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Al-Biruni

Al-Biruni

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Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-BīrūnīArabic spelling. . The intermediate form Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī is often used in academic literature. (born 5 September 973 in Kath, Khwarezm
Khwarezm
Khwarezm, or Chorasmia, is a large oasis region on the Amu Darya river delta in western Central Asia, which borders to the north the Aral Sea, to the east the Kyzylkum desert, to the south the Karakum desert and to the west the Ustyurt Plateau...

, died 13 December 1048 in Ghazni
Ghazni
For the Province of Ghazni see Ghazni ProvinceGhazni is a city in central-east Afghanistan with a population of about 141,000 people...

), known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English, was an Iranian
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

-Chorasmian
Khwarezmian language
Khwarezmian, also known as Khwarazmian or Chorasmian, is the name of an extinct East Iranian language closely related to Sogdian. The language was spoken in the area of Khwarezm , centered in the lower Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea .Our knowledge of Khwarezmian is...

 Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 scholar and polymath of the 11th century.

He is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

, physical and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a geographer, historian, chronologist and linguist. He is also considered as impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations and was given the title al-Ustdadh ("The Master"). According to Francis Robinson
Francis Robinson
Professor Francis Christopher Rowland Robinson is a British academic who was awarded a CBE in 2006 for his services to higher education and his research into the history of Islam....

, Al-Biruni earned the "founder of Indology
Indology
Indology is the academic study of the history and cultures, languages, and literature of the Indian subcontinent , and as such is a subset of Asian studies....

" and "first anthropologist" titles for his remarkable description of early 11th-century India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, although the first in-depth study of India by any Westerner was provided by the Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 ambassador Megasthenes
Megasthenes
Megasthenes was a Greek ethnographer in the Hellenistic period, author of the work Indica.He was born in Asia Minor and became an ambassador of Seleucus I of Syria possibly to Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra, India. However the exact date of his embassy is uncertain...

 (ca. 350–290 BC) in his "famous" four-volume Indica.

Life


He was born in outer district of Kath the capital of Afrighid dynasty of Chorasmia. The word Biruni means outer-district in Persian language
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 and due to being born in the outer district of Kath, this became his nisba. His first twenty-five years were spent in Chorasmia where he studied fiqh
Fiqh
Fiqh is Islamic jurisprudence. Fiqh is an expansion of the code of conduct expounded in the Quran, often supplemented by tradition and implemented by the rulings and interpretations of Islamic jurists....

, theology, grammar, mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

, medics and other sciences. The Iranian
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

 Chorasmian language, which was the native of language of Biruni, survived for several centuries after Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 until the Turkification of the region, and so must some at least of the culture and lore of ancient Khwarezm
Khwarezm
Khwarezm, or Chorasmia, is a large oasis region on the Amu Darya river delta in western Central Asia, which borders to the north the Aral Sea, to the east the Kyzylkum desert, to the south the Karakum desert and to the west the Ustyurt Plateau...

, 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
Afrighids
The Afrighids were native Chorasmian Iranian dynasty who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Chorasmia until 995 AD.-Sources:...

 which were overthrown by the rival dynasty of Ma'munids
Ma'munids
ĀL-E MAʾMŪN , were an independent dynasty of Iranian rulers in Chorasmia. Their reign was short-lived and were in turn replaced by the expansionist Ghaznavids.-Rulers and Kingdom:...

 in 995. Leaving his homeland, he left for Bukhara
Bukhara
Bukhara , from the Soghdian βuxārak , is the capital of the Bukhara Province of Uzbekistan. The nation's fifth-largest city, it has a population of 263,400 . The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time...

 then under the Samanid
Samanid
The Samani dynasty , also known as the Samanid Empire, or simply Samanids was a Persian state and empire in Central Asia and Greater Iran, named after its founder Saman Khuda, who converted to Sunni Islam despite being from Zoroastrian theocratic nobility...

 ruler Mansur II the son of Nuh. There he also corresponded with Avicenna
Avicenna
Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā , commonly known as Ibn Sīnā or by his Latinized name Avicenna, was a Persian polymath, who wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived...

 and there exists extant exchanges of views between these two scholars.

In 998, he went to the court of the Ziyarid
Ziyarid
The Ziyarids, also spelled Zeyarids , were an Iranian dynasty that ruled in the Caspian sea provinces of Gorgan and Mazandaran from 928-1043 . The founder of the dynasty was Mardavij , who took advantage of a rebellion in the Samanid army of Iran to seize power in northern Iran...

 amir of Tabaristan, Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir
Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir
Qabus ibn Wushmagir Qabus ibn Wushmagir Qabus ibn Wushmagir (full name and honorific abol-ḥasan qābūs ben wušmagīr ibn ziyar šams al-maʿālī, ; (r. 977–981; 997–1012, d. 1012) was the Ziyarid ruler of Gurgan and Tabaristan in medieval Iran...

. 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 amendations to the book. Accepting the definitie demise of the Afrighids
Afrighids
The Afrighids were native Chorasmian Iranian dynasty who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Chorasmia until 995 AD.-Sources:...

 at the hands of the Ma'munids
Ma'munids
ĀL-E MAʾMŪN , were an independent dynasty of Iranian rulers in Chorasmia. Their reign was short-lived and were in turn replaced by the expansionist Ghaznavids.-Rulers and Kingdom:...

, he made peace with the Ma'munids
Ma'munids
ĀL-E MAʾMŪN , were an independent dynasty of Iranian rulers in Chorasmia. Their reign was short-lived and were in turn replaced by the expansionist Ghaznavids.-Rulers and Kingdom:...

 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




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.

Physics


Al-Biruni contributed to the introduction of the experiment
Experiment
An experiment is a methodical procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis. Experiments vary greatly in their goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results...

al scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

 to mechanics
Mechanics
Mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....

, unified statics
Statics
Statics is the branch of mechanics concerned with the analysis of loads on physical systems in static equilibrium, that is, in a state where the relative positions of subsystems do not vary over time, or where components and structures are at a constant velocity...

 and dynamics into the science of mechanics, and combined the fields of hydrostatics with dynamics to create hydrodynamics.

Geography



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.

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, Ketāb al-mosāmara fī aḵbār Ḵᵛārazm (Book of conversation concerning the affairs of Ḵᵛārazm) is now known only from quotations in Bayhaqī’s Tārīḵ-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-Āṯār al-bāqīa and in the Qānūn as well as elsewhere in the Āṯār, 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 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
    The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries
    The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries also known as Chronology of Ancient Nations or Vestiges of the Past, after the translation published by Eduard Sachau in 1879) by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, is a comparative study of calendars of different cultures and civilizations, interlaced with mathematical,...

    (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
    Encyclopedia
    An encyclopedia is a type of reference work, a compendium holding a summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge....

     on astronomy, geography, and engineering, named after Mas'ud, son of Mahmud of Ghazni
    Mahmud of Ghazni
    Mahmud of Ghazni , actually ', was the most prominent ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty who ruled from 997 until his death in 1030 in the eastern Iranian lands. Mahmud turned the former provincial city of Ghazni into the wealthy capital of an extensive empire which covered most of today's Iran,...

    , 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.

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
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, and is a rich source for Persian prose and lexicography. The book covers the Quadrivium
Quadrivium
The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities, after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" , and its use for the 4 subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century...

 in a detailed and skilled fashion.

Further reading

  • On the Presumed Darwinism of Alberuni Eight Hundred Years before Darwin Jan Z. Wilczynski Isis Vol. 50, No. 4 (Dec., 1959), pp. 459–466 (article consists of 8 pages) Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/226430

External links



Works of Al-Biruni online


(At Packard Institute)