Abu Raihan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Biruni is probably the most prominent of those Muslim scientists, who charac-terize the Golden Age of Islamic science. He was a versatile genius, who was equally at home in mathematics, astronomy, physics and medicine and has left works of high scientific value in all these branches of study. Al-Biruni, along with Abu Ali Ibn Sina, marks the culmination of that in-tellectual development, which had been taking place in Central Asia ever since Muslim Ibn Qutaiba conquered it and annexed it to the Umayyad Empire.
Al-Biruni was born in Dhul-Hijjah 362 A.H. (September, 973) in a suburb of al-Khwarizm or modern Khiwa. Here he enjoyed the patronage of an old local family, known as A’L-i-Iraq, and he re-members with feelings of gratitude the favours be had received from this family. After the fall of the house of A’L-i-Iraq, Al-Biruni had to leave his country, and went to the city of Ray, where he found a patron in the person of Shams-ul-ma’ali the ruler of Jurjan and Tabaristan but al-Biruni could not feel at home at his court and returned to Khwarizm, where be lived upto 1016 AD Here he came into contact with other scholars, the most notable of them being Ibn-Sina. Al-Biruni corresponded with him on some scientific questions, and the answers of the latter are still preserved in the British museum.
In 1016, when Sultan Mahmud conquered Khwarizm, al-Biruni was attached to his court at Ghazna, where he lived upto the time of his death in 1048 AD Most of the historical and philosophical works of al-Biruni are, unfortunately, lost; but his fame as a scientist securely rests on three masterly compilations (i) Athar al-Baqiya anil-Qur’un al- Khaliya (The Surviving Monuments of Past Generations). It is a study in comparative chronology, embracing not only a description of the eras and festivals of various nations and religions but a good deal of historical information and curious observa-tions on many subjects.
(ii) Kitab-ul-Hind: The attachment of al-Biruni to the court of Ghazna opened a new chapter in the literary career of al Biruni. The epoch making military expeditions of Sultan Mahmud had opened up Hindu India for the Muslims and al-Biruni took advantage of Mahmud’s conquests to learn Sanskrit and study Indian literature. After thirteen years of labour, he produced a work on India which in subject and scientific method stands unique in Arabic literature. In his account of the religious and social ideas of the Indians and of their manners and customs, al-Biruni is singularly free from religious and national prejudices and holds an even balance between uncritical admiration and unthinking aversion.
Besides this, Al-Biruni translated into Arabic many Indian books, including the Goga Sutra and Patanjali, a copy of which has survived in Arabic.
(iii) AL-QANOON AL-MASOODI: After the death of Sultan Mahmud in 998 A,D., al-Biruni continued his scientific work under the patronage of his son Sultan Masud. He summarized the entire astro-nomical science of the Arabs in a comprehensive work and dedicated it to his patron by giving it the title of al-Qanoon al- Masoodi, i.e. “The Canon dedicated to Sultan Masud”. It was supplemented by a short compendium on astrology. Al- Biruni calculated the circumference of the earth and arrived at a figure which is appro-ximately the same as that of modern investigators. These observations were carried out by him near a hillock known as Nandana in the tehsil of Pind Dadan Khan in Jhelum District in the Punjab. The method employed and the theory on which it was based have been described by him in detail in his “Cannon Masoodicus”.
(iv) About the same time, al-Biruni also composed a short treatise on geo-metry, arithmetic, astronomy and astro-logy in the form of a catechism. It bears the title of al-Tafhim Ii Awail Sinaat Al-Tanjim. (v) Another useful and interesting work, which al-Biruni wrote is his Kitabus--Saidala which deals with medicinal herbs and drugs, and was translated into Persian by Abu Bakr bin Ali bin Othman al-Kasani in India. A copy of the Persian version is preserved at the British Museum, and has been described by H. Beveridge in the journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1902. During the reign of Sultan Maudud the Ghaznavid, al-Biruni wrote a treatise on mineralogy. It is entitled ‘Kitab al-Jawaher fi ma’arifat al-Jawahir’, and has been edited by F. Krenhow and published at Hyderabad, Deccan in 1936.
The total number of works, which al-Biruni wrote, comes to about 180. Some of them are short treatises on special subjects, while others are major works embracing vast fields of knowledge. Most of his works are lost; but the few that are still extant and have been published, are enough to show that al-Biruni had an original mind and a critical spirit, which entitle him to a very high position among the Muslim scientists. Although three major works of al--Biruni have been edited, and several aspects of his scientific thought have been studied by a number of competent scholars, still much remains to be done in this field. He deserves to be remembered with feelings of admiration for his scientific attainments and for his substantial contributions to human knowledge. What makes the work of aI-Biruni all the more valuable is the fact that it was carried out in a strictly scientific spirit, and that it was not vitiated by any religious or national prejudices. In this way, aI-Biruni proved to be a model investigator for the latter generations.