Al-Biruni developed a formula in the 11th century to measure the earth’s circumference

Commemorative stamp issued by Guinea-Bissau marking Al-Biruni's scientific contributions (Image:
Commemorative stamp issued by Guinea-Bissau marking Al-Biruni’s scientific contributions (Image:

Al-Biruni, was born in 973 in Khwarizm, Uzbekistan. His father, a distinguished mathematician and astronomer, introduced him to astronomy and geometry at a young age. He subsequently studied the astronomy of the stars, classified the celestial bodies (planets and fixed stars) by order of magnitude, and observed the stars’ apparent motions around the poles; his list included 1,029 stars. Having constructed a globe of the earth, the first in Central Asia, Al-Biruni was the first to arrive at a simple formula for measuring the earth’s circumference proposing the heliocentric model – that the earth revolved around the sun. His works discussed the then debatable theory of the earth’s rotation on its axis and made accurate determination of longitudes and latitudes.

Al-Biruni’s extensive travels took him to India where he studied Sanskrit, Hinduism, and Indian sciences and culture. He produced some of the greatest works in Islamic science such as his  masterpiece, the Masu’udic Canon, and historical works such as the Chronology of Ancient Nations, which is devoted to a universal anthropological account of various cultures. The Chronology of Ancient Nations is partly historical and partly an ethnographic study that retains its full significance to this day. He was also the founder of the discipline of comparative religion as shown in his work India, written in 1051.

Al-Biruni also earned the title of father of Arabic pharmacy for his work in pharmacy, which he distinguished as a separate discipline from medicine. In his last work, Pharmacology, he classified the physical features of plants, animals and minerals, and compiled an alphabetical list of medicinal herbs and their uses.

A famed map maker, meteorologist, physicist, philosopher, and historian, Al-Biruni holds the distinction of being one of the greatest mathematicians and historians of humanity. He died in 1048 having written more than 150 works in various fields. Al-Biruni had a vast impact on science in the East and was known as a symbol of learning in the eleventh century.

A lunar crater is named after Al-Biruni. To view the location of this crater, visit

Commemorative stamps issued marking a millennium of Al-Biruni’s scientific contributions

“Al Biruni”, The UNESCO Courier, June 1974

Research by Nimira Dewji

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