Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

Abū al-Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī

Abū al-Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī (born 5 September 973 in Kath, Khwarezm, now region in Uzbekistan, died 13 December 1048 in Ghazni)known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English Encyclopædia Britannica, al-Biruni (Persian scholar and scientist) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English, was aPersian-Chorasmian Muslim scholar and polymath of the 11th century.

 Al-Biruni is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a historian, chronologist and linguist.[6] He was conversant in Chorasmian, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, and also knew Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. He spent a large part of his life in Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan, capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty which ruled eastern Iranian lands and the northwestern Indian subcontinent. In 1017 he traveled to the Indian subcontinent and became the most important interpreter of Indian science to the Islamic world. He is given the titles the "founder of Indology" and the "first anthropologist". He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations, and was given the title al-Ustdadh ("The Master") for his remarkable description of early 11th-centuryIndia. He also made contributions to Earth sciences, and is regarded as the "father of geodesy" for his important contributions to that field, along with his significant contributions to geography.

 

Life

He was born in the outer district of Kath, the capital of the Afrighid dynasty of Chorasmia. The word Biruni means "outer-district" in Persian, and so this became his nisba: "al-Bīrūnī" = "the Birunian". His first twenty-five years were spent in Chorasmia where he studied fiqh, theology, grammar,mathematics, astronomy, medics and other sciences. The Iranian Chorasmian language, which was the language of Biruni, survived for several centuries after Islam until the Turkification of the region, and so must some at least of the culture and lore of ancient Khwarezm, for it is hard to see the commanding figure of Biruni, a repository of so much knowledge, appearing in a cultural vacuum.

He was sympathetic to the Afrighids, who were overthrown by the rival dynasty of Ma'munids in 995. Leaving his homeland, he left for Bukhara, then under the Samanid ruler Mansur II the son of Nuh. There he also corresponded with Avicenna and there are extant exchanges of views between these two scholars.

In 998, he went to the court of the Ziyarid amir of Tabaristan, Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir. There he wrote his first important work, al-Athar al-Baqqiya 'an al-Qorun al-Khaliyya (literally: "The remaining traces of past centuries" and translated as "Chronology of ancient nations" or "Vestiges of the Past") on historical and scientific chronology, probably around 1000 A.D., though he later made some amendments to the book. Accepting the definite demise of the Afrighids at the hands of the Ma'munids, he made peace with the latter who then ruled Chorasmia. Their court at Gorganj (also in Chorasmia) was gaining fame for its gathering of brilliant scientists.

In 1017, Mahmud of Ghazni took Rey. Most scholars, including al-Biruni, were taken to Ghazna, the capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. Biruni was made court astrologer and accompanied Mahmud on his invasions into India, living there for a few years. Biruni became acquainted with all things related to India. He may even have learned some Sanskrit. During this time he wrote the Kitab ta'rikh al-Hind, finishing it around 1030.

Mathematics and Astronomy

 

An illustration from al-Biruni's astronomical works, explains the different phases of the moon.
Diagram illustrating a method proposed and used by Al-Biruni to estimate the radius and circumference of the Earth

Ninety-five of 146 books known to have been written by Bīrūnī, about 65 percent, were devoted to astronomy, mathematics, and related subjects like math­ematical geography.

Biruni's major work on astrology is primarily an astronomical and mathematical text, only the last chapter concerns astrological prognostication. His endorsement of astrology is limited, in so far as he condemns horary astrology as 'sorcery'.

Biruni wrote an extensive commentary on Indian astronomy in the Kitab ta'rikh al-Hind, in which he claims to have resolved the matter of Earth's rotation in a work on astronomy that is no longer extant, his Miftah-ilm-alhai'a (Key to Astronomy):

[T]he rotation of the earth does in no way impair the value of astronomy, as all appearances of an astronomic character can quite as well be explained according to this theory as to the other. There are, however, other reasons which make it impossible. This question is most difficult to solve. The most prominent of both modem and ancient astronomers have deeply studied the question of the moving of the earth, and tried to refute it. We, too, have composed a book on the subject called Miftah-ilm-alhai'a (Key to Astronomy), in which we think we have surpassed our predecessors, if not in the words, at all events In the matter.

In his description of Sijzi's astrolabe's he hints at contemporary debates over the movement of the earth. He carried on a lengthy correspondence and sometimes heated debate with Ibn Sina, in which Biruni repeatedly attacks Aristotle's celestial physics: he argues by simple experiment that vacuum must exist; he is "amazed" by the weakness of Aristotle's argument against elliptical orbits on the basis that they would create vacuum; he attacks the immutability of the celestial spheres; and so on.

In his major extant astronomical work, the Mas'ud Canon, he regards heliocentric and geocentric hypotheses as mathematically equivalent butheliocentrism as physically impossible, yet approves of the theory that the earth rotates on its axis. He utilizes his observational data to disprove Ptolemy's immobile solar apogee. More recently, Biruni's eclipse data was used by Dunthorne in 1749 to help determine the acceleration of the moon and his observational data has entered the larger astronomical historical record and is still used today in geophysics and astronomy.

Physics

Al-Biruni contributed to the introduction of the experimental scientific method to mechanics, unified statics and dynamics into the science of mechanics, and combined the fields of hydrostatics with dynamics to create hydrodynamics.

Geography

 

Four directions and Political divisions of Iran by Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī

Bīrūnī also devised his own method of determining the radius of the earth by means of the observation of the height of a mountain and carried it out at Nandana in India (present day Pind Dadan Khan, Pakistan).

 

Pharmacology and Mineralogy

 

Due to an apparatus he constructed himself, he succeeded in determining the specific gravity of a certain number of metals and minerals with remarkable precision.

History and Chronology

 

Biruni's main essay on political history, Kitāb al-musāmara fī aḵbār Ḵᵛārazm (Book of conversation concerning the affairs of Ḵᵛārazm) is now known only from quotations in Bayhaqī’s Tārīkh-e masʿūdī. In addition to this various discussions of historical events and methodology are found in connection with the lists of kings in his al-Āthār al-bāqiya and in the Qānūn as well as elsewhere in the Āthār, in India, and scattered throughout his other works.

History of Religions

 

Bīrūnī is one of the most important Muslim authorities on the history of religion. Al-Biruni was a pioneer in the study of comparative religion. He studied Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions. He treated religions objectively, striving to understand them on their own terms rather than trying to prove them wrong. His underlying concept was that all cultures are at least distant relatives of all other cultures because they are all human constructs. “What al-Biruni seems to be arguing is that there is a common human element in every culture that makes all cultures distant relatives, however foreign they might seem to one another.” (Rosenthal, 1976, p. 10). Al-Biruni was disgusted by scholars who failed to engage primary sources in their treatment of Hindu religion. He found existing sources on Hinduism to be both insufficient and dishonest. Guided by a sense of ethics and a desire to learn, he sought to explain the religious behavior of different groups.

Al-Biruni divides Hindus into an educated and an uneducated class. He describes the educated as monotheistic, believing that God is one, eternal, and omnipotent and eschewing all forms of idol worship. He recognizes that uneducated Hindus worshipped a multiplicity of idols yet points out that even some Muslims (such as the Jabiriyya) have adopted anthropomorphic concepts of God. (Ataman, 2005)

Indology

 

Bīrūnī’s fame as an Indologist rests primarily on two texts. Al-Biruni wrote an encyclopedic work on India called “Tarikh Al-Hind” (History of India, also known as “Indica,” or simply “India”) in which he explored nearly every aspect of Indian life, including religion, history, geography, geology, science, and mathematics. He explores religion within a rich cultural context. He expresses his objective with simple eloquence: I shall not produce the arguments of our antagonists in order to refute such of them, as I believe to be in the wrong. My book is nothing but a simple historic record of facts. I shall place before the reader the theories of the Hindus exactly as they are, and I shall mention in connection with them similar theories of the Greeks in order to show the relationship existing between them (1910, Vol. 1, p. 7; 1958, p. 5) An example of Al-Biruni’s analysis is his summary of why many Hindus hate Muslims. He explains that Hinduism and Islam are totally different from each other. Moreover, Hindus in 11th century India considered all foreigners, not just Muslims, impure and refused to have any connection with them. Furthermore, when the Muslims entered India, the land had already been devastated by two previous invasions by the Sakas and the Hunas. On top of that, Mahmud of Ghazni, the Muslim sultan of north-western India and a contemporary of al-Biruni, plundered the wealth of the region. (Ataman, 2005). Al-Biruni intended to facilitate dialogue between Hindus and Muslims. He thought that the two groups had a great deal they could learn from one another. (Biruni, 1910, Vol. 1, p. 17). Al-Biruni collected books and studied with Hindu scholars to become fluent in Sanskrit. He translated books both from Sanskrit to Arabic and vice versa. (Ataman, 2005). While others were killing each other over religious differences, Al-Biruni had a remarkable ability to engage Hindus in peaceful dialogue. Mohammad Yasin puts this dramatically when he says, “The Indica is like a magic island of quiet, impartial research in the midst of a world of clashing swords, burning towns, and burned temples.” (Indica is another name for Al-Biruni’s history of India). (Yasin, 1975, p. 212).

Works

 

 

Most of the works of Al-Biruni are in Arabic although he wrote one of his masterpieces, the Kitab al-Tafhim apparently in both Persian and Arabic, showing his mastery over both languages. Bīrūnī’s catalogue of his own literary production up to his 65th lunar/63rd solar year (the end of 427/1036) lists 103 titles divided into 12 categories: astronomy, mathematical geography, mathematics, astrological aspects and transits, astronomical instruments, chronology, comets, an untitled category, astrology, anec­dotes, religion, and books of which he no longer possesses copies. His extant works include:

  • Critical study of what India says, whether accepted by reason or refused (Arabic تحقيق ما للهند من مقولة معقولة في العقل أم مرذولة), also known as the Indica - a compendium of India's religion and philosophy
  • The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology (Kitab al-tafhim li-awa’il sina‘at al-tanjim).
  • The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries (Arabic الآثار الباقية عن القرون الخالية) - a comparative study of calendars of different cultures and civilizations, interlaced with mathematical, astronomical, and historical information.
  • The Mas'udi Canon (Persian قانون مسعودي) - an extensive encyclopedia on astronomy, geography, and engineering, named after Mas'ud, son of Mahmud of Ghazni, to whom he dedicated.
  • Understanding Astrology (Arabic التفهيم لصناعة التنجيم) - a question and answer style book about mathematics and astronomy, in Arabic and Persian.
  • Pharmacy - about drugs and medicines.
  • Gems (Arabic الجماهر في معرفة الجواهر) about geology, minerals, and gems, dedicated to Mawdud son of Mas'ud.
  • Astrolabe.
  • A historical summary book.
  • History of Mahmud of Ghazni and his father.
  • History of Khawarazm.

Chronicle of Nations

Persian work

Although he preferred Arabic to Persian in scientific writing, his Persian version of the Al-Tafhim is one of the most important of the early works of science in the Persian language, and is a rich source for Persian prose and lexicography. The book covers the Quadrivium in a detailed and skilled fashion.