The ambition of Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hawqal in his book “The Picture of the Earth” goes beyond the introduction in which he tells us what he intends to accomplish in this remarkable author; We hardly go beyond the opening of the book until we find ourselves in front of a geographer who moves from the narrative description of the places to the pictures and maps he draws for the various countries he talks about. From cities and regions, and their laws and heights.”
Ibn Hawqal opens his book in the land of the Arabs, and with him you travel to Egypt and Iraq, sail in the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Gulf. The country of the Romans and its related areas of Armenians, Alans, Ran, Sarir, Khazars, Russians, Bulgarians, Saqlabs, and a group of Turks, and from its north some of the Kingdom of China.” Then he goes back to specify the location of those same places in the Islamic world, as he says: “As for the Kingdom of China, its north and east are the oceanic sea, and its south is the kingdom of Islam.” And this may be due to his focus on maps and geographical drawings, or his lack of confidence in the books of the previous geographers on him.
Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hawqal lived in the fourth century AH, when it is likely that he died in the year 367 AH.
Ibn Hawqal relies in his book not on the Arab heritage in geography, nor on the impressions of travelers and eye-witnesses only, but there is extensive knowledge of India’s heritage in that science as well as the Greek heritage, where Ptolemy is quoted as saying: “The rotation of the ark on the earth in the place of the equator is three hundred and sixty A degree, and a degree is twenty-five leagues, and a league is twelve thousand cubits, and a cubit is twenty-four fingers, and a finger is six grains of barley arranged in a row.” The south is ruined, and the half that is below us has no inhabitants.” He comments on Ptolemy’s words by saying: “This is the speech of my mind”, meaning that the Arab geographical research relied on the mind, benefiting from the ideas of some Greeks who preceded their era, bypassing the moment of the European Middle Ages synchronizing with it, which rejected the idea of a spherical Earth.
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