al-Bīrūnī: a high point in the Development of Islamic Astronomy — Qatar National Library

al-Bīrūnī’s Qānūn is the most complete astronomical encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. It represents the most successful attempt to correct and rewrite Ptolemy’s Almagest, and was based on the results of three centuries of research in Islamic lands.

Between c. 133 AH/AD 750–236 AH/AD 850 Abbasid Iraq entered into contact with both Indian and Hellenistic astronomy and faced the problem of choosing between them. An attempt to solve it was made during the caliphate of al-Ma’mūn (198/813–218/833) who patronised the first programme of astronomical observations. These continued until the fifth/eleventh century and reached their summit with al-Bīrūnī who systematised critically the knowledge acquired by his predecessors, added the results of his own research, and marked the end of the period of assimilation.


The Author: al-Bīrūnī

Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī (362/973–after 440/1048) was born in the environs (bīrūn) of Kāth (in Khwārizm), on the basin of the lower Amu Darya, south of the Aral Sea. He wrote in Arabic, although he used Persian occasionally, and learnt some Greek, Syriac, Hebrew and Sanskrit. He lived in Khwārizm, Rayy (near Teheran), Gīlān, and Gūrgān (south of the Caspian Sea). Between c. 408/1007 and c. 440/1048, the conqueror of Khwārizm, Maḥmūd al-Ghaznawī (388/998–421/1030), forced him to stay in Ghaznah (in Afghanistan).

In Khwārizm he was patronised by its ruling dinasty, the Banū ‘Irāq, until 385/995 and one of its members, the prince Abū Naṣr Manṣūr (died c. 408/1018), was his teacher. In Gūrgān he was protected by Qābūs ibn Washmaghīr (388/998–403/1012) to whom he dedicated his Chronology of Ancient Nations (al-Āthār al-bāqīyah ‘an al-qurūn al-khālīyah). In Ghaznah he was sponsored by Maḥmūd, whose military expeditions in northern India allowed him to travel through this country, learn Sanskrit and acquire direct contact with Indian astronomy. After Maḥmūd’s death, he maintained an excellent relationship with his son and heir Mas‘ūd (421/1030–432/1040) to whom he dedicated his al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī.

al-Bīrūnī’s treatise on Indian mathematics, the Maqālah fī rāshīkāt al-Hind: IO Islamic 824, f. 26r

al-Bīrūnī’s treatise on Indian mathematics, the Maqālah fī rāshīkāt al-Hind: IO Islamic 824, f. 26r

al-Bīrūnī was principally an astronomer and his observations are dated between 380/990 and 412/1021. However, he was also an applied mathematician and wrote works on history, mineralogy, pharmacology and philology. Throughout his life he maintained correspondence with the most brilliant minds of his time: the philosopher Ibn Sīnā (died 438/1037), the astronomers al-Khujandī, Abū l-Wafā’ al-Būzajānī (328/940–388/988), and his master Abū Naṣr.



An Astronomical Masterpiece

al-Bīrūnī’s astronomical masterpiece, however, is his al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī,. The term Qānūn, used in the title, is a clear reference to Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, called al-Qānūn in Arabic sources. al-Bīrūnī’s work is, therefore, a zīj (a set of astronomical tables) although its contents exceed those of a standard zīj and are rather an updated version of Ptolemy’s Almagest. The volume is divided into eleven treatises (maqālāt) dealing with cosmology, chronology, trigonometry (including the new theorems developed by al-Bīrūnī and his contemporaries), spherical astronomy, mathematical geography, motions of the sun and the moon, eclipses, crescent visibility, fixed stars, planets and mathematical astrology. The basic principles were Ptolemaic but the Qānūn included information related to the new cultures Islam had become acquainted with, and added many corrections as a result of the observations made by his predecessors and by al-Bīrūnī himself. As many of the sources used are now lost, the Qānūn is a mine of information for the history of Islamic astronomy up to the eleventh century.

Title page from al-Bīrūnī’s al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī. Or 1997, f. 1v

Title page from al-Bīrūnī’s al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī. Or 1997, f. 1v


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Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī on Wikipedia

“Al-Biruni” redirects here. For the lunar crater, see Al-Biruni (crater). For the university, see Al-Beroni University.

Abū al-Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī[n 1] (4/5 September 973 – 13 December 1048), known as Al-Biruni in English,[3] was a Persian[4][5][6] Muslim scholar and polymath from the Khwarezm region.

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.[6] He was conversant in Khwarezmian, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, and also knew Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. He spent a large part of his life in Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan, capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty which was based in what is now central-eastern Afghanistan. In 1017 he traveled to the Indian subcontinent and became the most important interpreter of Indian science to the Islamic world. He is given the titles the “founder of Indology“. He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations, and was given the title al-Ustadh (“The Master”) for his remarkable description of early 11th-century India.[6] 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.

Al-Biruni’s bust at an entrance to National library of Tajikistan

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al-Biruni: Famous in Physics, Metaphysics, Mathematics, Geography and History — Web Gaza Net


al-Biruni - Abu Raihan Mohammad Ibn Ahmad al-Biruni was one of the well-known figures associated with the court of King Mahmood Ghaznawi, 11th century C.E.

Abu Raihan al-Biruni

Who Was al-Biruni?

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 learnt Hindu philosophy, mathematics, geography and religion from thre Pandits to whom he taught Greek and Arabic science and philosophy. 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.

What Did al-Biruni Write?

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. At the end of this book he makes a mention of having translated two Sanskrit books into Arabic, one called Sakaya, which deals with the creation of things and their types, and the second, Patanjal dealing with what happens after the spirit leaves the body. 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 alluvials.

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