Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi

February 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com

Idrisi

Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi  was born in Andalusian city of Ceuta,  in 1099 C.E. He was the descendant of Idrisid the ruler of Morocco who were said to be the direct descendant of Hazrat Hasan (ra) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (s). Al-Idrisi received his  education in Cordoba.  He traveled to many distant places, including Europe, Africa and Asia to gather geographical data and plant samples. After  traveling a few years he gathered enough information and accurate measurements of the earth’s surface to complete a rough world map. His fame and competence eventually led to the attention of Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, who invited him to produce an up-to-date world map.  He left Andalusia and moved to Sicily and worked in the court of the Norman king till he died in the year 1166 CE.

Mohammad al-Idrisi was a great geographer, cartographer, botanist, traveler and poet. In the West he is best known as a geographer, who made a globe using a silver sphere for King Roger of Sicily.

Al Idrisi’s contribution to geography was tremendous.  His book; ‘Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq,’(The Delight of Him Who Desires to Journey Through the Climates) also known as Roger’s Book, is a geographical encyclopedia which contains detailed maps and information on European countries, Africa and Asia. Al-Idrisi completed his encyclopedia in a very unique way.  In addition to his personal travel and scholarship, he  selected some intelligent men who were dispatched to distant lands  accompanied by draftsmen. When these men returned, al-Idrisi inserted the information in his treatise.  On the basis of these observations made in the field, and from data derived from  earlier Arabic and Greek geographers,  he brought the data up to date. The book and associated maps took 15 years to complete.  It is unquestionably among the most interesting monuments of Arabian geography. In addition, the book is the most voluminous and detailed geographical work written about 12th century Europe.

Al-Idrisi compiled a more comprehensive encyclopedia, entitled ‘Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs’ (Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls). Al-Idrisi’s knowledge of the Niger above Timbuktu, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy. For three centuries, geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes form which the river Nile starts its journey, as mentioned in his work, does not differ greatly from the modern map.

Al-Idrisi built a large global map made of silver weighing approximately 400 kilograms. He meticulously recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains. It is known to have been a colossal work of geography, probably the most accurate map of Europe, north Africa and western Asia created during the Middle Ages. The presentation of the Earth as a round globe was revolutionary idea in the Christian world because they believed that the earth was flat. Al-Idrisi knew that the earth was round, and he even calculated the circumference of the earth to be 22,900 miles, a difference of eight percent from the present value, and explained the revolutionary idea about earth like this;  “The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium  on the surface of the earth, the air which suffers no variation. It remained stable in space like the yolk in an egg. Air surrounds it on all sides.

Al-Idrisi’s book, Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq, represents a serious attempt to combine descriptive and astronomical geography. This book was not as grand as his other books, apparently because some truths of geography were still veiled from the author, nevertheless it is also considered a major geographic monument.

He also made the world map on a great disk almost 80 inches in diameter and weighing over 300 pounds–fabricated out of silver, which was chosen for its malleability and permanence.

Al-Idrisi’s other major contribution was his work on medicinal plants, which he discussed in several books, especially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. (Simple Book of Medicinal Plants) He studied and reviewed all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and came to the conclusion that very little original material had been added to this branch of knowledge since the early Greek work. He started collecting  medicinal  plants wherever he he traveled. Thus, he is credited for having added a large number of new medicinal plants, together with their evaluation to the medical science. He has given the names of the herbs in many languages like Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin, Berber and Arabic.

Al-Idrisi was a traveler who wrote about what he saw–some historians compare him to Marco Polo–but al-Idrisi’s work was much more scientific, and generally more objective, than Polo’s work. While al-Idrisi’s books have survived in their original manuscript form, whereas Marco Polo’s writings exist primarily as later transcriptions which were often altered.

Al-Idrisi, no doubt, was a great geographer and traveler who produced original work in the field of geography and botany. Some historians regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Middle Ages. His books were translated into Latin and became the standard books on geography for centuries, both in the east and west.

11-9

Burning of Sanctuary Stokes Fears of Spain Islamophobia

April 24, 2006 by · 1 Comment 

By Giles Tremlett

An arson attack over the Easter weekend on a Muslim sanctuary in the Spanish city of Ceuta marked another step in what some experts fear is a growing incidence of Islamophobia in the country.
Ceuta lies on a small peninsula in North Africa and a third of the population is Muslim. The burning of the Sidi Bel Abbas sanctuary comes just three months after another sanctuary in the enclave was attacked by arsonists.
Authorities in the city said that they were considering putting security cameras around mosques, shrines and buildings belonging to other religions in order to dissuade potential attackers.
The news came amid reports of a growing number of attacks across Spain.
El Pais newspaper listed a number of mosques and other Muslim targets that have been ransacked, burned or had copies of the Qur’an set alight by intruders.
Police said that extreme rightwingers and skinhead groups were responsible for almost all the attacks.
“They want Spain to have the same sort of violent reaction that the Netherlands had after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh,” one police expert told El PaÌs. “Little by little they are creating an atmosphere for this to grow.”
Spain’s 800,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from neighbouring Morocco, have some 600 mosques around the country.
Spain’s imams, however, prefer not to publicise attacks in order to avoid copycat incidents and angry reactions from within their own community. “We try to avoid confrontation,” Moneir Mahmoud, who runs the main mosque in Madrid, explained.
Protests against the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in the European press were kept within the walls of Spanish mosques in order to not to provoke counter-reactions.
At least four towns in the eastern region of Catalonia, however, have seen attacks on mosques and Muslim butchers, some with Molotov cocktails.
In the eastern town of Reus, police detained two car-loads of skinheads armed with Molotov cocktails as they headed towards the local mosque.
The train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid two years ago and growing Islamophobia since the September 11 attacks were largely to blame.
“We never had things like this happen before,” Imad Alnaddar, who is in charge of the main mosque in Valencia, told El Pais.

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