Part 2a

The Earth Icon

January 30, 2020

Philosophers speculated about the condition of the world in the books. They say that the earth is a sphere enveloped by water, like a grape floating on water.

The water withdrew from certain parts of (the earth), because God wanted to create living beings upon it and settle it with the human species that rules as (God’s) representative over all other beings. 14

The natural “below” of the earth is the core and middle of its sphere, the center to which everything is attracted by its gravity.

All the sides of the earth beyond that and the water surrounding the earth are “above.” When some part of the earth is said to be “below,” it is said to be so with reference to some other region (of the earth).

The part of the earth from which the water has withdrawn is one-half the surface of the sphere of the earth. It has a circular form and is surrounded on all sides by the element of water which forms a sea called “the Surrounding Sea” (al-Bahr al-Muhit).

It is also called lablayah, 15 with thickening of the second l, or oceanos. 16 Both are non-Arabic words.

It is also called “the Green Sea” and “the Black Sea.”

The part of the earth that is free from water (and thus suitable) for human civilization has more waste and empty areas than cultivated (habitable) areas. The empty area in the south is larger than that in the north. The cultivated part of the earth extends more toward the north.

In the shape of a circular plane it extends in the south to the equator and in the north to a circular 17 line, behind which there are mountains separating (the cultivated part of the earth) from the elemental water. Enclosed between (these mountains) is the Dam of Gog and Magog. These mountains extend toward the east.

In the east and the west, they also reach the elemental water, at two sections (points) of the circular (line) that surrounds (the cultivated part of the earth). The part of the earth that is free from water is said to cover one-half or less of the sphere (of the earth).

The cultivated part covers one-fourth of it. It is divided into seven zones. 18

The equator divides the earth into two halves from west to east. It represents the length of the earth. It is the longest line on the sphere of (the earth), just as the ecliptic and the equinoctial line are the longest lines on the firmament. The ecliptic is divided into 360 degrees.

The geographical degree is twenty-five parasangs, the parasang being 12,000 cubits or three miles, since one mile has 4,000 cubits. The cubit is twenty-four fingers, and the finger is six grains of barley placed closely together in one row. 19

The distance of the equinoctial line, parallel to the equator of the earth and dividing the firmament into two parts, is 90 degrees from each of the two poles.

However, the cultivated area north of the equator is (only) sixty-four degrees. 20 The rest is empty and uncultivated because of the bitter cold and frost, exactly as the southern part is altogether empty because of the heat.

We shall explain it all, if God wills.Information about the cultivated part and its boundaries and about the cities, towns, mountains, rivers, waste areas, and sandy deserts it contains, has been given by men such

Ptolemy in the Geography and afterwards by the author of the Book of Roger by Muhammad b. Muhammad al-ldrisi (AD 1099/1100-1162).

These men divided the cultivated area into seven zones with borders from east to west.

In width (latitudinal extension) they are identical, in length (longitudinal extension) different. The first zone is longer than the second. The same applies to the second zone, and so on. The seventh zone is the shortest. This is required by the circular shape that resulted from the withdrawal of the water from the sphere of the earth.

Each of the seven zones is divided from west to east into ten contiguous sections. Information about general conditions and civilization is given for each section.

The geographers mentioned that the Mediterranean branches off from the Surrounding Sea in the western part of the fourth zone. It begins at a narrow straits about 12 miles wide between Tangier and Tarifa, called the Street of Gibraltar.

It then extends east and opens out to a width of 600 miles. It terminates at the end of the fourth section of the fourth zone, a distance of 1,160 parasangs from its starting point. There, it is bordered by the coast of Syria. On the south, it is bordered by the coast of the Maghrib, beginning with Tangier at the Straits, then lfrigiyah, Barqah, and Alexandria.

On the north, it is bordered by the coast of Constantinople, then Venice, Rome, France, and Spain, back to Tarifa at the Street (of Gibraltar) opposite Tangier.

The Mediterranean is also called the Roman Sea or the Syrian Sea. It has many populous islands. Some of them are large, such as Crete, Cyprus, Sicily, Majorca, and Sardinia. 23

In the north, two other seas branch off from the Mediterranean through two straits.

One of them is opposite Constantinople. It starts at the Mediterranean in a narrow strait, only an arrow-shot in width. It flows for a three days’ run and touches Constantinople.

Then, it attains a width of four miles. It flows in this channel for 60 miles, where it is known as the Straits of Constantinople. Through a mouth 6 miles wide, it then flows into the Black Sea, 24 and becomes a sea that, from there, turns eastward in its course.

It passes the land of Heracleia (in Bithynia) 25 and ends at the country of the Khazars, 1,300 miles from its mouth. Along its two coasts live the Byzantine, the Turkish, the Bulgar (Burjin) ’ 26 and the Russian nations.

The second sea that branches off from the two straits of the Mediterranean is the Adriatic Sea (Gulf of Venice). It emerges from Byzantine territory at its northern limit. Then, from Sant’ Angelo (de’ Lombardi), its western boundary extends from the country of the Venetians to the territory of Aquileia, 1,100 miles from where it started.

On its two shores live the Venetians, the Byzantines (Rum), etc. It is called the Gulf of Venice (Adriatic Sea).

From the Surrounding Sea, a large and wide sea flows on the east at 13 degrees north of the equator. It flows a little toward the south, entering the first zone. Then it flows west within the first zone until it reaches the country of the Abyssinians and the Negroes (the Zanj) 27 and Bib al-Mandeb in the fifth section of (the first zone), 4,500 parasangs from its starting point.

This sea is called the Chinese, Indian, or Abyssinian Sea (Indian Ocean). It is bordered on the south by the country of the Negroes (Zanj) and the country of Berbera which Imru’ul-Qays mentioned in his poem. 28

These “Berbers” do not belong to the Berbers who make up the tribes in the Maghrib. The sea is then bordered by the area of Mogadishu, Sufilah, and the land of al-Wigwiq, 29 and by other nations beyond which there is nothing but waste and empty areas.

On the north, where it starts, it is bordered by China, then by Eastern and Western India (al-Hind and as- Sind), and then by the coast of the Yemen, that is, al-Ahqif, Zabid, and other cities. Whereit ends, it is bordered by the country of the Negroes, and, beyond them, the Beja. 30

Two other seas, they say, branch off from the Indian Ocean. One of them branches off where the Indian Ocean ends, at Bib al-Mandeb. It starts out narrow, then flows widening toward the north and slightly to the west until it ends at the city of al-Qulzum in the fifth section of the second zone, 1,400 miles from its starting point. This is the Sea of al-Qulzum or Sea of Suez (Red Sea).

From the Red Sea at Suez to Fustat 31 is the distance of a three days’ journey. The Red Sea is bordered on the east by the coast of the Yemen, the Hijiz, and Jiddah, 32 and then, where it ends, by Midyan (Madyan), Aila (Aylah), and Faran. 33

On the west, it is bordered by the coast of Upper Egypt, ‘Aydhib, Suakin, and Zayla’ (Zila’), and then, where it begins, by the country of the Beja. It ends at al-Qulzum. It (would) reach the Mediterranean at al-‘Arish. The distance between (the Red Sea and the Mediterranean) is a six days’ journey.

Many rulers, both Muslim and pre-Islamic, have wanted to cut through the intervening territory (with a canal) but this has not been achieved.

The second sea branching off from the Indian Ocean and called the Persian Gulf (the Green Gulf), branches off at the region between the west coast of India and al-Ahqaf in the Yemen. It flows toward the north and slightly to the west until it ends at al-Ubullah on the coast of al-Basrah in the sixth section of the second zone, 440 parasangs from its starting point.

It is called the Persian Gulf (Persian Sea). It is bordered on the east by the coast of Western India, Mukrin, Kirmin, Firs, and al-Ubullah where it ends. On the west, it is bordered by the coast of al-Bahrayn, the Yamamah, Oman, ash-Shihr, and al-Ahgaf where it starts. Between the Persian Gulf and al-Qulzum lies the Arabian Peninsula, jutting out from the mainland into the sea. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the south, by the Red Sea to the west, and by the Persian Gulf to the east.

It adjoins the ‘Iraq in the region between Syria and al-Basrah, where the distance between (Syria and the ‘Iraq) is 1,500 miles. In Iraq are al-Kufah, al-Qidistyah, Baghdad, the Reception Hall of Khosraw at Ctesiphon 34 and al-Hirah.

Beyond that live non-Arab nations such as the Turks, the Khazars, and others. The Arabian Peninsula comprises the Hijaz in the west, the Yamamah, al-Bahrayn, and Oman in the east, and in the south the Yemen along the coast of the Indian Ocean.

In the cultivated area (of the earth), they say, there is another sea to the north in the land of the Daylam. This sea has no connection with the other seas. It is called the Sea of Jurjan and Tabaristan (Caspian Sea). Its length is 1,000 miles, and its width 600.

To its west lies Azerbaijan and the Daylam territory; to the east of it the land of the Turks and Khuwirizm; to the south of it Tabaristan; and to the north of it the land of the Khazars and the Alans.

The largest rivers are:

  • the Nile
  • the Euphrates
  • the Tigris
  • the River of Balkh which is called Oxus (Jayhun).

The Nile begins at a large mountain, 16 degrees beyond the equator at the boundary of the fourth section of the first zone. This mountain is called the Mountain of the Qumr. 35 No higher mountain is known on earth. Many springs issue from the mountain, some of them flowing into one lake there, and some of them into another lake.

From these two lakes, several rivers branch off, and all of them flow into a lake at the equator which is at the distance of a ten days’ journey from the mountain. From that lake, two rivers issue. One of them flows due north, passing through the country of the Nubah and then through Egypt. Having traversed Egypt, it divides into many branches lying close to each other. Each of these is called a “channel.” All flow into the Mediterranean at Alexandria. This river is called the Egyptian Nile. It is bordered by Upper Egypt on theeast, and by the oases on the west. The other river turns westward, flowing due west until it flows into the Surrounding Sea. This river is the Sudanese Nile. 36 All the Negro nations live along its borders.

The Euphrates begins in Armenia in the sixth section of the fifth zone. It flows south through Byzantine territory (Anatolia) past Malatya to Manbij, and then passes Siflin, ar-Raggah, and al-Kufah until it reaches the Marsh (alBatha’) between al-Basrah and Wasit. From there it flows into the Indian Ocean.

Many rivers flow into it along its course. Other rivers branch off from it and flow into the Tigris. The Tigris originates in a number of springs in the country of Khilat, which is also in Armenia.

It passes on its course southward through Mosul, Azerbaijan, and Baghdad to Wasit. There, it divides into several channels, all of which flow into the Lake of al-Basrah and join the Persian Gulf. The Tigris flows east of the Euphrates. Many large rivers flow into it from all sides. The region between the Euphrates and the Tigris, where it is first formed, is the Jazirah of Mosul, facing Syria on both banks of the Euphrates, and facing Azerbaijan on both banks of the Tigris. The Oxus originates at Balkh, in the eighth section of the third zone, in a great number of springs there. Large rivers flow into it, as it follows a course from south to north. It flows through Khurasan, then past Khurasan to Khuwarizm in the eighth section of the fifth zone. It flows into Lake Aral (the Lake of Gurganj) which is situated at the foot [north?] of the city of (Gurganj). In length as in width, it extends the distance of one month’s journey. The river of Farghanah and Tashkent (ash-Shash), 37 which comes from the territory of the Turks, flows into it.

West of the Oxus lie Khurasan and Khuwarizm.

East of it lie the cities of Bukhari, at-Tirmidh, and Samarkand. Beyond that are the country of the Turks, Farghanah, the Kharlukh, 38 and (other) non-Arab nations.


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