Ibn Haukal

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Ibn Haukal (b.-d.988) or Muḥammad Abū’l-Qāsim Ibn Ḥawqal (Arabic: محمد أبو القاسم بن حوقل‎, born in Nisibis, Upper Mesopotamia; travelled 943-969 CE) was a 10th-century Muslim writer, geographer, and chronicler.

His famous work, written in 977, is called Ṣūrat al-’Arḍ (صورة الارض; "The face of the Earth").The date of his death is not precisely known. On the basis of his writings, he died after 378 H / 988 C.E.

What little is known of his life is extrapolated from his book, which was a revision and extension of the Masālik ul-Mamālik of Istakhri (951). That itself was a revised edition of the Ṣuwar al-aqālīm of Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi, who wrote about 921.

Ibn Hawqal was clearly more than an editor; he was a traveler who spent much of his time writing about the areas and things he had seen. He spent the last 30 years of his life traveling to remote parts of Asia and Africa. One of his travels brought him 20° south of the equator along the East African coast. One of the things he noticed was that there were large numbers of people living in areas that the Greeks, working from logic rather than experience, said must be uninhabitable.

His descriptions were, at the time, considered to be accurate and very helpful to travellers. Ṣūrat al-’Arḍ included a detailed description of Muslim-held Spain, Italy and particularly Sicily. Ibn Hawqal recorded that the area of Fraxinet (La Garde-Freinet) was richly cultivated by its Muslim inhabitants, and they have been credited with a number of agricultural and fishing innovations for the region. The difficulty with using Ibn Hawqal as a primary source is that he writes in the 'roots and realms' genre, and there are instances of 10th century humour in his account of Sicily during the Kalbid-Fatimid dynasty. In doing this he frequently exaggerates; he depicts the Christian population of Palermo as being uncivilised and barbaric.

He also mentions the "Lands of the Romans," the term used by the Muslim world to describe the Byzantine Empire. In it, among other things, he describes his first-hand observation that 360 languages are spoken in the Caucasus, with Azeri and Persian languages being used as Lingua Franca across the Caucasus, he also gives a description of Kiev, and is said to have mentioned the route of the Volga Bulgars and the Khazars, perhaps by Sviatoslav I of Kiev. He also mentions and published a cartographic map of Sindh, he mentions the geography and culture of Sindh and the Indus River.

Ibn Hauqal's work was published by M. J. de Goeie (Leiden, 1873). An anonymous epitome of the book was written in 1233.

Book of Roads and Kingdoms

Sir H. M. Elliot[1] writes that "Book of Roads and Kingdoms" was book by Ibn Haukal. The real name of Ibn Haukal was Muhammad Abú-l Kásim, and he was a native of Baghdád. When he was a child the power of the Khalifs had greatly declined, and Baghdád itself had fallen into the hands of the Turks. On attaining manhood he found himself despoiled of his inheritance, so he resolved to gratify a natural taste, and to seek to mend his fortunes by travelling and trading in foreign countries. He left Baghdád in 331 A.H. (943 A.D.), and after passing through the various lands under Musulmán rule, he returned to that city in 358 A.H. (968 A.D.). The following year he was in Africa, and he seems to have finished his work in 366 A.H. (976 A.D.). His book received the same title as that of Ibn Khúrdádba, or "Book of Roads and Kingdoms," and he says that his predecessor's work was his constant companion. His obligations to Istakhrí have been already mentioned. M. Uylenbroek translated part of the work in his "Iracæ persicæ descriptio," and Gildemeister has given the "Descriptio Sindiæ" in his "Scriptorum Arabum de Rebus Indicis," etc. Part of the Ashkálu-l Bilád relating to Khurásán has been translated by Col. Anderson, and was published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. xxii.

The zat [Jat?] race

Sir H. M. Elliot [2] quotes Ibn Haukal and writes that Makrán contains chiefly pasturages and fields, which cannot be irrigated on account of the deficiency of water. Between Mansúra and Makrán the waters from the Mihrán form lakes, and the inhabitants of the country are the Indian races called Zat. Those who are near the river dwell in houses formed of reeds, like the Berbers, and eat fish and aquatic birds. Another clan of them, who live remote from the banks, are like the Kurds, and feed on milk, cheese, and bread made of millet.


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