chapter
The Horizon of Islam: Theology, Philosophy, Literature
Pages 13

The horizon of Islam extended little beyond the boundaries within which it held sway. The non-Islamic part of the world, apart from the disputed or courted border lands, was included in trade relations in such places as Ceylon, Malacca and Southern China, or it might be visited by mercantile and diplomatic missions, for example the territories of the Khazars and the Bulgārs of the Volga and South Russia and the Varangians in central Russia, or like Tibet and Kashmir it was at least accessible to the imagination. But the educated classes, even those living on the margins of the dār al-islām, took no real interest. The sphere of Islamic culture being so extensive, and the regions to a great degree self-governing, it was natural that active sympathy was concentrated in each case on a fraction of this multifarious phenomenon, each according to its religious and political location. This localization was the same for geographers and historians alike. Few seriously ventured to the boundaries of the Islamic oecumene or beyond; only now and again an adventurous explorer like al-Muqaddasī (writing in 985 and also an outstanding master of Arabic style) broke through the self-imposed frontiers. But even he regarded it as unnecessary to concern himself with non-Islamic areas. The universal geographical and cultural interests of such a man as Idrīsī (his Book of King Roger II was completed in the year of his death, 1154) or of a professional traveller like Ibn Battūta (d. 1369) showed themselves at this period only behind a veil of sailors’ yarns and anecdotes of curious personal experiences.