THE RELATION BETWEEN
GEOGRAPHY AND ISLAM
RIZWAN HUSSAIN JABBAR
Dear readers, this article is revised and rewritten from the article written by Sylvia Andrea Smith. This article is rewritten mainly to draw your attention about the past Muslim people when they didn’t have scientific instruments that exists now, but miraculously the Muslim explorers of that time did discover things that are later proved to be true. My question is, if the Muslims of that time proved themselves to be the best, then why can’t the Muslims of today be like them with all the new technology in their reach? Please read this article and get the experience about the past glory of the Muslim World.
Although politics and economics gave the initial spur to mediaeval Muslim geography, impartial intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge carried the study of the world and it’s inhabitants far beyond the narrow confines of trade and administrative purposes. The intriguing study of the material world took many forms during the resurgence of learning under the Islamic empire. The vast and complex scientific enterprise launched in the then culture and intellectual center of the world, Baghdad, encompassed astronomy, medicine, geometry, maths, music or the study of harmonics, as well as geography.
Early on the Abbasid Khalifs commissioned reports on roads –Book of Routes – to help their postmasters deliver massages to addresses within the empire. These accounts laid the foundation for more intensive commercial information gathering on further - flung places that told the routes of physical layout of foreign countries, and their production capabilities. With the assistance of more accurate astronomy and mathematics plotting, this information on maps became a respected branch of science. Later cartography advanced with the work of Al Khwarizmi, one of the earliest scientific descriptive geographers and a talented mathematician. His book The Form of the Earth, inspired a generation of writers in Baghdad and Al-Andalus. It acted as an incentive to reveal, analyze and record geographical data encouraging the likes of Al Razi, known in Europe as Rhazes. The wide ranging merchants of Al-Andalus brought back a wealth of detailed information about region as far north as the Baltic, which the geographers gradually incorporated into later edition of their work. One valuable source of material was the pilgrim guidebooks, which had started out as word-of-mouth accounts of routes to Makkah from distant regions. In written form they passed on to travellers to know how long and difficult journey from distant corners of the empire. In this way, Arab seems to have developed the habit of keeping itineraries of their travels.
In Al-Andalus the passion for keeping travelogues thrived.
The more comprehensive world atlas of the time was that of a celebrated Moroccan scholar, Al-Idrisi. He enjoyed exalted status at the court of Roger II in Palermo, largely because of the accuracy of 70 maps charting previously undocumented territories. He shows the entire country of Europe and Asia (two centuries before Marco Polo have charted the entire content of Europe and Asia) and Africa north of the Equator. Nicknamed the Strabo of the Arabs, he describes continent joined at Suez and identifies mountain ranges including The Mountains of the moon, the source of the Nile in present-day Uganda.
Distinct from the geographers and the mapmakers were the professional tourists of the Empire who wrote account of their journeys. Tunisian Ibn Battuta lived by the motto – never, if possible, cover any roads a second time. Fifty years younger than Marco Polo, he traveled 75,000 miles in thirty years – on horse, camel, foot and boat, through all manner of lands, including West Africa where he visited Timbuktu, Mali and Niger. Not merely geographer, Ibn Battuta scrutinized different lands with an eye on politics, social conditions, economics, and the position of women and religious matters. He was appointed Kadi (chief judge) of Delhi, and spent the last twenty-three years of his life as Kadi of Fez, writing his comprehensive travel document.
In the eleventh century, two Arabs writer collected much of the information assembled by their predecessors, and put it into convenient form. One of them, Al Bakri, an accomplished scholar, the son of the governor of the province of Huelva and Saltes. He wrote an important geographical work devoted to the Arabian Peninsula and it’s place name. It is arranged alphabetically and lists the names of villages, towns, wadis and mountains, which he culled from the Hadith and histories. His other major work was an encyclopedic treatment of the entire world.
The scientific value of itineraries and road books produced by Muslim globetrotters such as Ibn Jubair of Valencia, secretary to the Governor of Granada, reached well beyond the branch of geography. Ibn Jubair vividly described his journey to Makkah, the Hajj, in the form of a journal giving a detailed account of the eastern Mediterranean world. His job clearly influences his lucid prose style and add polish to his tolerant and often amusing daily observations of changes in customs as he moved further afield.
Love and nature was the driving force behind the life’s work of geographer and botanists Iba Baitar of Malaga. His interest in pharmaceutical herbs and flowers led him to explore every nook and canny of the Iberian Peninsula and the Magherb. His medical plants greatly assisted the world’s pharmacists.
Ibn Khaldun, a Tunisian adventurer, university professor brought the study of civilizations right up-to-date. His interest in economics, anthropology and political science made him wrote the book History of the World during a period of enforced exile. In the first volume, he gives a profound detailed analysis of Islamic society comparing other culture. He traced the rise and fall of human societies in the context of education, food, climate, economics, customs and labour relations. He was unaware that he was describing social science, which developed in the west – challenged the logic of many accepted historical accounts and emerged as the first philosopher of history.
The impact of intellectual and philosophical views of geography was due in part to the introduction of paper in Baghdad. With fear and ignorance dispelled, thirst for knowledge fired the imagination of the maverick Muslim explorer. One of the rare moments when imagination and curiosity rather than greed inspired the journey of discovery.
The proofs of the Discoveries:
· Ancient Turkish charts which shows the position of Makkah is in a museum in Saudi Arabia.
· A map of the city of Istanbul was drawn in the second half of the 7th century. It is there in the Ottoman portolan atlas.
· An Arabic chart shows the study of Geometry is kept in the Chester Beatty Library.
· An ancient Syrian scientific instrument used for celestial measurements is placed in a museum in Saudi Arabia.
It was The Muslim Religion, which guided these explorers throughout their life, which actually helped them to proceed with their ongoing work. From this article we learned that anything is possible if we take the right path. Then, let us all take that path (i.e. Islam), and proceed with our dreams; success will be there.