Al-Biruni

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Al Biruni on a 1973 sovietic post stamp.
Illustration from al-Biruni's astronomical works, explains the different phases of the moon.

Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī (September 15, 973December 13, 1048) was a Persian polymath, scientist, physicist, anthropologist, psychologist, astronomer, chemist, critic of alchemy and astrology, encyclopedist, historian, geographer, traveller, geodesist, geologist, pharmacist, philosopher, theologian, scholar and teacher, and he contributed greatly to all of these fields.

Quotes[edit]

  • Once a sage asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. "The scholars" he answered, "are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science".
    • Quoted in: A.L. Mackay Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (London 1994).
  • You well know … for which reason I began searching for a number of demonstrations proving a statement due to the ancient Greeks … and which passion I felt for the subject … so that you reproached me my preoccupation with these chapters of geometry, not knowing the true essence of these subjects, which consists precisely in going in each matter beyond what is necessary. … Whatever way he [the geometer] may go, through exercise will he be lifted from the physical to the divine teachings, which are little accessible because of the difficulty to understand their meaning … and because the circumstance that not everybody is able to have a conception of them, especially not the one who turns away from the art of demonstration.
    • Book on the Finding of Chords.
  • I have seen the astrolabe called Zuraqi invented by Abu Sa'id Sijzi. I liked it very much and praised him a great deal, as it is based on the idea entertained by some to the effect that the motion we see is due to the Earth's movement and not to that of the sky. By my life, it is a problem difficult of solution and refutation. [...] For it is the same whether you take it that the Earth is in motion or the sky. For, in both cases, it does not affect the Astronomical Science. It is just for the physicist to see if it is possible to refute it.
    • Quoted in Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (1993), p. 135.

From Alberuni's India[edit]

Alberuni's India, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1910
  • The Sun Temple at Multan has been described by early Arab geographers like Sulaimãn, Mas‘ûdî, Istakhrî and Ibn Hauqal who travelled in India during the ninth and tenth centuries of the Christian era. The Arab invaders did not destroy it because besides being a rich source of revenue, it provided protection against Hindu counter-attack. “Mûltan,” wrote Mas‘ûdî, “is one of the strongest frontier places of the Musalmãns… In it is the idol also known by the name of Mûltãn.13 The inhabitants of Sind and India perform pilgrimages to it from the most distant places; they carry money, precious stones, aloe wood and all sorts of perfumes there to fulfil their vows. The greatest part of the revenue of the king of Mûltãn is derived from the rich presents brought to the idol… When the unbelievers14 march against Mûltãn and the faithful 15 do not feel themselves strong enough to oppose them, they threaten to break their idol, and their enemies immediately withdraw.”
  • Al-Bîrûnî records: “A famous idol of theirs was that of Multan, dedicated to the sun, and therefore called Aditya. It was of wood and covered with red Cordovan leather; in its two eyes were two red rubies. It is said to have been made in the last Kritayuga… When Muhammad Ibn Alkasim Ibn Almunabih conquered Multan, he inquired how the town had become so very flourishing and so many treasures had there been accumulated, and then he found out that this idol was the cause, for there came pilgrims from all sides to visit it. Therefore he thought it best to have the idol where it was, but he hung a piece of cow’s flesh on its neck by way of mockery. On the same place a mosque was built. When the Karmatians occupied Multan, Jalam Ibn Shaiban, the usurper, broke the idol into pieces and killed its priests… When afterwards the blessed Prince Mahmud swept away their rule from those countries, he made again the old mosque the place of the Friday-worship.”
    • About Jalam ibn Shaiban at Multan. Alberuni:Tãrîkhu'l-Hind in E.C. Sachau (tr.), Alberuni’s India, New Delhi Reprint, 1983, p. 116.
  • The Hindus believe with regard to God that he is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free-will, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving; one who in his sovereignty is unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness, and that he does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble him.
    • Vol. I, p. 27, quoted in James W. Laine, “The dharma of Islam and the dīn of Hinduism: Hindus and Muslims in the age of Śivājī”, International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, 1999.
  • A famous idol of theirs was that of Multan, dedicated to the sun. When Muhammad Ibn Alkasim Ibn Almunabbih, conquered Multan, he inquired how the town had become so very flourishing and so many treasures had there been accumulated, and then he found out that this idol was the cause, for there came pilgrims from all sides to visit it. Therefore he thought to build a mosque at the same place where the temple once stood. When then the Karmatians occupied Multan, Jalam Ibn Shaiban, the usurper, broke the idol into pieces and killed its priests. When afterwards the blessed Prince Mahmud swept away their rule from those countries, he made again the old mosque the place of the Friday-worship.
    • Alberuni in his India, Alberuni's India, Edward C. Sachau (translator and editor)
  • The linga he raised was the stone of Somnath, for soma means the moon and natha means master, so that the whole word means master of the moon. The image was destroyed by the Prince Mahmud, may God be merciful to him! - AH 416. He ordered the upper part to be broken and the remainder to be transported to his residence, Ghaznin, with all its coverings and trappings of gold, jewels, and embroidered garments. Part of it has been thrown into the hippodrome of the town, together with the Cakrasvamin, an idol of bronze, that had been brought from Taneshar. Another part of the idol from Somanath lies before the door of the mosque of Ghaznin, on which people rub their feet to clean them from dirt and wet.
    • E.C. Sachau (tr.), Alberuni's India, New Delhi Reprint, 1983. p.102-3
  • The city of Taneshar is highly venerated by Hindus. The idol of that place is called Cakrasvamin, i.e. the owner of the cakra, a weapon which we have already described. It is of bronze, and is nearly the size of a man. It is now lying in the hippodrome in Ghazna, together with the Lord of Somanath, which is a representation of the penis of Mahadeva, called Linga.
    • E.C. Sachau (tr.), Alberuni's India, New Delhi Reprint, 1983 p. 117.
  • Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims.... Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benaras and other places. And there the antagonism between them (the Hindus) and all foreigners receives more and more nourishment both from political and religious sources
    • Alberuni's India, vol. I, p. 22. Also quoted (in part) in Jain, Meenakshi (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts.
  • The Hindus do not pay particular attention to alchemy, but no nation is entirely free from it, and one nation has more bias for it than another, which must not be construed as proving intelligence or ignorance; for we find that many intelligent people are entirely given to alchemy, whilst ignorant people ridicule the art and its adepts.
    • Alberuni, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 1
  • The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs. no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.
    • Alberuni, I, p.22. quoted from K.S. Lal, Indian Muslims who are they, 1990
  • They [Hindus] totally differ from us in religion, as we believe in nothing in which they believe, and vice versa.
    • Alberuni, I, pp.19-20. [1]
  • They (the Hindus) differ from us in religion… There is very little disputing about theological topics among themselves; at the most they fight with words, but they will never stake their soul or body or their property on religious controversy. ... in all manners and usages they differ from us to such a degree as to frighten their children with us… and as to declare us to be devil’s breed and our doings as the very opposite of all that is good and proper, ....they call all foreigners as mleccha, i.e. impure, and forbid having any connection with them, be it by intermarriage or any other kind of relationship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them, because thereby they think, they would be polluted… They are not allowed to receive anybody who does not belong to them, even if he wished it, or was inclined to their religion.
    • Alberuni, I, pp.19-20. quoted from K.S. Lal, Indian Muslims who are they, 1990
  • “Its (Rasayan’s) principles (certain operations, drugs and compound medicines, most of which are taken from plants) restore the health… and give back youth to fading old age… white hair becomes black again, the keenness of the senses is restored as well as the capacity for juvenile agility, and even for co-habitation, and the life of the people in this world is even extended to a long period.”
    • quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 1 [2]
  • The repugnance of the Hindus against foreigners increased more and more when the Muslims began to make their inroads into their country.
    • in Elliot and Dowson, quoted in Misra, R. G. (2005). Indian resistance to early Muslim invaders up to 1206 A.D. p.111
  • For the reader must always bear in mind that the Hindus entirely differ from us in every respect, many a subject appearing intricate and obscure which would be perfectly clear if there were more connection between us. The barriers which separate Muslims and Hindus rest on different causes... …in all manners and usages they differ from us to such a degree as to frighten their children with us, with our dress, and our ways and customs, and as to declare us to be devil’s breed, and our doings as the very opposite of all that is good and proper. By the by, we must confess, in order to be just, that a similar depreciation of foreigners not only prevails among us and the Hindus, but is common to all nations towards each other… …there are other causes, the mentioning of which sounds like a satire – peculiarities of their national character, deeply rooted in them, but manifest to everybody. We can only say, folly is an illness for which there is no medicine, and the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is... The heathen Greeks, before the rise of Christianity, held much of the same opinions as the Hindus; their educated classes thought much the same as those of the Hindus; their common people held the same idolatrous views as those of the Hindus. Therefore I would like to confront the theories of the one nation with those of the other simply on account of their close relationship, not in order to correct them…
    • Alberuni, vol I, pp., 17-25. Alberunis India. in Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 2

About Al-Biruni[edit]

  • Intellectually the most impressive record of any encounter of a pre-­modern Muslim with another civilization is the eleventh-­century polymath Bīrūnī’s account of the high culture of India.
    • Cook, Michael - Ancient religions, modern politics _ the Islamic case in comparative perspective-Princeton University Press (2014)
  • One of the greatest scholars of Asia, Alberuni, accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni to India, and wrote a scientific survey of India comparable to Pliny’s Natural History and Humboldt’s Cosmos.
  • "A Persian by birth, Biruni produced his writings in Arabic, though he knew, besides Persian, no less than four other languages."
    • Rahman Habib A Chronology of Islamic History, 570-1000 CE, Mansell Publishing, p. 167:
  • A Persian by birth, a rationalist in disposition, this contemporary of Avicenna and Alhazen not only studied history, philosophy, and geography in depth, but wrote one of the most comprehensive of Muslim astronomical treatises, the Qanun Al-Masu'di.
  • The best foreign account of India that this age produced was written by Abu Rlhan, better known as Alberuni, a contemporary of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. While the ruthless conqueror was harrying India by fire and sword, destroying and plundering its cities and temples, the great Arabic scholar engaged himself in studying the culture and civilization of the country. He learned Sanskrit and studied its different branches of literature. The bulky volume which he wrote is in many respects the most rational and comprehensive account of India ever written by a foreigner until modern times. He is singularly free from religious enthusiasm, bordering on fanaticism, and the racial superiority-complex which mark the Muslim writings of the age. He patiently laboured to acquire knowledge of Indian society and culture in a laudabile spirit of quest for truth, and brought to his task a liberal and rational mind enriched by profound knowledge, remarkable for his age.
    • The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Vedic age, ed. R.C. Majumdar [3]
  • [Al-Biruni's book] is like a magic island of quiet, impartial research in the midst of a world of clashing swords, burning towns, and plundered temples... Al-Biruni, the first scientific Indologist and one of the greatest of all times... If humanity, not religion, is to triumph in the world the study of comparative religion should start from where Al-Biruni had left it.... He stands unique in his age... - the most cosmopolitan or international scholar in the truest sense of the term.
    • Mohammad Yasin, Reading in Indian History, Atlantic Publishers & Distri, 1988

External links[edit]

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