|Biographical detail : ||Master par excellence for his contributions in so many diverse fields.
Al-Biruni was an outstanding astronomer, mathematician, physicist, physician, geographer, geologist and historian – a great genius. He earned the title of “al-Ustadh.” Some historians have called the period of his goings-on as “The Age of al-Biruni.”
Al-Biruni’s contributions are so extensive that an index of his written works covers more than sixty pages. In science, he discovered seven different ways of finding the direction of the north and south, and discovered mathematical techniques to determine exactly the beginning of the season. He wrote about the sun and its movements and the eclipse. He, furthermore, invented few astronomical instruments.
Al-Biruni explained that the earth rotated on its axis and made accurate calculations of latitude and longitude and observed the same in his book, ‘Al-Athar Al-Baqia’. He wrote a treatise on timekeeping.
Al-Biruni with his experiments related to astronomical phenomena 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 8 April 1019 – at Lamghan, a valley surrounded by mountains between the towns of Qandahar and Kabul – and the lunar eclipse of 17 September 1019 – at Ghazna and gave precise details of the exact altitude of various well-known stars at the moment of first contact. ‘Al-Tafhim-li-Awail Sina’at al-Tanjim’ summarises his work on mathematics and astronomy.
Al-Biruni’s 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 and is described in his book, ‘Kitab-al-Jamahir’. He was 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.
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, in the fields of geology and geography. His book, ‘Al-Athar Al-Baqiyah fi Qanun al-Khaliyah’ deals with ancient history and geography.
Al-Biruni travelled many places in India for about twenty years and studied Hindu philosophy, mathematics, geography and religion from the Pundits. His book, ‘Kitab al-Hind’ provides a detailed account of Indian life, religions, languages, and cultures and includes many observations on geography. In his book he mentions two Sanskrit books, Patanjal and Sakaya that he translated in Arabic – the former deals with after death accounts and the latter with the creation of things and their types. Abul Fazl’s book ‘Aein-i-Akbari’, written six centuries later during the reign of Akbar, was influenced by al-Biruni’s book.
Al-Biruni’s famous book, ‘Al-Qanun Al-Masudi Fi Al-Hai’a Wa Al-Nujum’ that he wrote after his return from India and dedicated to Sultan Masood discusses several theorems of trigonometry, astronomy, solar, lunar and planetary motions, and contains a collection of twenty-three observations of equinoxes.
Al-Biruni’s ‘Kitab-al-Saidana’ is an extensive materia medica that synthesises the Arabic medicine with the Indian medicine.
Al-Biruni never exploited his work as a means of fame, authority or material gains. When Sultan Masood sent him three camel-loads of silver coins in appreciation of his encyclopaedic 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 was born Abu Raihan Muhammad al-Biruni in Khwarizm, now Kara-Kalpakskaya in Uzbekistan. He studied Arabic, Islamic Law, and several branches of knowledge and learnt Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit that helped him in his understanding, fresh and original approach. He died in Ghazna (Afghanistan).