Monday, September 17, 2007
al-Masudi (c 895-957)
Abu 'Bakr surpassed all the Muhammadans in his austerity, his frugality, and the simplicity of his life and outward appearance. During his rule he wore but a single linen garment and a cloak. In this simple dress he gave audience to the chiefs of the noblest Arab tribes and to the kings of Yemen. The latter appeared before him dressed in richest robes, covered with gold embroideries and wearing splendid crowns. But at sight of the Caliph, shamed by his mingling of pious humility and earnest gravity, they followed his example and renounced their gorgeous attire. - From The Book of Golden Meadows
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Al-Masudi (full name Abul Hasan Ali Ibn Husain Ibn Ali AL-Masu'di) was born in Baghdad and is known as the 'Herodotus of the Arabs' because he was the first Arab to combine history and scientific geography in a large-scale work. He travelled extensively in India, the Middle East, and Africa. Al-Masudi wrote a 30-volume history of the world and recounted the experiences of his travels form Europe to India.
He was a descendant of Abdallah Ibn Masu'd, a companion of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). An expert geographer, a physicist and historian, Masu'di was born in the last decade of the 9th century A.D., his exact date of birth being unknown. He was a Mutazilite Arab, who explored distant lands and died at Cairo, in 957 A.D.
He traveled to Fars in 915 A.D. and, after staying for one year in Istikhar, he proceeded via Baghdad to India, where he visited Multan and Mansoora before returning to Fars. From there he traveled to Kirman and then again to India. Mansoora in those days was a city of great renown and was the capital of the Muslim state of Sind. Around it, there were many settlements/townships of new converts to Islam. In 918 A.D., Masu'di traveled to Gujrat, where more than 10,000 Arab Muslims had settled in the sea-port of Chamoor. He also traveled to Deccan, Ceylon, Indo-China and China, and proceeded via Madagascar, Zanjibar and Oman to Basra.
At Basra he completed his book Muruj-al-Zahab, in which he has described in a most absorbing manner his experience of various countries, peoples and climates. He gives accounts of his personal contacts with the Jews, Iranians, Indians and Christians. From Basra he moved to Syria and from there to Cairo, where he wrote his second extensive book Muruj al-Zaman in thirty volumes. In this book he has described in detail the geography and history of the countries that he had visited. His first book was completed in 947 A.D. He also prepared a supplement, called Kitab al-Ausat, in which he has compiled historical events chronologically. In 957 A.D., the year of his death, he completed his last book Kitabal-Tanbih wa al-Ishraf, in which he has given a summary of his earlier book as well as an errata.
Masu'di is referred to as the Herodotus and Pliny of the Arabs. By presenting a critical account of historical events, he initiated a change in the art of historical writing, introducing the elements of analysis, reflection and criticism, which was later on further improved by Ibn Khaldun. In particular, in Al-Tanbeeh he makes a systematic study of history against a perspective of geography, sociology, anthropology and ecology. Masu'di had a deep insight into the causes of rise and fall of nations.
With his scientific and analytical approach he has given an account of the causes of the earthquake of 955 A.D., as well as the discussions of the water of the Red Sea and other problems in the earth sciences. He is the first author to make mention of windmills, which were invented by the Muslims of Sijistan.
Masu'di also made important contributions to music and other fields of science. In his book Muruj al-Zahab he provides important information on early Arab music as well as music of other countries.
His book Muruj al-Zahab wa al-Ma'adin al-Jawahir (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Precious Stones) has been held as 'remarkable' because of the 'catholicity of its author, who neglected no source of information and of his truly scientific curiosity'. As mentioned above, it was followed by his treatise Muruj al-Zaman. In addition to writing a supplement Kitab al-Ausat, he completed Kitabal-Tanbih wa al-Ishraf towards the end of his career. It is, however, unfortunate that, out of his 34 books as mentioned by himself in Al-Tanbih, only three have survived, in addition to Al-Tanbih itself.
Some doubts have been expressed about some claims related to his extensive traveling e.g., up to China and Madagascar, but the correct situation cannot be assessed due to the loss of his several books. Whatever he has recorded was with a scientific approach and constituted an important contribution to geography, history and earth sciences. It is interesting to note that he was one of the early scientists who propounded several aspects of evolution viz., from minerals to plant, plant to animal and animal to man. His researches and views extensively influenced the sciences of historiography, geography and earth sciences for several countries. [Adapted from History Centre and Personalities Noble]
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