Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Most of us are familiar with the Western explorers and travellers but what do we know about the Muslim explorers and their impact on this world?
Let’s have a glimpse into the lives of the following four Muslim explorers:
1. Abulhasan Al Masudi ("The Herodotus of the Arabs")
This amazing historian and geographer was born in Baghdad (in 895 CE) and travelled to East Africa, the Middle East, Persia, Russia, China and the Indian Subcontinent. He died in Cairo in 957 CE. His famous work of world history “Meadows of Gold” has been translated into English.
He produced many more books and even encyclopaedias about world history and combined cultural and social matters with politics. Al Masudi would on his travels speak to locals and use their accounts. His interest of the world would include non-Muslim lands (eg Scandinavia) and their peoples.
2. Ibn Battuta (Abu Abdullah Mohamed)
This is without a doubt the most famous one of all four! He was born in Tangiers (nowadays Morocco) in the 14th century and travelled through more than 40 countries within 30 years.
He started when he was 20 years old and returned home at the age of 51 (1354) when he was ordered by the Sultan of Morocco to write down his stories. Ibn Battuta dictated them to the writer Ibn Juzayy and they compiled the famous Rihla (Travels), an amazing report about the Islamic world of the 14th century!
He surpassed the famous Marco Polo and visited mainly Muslim countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. He was even given the chance to preside as a judge in Delhi and in the Maldives which was only possible because they were all part of one Islamic empire. Furthermore, he performed the Hajj four times!
An unbelievable fact is that his travels amount to around 75,000 miles, which is equal to three trips around the world!
3. Zhen He (Cheng Ho or Ma He, Ma was considered a short name for Muhammad in China)
He was born after Ibn Battuta’s death, at the end of the 14th century in China (Yunnan Province) and belonged to a Muslim Chinese ethnic group. He memorised the Quran at a young age and could speak both Chinese and Arabic.
He was always interested in seeing the world and at least to perform the Hajj, as his father and grandfather had already done previously. He studied various languages, history, geography and was interested in learning more about other countries and traditions.
Zhen He became an admiral, diplomat and a trader travelling across Southeast Asia.
There he informed the inhabitants about Islam and had mosques built in many places. Next to Southeast Asia, he visited the Indian subcontinent, East Africa and other places where he managed to spread the deen!
Nowadays, one can find parks and monuments dedicated to this famous Muslim admiral in China. One of the most interesting museums to find out more about this Muslim is the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum in Melaka, Malaysia!
4. Ahmed Ibn Majid (“The Lion of the Sea”)
This Muslim navigator and Arab poet provided the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama with a map of the world, unknown to other European sailors. This knowledge made Vasco da Gama the first European to reach India by sea, going around the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).
Ahmed was known as the first Arab seaman who was able to navigate at the young age of 17. He was born in the UAE (or in Oman) in the year 1432 CE and died in 1500 CE. His interest in poetry was so big that he authored nearly 40 works of poetry.
His famous work of “Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of navigation” (Kitab al Fawa’id fi usul ‘Ilm al-Bahr wa ‘l-Qawa’id). It addressed celestial navigation, weather patterns and charts of dangerous areas in which to sail and was recognised by Muslim sailors worldwide.
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