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Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Muqaddasi

Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Muqaddasi

Circa 945 –circa 990



Describing Islamic Lands . The geography of Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Muqaddasi is considered the finest achievement in this field of medieval Islamic literature. Born in Palestine and bearing a family name derived from a name for city of Jerusalem (then called al-Bait al-Muqaddas, “the sacred house”), al-Muqaddasi later said that he decided to write his book during a sojourn in Shiraz in southwestern Iran in 985, by which time he had passed the age of forty and had made two pilgrimages to Makkah along with other journeys. Like some previous geographers, he included a wealth of lore about individual cities and regions: climate, products, resources, sacred sites, customs, political and religious factions, and trade routes. His most distinctive contribution, however, is a broad conception of the land of Islam as an integral geographical zone. He thus named his book Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Ma’rifat al-Aqalim (The Best Division for Knowledge of the Provinces). Dividing the totality of the Islamic lands into a western, Arab half and an eastern, non-Arab half, he systematically analyzed the structure of each province and subprovince starting with the largest cities and working down through a hierarchy of subordinate towns and locales. His information on routes and products strongly suggests that he saw his work as being of value to merchants, but he also included long descriptive passages composed in rhyming prose to appeal to the taste of the educated reader.


Basil Anthony Collins, Al-Muqaddasi: The Man and His Work, with Selected Passages Translated from the Arabic (Ann Arbor: Department of Geography, University of Michigan, 1974).

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