Geography and Islam

Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography. In fact, the Muslims’ great concern for geography originated with their religion. The Qur’an encourages people to travel throughout the earth to see God’s signs and patterns everywhere. Islam also requires each Muslim to have at least enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of the Qiblah (the position of the Ka’bah in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day. Muslims were also used to taking long journeys to conduct trade as well as to make the Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, renowned for their written accounts of their extensive explorations. In 1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a world map with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to produce accurate maps in color. It was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good Hope, and Da Gama and Columbus had Muslim navigators on board their ships.

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