Friday, January 6, 2012

Adventure classics -- A pilgrimage to save his life

The Travels of Ibn Jubayr

by Abu al-Husayn Muhammad ibn Amad ibn Jubayr

translated by Roland (R.J.C.) Broadhurst


“One day in the year A.D. 1182,” relates translator Roland Broadhurst in his introduction to the journal of ibn Jubayr, “the Moorish Governor of Granada, then the wealthiest and most splendid city of Spain, summoned his secretary to discharge some business.”

The governor was a prince of the Almohad dynasty whose current ruler was Yusuf I. And but for a fit of pique at his secretary, ibn Jubayr, the governor’s life on this earth would be as little remembered as Yusuf’s dynasty, which the Reconquista would sweep from power within the next few decades.

As the story goes, when ibn Jubayr entered his employer’s presence on that day, probably in the Muslim year 578, the Muslim governor, fallen far from the puritanical principles of the earlier Almohads, offered him a cup of wine. Ibn Jubayr refused. The governor flew into a rage. After forcing ibn Jubayr to consume seven cups in punishment for the refusal, the governor in remorse lavished him with a cup of gold for every cup of wine.

And to atone for his involuntary sin, ibn Jubayr set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was, of course, his religious duty to make the pilgrimage. And his capricious employer’s generosity gave him the means (as well, presumably as a suitable leave of absence).

But there have been reasonable-sounding speculations that ibn Jubayr was anxious as well to remove himself from an unpleasant and possibly dangerous situation. An employer, after all, who tries alcohol poisoning on his secretary makes the boss at The Office TV show sound stable.

At any rate, ibn Jubayr left Granada on February 3, 1183 (by the Muslim calendar, the 30th day of the month of Shawwal, A.H. 578) and didn’t return until the spring of 1185, after the death of Yusuf I, the overlord of Granada’s governor.

During his two years away from Spain, ibn Jubayr kept an almost daily record of his travels across half the known world. He managed to see every sight along the way -- from the pyramids of Egypt to the grand mosque of Mecca to a volcanic eruption in Sicily -- and talked to or expressed opinions about most of the important people of his day, from Sultan Saladin to the secluded Abbasid caliph in Bagdad to the Norman King William of Sicily. His book brought him an immense literary reputation.

Did ibn Jubayr develop a yearning for travel from his experiences? Or did he find absence from Spain a refuge from the increasing political problems at home? He made two more trips eastward, without leaving any further account, and died in Egypt on his final journey in 1217, as the Almohad dynasty crumbled behind him. His book lives on, readily available at .

(For the next two Fridays, Adventure classics features back to back true life adventures from pioneering literary aviators Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Beryl Markham. First up -- Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars.)

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