1902 Encyclopedia > Mohammedanism (Islam) > History and Geography in the Muslim World

(Part 12)


History and Geography in the Muslim World

In history and geography the Moslems distinguished themselves. The taste for history had been developed among them by the necessity of collecting all traditions relating to the Prophet, and by that of preserving their own genealogies. The study of geography was a result of their conquests. One of their most ancient historical productions was the biography of Mohammed, composed by Mohammed b. Ishak under the caliphate of Mansur. Wakidi, another author of the 8th century of our era, compiled a history of the first Moslem conquests. At a later period, Baladhori wrote on the same subject his Kitab Fotuh at al-Boldan. General history also soon became a subject of study, and, in 9th century after Cchirst, Ibn Kotaiba compiled his Kitab al-Ma-arif, a treatise on universal history. In the 10th century tow great historians flourished, Tabari and Mas’udi, by the first of whom we have a very extensive chronicle, and by the second a general history, entitled Moruj al-Dhahab (see Mas’udi). After them came a perfect galaxy of well-known historians and biographers, such as Hamza of Isfahan, Ibn al-Yiktaka, Nowairi, Makrizi, Abu ‘l-Fida, Abu’l-Faraj-, Al-Makin, Ibn al-Athir, Soyuti, and Ibn Khaldun, not to speak of many others who compiled local chronicles and histories, such as those of Mecca, Medina, Damascus and Baghdad. As biographers, Nawari and Ibn Khallikan are celebrated. The history of physicians and philosophers, by Ibn side with the history of religions and sects of Shahrastani.

The Moslems were not less active in the study of geography. In the 9th century, Ya’kubi wrote his Kitab al-Boldan, or Book of Countries, in which he described the principal cities of the Moslem empire. After him, Ibn Khordadhbeh composed his Kitab al-Masalik wal-Mamalik, or Book of Roads and Provinces, in which his principal object is to point out the different routes, and to give an account of the revenues derived from every province. His contemporary Kodama soon after published his treatise on the work of clerks, in which, after a notice of the various government offices, he gives a description of the provinces of the empire with an account of the post-routes, their stages and distances, and of the revenues of each province. Ahmed b. Abi Ya’kub al-Ya’kubi wrote a description of Asia Minor and Ifrikiya. Several of the writings of the historian Mas;udi also affords highly valuable information on geography. To Yakut we owe a great geographical dictionary under the title of Mo’jam al-Boldan. Lastly, Istakhri, Ibn Haukal, Mokaddasi, Beruni, Bakri, Zamakhshari, Edrisi, and Abu ‘l-Fida have left us important treatises, narrative of travels, and geographical dictionaries. Among the literature of voyages and travels we must also mention the curious Chain of Histories associated with the name of the merchant Solaiman and the narratives of Nasiri Khosru, of Ibn Jobair, and Ibn batuta( q.v)

The sciences connected with geography, such as astronomy and cosmography, were also cultivated by the Moslems. As early as the reign of Mansure, the Sanscrit treatise on astronomy entitled Siddahanta had been translated into Arabic. Under Ma’mum, two observatories were founded, one at Baghdad, the other at Damascus, and two degrees of the terrestrial meridian were measured by order of that Caliph. Al-Kharizmi, librarian ot Ma’mum composed his Rasm al-Ard, or configuration of the earth, in which the name of every place was accompanied by its attitude and longitude. Astronomical tables were drawn up by Yahya, Habash, Abu Ma’shar (Abumazar), and Al-Battani (Albategni). Treatises on astronomy were composed by Al-Farghani and Al-Kindi. Al-Battani, of whom we have just spoken, was the author of important works on the obliquity of the ecliptic and on the precession of the equinoxes. We may mention in the last place the curious writings of Dimashki and Kazwini on general cosmography, embracing several physical sciences.

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