Imam Ali bin Abi Thalib (karramallahu wajhah) was endowed with a quick, sharp, incisive, mathematics mind. Here are a few interesting stories in which Imam Ali’s mathematical brilliance revealed itself.
Whole Number and not a Fraction
One Day a Jewish person came to Imam Ali, thinking that since Imam Ali thinks he is too smart, I’ll ask him such a tough question that he won’t be able to answer it and I’ll have the chance to embarrass him in front of all the Arabs.
He asked “Imam Ali, tell me a number, that if we divide it by any number from 1-10 the answer will always come in the form of a whole number and not as a fraction.”
Imam Ali looked back at him and said, “Take the number of days in a year and multiply it with the number of days in a week and you will have your answer.”
The Jewish person got astonished but as he was a polytheist (Mushrik), he still didn't believe Imam Ali. He calculated the answer Imam Ali gave him.
To his amazement he came across the following results:
- The number of Days in a Year = 360 (in Arab)
- The Number of Days in a Week = 7
- The product of the two numbers = 360×7=2520
2520 ÷ 1 = 2520
2520 ÷ 2 = 1260
2520 ÷ 3 = 840
2520 ÷ 4 = 630
2520 ÷ 5 = 504
2520 ÷ 6 = 420
2520 ÷ 7 = 360
2520 ÷ 8 = 315
2520 ÷ 9 = 280
2520 ÷ 10= 252
The Five Loaves of Bread
Zarr Bin Hobeish relates this story: Two travellers sat together on the way to their destination to have a meal. One had five loaves of bread. The other had three. A third traveller was passing by and at the request of the two joined in the meal. The travellers cut each of the loaf of bread in three equal parts. Each of the traveller ate eight broken pieces of the loaf.
At the time of leaving the third traveller took out eight dirhams and gave to the first two men who had offered him the meal, and went away. On receiving the money the two travellers started quarrelling as to who should have how much of the money. The five-loaf-man demanded five dirhams. The three-loaf-man insisted on dividing the money in two equal parts (4 dirhams each).
The dispute was brought to Imam Ali (the Caliph of the time in Arabia) to be decided.
Imam Ali requested the three-loaf-man to accept three dirhams, because five-loaf-man has been more than fair to you. The three-loaf-man refused and said that he would take only four dirhams.
At this Imam Ali replied, “You can have only one dirham. You had eight loaves between yourselves. Each loaf was broken in three parts. Therefore, you had 24 equal parts. 8×3=24
Your 3 loaves made 9 parts out of which you have eaten 8 portions, leaving just 1 piece to the third traveller. (3×3)-8=1
Your friend had 5 loaves which divided into 3 made 15 pieces. He ate 8 pieces and gave 7 pieces to the guest.(5×3)-8=7
As such the guest shared 1 part from your loaves and 7 from those of your friend. So you should get one dirham and your friend should receive seven dirhams.”
Dividing Inheritance (Warits)
What is a wife’s share?
Imam Ali was once interrupted while he was delivering a sermon from the pulpit by someone who asked him how to distribute the inheritance of someone who had died leaving a wife, his parents and two daughters. The Imam instantly answered:
“The wife’s share becomes one ninth.” How?
This answer is in fact the result of a long analysis with a number of steps. Ordinarily, we have to decide on the original share of each of these heirs, in the following way:
The wife takes one eighth, in view of the presence of an inheriting child. [Holy Quran 4:12]
The deceased’s father and mother take one sixth each. [Holy Quran 4:11]
The two daughters take two thirds of the inheritance. [Holy Quran 4:11]
So the total will be: 1/8 + 1/6 + 1/6 + 2/3 = 3/24 + 4/24 + 4/24 + 16/24 = 27/24
This means the share becomes less than 1/8 in view of the increase of the total of the shares which are so fixed and prescribed. So the one eighth, the original share due to the wife out of twenty-four total shares, has become three shares out of a total of twenty-seven, which is one ninth.
Imam Ali’s mind went through this complex mathematical process in a second!