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Q: This week’s question comes courtesy of Reynaldo Ramos: “We call the numbering system we use today ‘Arabic numerals.’ We all know that this number system was invented by the Arabs. If that’s the case, why are they not using it?” What’s up with that?

A: You’re right. Even though the numbering system (1, 2, 3, etc.) most common throughout the world is called “Arabic,” people in the Arab world don’t use that system. The system in use by the Arab world is derived from old Indian numerals.

Some “Arab” countries — like Morocco, Tunisia and others — use the “Arabic numerals” system.

Of course, it’s also not that simple. When the Indian numerals began making their way into the Arab world, not all countries or tribes adopted them. So, at one point, there were dozens of different numbering systems. From what we can tell, the system of numbers written with letters of the Arabic alphabet is called the sexagesimal system.

Got a question about goings-on in the Mideast? E-mail Stripes at: news@estripes.osd.mil


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