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Two forms of Arabic Numerals

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Written by   506
1 year ago

In a previous article, The Knights Templar & The Circular Number Nine, I mentioned "Arabic numerals". While I think most readers understand to what I refer, it is strictly not correct, because there are two forms of Arabic numerals, a Western type and an Eastern type. Let's clear that up.

Western-Arabic and Eastern-Arabic Numerals

There are two systems of digits in use in the Eastern part of the Arabic speaking area.

One is what is commonly called only Arabic numerals; the same digits as those in Europe. A more correct term would be Western Arabic numerals.

The other system is called Arabic-Indic, or Eastern Arabic numerals, used in the everyday life of the locals. Even a temporary visitor needs some acquaintance with them too. Without knowing them, you cannot always read price tags or telephone numbers, just to mention two examples.

Sometimes the systems collide. Queue tickets, for instance, can show Eastern Arabic numerals, while the machine displaying the number whose turn it is, shows Western Arabic ones.

This is how it works:

٩ ٨ ٧ ٦ ٥ ٤ ٣ ٢ ١ ٠

are the numbers 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Nota bene that while Arabic script is read from right to left, numbers are always read from left to right, also when occurring in the middle of text.

The year 2011, for example, is written as ٢٠١١

56379 is written ٥٦٣٧٩

And if you get a queue ticket stating ١٥, it means 15.

Note that ٠ is 0 (zero), not a decimal symbol; ٥ is 5, not zero; and that ٦ is 6, not seven.


Arabic numerals ultimately stem from Indic Brahmi script and Indian numerals were introduced in the Muslim world by Iranian Mathematician Khwarazmi (about 780-850 CE) and his book “On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals“. They evolved in two directions: one Eastern and one Western. The Eastern Arabic system evolved in present day Iraq, while Western Arabic numerals, which later spread to Europe as well, were developed by the Moors in present day Morocco and Andalusia (in Moorish Spain) in the 10th century. The division of the Arabic language area in this respect remains today. In the Asian parts and in Egypt and Sudan, the Eastern system is used; in for instance Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, the Western. But due to its international use in science and international affairs, the Western system is found in the Eastern area too. Educated locals know both.

In Persian, Urdu and Pashto language areas, a slightly different form of the Eastern Arabic System is used.

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Avatar for Mictorrani
Written by   506
1 year ago
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I am not sure if you are aware that Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was latanized as Algorithmi, which is the origin of the word algorithm.

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1 year ago

Yes, I am aware of that. I choose not to mention it because Khwārizmī was not the topic this time and I did not want to let him become too large a part of the article or allow the article to grow too long. But thank you for pointing it out anyway.

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1 year ago