BİRÛNÎ (Ebu’l Reyhan)
Scholar of astronomy, mathematics, medicine and history, poet (B. September 973, Harzem – D. 13 December 1048, Gazne). He is an Islamic scholar of Turkish origin. His full name is Ebu Reyhan Muhammed b. Ahmed el-Birûnî. In Western languages he is known as Alberuni or Aliboron. El-Biruni who was a sophisticated scientist is especially known due to his works in fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, geography and history. He took his first lessons from a Greek wise and the mathematician and astronomer from Harzem, Ebu Nasr Mansur, who supported and protected him.
Since he lost his father at a young age he was protected by the Khwarazmshah. He received education of mathematics and astronomy in the palace. His teachers here are İbn-i Irak and Abdussamed b. Hakim. He wrote his first book in this period and at the age of 17. As the Khwarazmshah State was captured by Me’munis, Birûnî went to Iran and lived there for a while. Later he started to be protected by the Ziyaris. He wrote his book titled “El Asar’ul Bakiye” in the palace of Ziyaris. After studying here for two years he returned to his homeland and started to make researches with Ebu'l Vefa in the field of astronomy.
When Mahmud of Gazne destroyed the Khwarazmshah State in 1017 he came under protection of Ghaznavids and gained a high reputation in the palace. Gazneli Mahmud who was mentioned by Bîrûnî after his death as “the lion of the world” and “the unique of the time” always welcomed poets and scholars in his palace (Tahkîku mâ li’l-Hind p. 342). In this environment Bîrûnî found a very productive possibility of scientific activities within the first ten years he came to Gazne and deepened his researches on astronomy, mathematics and physics. His famous work about India titled Tahkiku mâ li’i-Hind is an important source book of this period.
He joined Mahmud of Gazne at his India expedition. Here he attracted attention of Indian scholars. As the Indian country was captured he settled to the town of Nendene and continued his scientific works here. He learnt Sanskrit and studied life of Indian society and culture. Later he returned to Gazne and lived here until the end of his life. This period is regarded as the most productive years of Birûnî. He published here his work titled “Tahdidu Nihayet'il Emakın” (1025) he had been preparing since a long time. El Birûnî presented “Kanun-i Mesudi” which was the best work done by him on astronomy to Mesud, son of Mahmud of Gazne . When Sultan Mesud upon this granted him silver coins on the back of an elephant; however he refused this gift, saying “This gift will seduce me and move away from science”.
For Birûnî, applied education was in fact more important than books in pharmacy. He believed that one would benefit more gaining information by holding in hands and observing than reading books. Birûnî, who had a real understanding of science, did not attach importance to the concept of race and mentioned other people’s advanced culture with deep respect. In the same way he did not contradict or criticize religions when he explained his thoughts on them. He used the terms in that religion as they existed. In the introduction part of his book “Potancali” he translated from Sanskrit to Arabic he wrote: “Thoughts of people are diverse. Development and welfare in the world is based on this diversity”.
El-Birûnî is owner of about hundred and eighty works. He also wrote seventy astronomy and twenty mathematics books. He produced a series of books on medicine, biology, plants, mines, animals and herbs. However, only twenty-seven of these works could come until present. Birûnî’s works could not be translated to Latin in Medieval because they were written in a complicated language. However as he also asserted, he wrote his works for scholars and not for ordinary people. On the other hand it is known that Harezmi’s work titled “Zîci'nin Temelleri” was translated to Hebrew in 12th century by Abraham b. Ezra. The West’s interest in Biruni started in 1870s. Starting from that day, some of the works of Biruni were either completely or party translated to German and English.
The passion for research he has had since his childhood, united with his success on evaluating his age’s scientific and philosophical accumulation in a productive way, he became a top scholar of his age. Sarton did not hesitate to call his age “Age of Bîrûnî”. Again Sarton said that he was “one of the major scholars of all ages”.
From his letters it can be deducted that he knew Aristotle. Biruni who worked with important philosophers such as Ibn Sina went numerous times to India. Therefore he wrote a book on India. This book which was translated to various languages set an example for many scholars. Biruni also owns a novel. However he is rather known with his specialization in mathematics. Birûnî who was the greatest mathematician of his age suggested that the radius was accepted as a unit in trigonometric functions and added to functions such as sinus and cosine new functions such as secant, cosecant and cotangent. On the other hand it is an important work of Biruni in terms of geometry that he calculated the length of the arc of meridian by calculating the angle of descent of horizon from a certain point on earth.
Birûnî's primary work on astronomy was “Mesudî fi'l Heyeti ve'n-Nücum”. In his work titled “Kanun” he discussed views of Aristotle and Ptolemy and insisted on that the earth was whirling around itself which is important for history of science. However it is assumed that Biruni could not reach a certain conclusion on this issue. None of his works about it came until the present. His work titled “Nihâyâtü'l-Emâkin” (Ends of places) contains his writings on a series of issues including geography, geology and geodesy. According to the historians of science, Birûnî laid the foundations of modern astronomy starting with Copernicus.
Birûnî who made researches on precious stones and minerals said that one method of separating various matters from each other was taking their specific weights into account which was one of the most important discoveries of his age. Besides he determined the specific weight difference between hot and cold water.
Aside from Birûnî’s works in philosophy, history, history of religions, botanic, medicine and many other fields, one of his most important works was his research on water sources and artesian wells. Birûnî explained water sources and artesian wells through hydrostatic methods and principle of computational fluid, made researches about acquiring salt from sea water. He built underground sewages near to Nishabur and worked on pumping up water from channels, rivers and wells through capstans.
Birûnî determined specific weights of twenty-three substances and six fluids very close to their values of today. Biruni who produced many works in the field of medicine succeeded to operate a woman with a cesarean delivery operation. The book he wrote about herbals and some medicines titled “Kitabu's Saydane” is Birûnî’s last work. It is a very important development for etymology that along with medicines Arabic, Persian, Greek, Sanskrit and Turkish names of plant was indicated. Birûnî never limited himself with only one science or topic, but he saw science as a whole. Ord. Prof. Dr. Aydın Sayılı said about him, “a modern thinker and researches who lived in Medieval” der.
Biruni wrote 180 works large and small. It is assumed that these works consist of 13.000 pages. However only 20 of them reached the present and only 8 of them which were considered important could be published.
In the name of Biruni whose works are still used as a source book in the West 68th special issue of Turkish Association of History review was published under the title “Bîrûnî'ye Armağan”. In various countries of the world, symposiums and congresses were organized and stamps were printed in remembrance of Bîrûnî. Conrier Review issued by UNESCO in 25 languages dedicated its 1974 June issue to Bîrûnî.
REFERENCE: Zeki Velidi Togan / Umumi Türk Tarihine Giriş (s. 90-94, 1946), Günay Tümer / “Bîrûnî” (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi, c. 6, s. 206, 1992), Zeki Velidi Togan / “İbn-i Faldan” (TDV Ansiklopedisi, c.6, s. 207-208, 1992), Abdullah Koçin / Çağını Aşanlar (Bilim ve Teknik, Şubat 1991) - “Bilimin Her Dalında İzi Olan Bir bilgin: Ebû’l-Reyhan el-Beyrunî” (Çağını Aşanlar, 1993), İhsan Işık / Ünlü Bilim Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 2, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013) - Resimli ve Metin Örnekli Türkiye Edebiyatçılar ve Kültür Adamları Ansiklopedisi (Cilt 12, 2017).