Arabic Language Blog

How Ancient Arabic Books Help Understand Today’s Weird Climate Change Posted by on Mar 1, 2012 in Arabic Language, Vocabulary


Who would have anticipated that كُتُبٌ عَرَبِيَّــــــــــة قَدِيــــــــــمة (old Arabic books), far from being “woefully outdated”, would maintain a thriving relevance for several centuries to come, and help humanity understand a world beyond the time and place they were written in—Our world today?

Three days ago, the UK’s Daily Mail published an article citing an academic study which shows how ancient Arabic manuscripts are now providing crucial meteorological insights to help scientists reconstruct past مَنَـــــــــــاخ (Arabic word for “climate“—Remember that the word “مَنَـــــــــــاخ” is the etymological basis of the English word “almanac.” See our Blog’s post “Top 50+ English Words—of Arabic Origin.”)

Scientists from the University of the autonomous community of Extremadura, the Spanish region bordering الأندلــــــــــــس (Andalusia) on the north, have turned to Arabic books that go back to the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Islamic calendar (roughly 800-900 AD), to analyze the works of historians, scholars, and diarists, most of whom nurtured a close relationship with the prominent Baghdad-based “House of Wisdom” (More on this scientific institution on this post: “The House of Wisdom: The Leadership of a Scientific “Think Tank” of the Arab World.“)

The majority of the data available in these works is related to extreme climatic conditions, such as موجـــات الحرارة (heat waves), عواصــــف (storms), الجفـــاف (drought), and الفيضـــــانات (floods.)

But that is not all: These books also provide precious details on natural phenomena that were little understood until then, such as عواصــــف البرَد (hailstorms), the freezing of rivers such as the Tigris in Baghdad, and extreme cases of snow in the desert regions.

All these conditions were carefully studied in the Abbasid capital, بغــــــداد (Baghdad), which was then, as the director of the scientific study rightfully points out, “a centre for trade, commerce and science in the ancient Islamic world.”

The Daily Mail article reports that in 891 AD, the renown geographer Al Yaqubi, which the British newspaper wrongfully presents as a Berber (only because his Wikipedia article says so! He was in fact a native Baghdadi), wrote that Baghdad City had no rival in the world. It had hot summers and cold winters, both ideal climatic conditions that ensured فِلاَحَـــــــة قَوِيَّــــــــة (a strong agriculture.)

Despite the terrifying Mongol invasion of the region in the 13th century, during which the waters of نهر دجلة (the Tigris river) turned black from the ink of the millions of books flung into its midst by the invading soldiers, some valuable meteorological information survived in the works of scholars such as ابن الأثيـــــــــر (Ibn Al Athir) and الطَّبــــــــــري (Al Tabari), in addition to later writers such as السُّيُوطــــــــــي (Al Suyuti.)

The first results of the study reveal that a cold wave occurred in the first half of the 10th century, including “a significant drop of temperatures during July AD 920, and three separate recordings of snowfall: in 908, 944 and 1007.”

The kind of information that leaves many Baghdadis quite speechless today, since “the only record of snow in modern Baghdad was in 2008, a unique experience in the living memories of Iraqis”!

Dr Domínguez-Castro, the head of the research study, said that “these signs of a sudden cold period confirm suggestions of a temperature drop during the tenth century, immediately before the Medieval Warm Period.”

“We believe the drop in July AD 920 may have been linked to a great volcanic eruption but more work would be necessary to confirm this idea,” he said.

 Further studies based on these results will enable scientists to better understand the reasons behind our weird تغيُّــــــر منــــــــاخي (climate change) today, and the challenges it poses to the planet.

He befriended Iraqis and was amazed by their country, especially under the snow:
Cool! What a contrast, snow and palm trees. LOVE!”
I love Iraq! I hope I did some good while I was there, and hope to go back some day when Iraq is like Dubai or Bahrain.”

—Jim Boking, A US soldier who served in Iraq, 11th of January, 2008

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  1. zakaria:

    lolz at the american soldier,u crushed baghdad and sent it 1000 years back in time and now u want to go there again?? y? do u want to spoil the city again? curse on u!

    • Hichem:

      @zakaria Hi Zakaria,

      Beyond any political propaganda favorable to any side: On a personal level, you actually would be surprised to find out how many American soldiers truly like and respect Iraq and its culture.

      Check for yourself the highly positive comments of Jim Boking, the US soldier whose video is posted above, and what he has to say about Iraq and its people in his Youtube video comments (He even blocked on Youtube a fellow British soldier who insulted Arabs and Iraqis.)

      US soldiers like Jim Boking deserve all the praise they can have, instead of being simply mixed up them with those who, for example, were involved in the horrible torture practices at Abu Ghraib.

      As to بَغْــــــداد (Baghdad), it has already faced many challenges throughout its history (Mongol invasion and all.)

      Rest assured that it is a city with a timeless soul. It will no doubt bounce back to its original height, sooner of later 🙂