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Contributions of Islam to Agriculture

MIT
5/4/2014
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Introduction

Agriculture is the production of food, feed and fiber by the systematic harvesting of plants and animals. The history of agriculture is a central element of human history, as agricultural progress has been a crucial factor in worldwide socio-economic change. Agriculture played a key role in the development of human civilization. It is widely believed that the domestication of plants and animals allowed humans to settle and give up their previous hunter-gatherer lifestyle during the Neolithic Revolution. Until the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of the human population labored in agriculture. The development of agricultural techniques has steadily increased agricultural productivity, and the widespread diffusion of these techniques has led to new technologies.
Agriculture now encompasses many subjects, its core areas remain:

Cultivation (the raising of plants)

Animal husbandry (Animal Science)

Aquaculture (fishing)

Horticulture (science of cultivation of plants)

Islam's enrichment of Agriculture

Many historians consider the global economy established by Muslim traders across the world as an enabling factor for the diffusion of many crops and farming techniques among different parts of the Islamic world, as well as the adaptation of crops and techniques from beyond the Islamic world. Crops from Africa, China and numerous crops from India were distributed throughout Islamic lands. Some writers have referred to the diffusion of numerous crops during this period as the Globalization of crops.

When the Abbasids took over the reins of the Khilafah in 750 they moved the capital city from Damascus to the Sassanid city of Baghdad, a small town in central Mesopotamia. The Abbasids built.

The Abbasid caliph, Al Mansur (754-75) built the new capital Baghdad as the first Circular City, surrounded by round walls. Within fifty years the population outgrew the city walls as people thronged to the capital to become part of the Abbasids' Civil service or to engage in trade. Baghdad became a vast emporium of trade linking Asia and the Mediterranean. By the reign of Mansur's grandson, Harun ar Rashid (786-806), just 10 years later Baghdad was second in size only to Constantinople.

After the city fortresses were accomplished, attention turned to how the Abbasids would feed not just Baghdad but the whole empire considering its enormous population. The development of Agriculture under the Abbasids was a phenomenon; the scarcity of water had converted the barren Arab lands into a vast desert, which had never yielded any substantial agricultural produce. The scattered population always imported supply of food grains to supplement the dates and the little corn grown in their own lands. Agriculture in Arabia had been very primitive and was confined to those tracts where water was available in the form of springs. Medina, with its springs and wells was the only green spot in the vast desert. The Abbasids dealt with this by first controlling the flows of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. The Irrigation system in the land was greatly improved by digging a number of new canals, the largest flowed between the Tigris and Euphrates. This canal was called Nahr Isa (Isa canal) and was open to ships for transportation between Syria & Iraq. This led to navigation routes opening to India and Persian Gulf. The Abbasids reconstructed the existing canals, lakes, and reservoirs, which were first built under Hajjaj Bin Yusuf in 702. After this the swamps around Baghdad were drained, freeing the city of malaria. Muslim engineers perfected the waterwheel and constructed elaborate underground water channels called qanats. Requiring a high degree of engineering skill, qanats were built some fifty feet underground with a very slight inclination over long distances to tap underground water and were provided with manholes so that they could be cleaned and repaired.

The result of this was that the Abbasids motivated an agricultural revolution, which stimulated development in other parts of the economy. The development in agriculture led to the development of horticulture. Within 100 years Bagdad and its surroundings presented the appearance of a veritable garden, the region between Baghdad and Kufa came to be covered with prosperous towns, flourishing villages and fine villas. The staple crops of Iraq were barley, rice, wheat, dates, cotton, sesame and flax. The production of fruit was pursued as a science and several new fruits were introduced in varying climates.

Contribution of Muslim Countries

The Muslims introduced what was to become an agricultural revolution based on four key areas:

  • - The development of a sophisticated system of irrigation using machines such as water mills, water raising machines, dams and reservoirs. With such technology Muslims managed to greatly expand the exploitable land area.
  • - The adoption of a scientific approach to farming enabled them to improve farming techniques derived from the collection and collation of relevant information throughout the whole of the known world. Farming manuals were produced in every corner of the Muslim world detailing where, when and how to plant and grow various crops. Advanced scientific techniques allowed Muslim scientists such as Ibn al-Baitar to introduce new crops and breeds and strains of livestock into areas where they were previously unknown. Numerous encyclopedias on botany were also produced, with highly accurate precision and details. The earliest cookbooks on Arab cuisine were also written, such as the Kitab al-Tabkh (The Book of Dishes) of Ibn Sayyiir al-Warraq (10th century) and the Kitab al-Tabikh of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi (1226).
  • - The Islamic rules on land ownership and labour rights, alongside the recognition of private ownership and the introduction of sharecropping created big incentives to engage in agriculture. Whilst at the same time Europe struggled under a feudal system in which peasants were almost slaves with little hope of improving their lot by hard work.
  • - Under the Khilafah new crops were introduced which transformed private farming into a new global industry, which exported everywhere, including Europe, where farming was mostly restricted to wheat strains obtained much earlier via central Asia. Islamic Spain exported much to Europe this included many agricultural and fruit-growing processes, together with many new plants, fruit and vegetables. These new crops included sugar cane, rice, citrus fruit, apricots, cotton, artichokes, and saffron. Muslims also brought to Europe country lemons, oranges, cotton, almonds, figs and sub-tropical crops such as bananas and sugar cane.

The 2005 United Nations Food and Agricultural Production Statistics figures, show that Turkey is the world's 10th largest agriculture producer ($40 billion), Pakistan is the world's 15th largest producer ($15 billion), Iran is the world's 21st largest producer ($21 billion) and Bangladesh is the world's 27th largest producer, producing over $13 billion of agricultural products a year. Below is a list of commodities that the Muslim world is the world's largest producer:

Algeria - Green beans

Bangladesh - goat milk

Egypt - Dates

Indonesia - Cinnamon, coconuts, cloves, nutmeg, maze and cardamoms

Iran - berries and pistachios.

Malaysia - Duck meat

Pakistan - clarified butter (Ghee)

Saudi Arabia - Camel Milk

Sudan - Camel meat

Turkey - hazelnut, fig, apricot, cherry, quince and pomegranate

If these countries look back at their histories they would realize that Islam offers an efficient system of distributing such resources and goods thereby leading to the eradication of poverty.

Source: Abridged from khilafah.com






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