The Abbasid Caliphate and Geography
The culture, civilisation, and literary practice of the Muslims reached the top of the world during the Abbasid caliphate. We know this period as the golden age of the Muslims. The scholars of the Abbasid period have contributed outstandingly to the development of human civilisation by collecting and preserving the extinct materials of ancient civilisation. They conducted basic research in various fields of knowledge under the patronage of the Abbasid Caliphs.
The practice of geography was mainly for religious reasons during the Abbasid period. The caliphs realised the importance of geography for various religious reasons, including determining the Qibla and performing the holy Hajj. That is why they started patronising the scholars of that time.
Similarly, the Arabs had a special predominance in maritime trade. That is why the rulers emphasised geographical knowledge. Research continues to determine the latitude and longitude of all locations. Arab scholars contributed significantly to the development of compasses and telescopes during that time.
The famous Greek geographer and astrologer Ptolemy’s book ‘Geography’ was translated into Arabic. Al-Kindi gained special fame by contributing to this work.
Al-Khawarizmi compiled a book with maps called Surat al-Ard with the help of Greek texts during the reign of Caliph Mamun. A total of 67 scholars assisted him in compiling this book. European geographers believed the earth was flat at the time. However, Muslim geographers have been able to prove the size of the earth. They prove the earth is round.
Muslim geographers travelled abroad to gather valuable information. They travelled to different countries in Asia and Europe during this time. They surprised the world by successfully writing all the valuable information in their books.
The first Muslim geographer was Ibn Khordadbeh from Persia. His famous book The Book of Roads and Kingdoms (Al Masalik wal Mamalik) was published in 846 AD. He described in the book the common people and the various provinces in the Abbasid Caliphate. He also included a map of South Asia and wrote in detail about the land, people, and culture of the region. He also describes China, Korea, and Japan in his book. He was the first Muslim writer to record the Viking trade of the East.
Al-Masudi is recognised as one of Islam’s best geographers. He travelled in Asia, Zanzibar, and North Africa in the 10th century and wrote a thirty-volume book, The Meadows of Gold (Muruj adh-dhahab), describing travel experience. He was called Herodotus of the Arabs. Al-Masudi is the first person to have worked extensively on history and geography.
Al-Biruni focuses on Indian culture, religion, science, and literature in his book Kitabul Hind. Ibn Battuta contributed excellently to the field of travel. For thirty years, he has travelled to Arabia, China, Sinhala, Persia, Bangladesh, India, and Central Africa, collecting a detailed account of his travels. Notable among other geographers and cartographers were al-Istakhri, Ibn Hawqal, and al-Maqdisi.
Abbasid Caliphate researchers have revealed new geographical aspects and have opened new doors for research. And the details of their research are still helping today’s researchers.