DOI :10.26650/PB/AA08.2023.002.029   IUP :10.26650/PB/AA08.2023.002.029    Full Text (PDF)

Indian Ocean Navigation Based on al-̒Umda al-Mahriyya fī Ḍabṭ al-̒Ulūm al-Baḥriyya by Sulaymān al-Mahrī

Rawda El Hajji

This paper introduces the life and works of a distinguished sixteenth-century Arab navigator, Sulaymān al-Mahrī, most notable for his magnum opus entitled al-‘Umda al-Mahriyya fī Ḍabṭ al-‘Ulūm al-Baḥriyya. Al-Mahrī was of an Arabian Mahara origin and born in the town of Shihr in Ğurz, belonging to Ḥadramawt in what is today eastern Yemen. Ḥadramawt was known for its shipbuilding industry and played an essential role in the spice trade in the ancient and medieval Orient. The people of Ḥadramawt were well-acquainted with life at seas and produced some of the best navigators of the Indian Ocean, like Sulaymān al-Mahrī. Al-Mahrī was not just a practicing navigator, he also wrote essential treatises on Indian Ocean navigation. Unfortunately, because Aḥmad ibn Māğid (d. 1500) was popular in Europe for his supposed role in guiding the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, his works, particularly Kitāb al-fawāʼid fī uṣūl ‘ilm al-baḥr wa al-qawāʻid, have overshadowed equally important navigational works on the Indian Ocean. This resulted in a dearth of knowledge and studies on other navigators and their works. While ibn Māğid’s works have been studied in great detail, al-Mahrī and his works have not received the same scholarly attention. It is, therefore, the objective of this paper to introduce al-Mahrī and his works to a broader audience, including his achievements and contributions to Indian Ocean navigation.


  • Primary Sources google scholar
  • Al-Mahri, S. (1526-1575). al-'Umda al-Mahriyya f Dabi al-'Ulüm al-Bahriyya. Retrieved from btv1b531273337?rk=21459;2 google scholar
  • Ibn Magid, A. (1576). Kitab al-Fawâ'id f usül al-bahr wa-l-qawa'id. Retrieved from btv1b110021664?rk=64378%3B0# google scholar
  • Secondary Sources google scholar
  • Aleem, A. A. (1973). History of Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean. Special Publication dedicated to Dr. N K Panikkar (2). pp. 255-269. google scholar
  • Alpers, E. A. (2014). The Indian Ocean in world history. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. google scholar
  • Constable A. R., & Facey W. (Eds). (2013). The principles of Arab navigation. London, UK: Arabian Publishing Ltd. google scholar
  • Dilke, O. A. W. (1987). The culmination of Greek cartography in Ptolemy. In J. B. Harley & D. Woodward (Eds.), Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, Vol. 1 (pp. 177-200). Chicago, US: The University of Chicago Press. google scholar
  • Ferrand, G. (1923). Les instructions nautiques de Sulaymân al-Mahri (XVIe siècle). Annales de Géographie, 32(178), 298-312. http://www. google scholar
  • - (1928). Instructions nautiques et routiers arabes et portugais des XVe et XVIe siècles, Tome 3: Introduction à l’astronomie nautique arabe. Paris, France: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Gauthner. google scholar
  • Grosset-Grange, H. (1996). Arabic nautical science. In R. Rashed (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the history of Arabic Science Vol.1 (pp. 203-243). London & New York: Routledge. google scholar
  • Hourani, G. F. (1995). Arab seafaring in the Indian Ocean in ancient and early medieval times. New Jersey, US: Princeton University Press. google scholar
  • Issawi, C. (1952). Arab geography and the circumnavigation of Africa. Osiris, 10, 117-128. google scholar
  • Lewis, A. (1973). Maritime skills in the Indian Ocean 1368-1500. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 16(2/3), 238-264. google scholar
  • Polat, G. D. (2017). Kamal, an instrument of celestial navigation in the Indian Ocean, as described by Ottoman mariners Piri Reis and Seydi Ali Reis. Osmanlı Bilimi Araştırmaları, 19, 1-12. google scholar
  • Richards M., & O’Connor M. (Eds). (1993). Changing coastlines. Canberra: National Library of Australia. google scholar
  • Sezgin, F. (1992). Mathematical geography and cartography Vol. 11: Islamic geography Vol. 21. Germany: Strauss Offsetdruck. google scholar
  • - (2004). Science et technique en Islam Vol. 3. Germany: Institut für Geschichte der Arabisch-Islamischen Wissenschaften. google scholar
  • - (2005). Mathematical geography and cartography in Islam and their continuation in the Occident, Vol. 1. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. google scholar
  • - (2007). Mathematical geography and cartography in Islam and their continuation in the Occident, Vol. 2. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. google scholar
  • Stein, S. K. (Ed.). (2017). The sea in world history: Exploration, travel, and trade. California & Colorado, US: ABC-CLIO google scholar
  • Swanick, L. A. (2005). An analysis of navigational instruments in the age of exploration: 15th century to mid-17th century. Texas, US: The Office of Graduate Studoes of Texas A&M University. google scholar
  • Tazi, A. (1988). Ibn Mädjid et les Portugais. Arabica, 35(1), 104-105. google scholar
  • Tibbetts, G. R. (1961). Arab navigation in the red sea. The Geographical Journal, 127(3), 322-334. google scholar
  • Tibbetts, G. R. (1969). The navigational theory of the Arabs in the 15th and 16th centuries. Coimbra, Portugal: Imprensa de Coimbra. google scholar
  • - (1971). Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean before the coming of the Portuguese. London, UK: The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. google scholar
  • - (1992). The role of charts in Islamic navigation in the Indian Ocean. In J. B. Harley & D. Woodward (Eds.), Cartography in the traditional Islamic and south Asian Societies Vol. 2 (pp. 256-262). Chicago, US: The University of Chicago Press. google scholar
  • Tolmacheva, M. (1980). On the Arab system of nautical orientation. Arabica, 27(2), 180-192. Retrieved from google scholar
  • - (2008). Navigation in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, 1738-1739. google scholar
  • Yajima, H. (1976). The Arab dhow trade in the Indian Ocean. Tokyo, Japan: DAIWA Printing Co. Ltd. google scholar


Istanbul University Press aims to contribute to the dissemination of ever growing scientific knowledge through publication of high quality scientific journals and books in accordance with the international publishing standards and ethics. Istanbul University Press follows an open access, non-commercial, scholarly publishing.