President Obama wants NASA's chief, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. to reach out to the Muslim world because of what he says is the contribution of the Arab Muslim world to mathematics and science ("Allah's final frontier," Comment & Analysis, Wednesday). Contrary to Mr. Obama's belief, however, it is not the Muslim world that contributed to mankind's knowledge of modern mathematics.
The Arab Muslim world got its mathematics and sciences from India. The Europeans, in turn, borrowed them from the Arabs. That's why the Europeans called the decimal system the "Arabic numerals." But the fact remains that they originated in India, where many modern mathematics textbooks now mention our decimal and numeral system came from.
The Arabs were not innovators. They borrowed from other cultures they conquered. The decimal system and the concept of "zero" as having a place value in mathematics partially originated in India. As Albert Einstein said, "We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made."
BABU G. RANGANATHAN
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