Abu Rayhan Biruni – The Greatest Scientist of the Islamic World

By Rasul Jafarian1

Without overexaggerating – something which is very common amongst our people – we can say Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī (d. 440 AH) was the greatest scientist of the Islamic world. This can be seen through the extensive variety of works he has written, in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and on the study of plants, the elements etc. His works al-Qānūn al-Mas‘ūdī on astronomy and Taḥqīq Mā lil-Hind are works that transcend their times, similar to his other work al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sana’at al-Tanjim and Āthār al-Bāqīyah that are also a testimony to this claim.

A scholar will make mistakes and it is possible for them to say something right or wrong. What makes Abū Rayḥān stand out and gives him his greatness is his method of thinking to arrive at knowledge. The inability to have the correct method of thinking is one of the greatest calamities in any discipline and pollutes the sciences, something which Abū Rayḥān avoids. This is a merit that he has over everyone.

It suffices to just pick up one of his works and to skim through it and contemplate over some of what he writes. His work Taḥdīd Nihāyāt al-Amākin is a geographical and astronomical work which discusses the physical areas of different nations. It is a book for specialists and in accordance with the information available at his time. He has several significant works on this subject and is always trying to defend the correct view while critiquing others, with a lot of precision and attention. However, in this specific work, he has a few statements that allude to how he thinks and how he confronts knowledge.

This work has been translated into Farsi by Aḥmad Ārām (in 1352 SH), similar to the Arabic (in 1992 AD), as well as the scan of its only manuscript (in 2010 – based on a manuscript from the Suleymaniye Library). The Arabic text is very difficult and Ārām put in a lot of effort and energy to translate it into comprehensible Farsi. The parts I want to highlight here are some excerpts from the introduction written by Abū Rayḥān.

First Point: In the beginning of the book the author says, when I look around at the people of my time and I see that they are all afflicted with ignorance and heedlessness, that they always show enmity and animosity against people of virtue, and those who possess knowledge of the different disciplines are always harassed by them in all different ways. Bīrūnī speaks about the atmosphere against natural science which is extremely strong and creates an environment of intimidation, so much so that he will be forced to accept astrology.

Second Point: It is an explanation that Bīrūnī writes about animosity against science, and an extreme attitude against it which attributes this discipline to misguidance and deviancy so that those unfamiliar with it also remain aloof and distant from it, and more so, become its enemy. They consider science to be outside the fold of religious knowledge and that it is atheistic, so those who are in this field are considered irrelevant. Through this, the shortcomings of those making the accusations are also concealed. Bīrūnī speaks of two attitudes of these extreme groups against science, one is that they consider it to be misguidance and second is that they consider it to be ungodly or atheistic. According to Bīrūnī, ignorant people behave this way so that they themselves remain protected and people in society do not become aware of their ignorance.

Third Point: Bīrūnī again speaks about the necessity of knowledge for human social life. On the one hand he considers the need to know as an internal personal matter and on the other hand as an external need and gives an explanation about it. Thereafter, he once again addresses people who are against science: “I am surprised by someone who hates logic2 and because he is incapable of understanding it, he calls it strange names.”

Bīrūnī talks about the enmity of some people with Aristotle. The reason is that they “have seen things in his thoughts and beliefs that are not in agreement with Islam.” Their interpretation is that at the time of Aristotle, Greek people worshiped stars and idols. This is while what Aristotle said was based on contemplation, not based on religion, for him to then be accused of idolatry of the people of that time and for his thoughts and contributions to be put aside. Bīrūnī adds a nice point, and that is that this anti-science group has reached the point where they accuse any name that ends with the letter sīn and is attributed to Greece, of “disbelief and atheism”!

Bīrūnī’s focus on clarifying the anti-scientific ethics of the opponents of the development of knowledge, who use the accusation of atheism and belonging to the world of irreligiosity to destroy science and scientists, in the 5th century hijri, is a very innovative and important point.


  1. Source.
  2. Logic was a preliminary to get into the sciences.