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Abu Raihan Biruni

 (The Iranian greatest astronomer and mathematician in the Islamic world)

Abu Raihan Biruni was one of the greatest astronomers and mathematicians in the Islamic world, indeed the world as a whole. Abu Raihan was born in Iran in 1000 A.D on the outskirts of Owarazan. Part of his life was spent there, but the sultan's men soon spotted his extensive learning and expertise and Mamoon kharazim Shah took him under his wing. Then he was made to serve under Shams-ul-Ma'ali Qaboos where he wrote his valuable book called "Al Asar Al-Baghia ,A'an Al-Ghoroun Al-khalia."

The Sultan grew so attached to this man of learning that he wanted him to room in his own quarters, but Biruni said he preferred the freedom provided by living outside the precincts of the court.

Sultan Mahmood Qaznavi, being a bigoted man lacking in finer feelings did not appreciate learned men like Biruni, most of whom belonged to the Shou'bieh tribe.

So it was that he made life impossible for learned men like Abu Ali Sina and Abu Sahl Masihi who, rather than suffer at his court, preferred to escape from his clutches and wander homeless. Abu Raihan, however, along with one or two others, preferred to remain at court under the Sultan's presence.

Abu Raihan's great interest in science and knowledge drew him to court. In fact it was through Sultan Mahmood that he found his way into India, which was then regarded as a Main center of learning. There he took up the study of astronomy, mathematics and history and even Sanskrit. He became one of the earliest scholars to spread correct facts and figures concerning India among Muslims. He soon came out with a book about India which is still referred to today.

Comparing this fact with what has been unearthed concerning India through research undertaken by modern scholars, one finds they are comparable very well indeed.  During his many trips to India, Abu Raihan interviewed people and gained interesting information about India from them.

In addition to Sanskrit, Abu Raihan acquainted himself with Hebrew and Syriac. He had a lot to say about the festivals and other important occasions he witnessed in India. Soon Indians began to regard him with respect. Many books have been accredited to him.

His passion for knowledge and science was great. Abol Hassan Ali Bin Isa relates, " When I visited Abu Raihan on his deathbed, he put a question to me to which I replied, " Is it really necessary to know the answer when you are in this state"?  Abu Raihan replied," if I am to depart from this world, isn’t it better for me to know the answer before I leave?" So I gave him the answer which he took in eagerly. But no sooner had I left him than the sound of wailing and weeping arose, because he had breathed his last!'

Abu Raihan's works

Abu Raihan had Knowledge of and was well-versed in all branches of learning of this day: mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, history, geography and literature in each of which he left behind books of real value. 113 books and articles are credited to him, but today, only a few of his valuable books on the history of different nations and their contribution to civilization are in our hands.

Another masterpiece is a research work known as Alhend.

In this book there are numerous references to documents concerning sayings referring to Hindu temples and the characteristics of each one of them.

Another book the "Canons of Masoodi" for which Sultan Masood sent a bag of money as a reward, but the learned man returned it.

Another important book by Abu Raihan which he himself translated from Arabic into Farsi is one  dealing with astronomy and mathematics. It is written in a style peculiar to Biruni.

Sultan Mahmood and Biruni

As we have mentioned before, Abu Raihan was well received by Ali Kharazim Shah's court and was paid special attention by the Shah. Some other learned men who had heard of the Shah's treatment of learned men ventured to visit his court, but, as usually happens, rivalry and jealousy brought about dissension among them.

Meanwhile Sultan Mahmood, eager to patronize learned men, wanted to attract as many of them as possible away from Kharazim Shah's court.  He sent a threatening letter to the Shah demanding that he send over six of the learned men residing at his court. Having heard of Sultan Mahmood's vile temper and bossy ways, the learned men were to leave Kharazim Shah's court. The Shah himself saw that he should speak individually to these men and explain how he was obliged to meet Sultan Mahmood's demand if he was to avoid war. Those who were willing could proceed to Sultan Mahmood's court, he said, but the others would have to flee the land. Abu Ali Sina was the one who fled along with quite a few others. But Abu Raihan and another person made their way to Sultan Mahmood's court. Even so, he hated this uncouth Sultan and was always looking for an excuse to flee the land.

One day, according to Nizaami's "Four Articles" Mahmood seated in his palace addressed Biruni as follows: "From which one of these four doors will I leave this room? You can calculate and tell me." Abu Raihan made his calculations on the astrolabe and jotted them down on a piece of paper. Then Mahmood ordered his men to bring a spade and pick and make a hole in the ground, and through that passage he found his way out. Then they brought the paper on which Biruni had written his answer. The paper read: "He will not leave through the four doors, but will have an opening made in the wall to the East and leave through that."

The Sultan was furious and ordered Biruni to be thrown down from the ramparts of the palace. So Biruni was caught badly but he contrived to slip down slowly.  After a few days when Mahmood had regretted his wild action, Biruni was returned to Mahmood's presence.

"If nothing is hidden from you, then how is  that you didn't know what fate awaited you."

Biruni thereupon drew out his astrolabe and pointed out that he had written all this there. Mahmood was once again furious and had Biruni imprisoned for six months. On releasing him he explained to his minister that kings are like children. If you know how to please them then life is made for you.  He turned to Biruni and said, "You just have to act to please me, then you will be safe. You will win nothing if you think you can depend on your knowledge alone".

Hence Biruni was forced to accompany Mahmood wherever he went. Time and time again he attacked India on the excuse that he was waging "Jihad" or holy war, and Biruni's learned advice and directions proved profitable indeed.

For example there was a structure set up in an Indian village, which did not seem to rest on the ground.  After examining it, Abu Raihan understood that it was held in place by a magnetic force. Coins had been so placed that they could balance the building on six sides, keeping it erect without any support. Being made of iron, this balance could be thus achieved. If however the coins were moved from one angle, then the whole structure would topple down.

Knowledge of languages

In order to read documents in their original form, he found he should study the language in which they were written. So he acquainted himself with several ancient and contemporary languages .He was well-versed in Sanskrit and could delve into several old texts written in that language to gain first-hand information. The book he later wrote on his findings amazed all who came across it.

One book he wrote and published in the name of the daughter of Hussain Kharazim, one of his students, who later proved to be one of the most learned women of those times.

Abu Ali Sina and Abu Raihan were two of the most learned men of their time. They illuminated Islamic civilization with their prowess and their cultural contributions so that none can claim to have superseded them. Indeed their system of advancing their knowledge is being discovered to have been as that of our own times.

This man was like Leonardo da Vinci, who was an artist, as well as sculptor, writer, scientist and engineer. He has been compared to Leibritz of Germany who was philosopher and mathematician at the same time and master in many other branches of knowledge. Biruni came to be known as "Maire Ali Baron" from which Europeans derived the name Biruni.

His book on ancient history included accounts of Nestorians, Iranians, Greeks, Jews and Christians and the people of Soghd and Kharazim. This book, which is considered one of his best, gives information on subjects such as astronomy and mathematics.

Abu Raihan has written seventeen books on India. He is said to have died in 430 H. or 1030 A.D. in Ghaznain, the seat of the rulers of Ghaznavi. He had made that country his home during the last days of his life. However, other accounts give India as his last resting place. There he had translated his astrolabe in Sanskrit. He is also said to have prepared a calendar in Sanskrit while in Kashmir. The Iranian nation holds celebrations for his millennium.

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