Summary: According to all ancient sources, Al-Khawarazmi was Iranian/Persian and not of Arab background.
This page is written in order so that all materials related to the ethnic background of Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khawarazmi (about 780-850 A.D.) from ancient sources is compiled in one spot . The page does not quote modern sources, some of whom which mention Khawarazmi as an Iranian and others as Arab. At one point in the West, the term Muslim and Arab were used interchangeably, although more 80% of Muslims today are not of Arab origin!
I have went through the modern sources recently, and amongst these modern sources, this well researched source by a Professor of Mathematical History specializing in the history of Mathematics in the Islamic era is noteworthy: http://facstaff.uindy.edu/~oaks/MHMC.htm
The actual motivation to compose this short fact sheet is due to the constant meddling and edit wars of the Wikipedia entry on his origin:
I will attempt to bring forth all available evidence from ancient sources. These are indeed invaluable historical records left for mankind. It must be mentioned that since these are all the evidences that can be gathered, any decision based on the question of historical persons ethnicity is made through such evidences. This holds true for all individuals throughout history since we can only rely upon historical records left to us. For example, if that was not the case, then Jesus could be claimed as a pure African black looking person or pure Nordic with blond hair and blue eyes. Small extremist groups from both sides have written hundreds of pages with this regard! Yet we know that he was of Semitic origin (how would we know except through historical sources?) and so most likely he looked like your typical middle eastern. But if someone wants to do away with all the records that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from a Jewish family, and argue he was black and challenge the bible and other historical records (all of them written about 2000 years and hence could have flaws), then such a person can not be taken seriously. Since he needs to offer counter arguments from those ancient sources that Jesus was black. For example on the origin of Alexander the conqueror, there is a intense debate. Some say he was Greek, some say Macedonian and even some might put the proposition that he was Persian since in Persian literature, he is related to the last Achaemenid king by blood and also he married a Persian wife. So in this case, all three theories should be evaluated and in the end a person will safely say that he was "Macedonian" with a some certainty, yet other theories can not be ruled out since there are ancient evidences that differ from the mainstream thinking.
Thankfully, on the case of Al-Khawarizmi, all ancient sources directly point to a Persian origin and there is absolutely no ancient source that claims otherwise. For example on the other Muslim figure like Al-Farabai, we have essentially two biographical sources one which considers him a Persian and another one a Turk. So there could exist a debate on his identity and putting nationalistic tendencies aside, no one can say with 100% certainty what Al-Farabi was.
So with in this logical and natural methodological framework to identify ethnic background of a historical person, we proceed accordingly.
1) The earliest evidence at hand about Al-Khawarazmi is from Tabari (born around 839 A.D.) who lived one generation after Al-Khawarazmi. Tabari mentions his name in passage:
وذكر أنه لما اعتلّ علته التي مات فيها وسقى بطنه أمر بإحضار المنجمّين، فأحضروا؛ وكان ممن حضر الحسن بن سهل، أخو الفضل بن سهل، والفضل بن إسحاق الهاشميّ وإسماعيل بن نوبخت ومحمد بن موسى الخوارزميّ المجوسيّ القطربّليّ وسند صاحب محمد بن الهيثم وعامة من ينظر في النجوم، فنظروا في علّته ونجمه ومولده، فقالوا: يعيش دهراً طويلاً، وقدّ روا له خمسين سنة مستقبلة؛ فلم يلبث إلا عشرة أيام حتى مات
The full name given by Tabari is: Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarazmi Al-Majoosi Al-Qutrubbulil. The significance of this passage is the title Al-Majoosi (Zoroastrian) given here to him by Tabari. This would be a clear indicator of his Iranian ethnic background since Zoroastrianism was practiced mainly by Iranians and in Khawaraizm which was an Iranian region, a Zoroastrian would be equivalent to an Iranian. So far there has not been any legitimate counter argument against the Al-Majoosi in his name.
2) The second proof we have of Al-Khawarizm's background is from Ibn-Nadeem. Ibn-Nadeem ( 930-990 A.D) mentions:
الخوارزمي واسمه محمد بن موسى وأصله من
خوارزم وكان منقطعاً إلى خزانة الحكمة للمأمون وهو من أصحاب علوم الهيئة
وكان الناس قبل الرصد وبعده يعولون على زيجيه الأول والثاني ويعرفان بالسند هند وله
من الكتب كتاب الزلزيج نسختين أولى وثانية كتاب الرخامة كتاب العمل بالاسطرلابات
كتاب عمل الإسطرلاب كتاب التاريخ سند بن علي اليهودي ويكنى أبا الطيب كان أولاً
يهودياً وأسلم على يد المأمون وكان منجماً له وهو الذي بنى الكنيسة التي في ظهر باب
الشماسية في حريم دار معز الدولة وعمل في جملة الراصدين بل كان على الأرصاد كلها
وله من الكتب كتاب المنفصلات والمتوسطات كتاب القواطع نسختين كتاب الحساب الهندي
كتاب الجمع والتفريق كتاب الجبر والمقابلة.
The marked red passage here translates to "His Asl( origin, root) is from Khawarazm (Chorasmia))". Chorasmia according to Encyclopedia Iranica is a region on "the lower reaches of the Oxus (Amu Darya) in western Central Asia".
This again is sufficient to prove the Iranian background of Khawarazmi. Because Abu-Rayhan Biruni who was also a native son Chorasmia and has written extensively on his homeland clearly indicates that the people of Al-Khawarizm are a branch of the Iranian/Persian (Al-Fars) tree.
3) The actual quote by Biruni (973-1048 A.D) is:
و أما أهل خوارزم، و إن کانوا غصنا ً من دوحة الفُرس
The quote is taken from Birunis monumental work Al-Athar al-Baqia fi Al-Qurun Al-Khalia. I have attached the edition as well as the page number where this quote can be found in the following link:
The quote translates to: "And the people of Khawarazm are a branch of the Persians".
4) There is also an interesting passage in the book Tabaqat al-Umam written by Qadhi Saa'id al-Andalusi (1029 to 1070 A.D.) In it the Qadhi talks about a certain scholar by the name Abu al-Qasim Muslamah ibn Ahmad. The Qadhi writes:
" Abu al-Qasim Muslamah ibn Ahmad, know by the name al-Majriti. He was the chief mathematician in al-Andalus during his time and better than all the astronomers who came before him. He was extremly interested in astronomical observations and very fond of studying and understanding the book of Ptolemy known as Almagest. .. He also worked on the table of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarazmi and changed the dates from the Persian to the Hijrah calendar..".
The actual arabic can be found here:
(taken from the printed edition in Egypt al-Qāhirah : Dār al-Ma'ārif, 1998)
This passage is again significant and shows that Al-Khawarzmi used Persian dates and calendar in his astronomical tables. Now the chances of an Arab knowing Persian and using Persian dates instead of the Arabo-Islamic Hijrah calendar is very low in probability.
Conclusion: Each of the following four evidences when combined coherently, prove that Al-Khawarazmi was of an Iranian background. There is absolutely nothing to counter the arguments here from ancient sources. A person might be able to make very weak arguments (which is no argument really) against each of the statements here, but they have nothing from the ancient sources to counter these arguments. That is they can not prove their point from these ancient sources, which is the only records available for mankind. The logic is very simple. Al-Khawarazmi is from Khawarazm (Chorasmia) (Ibn Nadeem and as his name indicates), Biruni another native Chorasmian mentions that the people of Khawarazm are a branch Persians, we have necessary and sufficient evidence on the Iranian dialect spoken in Chorasmia (Iranica article), we have a mention of a title Al-Majoosi (Zoroastrian) and also we have the fact that he used Persian dates in his table instead of Arabic and Hijrah dates, which signifies that he was familiar with Zoroastrian astrology and astronomy.
Thus unless there is anything from the ancient sources to counter the ones mentioned in this article, the Persian status of Al-Khawarzmi should be included in the Wikipedia article and all other scholarly references.
----------------- A notable reference from a famous American Historian---------------------------
The Golden age of Persia
by Richard N. Frye, Professor of Iranian, Harvard university Weidenfeld and
Nicolson, London 1975
Professor Richard (Emeritus) was a Professor of Iranian and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University.
The contributions of Iranians to Islamic mathematics is overwhelming. Undoubtedly Iran acted as a middleman for the transmission of a great deal of mathematical knowledge from India, and it is not easy to determine the source of many ideas, but Iranians were active and did contribute much. The centre of scientific activity was, as expected, Baghdad. The caliph al-Ma'mun collected a great number of mathematicians and astronomers at his court, almost all
of them from eastern Iran. Perhaps the most famous of the mathematicians was Muhammad b. Musa al-Khwarazmi
(d. c. 850) who wrote on algebra, and it is possible that this word comes from his book al-Jabr just as the word algorism, the decimal system of computation, most
probably comes from his own name. To record even the names of scientists of Iranian origin who flourished in the time of al-Ma'mun would occupy much space, and their contributions to learning and science were extensive. The Banu Musa, three brothers, were instrumental in translating Greek and Pahlavi manuscripts on scientific subjects into Arabic. Abu Ma'shar of Balkh was more an astrologer than a mathematician but many of his works were translated into Latin and were well known in Europe where he was called Albumasar. The mathematical tradition was continued in Iran by Abu `Abdallah Muhammad al-Mahani (d. c. 884) from the famous shrine town near Kirman, and Abu'l-`Abbas al-Nairizi (d. c. 922) from the town near Perspolis. More famous than these two was Abu'l-Wafa' al-Buzjani (d. 997), from a town in Kuhistan, eastern Iran, who made significant contributions to trigonometry, especially in studies on the tangent ... and the famous `Umar Khaiyam (d. 515/1122) who is better known in the west as a poet. He was, however, a great mathematician and also an astronomer. He reformed the old Persian
solar calendar which had continued in use in Iran beside the Muslim lunar calendar. This new calendar, called the Jalali, was more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. The name of Abu Raihan al-Biruni (d. 1048), from Khwarazm, must be mentioned since he was one of the greatest scientists in world history. His encyclopedic knowledge is evident from his many and varied writings which have survived. His works include treatises on geography, geology, mathematics, astronomy and history, which include a great deal of information on philosophy and religion. To describe the contributions of al-Biruni and other Iranians to the body of mathematical knowledge in the Muslim world would far exceed the scope of the present volume.
page 150: The famous philosopher of history, (of Tunisian background) Ibn Khaldun, living in the fourteenth century in north Africa, wrote the following:
It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars both in the religious and intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs ... Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and, after him, al-Farisi and az-Zajjaj. All of whom were of Persian descent. They were brought up in the Arabic language and acquired knowledge of it through their upbringing and through contact with Arabs. They invented the rules [of grammar] and made it into a discipline for later generations. Most of the hadith scholars, who preserved traditions of the Prophet for the Muslims also were Persians, or Persian in language and breeding because the discipline was widely cultivated in Iraq and regions beyond. Furthermore, all the great jurists were Persians, as is well-known. The same applies to speculative theologians and to most of the Qu'ran commentators. Only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the Prophet becomes apparent, ``If learning were suspended at the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it. ... The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them. They were cultivated by arabicized Persians, as was the case with all the crafts, as we stated at the beginning. This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khurasan and Transoxiana, retained
their sedantary culture.