Arab Explorers

During the Islamic period, many Arabs went out to explore the Muslim world. Even though Arab sailors and merchants had done the main exploration years before, the documentation of their travels did not really get underway until the tenth century CE. Many of these men wrote of their travels, and their writings have been published for later study.

Abul Hasan Ali Ibn al-Husain al-Masudi, for example, traveled through Persia and stayed in Istakhar for about a year in 915 CE. He then went to India, visiting Multan and Mansura, returned to Persia, and again went to India. After traveling through India and Ceylon, he sailed along with merchants to Indochina and China. On the return voyage he visited Madagascar, Zanzibar, Oman and Basra, where he stopped traveling for a bit and wrote the travelogue, Muruj-al-Dhahab. Masudi also visited the southern shore of the Caspian Sea and traveled to Central Asia and Turkistan. Eventually he settled in Cairo, where he wrote his work Mirat-uz-zaman, comprising 30 volumes in which he described the geography, history and lives of the people of the countries he had visited.

Abul Qasim Ibn Hauqal left Baghdad to go exploring in 943 CE. He made an extensive tour of the Islamic countries, and on his return wrote down his experiences in his geographical work, Kitab al-Masaalik-wal Mamaa.

Shamsuddin Abu Abdullah al-Moqaddasi toured the entire Islamic world except Spain and China. He wrote about his travels in the geography book Ahsan-al-Taqasim fi Marifat al-Aqa Eim.

Sulaiman al-Mahiri sailed the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and also sailed around Africa and, it is thought by some, possibly even traveled to the Americas. Sulaiman reached as far as the Bering Strait and wrote of these experiences in a number of books, of which Al-Umdat aE-Mahriya Ji Zabt-iEUlum-il-Bahriya is the most famous.

Shahabuddin Ibn Majid was one of the most prestigious Arab sea captains of his time. He, like Sulaiman al-Mahiri, sailed the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. He composed fifteen books on navigation. Ibn Majid was one of the earliest writers of nautical guides; he also wrote a very detailed and accurate geographical account of the Red Sea.

Ibn Fadlan was an ambassador sent by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir Billah in 921 CE to the ruler of Bulgaria. He wrote of his time in Risalah; his account is one of the earliest about Russia. He may also have encountered the Vikings.

Abu Rehan Beruni visited India during the eleventh century CE. He stayed there for a number of years, learned Sanskrit, and documented the geography of India in his memorable work Kitab-al-Hiplcl.

Ibn Jubayr, a Spanish Muslim traveler, visited Mecca and Iraq in 1192 CE. He wrote a travelogue entitled Rihlat-ul-Kinani, recording his various experiences.

Perhaps the most famous and widely traveled of Muslim explorers is Abu Abdullah Muhammed, otherwise known as Ibn Battuta. In the fourteenth century, he spent thirty-one years of his life traveling, and documenting his travels. It is about Ibn Battuta that modern scholars have the most information.