexity of the equations, as the higher the degree of an equation, the more terms, or combinations of terms, it will contain. Thus, Khayyam recognizes 13 different forms of cubic equation. His method of solving equations is largely geometrical and depends upon an ingenious selection of proper conics. He also developed the binomial expansion when the exponent is a positive integer. In fact, he has been considered to be the first to find the binomial theorem and determine binomial coefficients. In geometry, he studied generalities of Euclid and contributed to the theory of parallel lines.

The Saljuq Sultan, Malikshah Jalal al-Din, called him to the new observatory at Ray around 1074 and assigned him the task of determining a correct solar calendar. This had become necessary in view of the revenue collections and other administrative matters that were to be performed at different times of the year. Khayyam introduced a calendar that was remarkably accurate, and was named as Al-Tarikh-al-Jalali. It had an error of one day in 3770 years and was thus even superior to the Georgian calendar (error of 1 day in 3330 years).

His contributions to other fields of science include a study of generalities of Euclid, development of methods for the accurate determination of specific gravity, etc. In metaphysics, he wrote three books Risala Dar Wujud and the recently discovered Nauruznamah. He was also a renowned astronomer and a physician.

Apart from being a scientist, Khayyam was also a well-known poet. In this capacity, he has become more popularly known in the Western world since 1839, when Edward Fitzgerald published an English translation of his Rubaiyat (quatrains). This has since become one of the most popular classics of world literature. It should be appreciated that it is practically impossible to exactly translate any literary work into another language, what to talk of poetry, especially when it involves mystical and philosophical messages of deep complexity. Despite this, the popularity of the translation of Rubaiyat would indicate the wealth of his rich thought.

Khayyam wrote a large number of books and monographs in the above areas. Out of these, 10 books and thirty monographs have been identified. Of these, four concern mathematics, three physics, three metaphysics, one algebra and one geometry.

His influence on the development of mathematics in general and analytical geometry, in particular, has been immense. His work remained ahead of others for centuries till the times of Descartes, who applied the same geometrical approach in solving cubics. His fame as a mathematician has been partially eclipsed by his popularity as a poet; nonetheless his contribution as a philosopher and scientist has been of significant value in furthering the frontiers of human knowledge.

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ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI (1058-1128 A.D.)

Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i al-Ghazali was born in 1058 A.D. in Khorasan, Iran. His father died while he was still very young but he had the opportunity of getting education in the prevalent curriculum at Nishapur and Baghdad. Soon he acquired a high standard of scholarship in religion and philosophy and was honoured by his appointment as a Professor at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was recognized as one of the most reputed institutions of learning in the golden era of Muslim history.

After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits and worldly interests and became a wandering ascetic. This was a process (period) of mystical transformation. Later, he resumed his teaching duties, but again left these. An era of solitary life, devoted to contemplation and writing then ensued, which led to the authorship of a number of everlasting books. He died in 1128 A.D. at Baghdad.

Ghazali's major contribution lies in religion, philosophy and sufism. A number of Muslim philosophers had been following and developing several viewpoints of Greek philosophy, including the Neoplatonic philosophy, and this was leading to conflict with several Islamic teachings. On the other hand, the movement of sufism was assuming such excessive proportions as to avoid observance of obligatory prayers and duties of Islam. Based on his unquestionable scholarship and personal mystical experience, Ghazali sought to rectify these trends, both in philosophy and sufism.

In philosophy, Ghazali upheld the approach of mathematics and exact sciences as essentially correct. However, he adopted the techniques of Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures and employed these very tools to lay bare the flaws and lacunas of the then prevalent Neoplatonic philosophy and to diminish the negative influences of Aristotelianism and excessive rationalism. In contrast to some of the Muslim philosophers, e.g., Farabi, he portrayed the inability of reason to comprehend the absolute and the infinite. Reason could not transcend the finite and was limited to the observation of the relative. Also, several Muslim philosophers had held that the universe was finite in space but infinite in time. Ghazali argued that an infinite time was related to an infinite space. With his clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to create a balance between religion and reason, and identified their respective spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively. In religion, particularly mysticism, he cleansed the approach of sufism of its excesses and reestablished the authority of the orthodox religion. Yet, he stressed the importance of genuine sufism, which he maintained was the path to attain the absolute truth.

He was a prolific writer. His immortal books include Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ihya al-'Ulum al-Islamia (The Rivival of the Religious Sciences), "The Beginning of Guidance and his Autobiography", "Deliverance from Error". Some of his works were translated into European languages in the Middle Ages. He also wrote a summary of astronomy.

Ghazali's influence was deep and everlasting. He is one of the greatest theologians of Islam. His theological doctrines penetrated Europe, influenced Jewish and Christian Scholasticism and several of his arguments seem to have been adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to similarly reestablish the authority of orthodox Christian religion in the West. So forceful was his argument in the favour of religion that he was accused of damaging the cause of philosophy and, in the Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd (Averros) wrote a rejoinder to his Tahafut.