Abu Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abdallah Ibn Idris al-Qurtubi al-Hasani, also known by his short name as Al-Sharif Al Idrisi Al Qurtubi, was born in Ceuta, Spain, in 1099 A.D.
He received his education in Cordova, then flourished at the Norman court in Palermo.
Al Idrisi was a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is not confirmed whether he died on 1166 or 1180 A.D.
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Many scholars regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the middle Ages.
As all Muslim geographers, Al Idrisi traveled to many distant places, including Europe, to gather geographical data. Muslim geographers at that time had already made accurate measurements of the earth surface, also several maps of the world were available.
Al-Idrisi combined his own findings to the available knowledge at his time. He became famous for his comprehensive knowledge of all parts of the world, he also attracted the attention of European sea navigators and military planners 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, but it 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 work and the world map. It is worth mentioning that Christopher Columbus used the map which was originally taken from Al-Idrisi’s work.
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 Adrisi then spent most of his life in the service of the Norman King, Roger II.
Al-Idrisi constructed a circular world map of pure silver that weighed approximately 400 kilograms and precisely recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains.
Al Idrisi described the world in Al-Kitab al-Rujari (Roger’s Book), also entitled Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq (The delight of him who desires to journey through the climates).
This is practically a geographical encyclopedia of the time, containing information not only on Asia and Africa, but also on European countries.
He also compiled another geographical encyclopedia larger than the former entitled Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs (Pleasure of men and delight of souls) also known as Kitab al- Mamalik wa al-Masalik, his knowledge of the Niger, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy.
In addition to geography, he also contributed to the science of medicinal plants. His major contribution in this field lies in he medicinal plants as presented in his several books, especially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. He reviewed and synthesized all the material available on the subject of medicinal plants and associated drugs available to him from Muslim scientists and added to it his research collection from his travels.
He contributed this material to the subject of botany with emphasis on medicinal plants. He has given the names of the drugs in six languages: Syriac, Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin and Berber.
Besides botany and geography, Idrisi also wrote on fauna, zoology and therapeutically aspects. His work was soon translated into Latin.
His books on geography remained popular both in the East and the West for several centuries.