ABU RAIHAN MUHAMMAD AL-BIRUNI (973 - 1048 C.E.)
Al-Biruni was an outstanding astronomer, mathematician,
physicist, Physician, geographer, geologist and historian.
According to Max Meyerhoff, Al-Biruni is perhaps the
most prominent figure in the phalanx of those universally
learned Muslim scholars who characterize the Golden
Age of Islamic Science. His great contributions in so
many diverse fields earned him the title "al-Ustadh,"
the Master or Professor par excellence. Some historians
have called the period of his activity as "The
Age of Al-Biruni."
Abu Raihan Muhammad Al-Biruni was born in Khwarizm
(now Kara-Kalpakskaya in present Uzbekistan) in 973
C.E. He studied Arabic, Islamic Law, and several branches
of knowledge. Later, he learnt Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit.
His knowledge of several languages helped him in understanding
the available work and bring together a fresh and original
approach in his work. Al-Biruni was of the view that
whatever the subject one should use every available
source in its original form, investigate the available
work with objective scrutiny, and carry out research
through direct observation and experimentation.
He was a contemporary of the famous physician Ibn Sina
(Avicenna) and is known to have corresponded with him.
Al-Biruni's contributions are so extensive that an index
of his written works covers more than sixty pages. His
scientific work combined with contributions of Al-Haitham
(Al-Hazen) and other Muslim scientists laid down the
early foundation of modern science. Al-Biruni died in
1048 C.E. in Ghazna (Afghanistan) after a forty-year
Al-Biruni made original and important contributions
to science. He discovered seven different ways of finding
the direction of the north and south, and discovered
mathematical techniques to determine exactly the beginnings
of the season. He also wrote about the sun and its movements
and the eclipse. In addition, he invented few astronomical
instruments. Many centuries before the rest of the world,
Al-Biruni discussed that the earth rotated on its axis
and made accurate calculations of latitude and longitude.
These observations are contained in his book "Al-Athar
Al-Baqia." He wrote a treatise on timekeeping in
Al-Biruni was the first to conduct elaborate experiments
related to astronomical phenomena. He stated that the
speed of light is immense as compared with the speed
of sound. He described the Milky Way as a collection
of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars.
Al-Biruni described his observation of the solar eclipse
of April 8, 1019 and the lunar eclipse of September
17, 1019. On the solar eclipse which he observed at
Lamghan, a valley surrounded by mountains between the
towns of Qandahar and Kabul, he wrote: ... at sunrise
we saw that approximately one-third of the sun was eclipsed
and that the eclipse was waning. He observed the lunar
eclipse at Ghazna and gave precise details of the exact
altitude of various well-known stars at the moment of
first contact. Al-Biruni's book "Al-Tafhim-li-Awail
Sina'at al-Tanjim" summarizes work on Mathematics
and Astronomy. It was translated by Ramsay Wright in
Al-Biruni contributions in Physics include work on
springs and accurate determination of the specific weight
of eighteen elements and compounds including many metals
and precious stones. His book "Kitab-al-Jamahir"
discusses the properties of various precious stones.
He was a pioneer in the study of the angles and trigonometry.
He worked on shadows and chords of circles and developed
a method for trisection of an angle. He elaborated on
the principle of position and discussed the Indian numerals.
weight by al-Biruni
based on fixed values for
In the fields of geology and geography, al-Biruni contributed
on geological eruptions and metallurgy, to the measurement
of the longitudes and latitudes and methods of determining
the relative position of one place to another. He explained
the working of natural springs and artesian wells by
the hydrostatic principle of communicating vessels.
His book Al-Athar Al-Baqiyah fi Qanun al-Khaliyah deals
with ancient history and geography, and it was translated
by Edward Sachau. Al-Biruni observed that flowers have
3, 4, 5, 6, or 18 petals, but never seven or nine.
Al-Biruni is most commonly known by his association
with Mahmood Ghaznavi, a famous Muslim king who also
ruled India, and his son Sultan Masood. Impressed by
his scholarship and fame, Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi took
al-Biruni along with him in his journeys to India several
times. Al-Biruni traveled many places in India for about
20 years and studied Hindu philosophy, mathematics,
geography and religion from the Pundits. In return,
he taught them Greek and Muslim sciences and philosophy.
Al-Biruni's book "Kitab al-Hind" provides
a detailed account of Indian life, religions, languages,
and cultures and includes many observations on geography.
He stated that the Indus valley must be considered as
an ancient sea basin filled with alluvials. In this
book, he mentions two books Patanjal and Sakaya. He
translated these two Sanskrit books into Arabic. The
former book deals with after death accounts, and the
latter with the creation of things and their types.
Abu-al-Fadal's book "Aein-i-Akbari," written
six centuries later during the reign of Akbar, was influenced
by Al-Biruni's book.
Al-Biruni wrote his famous book "Al-Qanun Al-Masudi
Fi Al-Hai'a Wa Al-Nujum," in 1030 C.E. This book
was written after he returned from India and was dedicated
to Sultan Masood. It discusses several theorems of trigonometry,
astronomy, solar, lunar and planetary motions, and contains
a collection of twenty-three observations of equinoxes.
His other well-known books are Al-Athar Al-Baqia and
Kitab-al-Saidana. The former book gives an account of
ancient history of nations and the latter is an extensive
materia medica that synthesizes the Arabic Medicine
with the Indian medicine. His investigations included
description of Siamese twins. He also wrote on the astrolabe
and a mechanical calendar.
Al-Biruni was a true Muslim Scientist who benefitted
from both the Islamic guidance and scientific investigations.
He said: "My experience in the study of astronomy
and geometry and experiments in physics revealed to
me that there must be a Planning Mind of Unlimited Power.
My discoveries in Astronomy showed that there are fantastic
intricacies in the universe which prove that there is
a creative system and a meticulous control that cannot
be explained through sheer physical and material causes."
He never exploited his work as a means to fame, authority
or material gains. When Sultan Masood sent him three
camel-loads of silver coins in appreciation of his encyclopedic
work "Al-Qanoon al-Masoodi," (The Mas'udi
Canon), Al-Biruni politely returned the royal gift saying,
"I serve knowledge for the sake of knowledge and
not for money."
Al-Biruni is considered as one of the greatest scientists
of all times.