Abu Muhammad Abdallah Ibn Ahmad Ibn al-Baitar Dhiya
al-Din al-Malaqi was one of the best scientists of Muslim Spain and was the
greatest botanist and pharmacist of the Middle Ages.
He was born towards the end of the 12th century, in the Spanish city of
Malaqa (Malaga), and he died in Damascus in 1248.
He learned botany from Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati who is a well-learned
botanist, and with him he started collecting plants from inside and outside
In 1219 he left Spain on a plant-collecting expedition and traveled along
the northern coast of Africa as far as Asia Minor. The exact modes of his
travel (whether by land or sea) are not known, but the major stations he
visited include Bugia, Qastantunia (Constantinople), Tunis, Tripoli, Barqa
After 1224 he joined the service of al-Kamil, the Egyptian Governor, and was
appointed chief herbalist. In 1227 al-Kamil extended his domination to
Damascus, and Ibn al-Baitar accompanied him there, which gave him a great
opportunity to collect plants.
During his stay in Syria, his researches on plants extended over a vast
area, including Arabia and Palestine, where he was able to collect plants
from stations located there.
Ibn Baitar's major contribution, Kitab al-Jami fi al-Adwiya al- Mufrada, is
one of the greatest botanical compilations dealing with medicinal plants in
Arabic. It enjoyed a high status among botanists up to the 16th century and
is a systematic work that embodies earlier works, with due criticism, and
adds a great part of original contribution. The encyclopedia comprises some
1,400 different items, largely medicinal plants and vegetables, of which
about 200 plants were not known earlier. The book refers to the work of some
150 authors mostly Arabic, and it also quotes about 20 early Greek
scientists. It was translated into Latin and published in 1758.
His second major work is Kitab al-Mlughni fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrada is an
encyclopedia of medicine. The drugs are listed in accordance with their
therapeutic value. Thus, its 20 different chapters deal with the plants
bearing significance to diseases of various parts of the human body.
On surgical issues he has often quoted the famous Muslim surgeon, Abul Qasim
Zahrawi. Besides Arabic, Baitar has given Greek and Latin names of the
plants, thus facilitating transfer of knowledge.
Ibn Baitar's contributions are characterized by observation, analysis and
classification and have exerted a profound influence on Eastern as well as
Western botany and medicine.
Although his book al-Jami was translated and published late in the western
languages as mentioned above, yet many scientists had long before that
studied various parts of the book and made a lot of references to it.
Syria like many other countries around the world
witnessed, during this period, the flood of refugees
from war troubled nations like Somalia, arrival of
people from Algeria during the brutal struggling between
the Mujahidun and the government, resettlement of the
Palestinians fleeing from sophisticated guns of the
Israelis as well as adventure of African migrants for