Abu Raihan Muhammad Al-Biruni was an outstanding Muslim scientist with landmark contributions in the diverse fields of Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences.
Born in Khwarzim in 973 AD, he studied various languages including Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit in addition to his native Arabic.
Al-Biruni made several important contributions to science. He discovered seven different ways of finding the direction of the north and south. In the field of Astronomy, he also wrote about the sun and its movements and the eclipse. He invented few important astronomical instruments too. Al-Biruni discussed that the earth rotated on its axis and made accurate calculations of latitude and longitude many centuries before the first western discoveries on this topic. These observations are contained in his book “Al-Athar Al-Baqia.” He wrote a treatise on timekeeping in 1000 C.E.
Al-Biruni’s approach to problems was very scientific. He discovered that the speed of light is substantially greater than the speed of sound and described our galaxy, The Milky Way. He also observed the solar eclipse near Qandahar or Kabul in modern day Afghanistan on 8 April, 1019 and the lunar eclipse on 17 September 1019 sitting somewhere near Ghazna. He recorded these observations and noted the altitudes of various well known stars too. Most of his discoveries in Math and Astronomy are saved in his book “Al-Tafhim-li-Awail Sina’at al-Tanjim” (translated into English by Ramsay Wright in 1934).
Al-Biruni’s work in Physics starts with his accurate determination of the specific weights of some 18 elements. He discusses the properties of precious stones in his book “Kitab-al-Jamahir”. He was a pioneer in the study of angles and trigonometry and conducted considerable research about springs too.
Al-Biruni wasn’t just a scientist. He was a learned and travelled scholar too. His travels with Mahmood Ghaznavi took him into India where he learned Hindu philosophy and mathematics and in return taught the Indians Muslim science. His book “Kitab Al-Hind” contains his observations on Indian culture, language, religions and geography.
According to Max Meyerhoff, Al-Biruni is perhaps the most prominent figure in the phalanx of those universally learned Muslim scholars who characterize the Golden Age of Islamic Science.