Al Beruni’s Anthropology in the Fi Tahqiq Malil-Hind in Three Settings: An Assessment

AIAS arranged a talk for Dr. Nazif Shahrani on October 3, 2018. Dr. Shahrani presented his recent research paper on Al-Biruni the greatest scholar of his era, his presentation was titled as:

Al Beruni’s Anthropology in the Fi Tahqiq Malil-Hind in Three Settings: An Assessment

Al Beruni’s Fi Tahqiq malil Hind (dating to 1030 AD) is described in at least one recent (2016) book title as The Birth of Indology as an Islamic Science.  This groundbreaking work of the Muslim polymath is also the much earlier precursor to the birth of modern discipline of anthropology, sometimes called the “bastard child” of Western colonialism.  In this presentation Dr. Shahrani attempted to assess the significance of Al-Beruni’s rendition of Hindu India in three important settings:

1) the novelty of its production one thousand years ago, in the age of “Empires of Faith”, in this case, the Ghaznavid Muslim empire; it was the era of dominance by the empires of religion and this book was produced under those circumstances. Besides this, the number of Al-Beruni’s books was 114, told by himself to a friend of him, a remarkable number of books ever written by a scholar. Meanwhile, Al-Biruni had researched and wrote in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences. 2) its discovery, study and use during the Western colonial “Empires of Conquest”, especially by the nineteenth century scholars supported by the British Raj; and 3) the freshness of its conceptual, methodological and analytical rigor and relevance to modern social sciences in general and post-colonial native Muslim anthropology in particular within the era of the “Empires by Invitation/Empires of “Trust.” Al-Biruni has distinguished himself as a historian, chronologist, and linguist.

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