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Thursday, 21 August 2014 05:22

Iranian Notables, Sources of Global Honor (13)

Iranian Notables, Sources of Global Honor (13)

Today, we speak of a prominent Iranian thinker, Abu Rayhan Birouni, making you familiar with the life and views of this notable thinker. Birouni was one of his era’s prominent figures in a number of sciences such as mathematics, geography, geology, anthropology, physics, and astronomy. He is one of the first scientists who have discussed the historical background of a scientific topic in their writings. Measurement of the density of eighteen metals and valuable stones; measurement of Earth’s diameter; presentation of new methods for designing geographical maps; measurement of distances between cities; and research on the beliefs and history of the Indian nation are some of the ever-lasting works which he has carried out.


The well-known Iranian scientist, Abu Rayhan Mohammad ibn Ahmad Birouni, was born in one of the cities of Kharazam Province, in present day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, on September 973 AD. His father was the astronomer of the royal court of Kharazm Shah. As Birouni has pointed out ill-wishers succeeded to drive out his father from the royal court, as the result of which his family were forced to reside in a village nearby.

At a tender age, Birouni started to acquire sciences. The acquaintance of Birouni with the renowned Iranian thinker, Amir Nasr Mansour bin Ali bin Araq, led to entry of the former to the royal court of Kharazm Shah and the Soltani School, which Amir Nasr had founded.

A few years later, Ma’moun bin Mahmoud, the ruler of Gorganj killed the last king of Kharazm Dynasty, Abu Abdullah Mohammad bin Ahmad, who had supported Birouni.

Upon the fall of this dynasty, Birouni apparently went into hiding or left his city for a while, while later on returning to his homeland on 387 AH. On the same lunar year, he managed to monitor the solar eclipse. According to accredited documents, Birouni had also asked another prominent Iranian mathematician and astronomer to monitor the solar eclipse in the city of Baghad. Through measurement of the related time difference, Briouni managed to measure the difference in the geographical length of those two cities.

After a while, Birouni traveled to the city of Rayy, in the vicinity of present day Tehran, meeting and conferring with two renowned Iranian mathematicians and astronomers, and writing a short treatise about the observatory founded by one of those two scientists.

During the waning years of 4th lunar century, he went to the city of Gorgan and penned the book ‘Aasaar al-Baaqiyah’ at the age of 30. Prior to this book, he had authored more than seven other books and had communicated with the Iranian genius Avicenna on scientific matters. In 393 AH, he observed solar eclipse in Gorgan.

In the year 400 AH, on the verge of age of 40; Birouni once again returned to Kharazm and became one of the courtiers of Abul-Abbas Ma’moun ibn Ma’moun. Upon the support of this Iranian ruler, he made resounding scientific achievements. However, this Iranian ruler was killed by his troops in 407 AH. In the following year, Sultan Mahmoud raided Gorganj, and took many of the prominent figures, including Birouni, to his kingdom in present day Afghanistan.

Birouni spent the rest of his life, which lasted for over three decades, at the courts of Qaznavid kings, Mahmoud and Masoud.
Unfortunately, the details of life of Birouni in this era are not clear. Apparently, he was popularly known as an astronomer. He reportedly spent a number of years acquiring knowledge about India, while learning Sanskrit and Indian languages. It is said that Birouni accompanied Qaznavid King, Mahmoud, in his conquests in India, and was acquainted with Indian scientists throughout these journeys. He also learned Sanskrit Language in this period of time. In the year 416 AH, he stayed in Nandana Castle for a while, throughout which he managed to measure Earth’s diameter. Ultimately, he detailed his scientific accomplishments in his treatise.

Birouni included the information which he had gathered throughout these years in his book on India, which was compiled in 421 AH, concurrent with the death of Qaznavid King Mahmoud. Prior to compilation of this book, he had completed his other book on mathematics and astronomy.

Following the succession of Mahmoud by his son Masoud Qaznavi; the latter further set the stage for Birouni to carry out scientific research. In this period of time, Birouni penned a highly valid book on astronomy. Sultan Masoud in a sign of gratitude for Birouni’s resounding scientific achievements sent sacs of gold and silver to him in reward. But, Birouni returned them to the treasury and told the Qaznavid King he had always lived in modesty and had got used to this lifestyle, and it was highly difficult for him to break this habit.

Based on existing evidences, the successors to Mahmoud Qaznavi continued to encourage Birouni to carry out his scientific research. Finally, Birouni passed away at the age of 77 years in 440 AH.

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