al Biruni (9731048) 113

metaphysical ideas of the elite and the anthro
pomorphic ideas of the masses, he clarifies that
this dichotomy is to be found among the ancient
Greeks, Jews, Christians, and Muslims (Sachau
1910: 24, 111). In other words, the dichotomy is
a universal tendency found in all religions.
Second, his work on India is an example of
an early sociological study conscious of the
necessity for objectivity. Al Biruni was an
impartial observer of Indian society. This can
be seen from the full title of his study: Kitab
al Biruni f tahqq ma li al hind min maqbulat f
al aql aw mardhulat, that is, The Book of
What Constitutes India as derived from Discourse
which is Logically Acceptable or Unacceptable.
Al Birunis approach was to make assessments
based on what was logically acceptable. He
was fully aware of the need to refrain from
making value judgments about Indian religions
from an Islamic perspective. He attempted to
present Indian civilization as understood by
Indians themselves (Sachau 1910: 25; al Biruni
1377/1958 [ca. 1030]: 19). Al Biruni quotes
extensively from Sanskrit texts which he had
either read himself or which were communi
cated to him.
Third, al Birunis work on India is impor
tant from a methods point of view because it
contains ideas pertinent to social statistics,
applied social research, and the issue of
numerical evidence (Boruch 1984). These
come under the categories of errors in infor
mation, data sharing, the limits of knowledge,
and statistics. On errors in information, he
was concerned with fixing limits to guesswork
and the problems of translation as he relied
greatly on Sanskrit sources (Boruch 1984:
826). He also raised the problem of response
bias that arises from ethnocentrism, lying,
corroboration, the question of the validity of
information (Boruch 1984: 82830), and the
types of misrepresentations.
On data sharing, al Biruni was critical of
those who resisted doing so, saying that the
Indians are by nature niggardly in commu
nicating that which they know, and they take
the greatest possible care to withhold it from
men of another caste among their own people,
still much more, of course from any for
eigner (Sachau 1910: 22, cited in Boruch
1984: 836). On the limits of knowledge, he
listed various impediments such as knowledge
of languages, carelessness of scribes, a metrical
system of writing, and religious insularity
(Boruch 1984: 837). On statistical technique,
Boruch notes that although al Biruni was
obviously not familiar with concepts of relative
frequency distribution, there is an attempt to
articulate an embryonic notion of that when
he discusses rare events (Boruch 1984: 838).
In cautioning us against the various types of
lies and misrepresentations, al Biruni refers to
the example of the critics of the Mutazila
school of theology in Islam. He once called
upon a scholar by the name of Abu Sahl Abd
al Munim Ibn Al Ibn Nuh al Tifls, who
spoke of the misrepresentation of the Muta
zila school. According to the Mutazila, God is
omniscient and, therefore, has no knowledge
(in the way that man has knowledge). The
misrepresentation is that God is ignorant
(Sachau 1910: 5)! It is the same scholar who
urged al Biruni to write a work on the religions
of India because of the misrepresentations of
India that were found in contemporary works
among Muslims (Sachau 1910: 67).
Also on methods, al Biruni makes an inter
esting case for hearsay as opposed to eyewit
ness. We are used to thinking of eyewitness
accounts as more reliable than hearsay. Al Bir
uni concurs when he says that the eye of the
observer apprehends the substance of that
which is observed, both in the time when and
the place where it exists, whilst hearsay has its
peculiar drawbacks (Sachau 1910: 3). How
ever, he notes that had it not been for the
drawbacks, hearsay would be preferable to eye
witness. The reason for this is that the object
of eye witness can only be actual momentary
existence, whilst hearsay comprehends alike the
present, the past, and the future, so as to apply
in a certain sense both to that which is and to
that which is not (Sachau 1910: 3). In this
sense, al Biruni notes, written tradition is a
type of hearsay and the most preferable, obser
ving that if a report regarding an event were
not contradicted by logic or physical laws, then
its truth or falsity depends on the character of
the reporters, who are influenced by the diver
gency of interests and all kinds of animosities
and antipathies between the various nations
(Sachau 1910: 3).
While it is true that his study was narrow
in that his sources were mainly textual, what