Ibn Jubayr

Ibn Jubayr

Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217; _ar. ابن جبير [Full Abū l-Husayn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Jubayr al-Kenani ( _ar. أبو الحسين محمد بن أحمد بن جبير الكناني), also called simply Jabair.] ) was an geographer, traveler and poet from al-Andalus

Biography

Early life

Born in Valencia, then the seat of an Arab emirate, Jubayr was the son of a civil servant. He studied at Granada the Qur'an, hadith, law and literature, and later became secretary to the Almohad governor of that city. During this time he composed many poems. In 1182 he took the decision to perform his duty of pilgrimage to Mecca in order to atone for a sin that he had been compelled to do by the governor of Valencia.

Travels

The sea journey from Ceuta to Alexandria

Ibn Jubayr left Granada and crossed over the Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta, which at that time was still a Muslim city. He boarded a Genoese ship on February 24, 1183 and set sail for Alexandria. His sea journey took him past the Balearic Islands and then across to the west coast of Sardinia. Whilst offshore he heard of the fate of 80 Muslim men, women and children who had been abducted from North Africa and were being sold into slavery. Between Sardinia and Sicily the ship ran into a severe storm. He said of the Italians and Muslims on board who had experience of the sea that "all agreed that they had never in their lives seen such a tempest." After the storm the ship went on past Sicily, Crete and then turned south and crossed over to the North African coast. He arrived in Alexandria on March 26.

In Egypt

Everywhere that Ibn Jubayr travelled in Egypt he was full of praise for the new Sunni ruler, Salahuddin Ayyubi. For example he says of him that: "There is no congregational or ordinary mosque, no mausoleum built over a grave, nor hospital, nor theological college, where the bounty of the Sultan does not extend to all who seek shelter or live in them." He points out that when the Nile does not flood enough, Salahuddin remits the land tax from the farmers. He also says that "such is his (Salahuddin's} justice, and the safety he has brought to his high-roads that men in his lands can go about their affairs by night and from its darkness apprehend no awe that should deter them." Ibn Jubayr is, on the other hand, very disparraging of the previous Shi'a dynasty of the Fatimids.

In Alexandria

Upon arrival at Alexandria Ibn Jubayr was angered by the customs officials who insisted on taking zakat from the pilgrims, regardless of whether they were obliged to pay it or not. In the city he visited the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which at that time was still standing, and he was amazed by its size and splendour. He was also impressed by the free colleges, hostels for foreign students, baths and hospitals in the city. These were paid for by awqaf and taxes on the city's Jews and Christians. He noted that there were between 8,000 and 12,000 mosques in Alexandria. After a stay of eight days he set off for Cairo.

In Cairo

He reached Cairo three days later. In the city he visited the cemetery at al-Qarafah, which contained the graves of many important figures in the history of Islam. He noted while in Cairo that the walls of the citadel were being extended by foreign Christian slaves with the object of surrounding the entire city. Another building work that he saw was the construction of a bridge over the Nile, which would be high enough not to be submerged in the annual flooding of the river. He saw a spacious free hospital which was divided into three sections: one each for men, women and the insane. He saw the pyramids, although he was unaware of who they had been built for, and the Sphinx. He also saw a device that was used for measuring the height of the Nile flood.

Further journeys

Ibn Jubayr also travelled to Jerusalem, Medina, Mecca, Damascus, Mosul, Acre and Baghdad, returning in 1185 by way of Sicily. His path was not without troubles, including a shipwreck. Both the times he travelled on Genoese ships.

He gives a highly detailed and graphic description of the places he visited during his travels in his book "The Travels of Ibn Jubayr", which has been translated into English by Roland Broadhurst. Differently from its contemporaries, Jubayr's account was not a mere collection of toponyms and descriptions of monuments, showing in-depth analysis qualities in the observation of geographical details as well as cultural, religious and political matters. Particularly interesting are his notes about the declining faith of his fellow Muslims in Palermo after the recent Norman conquest, and about what he perceived as the Muslim-influenced customs of king William II of Sicily (see Arabo-Norman civilization).

Frequently quoted are Jubayr's famous description of the Muslims living well under the Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem:

We left Tibnin by a road running past farms where Muslims live who do very well under the Franks-may Allah preserve us from such a temptation! ... The Muslims own their own houses and rule themselves in their own way. This is the way the farms and big villages are organized in Frankish territory. Many Muslims are sorely tempted to settle here when they see the far from comfortable conditions in which their brethren live in the districts under Muslim rule. Unfortunately for the Muslims, they have always reason for complaint about the injustices of their chiefs in the lands governed by their coreligionists, whereas they can have nothing but praise for the conduct of the Franks, whose justice they can always rely on.

Jubayr travelled to the East two more times (1189-1191 and 1217), without leaving any account. He died in Egypt during the second of these trips.

Footnotes

References

*"The Travels of Ibn Jubayr" translated by Roland Broadhurst
*1911
*Pernoud, Regine; The Crusaders (1962 Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd.)

ee also

* List of Arab scientists and scholars


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