Al Idrisi Great Muslim Geographer, Cartographer, Egyptologist
Abu Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abdallah Ibn Idris al-Qurtubi al-Hasani, was bom in Ceuta, Spain, in 1099 C.E. He was educated in Cordova. Later he travelled far and wide in connection with his studies and then flourished at the Norman court in Palermo. The date of his death is controversial, being either 1166 or 1180 C.E.
Biographical notes on him are to be found rathe rararely, and according to F. Pons Boigues the underlying reason is the fact that the Arab biographers considered al-Idrisi to be a renegade, since he had been associated with the court of a Christian king and written in praise of him, in his work. The circumstances which led him to settle in Sicily at the court of Roger II are not on record.
His major contribution lies in medicinal plants as presented in his several books, specially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. He studied and reviewed all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and formed the opinion that very little original material had been added to this branch of knowledge since the early Greek work. He, therefore, collected plants and data not reported earlier and added this to the subject of botany, with special reference to medicinal plants. Thus, a large number of new drugs plants together with their evaluation became available to the medical practitioners. He has given the names of the drugs in six languages: Syriac, Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin and Berber.
In addition to the above, he made original contributions to geography, especially as related to economics, physical factors and cultural aspects. He made a planishere in silver for King Roger II, and 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 encyclopaedia of the time, containing information not only on Asia and Africa, but also Western countries.
Al-Idrisi, later on, also compiled another geographical encyclopaedia, 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.
Apart from botany and geography, Idrisi also wrote on fauna, zoology and therapeutical aspects. His work was soon translated into Latin and, especially, his books on geography remained popular both in the East and the West for several centuries.