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Biruni         By Mr. Taher

His full name was Abu Rayhan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Biruni. He was born in September of 973 in Khwarezm, Khorasan and died in another city of Khorasan, Ghazna. He was a Tajik scholar and scientist and one of the most outstanding figure and learned man of his age.

He spent most of his life in another city of Khwarezm other than his birth city of Khiva. In reference to his place of birth place, Khiva, he was known as Biruni (outsider). He had an original mind of encyclopedic scope and was conversant with Turkish, Sanskrit, Hebrew and Syriac. He also wrote most of his work in Arabic rather than his own language, Dari, because Arabic was a medium of communication in the then Muslim World. Biruni was tremendously influenced at early age by the best local mathematicians and other scholars. Al-Biruni, while still a student entered correspondence with the great philosopher Ibn Sina-e-Balkhi (Avicenna of Balkh). Some of Avicenna's replies are still preserved in the British Museum.

Biruni had excelled in many fields of the knowledge of the day particularly in astronomy, mathematics, chronology, physics, medicine, and history. In those days it was common for scholars to seek the patronage of kings by attaching oneself to their court society. Biruni found such support in the court of the Samanid Sultan Mansur II until the end of the Samanid dynasty in the hand of Mahmoud of Ghazna. He was also entrusted with several important diplomatic missions during the Samanids but after the Samanids collapsed, he was led away to Ghazna where he lived the rest of his life there.

The Ghaznavids were patrons of scholarly talents, and the Sultan Mahmoud appointed Al-Biruni to his court as official astronomer/astrologer. During this time Sultan Mahmoud was expanding his frontiers in every direction particulary to the south, India. The campaigns of Mahmoud to India opened an opportunity for Biruni to steep himself in the world of Hindu learning. In India, he shared his knowledge of Greek, Dari (Farsi) and Islamic knowledge with Indian scholars. In return, he learned Sanskrit which was a doorway for Biruni to a new intellectual world.

In 1030, Biruni completed the book Tarikh al-Hind (History of India). Many scholars consider this masterpiece as the most important treatise on Indian history and culture before twentieth century. The degree of objectivity and details that is displayed in this book Tarikh al-Hind is without parallel for the time and it is still of great value to the contemporary scholars.

He also completed another major book almost in the same time. It is the book called Kitab al-qanun al-Masudi fi l-hay a wa l-nujum (Canon of Masudi) and was dedicated to the Sultan Masud son of Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavid. This book is the largest and most important of Biruni's mathematical, geographical and astronomical studies.

His other famous books are Athar al-baqiyah (Chronology of Ancient Nations); at-Tafhim ("Elements of Astrology"); and Kitab as-Saydalah a treatise on drugs used in medicine. Biruni himself has claimed to have authored more than one hundred treatise of varying length in his life time. They include works on arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, ans astrology, a pioneering effort in mineralogical classification, and toward the end of his career, works on medical sciences. His collection of Indian and Chinese minerals, drugs, potions and other concoctions, still not systematically studied and may be of immense value to pharmacology.

The Chronology of Ancient Nations is an unprecedented attempt to periodize the history of the known world y comparing and cross-referencing large numbers of chronologies and calendrical system. His work provides a basis for chronological studies which has yet to be fully exploited.

His broad knowledge of astronomy and geography led him to the verge of modern scientific ideas. He believed that the apparent movement of celestial bodies are due to rotation of earth around its axis and also made accurate calculation of latitude and longitude. On the basis of reports of various flotsam found in the seas, He reasoned that the continent of Africa must be surrounded by water. It was a deviation from the popular Ptolemaic geography which was popular in the West and asserted the continent of Africa extended indefinitely to the south. On examining the Indus Valley, Biruni correctly guessed that once it had been a shallow sea filled in through the centuries by alluvial deposits from the river. Biruni also explained the operations of artesian springs and wells in terms of modern hydrostatic principles. He also determined with remarkable accuracy the densities of more than a dozen precious stones and metals.


The bibliography is not complete and will be later.

Yasin, Mohammed. "Al-Biruni in India." Islamic Culture 49 (1975): 207-213

Ziquddin, Amad. "Al-Biruni." Islamic Culture 5/6 (1931/1932): 343-351, 363-369. Ziauddin reports on a 1928 interview with Edward Sachau, chief translator of the works, who called Biruni "the greatest intellect that ever lived on this earth."