A renowned medieval Islamic scientist, al-Bīrūnī exemplified the cosmopolitan and scholarly atmosphere of what is known as the Islamic Renaissance, but his work remained unknown to the West until translations began to appear in the nineteenth century. Al-Bīrūnī was a prolific writer who generally exhibited a fierce desire for truth free of superstition and opinion and a rich understanding of the historical development of scientific theories and concepts. He also, even in his scientific treatises as well as in his cultural and historical works, displayed an interest in and knowledge of Islamic poetry. Often named one of the most original scholars of Islam, al-Bīrūnī significantly contributed to the establishment of the foundations of scientific investigative methods.
Al-Bīrūnī was born and raised in the town of Khwarazm, which lies south of the Aral Sea; his family history and early life remain obscure, but his interest in scientific experimentation developed at a young age and was cultivated through formal studies with a well-known mathematician, Abu Nasr Mansur. Due to civil unrest, al-Bīrūnī was forced to interrupt his formal studies and soon found a patron in the ruler of Gurgan, to whom he dedicated his earliest extant work, the Chronology (written c. 1000), a treatise on time and various religious calendars. Around this time he also began a somewhat...
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Principal English Translations
The Chronology of Ancient Nations [Kitāb al Āthāru 'l-Bāqiah (history) [Edward C. Sachau, ed.] 1879
India [Tahqiq mā li 'I-hind] (history) [Edward C. Sachau, trans.] 1888
The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology [Kitāb fi ista'ab al-wujuh fi san 'at alasturlab] (treatise) [R. Ramsay Wright, trans.] 1934
Compendium on Precious Stones [Kitāb Al-Jamāhir] (treatise) [F. Krenkow, ed.] 1936
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Syed Hasan Barani (lecture date 1952)
SOURCE: "Al-Bīrūnī's Scientific Achievements," in Indo-Iranica: The Quarterly Organ of the Iran Society, Vol. V, No. 4, April, 1952, pp. 37-48.
[In the following essay, originally presented as a lecture to the Iran Society, Barani surveys the major scientific accomplishments of al-Bīrūnī and provides a brief biography.]
I feel most honoured by the privilege so very kindly bestowed on me to deliver a short lecture on the Scientific Achievements of Al-Bīrūnī on this memorable occasion when we have all collected here to celebrate the Millenary of the great savant and scholar under the auspices of the Iran Society, which has recently published an excellent Commemoration Volume, and under the presidentship of your illustrious Governor, whose personal interest in the celebrations should by itself be a significant guarantee for their success. It is also in the fitness of things that Calcutta should be the venue, for in the modern India it has always been in the forefront of our intellectual life, and recently also served as the standard-bearer in the march of Al-Bīrūnīan studies.
When on behalf of the Society I was invited by my friends, the President and the Secretary, to come and address you, the idea, so welcome in other respects, e.g., the precious opportunity of meeting the intellectual elite of Calcutta and...
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Ahmad, S. Maqbul. "Al-Bīrūnī as a Synthesizer and Transmitter of Scientific Knowledge." Indian Journal of the History of Science, Vol. 10, No. 2, November, 1975, pp. 244-8.
Argues that al-Bīrūnī drew on the scientific achievements of India and the Islamic Renaissance and took as his guiding principle the scientific method rather than "any theological or mythological" basis.
Ansari, S. M. Razaullah. "On the Physical Researches of Al-Biruni." Indian Journal of History of Science 10, No. 2 (November 1975): 198-217.
Describes al-Bīrūnī's work in physics and considers his implementation of the scientific method.
Choudhury, M. L. Roy. "Abu Raihan al-Biruni and His Indian Studies." Indo-Iranica 7, No. 3 (September 1954): 9-22.
Emphasizes the importance of al-Bīrūnī's interpretations of Indian religion and science in furthering Islamic-Indian understanding.
Davidian, Marie-Louise. "Al-Biruni on the Time of Day from Shadow Lengths." Journal of the American Oriental Society 80, No. 4 (October-December 1960): 330-35.
Discusses al-Bīrūnī's various methods for measuring time from shadows and documents his sources for those methods.
Kennedy, E. S. "Al-Biruni." In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie, II: pp. 147-58. New York: Charles...
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