Abu Raihan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni was a Persian scholar of the 11th century. He was born at Birun, the suburb of the city of Kath, Khwarezm (now in Uzbekistan) in 973 C.E. He was one of the well-known figures associated with the court of King Mahmood Ghaznawi, who was one of the famous Muslim kings of the 11th C.E. Al Biruni was a versatile scholar and scientist who is expert in physics, metaphysics, mathematics, geography, and history.
At an early age, when Sultan Mahmood Ghaznawi conquered his homeland, he took Al Biruni along with him in his journeys to India several times and thus he had the opportunity to travel all over India during period of 20 years. He learnt Hindu philosophy, mathematics, geography, and religion from three Pandits to whom he taught Greek and Arabic science and philosophy. He died in 1048 C.E. in Ghazni (now is Afghanistan) at the age of 75 after spending 40 years gathering knowledge and making his own contributions to it.
Al-Biruni spent his first twenty-five years in his homeland, studying under teachers whose knowledge had great influence on his intelligence and interests. No evidence of marriage or children has been found in Al-Biruni’s records. He was a man seemed to be devoted his entire life to academia. Al-Biruni’s earliest academic interests were in the physical, natural, and biological sciences.
He recorded observations of his travel through India in his book Kitab al-Hind, which gives a graphic account of the historical and social conditions of the sub-continent. His description of India were so complete that even the Aini Akbar written by Abul Fazal, 600 years later, owes a great deal to al-Biruni’s book. Al-Biruni observed that the Indus valley must be considered as an ancient sea basin filled up with alluvial.
His Book and Contributions
Al-Biruni wrote his books in Arabic and Persian and spoke Khwarezmian as his first language, though he knew four other languages: Greek, Sanskrit, Syriac and possibly Berber.
On his return from India, he wrote his book Qanun-I Masoodi, which he dedicated to Sultan Masood. The book discusses about astronomy, trigonometry, solar, lunar, and planetary motions and relative topics. In another well-known book al-Athar al-Baqia he explained a connection between ancient history of nations and the related geographical knowledge. In that book, he has discussed the rotation of the earth and has given correct values of latitudes and longitudes of various places. He has also made considerable contribution to several aspects of physical and economic geography in this book. He also wrote the Kitab al-Saidana, which is an extensive materia medica that combines the then existing Arabic knowledge on the subject with the Indian medicine.
He wrote a number of books and treatises. Some of them are: Kitab al-Hind (History and Geography of India), al-Qanun al-Masudi (Astronomy and Trigonometry), al-Athar al-Baqia (Ancient History and Geography), Kitab al-Saidana (Materia Medica) and Kitab al-Jawahir (Precious Stone) and many others.
He has been considered as one of the greatest scientists of Islam and one of the greatest all the times. His critical spirit, love of truth, and scientific approach were combined with a sense of toleration. His enthusiasm for knowledge may be judged from his claim that the phrase Allah is omniscient does not justify ignorance.