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  • 9/4/2005

The Time of Al-Biruni

The great leaders were so many - Ibn Yunus, Ibn al-Haitham,

Al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ali ibn Isa, al-Karkhi, Ibn Gabirol (all Muslim except the last, who was Jewish) - that, for a moment at least, the historian is bewildered. Yet, however distinguished all of those men and many others, two stand out head and shoulders above the others:al-Biruni and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). It was chiefly because all of them that this period was one of such excellence and distinction. These two men, who by the way knew one another, were extremelydifferent: Al-Biruni represents the more adventurous and critical spirit, Ibn Sina the synthetic spirit, al-Biruni was more of a discoverer, and in that respect he came nearer to the modern scientific ideal; Ibn Sina was essentially an organizer, an encyclopedist, a philosopher. Both, even the latter, were primarily men of science, and it would be difficult to choose between them but the accidental fact that al-Biruni"s life covered more fully the present period and thus may be said to represent it more completely. Ibn Sina was only 20 at the beginning of the century, and his life was ultimately cut short in 1037. Al-Biruni"s first important work appeared about 1000 and he lived until 1048. Thus his time of activity and the first half of the eleventh century are not identical periods, and we are fully justified (more fully so than in almost every short case) in calling it theTime of al-Biruni.

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