Al-Bakri was born in Huelva, the son of the sovereign of the short lived principality of Huelva. When his father was deposed by al-Mu'tadid he moved to Córdoba where he studied with the geographer al-Udri and the historian Ibn Hayyan. He spent his entire life in Al-Andalus, most of it in Seville and Almeria. He never travelled to the locations of which he wrote.
Al-Bakri wrote about Europe, North Africa, and the Arabian peninsula. Only two of his works have survived. His Mu'jam mā ista'jam contains a list of place names mostly within the Arabian peninsular with an introduction giving the geographical background. His most important work is his Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik ("Book of Highways and of Kingdoms"). This was composed in 1068, based on literature and the reports of merchants and travellers, including Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Warraq (904-973) and Abraham ben Jacob. It is one of most important sources for the history of West Africa and gives crucial information on the Ghana Empire, the Almoravid dynasty and the trans Saharan trade. Although the material borrowed from Yusuf al-Warraq dated from the 10th century, he also included information on events that occurred close to the time that he wrote.
Al-Bakri mentions the earliest urban centers in the trans Saharan trade to embrace Islam, late in the 10th century, Gao was one of the very few along the Niger River to have native Muslim inhabitants. Very soon other kingdoms along the serpentine bends of the great river eventually followed: Takrur (Senegal); Songhay (Mali); Kanem-Bornu (Chad); and Hausa-territories (Nigeria). By the 11th century, he reports of these and other flourishing Islamic cities made their way north to Al-Andalus in southern Spain, the aristocratic geographer and historian Al-Bakri writes in his Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik (Book of Highways and Kingdoms)":
"The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain", "One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve Mosques in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried Imams and Muezzins, as well as Jurists and Scholars."
His works are noted for the relative objectiveness with which they are presented. For each area, he describes the people, their customs, as well as the geography, climate, and main cities. That information was also contained in his written geography of the Arabian Peninsula, and in the encyclopedia of the world in which he wrote. He also presents various anecdotes about each area. Unfortunately, parts of his main work have been lost, and of the surviving parts, some have never been published.
See also 
- Muhammad al-Idrisi, a 12th century Andalusian-Arab geographer who lived in Sicily.
- Lévi-Provençal, E. (1960), "Abū ʿUbayd al-Bakrī", Encyclopaedia of Islam 2nd Ed. Vol. 1, Leiden: Brill, pp. 155–157.
- Levtzion, Nehemia; Hopkins, John F.P., eds. (2000), Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa, New York, NY: Marcus Weiner Press, ISBN 1-55876-241-8. First published in 1981. Pages 62–87 contain an extract from "The Book of Routes and Realms" describing West Africa.
- Vernet, J. (1970), "Bakrī, Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbdallāh Ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ibn Muḥammad al-", in Gillispie, Charles C., Dictionary of Scientific Biography Vol. 1, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 413–414.
Further reading 
- El-Bekri (1859), Description de l'Afrique septentrionale, Mac Guckin de Slane, translator and editor, Paris: Imprimerie Impériale. Revised edition with corrections (1913), Tangiers: Adolphe Jourdan. Available from Gallica.
- Reinaud, J.T. (1860), "Notice sur les dictionnaries géographiques arabes", Journal Asiatique, 5 16: 65–106 . Al-Bakri's dictionary mentioned on page 75.
- White, Robert C. (1968), "Early geographical dictionaries", Geographical Review 58: 652–659, JSTOR 212687.
- Vernet, J. (2008) [1970-80]. "Al-Bakrī, Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbdallāh Ibn ʿAbd Al-ʿAzīz Ibn Muḥammad". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com.
- The Culture of Al-Andalus: Geography, Unity Productions Foundation.