The scarcity of water has converted the barren Arabian peninsula into a vast desert which has never yielded any substantial agricultural produce. Her scattered population had always to fall back on foreign supply of foodgrains to supplement the dates and the little corn grown in their own lands. Agriculture in Arabia which has had the distinction of being the cradle of the great prophets of the world has been very primitive and was confined to those tracts where water was available in the form of springs. Taif, a hilly place is known as the garden of Hejaz, where, besides grapes, apples, figs, pomegranates and dates, wheat is also cultivated. Medina, with its springs and wells is a green spot in a vast desert, and dates, wheat and barley are cultivated there.
The great Prophet of Islam had left behind him a group of selfless people, whose sagacity and magnanimity, faith and unity, spirit of sacrifice and service won for them laurels not only on the battle-fields but in almost all branches of human activity. Agriculture was no exception and as early as during the reign of the second Caliph of Islam Arabs had made considerable progress in agriculture and had introduced many beneficial measures for its advancement in their dominions including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Hejaz. Writing about the Spanish Muslims in his outspoken book The Intellectual Development of Europe John William Draper says, "Not only did they attend to the cultivation of plants, introducing very many new ones, they likewise paid attention to the breeding of the cattle specially the sheep and horse. To them we owe the introduction of the great products, rice, sugar, cotton and also, as we have previously observed, nearly all the fine garden and orchard fruits, together with many less important plants, as spinach and saffron. To them Spain owes the culture of silk. They introduced the Egyptian system of irrigation by flood gates, wheels and pumps".'
It was during the reign of the second Caliph that the Arab conquest was extended over Asia and Africa. Arabs were confronted with new problems which the administration of such a vast empire had brought in its wake. They provided a test for the Arab genius and the manner in which they grappled with different problems including the exploitation of natural resources in their dominions proved beyond doubt that they were matchless both in war and peace. Hazrat Omar Faruq the Great, had fixed the rates of land revenue according to the type of land. He charged four dirhams on one jarib of sown wheat, while he charged 2 dirhams for a similar plot of barley. Nothing was charged for pastures and uncultivated land. In this way he systematised revenues which before his time were charged haphazardly. Different rules were framed regarding the revenues of Egypt whose agricultural output depended on the floods of the river Nile, According to reliable historical sources, the annual revenues of Iraq amounted to 860 million dirhams, an amount which was never exceeded after the death of the great Caliph though he was very lenient in his collection. The main reason behind the easy realisation of revenue was that the people had become very prosperous. He had introduced many farreaching reforms in the field of agriculture, which we do not find even in most of the countries of modern times. One of these was the abolition of landlords or zamindari and the subsequent disappearance of the evils which were being wrought on the poor tenants by the vested landed interests. When the Romans conquered Syria and Egypt, they confiscated the land from the tillers of the soil and allotted it to the nobles, churches and the members of the royal family, and the armed forces. Hazrat Omar, upon conquest of these countries returned the land to those local inhabitants who were the rightful owners. The just and benevolent Caliph was exceptionally generous to the tillers of the soil and he even issued strict orders that no other persons including Arab soldiers who had spread all over these countries should be granted any piece of land for cultivation purposes. Such steps taken by the second Caliph of Islam restored confidence among the local inhabitants, gave a great impetus to the advancement of agriculture in those countries and contributed to the enormous increase in agricultural produce. The tenants became prosperous and their standard of living was raised which led to the easy realisation of land revenues by the custodians of the State. According to a French historian, "The liberal policy followed by the Arabs in the fixation of revenues and their land reforms have greatly contributed to their military conquests". It was due to this generous policy of the second Caliph that the Christian Qibtis of Egypt, who were farmers, always sided with Muslim Arabs in preference to Roman Christians. The great Caliph was not contented with these reforms. He worked out beneficial schemes for the advancement of agriculture and constructed irrigation canals, wells and tanks in his vast dominions. He established a public welfare department which looked after these construction works and furthered various beneficial schemes. The famous historian Allama Maqrizi says that more than one lac and twenty thousand labourers were employed in such works throughout the year in Egypt alone. A number of canals were constructed in Khuzistan and Ahwaz during this period.
The short period of the Caliphate Raashidah is considered the golden epoch of Islamic rule in which Muslims made all-round progress. During the Omayyad Caliphate many evils of aristocracy and autocracy had crept into its ranks. The socialist and peoples' democracy of the Caliphate Raashidah had given place to imperialism and autocracy. The original tenants were dislodged from their lands and their properties were distributed among the privileged classes. The State revenues inspite of all the repressive measures adopted decreased considerably. Hazrat Omar bin Abdul Aziz tried to check this rot and reintroduced the old reforms and returned the properties to their rightful owners. He ordered his collectors not to charge any revenue for uncultivated and pasture lands. He constructed a large number of irrigation wells and tanks in his vast empire, and the tenants again became rich and there was hardly any one to receive the alms.
The period of the Abbasid Caliphate is particularly noted for the Muslim advancement in diverse branche of sciences and arts. Agriculture, too, received great impetus under the Abbasids. A net work of canals existed in Iraq which transformed that country into a veritable garden. The first great canal constructed by an uncle of the Caliph Mansur was called Nahr Isa (Isa canal) which, issuing from the Eupharater at Al-Anbar ran into the Tigris west of Baghdad It was open to ships and one of its branches was the Sarah canal. Another important canal was built by Caliph Mehdi in 'Wasit district, which brought a large tract of land under cultivation. A third transverse canal was Nahr Sarsar which joined the river Tigris above Madain. The Dujayal canal which con nected the Tigris and Eupharates and had many offshoots irrigated the regions north of Baghdad. It was silted up in the IOth century A.D. A canal known as Nahr al-Malik (king canal) entered the Tigris below Madain. Other important canals were Nahr Kutba and great Sarah which flowing in the lower basir of the two rivers, had many branches and irrigatec a vast tract of land. Promotion of agriculture ane horticulture was carried on with zeal throughout the vast Abbasid empire. According to an anrialist 'In those days Iraq and southern Persia presented the appearance of a veritable garden, and, the whole country specially between Baghdad and Kufa was 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. The plain south of Sawad was noted for the growth of all sorts of temperate and tropical fruits. Ahwaz and Pars were famous for sugar plantation and manufacture. The sugar manufactured in these regions was supplied not only to Asiatic countries but also to Europe. Sugar was also manufactured on the Syrian coast, from, whence the crusaders learned the method and introduced it into Europe. Khorasan and Egypt were also fertile countries yielding rich agricultural produce. According to the Arab geographer Yaqut the land in the vicinity of Bukhara during Samanids' rule (900 A.D.) looked like a garden. It contained the valley of Sughad considered as one of the four earthly paradises. All kinds of fruits were produced in these gardens. Water-melons were exported from Khwarizm to Baghdad, in lead moulds perched with ice and were sold for 700 dirhams each.
In Spain, Arabs had established a great civilization and had developed agriculture on an unprecedented scale. They had constructed water channels, applied scientific manures and introduced new crops. The whole of Spain especially Andalusia had been converted into a veritable garden. Hardly any country of mediaeval times enjoyed greater agricultural prosperity than Muslim Spain. Agriculture was carried on along scientific lines and combining industry, skill and knowledge in its development made the most sterile tracts bloom luxuriantly. It was the Spanish Arabs who introduced rice, sugar-cane, cotton, ginger, saffron spinach and a great variety of fruits to that desolate peninsula and developed them on a large scale. Fror Spain these crops were later gradually introduced int various countries of Europe. In 1255 A.C., whe Feridnand I, captured Seville, that province possesse several million olive trees and had more than 100,00 mills for turning out olive oil. A renowned historia writes about the achievements of the Arabs in Spain" They levelled the earth by means of an instrument called the marhifal, and the science of irrigation was carried to high perfection. The whole country was covered with aqueducts and canals for the fertilization of the soil. The aqueducts of Carmona carried water over a distance of several leagues".'
They carried on irrigation by flood gates, wheel and pumps. The Andalusian plain of Spain was considered the garden of Europe and a centre of rura and urban activities.Writing in his well-known book History of the Arcrbs, Philip K. Hitti says "This agricultural development was one of the glories of Muslim Spain and one of the Arabs lasting gift to the land, for Spanish gardens have preserved to this day a 'Moorish' imprint. One of the best known gardens is the Generalife (from Arabic--Jnnnet alarif i.e., the Inspectors' Paradise), a Nasrid menument of the late 13th century whose villa was one of the outlying buildings of the Alhambra. This garden, proverbial for its extensive shades, falling waters and soft breeze (according to Ibn Khatib) was terraced in the form of an amphitheatre and irrigated by streams which, after forming numerous cascades, lost themselves among the flowers, shrubs and trees represented today by a few gigantic cypresses and myrtles".'
The Indo-Pak sub-continent during the Muslim rule was one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the world. The prices of grain and other edible commodities during the reign of Alauddin Khilji and Shah Jahan quoted by chronicles of these times were exceptionally low and hardly believeable. The Jamuna Gangetic Doab was known throughout the world for its fertility and productivity. During the Mughal period a number of canals were taken out from Jamuna which irrigated the vast tracts of land round about Delhi and Agra. The villages were self-sufficient and the high agricultural productivity enhanced the prosperity'of the people.
The Muslims took much interest in the advancement of horticulture, which was not confined to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables but also to the planting of all sorts of flowers. Damascus, Shiraz and Jur were particularly noted for their flower gardens, which led to the growth of perfume industry in these regions. Firozabad in Faris was famous for its atar of roses. According to Ibn Hauqal, the rose water of Jur was exported to such distant countries as China. 'Faris' according to Thaalibi, 'included in its khiraj 30,000 bottles of the essences of roses. Sabur or Shahpur produced 10 world famous varieties of perfumed oil.'
Muslims had a special aptitude for gardens. The garden of Generalife in Granada (Spain) and the Shalimar gardens built by the Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan in Kashmir and Lahore respectively are considered to be the best in the world. "Natural products" says J. H. Kramers, "which, by their name, betray their original importation from Muhammadan countries, are fruits like the orange, lemon, and apricot, vegetables such as spinach and artichokes, further saffron and now the so important aniline".'
Arab botanists wrote several valuable treatises on plants and carried on research on their cultivation, growth and natural properties. One of these treatises was written by Ibn al-Awwam entitled Kitab-al-Filaha in which he dealt with 585 plants and 50 kinds of fruit trees. According to George Sarton, "It contains striking observations on the different kinds of soil and manure and their respective properties, on various methods of graftingon sympathies and antipathies between plants , etc. The symptoms of many diseases of trees and vines are indicated, as are also methods Of cure".
Copied from 'THE ISLAMIC SCHOLAR'