Edward Lane,
ARABIAN SOCIETY IN THE MIDDLE AGES
Chapter 5: COSMOGRAPHY
     
 
 
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CHAPTER V.
COSMOGRAPHY.

WHEN we call to mind how far the Arabs surpassed their great master, Aristotle, in natural and experi­mental philosophy, and remember that their brilliant discoveries constituted an important link between those of the illustrious Greek and of our scarcely less illus­trious countryman, Roger Bacon, their popular system of cosmography becomes an interesting subject for our consideration.

According to the common opinion of the Arabs (an opinion sanctioned by the K·ur-án, and by assertions of their Prophet, which almost all Muslims take in their literal sense), there are Seven Heavens, one above another, and Seven Earths, one beneath another ; the earth which we inhabit being the highest of the latter, and next below the lowest heaven.1 The upper surface

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1 This notion of the seven heavens appears to have been taken from the " seven spheres ; " the first of which is that of the Moon ; the second, of Mercury ; the third, of Venus ; the fourth, of the Sun ; the fifth, of Mars ; the sixth, of Jupiter ; and the seventh, of Saturn ; each of which orbs was supposed to revolve round the earth in its proper sphere. So also the idea of the seven earths seems to have been taken from the division of the earth into seven climates ; a division which has been adopted by several Arab geographers.
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of each heaven and of each earth are believed to be nearly plane, and are generally supposed to be circular ; and are said to be five hundred years' journey in width. This is also said to be the measure of the depth or thickness of each heaven and each earth, and of the distance between each heaven or earth and that next above or below it. Thus is explained a passage of the K·ur-án in which it is said that God hath created seven heavens and as many earths, or stories of the earth, in accordance with traditions from the Prophet.1

Traditions differ respecting the fabric of the seven heavens. In the most credible account, according to a celebrated historian, the first is described as formed of emerald ; the second, of white silver ; the third, of large white pearls ; the fourth, of ruby ; the fifth, of red gold; the sixth, of yellow jacinth; and the seventh, of shining light.2

Some assert Paradise to be in the seventh heaven ; and, indeed, I have found this to be the general opinion of my Muslim friends : but the author above quoted proceeds to describe, next above the seventh heaven, seven seas of light; then, an undefined

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1 K·ur. lxv. 12, and Mohammad's answers to 'Abd-Allah Ibn. Selám, quoted by Ibn-El-Wardee (MS.) ; and Mekh·ool, quoted by the same author; and Mishkát el-Mas·ábeeh, ii. 652, 653.
 
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number of veils, or separations, of different substances, seven of each kind ; and then, Paradise, which consists of seven stages, one above another ; the first (Dár el-Jelál, or the Mansion of Glory), of white pearls ; the second (Dár es-Selám, or the Mansion of Peace), of ruby; the third (Jennet el-Ma-wá, or the Garden of Best), of green chrysolite; the fourth (Jennet en-Khuld, or the Garden of Eternity), of green1 coral ; the fifth (Jennet en-Na'eem, or the Garden of Delight), of white silver; the sixth (Jennet el-Firdós, or the Garden of Paradise), of red gold; and the seventh (Jennet 'Adn, or the Garden of Perpetual Abode, or of Eden), of large pearls ; this last overlooking all the former, and canopied by the Throne of the Compas­sionate ('Arsh Er-Rah·mán). These several regions of Paradise are described in some traditions as forming so many degrees, or stages, ascended by steps.

Though the opinion before mentioned respecting the form of the earth which we inhabit is that generally maintained by the Arabs, there have been, and still are, many philosophical men among this people who have argued that it is a globe, because, as El-K·azweenee says, an eclipse of the moon has been observed to happen at different hours of the night in eastern and western countries. Thus we find Ptolemy's measurement of the earth quoted and explained by Ibn-El-Wardee : — The circumference of the earth is

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1 In another MS. of the same author, "yellow."
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24,000 miles, or 8,000 leagues, the league being three miles ; the mile, 3,000 royal cubits ; the cubit, three spans ; the span, twelve digits ; the digit, five barley­corns placed side by side; and the width of the barley-corn, six mule's-hairs. El-Mak·reezee [† 1442] also, among the more intelligent Arabs, describes1 the globular form of the earth, and its arctic and antarctic regions, with their day of six months, and night of six months, and their frozen waters, etc.

For ourselves, however, it is necessary that we retain in our minds the opinions first stated, with regard to the form and dimensions of our earth ; agreeing with those Muslims who allow not philosophy to trench upon revelation or sacred traditions. It is written, say they, that God hath "spread out the earth," 2 " as a bed," 3 and " as a carpet ; "4 and what is round or globular cannot be said to be spread out, nor compared to a bed, or a carpet. It is therefore decided to be an almost plane expanse. The con­tinents and islands of the earth are believed by the Arabs (as they were by the Greeks in the age of Homer and Hesiod) to be surrounded by "the Cir­cumambient Ocean," el-Bah·r el-Moh·eet· ; and this ocean is described as bounded by a chain of mountains called K·áf, which encircle the whole as a ring, and

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1 In his Khit·at· (MS.). 2 K·ur. xiii. 3, and several other places. 3 K·ur. ii. 20, and lxxviii. 6. 4 K·ur. lxxi. 18.
 
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confine and strengthen the entire fabric. With respect to the extent of the earth, our faith must at least admit the assertion of the Prophet, that its width (as well as its depth or thickness) is equal to five hundred years' journey, allotting the space of two hundred to the sea, two hundred to uninhabited desert, eighty to the country of Yájooj and Májooj (Gog and Magog), and the rest to the remaining creatures :1 nay, vast as these limits are, we must rather extend than contract them, unless we suppose some of the heroes of the " Thousand and One Nights " to travel by circuitous routes. Another tradition will suit us better, wherein it is said, that the inhabited portion of the earth is, with respect to the rest, as a tent in the midst of a desert.2

But even according to the former assertion it will be remarked that the countries now commonly known to the Arabs (from the western extremity of Africa to the eastern limits of India, and from the southern con­fines of Abyssinia to those of Russia,) occupy a com­paratively insignificant portion of this expanse. They are situated in the middle; Mekkeh; according to some, — or Jerusalem, according to others, — being exactly in the centre. Adjacent to the tract occupied by these countries are other lands and seas, partially known to the Arabs. On the north-west, with respect to the

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1 Mekh·ool, quoted by Ibn-El-Wardee. 2 Wahb Ibn-Munebbih, quoted by El-Mak·reezee in his Khit·at·,
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central point, lies the country of the Christians or Franks, comprising the principal European nations ; on the north, the country 'of Yájooj and Májooj, before mentioned, occupying, in the maps of the Arabs, large tracts of Asia and Europe ; on the north-east, central Asia ; on the east, Es·-S·een (China) ; on the south­east, the sea or seas of El-Hind (India), and Ez-Zinj (Southern Ethiopia), the waves of which (or of the former of which) mingle with those of the sea of Es·-S·een, beyond ; on the south, the country of the Zinj ; on the south-west, the country of the Soodán, or Blacks ; on the west is a portion of the Circumambient Ocean, which surrounds all the countries and seas already mentioned, as well as immense unknown regions adjoining the former, and innumerable islands interspersed in the latter.

These terrae incognitae are the scenes of some of the greatest wonders described in the " Thousand and One Nights ; " and are mostly peopled with Jinn (Genii.) On the Moh·eet, or Circumambient Ocean, is the 'Arsh Iblees, or Throne of Iblees : in a map accompanying my copy of the work of Ibn-El-Wardee, a large yellow tract is marked with this name, adjoining Southern Africa. The western portion of the Moh·eet· is often called "the Sea of Darkness" (Bah·r ez·- Z·ulumát, or, Bah·r ez·-Z·ulmeh). Under this name (and the synonymous appellation of el-Bah·r el-Muzlim) the Atlantic Ocean is described by the

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author just mentioned ; though, in the introduction to his work, he says that the Sea of Darkness surrounds the Moh·eet·. The former may be considered either as the western or the more remote portion of the latter.

In the dark regions (Ez·-Z·ulumát, from which, per­haps, the above-mentioned portion of the Moh·eet· takes its name),1 in the south-west quarter of the earth, according to the same author, is the Fountain of Life, of which El-Khid·r2 drank, and by virtue of which he still lives and will live till the day of judgment. This mysterious person, whom the vulgar and some others regard as a prophet and identify with Ilyás (Elias, Elijah), and whom some confound with St. George, was, according to the more approved opinion of the learned, a just man or saint, the Wezeer and counsellor of the first Dhu-1-K·arneyn, who was a universal conqueror, but an equally doubtful personage, contemporary with the patriarch Ibráheem (Abraham). El-Khid·r is said to appear frequently to Muslims in perplexity, and to be generally clad in green garments ; whence, according to some, his name (which signifies " green "). The Prophet Ilyás is also related to have drunk of the Fountain of Life. During the day-time, it is said, El-Khid·r wanders upon the seas, and directs voyagers who go astray ; while Ilyás perambulates the moun-

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1 Ibn-El-Wardee, however, says that its name is derived from its terrors and difficulties. 2 [Cp. Lane's Selections from the K·ur-án, 128 ff., 2nd ed. 1879.]
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tains or deserts, and directs persons who chance to be led astray by the Ghools : but at night they meet together, and guard the rampart of Yájooj and Májooj,1 to prevent these people from making irrup­tions upon their neighbours. Both, however, are generally believed by the modern Muslims to assist pious persons in distress, in various circumstances, whether travelling by land or by water.

The Mountains of K·áf, which bound the Circum­ambient Ocean and form a circular barrier round the whole of our earth, are described by interpreters of the K·ur-án as composed of green chrysolite, like the green tint of the sky.2 It is the colour of these mountains, said the Prophet, that imparts a greenish hue to the sky. It is said, in a tradition, that beyond these moun­tains are other countries ; one of gold, seventy of silver, and seven of musk, all inhabited by angels, and each country ten thousand years' journey in length, and the same in breadth.3 Some say that beyond it are crea­tures unknown to any but God:4 but the general opinion is, that the mountains of K·áf terminate our earth, and that no one knows what is beyond them. They are the chief abode of the Jinn, or Genii. It has already been said that our earth is the first,

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1 History of El-Khid·r in the Mir-át ez-Zemán. 2 El-K·azweenee. 3 Mohammad's answers to 'Abd-Allah Ibn-Selám, quoted by Ibn- El-Wardee. 4 El-K·azweenee.
 
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or highest, of seven earths, which are all of equal width and thickness and at equal distances apart. Each of these earths has occupants. The occupants of the first are men, genii, brutes, etc. ; the second is occupied by the suffocating wind that destroyed the infidel tribe of Ad ; the third, by the stones of Jahennem (or Hell), mentioned in the K·ur-án in these words, " the fuel of which is men and stones ;"1   the fourth, by the sulphur of Jahennem ; the fifth, by its serpents ; the sixth, by its scorpions, in colour and size like black mules and with tails like spears ; the seventh, by Iblees and his troops.2

Whether these several earths are believed to be connected with each other by any means, and if so how, we are not expressly informed ; but, that they are supposed to be so is evident. With respect to our earth in particular, as some think, it is said that it is supported by a rock, with which the Mountains of K·áf communicate by means of veins or roots ; and that when God desires to effect an earthquake at a certain place, He commands the mountain (or rock) to agitate the vein that is connected with that place.3 But there is another account, describing our earth as upheld by certain successive supports

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1 K·ur. ii. 22, and lxvi. 6. 2 Mir-át ez-Zemán. 3 Tradition from the Prophet, recorded by Ibn-'Abbás, and quoted by Ibn-El-Wardee ; and by El-Ish·ák·ee, in describing an earthquake that happened in his lifetime. See also the next note.
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of inconceivable magnitude, which are under the seventh earth ; leaving us to infer that the seven earths are in some manner connected together. This account, as inserted in the work of one of the writers above quoted, is as follows : — The earth [under which appellation are here understood the seven earths] was, it is said, originally unstable ; " therefore God created an angel of immense size and of the utmost strength, and ordered, him to go beneath it [i.e. beneath the lowest earth] and place it on his shoulders; and his hands extended beyond the east and west, and grasped the extremities of the earth [or, as related in Ibn-El-Wardee, the seven earths] and held it [or them]. But there was no support for his feet : so God created a rock of ruby, in which were seven thousand perfora­tions, and from each of these perforations issued a sea, the size of which none knoweth but God, whose name be exalted ; then he ordered this rock to stand under the feet of the angel. But there was no support for the rock : wherefore God created a huge bull, with four thousand eyes and the same number of ears, noses, mouths, tongues, and feet ; between every two of which was a distance of five hundred years' journey ; and God, whose name be exalted, ordered this bull to go beneath the rock ; and he bore it on his back and his horns. The name of this bull is Kuyootà.1 But

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1 In Ibn-Esh-Shih·neh, " Kuyoothán ; " the orthography of this word is doubtful, as the vowel-points are not -written. As the tradi­tion is related in Ibn-El-Wardee, this bull takes a breath twice in the course of every day (or twenty-four hours) : when he exhales, the sea flows ; and when he inhales, it ebbs. But it must not be imagined that none of the Arabs has any notion of the true theory of the tides : the more learned among them explain this phenomenon by the influence of the moon. Many of the Arabs attribute earthquakes to the shaking of this bull.









 
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there was no support for the bull: therefore God, whose name be exalted, created an enormous fish, that no one could look upon on account of its vast size, and the flashing of its eyes, and their greatness ; for it is said that if all the seas were placed in one of its nostrils, they would appear like a grain of mustard-seed in the midst of a desert : and God, whose name be exalted, commanded the fish to be a support to the feet of the bull.1 The name of this fish is Bahamoot [Behemoth]. He placed, as its support, water; and under the water, darkness: and the knowledge of mankind fails as to what is under the darkness."2 — Another opinion is, that the [seventh] earth is upon water ; the water, upon the rock ; the rock, on the back of the bull; the bull, on a bed of sand; the sand, on the fish ; the fish, upon a still, suffocating wind ; the wind, on a veil of darkness ; the darkness, on a mist ; and what is beneath the mist is unknown.3 It is generally believed that under the lowest earth, and beneath seas of darkness of which the

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1 In Ibn-El-Wardee, a quantity of sand is introduced between the bull and the fish. 2 Ed-Demeeree, on the authority of Wahb Ibn-Munebbih, quoted by El-Ish.ák.ee, 1.1. 3 Ibn-El-Wardee.
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number is unknown, is Hell, which consists of seven stages, one beneath another. The first of these, according to the general opinion, is destined for the reception of wicked Mohammadans ; the second, for the Christians ; the third, for the Jews ; the fourth, for the Sabians ; the fifth, for the Magians ; the sixth, for the Idolaters ; the seventh, by general consent, for the Hypocrites. Jahennem is the general name for Hell, and the particular name for its first stage.1 The situation of Hell has been a subject of dispute ; some place it in the seventh, earth ; and some have doubted whether it be above or below the earth which we inhabit.

At the consummation of all things, God, we are told, will take the whole earth in his [left] hand, and the heavens will be rolled together in his right hand ;2 and the earth will be changed into another earth ; and the heavens, [into other heavens] ;3 and Hell will be brought nigh to the [tribunal of God].4


1 [The other stages are Laz·à, El-H·ut·ameh, Sa'eer, Sak·ar, Jeheem, and H·áwiyeh.]
2 K·ur. xxxix. 67. 3 K·ur. xiv. 49. 4 K·ur. lxxxix. 24.

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