views updated


(b. Qazwin [now Kasvin], Persia, ca. 1203; d 1283)

cosmography, geography.

An Arab by descent, al-Qazwīnī belonged to a family of jurists who had long before settled in Qazwīn. He seems to have left his native town at an early age, for in 1233 he was in Damascus, where he came under the influence of the mystic Ibn al-ʿArabī (b 1240). He was a jurist by training and held the office of qāḍī(judge) in Wāsiṭ and Ḥilla (Iraq) under the last ’ Abbāsid caliph, al-Mu’tasim (1241–1258).1

Al-Qazwīnī wrote two works: One on cosmography, ʿAja ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharāib al-mawjūdāt (“Wonders of the Creation and Unique [phenomena] of the Existence”),2 dedicated to ʿAṭā Malik-i Juwaynī (d. 1283); and one on geography, in two recensions, ʿAjāʿib al-buldān (“Wonders of the Lands”), written in 1262, and Āthār al-Bilād wa akhbār al-ʿibād (“Monuuments of the Lands and Histories of the Peoples”), written in 1275.3

Muslim cosmography had its origins in the Greek cosmographyical literature and was especially influenced by the works of Aristotle, but the first Muslim cosmographical works were not written until the twelfth century.4 The world view of the Muslim writers on the subjects,however, was mainly mystic Islamic; they believed that there was an organic or spiritual relationship between everything that existed in the universe (including the angels) and that nothing, not even a single atom, was created, including the wonderful and the unique phenomena, was a manifestation of divine wisdom and intelligence. It was for man to perceive and appreciate it and there by achieve happiness in the world hereafter. This theme dominates the writings of al-Qazwīnī, who undoubtedly seems to have been influenced by Ṣūfī thought. Quoting a verse from the Koran, “Do they not look at the firmament above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it?” (S.l: v. 6), al-Qazwīnī remarked that “looking” does not simply mean “turning the pupil of the eye towards it.” It means reflection on the intelligible (maʿqūlāt) and sensible (maḥsūsāt) things and investigation of the wisdom underlying them and behind the changes (taṣārīf) so that one discovers the truth that leads to mundane pleasures and happiness in the next world. But contemplation of the intelligible could be accomplished only by one who, being righteous in character and pure of soul, had in addition the knowledge of the sciences. It is then that he acquires insight and perceives the wonderful in everything.5 Hence, al-Qazwīnī accumulated in his work “the scattered material” and pieced together “the dissipated dAṭā” identifying the causes (of things) that an “unaware imbecile” would reject but that an “intelligent and reasonable” person would not refuse, even though it might be remote from “the normal practice.”6

For his treatise on cosmography al-Qazwīnī cited more than a hundred written and oral sources, including Aristotle;7 Ptolemy;8 Dioscorides;9 Balīnās; 10 al-Jaḥiẓ; 11 al-Rāzī; 12 Ibn Sīnā; 13 al-Bīrūnī; 14 Abū Ḥāmid al-Gharnātī (d. 1170); 15 the Koran and the Hadīth: the Torah; 16al-Filaḥā by Ibn Wahsḥiyya; 17 the Tuḥfat al-gharāʿib;18 and a number of accounts by historians, geographers, and travelers. He also obtained oral information from his friends, who included jurists, judges, and explorers. There is great resemblance between the first part of ʿAjāʾib al-makhlūqāt wa ghara ib al-mawjūdāt, which deals with the celestial world, and the contemporary Christian epistles on the same subject, and especially with the anonymous Syriac work ’Ellath hull ’Ellān.19 These works have several common sources.

AI-Qazwīnī’s vast knowledge of the sciences is reflected throughout his work: and he was well-verscd in other subjects as well, for example, the Islamic sciences, history, and literature. To present systematically the various scientific concepts and theories that he so ably did, he must have studied the sciences as developed by the Muslims; and he must have collected and classified the data under appropriate headings. But he generally lacked critical ability and originality of thought. His aim was to present facts as they were available to him and to highlight, wherever necessary, the wonderful and the unique aspects of the universe. Throughout his work he also described the medicinal values, based on earlier authorities, minerals, plants, and animals; and the stressed the influence of the heavenly bodies on human life. These aspects must have been an important reason for the popularity of his work in later centuries. Whatever the demerits of the work may be, he was undoubtedly the greatest Muslim cosmographer of medieval times.

Al-Qazwīnīs work on cosmography begins with an introduction in which he explains the meaning of the words al-ʿajab (“a perplexing phenomenon whose cause or mode of influence a man is unable to grasp”) and al-gharīb (“every perplexing phenomenon, rare in occurrence, and contrary to the normal practice and usual observation”). He also describes the different categories of the created beings. The work is then divided into two parts, the first dealing with the celestial world, and the second dealing with the terrestrial world—the demarcation between the two being the sublunar region. The subdivisions of each part are given the name al-Naẓar (“contemplation”).

In the first part al-Qazwīnī surveyed the astronomical knowledge of the Muslims and the astrological beliefs of the Arabs, described the inhabitants of the firmament (for example, the angels), and discussed in detail the calendars of the Arabs, the Romans, and the Persians, including their festivals and customs.

The spiritual approach of al-Qazwīnī to various astronomical and philosophical problems may be judged from the following examples. On the views of the philosophers that the sphere (al-falak) was limited and that beyond it space was neither empty (khalāʿ) nor full (malāʿ) he remarks that Muhammad ibn ’Umar al-Rāzī (d. 1210), after having exposed the falsehood of this belief, said, “Any one who attempts to determine the (extent) of the kingdom of God with the yardstick of reason faces utter misguidance.” 20 Again, after stating that Aristotle and “his companions” believed that time was the measure of the movement of the sphere, while others considered it the passage of days and nights, al-Qazwīnī said, “Time is the most precious capital by which all happiness is earned and it dwindles away gradually. Your Time is your life and its quantity is known to God even though it may not be known to you.”21

On the angels al-Qazwīnī said that they are formed of a simple substance, possessing life and intelligence, but are free from sexual desire and anger. They are obedient to God and execute His will22 and arc meant for the welfare of the world and the perfection of being.23 They also assist in the metabolic process of digestion, which, if unaided, men could not perform. Hence men are the apparent workers while angels are the imperceptible workers.24

The second part of ʿAjāʾib al-makhluqūāt wa gharāʿih al-mawjūdāt deals with the elements and their spheres —the sphere of fire, meteors, and thunderbolts; the sphere of air, clouds, rains, winds, thunder and lightning, and halo and rainbow; the sphere of water, seas, islands, and the fishes and animals found in them; the sphere of earth, shape, size, circumference and motion of the earth, mountains, rivers, and springs; as well as minerals, varieties of stones, quicksilver,sulfur, and ambergris; plants, animals, and man; birds, insects, reptiles, and hybrid animals; and shapes, dresses, and colors of angels. It is in this part of the book that al-Qazwīnī revealed his extensive knowledge and grasp of the sciences.

The element (’ʿunṣur) forms the original substance and hence the bodies(ajsām), namely, fire, air, water, and earth, are called elements or pillars (arkān) because it is from them that minerals, plants, and animals originate. Each of the elements has a sphere of its own (although some overlapping others, as the sphere of air with those of fire and earth), dual temperaments and qualities, and a center wherein it rests naturally unless restrained by a hindering object (māniʾ). When this object is removed the element either pulls itself toward the circumfere of the universe the circumference of the universe, where it becomes light. The elements possess the property of inter changeability.25

All bodies originating from their sources (umm) either have the quality of growth or they do not have it. To the latter category belong the minerals. Those bodies that possess the quality of growth may or may not have the faculty of sensibility and motion. To the latter category belong the plants; animals belong to the former.

Of the material (mādda) out of which minerals, plants, and animals are produced, al-Qazwīnī stated that the philosophers assert that the first things the elements change into are vapors (al-bukhār) and extracts (al-ʿaṣir). The finer parts of the sea and river waters rise into the air in the form of vapors because of the action of solar heat; the extracts of the rain waters imported inside the earth mix with the earth particles and become thick.The innate heat of the earth then”cooks it thoroughly” and turns the extract into the material needed for the production of connected with the other by a wonderful arrangement and extraordinary system. Thus, the first (lowest) body in the order of the universe is the earth and the last (highest) is the pure angelic soul. The first (lowest) part of the minerals is joined to earth or water and the last (highest) part is joined to the plants; then the first of the plants is joined to minerals and the last to the animals; the first of the animals is joined to the plants and the last to man; and the first of human souls is joined to animals and the last to angelic souls.26 Minerals are produced by the vapors and smokes inside the earth that become mingled in different types of mixtures in different quantities and modes. Hence al-Qazwīnī discussed in detail a variety of minerals with different qualities and properties.27

Plants occupy the middle position between minerals and animals. The “defect” of being in a solid state (like the minerals) is absent from them, yet they cannot attain the stage of complete sensibility and motion that is peculiar to animals. Yet plants do have a few qualities in common with the animals. God provides every genus with certain organs to ensure its protection, and any additional provision would be burdensome. Moreover, plants, unlike animals, do not need sensibility and motion. It is one of the wonders of divine workmanship that the seed and the stone, when planted in the earth, draw their nourishment from the sun and from the fine particles of the earth and water. These particles then “heap upon each other” by means of the faculties (quwā) created by God in them until they mature and grow into plants and trees with trunks, leaves, and fruits.28

Al-Qazwīnī also described the different stages of evolution in the birth of man, beginning with the change of food into semen in the body, conception, and the fetus.29

Al-Qazwīnī placed animals in the third stage of the creation, furthest removed from their sources. Although minerals retain their solid state, they belong to the first stage because of their proximity to the simple objects (basāʿiṭ).Occupying the middle position between minerals and animals, plants belong to the second stage because they acquire the quality of growth and development. Animals occupy the third stage because they combine the qualities of growth, sensibility, and motion, which are present in every “animal,” including flies and mosquitos.30 Man is a combination of soul and body and is the noblest of the animals and the choicest of the creation. He is a small world in himself. He possesses the qualities of speech, intelligence, feeling, and vigor and has a brain; each of these performs its duty in protecting him. He is a plant by virtue of growth, an animal by virtue of sensibility and motion, and an angel by virtue of his knowledge of the reality of things.31

Like his work on cosmography, al-Qazwīnī wrote Āthār al-bilād to collect information on the fine objects created by God and on the wonders of his wisdom bestowoed upon the countries and the peoples.32 It is a geographical dictionary in which each town and country is described in alphabetical order within each of the seven Ptolemaic climes running parallel to the equator from east to west in the Northern Hemisphere. After describing the geographical position and some physical features of a location, al-Qazwīnī mentioned personalities connected with it and recorded interesting aspects of their lives; but such descriptions were confined mainly to the Islamic world. The Ṣūfīs and religious men, jurists and imāms found an honored place in his accounts. He then related the unique features, wonderful objects, talismans, and interesting habits and customs of the inhabitants of the place. The work includes three introductions: the first deals with the sociological need for the foundation of cities and villages; the second discusses the special properties of lands and is divided into two sections, one covering the influence of lands on its inhabitants and the other examining minerals, plants, and animals; the third introduction deals with the climes (aqālīm) of the earth.

Al-Qazwīnī utilized a number of sources for his book, including literary works, histories and legends, geographical works, and travel accounts; but in drawing information from them he kept in view his main objective, namely, selection of the wonderful and the unique aspects of the lands and their inhabitants. Much of the information and sources are identical with those of his work on cosmography. As a geographer his main contribution lies in the fields of human and physical geography.


1. On the life of al-Qazwīnī, see Krachkovsky, Arabskaya geograficheskaya literatura (Moscow-Leningrad, 1957), with Arabic trans, by Ṣalab al-Dīn ʿUthmān Hʾshim as Ta’rikh al-adab al-jughrāfī alʿArabī, I (Cairo, 1963), 360–361. Cf. M. Streck, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st ed., II,841–844.

2. The oldest MS is dated 1280; but Wiistenfeld’s ed. (Göttingen, 1849) is based on the third recension of the work, hence it is considered arbitrary and unauthentic (Krachkovsky, op. cit., 362; Streck, op. cit., 842). The ed. used for the present article was printed on the margin of al-Damīrīʿs Kitāb al-Hayawān (Cairo, A.H. 1309), repr. by Dār al-Qāniūs (Beirut, n.d.). It was based on the second recension to which also belonged the oldest MS; see Streck, op. cit., 841, 842, 844.

3. For a full description of the extant MSS of both ʿAja’ib al-makhlūqāt and Āthār al-bilād and on their Persian, Turkish, and Chaghaṭāy trans., see Krachkovsky, op. cit., 362–365; C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabīsehen litteratur, I (Leiden, 1943), 481 and supp., I (Leiden, 1937), 882-883; C. A. Storey, Persian Literature, II, pt. I (London, 1958), 124–128; E. G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia, II (Cambridge, 1951–1953), 482–483.

4. See Krachkovsky, op. cit., 324.

5.ʿAja’ib, I, 3–4.

6.ʿIbāD., 6.

7. Aristotle was an important source of al-Qazwīnī’s thought; on his Kitāb al-Ifayawdn, see Ḥājjī Khalīfa, Kashf, al-ẓunūn, I (Istanbul, 1941), 696. The so-called Petrology of Aristotle, wrongly attributed to Aristotle, was also a source (see Streck, op. cit., 843). Cf. R. Walzcr, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., I, 632.

8. Ptolemy’s Almagest formed an important source of al-Qazwīnī’s knowledge of astronomy.

9. Dioscorides is quoted on stones and plants, probably from his Kitāb al-Ḥishāʿish see Ibn Juljul, Ṭabaqāt al-atibba’ wa ’l-ḥukama’, FuʿAd Sayyid, ed. (Cairo 1955), intra, and 21–23.

10. Balīnās of the Arabs was the sage whose personality was based on the tradition about Appolonius of Tyana in Cappadocia (1st century); his work Kitāb al-Khawāṣṣs referred to by al-Qazwīnī is a fiction in the opinion of Steinschneider and has not yet been traced; see M. Plessner, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., II, 994–995.

11. Al-Qazwinl used his al-Hayawān extensively.

12. Al-Qazwīnī quotes al-Rāzī on subjects of medicinal value and even on geographical information thAṭāl-Rāzī borrowed from the original geographical sources, includīng al-Jayhānī.

13. Al-Qazwīnī used the al-Shifa’ of Ibn Sīnā, who formed an important source of al-Qazwīnī’s knowledge. He relates experience about the rainbow (ʿAja’ib, I, 162–163) on a mountain between Abīward and Juūs while the clouds were below him; as he descended the circle of the rainbow narrowed, and when he reached the cloud it disappeared; cf. al-Shifāʿ, al-Ṭabīyyāt, section 5 . al-MaʿāDīn wa ʿl-Āthār al-ʿulwiyya, Ibrahim Madkour et al., eds. (Cairo, 1965), 52–53.

14. Al-Qazwīnī used al-Bīrūnī’s al-Āthār al-bāqiya an al-qurūn al-khāliya and other works.

15. Al-Qazwīnī seems to have consulted his Tuḥfat al-albāb wa mtkhbat al-a’jdb; but he also mentions a Kitāb al-ʿAjd’ib (ʿAja’ib, I, 198, 205), which is probably the same as Tuḥfat al-athaby Dubler, ed., with a Spanish trans. (Madrid, 1953).

16. The first book of the Toōrah is quoted on genesis, although indirectly, from Arabīc biographical works. On the various recensions and trans, of the Toōraāh into Syriac and Arabīc, see Ḥājjī Khalīfa, op. cit., 504–506.

17. All the references to al-Filaḥā, except the one on locusts (ʿAja’ib. II, 269), pertain to plants and fruits. The full title of Ibn Wahsḥiyya’s work is al-Tildha al-nabatiyya (“Naba-taean Agriculture”); al-Qazwīnī also probably used Ibn Wabshiyya’s Kitāb Asraār al-shams wa ’l-Qamar, see al-Dimashqī, Nukhbat al-dahr fi ʿAja’ib al-bahr wa ’l-bahr, Mehren, ed. (Leipzig, 1923), 78. Cf. Brockelmann, op. cit., supp. I, 430–431, on Ibn Wabshiyya’s works.

18. The work used by al-Dimashqī is also identified with Tuḥfat al-ʿaja’ ib wa turfat al-ghara’ib by Mehren, who attributes it to Majd al-Dīn Abū ʿ-SaʿAda lbn al-Athlr al-Jazari (d. 1210); see Mehren, al-Dimashqī, op. cit., lxxxviii. Cf. Brockelmann, op. cit., I, 609, for another name of the work: al-Durr al-mudiʿA fi ʿaja’ib al-barriyya. The Arabic biographical accounts, however, differ about the authorship of the work.

19. Kayser.ed. (Leipzig, 1889).

20.ʿAja’ib, I , 92.

21.ʿIbid., 108.

22.ʿIbid., 93.

23.ʿIbid., 94.

24.ʿIbid., 107–108.

25.ʿIbid., 144–145.

26.ʿIbid., 281–282.

27.ʿIbid., 282 ff.

28.ʿIbid., II, 2.

29.ʿIbid., 93–97.

30.ʿIbid., 78.

31.ʿibid., 80.

32.Āthār al-Bilād. The ed. used for the present article was published in Beirut (1960).

S. Maqbul Ahmad

About this article


Updated About content Print Article