What You Never Knew About Medieval Islamic Agriculture

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Whenever there is a reference to the Islamic Golden Age and what Muslim scientists did, many are quick to point to mathematics, medicine, and astronomy. However, what some do not know is that their contributions went far beyond those areas, there is no aspect of science that Muslims did not influence and that includes agriculture. This piece is going to highlight and focus on the contribution of Muslim intellectuals to agriculture during the Islamic Golden Age.

The period spanning the 8th to 13th centuries was a truly progressive one for agriculture, thanks to Muslim scientists. With scholars like Ibn Wahshiyyah the Nabataean, Abu Zakariya Ibn al-Awwam (Ibn al-‘Awwan), and Ibn Bassal, Muslims changed the face of agricultural science. Ibn Wahshiyya pioneered by writing one of the first Arabic books focused on agronomy, titled Al-Filahat Al-Nabatiyya (translated as Nabatean Agriculture) and it was true stuff of legend.

Many do not know this but the great Muslim physician and surgeon Abu al-Qasim Khalaf Ibn Al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi Al-Ansari (better known as Albucasis) was also a gifted agriculturist. He wrote the famed Mukhtasar Kitab al-Filaha (translated as the Abridged Book of Agriculture).

Then there was the irrepressible scholar of botany and agronomy, Ibn Bassal. In his groundbreaking work titled Diwan Al-Filaha (translated as The Court of Agriculture), he gave a very detailed description of 177 plant species. Ibn Bassal was known to be a very meticulous scholar who crisscrossed every part of the Islamic world while gathering all he could regarding agronomy. Hence, by the time he published his book, it was full of a comprehensive description of beneficial plants like herbs, trees, vegetables (roots and leaves), spices, and a lot more. In the book, he also gave details on how to do propagation and caring for these plants.

The contribution of these disciplined Muslim scholars did not end there. In the 12th century, another Islamic agronomist, Ibn al-Awwam, released his mind-blowing book named Kitab Al-Filaha (translated as Treatise on Agriculture). In this book, he discussed the propagation of crops like the date palm and olive, planting of olive and grape, and even rotation of crops using barley or wheat with flax.

Animal husbandry is another area where the Muslims left their marks. Sheep is one of the animals that Islam has sanctioned for us as being halal (permissible) and it is an integral part of the festivals of Muslims. Hence, it is no surprise that archaeologists discovered that the Muslim scientists of that era transformed animal husbandry with their specific works on the size of sheep.

The contributions of Muslims in the Middle Ages in the field of agriculture cannot be complete without mentioning their inputs in irrigation methods. In Spain for example, when it was under the Muslims during the Ummayad eras, Muslim engineers came up with an ingenious irrigation system based on wheels and powered by animals. Also known as the sakia, it was so efficient that it was used even outside Spain and was seen in places as far as Morocco and beyond. May Allah (SWT) give the Muslims of this generation even greater knowledge for the benefit of humanity and the worship of Almighty Allah (SWT), aameen.