Islam, Mathematically SpeakingBy Kathleen X and Kareem Abdullah | Last updated: Jul 29, 2008 - 4:20:00 PM
—The Supreme Wisdom Lessons
In an article titled “The Mathematical Legacy of Islam,” which was published by the Mathematical Association of America, it suggests that Islam prefigured modern mathematics. Math scholar Keith Devlin wrote, “As mathematicians, we are all children of Islam.” He supported this claim, citing a book that was written by a ninth century Muslim scholar named Abu Ja’far Mohammed ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, entitled Kitab al jabr w’al-muqabala, which means “restoration and compensation.” Devlin stated, “The phrase al jabr in the book’s title gave rise to our modern word “algebra.” He further noted, “After Al-Khwarizmi, algebra became an important part of Arabic Mathematics.” Arabic mathematics provided a foundation, upon which modern civilization was built.
Like the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH), whose divine leadership inspired those named above to become mathematical scholars and scientific thinkers, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, through His Servant-the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is inspiring present-day Muslims to do the same. At Muhammad University of Islam (MUI), we are striving, with the help of Allah, to produce students who will reflect such excellence. Brother Shahid Muhammad (SM); the upper-grade math instructor at MUI and a Student in the Nation of Islam’s Ministry, has worked diligently towards such a worthy cause for nineteen years.
Commonly known as “The Math Doctor,” Brother Shahid is an unusually humble man. In fact, his unassuming character would lead one to never suspect that he has received considerably high honors in his respective field. For instance, in 2002 he received a Master’s Degree in Mathematics, from Lincoln University. Shortly thereafter, he received the distinguished Who’s Who Amongst American Teachers award, which made him a widely sought-after authority on mathematics. He has traveled throughout America, and even to London, England, holding lectures, workshops, and seminars; promoting mathematics among youth and adults, alike. He granted us a very informative interview, addressing several issues faced by Black America, in mathematical terms.
MUI: What is Mathematics?
SM: Mathematics, which is the mother of all sciences, facilitates the systematic construction of the Kingdom of God and provides indisputable proof of the reality of Allah (God) and the majesty of His creation. It is the universal language and the basis by which Allah (God) makes His decisions.
MUI: When did you develop a passion for teaching Math?
SM: My high school Algebra class gave me the spark that made me want to teach it. I was inspired to master it by Doctor Abdul Alim Shabazz; Endowed Chair of Mathematics, at Grambling University. The Teachings of the Most Hon. Elijah Muhammad, as well as Mother Tynetta’s workshops, introduced me to the power of math and gave me an appreciation for it. The Teachings opened up my mind to the root of math as universal; not just a course. Beginning to teach it gave me more insight into its application and [relation] to the universe.
MUI: What role does the teacher play in the student’s appreciation for Math?
SM: The teacher’s role is critical and vital. The teacher is the catalyst to help the student gain a love for math, which is usually seen as an elitist course, or subject, that only a few can master, i.e., predominantly Whites and Asians. The teacher has to be excited and have a love for it, themselves, in order to inspire and motivate the students to love it. Otherwise, the students will pick up on the teacher’s lack of enthusiasm.
MUI: Please describe your teaching method.
SM: I incorporate humor and animation in my presentations. I strive to be very invigorated, excited, and enthusiastic. The Most Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan teach us, as teachers, to make the subject matter relevant to the students. I show the students how they are Math by illustrating all of the mathematical correlations in human anatomy, biology, and chemistry, to name a few. I also show its universal presence in cooking, sports, music, video games, etc.
MUI: In your book How to Teach Math to Black Students, you remarked on “worksheet feeders” or teachers who are somewhat unimaginative. What strategies do you use to avoid such monotony?
SM: Statistics and research show that students retain more mathematics when they are actually doing or demonstrating it. I like to incorporate videos and computer-assisted instruction using activities such as math games, simulations, experiments, hands-on discovery, peer tutoring, group problem-solving and project-based learning to get out of the traditional mode of lectures, chalk talk and worksheets.
MUI: Is there one strategy that stands out more than others?
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MUI: When did you begin using the name “Math Doctor?” Why?
SM: It started in 1995, when I wrote How to Teach Math to Black Students. I saw a lot of advertisements for “Rug Doctors”, “Tax Doctors”, etc. I coined the title because a doctor heals and helps those that are sick. Our people are at the bottom, in terms of math literacy and achievement. I embarked on a mission to raise the level of mathematical literacy amongst our people, since [we] are suffering from so many math ailments and math phobias; I used the title, “Math Doctor.”
MUI: What is “math phobia”? What can parents and instructors do to decrease or diminish its effect?
SM: “Math phobia” is a fear of mastering mathematics, based upon a misunderstanding of its nature; coupled with negative past experiences in math courses. Parents should first refresh their math skills, by taking adult education classes, online classes, or viewing instructional DVD’s. Children should be exposed to mathematics around the house, be involved in fun math related activities to reinforce their lessons and have parents to help support them.
MUI: Why should we be mathematically literate?
SM: Math is universal. It is vital to every aspect of [our] lives. Good health is predicated upon the use of mathematics. For example, there are certain amounts or percentages of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that the body requires to run effectively. Heart rates, blood pressure, vein/artery widths and the number of white/red blood cells are all examples of how we are mathematics. There is no aspect of our lives that is not touched, in some way by mathematics. Basketball players follow a parabolic path on their way to slam dunk a basketball! The Most Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan desire for us to build a Nation. Every aspect of nation building demands mathematical literacy and proficiency.
(The Math Doctor is available to conduct seminars/workshops for teachers and parents, as well as give motivational math talks to children. Please email him to schedule workshops, lectures or programs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://store.finalcall.com to browse The Math Doctor's educational DVDs for Children.)