Chapter 10 Ancient Arabia thinking about history and geography

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Ancient Arabia


In this chapter you will read how early peoples lived in the deserts and mountains of Arabia. Farming, herding, and trade developed in this region. The religion of Islam spread rapidly to unite many Arabs in one belief. The civilization that followed built a glorious capital city and created many legacies that still influence people today.



Geography of Arabia

Focus Activity


How did the people of the Arabian peninsula adapt to the region's geography?


• oasis

• caravan


• Arabia

• Persian Gulf

• Arabian Sea

• Red Sea

• Yemen

• Petra

Read Aloud

The summer wind picked up, its passing gusts and fiery blasts.

Back and forth they tugged a flowing train of stirred-up dust

Whose cloud flies up like smoke when the kindling is lit.

This 1,400-year-old Arabic poem describes parts of Arabia in the summertime.


Arabia is a huge peninsula in southwestern Asia. It lies south of the Fertile Crescent and east of Egypt. By the time Constantine rose to power in Europe around A.D. 300, Arabia had a number of flourishing civilizations.

Arabian traders had long been traveling to cities in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and Palestine. In the busy cities of Palestine, for example, merchants sold luxury items such as frankincense (FRANG kihn sens). This costly, perfume-like ingredient is made from the frankincense tree, which grows in few places outside of southern Arabia.

Today the region of Arabia contains several nations, including Yemen, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In this lesson you will read about the ways in which early people of these areas used their environment to develop thriving civilizations.

Dates are an important crop of the Arabian peninsula.



The Arabian peninsula is bounded by the Persian Gulf to the east. To the south is the Arabian Sea. To the west, the Red Sea almost completely separates Arabia from Africa. Find these places on the map below.

Arabia can be divided into three environmental areas. Find them on the map. The Jabal al-Hijaz (JAB al al hihj AZ) mountains rise along Arabia's west coast to its southernmost tip. The rainfall here makes agriculture possible.

Arabia's east coast is the second environmental area. It is also fertile enough for farming.

The third area covers the inner part of the Arabian peninsula. It is mostly desert. About one quarter of Arabia gets fewer than 10 inches of rain each year, and there are few rivers.

The Desert Environments

Some of Arabia's deserts contain stone cliffs. Others have huge hills of sand. The world's largest continuous body of sand is on the Arabian peninsula. This region, called the Empty Quarter, is uninhabitable. Some parts have no rain for 10 years or more. Other parts enjoy winter cloudbursts that allow desert plants to grow. All of Arabia's deserts have a lack of water and an oven-like summer heat.

Some parts of a desert are not dry. Such an area is an oasis (oh AY sis). Oases are watered by underground springs. People can grow crops in the soil of these areas. Some oases are even large enough to support towns. However, there are few oases in Arabia, and few people live in any part of the peninsula's deserts.


Both the east and west coasts of the Arabian peninsula are fertile enough for farming.

1. Which desert is farther north—the Syrian Desert or the Rub' Al-Khali Desert?

2. Which body of water separates the Arabian peninsula from Africa?

3. Into which body of water do the Tigris River and the Euphrates River flow?


Trade caravans like the one above stopped in Petra (right), the capital of the Nabataean civilization. This temple was carved out of rock there.


The Arabian peninsula is named for the Arabs, the people who have lived there for over 3,000 years. The word "Arab" was first recorded around 800 B.C. It referred to the people living in northern Arabia who had domesticated the camel. Early Arabs used these animals to travel around the peninsula.

Arabia's Fertile Regions

Most of the early people of Arabia lived in fertile regions. Some Arabians lived in the mountainous southwestern area that is now the country of Yemen (YE mun). These people became known as the Sabaean (suh BEE un) civilization. Find Yemen on the Atlas map on page R10 in the back of this book.

This area receives enough rainfall to support agriculture. Think about what you read in earlier chapters. What type of agriculture is most successful in mountainous regions?

Like the people in Italy and Greece, Sabaeans herded sheep and goats and grew grapes and wheat. By building irrigation canals, farmers improved their harvests. As Sabaean coastal towns developed, they began trading with the Egyptians, across the Red Sea.

Another early Arab people lived to the north, in what is today Jordan, around 300 B.C. Their kingdom was called Nabataea (nab uh TEE uh). They built their capital, Petra (PEH truh), in a place that had a large supply of water brought by aqueducts. Find Petra on the map on page 267.

Trade Across Desert and Sea

It is easy to see why Petra became an important stop on a trade route. There are no other well-watered places for hundreds of miles south of the city. Through trade with Asia and the Mediterranean, the Nabataean (nah buh TEE un) civilization grew rich. It flourished for about 400 years.

Ancient Arabs domesticated camels because they are very useful for desert travel. Camels can carry heavy loads, and go for days without water. They also provide milk to drink. Arab traders often traveled in camel caravans. A caravan is a group of people and animals traveling together. Caravans traveled along routes well known to desert


experts. Arab traders journeyed throughout the Arabian peninsula. They traded in cities of the Fertile Crescent and across the Red Sea in Egypt.

Peoples on the Move

One of the groups of people who traded in Arabia were called Bedouins (BED uh wunz). The word Bedouins means "people of the desert." They were family groups who lived mostly in the desert, traveling in caravans and sleeping in tents. Many Bedouin traders became wealthy and powerful, sometimes because they raided towns and other caravans.

Other peoples who often moved about were mountain herders. Like the herders of northern China, they moved to new grazing lands at different times of the year. Some went as far as the Fertile Crescent. As in China, the differences in lifestyle between herders and farmers sometimes caused conflict.


The geography of Arabia presented unique challenges to the people who built civilizations in this region. The rugged mountains and water-rich oases of the Arabian peninsula received enough moisture to make farming, herding, and some city-building possible. The people who lived in Arabia's vast stretches of desert had to adapt to very harsh conditions.

Ancient Arabia was divided by geography. However, in the A.D. 600s its people would become unified under a new religion. You will read about this religion in the next lesson.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• While some of Arabia is desert, the coastal areas receive enough rain to support agriculture.

• Towns and trade developed in fertile regions, at desert edges, and at oases.

• Trade linked ancient Arabia with Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.


1. In what ways do environments differ in various parts of Arabia?

2. How did people live in the mountainous environment of Yemen?

3. FOCUS How did varied geography influence the development of different cultures in Arabia?

4. THINKING SKILL Explain why the following statement is a fact or why it is an opinion: "The best Arabian trade routes were found in the western part of the peninsula."

5. GEOGRAPHY Study the map of Arabia. Which coast has more areas of high elevation?



Beginnings of Islam

Focus Activity


What are some of the major teachings of Islam?


• Islam

• Quran

• Kaaba

• hijra

• Five Pillars

• pilgrimage


• Muhammad

• Khadija


• Mecca

• Medina

Read Aloud

"Allah—there is no god but He ... Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." These words are from the Quran (kur AHN), the most holy book of the religion called Islam. It contains the most basic teachings of Islam. In this lesson you will read about how this religion came to hold great influence on the Arabian peninsula. In time Islam would spread throughout many areas of the world.


By A.D. 500 Hinduism had deep roots in the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism had spread to Southeast Asia and China. In China, Buddhism mixed with Confucian ideas. Christianity had grown around the Roman empire and spread into North Africa and Mesopotamia. Judaism, which had also grown in the eastern Mediterranean, reached as far as the oasis towns of western Arabia.

In the same region of Arabia, a new religion called Islam (is LAHM) was born. Islam means "submit to the will of God" in Arabic, the Arab language. Followers of Islam are called Muslims—which translates 'Ones who submit to God." The story and teachings of Islam have been written down in the Quran, the most important book of Islam. Its words are sacred to the more than 1 billion Muslims in the world today.



Traders crossed the Arabian peninsula as they followed routes that connected Asia, Arabia, and Africa.

1. Which goods were traded in eastern Arabia?

2. About how many miles was the trade route from Medina to Baghdad?


In the last lesson you read that traders had been crisscrossing the Arabian peninsula for hundreds of years. Find some of the caravan trade routes on the map on this page. By A.D. 500 traders carried goods and ideas to and from many different communities. In some towns Arab traders could buy iron tools from a Jewish craftworker or have a tooth pulled by a Christian dentist. Religious beliefs differed from place to place, as did languages and writing systems. The people in western Arabia had developed a written language, Arabic, sometime before 800 B.C. An example of Arabic writing is shown below.

According to Muslim tradition, a boy named Muhammad (mu HAM ud) was born in the oasis city of Mecca about A.D. 570. His father died before he was born. Because Muhammad's mother died not long after his birth, he was raised by an uncle who was a trader. In time Muhammad mastered the skill of leading caravans.

The writings that trace Muhammad's Life say that his skills caught the eye of a wealthy widow and merchant, Khadija (ka DEE jah). On her behalf Muhammad traveled to the Fertile Crescent to trade goods. When he returned From his journey, they were married.

The City of Mecca

Muhammad's marriage to Khadija is said to have given him wealth and respect in busy Mecca, where they lived. Mecca lay on the main trading route through western Arabia. Therefore, many merchants came to do business there.

The city also attracted other visitors because of the Kaaba (KAH buh), Mecca's temple. At this time the Kaaba was like the Pantheon of Rome. It honored gods and goddesses worshiped by the people of Mecca.


A young Bedouin reads from the Quran (left). Thousands of Muslims face the Kaaba as they pray (below).


According to Muslim belief Muhammad often went to a mountain cave near Mecca to pray. The writings say that one night, when Muhammad was about 40 years old, something happened that would change the history of Arabia.

Muslims believe that Muhammad received a message from Allah (ahl LAH). Allah is the Arabic word for God. Muhammad was told, "0 Muhammad, you are the Prophet of Allah." As you learned in Chapter 5, a prophet is believed by followers to speak for God. Over many years, Allah is said to have given other messages to Muhammad.

The Prophet Muhammad

Muslim writings say that Muhammad's wife Khadija helped him greatly. With her encouragement and support, he set out to teach people in Mecca about Allah. Over the next three years, his group of followers slowly grew.

According to tradition Muhammad aroused the anger of city leaders. They were upset because he criticized the Meccans' way of life and their belief in many gods. His disagreement with city leaders is said to have caused him and his followers to leave Mecca in 622.

Muhammad's Migration

The writings about Muhammad say that he moved over 200 miles from Mecca to another oasis town, Medina (muh DEE nuh). He gained many supporters there. Muhammad's hijra (HIHJ ruh)—Arabic for "migration"—marked a major turning point in Islamic history. The year of the hijra, 622, marks the starting point of the Islamic calendar.


Return to Mecca

Muslim scholars say that in 624 Muhammad led attacks on Meccan caravans, cutting off Mecca's source of riches. Later, with peace agreements, he is said to have won Mecca's surrender. After his victory in 630, Muhammad destroyed the statues of the gods and goddesses in the Kaaba and proclaimed Mecca a Muslim city. It is holy to Muslims to this day.

Writings state that Muhammad won the support of many Arabian communities. In 632 he is said to have spoken to his followers at Mecca. His words, taken from the Quran, were "[Muslim] believers are brothers one of another." Later that year Muhammad died.

The Sacred Book of Islam

In Islamic belief the Quran contains Allah's teachings to Muhammad. Muslims believe these words were written down soon after Muhammad's death. The most important teaching was that there was only one God in the universe—Allah. The Quran says that Allah is the God worshiped both by Christians and Jews.

We believe in God, and in that which has been sent down on Abraham . . . and that which was given to Moses and Jesus.

The Quran serves as a guide for living for Muslims, as the Bible does for Jews and Christians. Through its words, Muslims learn about Allah's teachings.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Quran outlines five basic duties of all Muslims. The purpose of these duties—the Five Pillars of Islam—is to strengthen Muslims' ties to Allah and to other people. The first pillar is the belief in one God, Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah's prophet. The second describes the prayers Muslims offer Allah five times each day. Wherever they are in the world, as they pray, Muslims look toward Mecca, their holy city. The third pillar speaks of giving to those in need, especially the poor. The fourth instructs Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan (rahm uh DAHN). From sunrise to sunset Muslims neither eat nor drink. They spend time in worship. The final pillar instructs Muslims who can afford it to visit Mecca at least once in their lives. A journey for religious purposes is called a pilgrimage.

The Quran's first chapter has important instructions. What do these words say about Islam?



Excerpt from The Quran, about A.D. 650 Chapter One, Verses 2-7.

Praise be to [Allah], The Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;

Most Gracious, Most Merciful Master of the Day of Judgment.

Thee do we worship and Thine aid we seek.

Show us the straight way,

The way of those on whom Thou halt bestowed Thy Grace.



Muhammad's death must have caused his followers great sorrow. One said, "0 men, if you worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead; if you worship Allah, Allah is alive." Muslims then joined together to spread the message of Islam.

During the '100 years after the death of Muhammad, the Islamic community grew steadily. It spread and flourished, and by A.D. 750, followers of Islam could be found from Spain all the way to the Indus valley.

Gradually, over a period of time, nonreligious legacies spread throughout this vast region, as well. Just as the Latin language spread through the Roman empire, for example, Arabic became the common language in many Islamic lands. The different peoples who came under Islamic rule also made many important contributions to the heritage of Islam. You will read about some of these contributions in the next lesson.

Islam Today

Of the great number of Muslims in the world today, around 5 million live in the United States. The customs of Muslims often vary from one country to another. However, nearly all Muslims honor the end of Ramadan with a joyful feast. People wear new clothes to celebrate the beginning of the month following the long fast.

Millions of Muslims from all around the world still make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca every year. Muslims everywhere view the pilgrimage as one of the most important events in their lives.

Muslims gather for worship in Cordoba, Spain (top). The end of Ramadan is celebrated by many with music and dance (right).


At home Muslim women take time to teach their children about the Quran. Muslim families have celebrations when sons or daughters memorize large parts of the Quran. Some young people go on to study Islam and other subjects at Muslim schools and colleges.


The modern city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, is the center of a world-wide Muslim community. No matter where they may be in the world, when they pray, Muslims always position themselves to face this holy city.

For almost 1,400 years Islam has been anchored in both the life of Muhammad and the teachings of the Quran. Throughout that long stretch of time, the religion of Islam has shaped civilizations and human achievements. You will read about some of those achievements in the next lesson.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• According to Muslim belief Muhammad, the founder of Islam, lived from A.D. 570 to 632. Muhammad preached that there was only one God—Allah.

• Muhammad journeyed from Mecca to Medina in 622. This event is called the hijra. Muhammad went on to become a powerful leader in Medina. Later he returned and proclaimed Mecca a holy city.

• Muslims believe that the sacred book of Islam, the Quran, contains holy teachings that Muhammad received from Allah.

• The Five Pillars of Islam from the Quran instruct Muslims about how they should honor Allah in their lives.


1. Why was Mecca an important religious center even before Islam was founded? Why was it an important trading city?

2. What is the most important teaching of Islam?

3. FOCUS How do the teachings of Islam affect the daily lives of Muslims?

4. THINKING SKILL According to Islamic writings, what was the main cause of Muhammad's hijra, or migration? What were some of its effects?

5. GEOGRAPHY Find the holy city of Mecca on the map on page 267. In what direction would a Muslim living in Mardin face during prayer? Estimate the distance that he or she would need to journey in making a pilgrimage to Mecca.



A Muslim Caliphate

Focus Activity


What did Muslims achieve in the city of Baghdad?


• caliph

• mosque

• algebra

• astrolabe


• Avicenna


• Baghdad

Read Aloud

Lining the docks, ships filled with Egyptian rice, Chinese dishware, Syrian glass, and Arabian pearls could be ' ,seen bobbing on the river. The roads leading to the city were crowded with farmers bringing oranges and cucumbers, and with traders carrying elegant carpets. Occasionally the government's 'air-mail" service flew overhead. The service was actually pigeons that had been trained to carry letters! Even more wonders lay within the incredible city of Baghdad (BAG dad).


Centuries before the founding of Baghdad, Persian rulers controlled lands north of the Arabian peninsula, from Egypt to India. By the A.D. 600s the Persian empire was in decline. As Islam developed in Mecca, Muhammad gained power on the Arabian peninsula. Leaders who ruled after Muhammad extended Islam to Persian lands and other areas. By 700 Muslim rulers controlled the Mediterranean region.

In 762 the Muslim ruler al-Mansur (al man SUR) decided to build a capital city along the Tigris River in present-day Iraq. He reportedly declared, "This is the site on which I shall build. Goods can arrive here by way of the Euphrates, Tigris, and a network of canals. Only a place like this will support the army and the general population." Not long afterwards the city of Baghdad began to take shape. The city along the Tigris quickly became the center of the Muslim civilization's greatest achievements in science, art, and architecture.



In the 760s Islam was just over 100 years old. Much had changed in this time. Caliphs (KAY lihfs) had been chosen to govern the land and religion of Islam. Caliph means "successor [to the Prophet]." The lands ruled by the caliph were called the caliphate (KAY luh fayt). As the map below shows, the caliphate expanded to western Asia and North Africa. In many places people welcomed the Muslims, who overthrew hated rulers of old. Many people became Muslims. Others did not, but they learned Arabic. An Islamic civilization united by Muslim leadership developed.


From the late 700s until the 1200s, Baghdad was the capital of the Muslim caliphate. One of the world's largest cities, it had about 1 million residents.

Baghdad's layout reflected the grandness of the Muslim caliphate. At the center of the city stood the caliph's huge, domed palace. Next to it rose a great mosque (MAHSK). A mosque is a place of worship where Muslims go for daily prayers.

From the center of Baghdad, four main roads went to all parts of the caliphate. Traders used these roads to bring riches from all over the caliphate and beyond.

Baghdad had an international flavor. Shoppers packed the streets where Arabian perfume, Indian pepper, African ivory, and Russian furs were among the items sold. Some shops sold only Chinese dishware, while others sold only books. Merchants had learned paper-making from the Chinese, and Baghdad's new paper mill made it possible to create many books.


Under the rule of the caliphs, an Islamic civilization spread throughout Arabia, North Africa, and western Asia.

1. Which rivers flowed near Baghdad?

2. Which city is closest to the Persian Gulf–Constantinople, Baghdad, or Mecca?

3. About how far is Baghdad from Mecca?



Baghdad's caliphs valued education and learning. Muhammad was said to have declared, "He who travels in search of knowledge, travels along Allah's path of Paradise." As a result, the caliphs preserved works from all over the caliphate in a huge library, the House of Wisdom. There, Greek, Roman, and Indian works were translated into Arabic. Over time these works spread throughout the caliphate and the world. Arab scholars read these books on history, science, law, and mathematics. Many later developed and improved these fields of study.

Advances in Medicine

Muslim doctors studied translations of Greek medical texts and a work by a famous Muslim doctor who lived in Persia in the early 1000s. His name was Ibn Sina (IHB un SEE nuh), or Avicenna (av ih SEN uh) in Latin. Avicenna described how some diseases spread through air and water. He wrote that stress could cause stomach problems and that cancer could be fought with surgery. In time Avicenna's book became a standard medical text in many parts of North Africa, western Asia, and Europe.

The caliphate had many doctors. Some of them treated patients in Baghdad's large hospitals. Others oversaw the government's "moving hospitals." These doctors and their assistants gave free treatment to patients who lived far from Baghdad. Such traveling medical teams carried beds, medicines, and other supplies by camel.

Math and Science

When calculating doses of medicine, doctors used a simpler number system

A Muslim doctor treats a patient (above). The site of Dome of the Rock (right) is considered to be holy by both Muslims and Jews.


than that of the Romans. In the Roman system, "XVIII" was "18"—its equal in Arabic numbers. You know the Arabic number system because we use it today.

Muslim mathematicians built on the work of Hindu scholars in India. For example, they helped improve earlier mathematics methods and notation. Muslims also added greatly to the field of al-jabr (al JAHB ur). In English, it's algebra, a type of mathematics.

In its vast collections, the House of Wisdom had many Arabic volumes on astronomy. Astronomy, the study of the stars and planets, was of great interest to Muslims. The Islamic calendar was based on the moon's movement. Stars also helped people determine directions. Muslims used a Greek instrument, the astrolabe (AS truh layb), which they improved, to figure out position from the stars.

Places of Worship

Throughout the caliphate, mosque builders took care to follow certain standards. They had to make sure the mosque faced Mecca. Special nooks in the walls showed people the direction of Mecca. From tall towers, religious leaders could call Muslims to prayer. Walled-in courtyards held hundreds of worshipers. Beyond these basic features, builders used their imaginations to make each mosque as beautiful as possible. Many remain standing today.

The oldest Muslim monument still standing is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Built in 691, this building is not a mosque. Instead it honors the place where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended into heaven. Its Roman-style dome and Greek columns show how Muslims combined old and new ideas to create a unique style of architecture.

Links to MUSIC

Where did you get that guitar?

Before A.D. 700, Arab musicians made and performed on stringed instruments. One of these was the oud (OOD) which has a pear-shaped body. Another favorite of Arab musicians was a similar instrument with a flat back, called the guitar. Many historians believe Arabs invented the instrument.

As the caliphate spread, Muslim musicians introduced their stringed instruments in Spain. The oud eventually developed into the lute, a popular instrument in Europe from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The Arabian guitar is the ancestor of the modern guitar that is still popular today. Can you think of any other instruments related to the guitar? Listen to a recording of a guitar.

Literature and Music

Long before Islam was born in Arabia, literature and music had been popular there. You read an excerpt from a pre-Islamic poem in the introduction to Lesson 1. Poetry remained well loved among the people of Baghdad, and its appreciation spread throughout the region at this time.

Folktales were also very popular among the citizens of Baghdad and the rest of the caliphate. Over time, favorites from Persia, India, Arabia, and other places were collected into a book called The Arabian Nights. The book's main story is of a wise princess named Scheherazade (she HAIR ah zand). She is married to a cruel king who threatens to kill her after their wedding. She saves herself by distracting him with tales of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, and other exciting stories.



Life in the Caliphate

During the time of the Baghdad Caliphate, Muslim control spread to parts of Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Important cultural and scientific achievements spread as -well. The stunning architecture of the Alhambra (left), a palace in Spain, is an example. What were some other achievements found in the Caliphate?


Around 1200, a Muslim teacher (below) who lived in what is today Turkey taught his students about the proper way to form sentences.

Court Life

This painting of court life above) in what is today an shows the wealth of the empire. Notice the oud player on the left.



Muslim weavers became famous for their beautiful rugs. Rugs from this region are still treasured for their excellent quality.


This jar (left) may have been used to pour water or wine. Notice the expert working of the design and spout.


Baghdad's caliphs ruled lands that stretched from Morocco to India. Islam established deep roots in that area. So did a rich heritage that included major achievements in the arts and sciences.

As you have read, the Arabic language developed on the Arabian peninsula. It is now the common language of most of northern Africa and of parts of western Asia. Today Muslims in many different nations are united by the legacy of Islam. People around the world share other Arabian legacies.

Reviewing Facts and Ideas


• Under the caliphs who came after Muhammad, Islam spread into Asia, Africa, and Europe. For centuries the caliphs ruled from Baghdad.

• The caliphate furthered learning in medicine, math, and astronomy.

• Mosques were centers of Muslim worship throughout the caliphate and remain religious centers today.


1. Which of Baghdad's trade goods came from other regions?

2. What were some of the achievements of the Muslim caliphate in medicine?

3. FOCUS In what ways did Islam influence life in the city of Baghdad?

4. THINKING SKILL Based on your study of the geography of Mesopotamia, make a conclusion about the dangers of building Baghdad on the Tigris.

5. WRITE Write an article for a science journal describing Baghdad's House of Wisdom. How might it have helped scientists and mathematicians develop new ideas?




Map Making

As the Muslim caliphate expanded, the mapping of new lands became important to the caliphs. The science of making maps is called cartography (cahr TOG ruh fee). To improve their skills, Muslim cartographers, or mapmakers, learned techniques used in earlier civilizations, such as ancient Greece. They also used their mathematical skills to develop new methods that helped make maps more accurate than earlier versions.

One technique that Muslim cartographers used was to draw lines dividing the world into different climate zones. These lines, shown on the map at right, were similar to today's lines of latitude.

Cartography is an important legacy that helps us to understand the world around us. Today, different mapping techniques can be used to show us every part of the world, from the ocean floor to the skies above us.

Muslim cartographer al-Idrisi (al IHD rih see) made this circular map of the world around 1150. The Arabian Peninsula looks different from the way you usually see it, because on this map, north points down!


In the 1700s sailors relied on maps similar to this one [left] during ocean voyages. Several centuries earlier, Muslim cartographers used the astrolabe (below) to estimate their position on Earth.

This colorful map is made up of photographs taken by satellites in orbit around our planet. The map shows how Earth might look from space if it were not covered by clouds! The cartographer used only photographs that contained no clouds.


Geography Skills

Reading Historical Maps


historical map


In A.D. 711, while the caliph extended his power throughout western Asia, he also sent an army into Europe. Before very long the caliphate controlled all the land in present-day Spain and Portugal.

One way to get a quick overview of such events is to study historical maps. Historical maps show information about the past. Use the Helping Yourself box on the next page to guide you in reading historical maps.


Study the map of the caliphate's expansion into Europe on this page. Read the mar title. It is an historical map because it shows places and events from the past. Notice that the map shows the names of several countries. These are included to help you locate areas and events.

In 711 the caliph's forces crossed from North Africa to Spain and defeated the army of Roderick, a Spanish king. Now read the map key. It explains a symbol that stands fo caliphate battles. As you can see, the Muslim army passed Toledo (tuh LEE doh). Actually, the people of Toledo surrendered without a battle. The next year, more Muslim armies arrived. Find Poitiers (pwah TYAY) in France. Did the caliphate army fight a battle in this city?

Although the caliphate did not conquer France, Muslims ruled parts of Spain for 700 years. In that time Spanish caliphs had magnificent mosques and libraries built. The most stunning mosque, in Cordoba, still stands.


The map on page 281 shows events that happened over 600 years after the caliphate victories in Spain. Refer to the Helping Yourself box as you answer questions.


At the time shown here, a Muslim, Ibn Battuta (IHB un bat TOO tuh), set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca from Tangier in present-day Morocco. Little did he know that he would travel 75,000 miles, exploring Africa, Asia, and Europe before returning home. When did Ibn Battuta travel?

Ibn Battuta saw the lighthouse at Alexandria and Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock before visiting Mecca. Baghdad followed. When did he visit Jerusalem?

After he returned to Mecca, Ibn Battuta heard tales about India. Instead of taking the shorter but riskier sea route, he went by land. Constantinople was one stop on this long journey. What city did he visit north of Constantinople? Between what years did Ibn Battuta visit the Maldive Islands?

Later Ibn Battuta explored Muslim Spain and went by caravan far into Africa. Before Battuta died in about 1377, he recounted his travels to a scribe. As far as we know, he was the only person who had explored the world so thoroughly up to that time.

Helping Yourself

• An historical map shows places or events from the past.

• Study the map title and map key.

• Find the symbols on the map, and examine any other information given on it.


Use the map on this page to answer the following questions.

1. What makes this is a historical map?

2. Between what years did Ibn Battuta visit the east coast of Africa?

3. Did he visit Delhi before or after Mecca? How do you know?

4. When is a historical map helpful?




Each of the following statements contains an underlined vocabulary word. Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 10. Beside each number write T if the statement is true and F if the statement is false. If the statement is false, rewrite the sentence using the vocabulary word correctly.

1. A caliph is a Muslim ruler.

2. An oasis is a Muslim place of worship.

3. The Kaaba is a temple in Mecca that was used to honor gods and goddesses

4. The Five Pillars are part of the Kaaba.

5. A journey made for religious reasons is called a pilgrimage.

6. The Quran is a famous mosque in Cairo.

7. A caravan is a desert tent.

8. Algebra is a type of mathematics.

9. Muslims used an astrolabe to help them illustrate books.

10. Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina, which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, is called the hijra.


1. Who are the Bedouins? How did some of them become wealthy and powerful?

2. Why is the Quran important to Muslims?

3. What are the Five Pillars of Islam? What is their purpose?

4. What have been some of the important contributions that Muslims have made to world civilization?

5. Look at the time line above. What information do you find there that would make you conclude that Islam spread very rapidly? In what year did the Muslim caliphate gain control of Spain?



Write a paragraph about the geography and climate of the Arabian peninsula. Describe both the fertile and desert parts of the peninsula. Provide information about the climate of the Empty Quarter.


Write a short article for your school newspaper about Islam. Describe its main beliefs and practices.


Suppose you are on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Write a letter home describing what you are doing and what you see. Describe the things that impress you the most. Provide descriptions of the art and architecture you see in Mecca.



1. What is an historical map?

2. Look at the historical map on page 280. What historical information does it provide?

3. What does the map on page 280 tell you about the speed and direction of Muslim expansion?

4. Look at the historical map on page 281. What type of information does it provide? How does the map show different routes of travel?

5. How are historical maps helpful?

Summing Up the Chapter

Review the chapter. Then copy the main-idea chart below on a separate piece of paper. Fill in details in each column that are connected to the main idea. After completing the chart, use it to help you write a paragraph that answers the question "What are the greatest contributions of Muslims to world civilization?"


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