Al-Biruni (973–1048)
Al-Biruni, born Abu’l-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad AlBiruni,
an outstanding eleventh-century astrologer whose writings
compiled the astrological teachings of several cultures. AlBiruni
was born in Uzbek, a country until recently a part of the
former Soviet Union, located just north of Iran and Afghanistan.
He grew up under the multicultural influences of Persia,
India, and the Greek empire of Alexander. Here Zoroastrian
and Manichean teaching mingled with Hinduism and emerging
Islam. In the areas of astronomy, mathematics, and astrology,
this area of the world, making the transition to Islam, was
far ahead of Europe, then only beginning to recover its classical
As a young man, Al-Biruni began to travel through Persia,
Afghanistan, and India and to gather the material for one of
his important books, Chronologies of Ancient Nations, detailing
the histories of the peoples of the area. It was completed near
the end of the century. Around 1010 he settled in his native
land for a decade until the ruler (who was also his patron) was
overthrown and the nobility was exiled. Al-Biruni then lived in
India for an extended time and wrote a volume on the people
of the Indus Valley as well as his most remembered text, The
Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology, generally
called the Tafhim.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Al-Biruni
The Tafhim, designed as an introductory textbook for the
young astrologer, addresses all of the subjects an astrologer
would be expected to have mastered, including mathematics,
geography, history, and astronomy, all of which are treated before
any consideration of astrology. Al-Biruni picked up this
learning from the foundational Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, upon
which astrology is built, and he compared Persian astrology
with its Hindu counterpart.
The Tafhim was reproduced and widely circulated in Southern
Asia and found its way to Europe, where it was read three
centuries later by Guido Bonati and influenced his important
Liber Astronomie. It was translated into English in 1934 by R.
Ramsey Wright.
Al-Biruni. The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of
Astrology. Trans. R. Ramsey Wright. London Luzac, 1934.
———. The Chronologies of Ancient Nations. Translated by Edward
Sachau. London W. H. Allen, 1879.