Ibn Hawqal (d-380H) إبن حَوقَل

Ibn Hawqal (d-380H) إبن حَوقَل

Called Abu al-Qasim, he is Muhammad b. Hawqal, originally from al-Jazira region in Turkey, north of Mardin. He is also referred to as al-Nusaybini, after Nusaybin town located in the region. Except for his extensive traveling and the book/books he is siad to have authored, sources mention very few details of his life other than being a Baghdad-based trader who loved traveling. Researchers attribute the dearth of information on Ibn Hawqal to the fact that he spent a substantial part of his life in traveling and never stayed put in a certain region. It is his book, Surat al-Ard, from which we can derive some information about him while to the effect that he was fond of reading especially books by Khurdadhebah, Qudadamah and al-Jihani, which might have been the reason behind his keenness to travel and see the places he read about. Other reasons cited as the motives behind his travels were his business as a trader and desire for commercial gains away from the political turbulence and corruption that characterized Baghdad during that period. Some other researchers hypothesized that Ibn Hawqal might have worked as a propagandist or a spy, initially for the `Abbasids in Baghdad and later the Fatimids of Egypt, which necessitated his widespread travel to collect information for them from certain regions, like what he did in Sicily for the Fatimids.

Al- Istikhari’s world map which was used by Ibn Hawqal in his own works.
Al- Istikhari’s world map which was used by Ibn Hawqal in his own works.

Whatsoever were the factors that drove him to undertake that extensive traveling, researchers count Ibn Hawqal among the scholars of the classic Arabic school of geography and that he outperformed them in his visiting and sighting whatever he wrote about. The data in his writings carried reasonable accuracy, particularly in what he recorded about North Africa. This maybe testified by the Russian orientalist, Kratchkovsky’s statement that Ibn Hawqal was a pioneer among the scholars of the classic Arabic school of Geography and that his work on North Africa earned him fame in the region. Other members of the school are al-Balkhi, al-Istakhri, and al-Maqdisi; they all composed works which have so many features in common that they have been given the appellation of the authors of the ‘Atlas of Islam’ (Kramers 1931-2). This new tradition of Islamic cartography differed from the Greco-Muslim tradition in many respects. Here, the sacred city of Makkah occupies the central position; south is placed at the top while north is at the bottom, no doubt because of the reverence shown to the sacred city. The school introduced innovations such as the element of perspective in cartography. This physical geography was intimately connected with a non-physical and religio-geography in which directions, mountains, rivers, islands, etc. become symbols of the celestial world (Nasr 1968, 99). In many cases, scholars have themselves stated that they were prompted to carry out their expeditions because of the religious needs of the community, or because they felt duty-bound to correct certain wrong practices.

It is recorded in his book that he commenced his journey in 943 CE to tour the whole Islamic world and return to Baghdad in 974 CE carrying his encyclopedic work which included maps and diagrams. His meeting with al-Istakhri created problems for researchers as more than one scholar of the same school had used the same or similar name for the books they authored, Al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik. However, it is known that al-Istakhri benefited tremendously from Ibn Hawqal particularly the corrections he requested him to make with regard to his work on India and Persia. Furthermore, Ibn Hawqal saw that he could write something on what he corrected and he admitted that he borrowed from al-Istakhri’s book but added enormously from his own observations. Nonetheless, researchers feel that Ibn Hawqal is more indebted to al-Istakhri than what he admitted particularly in the layout of the book and the manner of displaying data after the maps. He also incorporated complete chapters on the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf, Khuzistan, Kirman, and Sind, to which he made a few additions.

If thou hast relinquished the world, sleep upon the bare ground - kiss it not before anyone for the sake of a costly carpet. (Sa`di Sheerazi)

In his work, Ibn Hawqal did not restrict himself to geographical data but discussed major cities, people, their customs, and everything interesting about life in the regions he discussed. His estimation of the population was based on the number of attendees in mosques and churches. His description of the peoples he met extended to analyzing and, at times, criticizing their behavior and customs, e.g. his harsh opinions of the Sicilians and criticism of certain practices among the Berbers. He also dwelt on the sources of income each region enjoyed and elaborated on the commercial activities and agricultural produce of each region. In the commercial front, Ibn Hawqal described the commercial taxes of some regions, particularly that of Morocco, and made a note on commercial goods that were brought from regions and sold in others for very profitable price, like a sack of salt sold for 200 Dirhams in Morocco due to its unavailability there. In agriculture, he spoke extensively on the Moroccan west and detailed the vegetables, fruits, and cereals grown, the sources of Water for each major city, and the livestock. His books described the travel routes from one region to another, and added to that minor pathways that branched from the main routes and led to smaller towns and hamlets.