By Dr. Amer Rauf
Abu Raihan Mohammad Ibn Ahmad al-Biruni was one of the well-known figures associated with the court of King Mahmood Ghaznawi, who was one of the famous Muslim kings of the 11th century C.E. Al-Biruni was a versatile scholar and scientist who had equal facility in physics, metaphysics, mathematics, geography and history. Born in the city of Kheva near "Ural" in 973 C.E., he was a contemporary of the well-known physician Ibn Sina. At an early age, the fame of his scholarship went around and when Sultan Mahmood Ghaznawi conquered his homeland, he took al-Biruni along with him in his journeys to India several times and thus he had the opportunity to travel all over India during a period of 20 years. He died in 1048 C.E. at the age of 75, after having spent 40 years in thus gathering knowledge and making his own original contributions to it.
He recorded observations of his travels through India in his well-known book Kitab al-Hind which gives a graphic account of the historical and social conditions of the sub-continent. His descriptions of India were so complete that even the Aein-i-Akbari written by Abu-al- Fadal during the reign of Akbar, 600 years later, owes a great deal to al-Biruni's book. He observed that the Indus valley must be considered as an ancient sea basin filled up with alluvial.
On his return from India, al-Biruni wrote his famous book Qanun-i Masoodi (al-Qanun al-Masudi, fi al-Hai'a wa al-Nujum), which he dedicated to Sultan Masood. The book discusses several theories of astronomy, trigonometry, solar, lunar, and planetary motions and relative topics. In another well-known book al-Athar al-Baqia, he has attempted a connected account of ancient history of nations and the related geographical knowledge. In this book, he has discussed the rotation of the earth and has given correct values of latitudes and longitudes of various places. He has also made considerable contribution to several aspects of physical and economic geography in this book.
His other scientific contributions include the accurate determination of the densities of 18 different stones. He also wrote the Kitab-al-Saidana, which is an extensive materia medica that combines the then existing Arabic knowledge on the subject with the Indian medicine. His book the Kitab-al-Jamahir deals with the properties of various precious stones. He was also an astrologer and is reputed to have astonished people by the accuracy of his predictions. He gave a clear account of numerals, elaborating the principle of position.
He developed a method for trisection of angle and other problems which cannot be solved with a ruler and a compass alone. Al-Biruni discussed, centuries before the rest of the world, the question whether the earth rotates around its axis or not. He was the first to undertake experiments related to astronomical phenomena. His scientific method, taken together with that of other Muslim scientists, such as Ibn al-Haitham, laid down the early foundation of modern science. He ascertained that as compared with the speed of sound the speed of light is immense. He explained the working of natural springs and artesian wells by the hydrostatic principle of communicating vessels. His investigations included description of various monstrosities, including that known as "Siamese" twins. He observed that flowers have 3,4,5,6, or 18 petals, but never 7 or 9.
He wrote a number of books and treatises. These books include Kitab-al- Hind (History and Geography of India), al-Qanun al-Masudi (Astronomy, Trigonometry), al-Athar al-Baqia (Ancient History and Geography), Kitab al-Saidana (Materia Medica) and Kitab al-Jawahir (Precious Stones) and his book al-Tafhim-li-Awail Sina'at al-Tanjim which gives a summary of mathematics and astronomy.
He has been considered as one of the very greatest scientists of Islam, and, all considered, one of the greatest of all times. His critical spirit, love of truth, and scientific approach were combined with a sense of toleration. It is amazing that he determined the diameter of earth centuries before the invention of the meteorological satellite. The value of the diameter of earth determined by Al- Biruni is found to be almost same as determined today by the modern meteorological satellite . The difference between the diameter of earth determined by Al- Biruni and that of satellite is of only few meters. It shows the accuracy of the method developed by Al- Biruni.It is a real tragedy that at present we do not know the exact method through which Al-Biruni had determined the diameter of earth. He was the first scientist who had calculated and given the correct values of latitudes and longitudes of earth at various places. In order to determined the motion and position of earth, son , moon and various stars , he established with the help of Muslim states several well equipped astronomical observatories. He was the first scientist who established the fact that the speed of light is far greater than the speed of sound. He also determined that the earth rotates along its axis and that is how days and nights are formed.
At present , we find a big gap between the Muslim scientists of the past and today. The knowledge and the contribution of the Muslim scientists was not transferred to the new generation of Muslim scientists. Whatever the Muslim scientists are doing today is only the extension of the work of the non Muslim scientists. Most of the original work contributed by the Muslim scientists of past is either attributed to the non Muslim scientists or no longer existing. There is a need to elaborate and further extent the work of past Muslim scientists . In this regards we should form the independent institutes for research in science and these research institutes should be run under the guidance of Ulama . The Lama should assure that whatever research is carried out in these institutions is not against the Islam and fully compliant to Shari’a.