One of the factors that stimulated geographical research among the Muslims was the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca (Hajj). The Muslims conceived Mecca as the central point of the world and tried to find easily accessible routes, and the distances and directions of different cities and towns from the central point. It was also necessary to find the correct direction of each place from Mecca so that Muslims could offer their daily prayers facing the direction of Mecca. As the Muslims influence and faith spread to far distant places in the north, east, west, and south, efforts to find direction and location of each region from Mecca became all the more necessary. This led to the determination of points of longitude and latitude of hundreds of towns and cities with greater exactness and accuracy than before. The invention of the compass was also made possible by this urge to find the correct direction of Mecca from different parts of the world. Again, the daily prayers necessitated the proper timing of each prayer and proper times of fast. This urge to worship God at the proper times and to fast for His pleasure during the correct timing of the day in the different parts of the world led to great efforts and research into these subjects.
Philop K. Hitti, "History of the Arabs", rightly admits the influence of worship and the Ka'bah in stimulating scientific studies by the Muslims in the field of geography. "The institution of the Holy Pilgrimage, the orientation of the mosques towards Mecca and the need for determining the direction of the Ka'bah at the time of prayer gave religious impetus to the Muslims' study of geography. Astrology, which necessitated the determining of the latitudes and longitudes of all places throughout the world, added its scientific influence. Muslim traders between the 7th and 9th centuries reached China on the east both by sea and by land, attained the island of Zanzibar and the farthest coasts of Africa on the south, penetrated Russia on the north and were checked in their advance westward only by the dreaded waters of the 'Sea of Darkness" (the Atlantic).
The main stimulus to acquire knowledge of everything, including geography, came from the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet, which led the Arabs to find knowledge from the four corners of the world. In this search they found instruments and tools in Greek literature which proved very useful to them in their quest for geographical knowledge. As they advanced in geographical knowledge, these tools enabled them to make their studies more systematic and scientific. But this in no way means that their geographical studies were stimulated by the Greeks, because the stimulus to knowledge had already been provided by the Revelation which encouraged them to acquire all the existing knowledge through translating useful works of other peoples. However, they continued their studies of different regions and lands and discovered new fields of geographical knowledge unknown to previous nations, including the Greeks and the Romans.
The Islamic Bulletin
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