The Book of Origins

Volume I

Origin of Arabic Numerals

a natural history of numbers


(AIRP, 2009 - HC)

(AuthorHouse 2010)

 Adel S. Bishtawi

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The two untold stories of the universal numeral system


Part 1    Part 2


In the Origin of Arabic Numerals - A natural history of numbers readers were promised two stories that have never been told in a book before: the first is the true origin of the Arabic numeral system and its amazing numerals; the second is the story of the actors that staged the astonishingly act of "highjacking" the name of the Arabic system along with its non-value cipher (zero) and other nine value numerals towards the end of the 19th century.

Before the publication of the Origin of Arabic Numerals, many Arabs had a vague idea about the origin of their amazing numeral system generally repeating centuries’ old myth that claims to be 'Hindi’. Now 'Hindi" today could mean the India that was created in 1947 by the departing British colonialists, but 'Hind' in the 8th century A.D. meant much more than the geographical confines of the Republic of India. The roots of the misunderstanding are sufficiently explained in the book, and so too is how the Orientalists of India engineered and executed the high-jacking of the Arabic numeral system in one of the greatest confiscation of universal numeric intellectual and scientific copyright property ever staged.


What's in a name?
Here is the answer to a 200-year persistent question in the history of mathematics


Any amateur historian attempting to unravel the mystery of the origin of Arabic numerals is bound to discover not before long that the hindunisation of the Arabic system is nothing more than a bungled myth. No credible proof was ever presented to confirm the origination story of the Orientalists, but more importantly, all the sources employed by Orientalists to support their mythical fabrication are Arabic. Once re-examined effortlessly, because the Arabic used to write those sources is very much the Arabic of today, it becomes crystal clear that the historical facts do not support the non-Arab authoring of the Arabic numeral system and its family of numerals be it 'Hindi', Greek, Roman or European.


This is also amply explained in the English version of the Origin of the Arabic Numerals before work began to prepare an Arabic version. However, two years had passed before the Arabic version was ready at last to be sent to the publishers. By then, much more than the unveiling of the origin of the Arabic numeral system and its highjackers became available.


The Arabic version was twice as large as its English origin, the topics increased substantially and the content enriched with original research based on the successful reconstruction of ancient Arabic, the oldest language in use today by more than 1.5 billion in the four continents. Thanks to this additional original research, not just the origin of the Arabic numerals was revealed but also the origin of alphabets, numeration, numerals and measurements, weights, litigation and money. Those who proposed that etymology is history appear to be right, at least as far as our own etymological analysis of ancient Arabic is concerned.


Another discovery made during the latter stage of researching the origin of the Arabic numerals system concerned the surprising similarity between certain numeral shapes and certain letters of ancient and modern alphabets. For over 100 years one of the unchallenged conclusions reached by historians and scholars is that numerals were invented before letters. The need for our ancestors to devise shapes to express and document ownership of property, animals and important acquisitions in their time preceded that of documenting ideas and thought. Thus, numeric shapes were already available to those who attempted to devise alphabetical signs and symbols. The resemblance of many numeral shapes to letters of many old inscriptions is clear and convincing, at least to our team.


We are confident that most of what we have discovered is probably correct, but we have no problem at all with people calling our findings ‘claims’ until they can be evaluated by experts who are better suited to judging the significance of what we have found. This may take years, and it should. The Orientalist heavies did not simply re-write history and re-construct facts. Due to their phenomenal influence, their books to academic institutions were as foundational as the Bible to the church. Replacing complex, make-believe facts with simple truth will take time.


Any intelligent reader of the Origin of Arabic Numerals would immediately realize that our job would have been completed successfully with the sole and simple presentation of the pictograms of the numeral hand and finger formations. As narrated in the book, the discovery that our numerals are nothing  but simple finger and hand formations was accidental. It has been sufficient to show people the pictograms before hearing them say that it should have been obvious to historians of numbers that the numeral shapes could have come from no other source but hand and finger formations.


Luckily for history, it was the Orientalists themselves who sent historians of numbers down the dead-end road of finding the origin of the Arabic numerals system and its numerals. By insisting that the original set of numerals was the ‘western’ version, and that the ‘eastern’ numerals were but modified copies of the western originals, it was impossible for even one of the cleverest authors, Menninger, to trace the numerals back to finger and hand formations. The key to discovering the origin of our numerals is the simple examination of the shapes of the eastern set. A strange psychological barrier has to be crossed first. Once done it takes a few minutes of studying hands and fingers to realize that one is looking at the oldest calculus known to man. Even today we use our hands and fingers to express certain numbers. Wouldn’t it have been easy and logical to conclude that our numerals must have come from the same source?


A huge number of text books about the history of numbers and mathematics taught at millions of schools and colleges will have to be re-written. This will take time. Meanwhile, we hope that some of our findings will bring immense relief to millions. We are aware that those findings may also bring frustration to others. We were guided in our research by a sincere desire to bring closure to a serious controversy that was sparked essentially by two orientalists hired by the East India Company two centuries ago, but ended in discovering  the process much more than we every imagined.


Symbols that can be recognised by a computer must be special. Symbols that can be recognised by monkeys must also be special, but symbols that can be recognised by machines, monkeys and humans must be the only universal script invented by human beings in a time beyond the horizon of our remotest past. This is the simple story of the birth of the first and most celebrated quinary system that was supplemented later by another quinary system. The Arabic numeral system is not strictly decimal. It is a bi-quinary system – the first relying on finger formations; the second on hand formations, and both are linked together by a circle produced by joining the thumb and index fingers in the form of a ring in three different sizes for 5, 10 and the zero.


[1] Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols, 1992.

[2] James Gilchrist, Philosophic Etymology, or Rational Grammar, (1816), pp. 24-25.


Part 2 


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