Alberuni (973-1048 CE) *

by M. Shahid Alam

April 12, 2004   


                                                             Speak the truth,
                                 even if it were against yourselves.

                                                                 Qur'an (4:134)

It was my master, Abu Sahl, who led me on to it.
"Write what you know about the Hindus," he said,
"There are people who want to converse with them,
To understand their religion, science and literature.
We only have hear-say, a farrago of materials never
Sifted for accuracy. Give us facts with analysis."

And so I put my heart to it, starting with Sanskrit.
This wasn't an easy undertaking, without grammar
And dictionaries. I traveled through their country
Quite a bit, talking to learned Brahmans, and spared
Neither trouble nor money collecting manuscripts.
Often I invited their scholars from far-away places-
Kashmir and Kashi-to come and work with me
In Ghazni. I have endeavored in writing this book
Not to be polemical. I intend this account of India
To be nothing but a simple historic record of facts,
At once comprehensive and objective. I present
To you the theories of the Hindus, exactly as they
See them, supporting my explanations of them
With ample quotations. If any of this strikes you
As heathenish, then try to understand that such
Are the beliefs of the Hindus, and they themselves
Are best able to defend it. This book should suffice
Anyone who wants to understand the Hindus,
And discuss with them their myths, metaphysics,
And mathematics; their astronomy, arithmetic,
And astrology; their codes, customs, and conceits
On the very basis of their own civilization.


* Note from the author: Alberuni was one of the greatest polymaths of the eleventh century, with contributions to many fields of knowledge including mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geography and history. George Sarton (1884-1956), author of the first comprehensive history of science, describes him as "one of the very greatest scientists of Islam, and, all considered, one of the greatest of all time." Today, Alberuni is best known for his History of India, an encyclopedic account of Indian civilization that treats its subject with an objectivity, first-hand scholarship and sympathy that stand in sharp contrast to the arrogance and bigotry that characterize James Mill's The History of British India written some eight hundred years later.  (back)

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Poetry on Swans


M. Shahid Alam is a professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston, Mass. His powerful essays and political commentaries are widely distributed on the Web and in print publications (e.g., Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Electronic Intifada, Outlook India, Asia Times). He is the author of Poverty from the Wealth of Nations: Integration and Polarization in the Global Economy Since 1760 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), and Governments and Markets in Economic Development Strategies: Lessons From Korea, Taiwan, and Japan (Praeger Publishers, 1989). To find out more about his work please visit his Web site. Prof. Alam has generously accepted to contribute his poetry to Swans, and to abide by our no multi-posting policy.

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Published April 12, 2004
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