AL-IDRISI (Dreses)
(1099 - 1166 C.E.)

by
Dr. A. Zahoor

Al-Idrisi is best known in the West as a geographer, who made a globe of silver sphere weighing 400 kilograms for King Roger II of Sicily. Some scholars regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Middle Ages. He also made original contributions in medicinal plants. Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Ibn Idris Ash-Sharif was born in 1099 C.E. in Ceuta, Spain. He is also known by his short name Al-Sharif Al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi.

Al-Idrisi was educated in Cordova. As was common with Muslim geographers, he traveled many distant places, including Europe, to gather geographical data. The Muslim geographers by his time had already made accurate measurements of the earth surface, and several maps of the whole world were available. Al-Idrisi combined this available knowledge to his own findings. It is for this comprehensive knowledge of all parts of the known world, he became famous and began to get the attention of European sea navigators and military planners.

Al-Idrisi's fame and competence eventually led to the attention of Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, who invited him to produce an up-to-date world map. It should be mentioned that Sicily was under Muslim rule before King Roger, where Muslim works were freely available for transmission to Europe through Latin West. Al-Idrisi procured a ball of silver weighing approximately 400 kilograms and meticulously recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains. He also included such information as the distance, length and height as appropriate. His globe was accompanied by his book Al-Kitab al-Rujari (Roger's Book). He also made a representation of the known world on a disc.

Al-Idrisi's book 'Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq,'(The Delight of Him Who Desires to Journey Through The Climates) is a geographical encyclopedia which contains detailed maps and information on European countries, Africa and Asia. Later, he compiled a more comprehensive encyclopedia, entitled 'Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs' (Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls). Al-Idrisi's knowledge of the Niger above Timbuktu, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy.

Al-Idrisi also made major contributions in the science of medicinal plants and wrote several books. The most popular among them is entitled 'Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat.' He reviewed and synthesized all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and associated drugs available to him from Muslim scientists and added to it his research collection from travels. He contributed this material to the subject of botany with emphasis on medicinal plants. He describes the names of the drugs in several languages including Berber, Syriac, Persian, Hindi, Greek, and Latin. Idrisi also wrote on zoology and fauna. Al-Idrisi died around 1166 C.E.

AL-Idrisi became famous in Europe more than other Muslim geographers because ships and navigators from north sea, Atlantic and the Mediterranean frequented Sicily, which is located about the middle of the Mediterranean. Several of his books were translated into Latin and his books on geography were popular for several centuries. The translation of one of his books was published in 1619 in Rome. This translation was an abridged edition and the translator did not give credit to Al-Idrisi. It is interesting that Europe took several centuries to make use of his globe and the world map. Christopher Columbus used the map which was originally taken from Al-Idrisi's work.

A Short List of References

Copyright © 1992, 1997 Dr. A. Zahoor
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