The redoubtable Al-Beruni

ByElsa Sc S

Doing her graduation from LUMS & a keen researcher


August 2, 2022

The redoubtable Al-Beruni

Elsa Sc S revisits the outstanding contribution of The redoubtable Al-Beruni

The redoubtable Al-Beruni & configured shape of historical developments enveloping the breakthrough of Muslims into the subcontinent and subsequent Muslim rule form the backbone of historical odyssey of Al-Beruni, the master historian of his age. All histories written after his attempt invariably toe his line in describing, categorizing and interpreting historical happenings as the Muslim rule expanded throughout Asia.

The profoundly willful alienation the Hindus felt for Muslims was candidly portrayed by Al-Beruni when he describes that to a Hindu, a Muslim is ‘maleecha’ or unclean who could never be co-opted in mutual existence. His observations about peoples of the subcontinent were so prescient that they were used by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah while demanding separate homeland for Muslims in Lahore in March 1940.

Abu Raihan Muhammad bin Ahmad Al-Beruni was born in the suburb of Kath, capital of Khwarizmi Kingdom in modern Kiev (Khiva) in September 973 AD, in the age dominated by polyglots. He learnt astronomy and mathematics and made several observations with a meridian ring in his youth. Al-Beruni was driven into exile in 995 owing to a foreign power taking over his area of residence and went to Ray in Iran where he exchanged his observations with Al-Khujandi, famous astronomer which he later discussed in his work Tahdid.

After two years he returned to his native place and observed a lunar eclipse that drove him to calculate time difference between his native place and Baghdad. In the next few years he visited the Samanid court at Bukhara and Ispahan of Gilan and collected a lot of information for his research work. In 1004 he was back with Jurjania ruler and served as a chief diplomat and a spokesman of the court of Khwarzim.

The profound change occurred in Al-Biruni’s life when in 1017 Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni conquered Khiva and took Al-Beruni to Ghazni. Al-Beruni was then sent to the region near Kabul where he established his observatory. He was deputed to study religion and people of Kabul, Peshawar, and Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and other areas of the subcontinent. Al-Beruni records his visits to a number of cities like Mansura, Uchch, Multan, Lahore, Nandana (near Chakwal), Peshawar and other places. During this sojourn he learnt local languages including Sanskrit. He was already well versed with Greek, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages. His command over multiple languages made him aware of literature in these languages.

Al-Beruni was a very prolific writer and wrote about 180 books in his career in Arabic and Persian languages, of which few have survived the test of time. After the death of Sultan Mahmud in 1030, he completed his Kitab al-Hind, a compendium on the history, religion and thought of the people of the subcontinent. During the rule of Sultan Masud, son of Mahmud, he completed his Qanoon-i-Masudi and translated a number of works from Sanskrit to Arabic. Sultan Masud honored him a lot. He passed away in Ghazni in 1050.

Al-Beruni emerged as a famous scholar of Central Asia and South Asia. His writings covered history, philosophy, society, culture, astronomy, mathematics and geography and other areas. His magnum opus, Kitab-al-Hind was the result of his vast engagement with Hindu pundits and Buddhists inhabiting South Asia and he remained with them for more than a decade. He observed the living conditions though a lot of travel in the area. He added to his research, subjects of mathematics, astronomy, geography, chronology and natural sciences including natural resources and jewels. All these experiences he compiled and expressed in his Kitab-al-Hindin which he discusses the geography, history, language, literature, manners, and customs of the Hindus and the local people of the subcontinent.

The successor and son of Sultan Mahmood, Sultan Masud gave Al-Beruni a special place in his kingdom. Al-Beruni dedicated his work to his master titled Al-Qanoon al-Masudi pleasing the Sultan to offer Al-Beruni an elephant-load of silver pieces but he refused this gift saying that Sultan is already more than gracious to him. Al-Beruni continued to enjoy full benefits from the court of Sultan and carried on with his scientific and literary research.

Al-Beruni completed his work on mineralogy known as Kitab al-Jamahir fi Ma’rifat al-Jawahir and the last work accomplished by him was Kitab al-Sadalafi’l Tibbwhih proved hugely beneficial to medical science. Out of the complete works of Al-Beruni, 103 were published in his lifetime and 12 were printed after his death in his name by Abu Nasr, 12 by Abu Sahl and one by Abu Ali bin Ali Djili. The available numbers count for 138 books but all his later writings are calculated to be 180.

The most striking factor coming out of the writings of Al-Beruni is the similarity between his vision of the universe and those of Einstein and other modern scientists. Like them he considered it to be situated on the outermost surface of a limited sphere and like Einstein he also rejected the idea of the universal gravitation as an actual force on the ground of its being altogether opposed to experience. It goes to the credit of Al-Beruni that he advanced ideas on the universe much ahead of the modern European scientists. With the width and breadth of his knowledge, Al-Beruni belongs to the common human heritage and is particularly looked up to by people of the places he visited during his lifetime. TW


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