Where Was Al-Birun Situated?


Abdul Hai Habibi


Abu Raihan Mohammad, son of Ahmad al-Biruni, was one of the most prominent figures of eastern scholarship in Central Asia. Despite plenty of research carried about his life and works both in the eastern and western languages no research has been conducted about his native country or the city al-Birun.

It is noteworthy to say that some authors, namely Shahrazuri, in Nuzhat-al-Arwah, ibn Abil Osaibaa’h in Oyun-al-Anba, Abu-al-Fida in Taqweem-al-Buldan and Abd-al-Ghani in the History of Persian literature have confused the Birun of Khwarazm with Nirun of the Sindh valley—two cities belonging to two different countries. From ancient times there has been disagreement among authors regarding Birun, the birthplace of al-Buruni.

Samani, who died about 1166 says that Birun means outside in the Persian language, since Persian speakers say that “filan birun ast” meaning he dwells outside the city. Thus the Persian word biruni is a relative adjective for Birun.

From this it is evident that Birun was not a particular place but in Khwarazm the word was referred to those who lived outside the city. Yaqut, the author of Mu’jam-al-Buldan also agrees that biruni means those who lived outside the city. This reveals that Yaqut has not used the word as the name of the city.

Contrary to Sama’ni and Yaqut, Imam Ali Zaid-al-Baihaqi, a contemporary of Sama’ni has clearly written the Birun where Biruni was born and raised is a clean city with lots of mysterious things. This fact states that Birun was the name of a separate city in Khwarazm.

Eastern and western scholars who have conducted research on al-Biruni’s life have, however, not done any work on Birun and its whereabouts. They have been briefly contented with that Birun was a place in Khwarazm. Sayed Hassan Barni, the Indian scholar regrets that scholars have paid little attention to Birun and have not mentioned anything about it.

Now I will present some information about the geographical location of the city in the light of some historical facts. This city was situated in southern Khwarazm or northern Khorasan. Birun has been mentioned in an ancient geographical work of the Islamic period. The manuscript of a Persian translation of Ashkal-al-Alam related to Abu-al-Qasim, Ahmad-al-Jaihani, is present in Kabul museum. This book has been translated from Arabic into Persian by Ali son of Abd-al-Salam. Describing the 18th climate and the regions of Khorasan the author says that Birun was situated eight manzils from Busht, a city in Badghis region.

Ashkal-al-Aslam, is an ancient geographical work of the period of the Samanid kings of Central Asia and was written before the birth and life of al-Biruni. From the description of Birun in the work of Aljaihani it is evident that Birun was a city about eight manzils from the Busht of Khorasan in the Samanid and Ghaznavid periods. The name was used up to the Safavid period in the 16th century. The Safavids of Iran were rivals of the Uzbek monarchs of Transoxiana in northern Khorasan. Iskanedar Beg Turkman, historian during the reign of Shah Abas, the Safavid king, in his book A’lam Arae Abbasi, has several times mentioned the name of Darun fort in northern Khorasan and the regions of Nasa, Abiward and Merv. The same work says: Isfandar Sultan, a ruler of Transoxiana, went to occupy Merv, Nasa, Darun and Abiward. A messanger was sent to his brother to attack the fort of Birun.

      Now we can confirm with certainty that Birun was a city in northern Khorasan in the region of Nasa and Abiward, which at one time belonged to Khwarazm and later to Khorasan. A fortress existed by this name even up to the Safavid period in the 16th century.

In his work Tashih Masafat al Amakin, al Biruni says that it was in the year 390 Hijera in the Jaghur region to one side of Kabul. At the present time there is a region between Kabul and Ghazni by the name of Jaghori and in this place there is a mountain called Birun. Perhaps this mountain is named after al Biruni, who lived at Jaghur for some time for his scientific research.