Abu Rayhan Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Biruni

Abu Rayhan Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Biruni

date of birth : 05/09/973 | date of death : 13/12/1048
Born in 973 AD in Khwarazm, (Uzbekistan), Scientist, Mathematician, Founder of Indology

Birth, Birthplace, Time of birth:

Abu-Rayhan Biruni, Al-Biruni, is a Persian scholar who was born on 973 AD in Khwarazm, today known as Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan)

Father's name: -
Mother's name: -
Brother: -
Sister: -
Spouse: -
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Reputation, fame, nickname:

Al Beruni, al-Ustdadh, founder of Indology, first anthropologist

Personal Information:

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
Notable ideas: Father of anthropology, geodesy and Indology. Founder of experimental mechanics and experimental astronomy. Pioneer of experimental psychology. Contributed to many other fields of knowledge.

Life events:

Life and background

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-ca. 1050), a Moslem astronomer, mathematician, geographer, and historian, was the most acute interpreter of India to Islam in the Middle Ages. Al-Biruni was born near Kath in Khwarizm (now a part of Uzbekistan) on Sept. 5, 973. His teacher in astronomy and mathematics was the eminent Abu Nasr Mansur, a member of the family then ruling at Kath. Al-Biruni made several observations with a meridian ring at Kath in his youth. In 995 the attack on the ruler of Khwarizm by the ruler of Jurjaniya drove al-Biruni into exile, presumably to Rayy, where he discussed with the astronomer al-Khujandi the latter's observations with a mural sextant. AlBiruni later wrote a treatise on this instrument and gave a detailed account of the observations in his Tahdid. In 997 al-Biruni returned to Kath, where he observed a lunar eclipse that Abu al-Wafa observed in Baghdad; on the basis of the time difference they determined the longitudinal difference between the two cities, one of the few instances in which this method, the only secure one available in antiquity, is known to have been applied. During the next few years al-Biruni seems to have visited the Samanid court at Bukhara, as well as the court of the Ispahbad of Gilan. But he was busy collecting the enormous mass of information on the chronology of the ancient nations of Europe and Asia that he dedicated to the Ziyarid prince of Gurgan in 1000 and that in English is known simply as the Chronology. This remains the most significant source for the various Iranian calendars and for much of the history of central Asia. By 1004 al-Biruni was in Jurjaniya.

Astronomy , physic and mathematics

He became a prominent figure at the Jurjaniya court, being often employed as a diplomat and as a spokesman for the throne. He continued, however, making his astronomical observations under the Shah's patronage. But the Shah had increasing difficulties with his brother-in-law, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. Finally, in 1017 Mahmud conquered Khwarizm and carried off al-Biruni as a prize of war. Al-Biruni was sent to the region near Kabul, where he commenced making observations in 1018. In 1022 and 1026 Mahmud conducted highly successful expeditions into India, and al-Biruni availed himself of the opportunity to learn some Sanskrit (though not as much as is generally thought; he depended heavily on pundits to translate for him), studying especially Indian astronomy, astrology, chronology, and social customs. Most of his extant works were written in the 1020s and 1030s and reflect his interest in, and growing knowledge of, the Sanskrit astronomical texts current in the Punjab. These include On Shadows (ca. 1021), Tahdid (1025), On Chords (1027), On Transits, India (1031), and Al-Qanun al-Masudi, as well as the Arabic translation of Vijayanandin's Sanskrit Karanatilaka. These are fundamental texts for the history of Islamic and Indian astronomy of the 8th-10th centuries because of al-Biruni's extensive citations of earlier texts; they are also full of reports of al-Biruni's own observations, which are among the best made in the medieval period. He was not always as successful in his calculations. Till his death soon after 1050 in Afghanistan, al-Biruni continued to write, turning his attention to problems of specific gravity, gemology, pharmacology, and Indian philosophy (the Patanjali), among other subjects. It is not clear when he wrote the Tafhim, his most important work on astrology. In all, the bibliography he himself drew up lists 113 titles, and this list can be expanded to 146; 22 are extant. He was, then, a most prolific author, and throughout his work, all of which is extremely technical, he maintained the highest standards of competence. He well deserved the epithet "Master" bestowed on him by his admiring contemporaries.


He studied under the famous astronomer and mathematician, Abu Nasr Mansur.

Occupation and Career:

Abu-Rayhan Biruni was a Muslim scholar and polymath of the 11th century By the age of 17 he was involved in scientific research. In 990 he determined the latitude of Kath (Uzbekistan) by observing the maximum altitude of the sun. He wrote his Cartography which is about map projections. As well as describing his own projection of a hemisphere onto a plane. By the age of 22 he had studied a wide range of map projections and addressed them in treaties. In 995 the rule by the Banu Iraq was overthrown in a coup. Al-Biruni fled at the outbreak of the civil war. In 998, he went to the court of the Ziyarid amir of Tabaristan, Shams al-Mo'ali Abol-hasan Ghaboos ibn Wushmgir. There he wrote his first important work, al-Athar al-Baqqiya 'an al-Qorun al-Khaliyya on historical and scientific chronology. By 1004 al-Biruni was in Jurjaniya. He became a prominent figure at the Jurjaniya court, being often employed as a diplomat and as a spokesman for the throne. He continued, however, making his astronomical observations under the Shah's patronage. Al-Biruni studied Indian literature, and translated many Sanskrit texts into Arabic. He also wrote treatises about Indian astronomy and mathematics. He was versed in astrology, astronomy, chronology, geography, grammar, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, religion, weights and measures. He wrote his famous text, Shadows, around 1021. It is a precious legacy of the history of mathematics, astronomy, and physics. He is also the pioneer of what would be later known as polar coordinates. Al-Biruni made large contributions to geodesy and geography. He introduced techniques to measure the earth and distances based on triangulation. He claimed that the radius of the earth was 6339.6 km, by observing the height of a mountain in India. His Masudic canon reveals a table with the coordinates of six hundred places. Some of them were given by al-Khwarizmi (Persian scholar, 780-850).

Awards /Honors:

Al-Biruni is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a historian, chronologist and linguist. He is given the titles the "founder of Indology" and the "first anthropologist". He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations, and was given the title al-Ustdadh ("The Master") for his remarkable description of early 11th-century India.He also made contributions to Earth sciences, and is regarded as the "father of geodesy" for his important contributions to that field, along with his significant contributions to geography. The crater Al-Biruni on the Moon is named after him. Tashkent Technical University (formerly Tashkent Polytechnic Institute) is also named after Abu Rayhan al-Biruni and a university founded by Ahmad Shah Massoud in Kapisa is named after him.


Most of the works of Al-Biruni are in Arabic although he wrote one of his masterpieces, the Kitab al-Tafhim apparently in both Persian and Arabic, showing his mastery over both languages. Bīrūnī’s catalogue of his own literary production up to his 65th lunar/63rd solar year (the end of 427/1036) lists 103 titles divided into 12 categories: astronomy, mathematical geography, mathematics, astrological aspects and transits, astronomical instruments, chronology, comets, an untitled category, astrology, anec­dotes, religion, and books of which he no longer possesses copies. 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), also known as the Indica - a compendium of India's religion and philosophy
  • The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology (Kitab al-tafhim li-awa’il sina‘at al-tanjim).
  • 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.

Although he preferred Arabic to Persian in scientific writing, his Persian version of the Al-Tafhim is one of the most important of the early works of science in the Persian language, and is a rich source for Persian prose and lexicography.

Hobbies and personal interests:

His main interests were Physics, anthropology, comparative sociology, astronomy, astrology, chemistry, history, geography, mathematics, medicine, psychology, philosophy, theology.

Death, place of death, Time of death, place of burial:

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni died in 1048 in Ghazni (Afghanistan). He was buried in Ghazni in Afghanistan.

Quotes and Memoirs:

[On the science and culture of the Hindus] I can only compare their astronomical and mathematical literature ... to a mixture of pearl shells and sour dates, or of costly crystals and common pebbles. Both kinds of things are equal in their eyes, since they cannot rise themselves to the methods of strictly scientific deduction.
You well know ... for which reason I began searching for a number of demonstrations proving a statement due to the ancient Greeks ... and which passion I felt for the subject ... so that you reproached me my preoccupation with these chapters of geometry, not knowing the true essence of these subjects, which consists precisely in going in each matter beyond what is necessary. ... Whatever way he [the geometer] may go, through exercise will he be lifted from the physical to the divine teaachings, which are little accessible because of the difficulty to understand their meaning ... and because the circumstance that not everybody is able to have a conception of them, especially not the one who turns away from the art of demonstration.
Book on the Finding of Chords
Once a sage asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. "The scholars" he answered , "are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science".
Quoted in A L Mackay, Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (London 1994)