Muhammad al-Idrisi bigraphy, stories - Medieval Arab geographer

Muhammad al-Idrisi : biography

1100 -

Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti or simply Al Idrisi ( ) (1099–1165 or 1166) was a Muslim geographer, cartographer, Egyptologist and traveller who lived in Sicily, at the court of King Roger II. Muhammed al-Idrisi was born in Ceuta then belonging to the Almoravid Empire and died in Sicily. Al Idrisi was a descendant of the Idrisids, who in turn were descendants of Hasan bin Ali, the son of Ali and the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Nuzhatul Mushtaq

As well as the maps, al-Idrisi produced a compendium of geographical information with the title Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi'khtiraq al-'afaq. The title has been translated as The book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands or The pleasure of him who longs to cross the horizons.

Publication and translation

An abridged version of the Arabic text was published in Rome in 1592 with title: De geographia universali or Kitāb Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān wa-al-juzur wa-al-madā’ in wa-al-āfāq which in English would be Recreation of the desirer in the account of cities, regions, countries, islands, towns, and distant lands. This was one of the first Arabic books ever printed. The first translation from the original Arabic was into Latin. The Maronites Gabriel Sionita and Joannes Hesronita translated an abridged version of the text which was published in Paris in 1619 with the rather misleading title of Geographia nubiensis. Not until the middle of the 19th century was a complete translation of the Arabic text published. This was a translation into French by Pierre Amédée Jaubert. More recently sections of the text have been translated for particular regions. In the 1970s a critical edition of the complete Arabic text was published.

Andalusian-American contact

Al-Idrisi's geographical text, Nuzhatul Mushtaq, is often cited by proponents of pre-Columbian Andalusian-Americas contact theories. In this text, al-Idrisi wrote the following on the Atlantic Ocean:

This translation by Professor Muhammad Hamidullah is however questionable, since it reports, after having reached an area of "sticky and stinking waters", the Mugharrarin (also translated as "the adventurers") moved back and first reached an uninhabited island where they found "a huge quantity of sheep the meat of which was bitter and uneatable" and, then, "continued southward" and reached the above reported island where they were soon surrounded by barques and brought to "a village whose inhabitants were often fair-haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty". Among the villagers, one spoke Arabic and asked them where they came from. Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.Idrisi, Nuzhatul Mushtaq - "La première géographie de l'Occident", comments by Henri Bresc and Annliese Nef, Paris, 1999

Apart from the marvellous and fanciful reports of this history, the most probable interpretation is that the Mugharrarin reached the Sargasso Sea, a part of the ocean covered by seaweed) which is very close to Bermuda yet one thousand miles away from the American mainland. Then while coming back, they may have landed either on the Azores, or on Madeira or even on the westernmost Canary Island, El Hierro (because of the sheep). Last, the story with the inhabited island might have occurred either on Tenerife or on Gran Canaria, where the Mugharrarin presumably met some Guanche tribe. This would explain why some of them could speak Arabic (some sporadic contacts had been maintained between the Canary Islands and Morocco) and why they were quickly deported to Morocco where they were welcomed by Berbers. Yet, the story reported by Idrisi is an indisputable account of a certain knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean by the Arabs and by their Andalusian and Moroccan vassals.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine