The first thing that strikes the reader about Beruni is his remarkable
scholarship, With perfect facility he would succeed in establishing his
point. Beruni is keen to spill his knowledge on every page, and is not
easy to translate. He frequently gives Greek names with Arabic transliterations. But on the whole it is easier to translate Kitab al-Jamahir
than his two other works, al-Athar al-Baqiyah and al-Qanun al-Mas'udi.
More than two decades ago attention was drawn to the value of the
work by Professor Hossein Nasr, who called it "the most complete
medieval text of mineralogy; it contains the description of minerals and
metals from all over the Asiatic and European continents," while Dr. M.
Plessner in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam emphasizes the
exceptional importance of the work and regrets that the work has not
been accorded the importance it deserves.
During the International Congress on the occasion of the millenary
of Beruni (November 26 —December 12, 1973) sponsored by the Ministry
of Education, Government of Pakistan, UNESCO and Hamdard National
Foundation, three papers, all of them of high order, centering on this
book were presented [Proceedings, 1979). Dr. George C. Anawati presented a summary of this work together with a study of the source materials.
Dr. Syed H. H. Nadvi presented an analysis of Beruni's ethics and moral
philosophy, The late Professor Afzal Hussain Qadri made a rather penetrating study of Beruni's concept of evolution and highlighted his originality regarding the structure and growth of oysters. We are thankful to
God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, that a translation of this remarkable work is now being issued.
Analysis of the work poses certain problems. What position Beruni
will occupy in literature and polymathia can be determined after his
works have been studied in greater detail than hitherto. His introduction
to Kitab al-Jamahir can be interpreted as the ethical aspect of knowledge
and can be attributed to the fact that he regarded stones and metals as
the objects of avarice which required absolute and total control.
It is worth noting how Beruni deals with the etymological origins of
drugs and establishes their identification. In the case of both plants and
stones Beruni feels that quotations from Arabic poets would serve as a
valid verification for settling etymological disputations.
A polymath like Beruni has to reproduce what was reported to him
and then get down to separate the grain from the chaff. He has the
genius of an anthropologist in him insofar as he does not necessarily
underestimate folklore. But sometimes it seems as if the hearsay gets the
better of the rationalist in him, as in the following passage about the
Persian theriac in Kitab al-Jamahir: