, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 393–400 | Cite as

Muslim contributions to geography until the end of the 12th century AD

  • Al-Monaes Walled A. 


In the preceeding pages the story of the many-sided aspects of the Muslim contribution to geography has been related. It was a part and parcel of that new expression of an intellectual renaissance which characterized the rise of Islamic civilization. Throughout the century we come across an array of rationalist thinkers and scientists who not only resurrected the classical age but also laid the foundations of experimental science.

From the beginning of the seventh century, when the Messenger of Allah, Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) began to spread Islam, the knowledge of geography was growing equally with it. They mostly knew all of Europe except the N parts, the whole S half of Asia, Africa until latitude 10° N, and the African seashore. They also gave us a very elaborate description for the areas beginning from Spain in the W until Turkestan and the Sind river to the E. They describe everything like the inhabited areas, the agricultural land, and the deserts. They also talk about the social system, culture, and customs of these areas. Their knowledge in general became greater than that of the Greek. They describe many areas which the Greek did not reach, like, for example, Korea and Japan; (Hemedah 1969) says that Japan was found in a map made by a Turkish Muslim in Baghdad in the eleventh century.

If we want to classify the development of geographical knowledge of Muslims, we can say that: 1. The stage before the nineth century was full of groundless information mostly gathered by poets and fancy stories like, for example, Al Gahedh's writings. The reason for this was that the situation of Islam was unstable during the years of its proliferation at that time. 2. The stage of the nineth century. It was the era in which Muslims began to look at the Greek's and other culture' knowledge. The era can be considered as the era of constructing a basic ground of science to begin with. 3. In the stage of the tenth century Muslim geography really flourished. Many new traditions appear, like the books about countries, routes, mathematical and astronomical geography. Muslims at this stage wrote many books which taught many different topics. 4. The stage of the eleventh and twelfth century, when Muslims began to write Gazetters of Geography, like Yacut Gazetteer for example. 5. In the thirteenth century geographers were repeating what was written by the geographers of the previous centuries.

Muslim geography, in addition to what we have mentioned before, had many defects or disadvantages; for example. 1. Although Muslim geographers have corrected many theories and added new information they followed the old saying by the Greek about the inhabitable area of the earth; for example, they believe that the inhabitable area of the earth lay on the N hemisphers which was called the inhabitable quarter. 2. They also followed the Greek in their ideas about the impossibility of life in the areas of intensive heat. 3. They also adopted the idea which divides the earth into seven regions from south to north (Klima). Ibn Khaldun, for example, although he was the latest of Muslims who contributed to geography he applied these ideas in his writings.

Although these contradictions by the Muslims tended to impoverish their contribution to geographical knowledge, we must remember that discoveries made by Islamic people helped to further knowledge of many new areas. The fact that the close relationship between religion and knowledge functioned centrally in new discoveries suggests that the Islamic growth of knowledge differs vastly from the Western situation. Unlike the West, when Islam was at its height, knowledge rose; when Muslims faltered in their worship, however, knowledge declined. At bottom, then from the 13th century until now, Muslims have constantly attempted to return to that early ideal relationship between religion and knowledge; and when they do, Islamic culture will once again command new great discoveries.


Kuwait Muslim World Islamic World Famous Book Geographical Knowledge 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Al-Monaes Walled A. 
    • 1
  1. 1.Geography DepartmentKuwait UniversitySulfatKuwait

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