Arabia being a barren peninsula, its inhabitants had always to depend on
foreign supplies for the necessities of life, hence they had to undertake
trips to distant countries like Egypt, Abbysinia, Syria, Persia and Iraq.
It was an Arab caravan which brought Hazrat Yusuf (Prophet Joseph) to Egypt.
Moreover, the fertile areas in Arabia including Yemen, Yamama, Oman, Bahrein
and Hadari-Maut were situated on the coast, and the Arabs being sea-faring
people took sea routes in order to reach these places and fulfilling their
The birth of Islam opened a new vista for their enterprises and the vast
conquests of the Arabs during the early decade of Islamic history served
as a fresh stimulus to their adventurous spirits. The stories of the famous
Arabian Nights including the one about Sindbad the Sailor, give a glimpse
of the adventures of those fearless Arabs. It provides a slightly coloured
account of the great voyages undertaken by Arab mariners as early as the
Ist century A.H., and who, undaunted by the perils enroute, roamed about
in stormy seas reaching such distant lands as Ceylon, Zanzibar, Maldives,
Malaya, Java and Sumatra.
The Haj or the holy pilgrimage to Makkah was another factor which added to
their geographical and commercial knowledge by providing social contacts
among the Muslims of various countries visiting Makkah every year. This
pilgrimage provided not only the means for promoting religious unity but
also contributed to strengthening the commercial ties among Muslim countries
and led to the exchange of views and news among people of far-flung countries.
In fact the Haj, which created an opportunity for a great international
assembly each year has paved the way for Muslim commercial and geographical
The invention of mariner's compass opened vast oceans for their enterprising
voyages. Most European writers have credited the Chinese with inventing
the mariner's compass, but according to the famous orientalist George Sarton,
the Arabs were the first to make practical use of it, a fact which has been
admitted by the Chinese themselves. Another celebrated orientalist, Philip
K. Hitti, has endorsed the view expressed by George Sarton. "According
to a statement of Sir R. F. Burton, it even seems that Ibn Majid was venerated
in the past century on the African coast as the inventor of the compass".l
Any way, the practical use of the compass has immensely contributed to the
undertaking of distant voyages by Arab sailors, who had hitherto been confined
to coastal trips. They now came out into the open ocean and roamed about
in the Atlantic as well as in the Pacific, circled the African continent
and touched even the shores of the New World. The frail boats were replaced
by larger sailing ships and Arabs with the help of compass and other marine
instruments braved the stormv seas.
The golden period of Muslim geography, travels and explorations runs from
the 9th to the 14th century A.D., in which a vast amount of travel and geographical
literature was produced in the world of Islam, which ultimately paved the
way for later explorations and discoveries by the Christian West. Writing
in the Legacy of Islam J. H. Kramers says, "Europe ought to look upon them
(Muslims) as its cultural ancestors in the domain of geographical knowledge
of discovery and of world trade. The influence which Islam has exercised
on our modern civilization in the spheres of action can be seen in the many
terms of Arabic origin which are to be found in the vocabulary of trade and
navigation. The measure of influence can only be proved by studying the
historical development of the domain over which our actual geographical knowledge
The works of Greek writers specially the Almagest, written by Ptolemy provided
the starting ground for Arab geographers. Al-Khwarizmi, the eminent Arab
scientist, who flourished during the reign of the celebrated Mamun-ar-Rashid
incorporated some of the ideas of Almagest in his geographical treatise Kitab
Surat aL-arz. The book which has been preserved in Strassburg was edited
along with a Latin translation by Nallino.
The simple geographical descriptions of numerous countries including their
physical features, climatic conditions and the life of the people formed
the subject matter of treatises compiled by early Muslim geographers. Ibn
Khurdabaih wrote Kitabal-Masaalikwal-Mamaalik; Al-Yaqubi compiled Kitab
al-Buldan; Ibn al-Faqih also wrote Kitnb al-Buldan and Ibn Rusta named
his work Kifab al-A'laq al-Nqfisa. These books contained simple facts about
the countries in order to satisfy the practical necessities of travellers
visiting such countries.
The foremost writer of such geographical treatises during this period was
Abu Zaid Al-Balkhi who was an eminent scholar at the court of the ruler of
Khorasan. He has the distinction of being the author of as many as 43 books
including his Suwarul-Aqaalim a geographical work of considerable value which
is not available at present. The book guided later writers on the subject.
Abu Yahya Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-qazwini (1203-83 A.D.) who wrote a book
entitled Ajaib-ulMakhluqat wal-Gharaib-ul-Maujudat which is a very systematic
cosmographical work, and which, according to M. Streck,'must be deemed as
a work of fundamental importance and is quite the most valuable book that
the Arab middle ages have given us in the field'. Al-Qazwini has dealt with
the description of the earth together with its seven climatic regions in
his other geographical treatise A tizav-ul-Bilad- wa-dkhbar-ulIbad. The
book also contains the climatic regions, physical features, life and history
of the people of the countries dealt with. The voluminous geographical work
written by the Spanish author Al-Bakri (C. 1067), contained most elaborate
information on ports and coasts.
Another geographer of repute is Hamdullah Mastaufi, the author of Nuzhat-ul-Qulub
which deals with natural history, anthropology and geography. It has helped
Mr. G. L. Stange in writing his book entitled Lands of Eastern CaLiphate.
Explorers, Travellers and Writers
Abul Qasim Ibn Hauqal is the first traveller worth mentioning who, starting
from Baghdad in 943, A.D. made an extensive tour of the Islamic countries
and on his return incorporated his experiences in his geographical treatise,
Kitab al-Masaalik-wal Mamaa.
Another more famous traveller of the period is Shamsuddin Abu Abdullah al-Moqaddasi.
Excepting Spain and Sind, Moqaddasi too toured the length and breadth of
the Islamic world. He has put down his travel experiences in his celebrated
geographical work Ahsan-al-Taqasim fi Marifat al-AqaEim a rare book of its
type. A. Sprenger has acclaimed him as the greatest geographer of all ages.
The Asiatic Society of Bengal published the English translation of his famous
work in 4 volumes between 1897 and 1910 A.D.
Abul Hasan Ali Ibn al-Husain al-Masudi is one of the great versatile figures
of the Islamic world.
He is a well-known writer and explorer of the East. He was still quite young
when he travelled through Persia and stayed in Istakhar for about a year
in 915 A.D. Starting from Baghdad, he went to India, visiting Multan and
Mansura, returned to Persia and after touring Kerman again went to India.
Travelling through Cambay, Deccan and Ceylon he along with some merchants
sailed to Indo-China and China. On his return trip he visited Madagascar,
Zanzibar, Oman and he reached Basrah where he settled afterwards and wrote
his great work, Muruj-al-Dhahab (Golden meadows) in which he relates his
rich experiences in a cheerful manner which amuses the reader. Masudi also
visited the southern shore of the Caspian sea and travelled through Central
Asia and Turkistan. Retiring to Fustat (old Cairo) he wrote his voluminous
work Mirat-uz-zaman (Mirror of the Times) comprising 30 volumes in which
he elaborately described the geography, history and life of the people of
the countries he had visited. He toured Gujrat in 303 A.H. According to
him, Chemur, a port of Gujrat was inhabited by more than 10 thousand Arabs
and their descendants.
Among the great mariners of the 1Oth and 11th centuries A.D., Sulaiman al-Mahiri
and Shahabuddin Ibn Majid occupy outstanding positions. They not only roamed
about in the Indian, Pacific and atlantic oceans, but also toiled around
the African continent and probably even touched the shores of the New World.
Sulaiman reached as far as the Behring Strait and has penned his valuable
experiences in a number of books, of which Al-Umdat aE-Mahriya Ji Zabt-iEUlum-il-Bahriya
is well -known. The other mariner Ibn Majid was considered among the four
sea lions of his time. Allama Syed Sulaiman Nadvi in his book entitled The
Navigation of Arabs has enumerated fifteen books written by Ibn Majid on
Navigation. According to a western critic, Ibn Majid is one of the earliest
writers of nautical guides and his elaborate geographical account of the
Red Sea could not be surpassed even up to the present day.
Ibn Faldan was a traveller of the 1Oth century A.D.,who led an embassy sent
by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir Billah in 921 A.D. to the Bulgarian Monarch,
and incorporated his experiences in Risalah which is one of the earliest
regional accounts about Russia. During the eleventh century A.D., Abu Rehan
Beruni, the celebrated thinker of Islam visited India, stayed there for a
number of years, learnt the Sanskrit language and described the geography
and the life of India in his memorable work Kitab-al-Hiplcl. Regional geographics
were also written during this period. Famous among them were the description
of the Arabian peninsula by Al-Hamdani and of India by Al-Beruni. The works
of travellers like Ibn Jubayr, Al-Mazini and Ibn Batuta are store-houses
of geographical knowledge. Al-Mazini (1080--1170 A.D.) who visited Russia
The most brilliant writer of the period is Al-Idrisi (2101--54 A.D.) who
was employed at the court of the Christian king of Sicily. His book Nuzhat-ul-Mushtag
contained 70 maps. In the second abridged edition of Idrisi's book one comes
across eight instead of seven climates which were to be found south of the
equator. The world map drawn by Idrisi is of the traditional round type
and the first translation of his book was published in Rome in 1619 A.D.
Yaqut-al-Hamavi (1179--1229A.D.) compiled a big geographical dictionary named
Mujam-al-Buldan which contains all geographical names in alphabetical order.
It was published in 6 volumes in Leipzig (Germany) between 1666--73 A.
D. Writing in the 'Introduction to the History of Science; George Sarton
remarks, "The Mujam al Buldan is one of the most important works of Arabic
literature. It is a store house of information not simply on geography,
but also on history, ethnography and natural history. It is preceded by
an introduction dealing with mathematical, physical and political geography,
the size of the earth, seven climates, etc."'
The Spanish traveller, Ibn Jubayr visited Makkah and Iraq in 1192 A. D.
He wrote his well-known book of Travels entitled Rihlat-ul-Kinani which
is a unique book of its type in Arabic literature.
Abu Abdulla Muhammad (1304--78 A.D.), better known as Ibn Batuta was the
greatest Musiim traveller. Born in Tanglers, he started his travels at the
age of 20, and returned home at the age of 51. During these 31 years he
covered about 75,000 miles which is equal to three trips round the globe.
No explorer or traveller during mediaeval times had traversed so many miles
during a lifetime. Starting from Tanglers he toured Egypt,Abbysinia, Northern
and Eastern Africa including Mombassa. He crossed the great Sahara (Desert)
and reached Timbuktoo. He describes an oasis in the Sahara (Desert) where
people constructed houses of rock-salt roofed with camel skins. In Europe
he visited Spain, the Eastern Roman Empire and Southern Russia and sailed
in the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. There hardly was a Muslim country
in Asia, which Ibn Batuta had not seen. He made many tours of the Arab countries
and performed Haj (Holy pilgrimage to Makkah) four times. In addition he
travelled in Persia, Turkistan, Afghanistan, India, Maldives, Ceylon, East
India, Indo-China and China. According to him Aden was a great commercial
centre in those days and had a good system of water-supply. He travelled
as far North as Bolghar (54 degrees N) in Siberia, in order to see the shortness
of summer nights and desired to travel into the land of darkness (extreme
North of Russia), but abandoned his visit due to certain reasons. He stayed
for eight years in India, as the State Qazi of Muhammad Tughlaq in Delhi,
but had to flee to Deccan in order to save himself from the indignation of
the Emperor. He took part in the conquest of Goa and visited Mal dives where
he was made Qazi and married four wives. He relates iriteresting stories
about India. Hindus in those days drowned themselves in the sacred waters
of the Ganges in order to gain Baikunth (Paradise). On his first sight of
Sati he was so overwhelmed with emotion that he almost fell off his horse.
He met a very old man in the Hindukush mountains, who was said to be 358
years old and got a new set of teeth after every 180 years.
Explorations and Discoveries
Muslims may claim due share in the exploration of vast oceans and the discoveries
of far off lands. But the difficulty is that the achievements of Muslims
in this sphere of human activity are not generally known to the world. The
largest collection of literary and artistic treasures accumulated during
the five centuries of the Islamic rule, perished at the time of the fall
of Baghdad. The invaluable manuscripts were consumed to ashes by Hulagu
Khan and his Mongol hordes. The cream of Muslim civilization met a similar
fate in Spain, at the hands of Christian conquerors. Modern research has
now begun to lift the veil from the face of mediaeval ages and the achievements
of the Muslims now are revealed in all their glory.
"At a time when Europe firmly believed in the flatness of the Earth," says
Ameer Ali, "and was ready to burn any foolhardy person who thought otherwise,
the Arabs taught geography by globes". Their progress in mathematical geography
was no less remarkable. The works of Ibn Hauqal, Makrizi Istakhri, Masudi,
Beruni, Idrisi, Qazwini, Wardi and Abul Fida contain store of geographical
knowledge specially on this branch of science, called by them "Rasnul Ard".
Rotation of the Earth
The rotation and sphericity of the earth were discussed and proved by the
Muslim geographers of mediaeval times. The Kitab Kalimat-ul-Ain deals with
the rotation of the earthwhich causes day and night. Muslim astronomers
also proved that the earth is a sphere and has a shape like a peach. Globes
were commonly used in Arabic schools of mediaeval times which testifies to
the contention of the sphericity of earth advanced by Muslims. Geography
of the world was also taught with the help of globes in Moorish Spain.
Knowledge of Seas
Arab Mariners and explorers had a very wide knowledge of seas and oceans.
The greatest discovery of the Arabs was that the oceans are connected with
one another and form a compact oceanic world. The first sea route described
by Sulaiman al-h-Mahiri started from the Indian Ocean and passing through
the Pacific Ocean, Behring Sea, Arctic Ocean and Atlantic Oceans entered
the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar. The other route
was easier. Starting from the Indian Ocean and passing through the Abbysinian
Sea, Mozambique channel and encircling the Cape of Good Hope it entered'
the Atlantic Ocean. Passing through the Straits of Gibraltar it entered
the Mediterranean Sea This was the route used by Vasco De Gama in 1498 A.
D. This shows that the Arabs were the masters of the seas and possessed
maps of seas and oceans which they freely used in their voyages.
Ibn Khaldun has stated the length of the Red Sea, to be 1,400 miles, while
according to · current maps it is given as, 1,310 miles. This shows
that the speculations of Arab geographers Came-very close to modern research.
The Behring Sea and Strait was known to the Arabs. The route described by
Sulaiman al-Mahiri went from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean passing
through the Behring Strait. The celebrated explorer Al-Masudi has also mentioned
the Behring Sea in his works. Among the Arabs it was known as 'Warang' sea.
According to the Encyclopaedia of America the geography of equatorial Africa
and the issuing place of the river Nile was known to the Arabs for a very
Arab Pilot of Vasco De Gama
In 1498 A. D. Vasco De Gama discovered a new route to India by passing
through the Cape of Good Hope. Prince Henry of Portugal had established
his nautical academy at Cape St. Vicent under the guidance of Arab and Jewish
teachers which prepared the ground for the explorations of Vasco De Gama
It is now a well-known fact that an Arab had piloted his ship to India, Writing
in Legacy of Islam, J. H. Kramers says, "when Vasco De Gama, after his
circum-navigation of Africa in 11198, had reached Malindi on the East Coast
of Africa, it was an Arab pilot that showed him the way to India. According
to Portuguese sources, this pilot was in possession of a very good sea-map
and of other maritime instruments. Arabic sources of that time also knew
the story; they state that the Pilot, whom they knew under the name of
Ahmad Ibn Majid, could only be induced to show the way to the Portuguese
after having been made drunk". Reporting from Bares, a Portuguese who was
a member of the party of Vasco De Gama, writes in the Encyclopaedia of Islam:
"When Vasco De Gama reached Malindi a Moor (Arab Muslim) called on him.
Being much pleased in our company and with the idea of winning the favour
of the king of Malindi who was in search of a pilot for the Portuguese ship,
he (Arab Muslim) agreed to pilot our ship to India". According to the earned
author of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a local hand had piloted the ship
of Vasco De Gama to India. He is either shy of associating the name of a
Muslim with the much advertised exploration of Vasco De Gama or is ignorant
of such a vital fact which may hardly be expected from an author who has
undertaken such a gigantic work.
The discovery of-America
Modern research has proved beyond doubt that the Arabs discovered America.
Muslim Geographers and astronomers believed in the sphericity of the earth.
·The trigonometrical tables of Khwarizmi were translated by Adelard
of Bath, Gerard of Cremona and Roger Bacon. The famous book Image Mundi
published in 1410 A. D. incorporated the Ain (or Arim) theory from the
translations of Khwarizmi. It was from this book that Columbus learnt that
the earth was pear shaped and that there must be some elevated part on the
other side of the earth which he decided to discover. "Thus Islamic geographical
theory", observes J. H. Kramers, "may claim a share in the discovery of
the new world".
Modern research on the subject has gone a step further and has established
that the Arabs discovered America five centuries before Columbus. The following
important news was published in leading Indian newspapers including the Delhi
Express, dated 11th August 1952.
"A leading South African anthropologist says the Arabs, not Christopher Columbus.
discovered America. The Arabs scored a beat of nearly 500 years on Columbus,
according to Dr. Jeffreys, Senior lecturer of Social Anthropology at Witwatersand
University. Dr. Jeffreys based his claim on a discovery 18 months ago of
Negro Hamitic skulls in the Rio. Grande River."
The professor said, 'Puzzling things previously inexplicable suddenly made
sense and fitted a jigsaw puzzle' .
"Dr. Jeffreys thinks that by 1000 A. D. Arabs already commanded the Mediterranean,
were established on the west coast of Africa and had settled in America.
Columbus, too, found small colonies of Negroes in the Darian Isthumus who,
according to Dr. Jeffreys, were descendants of Arab slaves."
"He said the discovery of Hamitic skulls in caves in Bashama Islands and
African root crops in the Carribean lend credence to this theory."
The celebrated anthropologist of South Africa, Prof M. D. W. Jeffreys'
article has been published in various journals of the world in which he has
given weighty proofs that Arabs had discovered America and had settled in
Carribean islands long before the arrival of Columbus. He says, "There is
an old Portuguese tradition that when the Portuguese were exploring the coasts
of Guinea (West Africa) under King John ll, who died in 1495, these explorers
brought maize, an American plant from Guinea to Portugal.... As maize must
have reached Guinea from America to introduce it to Portugal before Columbus
sailed from Spain, it is clear someone must have brought it from the Americas,
and I claim it were the Arabs who did so".
In the same way banana was carried by Arabs to Carribean islands and American
mainland. Peter Nartyr, a friend of Columbus, published his first Decade
before 1504 A.D. In it he describes the banana as it appeared in the West
Indies when the Spaniards arrived. He writes: "it (banana) was brought
from a part of Ethiopia called Guinea, where it grows wild, as in its native
country."It were the Arabs who introduced the banana to Guinea (West Africa)
and therefrom carried it to Carribean islands and American mainland. Reynold
writes: "The Arabs were instrumental in distributing the banana across equatorial
Africa, so that it was well-established on the Guinea coast when the Portuguese
first explored there in the years 1469-1474 A.D."1
Moreover the Atlantic islands were known long before the discovery of Columbus.
The Arabic names of these islands in the geography published by a Franciscan
Friar in 1350 A.D. prove that most of these were inhabited by Arabs and
their descendents, e.g., Lost Islands were named Kalidat, Teneriffe was named
Elburd. The word Brazil too has Arabic origin. Armando Cortesao, formerly
counsellor for the History of Science at UNESCO has published a book called
The Nautical Chart of 1424, in which he has named several islands which have
Arabic origin e.g., Antilia, Saya and Ymana.
The celebrated Geographer Idrisi had published his well-known geography Nuzhat-al-Mushtaq
about 1151 A.D. Idrisi in his geography gives a hint that the Arabs knew
the Americas. The western orientalist Glas, writing in 1764 A.D. of Idrisi,
whom he -calls the Nubian geographer admits: "Anyone who reads with attention
the first part of the Nubian Geographer's Third Climate will be strongly
inclined to believe that the Arabs had even some knowledge of America or
West India Islands”.
BACK TO TOP
The achievements of Muslims in the industrial field had not been less spectacular
than those in the political and intellectual spheres. The Muslims during
the Caliphate of Abbasids and Omayyads in Spain had developed their industries
to such a high degree of perfection that their finished products were viewed
with wonder at the imperial-courts of Europe. The watch presented by Harun-ar-Rashid
to Charlemagne, emperor of France was regarded as an object of wonder. Their
manufactured goods had captured the markets of the known world, and their
fabrics formed the favourite dresses of the ladies of the imperial houses
of Europe. But, the west has always taken pains to minimise the achievements
of Muslims, and John William Draper has rather gone out of the way in his
outspoken book The Intellectual Development of Europe when he says, "I have
to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has contrived
to put out of sight our scientific obligations to the Mohammedans. Surely,
they cannot be much longer hidden - The Arab has left his intellectual impress
over Europe, as, before long, Christendom will have to confess; he has indelibly
written it on the heavens, as anyone may see who reads the names of the stars
on a common celestial globe"
The genius of the Arabs, who formed the vanguard of human civilization during
mediaeval times, manufactured novel things and organised large-scale production
of commodities which were liberally supplied to different parts of the world.
Their enterprising merchants carried their finished products to the outermost
parts of the world. The merchant navy of Muslim Spain alone comprised 1,000
The. Abbasid Caliphate provided the most congenial atmosphere for the intellectual,
cultural and industrial developments of the Muslims. It was in this period
that the Arabs were given the fullest opportunity to display their talents
in-different walks of life. Harun and Mamun were the greatest patrons of
arts and sciences during mediaeval times. Mutasim is particularly known for
the interest he exhibited in the industrial enterprises of his empire. He
had many industrial- projects executed during his lifetime and a large number
of factories were established in Iraq. Manufactures of every kind were encouraged
and fostered. The glass and soap made in the factories of Basrah were famous
throughout the world. During the reign of Mutasim Billah, a large number
of factories sprang up round about Baghdad and in other important cities
of Iraq. The paper industry particularly received much impetus, and in important
paper factories, skilled workmen from Egypt were employed. Persia was noted
for her gold and embroidery work, which was carried on in all the big cities.
High class fabrics including satin brocade, silk and carpets were manufactured
in Islamic domains and were in great demand all over the world. Kufa was
famous for its silk and silk handkerchiefs known as kuffiyeh. Khuzistan
(ancient Susiana) produced superfine cloth. "The beautiful brocade of Tester",
says an eminent orientalist, "the rich carpets of Korkub and the silks and
satins of Sus were in request all over the world. The other provinces were
equally famous for their splendid manufactures. Susangrid contained a royal
factory for gold embroidery of damask, camel-hair fabrics and carpets. It
also produced embroidered curtains made of spun silk (kazz) for the sultan,
and raw silk, camel and goat hair materials. Here were manufactured splendid
cloaks of spun silk, considered superior to the striped woollen cloaks of
Shiraz. The wealthy cities of Khorasan were active in the production of
brocades carpets, rugs, hangings, coverings for cushions, and woollen fabrics
of all kinds. In short every city in the empire had its own particular manufacture
in metal, glass, wool, silk or linen. Syria was famous for its manufacture
of glass, and as early as the second century of the Hejra parti-coloured
and enamelled glass was produced" Jundeshapur was the seat of the first observatory
and the first college of natural sciences in the world. This college gave
an impetus to the development of industry and commerce. The chemical research
in this college led to the knowledge of sugar refining which was successfully
applied to sugar industry in Khuzistan and later on in Spain. Spain produced
high class sugar. The commodities exported during Abbasid Caliphate were
agricultural produce, glass, hardware, silk, textiles, perfumes of all kinds,
rose water, saffron, syrup, oil, etc.
The Muslim kingdom of Spain had become a very prosperous State due to the
extensive industries developed there and the large-scale production carried
on in the factories. Her revenues obtained through commercial duties, according
to a European author, exceeded the entire revenues of all the Christian states
of Europe taken tagether. "Spain under the Caliphate" according to - Philip
K. Hitti, "was one of the wealthiest and most thickly populated lands of
Europe".Cordova, the capital of the Moorish State had 13 thousand looms and
a flourishing leather industry. The art of tanning and embossing leather
had been developed to a high degree of perfection and from here it spread-to
Morocco, England and France as the terms 'Cordovan', 'Cordwainer' and 'Morocco'
indicate. The celebrated Spanish historian Maqarri has written that high
class woollen and silken fabrics were manufactured not only in Cordova, but
also in Malaya, Almeria and other towns. Almeria also produced glassware
and brasswork. Sericulture was much developed in Spain. According to Ibn
Khatib, Valencia was the home of pottery. Mining industry was fully developed.
Jaen and Algrava were famous for their mines of gold and silver, Cordova
for its iron and lead and Malaga for its rubies. According to Ibn Hauqal
'Toledo like Damascus was known throughout the- world for it’s swords?
"The art of inlaying steel and other metals" says a celebrated western orientalist
"with gold and silver and decorating them with flower patterns, which was
introduced from Damascus, flourished in several European and Spanish centres
and left a linguistic heritage in such words as 'damascene' 'damaskeen',
French 'darnasquiner' and Latin 'damschina'.
Muslim Spain was a leading State in textile industry. It produced high
class cotton, woollen and silken fabrics, which captured the European markets.
Cordova had 13,000 and Almeria 4,800 looms, "In the development of sumptuous
textile arts" writes Philip K. Hitti "which made Arabic speaking people
the leading fabric makers and silk mercersin the mediaeval world, the Arabs
of Spain had a share but in carpet making Spain offered no serious competition
to Eastern, specially Persian market" The word muslin has been derived from
the word 'mussolina' a cotton fabric supplied to Italy from al-Mausil, The
fine silken fabric supplied by Baghdad to Italy was called Baldacoo or Baldachin
and it was used in the decoration of big churches of Europe. Similarly during
the 13th and 14th centuries, A.D. Granada, the capital of the last Muslim
kindgom in Spain supplied European dress shops with grenadines. Muslim workmen
were mainly responsible in setting up textile industry in France and Italy.
The Moors had converted the barren lands of Spain into a garden and agriculture
was developed to a high degree. Agricultural industry also flourished in
Spain. Seville alone had several thousand oil factories. Besides the textiles
and agricultural industries, paper, Porcelain earthenware, iron, steel and
leather industries were carried on on an extensive scale. The tapestries
of Cordova, the woollen stuffs of Murcia, the silk of Granada, Almeria and
Seville, the steel and gold work of Toledo and the paper of Salibat were
sought all over the world. It was the Arabs who introduced the manufacture
of silk and cotton fabrics in Spain. They had specialised in the art of
dyeing and had invented black dyeing with indigo. The glazed tiles used
in the palaces of Alhambra and the fine vases still found there bear ample
testimony to their perfection in the manufacture of porcelain. The manufacture
of gun-powder,sugar, and paper were introduced into Spain by Muslims.
Among eastern Muslim countries, Persia was noted for its fabrics and carpets.
Even upto the present day, Persia has maintained an extensive carpet industry
and Persian carpets are considered to be the best in the world. The Persians
have proved themselves masters of decorative designs and colour applications
since time immemorial. Their fine arts including potteries, tiles and other
decorative things reached a high degree of excellence. Hunting and garden
seen were woven on Persian carpets and rugs.
During the reign of the great Mughals and even afterwards Muslims were the
pioneers in cottage industries. Even today almost all the cottage industries
in the Indo-Pak subcontinent are in Muslim hands. The muslin of Dacca, the
woollen rugs (shawl) of Kashmir, the silken fabrics of Benares, the embroidery
of Lucknow, the silver work of Bedar, the potteries of Multan, the furniture
of Bareiliy and the brassware of Moradabad are manufactured and maintained
by Muslim craftsman.
"In the ceramics, another art as ancient' as Egypt and Susa" says Caston
Migeon, "the reproduction of human form and of animals and plants as well
as geometric and epigraphic figures attained a beauty of decorative style
unsurpassed in any other Muslim art"Beautiful Kashani tiles with flowers
painted on them were a speciality of Persia which were in great demand all
over the world. "Among the Treasures of the Louvre", writes Philip K. -Hitti,
"the British Museum and the Arab Museum of Cairo are exquisite pieces from
Samarra and Al-Fustat including plates, cups, vases, ewers and lamps for
home and Masjid use, painted with brilliant radiantlustres and acquiring
through the ages metallic glazes of changing rainbow hue"."
Decorative articles of luxury were produced on a large scale in Persia, Iraq,
Spain and Egypt and they adorned the palaces of the nobles and rulers of
the world. A goblet of the palace of Fatimids was sold for 360 dinars.
Decorative writings were painted on glasses which were hung in palaces and
The jewellery industry also flourished during the time of the Abbasids.
Harun-ar-Rashid. had purchased a ruby for 40,000 dinars and Yahya Ibn Khalid
once offered 70,00,000 dirhams for a jewel box. Persia and Spain were the
great centres of fine arts industries. The Hispano Moresque school excelled
in metal work. One of such relies of the time of Hisham II (976--1009 A.D.)
is preserved on the high altar of the cathedral of Geroma in the form of
a wooden casket sheathed with silver gilt plating patterned in responsory
with scroll like foliation. According to a European writer in the application
of coloured glazes to earthenware, Muslims were from an early period past
masters. In Europe Valencia was the centre of ceramics and pottery industries.
The potteries of Muslim Spain were later imitated in the Nertherlands and
Italy. Glazed and coloured tiles were also produced in Spain and exported
to European countries. Exquisite pottery was made in Toledo, Cordova, Malaga
Textile industry flourished in almost all the Muslim countries. The fine
woollen, cotton and silken fabrics including rugs, tapestries, satin, brocade
(dibaj), sofa (sllffbt) and muslin manufactured in Muslim countries were
matchless and were exported to all parts of the civilized world. These fabrics
were in great demand in the Imperial palaces of the East and the West. Persian
carpets are still considered the best in the world. Writing in the Legacy
of Islam, J. H. Kramers says "But at the time of Islamic prosperity it
had made possible a development of industrial skill which brought the artistic
value of the products to an unequalled height....It is curious to note, too,
that the State robes of mediaeval German Emperors bore Arabic inscriptions"During
the Abbasid Caliphate carpets and textiles manufactured in Iraq and Persia
maintained a high standard of workmanship. A rug costing 13,00,00,000 dirhams,
set with jewels was made for the mother of al-Mutasim. A fabric called Tabi
was introduced by the Arabs into Spain, which had a good market in Italy
and other European countries. A number of factories were established in
Tawwaj, Fasa and other cities of Faris where fine textiles, brocades, carpets
and robes were manufactured. Tester and Susa, towns in Khuzistan had factories
for the embroidery of 'damask', a silken cloth originated in Damascus--which
was used to make curtains. Among the specialities of Khuzistan were woollen
fabrics made of goat and camel hair and spun silk cloaks. Shiraz, the
famous city of Persia was known throughout the East for its woollen cloaks
and brocades. Khorasan and Armenia manufactured tapestries, sofas, curtains
and cushion covers, while Bokhara was noted for its prayer rugs. Egypt also
produced high class fabrics including Dabigi and Tinnisi which had a high
reputation in the world markets.
A large number of finished products and other articles were exported from
Muslim countries. Even the small province of Tranxonia exported among other
things soap, carpets, copper lamps, felt-cloaks, fur, amber, honey, scissors,
swords, looms, tables, sofas, lamps, vases, earthenware and kitchen utensils.
The Syrian towns specially Sidon and Tyre were noted for their fine glass
and metal vessels which were sought all over the world and were used as articles
of utility and luxury. Ibn Batuta found Damascus as the centre of Mosaic
and Kashani industry, which were used for decorative purposes in the construction
of palatial buildings. The paper manufactured in Samarqand was considered
to be the best in the world. The first paper factory in Baghdad was established
by the end of 8th century A. D. Paper mills were founded in Egypt, Morocco
and Spain before the end of 12th century A. D. "From Muslim Spain" says
a European writer, "in the 12th and 13th centuries, the manufacture of paper
finally worked its way into Christian Europe". The Abbasid caliph al-Mustasim
Billah was a great patron of industries. The keen interest shown by him
led to the rapid industrialization of Iraq and other countries. He opened
big soap and glass factories in Baghdad, Samarra and other towns.
Mines were worked in almost all the Muslim countries. The rich mines of
Spain yielded iron, copper, lead, gold, silver and rubies. Transaxonian
mines yielded marble, mercury, rubies, asbestos and azurite. Karman had
big lead and silver mines. Pearls were obtained from Bahrein, carnelian
from Sana, turquoise from Neshapur, rubies from Badakhshan, iron from Mt.
Lebanon, kaolin and marble from Tabriz. Syria and Palestine had large sulphur
mines. Capable engineers and miners were employed in the iron mines of Khorasan
(Persia) and lead and silver mines of Karman (Persia). Georgian mines yielded
bitumen and naphtha. Thus the mineral resources of the Muslim countries
were fully tapped and worked. The countries noted for their mining industry
were Persia, Spain, Caucasia, Transaxonia and Palestine.
Arabs who were the greatest sailors and mariners of mediaeval times carried
on an extensive sea-borne trade between the East and the West. To meet this
increasing sea-borne commerce, ship-yards were built in all the important
ports of Muslim countries, which were called Darul Sanayeh, The ports of
Abla and Sirafin the Persian Gulf, Tunis on the North African Coast, Dania
in Spain, Sus in Morocco, Palermo and Messina in Muslim Sicily, Bari in Muslim
Italy and Acre in Syria had ship building factories. During the Omayyad
caliphate such a factory was founded in Ashbilia (Syria) and during the reign
of Abbasids a big ship building yard existed in Sus. The celebrated conqueror
Saladin had established a large ship building yard in Beirut to enable him
to meet the challenge of the crusaders. Egypt had several ship building
yards. The first of this kind was established in 54 A. H. in Egypt. The
Fatimid caliphs had ship building factories in Cairo, Alexandria and Diametta.
The skill of Muslim craftsmen has now been acknowledged by liberal European
writers. Writing in his well known work Intellectual Development of Europe
John William Draper says, "They (Arabs) also promoted many important branches
of industry improved the manufacture of textile, fabrics, earthenware, iron,
steel, the Toledo sword blades were everywhere prized for their temper.
The Arabs, on their expulsion from Spain, carried the manufacture of a kind
of leather, in which they were acknowledged to excel, to Morocco, from which
country the leather itself has now taken its name. They also introduced
inventions of a more ominous kind gunpowder and artillery. The canon they
used appeared to have been made of wrought iron. But perhaps they more than
compensated for these evil contrivances by the introduction of mariner's
R. Briffault says, "By and by the manufactures of the East were introduced
and imitated in the Christian Europe. Silk looms were established in Norman
Sicily. Venice copied with the aid of native craftsmen the glassware of
Antioch, Lyons the 'Damasks', Paris the 'Tapis Surrasins' and Rheims the
linen of Syria. The rich dyes of the East were brought to Bruges, where
they were used to prepare English wool for the market. The wares of Spain
and Majorica led to the establishment of Italian factories for the manufacture
of majolica. Sugar factories were transferred from Sicily to Italy and from
Spain to south France".
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The Muslims, who, during modern times are considered to be backward in commerce
and whose markets are mostly monopolised by foreigners, once commanded world
trade. Their ships and caravans loaded with all sorts of merchandise reached
the distant parts of the known world and their wealthy merchants were heartily
welcomed in the imperial courts and cities of Europe and Asia. The famous
Arabian Nights is full of stories of such commercial enterprises when Arab
merchants in quest of El Dorados' roamed about the eastern seas reaching
as far as the Behring Strait. Their ships even touched the shores of the
New World. The influence which Arabian commerce had on Europe has now begun
to be recognised by less partial research. "Europe owes much to its own
force and initiative" says J. H. I(ramers, "hut it has also largely profited
by the knowledge and the experience of those who were at one time the masters
of the world. Therefore Europe ought to look upon them as its cultural ancestors
in the domain of geographical knowledge, of discovery and of world trade.
The influence which Islam has exercised on our modern civilization in these
spheres of action can be seen in the many terms of Arabic origin which are
to be found in the vocabulary of trade and navigation".'
The Mediterranean Sea during mediaveal times had virtually been converted
into an Arabian lake. The Arab Navy and merchant shipping were the undisputed
masters of this important naval thoroughfare. The Mediterranean, which on
three sides was surrounded by Muslim countries as well as its important islands
like Sicily, Crete, Cyprus and the Baleric islands were governed by Muslim
rulers. They formed the main commercial thoroughfare of the west, through
which an active trade with the Christian countries of Europe was conducted.
Tunis and Alexandria, Cadiz and Barcelona were great ports of call which
handled the flourishing trades. Speaking about Moorish Spain, J. W. Draper
writes, "But in the days of their prosperity they maintained a merchant marine
of more than a thousand ships. They had factories and consuls on the Tanais.
With Constantinople alone they maintained a great trade it ramified from
the Black Sea and East Mediterranean into the interior of Asia it reached
the ports of India and China and extended along the African coast as far
as Madagascar". Islamic navigation had reached its zenith during the 9th
century A. D. when Arab traders carried on a flourishing trade with the
non-Islamic ports of South East Asia and Africa. Commercial navigation in
the Mediterranean was mainly confined to Muslim ports.
It was during the Caliphate of Faruq the Great, that the idea of connecting
the Mediterranean with the Red Sea was given some practical effect in order
to ensure quick transport of grain from Egypt to Hejaz. The Suez Canal which
was partially opened was closed till the 18th century by the Abbasid and
later caliphs, as there was a risk of western attack on the holy cities.
Tunis in the days of the glory of the Spanish caliphate had grown to be
the greatest commercial port on the African continent. Its safe waters anchored
a fleet of merchant ships which sailed from there to Spain, Rome, Sicily,
Alexandria and Syria. "A largely used word like douane" says a western writer,
"is a reminder of the time when regular commercial intercourse had developed
in different ports of the Mediterranean. It is well known that this intercourse
has also reacted largely on the commercial organisation of the western nations.
The treaties which they concluded with the Muhammadan rulers, and the institution
of consular representatives in eastern ports, have been important stages
in the development of the rules that now-a-days govern international trade"
The ports on the Indian ocean carried on a flourishing trade with Iraq on
the west and the East Indies and China on the east. It was the greatest
commercial thoroughfare between the Far East and the Islamic west during
the days of the Abbasids. The wealthy merchants of Baghdad, setting out
from Basrah, a great commercial port, went as far as China and brought silk
from China, spices and aromatics from India, coconuts, muscat nuts and tin
from Kala which were also exported to Europe by these merchants. The big
waterways of Iraq were made navigable upto Baghdad, the metropolis of the
Islamic empire. The merchants of Baghdad carried with them to the courts
of Indian and Chinese rulers textiles, potteries, perfumes and rugs made
in Islamic countries. African products including ivory and pepper were brought
to the ports of Aden and Jedda. Surat, Goa and Calicut were large ports
during Mughal times and handled an enormous trade between east and west.
The Chinese town of Khanfu now called Canton was frequently visited by Muslim
ships, and a Muslim colony was set up which became an emporium of trade with
China. The enterprising Muslim traders went as far as Korea and Japan.
They felt perfectly at home in those seas and dimes. A lively traffic was
kept up with Ceylonese and Malabar ports by Arab merchants. Saimur, an Arab
colony had sprung up near Bombay by the end of IOth century A.D. and Daibul
was an important port of Sind which had been conquered by the Arabs. The
East coast of Africa and Madagascar were also frequently visited by Arab
ships including the country of Sufala which was known for its gold. Zanzibar
and Mombasa were the great ports of this region which exported ivory, pepper
and other tropical fruits. It was here that the celebrated mariner Ibn Majid
had met Vasco de Gama in 1498.A. D. and had piloted his ship to India.
The communications on land were carried on through caravans, The caravans
were generally composed of horses and ponies and of camels in the desert.
The danger of bandits, obliged travellers to travel together thus forming
a caravan. "The peace and security with which caravans traversed the Empire";
says Ameer Ali, "the perfect safety of the roads, the cisterns, and tanks
and reservoirs, and rest-houses which existed everywhere along the routes
all aided in the rapid development of commerce and trade, arts and manufactures".
It was through the caravans that flourishing trade was carried on among
the cities of Islamic countries especially in Persia and Central Asia. During
mediaeval times, caravan traffic was the most common means of trading and
travelling between the different Islamic countries. There were important
overland routes one leading to India and China., the other to Central Asia
and Russia and the third to northern,eastern and central Africa. Over these
routes passed caravans loaded with rich merchandise.
The chief export of Eastern and Western Africa was gold. Al-AlIaqi, a big
commercial centre lying in the region of gold mines east of Aswan (Egypt)
was known since ancient Egyptian times for its trade in gold. The gold country
of Ghana situated in Western Africa in the basin of the river Niger also
carried on an active trade of gold. The Muslim merchants of Morocco and
North African countries crossed the great Sahara (desert) passing through
Awdaghosht oasis, situated north of Ghana. This perilous journey through
the largest desert of the world took several months, but the aspirers to
this African El Dorado were prepared to face all risks. The celebrated geographer
Ibn Hauqal gives a graphic account of the trade in these regions. He alleges
that "he saw in Awdaghosht an I.O.U. (the Arabic word is sakk from which
the modern word cheque has been derived) for an amount of 42,000 dinars,
addressed to a merchant in the town of Sijilmasa in southern Morocco" The
volume of trade handled here was greater in the 9th century A.D.
The Muslims who were the pioneers in the commercial field during mediaeval
times visited also the European countries as far as Scandinavia and Finland.
Muslim coins found in large numbers in northem Europe provide ample testimony
to this contention. According to the famous geographer AlMaqaddasi, the
merchants in this way purchased in Europe sables, miniver, ermines, furs,
wax, birch, birch bark, fur caps, fish-glue, castoreum, amber, honey, hazel-nuts,
falcons, swords, armour, maple wood and cattle. They supplied to European
countries all sorts of manufactured goods including textiles, paper, rugs
and pottery. Muslims had intimate commercial relation with the Christian
states of Constantinople, Bulgaria, Germany and southern Russia. Jewish
merchants, too,were very active in Islamic and Christian states. The Muslim
traders brought to Europe musk, aloes, camphor and cinnamon and their names
betray their oriental origin. The one overland route which connected central
Europe with Asia passed through the Khazar empire in south Russia and Central
Asia. Trebizond, an important commercial town on the border of the Byzantine
empire was an emporium for Islamic-Greek trade. Moorish Spain had commercial
relations with western Europe, and passing through the Pyrenees the fine
products of Muslim Spain had access to French and Swiss markets, as early
as the 8th century A.D. Mus!im merchants visited Italian towns and Constantinople,
but by the end of the 11lth century a really flourishing trade was carried
on with these countries, "The great riches of material culture, which the
Islamic world had gathered for nearly five centuries, were poured down upon
Europe. These riches consisted not only of Chinese, Indian and African products,
which the enterprising spirit of Islam had fetched from far distant lands;
they were in the first place represented by what the Muhammadan countries
themselves yielded of natural and industrial products".'
Muslim Spain, during the period of her glory maintained a flourishing trade
with neighbouring countries. The revenues of Abdur Rahman III derived mostly
from commercial taxes was about 6 million sterling, an amount which, according
to a European writer exceeded the entire revenue of all the sovereigns of
Christendom taken together. The Spanish ports of Malega, Carthegena, Barcelona
and Cadiz were vast commercial emporiums of export and import. They possessed
a merchant navy of more than a thousand ships and had commercial representatives
in the Danubian states. An active trade was carried on with Constantinople,
Rome and France. The Spanish merchants visited the ports of India, China,
Madagascar, East Africa and the cities of Central Asia. "In the midst of
the IOth century" says J. W. Draper, "when Europe was about the same condition
that Caffraria is now, enlightened Moors, like AbuI Cassem were writing treatises
on the principles of trade and commerce". The grain of barley was the smallest
weight they used, a practice which is still prevalent. For providing correct
data to the merchants and travellers, geographical registers, gazetteers
and itineraries were regularly published by government agencies. Seville,
the great river port in the fertile Andalusian province exported cotton,
olives, and oil. The exports of Malaga and Jaen Included saffron figs, marble
and sugar. An active trade was carried on with Baghdad, Damascus, Hejaz
and Alexandria. The Government of Spain had a regular postal service. According
to Philip K. Hitti, "Arab money was in use in the Christian kingdoms of
the north, which for nearly 400 years had no coinage other than Arabic or
The large amount of Arabic coins found in European countries including Scandinavia,
Finland, Russia, the British Isles, Baltic States and even as far as Iceland
bear testimony to the sphere of influence which Muslim commerce had achieved
in Europe. The coins belong to the period extending from the 7th to the
Ilth century A.D. when Islamic commercial and political advancement was at
its zenith. The large number of Arabic words still found in the trade dictionaries
of European languages, provide clear proof that those commodities were first
introduced into European countries by Muslims. 'Tariff' is nothing but the
Arabic word tariff meaning announcement. The words 'risk', 'tere' 'calibre'
and'magazine' are of Arabic origin. Magazine is derived from the Arabic
word Makhazin meaning stores. The 'cheque' has also an Arabic origin. The
conception of joint stock companies was an innovation of Muslim brains, brought
into practice by the partnership of Muslim and Latin Christian merchants.
"Finally, our commercial vocabulary itself has preserved" says J. H. Kramers,
"some very eloquent proofs of the fact that there wasa time when Islamic
trade and trade customs exercised a deep influence on the commercial development
in Christian countries".' The Arab opened up land and sea routes to India,
China, Mallaca and Timbuktoo.
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The scarcity of water has converted the barren Arabian peninsula into a vast
desert which has never yielded any substantial agricultural produce. Her
scattered population had always to fall back on foreign supply of foodgrains
to supplement the dates and the little corn grown in their own lands. Agriculture
in Arabia which has had the distinction of being the cradle of the great
prophets of the world has been very primitive and was confined to those tracts
where water was available in the form of springs. Taif, a hilly place is
known as the garden of Hejaz, where, besides grapes, apples, figs, pomegranates
and dates, wheat is also cultivated. Medina, with its springs and wells
is a green spot in a vast desert, and dates, wheat and barley are cultivated
The great Prophet of Islam had left behind him a group of selfless people,
whose sagacity and magnanimity, faith and unity, spirit of sacrifice and
service won for them laurels not only on the battle-fields but in almost
all branches of human activity. Agriculture was no exception and as early
as during the reign of the second Caliph of Islam Arabs had made considerable
progress in agriculture and had introduced many beneficial measures for its
advancement in their dominions including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Hejaz. Writing
about the Spanish Muslims in his outspoken book The Intellectual Development
of Europe John William Draper says, "Not only did they attend to the cultivation
of plants, introducing very many new ones, they likewise paid attention to
the breeding of the cattle specially the sheep and horse. To them we owe
the introduction of the great products, rice, sugar, cotton and also, as
we have previously observed, nearly all the fine garden and orchard fruits,
together with many less important plants, as spinach and saffron. To them
Spain owes the culture of silk. They introduced the Egyptian system of irrigation
by flood gates, wheels and pumps".'
It was during the reign of the second Caliph that the Arab conquest was extended
over Asia and Africa. Arabs were confronted with new problems which the
administration of such a vast empire had brought in its wake. They provided
a test for the Arab genius and the manner in which they grappled with different
problems including the exploitation of natural resources in their dominions
proved beyond doubt that they were matchless both in war and peace. Hazrat
Omar Faruq the Great, had fixed the rates of land revenue according to the
type of land. He charged four dirhams on one jarib of sown wheat, while
he charged 2 dirhams for a similar plot of barley. Nothing was charged for
pastures and uncultivated land. In this way he systematised revenues which
before his time were charged haphazardly. Different rules were framed regarding
the revenues of Egypt whose agricultural output depended on the floods of
the river Nile, According to reliable historical sources, the annual revenues
of Iraq amounted to 860 million dirhams, an amount which was never exceeded
after the death of the great Caliph though he was very lenient in his collection.
The main reason behind the easy realisation of revenue was that the people
had become very prosperous. He had introduced many farreaching reforms in
the field of agriculture, which we do not find even in most of the countries
of modern times. One of these was the abolition of landlords or zamindari
and the subsequent disappearance of the evils which were being wrought on
the poor tenants by the vested landed interests. When the Romans conquered
Syria and Egypt, they confiscated the land from the tillers of the soil and
allotted it to the nobles, churches and the members of the royal family,
and the armed forces. Hazrat Omar, upon conquest of these countries returned
the land to those local inhabitants who were the rightful owners. The just
and benevolent Caliph was exceptionally generous to the tillers of the soil
and he even issued strict orders that no other persons including Arab soldiers
who had spread all over these countries should be granted any piece of land
for cultivation purposes. Such steps taken by the second Caliph of Islam
restored confidence among the local inhabitants, gave a great impetus to
the advancement of agriculture in those countries and contributed to the
enormous increase in agricultural produce. The tenants became prosperous
and their standard of living was raised which led to the easy realisation
of land revenues by the custodians of the State. According to a French historian,
"The liberal policy followed by the Arabs in the fixation of revenues and
their land reforms have greatly contributed to their military conquests".
It was due to this generous policy of the second Caliph that the Christian
Qibtis of Egypt, who were farmers, always sided with Muslim Arabs in preference
to Roman Christians. The great Caliph was not contented with these reforms.
He worked out beneficial schemes for the advancement of agriculture and
constructed irrigation canals, wells and tanks in his vast dominions. He
established a public welfare department which looked after these construction
works and furthered various beneficial schemes. The famous historian Allama
Maqrizi says that more than one lac and twenty thousand labourers were employed
in such works throughout the year in Egypt alone. A number of canals were
constructed in Khuzistan and Ahwaz during this period.
The short period of the Caliphate Raashidah is considered the golden epoch
of Islamic rule in which Muslims made all-round progress. During the Omayyad
Caliphate many evils of aristocracy and autocracy had crept into its ranks.
The socialist and peoples' democracy of the Caliphate Raashidah had given
place to imperialism and autocracy. The original tenants were dislodged
from their lands and their properties were distributed among the privileged
classes. The State revenues inspite of all the repressive measures adopted
decreased considerably. Hazrat Omar bin Abdul Aziz tried to check this rot
and reintroduced the old reforms and returned the properties to their rightful
owners. He ordered his collectors not to charge any revenue for uncultivated
and pasture lands. He constructed a large number of irrigation wells and
tanks in his vast empire, and the tenants again became rich and there was
hardly any one to receive the alms.
The period of the Abbasid Caliphate is particularly noted for the Muslim
advancement in diverse branche of sciences and arts. Agriculture, too,
received great impetus under the Abbasids. A net work of canals existed
in Iraq which transformed that country into a veritable garden. The first
great canal constructed by an uncle of the Caliph Mansur was called Nahr
Isa (Isa canal) which, issuing from the Eupharater at Al-Anbar ran into the
Tigris west of Baghdad It was open to ships and one of its branches was the
Sarah canal. Another important canal was built by Caliph Mehdi in 'Wasit
district, which brought a large tract of land under cultivation. A third
transverse canal was Nahr Sarsar which joined the river Tigris above Madain.
The Dujayal canal which con nected the Tigris and Eupharates and had many
offshoots irrigated the regions north of Baghdad. It was silted up in the
IOth century A.D. A canal known as Nahr al-Malik (king canal) entered the
Tigris below Madain. Other important canals were Nahr Kutba and great Sarah
which flowing in the lower basir of the two rivers, had many branches and
irrigatec a vast tract of land. Promotion of agriculture ane horticulture
was carried on with zeal throughout the vast Abbasid empire. According to
an anrialist 'In those days Iraq and southern Persia presented the appearance
of a veritable garden, and, the whole country specially between Baghdad and
Kufa was covered with prosperous towns, flourishing villages and fine villas.
The staple crops of Iraq were barley, rice, wheat, dates, cotton, sesame
and flax. The production of fruit was pursued as a science and several new
fruits were introduced in varying climates. The plain south of Sawad was
noted for the growth of all sorts of temperate and tropical fruits. Ahwaz
and Pars were famous for sugar plantation and manufacture. The sugar manufactured
in these regions was supplied not only to Asiatic countries but also to Europe.
Sugar was also manufactured on the Syrian coast, from, whence the crusaders
learned the method and introduced it into Europe. Khorasan and Egypt were
also fertile countries yielding rich agricultural produce. According to
the Arab geographer Yaqut the land in the vicinity of Bukhara during Samanids'
rule (900 A.D.) looked like a garden. It contained the valley of Sughad
considered as one of the four earthly paradises. All kinds of fruits were
produced in these gardens. Water-melons were exported from Khwarizm to Baghdad,
in lead moulds perched with ice and were sold for 700 dirhams each.
In Spain, Arabs had established a great civilization and had developed agriculture
on an unprecedented scale. They had constructed water channels, applied
scientific manures and introduced new crops. The whole of Spain especially
Andalusia had been converted into a veritable garden. Hardly any country
of mediaeval times enjoyed greater agricultural prosperity than Muslim Spain.
Agriculture was carried on along scientific lines and combining industry,
skill and knowledge in its development made the most sterile tracts bloom
luxuriantly. It was the Spanish Arabs who introduced rice, sugar-cane, cotton,
ginger, saffron spinach and a great variety of fruits to that desolate peninsula
and developed them on a large scale. Fror Spain these crops were later gradually
introduced int various countries of Europe. In 1255 A.C., whe Feridnand
I, captured Seville, that province possesse several million olive trees and
had more than 100,00 mills for turning out olive oil. A renowned historia
writes about the achievements of the Arabs in Spain" They levelled the earth
by means of an instrument called the marhifal, and the science of irrigation
was carried to high perfection. The whole country was covered with aqueducts
and canals for the fertilization of the soil. The aqueducts of Carmona carried
water over a distance of several leagues".'
They carried on irrigation by flood gates, wheel and pumps. The Andalusian
plain of Spain was considered the garden of Europe and a centre of rura and
urban activities.Writing in his well-known book History of the Arcrbs, Philip
K. Hitti says "This agricultural development was one of the glories of Muslim
Spain and one of the Arabs lasting gift to the land, for Spanish gardens
have preserved to this day a 'Moorish' imprint. One of the best known
gardens is the Generalife (from Arabic--Jnnnet alarif i.e., the Inspectors'
Paradise), a Nasrid menument of the late 13th century whose villa was one
of the outlying buildings of the Alhambra. This garden, proverbial for its
extensive shades, falling waters and soft breeze (according to Ibn Khatib)
was terraced in the form of an amphitheatre and irrigated by streams which,
after forming numerous cascades, lost themselves among the flowers, shrubs
and trees represented today by a few gigantic cypresses and myrtles".'
The Indo-Pak sub-continent during the Muslim rule was one of the most fertile
agricultural areas of the world. The prices of grain and other edible commodities
during the reign of Alauddin Khilji and Shah Jahan quoted by chronicles of
these times were exceptionally low and hardly believeable. The Jamuna Gangetic
Doab was known throughout the world for its fertility and productivity.
During the Mughal period a number of canals were taken out from Jamuna which
irrigated the vast tracts of land round about Delhi and Agra. The villages
were self-sufficient and the high agricultural productivity enhanced the
prosperity'of the people.
The Muslims took much interest in the advancement of horticulture, which
was not confined to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables but also to
the planting of all sorts of flowers. Damascus, Shiraz and Jur were particularly
noted for their flower gardens, which led to the growth of perfume industry
in these regions. Firozabad in Faris was famous for its atar of roses.
According to Ibn Hauqal, the rose water of Jur was exported to such distant
countries as China. 'Faris' according to Thaalibi, 'included in its khiraj
30,000 bottles of the essences of roses. Sabur or Shahpur produced 10 world
famous varieties of perfumed oil.'
Muslims had a special aptitude for gardens. The garden of Generalife in
Granada (Spain) and the Shalimar gardens built by the Mughal emperors Jahangir
and Shah Jahan in Kashmir and Lahore respectively are considered to be the
best in the world. "Natural products" says J. H. Kramers, "which, by their
name, betray their original importation from Muhammadan countries, are fruits
like the orange, lemon, and apricot, vegetables such as spinach and artichokes,
further saffron and now the so important aniline".'
Arab botanists wrote several valuable treatises on plants and carried on
research on their cultivation, growth and natural properties. One of these
treatises was written by Ibn al-Awwam entitled Kitab-al-Filaha in which he
dealt with 585 plants and 50 kinds of fruit trees. According to George Sarton,
"It contains striking observations on the different kinds of soil and manure
and their respective properties, on various methods of graftingon sympathies
and antipathies between plants , etc. The symptoms of many diseases of trees
and vines are indicated, as are also methods Of cure".
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The call of the Holy Prophet of Islam to 'seek knowledge even unto the distant
China' awakened a love of knowledge among the nomadic Arabs, such as was
hitherto unknown to the world. Such memorable words uttered by the Holy
Prophet as 'The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr'
and 'He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks into the path of
God' had a salutary effect upon his followers and led to the growth of intense
educational activity throughout the length and breadth of the tast Islamic
domains. "Science and literature possessed no votaries" says Ameer Ali "But
the words of the Prophet gave a new impulse to the awakened energies of the
race. Even within his lifetime was formed the nucleus of an educational
institution, which in after years grew into universities at Baghdad and Salerno,
at Cairo and Cordova"
After the downfall of the Roman Empire chaos and intellectual stagnation
held sway over the civilised world. The masterpieces of Greek philosophy,
science and art lay buried under the dark vaults of the monasteries and might
have disappeared altogether from the world, but for the Arab revival and
patronage of ancient learning. "The Arabs" says Humboldt "were admirably
suited to act the part of mediators, and to influence the nations from the
Eupharates to Cuadalquivir and Mid-Africa. Their unexampled intellectual
activity marks a distinct epoch in the history of the world".'
The educational and intellectual activity during the lifetime of the Prophet
was started by the house of the Prophet itself. Hazrat Ali, who was brought
up and educated under the direct supervision of the Prophet, acquired a high
reputation in Islamic learning. He lectured on those branches of learning
most suited to the wants of the infant State. Hazrat Ali and his cousin
Hazrat Abdullah ibn Abbas rose to be the greatest intellectual figures of
their age. The latter delivered public lectures on poetry, grammar, history
System of Education
During the early decades of Islam Masjids formed the nerve centre of political,
religious and educational activities in Islam. Even during the present time,
Masjids house maktabs and important institutions of religious education throughout
the Islamic countries. Special quarters were attached to the Masjids and
shrines for the residence of teachers, students and travellers. This provision
continues even to this day in Syria, Persia and several other Muslim countries.
Madrassa Masjid was an innovation of Persia, whose big congregational Masjids
had separate portions assigned for the important institutions which imparted
education in all branches of learning.
The child's education at home began with Kalima and the teaching of prayers
and the Quran. The primary education was imparted in maktabs and Masjids,
which were confined to elementary religious and linguistic teaching. The
girls were allowed in the lower grades of the schools, but not in the higher
ones. Memory work was specially emphasised. The wealthy children employed
private tutors. The celebrated Caliph Harun-ar-Rashid gave these instructions
to the tutor of his son Ameen, which throws light on the system of aristocratic
education in those times: "Be not strict to the extent of stifliag his faculties
or lenient to the point of making him enjoy idleness and accustom himself
thereto. Straighten him as much as thou canst through kindness and gentleness,
but fail not to resort to force and severity should he not respond"
Adult education was not as systematic as it is today. The curriculum revolved
round religious education, which was the most important subject at this stage.
The Muslim religion, as is well-known is not theocratic, rather it is dynamic
and practical reflecting on diverse aspects of a robust practical life.
Masjids served as educational centres and made provisions for lectures on
Hadith and Quran. The wandering geographer Moqaddasi who visited the distant
Sus and travelled through Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Faris found in those
countries many circles and assemblies composed of faqih, legists, divines
and litterateurs who had selected the Masjids as the venue of their intellectual
and educational activities. The Imam al-Shafii presided at such a circle
(halqa) at the Masjid of Amar at alFustat till his death in 820 A.D. Ibn
Hauqal mentions similar assemblies in Sijistan. Not only religious but even
linguistic, philosophical and literary subjects were taught in such assemblies.
Such lectures in Masjids which continued upto the 11th century A.D. were
free for all Muslims.
University education in the real sense of the word started in the 11th century
A.D. with the opening of Nizamiyah universities of Neshapur and Baghdad.
The universities taught almost all sciences and arts, but mostly relied
on theoretical teaching. Inspite of lacking modern scientific laboratories,
these Islamic universities produced such eminent scientists as modern India
and Pakistan have not produced so far. The higher grade teachers were much
respected and granted a recognised certificate (Ijazat) to their pupils who
completed particular course of study.
There are several good points in Islamic education which have existed for
the last thirteen centuries. Islamic education was free, hence provided
equal opportunities to the rich and the poor to acquire the highest education
available in the Islamic universities of the world. Not only that, but students
were provided with free boarding, lodging and even with stationery, books
and pocket expenses.
The modem age in spite of its enormous resources cannot boast of such an
elaborate system of free education. A university education can only be attained
now-a-days, by wealthy students. It was because education was free, that
from the lowest strata of society have risen some of the brightest intellectual
luminaries of the Islamic world likeAl-Ghazali, Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani,
Al-Beruni, Al-Razi and Al-Farabi. Memory was much emphasised in study and
some of the renowned Muslim scholars and teachers possessed amazing memories.
In those days there were no diaries and memoranda and retentive faculties
were developed to a phenominal degree. Al-Ghazali, Ahmad Bin Hanbal and
the famous traditionalist Al-Bukhari memorised numberless traditions with
their chain of authorities (Isnad). The celebrated poet Mutanabbi, Tamman
and AI-Maarvi possessed wonderful memories and never found it necessary to
buy a book.
The use of the rod by teachers was common in oriental as well as in western
education during mediaeval times. The learned professors used to lecture
on different subjects and the pupils used to sit round them and take notes
of their lectures. This was the popular method of teaching in higher institutions.
The professors and teachers were much respected by their students and also
were held in great esteem in the highest society. Even the sons of the caliphs
and emperors paid great respects to their teachers. Once Mamun-ar-Rashid
was beaten by his teacher Yezidi. Jaafar Bermaki, the grand vizier of the
Abbasid Empire chanced to arrive there at that time and took Mamun with him.
The next day Yezidi asked Mamun, if he had complained about him to the Prime
Minister. Thereupon Mamun replied like a humble pupil, "No my respected
sir, how can I complain against my teacher. I would not even inform the
Caliph Harun with such matters rather than Jaafar."
The teachers and learned professors in the great Islamic institutions were
the incarnation of simple living and high thinking. They led an exemplary
life and bore high character. The students copied the pious lives of their
teachers. Though memory was much stressed and the practical side of the
sciences was neglected, yet the education imparted to the students was substantial
and creative. It really added to their knowledge and stands in great contrast
to the superficial education of modern times.
There were three kinds of institutions:--(l) Those established and supported
by the ruling class, (2) those founded by the wealthy class and supported
by donations and endowments and (3) those founded by private lecturers.
The finances of the institutions. specially of the higher ones were met
by the State. Exchequer, donations and endowments. The teachers,. who
were not highly paid, led a simple but respectable life. Their intellectual
pursuits did not give them time to think about and participate in worldly
pleasures, Donations poured into institutions which always kept their finances
sound and had enough funds to make arrangements for the free education, lodging
and boarding of a large number of students. In his treatise on pedagogy
Zarnuji has recorded this saying of Hazrat All: "I am the slave of him who
has taught me even one letter". Al-Zarnuji has written scores of Arabic
treatises on education.
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Educational Institutions in Hejaz
Makkah and Medina had been the most important intellectual and educational
centres in the Islamic world before the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate.
The famous Masjid of the Prophet at Medina was graced by the presence of
such intellectual giants, legists and divines as Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Abbas,
Hazrat Jaafar Sadiq, Imam Malik and Imam Hanbal. Even during the glories
of the Abbasid Caliphate, the celebrated Harun-ar-Rashid had sent his sons
Amin and Mamun to Medina to obtain education in religion, traditions and
language. The children of Fatimah believed in the pursuit of learning and
produced some of the most eminent scholars that Islam has known. From the
four corners of the vast Islamic world students flocked round Imam Jaafar
Sadiq and Imam Malik in Medina in order to be enlightened by their scholarly
The Omayyads paid little attention to the development of education and advancement
of learning. They were mostly occupied with the suppression of internal
conflicts, the consolidation of their great empire and the persecution of
the great sons of Islam. The eminent Muslim scholars specially those belonging
to the House of the Prophet preferred to lead a secluded life at Medina.
During the Omayyad rule, Medina, Kufa and Damascus were the greatest centres
of Islamic education, which was mostly given in Masjids by the celebrated
scholars. The short rule of Hazrat Omar Bin Abdul Aziz and the intellectual
pursuits of Khalid Bin Yazid provided the only real educational activities
during the Omayyad Caliphate.
The Abbasid Caliphate provided the most congenial atmosphere for the advancement
of learning and education. In fact, the reign of Mamun-ar-Rashid who has
deservedly been called the 'Augustus of Arabs' formed the culmination of
the intellectual achievements of the Muslims. He was followed by a brilliant
succession of Caliphs who continued his work.
The Darul Hukama (House of Wisdom) founded by Mamun in 830 A.D. at Baghdad
was the first institution of higher learning in the Islamic world. Besides
being a translation bureau, this institution functioned as an academy and
housed an up-to-date library as well as an observatory. The academy and
observatory run by the Darul Hukama, served as training and teaching centres
in various branches of sciences. "The glory of Muslim education was its
university system, which fed the higher learning. The academy of Mamun at
Baghdad and the Hall of Wisdom of Fatimids at Cairo were great institutions
and are explained by their environments".
Mamun-ar-Rashid who was a great patron of learning and education founded
important institutions in Baghdad, Rasrah, Kufa and Bukbara. According to
Maulana Shibli Nomani, Mamun had built a big college in Khorasan which employed
eminent scholars summoned from all parts of the empire. The Caliph Mutawakkil,
a nephew of Marnun kept up the traditions of his great uncle. In Egypt the
Fatimid Caliph, Al-Hakim, had founded in 995 A.D. at Cairo an institution
similar to the House of Wisdom of Mamun called the 'Hall of Wisdom or science',
which contained a library, an observatory, and a medical college. It also
had a big boarding house for students attached to it. Another Egyptian Caliph
Aziz Billah constructed big institutions and dwellings for teachers and students
who were also paid salaries.
Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi, the talented Prime Ninister of Malik Shah Saljuqi had
the distinction of being one of the greatest patrons and sponsors of higher
education in Islamic history and founded a chain of great institutions all
over his vast dominions. The rise of the Saljuqis and their grand munificence
towards scholarship and science rivalled that of the golden days of the Abbasid
rule. The grand vazier Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi had collected round him a galaxy
of talented scholars. He had founded Nizamiyah types of higher institutions
in Neshapur, Baghdad, Khorasan, Iraq and Syria. The first great institution
was the Nizamiyah University of Neshapur founded by Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi in
1066, which in fact, was the first University of the Islamic world. Imam-ul-Harmain,
the teacher of Al-Ghazali was the principal of Neshapur University, while
Ghazali was a student of this University. In a lecture hall in Neshapur
University, there were 500 ink-stands. According to Allama Khalikan, Nizam-ul-Mulk
Toosi was the first person in Islamic history to lay the foundation of a
regular educational institution. The State Exchequer was affected by the
great munificence of Nizam-ul-Mulk toward the advancement of education.
Malik Shah Saljuqi called his grand vazier Nizam-ul-Mulk and said "Dear Father--you
can organise a big army with so much money. What great achievements do you
expect from persons on whom you are showering your benevolence?" The wise
minister replied, "My dear son, I have grown old, but you are a young Turk.
If you are auctioned in the bazar, I doubt you will fetch more than 30 dinars.
In spite of this God has made you the monarch of such a vast empire. Should
you not be grateful to Him for the same? The arrows thrown by your archers
will not fly far more than thirty yards, but even the vast shield of the
sky cannot check the arrows of the prayers flung by the army which I have
undertaken to produce". Malik Shah was struck with the wise reply of his
talented vazier and cried out, "Excellent father--we must prepare such an
army without the least delay". The example set by Nizam-ul-Mulk led to the
opening of several high class institutions all over the Islamic world. The
wealthier class of people and the members of the ruling class vied with each
other in the building of educational institutions. During the sixth century
A.H., there was hardly any corner of the Islamic world which did not contain
such institutions. The big cities of Khorasan namely Merv, Neshapur, Herat
and Balkh as well as Isfahan particularly benefitted from the patronage of
Nizam-ul-Mulk and had a chain of Nizamiyah institutions of higher education.
Yaqut Hamvi found a large number of institutions including Mustafia, Amidia,
Khatunia and Nizamiyah besides several big libraries in Merv, when he visited
this city in the 6th century A.H. Nizam-ul-Mulk not only founded great institutions
all over his territories, but staffed them with the best talents of the age
which immensely enhanced their reputation. Among them was Hujjat-ul-lslam
Al-Ghazali, Principal of Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, Imam-ul-Hurmain,
Principal of Nizamiyah University of Neshapur, AsShashi at Herat and Abu
Ishaq Shirazi at Nizamiyah of Baghdad. Following the example of Nizam-ul-Mulk,
another Saljuqi minister Tajuddaulah founded a college called 'Tajiyya' and
other colleges too were opened at Samarqand, Balkh, Alleppo, Damascus and
Nizamiyah University of Baghdad
The greatest achievement of Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi in the educational sphere
was the establishment of the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad in 1065--67,
A.D. which stands as a landmark in the educational advancement of Muslims
during mediaeval times. Nizamiyah of Baghdad served as a model institution
in the world of Islam, and its great reputation and high standard of teaching
attracted students and scholars from all over the known world. The greatest
scholars of their age deemed it a great honour to be appointed a professor
at this world famous University. "The Saljuqs, like the Buwayhids and other
non-Arab sultans", says Hitti, "who usurped the sovereign power in Islam,
vied with each other in patronising the arts and higher education, perhaps
as a means of ingratiating themselves with the population".' There is much
truth in the above statement. Nizamiyah was primarily a theological institution
recognised by the State in which besides the teaching of philosophy, arts
and sciences, the Quran and old poetry formed the backbone of the study of
humanities. The lecturer was assisted by two or more repeaters, who repeated
the lecture to the less gifted students, when the class was over. Ibn Jubair
had once the occasion of attending the lecture of a learned professor in
the afternoon. The students were sitting round him on stools and piled him
with oral questions till the evening. Al-Ghazali, one of the greatest intellectuals
of Islam had the distinction of being appointed the Principal of this University
at an early age of 34, and occupied this post for four years (1091--95 A.
D.). Nizamiyah survived the great calamity which had fallen on Baghdad
in 1258 A. D. at the hands of Hulagu Khan the Mongol, and was at last merged
with Mustansariya, two years after the conquest of Baghdad by Tamerlane in
1393 A. D. Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi, who was a great patron of education had
set apart 1/1Oth of his entire income to be spent on his educational enterprises.
He spent about 3 million rupees on the building of institutions all over
his territories and spent more than a million rupees on the building of Nizamiyah
of Baghdad alone as well as granting a regular sum of a lac rupees per annum
for its expenses. According to Giblion, "Both rich and poor students had
equal opportunities of receiving the highest education in this institution.
The education was free and the entire expenses of the poor students were
met by the University. The teachers were paid handsome salaries". Abu Ishaq
Shirazi was appointed the first principal of this University. The well-known
Persian poet Saadi Shirazi had been its student. Among its eminent principals
were Al-Ghazali, Imam Tabari, Ibn Al-Khatib, Tabrizi and Abul Hasan Fasihi
and among its outstanding professors were Bahal-al-Din, Abul Maali, Kutubuddin
Shafaii and Kiya Harasi. Hardly ever was there appointed a lecturer in this
institution during the two hundred years of its existence who was not the
master of his subject. The University housed a big library, whose librarian
was Allama Abu Zakariya Tabrizi. According to Ibn Athir, the Abbasid Caliph
Nasiruddin added another library to the University in 589 A. H., to which
a large number of books were transferred from the Imperial Library. According
to Maulana Shibli Nomani, Nizamiyah was the first institution in the Islamic
world in which regular scholarships were awarded to students.
It was rather a blot on the Abbasid Caliph that the well-known Nizamiyah
University of Baghdad was built by a non-Abbasid, hence Al-Mustansir Billah,
the Abbasid Caliph made amends by opening the Mustansariya University at
Baghdad in 1234 A. D. This was the greatest university ever founded in
the Islamic world. It took six years to build this majestic university on
the bank of the river Tigris. A grand opening ceremony of this great institution
was held, and on this auspicious day one hundred camel loads of rare manuscripts
were transferred to the University from the Imperial Library. The building
was stately and equipped with all the amenities available in those times.
It contained a hospital, a big library, baths, kitchens, a water cooling
plant and several spacious hostels for the residential students. The education
in the University was free and the students were also provided with free
boarding and lodging as well as a monthly scholarship of a gold sovereign
each. Properties yielding an income of about half a million rupees per annum
were given as endowment for the expenses of the University. Allama Zahbi
has given details of the working of this institution in his well-known work
Tarikh Dawalal-lslam (History of Islam). The building had a clock (of clepsydra
type) at an entrance, whose dial was blue like that of the sky and a sun
which constantly revolved across its surface, denoted the time. This clock
was made by Ali Bin Saghlab Balbaki, the celebrated astronomer of his time.
The Caliph had built the University as a seminary for the four orthodox
rites, and all the four law schools were represented in it. A detailed description
of the University building is available in the memoirs of Ibn Batuta who
visited it in 1327 A. D. The ruins of the famous University are still visible
and part of it has been taken over by the department of antiquities.
The patronage of learning and the deep interest taken by Nuruddin Mahmud
Zangi and Sultan Salahuddin in public welfare activities, specially the advancement
of education, once more reminded people of the days of Mamun-ar-Rashid and
Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi. Nuruddin founded big institutions in Alleppo, Halab,
Hams and Balbak. He built a great college in Damascus, his Capital city.
Nuruddin had the distinction of establishing the first DarulHadith (House
of Traditions). Allama Ibn Jubair, who visited Damascusin 578 A. H., found
20 big colleges there. It was proclaimed, whoever would build an institution,
the entire expenditure would be met by the Imperial purse. A big piece of
property including seven gardens, whose annual income was five hundred gold
pieces was set aside for meeting the expenses of western students. Five
hundred students were paid honorarium from the Imperial Treasury. Nuruddin
himself, from his private property created a trust for institutions, whose
annual income was more than nine thousand gold pieces.
Sultan Salahuddin, better known as Saladin in the west was also a great patron
of learning and education. He had founded big educational institutions in
Alexandria, Cairo, Jerusalum and Damascus. According to Allama Ibn Jubair,
"any student who resided in the hostels of Alexandria was paid his full expenses".
In his State, teachers salaries paid out of the Imperial Treasury amounted
to 1 1/2 million per annum. The patronage of education by Saladin, awakened
a lively interest for learning among the general populace and it was considered
a sort of humiliation that a rich person should die without leaving behind
any institution. Malik al-Zahir, the gifted son of Saladin kept up the traditions
of his father and founded two schools called Shafia and Darul Hadith (House
of Traditions) in Alleppo, which made this city a centre of learning.
Education in Spain
Spain, during the regime of the Moorish caliphs, developed education to a
high degree of perfection. According to Maulana Shibli Nomani education
in Sapin both primary and higher (secondary) was mostly given in Masjids.
Al-Hakam, the celebrated Spanish monarch, himself a great scholar was a
great patron of learning and granted munificent bounties to the scholars.
He opened 27 free schools in Cordova and took a keen interest in the progress
of Cordova University which was founded by Abdur Rahman lll in the principal
Masjid of the city. Under his patronage this institution rose to be one
of the greatest universities of the world. According to Ibid, Cordova University,
"preceded both Al-Azhar of Cairo and Nizamiyah of Baghdad and attracted students,
Christians and Muslims, not only from Spain but from other parts of Europe,
Africa and Asia. Al-Hakam enlarged the Masjid which housed the University,
conducted water into its lead pipes and decorated it with mosaics brought
by Byzantine artists spending on it 2,61,537 dinars". The famous historian
Ibn Khalikan writes that Al-Hakam invited learned professors from all parts
of the Muslim world who were paid handsome salaries. Among its professors
was the historian Ibn al-qutiyah.
The imperial patronage of education, raised the standard of learning and
literacy to a high level in Spain. The eminent Dutch scholar Dozy has dedared
that "Nearly every one could read and write". "All this" says Philip K.
Hitti, "whilst in Christian Europe only the rudiment of learning were known
and that by the few, mostly clergy." Writing in The Moors in Spain Stanely
Lane Poole observes about Cordova, "Beautiful as were the palaces and gardens
of Cordova, her claims to administration in higher matters were no less strong.
The mind was as lovely as the body. Her professors and teachers made her
the centre of European culture; students would come from all parts of Europe
to study under the famous doctors, and even the nun Horswitha far away in
her Saxon convent of Gaudersheim, when she was told of the martyrdom of St.
Eulogius, could not refrain from singing the praise of Cordova, 'The brightest
splendour of the World'. Every branch of science was seriously studied there
and medicine received more and greater additions by the discoveries of the
doctors and surgeons of Andalusia than it had gained during all the centuries
that had elapsed since the days of Galen. Astronomy, geography, chemistry
and natural history were all studied with ardour at Cordova".
The subjects of higher education in universities and colleges were theology,
philosophy, language and literature, lexicography, history, geography and
sciences. Several principal cities of Spain including Cordova, Granada,
Seville and Malaga possessed universities, colleges and institutions of higher
education whose enrolment ran into thousands. The university of Cordova
taught among other subjects jurisprudence, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics
and medical science. The certificates and degrees granted by this university
were much valued throughout Muslim countries especially in Spain.
The seventh Nasrid monarch, Yusuf Abdul Hajjaj (1333--54 A.D.) had founded
the university of Granada, which became an important centre of Arabic studies
in the Spain of those times. The university possessed a stately building
whose portals were guarded by stone lions. Besides other subjects, jurisprudence,
sciences, theology, medicine, astronomy and philosophy were studied in the
university. Castilian and other Christian students studied in this university.
The university organised public meetings, literary discussions and lectures
delivered by the professors. An inscription on the portals of the university
building ran as follows :-
"The world is supported by four things only: the learning of the wise, the
justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valour of the
A spirit of cordiality and brotherhood prevailed among the students of various
nations and religions who had thronged to the institutions of Muslim Spain.
According to Renan, "The taste for science and literature had, by the 16th
century A. D., established in this privileged corner of the world, a toleration
of which modern times hardly offer us an example. Christians, Jews and Musalmans
spoke the same tongue, sang the same songs, participated in the same literary
and scientific studies. All the barriers which separated the various peoples
were effaced; all worked with an accord in the work of a common civilization.
The Masjids of Cordova, where the students could be counted by thousands,
became the active centres of philosophical and scientific studies".
Al-Azhar, the famous university of Cairo, which has already completed more
than a thousand years' of its existence is at present the oldest and the
second greatest university in the world. For centuries in the past and even
during the present times, it has the reputation of being the biggest and
the most important university of the Islamic world, with an enrolment of
more than ten thousand students. The Al-Azhar Masjid was built by Djawher
al-Khatib al-Sikilli, a year after the occupation of Egypt by Fatimids.
It was opened for service in July 972 A.D. Several Fatimid rulers made additions
to it. AI-Aziz Billah (976--996 A.D.) added to it an academy, where higher
education was imparted. Al-Hakim (996-1020 A.D.) made further additions
to the building for teaching purposes as well as made endowments to meet
its running expenses. Makrizi II gives an account of the adoption of Al-Azhar's
name, which, according to him is derived from Al-Zahra, the origin of Fatimids.
During the Ayyubid regime certain changes and additions were made in the
status of the institution. But it was Malik Al-Zahir Baibars who is credited
with making Al-Azhar, a great seat of learning in the east. He made extensive
additions to the building. The last great Mamluk ruler Kansuh al-Ghori (1500-1516
A.D.) built the two towered minarets. The later Khadivs also did much to
maintain the high reputation of this university. The poor students received
all sorts of financial help from the endowments and the State exchequer.
The Mongol devastations had effaced all seats of learning and culture from
Baghdad, Persia and Turkistan hence students flocked from all parts of the
Muslim world to Al-Azhar, which was the only great Muslim institution left
in the world. The university encouraged its students to earn a part of their
expenses from other sources and carried on vocational training programmes.
The Ottoman caliphs did not lag behind their predecessors in their efforts
for the advancement of education in their territories. As the world had
advanced, the Turkish educational institutions were superior to the old Islamic
institutions and were more akin to the modern ones. All such educational
institutions were controlled by the State, hence had better management.
The system of Turkish education was rather more political and practical and
aimed at producing good citizens and able servants of the State. The institutions
were controlled by some university or Board of Education. The teachers were
handsomely paid and the Turks were the first to grant pension to their teachers.
Sultan Muhammad II was a great patron of education. During his regime every
village had a school and in higher institutions as many as ten subjects including
grammar, logic, language, literature, journalism, mathematics, astronomy
and other sciences were taught. The students who passed out of these higher
institutions were called Danishmand (learned).
Ar Khan was the first Turkish ruler who founded many schools. Muhammed the
conqueror, established a big university in Constantinople in 865 A. H. which
controlled eight big colleges having separate hostels attached to them.
Sultan Bayazid who ascended the throne in 886 A. H. founded many big educational
institutions. Sulaiman the magnificent, the greatest emperor in Turkish
history, who was crowned in 982 A.H. besides building dozens of institutions
all over his empire, founded four big educational institutions in Makkah.
He awarded scholarships to 600 students.
The patronage of educational institutions by Nizam-ul-Mulk Toosi, created
a lasting interest for such institutions among the general populace. Founding
of a Madrassa began to be considered a meritorious act. Ibn Jubair who visited
Baghdad in 578 A.H. had counted 30 big colleges in Baghdad, 20 in Damascus,
6 in Mosul and one in Hams. These institutions possessed stately buildings.
Neshapur was only second to Baghdad as the educational centre in the Islamic
world. When, in 556 A. H. it was destroyed by internal rebellion, 25 big
institutions were also razed to the ground. Amir Nasr, brother of Sultan
Mahmud, had built an institution called Sayidia. The inhabitants of Neshapur
had invited professor Abu Bakr Khurakh. When he arrived, a big institution
was raised for him out of the public subscription, which was the first of
its kind in Islamic history.
The famous conqueror Mahmud Ghaznavi was a great patron of learning. His
literary circles were attended by two of the greatest intellectual luminaries
of their age--Beruni and Firdausi. He built a grand institution at Ghazni
in 410 A.H., which also housed a big library. He set aside a big landed
property to meet its running expenses. The Amirs of his court followed the
example set by the Sultan and according to Frishta within a short time scores
of educational institutions sprang up in Ghazni. Allama Husain Bin Ahmad
Abul Fazl who died in 591 A.H. controlled 12 educational institutions in
Yezd in which more than 15 hundred students were enrolled. The celebrated
Imam Fakhruddin Razi who died in 606 A.H., was a professor in the principal
college of Khwarizm. A French traveller visited more than 48 educational
institutions in Isfahan during the Safawid rule.
Abdul Basit founded three good institutionsin Makkah. Malik Ashraf, a member
of Chraska dynasty, who ascended the throne in 772 A.H., built a big college
in Makkah, which had 72 rooms and a big hall in the centre whose roof was
made of marble stone painted with gold.
Ibn al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Kalaon built a grand college in Cairo, for whose
construction he spent more than 20 thousand dirhams daily amounting to about
5 1/2 million rupees in total.
The noted colleges of Syria were Al-Rishiyya, Amania, Tarkhania, Khatunia
and Safria. In Egypt during the Ayyubid rule, the colleges of Rambiyya,
Nasariyya and Sulahiyya were founded.
Military Academy of Morocco
Abdul Momin, Sultan of Morocco, founded the first military academy in the
world, details of which are given in the history of the dominion of Spain
written by Kandi. The academy taught military science besides other sciences
and arts. The Sultan was extremely interested in the running of the institution.
He wanted this academy to produce good generals and administrators as well
as scholars. It had three thousand students of the same age, whose daily
lessons, physical exercises and military drill were attended by the Sultan
himself. Archery exercises were held on alternate days, while swimming and
naval warfare were taught to the trainees in a big tank once a week. The
outstanding students were handsomely rewarded by the Sultan, who met the
entire expenditure of the academy.
The Ottoman Turks paid great attention to the development of military science
and built one of the finest military colleges of its time is Constantinople
Medical science was taught as a subject in several Islamic universities including
Mustansariya, Cordova and Al-Azhar. Imam Zakariya Razi, the eminent physician
of Islam taught medical science in his Bimaristan, an institution in which
he dealt with both the practical and theoretical sides of the science. According
to Gibbon, the first school of surgery in Europe was founded in Salerno,
a city in Muslim Sicily.
The Haj or Annual pilgrimage to Makkah has also been of much educative value
and people learnt a great deal from the learned scholars who resided in Makkah.
Thus Muslims were the torch-bearers of civilization, learning and education
during mediaeval times and procured the necessary link between the ancient
and the modern civilizations. "The oldest Christian Universities of Bologna,
Paris, Montpellier and Oxford came into being in the 12th century", writes
Legacy of Islam. "The first 'Arabian' University in Europe owed its origin
to Muslim learning".
BACK TO TOP
The human tendency of preserving the records of their achievements in various
fields of life is very primitive and dates back to the beginning of civilization.
Before the invention of paper, such records were laid down on stone slabs,
clay tablets, parchments, leather and pieces of wood. The temples and State
archives of Assyria and Babylon contained clay tablet libraries. The first
library in Greece owes its existence to Pesistratus, who established it in
Athens in 600 B.C. The largest library, before the advent of Islam was founded
by Ptolemy in 287--84 B.C. at Alexandria, which is alleged to contain about
a quarter of million books.
The birth of Islam provided great impetus to human pursuits of knowledge.
The necessity of preserving the Quran and the Traditions (Hadith) awakened
the spirit of collecting such writings in various forms, which paved the
way for the establishment of the earliest libraries in the world Of Islam.
The Masjids which, during the early decades of Islam formed the nerve centres
of all political, religious and educational activities, housed valuable libraries
comprising books on religion, philosophy and science. Soon, however, Muslims
who distinguished themselves as the greatest patrons of learning, established
during the days of their glory some of the biggest libraries of mediaeval
times. The great intellectuals of their age including Avicenna the encyclopaedist,
Ibn Miskawayh the historian-philosopher, Al-Fadl-Ibn Naubakht and Humayun
Ibn Ishaq the renowned translator were entrusted with the responsibility
for the organisation and maintenance of libraries. The Caliphate Raashidah
and that of the Omayyads were the periods of conquests, consolidation and
Khalid bin Yazid, a learned scientist of the Omayyad dynasty is credited
with being the originator of libraries in Islam. But historical opinions
differ on the point. The celebrated Tunisian Historian Ibn-Khaldun categorically
denies the existence of any library during the time of Khalid bin Yazid,
while Ibn Nadim in his well-known Fihrist ascribes the opening of the first
library of Islam to Khalid. Hazrat Omar bin Abdul Aziz, the pious Omayyad
Caliph had made available to the public the Royal library which he had inherited
from his ancestors. This clearly shows that the foundation of the library
was laid long before his time, probably by the learned Khalid bin Yazid.
Thus during the Omayyad Caliphate the literary treasures were properly arranged,
catalogued and preserved in a systematic way. Hisham Bin Abdul Malik collected
a large. number of rare manuscripts on various subjects in eluding an illustrated
copy of the ancient history of Persia. A large number of books on theology
had been collected by Shahab-al-Zuhri, a well-known traditionalist of his
age. Besides the above, Abu Qullabah, Abu Umrao bin al-Alla and Kreb bin
Muslim had private libraries.
Under Mamun, the Muslims formed the vanguard of civilization. During the
time of the early Abbasid caliphs, every part of the globe was ransacked
by the agents of the caliphs for the hoarded wealth of antiquity. Mansur
was the first Abbasid caliph who took an active interest in the pursuits
and propagation of learning. He founded a translation department in which
classical and scientific works were translated from various languages into
Arabic. The philosophical, mathematical and scientific works of Greek masters,
which otherwise would have remained buried in the dark recess of the Greek
Imperial Palaces, were brought within reach of the common man bv translating
them into Arabic. According to the celebrated Urdu historian Maulana Shibli
Nomani, the Darul Hukama (House of Wisdom) founded by Harun-ar-Rashid which
was divided into two sections one was concerned with the translation work
and the other related to the collection of books and housed a big library.
Yahya Barmeki, the famous grand vazier of Harun had summoned well-known scholars
from ditsant lands, who adorned the literary gatherings of the great Caliph.
Harun-ar-Rashid who had founded a big library at Baghdad had appointed Al-Fadl
Ibn Naubakht, a renowned scholar and translator, as head of his library,
The library contained a large number of books, which were efficiently arranged
and catalogued. Harun had a good taste for books and even carried large
number of books on his military and other expeditions. Once, when he had
gone to Riqqah, he took eight boxes of books with him. His pleasure resort
built on the bank of the Qatul canal, had a library containing about 1,060
books. The reign of Mamun-ar-Rashid, known as the Augustus of the Arabs.
formed the most glorious period in the field of intellectual achievements
of the Muslims. He was the moving spirit behind the House of Wisdom, which
employed the best brains of the age and acquired astounding success is a
short span of 20 years. The library attached to the House of Wisdom was
immensely enlarged and was managed by Sahl bin Harun and Saeed bin Harun,
the Persians. A large collection of books of the pre-Islamic- era were added
to the library. The well-known book binder Ibn Abi-ul-Huraish was employed
in the library for binding work. Humayun Ibn Ishaq, the chief of the translation
department was also made the librarian of this famous library. Among the
rare manuscripts preserved in the library were a document written on parchment
by Abdul Mutallib bin Hashim (grand-father of the Prophet) and a few writings
of Hazrat Ali and Imam Hasan. The interest taken by the Caliph in the accumulation
of literary treasures created a taste for books not only in his associates
but also among the common man. A number of ministers, officials and wealthy
people established big libraries by spending large sums. Yahya Barmeki,
grand vazier of Harun, owned a big library which contained a large collection
of Persian and Greek manuscripts. Three copies of each book were kept in
his library, which after the downfall of Barmekids were added to the Imperial
library of Mamun. Fateh bin Khakan, the vazier of Mutawakkil Billah founded
a grand library which contained rare books on astronomy. Muhammad bin Abdul
Malik Ziyat, Prime Minister of Caliph Wasiq Billah established a private
library on which he spent ten thousand rupees. A big library was owned by
Allama al-Waqidi, which was alleged to have contained 600 camel loads of
books mainly on historical subjects. The libraries gained so much popularity
that by the close of the 11th century A. D. there existed a network of
libraries throughout the vast Abbasid Empire, and before the Mongol invasion,
Baghdad alone had 36 big libraries.
The first public library in Baghdad was opened by Sabur bin Ardeshair, the
Prime Minister of the Buwayhid monarch Bahal al-Daulah. This was attached
to the academy built by him in Baghdad in 991 A.D. Before the establishment
of this library, all libraries were privately owned, and not open to the
common man. This library of Sabur contained more than ten thousand books.
This led to the opening of private libraries in the big cities of the Muslim
countries including Baghdad, Cairo, Merv, Mosul and Tripolis.- The big colleges
and universities of Baghdad, Neshapur, Merv, Cairo, Damascus, Isfahan and
G-hazni including the world famous Nizamiyah and Mustansariya of Baghdad
housed' splendid libraries. The principal Masjids of the big cities-of the
world of Islam, which served as teaching institutions, also had sections
oflibraries attached to them.
The Rise of Cairo under al-Muiz-li-dinillah added a spirit of rivalry in
the patronage of learning between the caliphs of the Houses of Abbas and
Fatimah. Al-Muiz has been acclaimed as the Mamun of the west and the Maecenas
of Muslim Africa. The Fatimid caliphs Aziz and Hakim Billah were also great
patrons of learning. Aziz has the distinction of adding an academy of higher
education to the famous Al-Azhar Masjid which housed a big library containing
valuable books on Muslim theology, jurisprudence and philosophy. Caliph
Aziz is also credited with founding an imperial library, one of the biggest
libraries ever opened in the world of Islam. Allama Maqrizi has given its
details in his well-known work Kitab Al-Khatat-wal-Aasar. This library was
housed in a part of the Imperial palace and comprised forty chambers. There
has been difference of opinion among writers about the total number of books
possessed by this library. According to the estimate of Ibn al-Tanvir it
had 200,000 volumes, according to Ibn Ali Wasli it had 160,000 and according
to Ibn Abi Tai it contained 600,000 volumes. This famous library contained
18,000 books on ancient philosophy and 24,000 copies of Holy Quran. Once
there was a reference of Kitabul Ain in the durbar of the Caliph Aziz, which
was sent for from the library and the librarian presented 30 different copies
of the required book. One of these copies was written in the hand of Khalil
bin Ahmad Basri the author of the book, This library possessed a globe made
by Ptolemy which was 2,250 years old and another globe made by Abul Hasan
Sufi for Azud-al-Daulah which was purchased for 15 thousand rupees. Among
the rare manuscripts were specimens of the artistic writings of the renowned
calligraphist Ibn Muqlah and an autographed copy of the history of Tabari.
The Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim laid the foundation of Darul Ilum on the lines
of Darul Hukama (House of Wisdom) of Mamun. It was rather a rival institution
and was equipped with a splendid library on whose upkeep large sums were
spent by its patron. Great scholars and scientists were attached to the
library, which was open to the public. Students were encouraged in research
work and special apartments were reserved for the purpose. They were supplied
with stationery free of cost.
The Omayyad Caliphate of Spain attained a standard of civilization which
was only rivalled by the Abbasids in the East. Their intellectual achievements
reached its zenith in the reign of Al-Hakam, who himself being a renowned
scholar patronised learning and granted munificent bounties to the scholars.
He founded a library of first magnitude in his capital Cordova. According
to Philip K, Hitti, "Al-Hakam was a bibliophile; his agents ransacked the
book-shops of Alexandria, Damascus and Baghdad with a view to buying or copying
manuscripts. The books thus gathered are said to have numbered400,000, their
titles filling a catalogue of 44 volumes, in each one of which 20 sheets
were devoted to poetical works alone" Al-Hakam, himself being an outstanding
scholar, personally used a large number of these books and wrote marginal
notes on most of the manuscripts which made them very valuable to later scholars.
The celebrated Caliph paid extraordinary prices for the rare manuscripts
and according to Ibn Khaldun he purchased the first copy of Aghani, written
by al-Isfahani for a thousand dinars (four thousand rupees). According to
Ibn al-Aabar, the poetical works of the library were catalogued in 880 pages.
There were employed more than 5,000 calligraphists in the Royal library
for copying the manuscripts. The books were most systematically arranged
in the library. There were more than seventy libraries and one thousand
institutions of higher education in Andalusia alone. Besides the Imperial
and academic libraries there were libraries owned by scholars and nobles.
It had become fashionable to own a library and the celebrated historian
al-Maqqari has related a humorous story from Allama Hizri who was in search
of a book. He found the book at a shop, but he could not purchase it as
the price offered by another bidder was exhorbitant and was much above the
actual price. The Allama questioned the rival bidder if he was much interested
in the book. The reply given will sound strange these days. He said that
he was not literate, but he wanted to buy the book for his library which
he had established.
In the beginning of the 17th century A.D. Sharif Zaidan, Sultan of Morocco,
who had to leave his capital,sent his library on a ship which was not delivered
at the proper place, and on its way to Marseilles, fell into the hands of
Spanish pirates. The booty comprising about four thousand volumes were placed
by the order of Philip III, the Spanish Monarch, in the Escurial library
which made this library the richest in Arabic manuscripts in the West.
Persia and Turkistan
The love for preserving and arranging books in the form of libraries had
become universal in the vast Islamic domains. The possession of a good library
was taken to be a great honour in those days.
Abu Masr Sahl bin Murzaban had spent his entire wealth on his library and
had undertaken several trips to Baghdad to purchase books. One of the best
libraries of the period was one owned by Muhammad bin Husain of Baghdad.
Allama Ibn Nadim Baghdadi pays high tribute to the taste of its founder.
The library contained a copy of the Quran written by Khalid bin Ali Alhayaj,
a companion of Hazrat Ali, besides the letters written by the Prophet and
his family members. Aziz-al-Daulah (977--82 A.D.) a great monarch of Iran
founded a splendid library named Khazinat-al-Kutub at Shiraz in which he
endeavoured to place all books written since the birth of Islam till his
own time. The library was specially known for its fine building and artistic
equipments. There were 360 rooms in the building and each subject was alloted
a separate room with its own catalogue. The books were neatly arranged in
almarahs and the library employed a large supervisory staff. Another library
known as the Home of books was founded by Minister Fazl bin Amir at Rayy,
near modern Teheran. It was supervised by the famous writer Ibn Miskawayh.
It contained 400 camel loads of books listed in a 10 volume catalogue and
was frequently visited by the celebrated geographer Ibn Yaqut, who received
great help from this library in compiling his world famous geographical enclyclopaedia.
According toYaqut, Merv had ten big libraries, one which called Azizia had
more than 12,000 books. Books were liberally issued to the readers and once
Yaqut himself got 200 books issued in his name.
Masjids also functioned as repositories for books, says Philip K Hitti, Through
gifts and bequests Masjid libraries became specially rich in religious literature.
The famous historian al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (1002-71A.D.) had willed his
books as a waqf for Muslims, but those were placed in his friends home. Al-Mausil,
before the middle of the 10th century had a library built by citizens in
which paper was supplied to the student, who wanted to take notes from the
The Samanid King of Bukhara, Nub bin Mansur owned a magnificent library,
which according to Ibn Khalikan possessed rare books on almost all subjects
specially on philosophy. Ibn Sina(Avicenna), the re-known intellectual luminary
of Islam was given access to this library as he had cured the king of a fatal
disease. Later on, Avicenna was appointed its librarian and he was much indebted
to this library for his encyclopaedic knowledge. The library was housed in
a big building in which a room was allotted to each subject. The books were
systematically arranged in boxes and shelves.
Saif-al-Daulah of Alleppo, the Hamadanid ruler had equal hold over the sword
and the pen. He was a great patron of learning and had collected round him
such intellectual giants as Abu Nasr Farabi, al Isfahani and Al-Mutanabbi.
He ruled from 944 to 967 A.D. and founded a splendid library containing rare
books on literature. The famous poet Muhammad bin Hashim and his brother
were in charge of his library.
The great library of Tripolis (Syria) contained more than three million volumes,
including 50,000 copies of the Holy Qur’an.
A number of special libraries had sprung up dealing with particular subjects.
Cairo has the distinction of establishing the first hospital library containing
a large number of books on medicine, which was attached to the hospital founded
by Ibn Tulun. The Bimaristan, founded by the celebrated physician Zakariya
According to Nasir-ud-din Toosi, Hulagu Khan established a big library at
Maragha with the books looted from Islamic countries. The library contained
more than 400,000 books.
There were several causes for the decay of libraries in the world of Islam.
With the downfall of the Abbasids, their vast empire was divided into small
principalities, who for sometime kept up the tradition of their great predecessors.
But their resources were limited. The greatest threat presented to the
intellectual life of the Islamic world was the destruction wrought by the
Mongol hordes. Changiz Khan, better known as the "Scourge of God" effaced
all traces of Muslim civilization in Turkistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Asia
Minor. He burnt remorselessly all the intellectual treasures of Bukhara,
Merv, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ghazni and Rayy accumulated through centuries by the
Muslims. The greatest single blow to Islamic civilization was struck by
Hulagu Khan the Mongol, who destroyed Baghdad in 1258 A.D., and reduced to
ashes the greatest literary treasures found in the Islamic world. It is
said that millions of books were thrown in the River Tigris and its water
The Muslim civilization had attained such a high standard that it served
as a beacon light to the West. The Christian conquerors of Spain tried to
efface all traces of Arab civilization from their sacred land. In 1499 all
literary treasures of the Muslims were collected from different libraries
of Spain and burned by Cardinal Ximens, Archbishop of Toledo. Writing in
the Spirit of Islam, Ameer Ali says, that in Spain, "Christianity destroyed
the intellectual life of the people. TheMuslims had turned Spain into a
garden; the Christians converted it into a desert. The Muslims had covered
the land with colleges and schools; the Christians tranformed them into
churches for the worship of saints and images. The literary and scientific
treasures amassed by the Muslim sovereigns were consigned to the flames"
It has been propagated by western historians that the Arabs destroyed the
famous Alexandrian library. The latest historical researches have established
beyond doubt that the said library was destroyed by the Romans themselves
long before the advent of Islam. Writing in the Glimpses of World History,
Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru says: "There is a story that the Arabs burnt the
famous library of Alexandria, but this is now believed to be false. The
Arabs were too fond of books to behave in this barbarious manner. It is
probable, however, that Emperor Theodosius of Constantinople was guilty of
this destruction or part of it. A part of the library had been destroyed
long before, during a siege at the time of Julius Caesar. Theodosius did
not approve of the old pagan Greek books dealing with the Greek mythologies
He was too devout a Christian. it is said that he used books as fuel with
which to heat his bath".
On the contrary, it was the Christian crusaders who burnt the great Muslim
library of Tripolis (Syria) containing more than three million books.