Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī

Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī

Infobox Muslim scholars | era = Matthew Deal

image_caption = Biruni on a 1973 Iranian post stamp commemorating his one thousandth anniversary

| name = Abū Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad Bīrunī
title= Abu-Rayhan Biruni
birth = 15 September 973 AD| death = 13 December 1048 AD| Maddhab = Shia Islam| school tradition= Imami
Ethnicity = Persian
Region = | notable idea= Father of anthropology, geodesy and Indology. Founder of experimental mechanics and experimental astronomy. Pioneer of experimental psychology. Contributed to many other fields of knowledge.| main_interests = Anthropology, astrology, astronomy, chemistry, comparative sociology, geodesy, geology, history, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, pharmacology, physics, psychology, science | influences = Aristotle, Ptolemy, Aryabhata, Muhammad, Brahmagupta, Rhazes, al-Sijzi, Abu Nasr Mansur, Avicenna
influenced = Al-Sijzi, Avicenna, Omar Khayyam, al-Khazini, Zakariya al-Qazwini, Maragha observatory, Islamic science, Islamic philosophy
works = "Ta'rikh al-Hind", "The Mas'udi Canon", "Understanding Astrology", and many other books |
transl|ar|ALA|Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī ( _ar. أبو ريحان محمد بن أحمد البيروني) (born 15 September 973 in Kath, Khwarezm, died 13 December 1048 in Ghazni) was a Persian Rahman Habib, "A Chronology of Islamic History, 570-1000 CE", Mansell Publishing, p. 167:
quote|"A Persian by birth, Biruni produced his writings in Arabic, though he knew, besides Persian, no less than four other languages."] [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9015394 Biruni] (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 April 2007.] [David C. Lindberg, "Science in the Middle Ages", University of Chicago Press, p. 18:
quote|"A Persian by birth, a rationalist in disposition, this contemporary of Avicenna and Alhazen not only studied history, philosophy, and geography in depth, but wrote one of the most comprehensive of Muslim astronomical treatises, the Qanun Al-Masu'di."
] polymath [Mr Koïchiro Matsuura. [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001206/120699E.pdf United Nations: Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] , UNESCO.quote|"Biruni, a scholar in many disciplines - from linguistics to mineralogy - and perhaps medieval Uzbekistan's most universal genius."] scholar of the 11th century.

He was a scientist and physicist, an anthropologist and comparative sociologist, an astronomer and chemist, a critic of alchemy and astrology, an encyclopedist and historian, a geographer and traveller, a geodesist and geologist, a mathematician, a pharmacist and psychologist, an Islamic philosopher and theologian, and a scholar and teacher, and he contributed greatly to all of these fields.

He was the first Muslim scholar to study India and the Brahminical tradition,cite book
author = Dyczkowski, M.S.G.
year = 1988
title = The Canon of the Saivagama and the Kubjika Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition
publisher = State University of New York Press
isbn =
] and has been described as the father of Indology,Zafarul-Islam Khan, [http://milligazette.com/Archives/15-1-2000/Art5.htm At The Threshold Of A New Millennium – II] , "The Milli Gazette".] the father of geodesy, and "the first anthropologist". He was also one of the earliest leading exponents of the experimental scientific method,MacTutor|id=Al-Biruni|title=Abu Arrayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni] and was responsible for introducing the experimental method into mechanics and mineralogy, a pioneer of comparative sociology and experimental psychology, and the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena.

George Sarton, the father of the history of science, described Biruni as "one of the very greatest scientists of Islam, and, all considered, one of the greatest of all times." [George Sarton, "Introduction to the History of Science", Vol. 1, p. 707.] A. I. Sabra described Biruni as "one of the great scientific minds in all history." [A. I. Sabra, [http://www.harvardmagazine.com/on-line/090351.html Ibn al-Haytham] , "Harvard Magazine", September-October 2003.]

The Al-Biruni crater, on the Moon, is named after Biruni. Tashkent Technical University (formerly Tashkent Polytechnic Institute) is also named after Abu Rayhan al-Biruni.


He was born in Khwarazm, then part of the Abbasid Empire(modern Khiva, Uzbekistan). He studied mathematics and astronomy under Abu Nasr Mansur.

He was a colleague of the fellow philosopher and physician Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), the historian, philosopher and ethicist Ibn Miskawayh, in a university and science center established by prince Abu al-Abbas Ma'mun Khawarazmshah. He also travelled to South Asia or Central Asia (Modern Day Afghanistan) with Mahmud of Ghazni (whose son and successor Masud was, however, his major patron), and accompanied him on his campaigns in India (in 1030), learning Indian languages, and studying the religion and philosophy of its people. There, he also wrote his "Ta'rikh al-Hind" ("Chronicles of India"). Biruni wrote his books in Arabic and his native language Persian, though he knew no less than four other languages: Greek, Sanskrit, Syriac, and possibly Berber.

He was buried in Ghazni in Afghanistan.Fact|date=September 2007


Biruni's works number 146 in total. These include 35 books on astronomy, 4 on astrolabes, 23 on astrology, 5 on chronology, 2 on time measurement, 9 on geography, 10 on geodesy and mapping theory, 15 on mathematics (8 on arithmetic, 5 on geometry, 2 on trigonometry), 2 on mechanics, 2 on medicine and pharmacology, 1 on meteorology, 2 on mineralogy and gems, 4 on history, 2 on India, 3 on religion and philosophy, 16 literary works, 2 books on magic, and 9 unclassified books. Among these works, only 22 have survived, and only 13 of these works have been published. [DSB|first=E. S.|last=Kennedy|title=Bīrūnī, IAST|Abū Rayḥān al-|volume=II|pages=152] 6 of his surviving works are on astronomy. [ [http://www.muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=232 An overview of Muslim Astronomers] , Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.] 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) - a compendium of India's religion and philosophy
* "The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries" (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 on astronomy, geography, and engineering, named after Mas'ud, son of Mahmud of Ghazni, 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"


Will Durant wrote the following on al-Biruni's contributions to Islamic astronomy:

Experimental observations

Biruni was the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena.Citation|last=Nick|first=Martin|title=Who was Al-Biruni?|journal=Al Shindagah|volume=56|date=January-February 2004|url=http://www.alshindagah.com/janfeb2004/albiruni.html|accessdate=2008-09-23] He supposed the Milky Way galaxy to be a collection of numerous nebulous stars, and in Khorasan, he observed and described the solar eclipse on 8 April 1019, and the lunar eclipse on 17 September 1019, in detail, and gave the exact latitudes of the stars during the lunar eclipse.

In 1031, Biruni completed his extensive astronomical encyclopaedia "Kitab al-Qanun al-Mas'udi" (Latinized as "Canon Mas’udicus"),Harv|Covington|2007] in which he recorded his astronomical findings and formulated astronomical tables. The book introduces the mathematical technique of analysing the acceleration of the planets, and first states that the motions of the solar apogee and the precession are not identical. Biruni also discovered that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is larger than Ptolemy's estimate, on the basis that Ptolemy disregarded the annual solar eclipses. [George Saliba (1980), "Al-Biruni", in Joseph Strayer, "Dictionary of the Middle Ages", Vol. 2, p. 249. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.]

Al-Biruni also introduced a new method of observation called the "three points observation". A later Muslim polymath astronomer, Taqi al-Din, described the three points as "two of them being in opposition in the ecliptic and the third in any desired place." Prior to al-Biruni, astronomers used the relatively inaccurate method of Hipparchus who used the intervals of seasons for calculating solar parameters. Al-Biruni's new "three points observation" was an important contribution to practical astronomy, and was still used six centuries later by Taqi al-Din, Tycho Brahe and Nicolaus Copernicus to calculate the eccentricity of the Sun's orbit and the annual motion of the apogee.Sevim Tekeli, "Taqi al-Din", in Helaine Selin (1997), "Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures", Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 0792340663.]

In contrast to Ptolemy, who selected the observations which agreed with his theory and omitted the observations he was discarding, Biruni treated errors in a more scientific manner, providing details on all of his observations, regardless of whether he agreed with the results. He was also concerned with maintaining a high degree of accuracy when it came to rounding errors in calculations, and he always attempted to avoid the manipulation of observed empirical data.


Biruni invented a number of astronomical instruments. He wrote the first treatises on the planisphere (the earliest star chart) and the orthographical astrolabe, as well as a treatise on the armillary sphere, and he was able to mathematically determine the direction of the Qibla from any place in the world. [http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=482 Khwarizm] , Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.] G. Wiet, V. Elisseeff, P. Wolff, J. Naudu (1975). "History of Mankind, Vol 3: The Great medieval Civilisations", p. 649. George Allen & Unwin Ltd, UNESCO.] He also wrote the earliest treatise on the sextant. [Jean Claude Pecker (2001), "Understanding the Heavens: Thirty Centuries of Astronomical Ideas from Ancient Thinking to Modern Cosmology", p. 311, Springer, ISBN 3540631984.]

He also invented an early hodometer, [D. De S. Price (1984). "A History of Calculating Machines", "IEEE Micro" 4 (1), p. 22-52.] and the first mechanical lunisolar calendar computer which employed a gear train and eight gear-wheels. [Donald Routledge Hill (1985). "Al-Biruni's mechanical calendar", "Annals of Science" 42, p. 139-163.] These were early examples of fixed-wired knowledge processing machines. [Tuncer Oren (2001). "Advances in Computer and Information Sciences: From Abacus to Holonic Agents", "Turk J Elec Engin" 9 (1), p. 63-70 [64] .]

In his "Exhaustive Treatise on Shadows", he explained the calculation of Salah prayer times according to the shadow cast by the gnomon of a sundial. [citation|last=Morrison|first=Robert|contribution=Astronomy|editor-last=Meri|editor-first=Josef W.|year=2006|title=Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia|pages=77–78 [78] |publisher=Taylor and Francis|isbn=0415966914|oclc=224371638 59360024]

The first description of an "observation tube" is found in a work of Biruni, in a section "dedicated to verifying the presence of the new crescent on the horizon." Though these early observation tubes did not have lenses, they "enabled an observer to focus on a part of the sky by eliminating light interference." These observation tubes were later adopted in Latin-speaking Europe, where they influenced the development of the telescope. [Regis Morelon, "General Survey of Arabic Astronomy", pp. 9-10, in Harv|Rashed|Morelon|1996|pp=1-19]


In 1030, Biruni discussed the Indian heliocentric theories of Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Varahamihira in his "Indica". Biruni noted that the question of heliocentricity was a philosophical rather than a mathematical problem.Saliba, George (1999). [http://www.columbia.edu/~gas1/project/visions/case1/sci.1.html Whose Science is Arabic Science in Renaissance Europe?] Columbia University.]

Abu Said al-Sijzi, a contemporary of Biruni, suggested the possible heliocentric movement of the Earth around the Sun, which Biruni did not reject.A. Baker and L. Chapter (2002), "Part 4: The Sciences". In M. M. Sharif, "A History of Muslim Philosophy", "Philosophia Islamica".] Biruni agreed with the Earth's rotation about its own axis, and while he was initially neutral regarding the heliocentric and geocentric models,Michael E. Marmura (1965). "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study by the Ikhwan Al-Safa'an, Biruni, and Ibn Sina" by Seyyed Hossein Nasr", "Speculum" 40 (4), p. 744-746.] he considered heliocentrism to be a philosophical problem. He remarked that if the Earth rotates on its axis and moves around the Sun, it would remain consistent with his astronomical parameters:

Biruni also wrote the following on al-Sijzi's heliocentric astrolabe called the "Zuraqi": [Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1993), "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines", p. 135-136. State University of New York Press, ISBN 0791415163.]

Biruni also criticized Aristotle's view of heavenly bodies only moving in circular orbits, and considered the possibility of the heavenly bodies moving in elliptic orbits: [David C. Lindberg, "Science in the Middle Ages", University of Chicago Press, p. 19]

Refutation of astrology

The first semantic distinction between astronomy and astrology was given by al-Biruni in the 11th century. [S. Pines (September 1964). "The Semantic Distinction between the Terms Astronomy and Astrology according to al-Biruni", "Isis" 55 (3): 343-349.] In a later work, he wrote a refutation of astrology. His reasons for refuting astrology were both due to the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical and also due to the views of astrologers conflicting with orthodox Islam. [Harv|Saliba|1994|pp=60 & 67-69]

Earth sciences

Biruni made a number of contributions to the Earth sciences. In particular, he has made significant contributions to cartography, geodesy, geography, geology and mineralogy.


By the age of 22, Biruni had written several short works, including a study of map projections, "Cartography", which included a method for projecting a hemisphere on a plane. He introduced the use of three rectangular coordinates to define a point in three-dimensional space, and also developed ideas which are seen as an anticipation of the polar coordinate system.

Geodesy and geography

Biruni is regarded as the father of geodesy. [H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", "Cooperation South Journal" 1.] At the age of 17, Biruni calculated the latitude of Kath, Khwarazm, using the maximum altitude of the Sun. Al-Biruni also solved a complex geodesic equation in order to accurately compute the Earth's circumference, which were close to modern values of the Earth's circumference. [James S. Aber (2003). Alberuni calculated the Earth's circumference at a small town of Pind Dadan Khan, District Jhelum, Punjab, Pakistan. [http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/histgeol/biruni/biruni.htm Abu Rayhan al-Biruni] , Emporia State University.] His estimate of 6,339.9 km for the Earth radius was only 16.8 km less than the modern value of 6,356.7 km. In contrast to his predecessors who measured the Earth's circumference by sighting the Sun simultaneously from two different locations, al-Biruni developed a new method of using trigonometric calculations based on the angle between a plain and mountain top which yielded more accurate measurements of the Earth's circumference and made it possible for it to be measured by a single person from a single location. [Lenn Evan Goodman (1992), "Avicenna", p. 31, Routledge, ISBN 041501929X.]

John J. O'Connor and Edmund F. Robertson write in the "MacTutor History of Mathematics archive":

In mathematical geography, Biruni, around 1025, was the first to describe a polar equi-azimuthal equidistant projection of the celestial sphere. [David A. King (1996), "Astronomy and Islamic society: Qibla, gnomics and timekeeping", in Roshdi Rashed, ed., "Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science", Vol. 1, p. 128-184 [153] . Routledge, London and New York.] He was also regarded as the most skilled when it came to mapping cities and measuring the distances between them, which he did for many cities in the Middle East and western Indian subcontinent. He often combined astronomical readings and mathematical equations, in order to develop methods of pin-pointing locations by recording degrees of latitude and longitude. He also developed similar techniques when it came to measuring the heights of mountains, depths of valleys, and expanse of the horizon, in "The Chronology of the Ancient Nations".Harv|Scheppler|2006|pp=41-2]

He also discussed human geography and the planetary habitability of the Earth. He hypothesized that roughly a quarter of the Earth's surface is habitable by humans, and also argued that the shores of Asia and Europe were "separated by a vast sea, too dark and dense to navigate and too risky to try" in reference to the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

Geology and paleontology

Among his writings on geology, Bīrūnī observed the geology of India and discovered that the Indian subcontinent was once a sea, hypothesizing that it became land through the drifting of alluvium. He wrote:

This is in agreement with the theory of the modern geological thoery of continental drift, where the Indian subcontinent moved northwards and joined the Asian landmass, creating the Himalayas, and is still moving north-eastwards.citation|title=The Age of Achievement: Vol 4: Part 1 - the Historical, Social and Economic Setting|last=M. S. Asimov|first=Clifford Edmund Bosworth|publisher=Motilal Banarsidass|year=1999|isbn=8120815963|page=213|ISBN status=May be invalid - please double check]

In his "Book of Coordinates", where Biruni wrote on paleontology, he described the existence of shells and fossils in regions that once housed seas and later evolved into dry land. Based on this discovery, he realized that the Earth is constantly evolving. He thus viewed the Earth as a living entity, which was in agreement with his Islamic belief that nothing is eternal and opposed to the ancient Greek belief that the universe is eternal. He further proposed that the Earth had an age, but that its origin was too distant to measure. [Harv|Scheppler|2006|p=86]

Biruni writes the following on the geological changes on the surface of the Earth over a long period of time:

As an example, he cites the 9th century Persian astronomer Abu'l Abbas al-Iranshahri who discovered the roots of a palm tree under dry land, to support his theory that sea turns into land and vice versa over a long period of time. He then writes:

Another example he cites is the Arabian desert which, like India, was also a sea at one time. He writes that the Arabian desert was a sea at one time and became land as it became filled by sand. He then goes on to discuss paleontology, writing that various fossils have been found in that region, including bones and glass, which could not have been buried there by anyone. He also writes about the discovery of:

It should be noted that he used the term "fish-ears" to refer to fossils. He then writes about how, a long time ago, the ancient Arabs must have lived on the mountains of Yemen when the Arabian desert was a sea. He also writes about how the Karakum Desert between Jurjan and Khwarezm must have been a lake at one time, and about how the Amu Darya (Oxus) river must have extended up to the Caspian Sea. This is in agreement with the modern geological theory of a Mesozoic Sea, the Tephys, covering the whole of Central Asia and extending from the Mediterranean Sea to New Zealand. [citation|title=The Age of Achievement: Vol 4: Part 1 - the Historical, Social and Economic Setting|last=M. S. Asimov|first=Clifford Edmund Bosworth|publisher=Motilal Banarsidass|year=1999|isbn=8120815963|pages=212–3|ISBN status=May be invalid - please double check]


Al-Biruni introduced the scientific method into mineralogy in his "Kitab al-Jawahir" ("Book of Precious Stones"), where he was "the most exact of experimental scientists". The book described minerals such as stones and metals in depth, and was regarded as the most complete book on mineralogy in his time. He conducted hundreds of experiments to gauge the accurate measurements of items he catalogued, and he often listed them by name in a number of different languages, including Arabic, Persian, Greek, Syriac, Hindi, Latin, and other languages. In the "Book of Precious Stones", he catalogued each mineral by its color, odor, hardness, density and weight. The weights for many of these minerals he measured were correct to three decimal places of accuracy, and were almost as accurate as modern measurements for these minerals. [Harv|Scheppler|2006|pp=42-3]

Philosophy of science

cientific method

In early Islamic philosophy, Biruni discussed the philosophy of science and introduced an early scientific method in nearly every field of inquiry he studied. For example, in his treatise on mineralogy, "Kitab al-Jawahir" ("Book of Precious Stones"), he is "the most exact of experimental scientists", while in the introduction to his study of India, he declares that "to execute our project, it has not been possible to follow the geometric method" and develops comparative sociology as a scientific method in the field.citation|first=Ziauddin|last=Sardar|author-link=Ziauddin Sardar|date=1998|contribution=Science in Islamic philosophy|title=Islamic Philosophy|publisher=Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy|url=http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H016.htm|accessdate=2008-02-03] He was also responsible for introducing the experimental method into mechanics, the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena,Dr. A. Zahoor (1997), [http://www.unhas.ac.id/~rhiza/saintis/biruni.html Abu Raihan Muhammad al-Biruni] , Hasanuddin University.] and a pioneer of experimental psychology.

Unlike his contemporary Avicenna's scientific method where "general and universal questions came first and led to experimental work", Biruni developed scientific methods where "universals came out of practical, experimental work" and "theories are formulated after discoveries." In his debate with Avicenna, Biruni made the first real distinction between a scientist and a philosopher, referring to Avicenna as a philosopher and considering himself to be a mathematical scientist (see "Natural philosophy" below).

Biruni's scientific method was similar to the modern scientific method in many ways, particularly his emphasis on repeated experimentation. Biruni was concerned with how to conceptualize and prevent both systematic errors and random errors, such as "errors caused by the use of small instruments and errors made by human observers." [Harv|Glick|Livesey|Wallis|2005|p=89] He argued that if instruments produce random errors because of their imperfections or idiosyncratic qualities, then multiple observations must be taken, analyzed qualitatively, and on this basis, arrive at a "common-sense single value for the constant sought", whether an arithmetic mean or a "reliable estimate." [Harv|Glick|Livesey|Wallis|2005|pp=89-90]

Natural philosophy

Biruni and Avicenna (Ibn Sina), who are regarded as two of the greatest polymaths in Persian history, were both colleagues and knew each other since the turn of the millennium. Biruni later engaged in a written debate with Avicenna, with Biruni criticizing the Peripatetic school for its adherence to Aristotelian physics and natural philosophy, while Avicenna and his student Ahmad ibn 'Ali al-Ma'sumi respond to Biruni's criticisms in writing.

This debate has been preserved in a book entitled "al-As'ila wal-Ajwiba" ("Questions and Answers"), in which al-Biruni attacks Aristotle's theories on physics and cosmology, and questions almost all of the fundamental Aristotelian physical axioms. For example, he rejects the notion that heavenly bodies have an inherent nature and asserts that their "motion could very well be compulsory"; maintains that "there is no observable evidence that rules out the possibility of vacuum"; and states that there is no inherent reason why planetary orbits must be circular and cannot be elliptical. He also argues that "the metaphysical axioms on which philosophers build their physical theories do not constitute valid evidence for the mathematical astronomer." This marks the first real distinction between the vocations of the philosopher-metaphysician (which he labelled Aristotle and Avicenna as) and that of the mathematician-scientist (which al-Biruni viewed himself as). In contrast to the philosophers, the only evidence that al-Biruni considered reliable were either mathematical or empirical evidence, and his systematic application of rigorous mathematical reasoning later led to the mathematization of Islamic astronomy and the mathematization of nature.citation|first=Ahmad|last=Dallal|year=2001-2002|title=The Interplay of Science and Theology in the Fourteenth-century Kalam|publisher=From Medieval to Modern in the Islamic World, Sawyer Seminar at the University of Chicago |url=http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/institute/sawyer/archive/islam/dallal.html |accessdate=2008-02-02]

Biruni began the debate by asking Avicenna eighteen questions, ten of which were criticisms of Aristotle's "On the Heavens", with his first question criticizing the Aristotelian theory of gravity for denying the existence of or gravity in the celestial spheres, and the Aristotelian notion of circular motion being an innate property of the heavenly bodies.Rafik Berjak and Muzaffar Iqbal, "Ibn Sina--Al-Biruni correspondence", "Islam & Science", June 2003.] Biruni's second question criticizes Aristotle's over-reliance on more ancient views concerning the heavens, while the third criticizes the Aristotelian view that space has only six directions. The fourth question deals with the continuity and discontinuity of physical bodies, while the fifth criticizes the Peripatetic denial of the possibility of there existing another world completely different from the world known to them. [Rafik Berjak and Muzaffar Iqbal, "Ibn Sina--Al-Biruni correspondence", "Islam & Science", December 2003.] In his sixth question, Biruni rejects Aristotle's view on the celestial spheres having circular orbits rather than elliptic orbits. In his seventh question, he rejects Aristotle's notion that the motion of the heavens begins from the right side and from the east, while his eighth question concerns Aristotle's view on the fire element being spherical. The ninth question concerns the movement of heat, and the tenth question concerns the transformation of elements. [Rafik Berjak and Muzaffar Iqbal, "Ibn Sina--Al-Biruni correspondence", "Islam & Science", Summer 2004.]

The eleventh question concerns the burning of bodies by radiation reflecting off a flask filled with water, and the twelfth concerns the natural tendency of the classical elements in their upward and downward movements. The thirteenth question deals with vision, while the fourteenth concerns habitation on different parts of Earth. His fifteenth question asks how two opposite squares in a square divided into four can be tangential, while the sixteenth question concerns vacuum. His seventeenth question asks "if things expand upon heating and contract upon cooling, why does a flask filled with water break when water freezes in it?" His eighteenth and final question concerns the observable phenomenon of ice floating on water. [Rafik Berjak and Muzaffar Iqbal, "Ibn Sina--Al-Biruni correspondence", "Islam & Science", Winter 2004.]

After Avicenna responded to the questions, Biruni was unsatisfied with some of the answers and wrote back commenting on them, after which Avicenna's student Ahmad ibn 'Ali al-Ma'sumi wrote back on behalf of Avicenna.


Celestial mechanics

In astrophysics and the celestial mechanics field of physics, Biruni described the Earth's gravitation as:

He also discovered that gravity exists within the heavenly bodies and celestial spheres, and he criticized Aristotle's views of them not having any levity or gravity and of circular motion being an innate property of the heavenly bodies.

He argued that as all objects are attracted towards the centre, if the heavenly bodies did not possess gravity, then they would have also fallen down to the centre. He therefore suggests that the heavenly bodies must have gravity of their own to interconnect them to one another in order to prevent them from falling down towards the centre. He also rejected Aristotle's view that there was a "natural place" for every substance, such as water's natural place being above the earth, as Biruni argued that there was no natural place for any substance.

Experimental mechanics

Biruni was the first to apply experimental scientific methods to mechanics, especially the fields of statics and dynamics, particularly for determining specific weights, such as those based on the theory of balances and weighing.Mariam Rozhanskaya and I. S. Levinova (1996), "Statics", in Roshdi Rashed, ed., "Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science", Vol. 2, p. 614-642 [642] , Routledge, London and New York: quote|"Numerous fine experimental methods were developed for determining the specific weight, which were based, in particular, on the theory of balances and weighing. The classical works of al-Biruni and al-Khazini can by right be considered as the beginning of the application of experimental methods in medieval science."]

In the statics field of mechanics, the notion of specific gravity originated with Biruni in his "Ayin-Akbari". Although some authors had erroneously credited this concept to Archimedes, the historian Max Jammer has shown that this was an error due to a mistranslation of the Greek "onkos" (volume) into the Latin "moles" (mass), and that the first explicit description of specific gravity dates back to Biruni. [citation|title=Concepts of Mass in Classical and Modern Physics: In Classical and Modern Physics|first=Max|last=Jammer|publisher=Courier Dover Publications|year=1997|isbn=0486299988|pages=28–9|oclc=37546758]

Biruni measured the specific gravities of eighteen gemstones, and discovered that there is a correlation between the specific gravity of an object and the volume of water it displaces. [Will Durant (1950). "The Age of Faith", p. 244. Simon and Shuster, New York. (cf. [http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=482 Khwarizm] , Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.)] He was also "the first in history to introduce checking tests in the practice of experiments". He measured the weights of various liquids, and recorded the differences in weight between freshwater and saline water, and between hot water and cold water.M. Rozhanskaya and I. S. Levinova, "Statics", in R. Rashed (1996), "The Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science", p. p. 614-642 [639] , Routledge, London. (cf. [http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=482 Khwarizm] , Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation.)]

During his experiments, he invented the conical measure, [Marshall Clagett (1961). "The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages", p. 64. University of Wisconsin Press.] in order to find the ratio between the weight of a substance in air and the weight of water displaced, and to accurately measure the specific weights of the gemstones and their corresponding metals, which are very close to modern measurements.

Theoretical mechanics

In the mechanics field of theoretical physics, Biruni appears to be the earliest to cite movement and friction as the cause of heat, which in turn produces the element of fire, and a lack of movement as the cause of cold near the geographical poles:

In dynamics and kinematics, Biruni was the first to realize that acceleration is connected with non-uniform motion, which is part of Newton's second law of motion.


In optics, Biruni was one of the first, along with Ibn al-Haytham, to discover that the speed of light is finite. Biruni was also the first to discover that the speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound. [George Sarton, "Introduction to the History of Science", "The Time of Al-Biruni".]

ocial sciences


In the social sciences, Biruni has been described as "the first anthropologist". Like modern anthropologists, he engaged in extensive participant observation with a given group of people, learnt theirlanguage and studied their primary texts, and presented his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.Akbar S. Ahmed (1984), "Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist", "RAIN" 60: 9-10] He wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of peoples, religions and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and South Asia. Biruni's anthropology of religion was only possible for a scholar deeply immersed in the lore of other nations. [J. T. Walbridge (1998). "Explaining Away the Greek Gods in Islam", "Journal of the History of Ideas" 59 (3), p. 389-403.] Biruni has also been praised by several scholars for his Islamic anthropology. [Richard Tapper (1995). "Islamic Anthropology" and the "Anthropology of Islam", "Anthropological Quarterly" 68 (3), Anthropological Analysis and Islamic Texts, p. 185-193.]

Al-Biruni developed a sophisticated methodology for his anthropological studies. For example, he wrote the following in the opening passages of his "Indica":

He was also aware that there are limitations to eye-witness accounts:

Biruni's tradition of comparative cross-cultural study continued in the Muslim world through to Ibn Khaldun's work in the 14th century.

Experimental psychology

In Islamic psychology, al-Biruni was a pioneer of experimental psychology, for his use of empirical observation and experimentation in his discovery of the concept of reaction time, which he described as follows:citation|first=Muhammad|last=Iqbal|author-link=Muhammad Iqbal|year=1930|title=The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam|chapter=The Spirit of Muslim Culture|url=http://www.allamaiqbal.com/works/prose/english/reconstruction|accessdate=2008-01-25]


By the age of 27, in the year 1000, he had written a book called "Chronology" which referred to other works he had completed (now lost) that included one book about the astrolabe, one about the decimal system, four about astrology, and two about history.

In his "Kitab fi Tahqiq ma li'l-Hind" ("Researches on India"), he was the first to distinguish between the historical method and the scientific method. He also discussed more on his idea of history in another work, "The Chronology of the Ancient Nations",M. S. Khan (1976). "al-Biruni and the Political History of India", "Oriens" 25, p. 86-115.] also known as "The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries". It is a comparative study of calendars of different cultures and civilizations, interlaced with mathematical, astronomical, and historical information, exploring the customs and religions of different peoples. Completed in AD 1000 (AH 390/1), it is the first major work of Al-Biruni's, compiled in Gorgan, at the court of Qabus, when he was in his late twenties. [Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines" (1993), ISBN 0791415155, p. 108.]


Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Biruni (973-1048). In his "Kitab fi Tahqiq ma li'l-Hind" ("Researches on India"), he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history. Biruni is now regarded as the father of Indology.


Islamic theology

In theology, Biruni was a follower of Shi'a Islam. [Encyclopedia Britannica, Entry al-Biruni] . He was critical of Mutazili theologians, particularly al-Jahiz and Zurqan, and he also criticized Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi's sympathy for Manichaeanism.

In "The Chronology Of Ancient Nations" [Albiruni. The Chronology Of Ancient Nations, trans.Edward Sachau. London: Elibron Classics, 2005.] , he refers to Ali as 'the Prince of the Believers' while not doing the same for Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman. He places great emphasis on the commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali going into detail about the event and rejects the hadith that promotes fasting on the day of Ashura. He also refers to the murderer of Ali as the cursed while not doing the same with the killer of Umar. He mentions the birth and death of Shia Imams, Fatima daughter of Muhammad and Khadija, Muhammad's wife. [The Chronology Of Ancient Nations, trans.Edward Sachau. London: Elibron Classics, 2005, pp.325-334]

Biruni assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that: ["Qur'an and Science", "Encyclopedia of the Qur'an".]

He also argued that the possession of intellect makes humans superior to animals and that God "placed humans as stewards over Earth and other terrestrial life-forms." He also considered hearing and sight to be the two most important senses, as they allow humans to "observe the signs of God's divine wisdom in his creations" and "receive the word of God and his command." [Harv|Scheppler|2006|p=43]

Comparative religion

In religious education, Biruni was a pioneer of comparative religion. According to Arthur Jeffery, "It is rare until modern times to find so fair and unprejudiced a statement of the views of other religions, so earnest an attempt to study them in the best sources, and such care to find a method which for this branch of study would be both rigorous and just."cite web|author=William Montgomery Watt|date=2004-04-14|title=BĪRŪNĪ and the study of non-Islamic Religions|url=http://www.fravahr.org/spip.php?article31|accessdate=2008-01-25]

In the introduction to his "Indica", Biruni himself writes that his intent behind the work was to engage dialogue between Islam and the Indian religions, particularly Hinduism as well as Buddhism. He writes:

Biruni was aware that statements about a religion would be open to criticism by its adherents, and insisted that a scholar should follow the requirements of a strictly scientific method. According to William Montgomery Watt, Biruni "is admirably objective and unprejudiced in his presentation of facts" but "selects facts in such a way that he makes a strong case for holding that there is a certain unity in the religious experience of the peoples he considers, even though he does not appear to formulate this view explicitly." Biruni argued that Hinduism was a monotheistic faith like Islam, and in order to justify this assertion, he quotes Hindu texts and argues that the worship of idols is "exclusively a characteristic of the common people, with which the educated have nothing to do." He writes:

Biruni argued that the worship of idols "is due to a kind of confusion or corruption." He writes:

According to Watt, Biruni "goes on to maintain that in the course of generations the origin of the veneration of the images is forgotten, and further that the ancient legislators, seeing that the Veneration of images is advantageous, made it obligatory for the ordinary. He mentions the view of some people that, before God sent Prophets, all mankind were idol-worshippers, but he apparently does not presumably held that, apart from the messages transmitted by prophets, men could know the existence and unity of God by rational methods of philosophy." Biruni argued that "the Hindus, no less than the Greeks, have philosophers who are believers in monotheism."

Other comparatisons between Islamic theology and Indian theology include the following comparison between the Qur'an and the Indian religious scriptures in the "On the Configuration of the Heavens and the Earth According to [Indian] astrologers" chapter of the "Indica": [Prof. Ahmad Dallal (2004), "Science and the Qur'an", in Jane McAuliffe, "Encyclopedia of the Qur'an", vol. 4, p. 540-558.]

Al-Biruni also had an interest in studying Hermeticism and often criticized its religious views. He also compared Islam with pre-Islamic religions, and was willing to accept certain elements of pre-Islamic wisdom which would conform with his understanding of the Islamic spirit. [Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1993), "An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines", p. 166. State University of New York Press, ISBN 0791415163.]

Al-Biruni also compared Islam and Christianity, citing passages from the Qur'an and Bible which state that their followers should always speak the truth: [citation|title=Great Muslim Mathematicians|first=Mohaini|last=Mohamed|year=2000|publisher=Penerbit UTM|isbn=9835201579|pages=71–2|oclc=48759017]

Other contributions

Biomedical sciences

In the biomedical sciences, al-Biruni's "Kitab al-Saidana fi al-Tibb" was an extensive medical and pharmacological encyclopedia which synthesized Islamic medicine with Indian medicine. His medical investigations included one of the earliest descriptions on Siamese twins. The "Kitab-al-Saidana" was also a materia medica which was celebrated for its in-depth botanical studies of minerals and herbs.Harv|Scheppler|2006|p=42] It was the earliest to describe the eating of several fungi, including truffles, which are a type of hypogeous fungi. [Harv|Kiple|Ornelas|2001|p=316] The earliest documented description of khat also dates back to the "Kitab al-Saidana", in which al-Bīrūnī wrote that khat is: [Harv|Kiple|Ornelas|2001|pp=672-3]


Along with al-Kindi and Avicenna, Biruni was one of the first chemists to reject the theory of the transmutation of metals supported by some alchemists.


In Islamic law and jurisprudence, Biruni understood natural law as the law of the jungle. He argued that the antagonism between human beings can only be overcome through a divine law, which he believed to have been sent through the prophets of Islam.cite book
authorlink=Henry Corbin
title=History of Islamic Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard
publisher=London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies
pages=p. 39
year=1993 (original French 1964)
oclc=22109949 221646817 22181827 225287258


In linguistics, al-Biruni could speak, read and write in a number of different languages, including Persian, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Sanskrit. He was also conversant in Syriac and Turkish, [citation|contribution=al-Biruni|title=Encyclopædia Britannica|year=2008|url=http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9015394|accessdate=2008-02-14] and could also speak some Hindi and Latin.


He made significant contributions to mathematics, especially in the fields of theoretical and practical arithmetic, summation of series, combinatorial analysis, the rule of three, irrational numbers, ratio theory, algebraic definitions, method of solving algebraic equations, geometry, and the development of Archimedes' theorems.


Further reading

* [http://www.iranica.com/newsite/index.isc?Article=http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/unicode/v4f3/v4f3a040.html Encyclopedia Iranica, "BĪRŪNĪ, ABŪ RAYḤĀN MOḤAMMAD b. Aḥmad "]
*Harvard reference
contribution=Rediscovering Arabic science
title=Saudi Aramco World
date=May-June 2007

*Harvard reference
first1=Thomas F.
first2=Steven John
title=Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia

*DSB|first=E. S.|last=Kennedy|title=Bīrūnī, IAST|Abū Rayḥān al-
*Harvard reference
first1=Kenneth F.
first2=Kriemhild Coneè
title=The Cambridge World History of Food
publisher=Cambridge University Press

*MacTutor Biography|id=Al-Biruni|title=Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni
*Harvard reference
title=Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science
volume=1 & 3

*Harvard reference
authorlink=George Saliba
title=A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam
publisher=New York University Press

*Harvard reference
title=Al-Biruni: Master Astronomer and Muslim Scholar of the Eleventh Century
publisher=The Rosen Publishing Group

Works online

* [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/digital/collections/cul/texts/ldpd_5949073_001/index.html Alberuni's India, in English]
* [http://www.farlang.com/gemstones/biruni-book-gemstones/page_001 "On Stones": Biruni's work on geology, medical properties of gemstones] full text version + comments

External links

* [http://www.skyscript.co.uk/albiruni.html Extensive biography on Biruni]
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-1753(195912)50%3A4%3C459%3AOTPDOA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N Did Al-Biruni discover evolution by natural selection 800 years before Darwin?]

ee also

* Islamic Golden Age
* Islamic science
* List of Islamic studies scholars
* List of Muslim scientists
* List of Iranian scientists and scholars
* Alhacen
* Abulcasis
* Aljazari
* Averroes
* Avicenna
* Farabi
* Geber
* Khwarizmi
* Rhazes
* Tusi
* Shen Kuo

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