In the meantime, conditions had become favorable for him in his own country. The
new rulers of Khwarizm, who had displaced his former patrons of the house of
Iraq, had become impressed with his fame. Ali bin Mamun, the second king of this
new line, invited Al-Beruni to his court. The king had a very able minister who
was fond of scientific studies. As a result of his love of learning, the court
of Khwarizm had become a meeting place for scholars of note. One of these was
the great philosopher and well-known physician, Abu Ali bin Sina. Debates on
scientific subjects were sometimes held between him and Al-Beruni. But like most
debates they solved nothing and merely created bitterness between the two great
men. Chiefly, on account of his great book on medicine, "the Qanun",
Ibn Sina enjoys far greater fame then Al-Beruni. The latter, however, was a far
more original thinker. He took delight in searching out facts for himself and
made valuable additions to the existing knowledge of his times. Ibn Sina on the
other hand, contented himself largely with explaining and expanding what the
Greek philosopher, Aristotle had written.
The respect, Al-Beruni enjoyed in the sovereign's court of Khwarizm, is evident
from this incident. One day the King of Khwarizm was going in procession with
royal pomp and dignity. He happened to pass by Beruni's house. The king ordered
the procession to stop and sent a message to Al-Beruni that the king was waiting
for him. Al-Beruni took sometime to get ready and see the king. The king decided
to dismount the horse and go to Al-Beruni himself. When he was about to
dismount, Al-Beruni came out and implored to the king to keep seated. The king,
who was a great patron of scholars, on hearing Al-Beruni's earnest request,
recited a poetic composition in Arabic. It mean: "Knowledge itself is a
respectable city, it does not go to the people, but the people go to it."
The story that Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna invited Ibn Sina and Al-Beruni to his
court does not seem to be correct. It is more probable that when Mahmud
conquered Khwarizm, Al-Beruni was obliged to leave his native city. It was no
longer the seat of a splendid court but had become and unimportant provincial
town. Al-Beruni then went to Ghazna (Afghanistan) to seek his fortune. However,
he never forgot the kindness of his old patrons and in his poem we find verses
in which he says:
"The House of Mamun, especially Ali Bin Mamun gave me full encouragement
and support and the last of them named Mahmud made me rich and famous and raised
Mahmud knew Al-Beruni's worth and received him with open arms. About him, he
says in the same poem:
"Mahmud never kept back wealth from me. He made me rich and satisfied.
He overlooked my faults and held me in respect and raised me to a high
He lived in Ghazna until 1019 A.D. and mostly kept himself busy in the
observation of stars. Mahmud had erected for him and observatory which is a
building specially suitable for the observation of heavenly bodies and provided
with necessary instruments.
3. VISIT TO INDIA
Al-Beruni was now forty-five. But his thirst for knowledge was as great as
ever. He had mastered the Greek sciences through Arabic translations. But he
could not say the same thing of the Indian sciences. Some Indian works on
astronomy and other branches of mathematics had been translated into Arabic
during the early days of the Abbasi Caliphs. But the translations were extremely
faulty and, therefore, unsatisfactory. Al-Beruni felt that he must go to India
and learn from the original source. Luckily for him, the country had just been
opened to the Muslims by the victorious campaigns of Mahmud.
Al-Beruni went to India and diligently applied himself to the study of
Sanskrit. Just imagine a man past middle age, trying to learn a strange alphabet
and to repeat the unfamiliar words. To many an easy going student this might
look like a hopeless task. But his constant patience and hard work paid rich
dividends. Certainly, it did not take him long to gain mastery over this
difficult language. The Hindu pandits are well known for their possessiveness
and have always tried to keep their knowledge a close secret. But helped by his
sweet temperament and polite manners, he gained entry into their learned
circles. They soon realized his worth and learnt the Greek sciences from him,
teaching him their own in return. Al-Beruni lived in India for ten years and
spent most of his time in Multan which was then a great centre of Hindu learning
in the north. This is what he says about the pandits:
"So long as I was unable to understand their language, I behaved as
their pupil. But after I had learnt their speech, I was able to show them my
knowledge. They were so deeply impressed with it that while speaking to their
great men about me, they called me 'vidyasagar' which means ocean of
Al-Beruni made good use of the time he spent in India. Not only did he make
himself a master of their science of astronomy and astrology and other branches
of mathematics, but he also made a careful study of their customs, religion,
history and philosophy.
He was the first Muslim who introduced Indian chess to Islamic countries and
explained the problems of advanced trigonometry.
4. HIS WORKS AND DISCOVERIES
In 1029 A.D., Al-Beruni returned to Ghazna. He used the results of his Indian
studies to write his second great work, the Kitab-Ul-Hind. About 30 years
earlier, he had written his first great work, Asar Al-Baqiya which we
have already mentioned.
In the author's words, it gives a detailed account of the areas of the
different nations inhabiting the earth; tells us when they began; why different
nations adopted different areas; which are the months in which their years are
divided; and what are their fairs and festivals.
It is clear that the subject of this book is very vast and in a way, a
chronology of ancient nations containing minute and accurate details of
geographical and historical information. One can imagine the immense amount of
labor which its completion must have required.
Apart from his personal observations, the book contains valuable
information about geography, history, art, science, religious beliefs, social
customs, culture and civilization of Hindus and India. The book has been
translated into German and English and its Urdu version is also available in
Pakistan. Commenting on the book, a European writer says: "The Hindus must
consider them as fortunate that a great truthful scholar of his time depicted a
picture of their forbearers' culture and civilization as it was then. It is
possible that there may be differences among Hindus about Al-Beruni's views, but
this fact cannot be denied that he has described with great admiration the Hindu
culture and civilization as an impartial observer."
Astronomy and Astrology
Al-Beruni was a pioneer in these fields. In the field of Astronomy, he
named various stars and studied in depth their orbital movements. Moreover, he
minutely studied the solar system and after some calculations gave scientific
reasons for days or nights getting longer or shorter; absence of night in some
parts of the world; change of seasons; waxing and waning of moon. Al-Beruni
explained the difficult subjects of Astrology in easy language in the form of
questions and answers. For this subject, he mainly relied on old Greek books,
Hindu religion and some verses of the Holy Quran. He could piece together
various events and foretell the future with remarkable accuracy.
After the death of Mahmud, the throne of Ghazna was occupied by his son
Masud. This book was dedicated to Sultan Masud. As a ruler Masud was not a
success, but he was a great patron of learning and an accomplished scholar
Al-Qanun-Ul-Masudi deals with a variety of subjects such as mathematics,
astrology, geology, geography, chemistry, mineralogy, optics and a host of other
scientific subjects. The book was published in 1030 A.D.
It is said that Sultan Masud tried to reward the labors of great scientist by
presenting him with an elephant laden with silver. Al-Beruni, however, was a
true scholar and the idea of making money out of his learning was simply hateful
to him. With many thanks and excuses, he returned the generous gift to royal
Kitab Al-Saidana (Materia Medica)
It deals with medicine, anatomy, health care and hygiene. The book
contains more then 700 descriptions of drugs and their effects on human body.
The book also explains at length the treatment of various diseases.
This book explains the variety of precious stones and gems and their specific
gravity. It tells us which parts of the earth contains mines and minerals; the
properties of the earth where mines and minerals are discovered.
We have selected and discussed briefly the important works of Al-Beruni. It is
said that he had written over a hundred books and they contained more then
13,000 pages in all. Most of them have been lost and hardly one-tenth of what he
wrote has come down to us. For the most part his writings deal with difficult
subjects which it is not possible for young people to understand. In sum, the
subjects he dealt with included astronomy, chronology, geography, mechanics,
mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, meteorology, mineralogy, history,
philosophy, religion, literature and magic. One or more books on these subjects
A few simple scientific facts which he was the first to discover are mentioned
here. Al-Beruni explained the working of natural springs by the principle that
water keeps its level. From the observation of the stones and layers of the
earth in the Indus Valley, he arrived at the correct conclusion that it was an
ancient sea basin. He found the latitudes and longitudes of a number of
important towns and discussed intelligently the problem of the earth's rotation
on its axis. He also discovered that light travels faster then sound. It was Abu
Raihan Al-Beruni who gave methods for drawing on paper, which has a plane
surface, maps of portions of the earth which has a curved surface. He found with
great exactness the specific weights of 18 precious stones and metals. He also
recorded the densities of various metals, liquids and gems. Al-Beruni's
calculation of the circumference of the earth was only 80 miles off from the
modern measurement (i.e. 1/5 of 1%). He also discovered an Astrolabe, an
instrument used for measurement of celestial bodies and as an aid in navigation.
5. END OF THE LUMINARY
Only a waning candle sheds its light around. It is related that Abul Hassan
Ali, a jurist and friend of Al-Beruni visited him when he was terminally ill. Al-Beruni
requested him to repeat the mathematical problem he was once discussing with
him. Thinking that it was not an appropriate occasion to talk about it, the
jurist remained silent. Al-Beruni insisted upon having a reply and said: "Is
it not better to die with knowledge then to die in ignorance?" Abul
Hassan repeated that problem to which Beruni listened intently and grasped it. A
few moments later he passed away at the age of 75 in 1048 A.D. and was laid to
rest at Ghazna. Thus, he acted upon the saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad
(Peace and blessings be upon him): "Acquire knowledge from the cradle to
He was an ideal student who spent all his life in search of knowledge. His
early biographer writes: "He never had a pen out of his hand, nor his
eyes ever off a book and his thoughts were always directed to his
studies." Abu Raihan Al-Beruni was never satisfied with taking
things for granted, but always made a thorough examination. He realized the
importance of experiment and observation and thus prepared the way for modern
science. According to George Sartan: "His critical spirit, toleration,
love of truth and intellectual courage were without parallel in medieval
ages." He was undoubtedly a physician, astronomer, mathematician,
physicist, historian and perhaps the most prominent figure in the galaxy of
universally recognized learned scholars who marked the golden age of Islamic
Following are some questions
to consider for academic exercise.
- What has science done for us?
- Compare the system of education of Al-Beruni's
days with that of our own.
- Who was Mansur bin Ali? What part did
he play in making Al-Beruni great?
- Mention some of the scientific facts
which Al-Beruni discovered or discussed.
- Give an account of some of the
writings of Al-Beruni.
- Explain the meaning and significance
of "only a waning candle sheds its light around."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr. Haroon Ishaque Jangda, graduated in Arts in 1960 and in Law in 1962 from the
University of Karachi. He was called to the English Bar in 1969 by Lincoln's
Inn, London. Since 1971, he has been practicing Civil and Constitutional Law in
the District Courts, the Sindh High Court, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. A
prolific writer , he was awarded the "Citizen Four Seasons Award" by
the Reader's Digest Association Far East Ltd. for his essay "Why does a
salmon swim upstream in the Summer" in 1981 and second prize in the Essay
Competition held in 1982 by the World Memon Foundation (Pakistan Chapter) for
his essay "Community related problems and practical ways to solve
them." He is the author of "The Battle for Pakistan" published by
Ferozsons in 2000. Apart from writing, the author is a community and
social welfare worker.