All posts in Explorers

AHMED HASSANEIN PASHA (20th Century CE – 14th Century AH): DIPLOMAT AND LEGENDARY EXPLORER

WWII truck

By Islam El Shazly

If anyone deserves the title of “Legendary Explorer” in our modern times it has to be this man, Ahmed Hassanein Pasha. At the very least he would have to be on the top of a very short list.

In his lifetime he had been many things, a writer, diplomat, Chamberlain and the very reason he’s on this list, an explorer. Just like his predecessors from the golden age of exploration, he was a man of many talents, and these talents and insatiable curiosity to discover the unknown is what led him to leave civilisation behind and embark on a journey that would take him across the unforgiving Sahara, not once, but twice, and with none of the modern day comforts of SUV’s. Read more…

IBN JUBAYR (12th Century CE – 6th Century AH): THE FIRST TRAVEL WRITER

Alhambra Palace

By Islam Elshazly

A week ago–and 823 years in the past– the father of the travelogue genre set out on a two year trip that saw him and a friend travel thousands of miles from Granada and back again, this is a glimpse into that journey and the character of the man from whom countless travellers after him based their writings upon his own. There are thousands of travel blogs and modern travellers on the internet today, many of which – including myself – owe him a debt of gratitude, even if some of us have never heard of him before. Personally, I have done some travelling in the past, while the inclination to write about them never occurred to me at the time, the experience it left me with was — and still is — priceless. The genre of travel writing or the travelogue was born on board a ship in the year 1183 CE, Friday 25 February 1183 CE to be precise (30 Shawwal, 578 AH), at the hands of Ibn Jubayr, on his way on a trip that would take him two years around the same time as one of the most dangerous times in history, the build up to Third Crusade. Read more…

AL-IDRISI (12th Century CE – 5th Century AH): GEOGRAPHER AND CARTOGRAPHER

By Islam El Shazly

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Idrisi, also known as AsShareef Al-Idrisi, was one of the greatest geographers and cartographers in the 12th century CE, if not the top geographer of his time, one whose capacity at visualising and putting into words what the world looked like was not matched by any contemporary mind in Europe where he resided at the court of King Roger II of Sicily. His book, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq, would live on inspiring countless future explorers from Ibn Battuta to Marco Polo.
Read more…

AL-KHWARIZMI (9th Century CE – 2nd/3rd Century AH): MATHMATICIAN AND GEOGRAPHER

By Islam El Shazly

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, not a lot is known about his life as a whole, well, except the little fact that he founded Algebra, and introduced the Zero and the Arabic numerals to the world. But he was more than that; he was a mathematician, an astronomer, a geographer, and a cartographer, and he has done a lot more than solve quadratic equations.

Al-Khwarizmi, was born in Khwarizm – Khiva – around 780 CE (164 AH) in modern day Uzbekistan, back then it was part of Greater Khorasan within Persia. He moved with his family to Baghdad, the centre of knowledge and learning in an age that is now known as the Golden Age of Islam, there he would rise in the ranks and eventually be at the head of the House of Wisdom. Read more…

LEO AFRICANUS (16th Century CE – 10th Century AH): MAN BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

By Islam El Shazly

Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad Al-Wazzan Al-Fasi, An elusive figure in history, just as he exploded onto the scene of Renaissance Europe, he vanished without a trace; his Cosmographia & Geographia de Affrica was Europe’s essential window into North and Sub-Saharan Africa for over 300 years.

“… I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road; my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages.” Prologue, Leo the African, by Amin Maalouf. Read more…

PIRI REIS (15th / 16th Century CE – 9th / 10th Century AH): CAPTAIN OF THE SEA

By Islam El Shazly

Myth, legend and fact mix together for the tale of Piri Reis. His world maps have caused controversy since their discovery back in 1929. They have been the topic of debate for amateurs, historians and researchers, and the debate is still in full swing till now; space aliens and ancient extinct civilisations are a normal occurrence in these debates! Read more…

AHMAD IBN MAJID (15th Century CE – 9th Century AH): THE LION OF THE SEAS

Determing Latitude using "Fingers".

by Islam El Shazly

Ahmad ibn Majid ibn Muhammad ibn Omar ibn Fadl ibn Dwaik ibn Youssef ibn Hassan ibn Hussein ibn Abi Mo’alaq ibn Abi Al-Raka’eb Al-Najdey.

The Shooting Star.

The Lion of the Seas.

His books, charts, and maps guided sailors for years, and his improvements on nautical tools and nautical inventions transformed how sailors navigated the seven seas forever.

He was a Muslim Arab, navigator, cartographer, and author; born to a famous family of seafarers around 824 AH/1421 CE, in Julphar, Sharjah, one of the emirates of the UAE. Back then it was part of the coast of Oman. Read more…

AHMAD IBN FADLAN (10th Century CE – 4th Century AH): THE EMISSARY EXPLORER

by Islam El Shazly

Unlike his depiction in Michael Critchton’s Eaters of the Dead, or Antonio Banderas’ incarnation of him in The 13th Warrior, Ahmad ibn Fadlan was not expelled from the Court of the Abbasid Caliph because he courted one of the harems; he was actually favoured by the Caliph. His scholastic, literary, religious, and martial qualifications made him the primary candidate to lead a political and religious expedition. Its record would later be one of the earliest detailed descriptions of the Vikings.

Volga Bulgaria in the Eurasian world of AD 1200. Wikipedia.

Read more…

ZHENG HE (1371-1435): ADMIRAL OF THE TREASURE SHIPS

by Islam El Shazly

When asked who were the first world-class Navigators are, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama are first names that come to mind for almost anyone who read a bit of history.   But there’s one that predates both of them, with a fleet that put both their fleets combined to shame. His fleet was proof that at times bigger is better and stronger.

A replica of Zheng He’s treasure ship in Nanjing’s Baochuan Shipyard. Courtesy of www.kbismarck.org

Over 300 large treasure ships, troop ships, horse ships, water and store ships, and smaller escort or attack vessels. 28,000 crewmen and soldiers. Read more…