Ibn Jubayr

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[pp. 292-297]


(1145 - 1217 A.D.) about 1185 A.D.

Abū-l-Ḥasan Muḥ. b. Aḥmad Ibn Jubayr al-Kinānī. An Arab poet, geographer and traveller from Valencia. He wrote the first day-by-day report on his travels ("Rihlat").

Brockelmann 478, S 1, 879; EI (s.v.)

Ed.: W. Wright, Leiden 1852; M.J. De Goeje, Gibb.

Mem. Ser. 5, Leiden-London 1907.

T.: De Goeje A:0

One of the most praiseworthy and effective deeds of this Sultan [Saladin] of blessed memory, was the abolition of the customs duty (rasm al-mukūs) imposed as a compulsory tax (waẓīfa) on the pilgrims in the days of the Fatimite dynasty. It was a serious hindrance to the pilgrimage because it became an unbearable burden laid on the pilgrims in the most ignominious way. Some pilgrims had hardly enough to buy their daily food and others could not afford even for their daily necessities; yet, they too were forced to pay this tax which amounted to seven-and-half Egyptian dīnārs per head, the equivalent of nearly 15 dīnārs mu'mīniyya.<ref>So called after Abū Sa'īd Abdel Mu'mīn, king of Granada.</ref> Whosoever failed to [p. 293] pay was subjected to the most cruel of tortures at ‘Aydhāb. One of the tortures, contrived for the pilgrim who did not pay the tax was, perhaps (rubbāma), to hang him by the testicles (at-ta'līq min al-unthayiayn) or some likewise shameful torture. God save us from such an evil! At Judda, we met some people who had undergone such punishment and even heavier, because they had not paid the tax at 'Aydhāb, and when they arrived at Judda no mark of quittance was written beside their names. This Sultan abolished this abominable duty and had it replaced with another, more reasonable one, consisting of some food or the like. The customs officer of a well-known place is appointed to collect it and forward it to the Hejaz, where it becomes a sort of food relief for Mecca and Medina. (De Goeje, pp. 54 - 55).

Some Christians<ref>At Alexandria, Ibn Jubayr saw a party of Crusaders, who had been taken prisoner by the Muslims, after they had raided the Red Sea harbours under the command of Raynaud de Châtillon</ref> from Syria who had come together [with Raynault] had built boats in a place as near as possible to the Red Sea, and then carried them in parts on camels they hired from some Arabs by an agreement. When they arrived at the shore of the Red Sea they assembled the parts, nailed them and completed the shipbuilding work; then they launched the boats on the sea. They sailed off to intercept pilgrims on their way to Mecca. They [first] landed at Bahr Na'am burned about sixteen, then proceeded to 'Aydhāb where they seized a ship crowded with pilgrims which had Just arrived from Judda. They also captured a caravan of pilgrims coming overland from Qos to 'Aydhāb, and killed them all. They also seized two merchant ships coming from Yemen, (ibid., p. 58).

[p. 294] The month [of Safar] began on Wednesday, which was the 25th May (Māya), while we were at Qos awaiting to leave for 'Aydhāb.

At this watering point (Danqāsh)<ref>The halting places on the Qos-'Aydhāb way are described by Ibn Jubayr one by one. We have selected only relevant passages.</ref> a riot broke out between the Arab camelmen, all from the Balyy branch of the Quḍā'a tribe, - who were lords of the way to 'Aydhāb and guarantors of our lives, - and a party of Turks (aghzāz), the cause of the riot was the excessive crowding of people around the watering point.

There are two ways from Qos to 'Aydhāb, one is named Ṭarīq al-'Abdayn which is the one we took, and the other follows the Nile from the outskirts of Qena.

While travelling, we wished to count the incoming and outgoing caravans, especially those coming from 'Aydhāb loaded with Indian goods, shipped from Yemen to 'Aydhāb, but we could not. What we noticed with surprise was the great number of loads of pepper. Judging from the huge quantity of pepper, we fancied that it must be as cheap as dust. What seemed very strange to us in that desert was that, while you go on your way, you come across cargoes of pepper and cloves and other goods left on the roadside unguarded. Their owners do so perhaps to relieve their camels or for some other reason; these cargoes remain there quite safe from any dangers from travellers until the owners come again to collect them, (ibid., pp. 65 - 66).

On Friday morning we called for a halt near the spring at a place called Ashrā', (Usharā), two days' Journey from 'Aydhāb. In this place there are many Ushar trees, which look like orange trees but have thorns ... [p. 295] We continued the Journey by night, i.e. the night of Saturday 2nd of Rabī' al-Awwal and the day we called a halt at the well of al-Khabīb (al-Khubayb), which is within the sight of 'Aydhāb. All the caravans as well as the townsmen draw their water from this well. On the evening of that Saturday [25th June, 1183 A.D.] we entered 'Aydhāb. It is a town on the coast of the sea of Judda ... and one of the busiest ports in the world; it sits in a plain without vegetation, all the food supplies must be imported, but the local people make good profits from the pilgrims, especially during the pilgrimage, because for every load of food which is carried, they receive a fixed porterage tax, which is very small, in addition to the customs duties which existed beforehand and were later replaced by Saladin, as already mentioned.

Another source of income to them [the inhabitants of ‘Aydhāb] is the pilgrimage, as they hire their jalbas (jilāb) which are boats. They gain large sums of money by ferrying the pilgrims to Judda and back after the pilgrimage season is over. Every inhabitant [of 'Aydhāb] who can afford it, owns one or two jalbas and makes a good profit from them.

[At 'Aydhāb]<ref>Ibn Jubayr spent 23 days at 'Aydhab before embarking for Judda</ref> we took lodging in the house of one Muwaththakh [?]<ref>As no diacritic dot is shown in the original, the name can be spelt differently.</ref> the Ḥabashiyyin who was a leading person [of the village] and owned houses and jalbas.

In the sea of 'Aydhāb there is a pearl fishery in the nearby islands. The good season for diving for pearls is June and the following month, during which time pearls (jawhar) of great value are caught. Divers go to those islands and stay there some days, returning with whatever [p. 296] gain God has graciously destined to them, each according to his own chance. (ibid., p. 68).

The navigation from Judda to this town ['Aydhāb] is catastrophic to many pilgrims. Only a small number of these are safely guided back [by God]. For the winds toss boats on the shore, in desertic places far away from the town, towards the south. Then the Buja come down to them. They are a kind of Sūdān who live on the mountains. They hire camels and they [Buja] take them by a route where there is no water, so that the majority of the travellers die of thirst; while they take over all the victuals and other equipment that remains. (ibid., p. 70) .

It may happen that a pilgrim gets lost while walking in that trackless desert and eventually dies of thirst. Those who arrive at 'Aydhāb safe and sound look like dead bodies taken out of their shrouds. During our stay there, we saw many who arrived in such a state that we could not recognize them, so much did their faces look disfigured and haggard. Most pilgrims die between these ports, and those who, favoured by the wind, succeed in reaching 'Aydhāb, are a minority.

The boats (jilāb) which they launch on this Pharaonic sea are built with planks held together without nails. They are bound together with ropes of qimbār, which is the fibre of the coconut tree (nārjīl), trashed until it can be twisted into ropes with which they join [the planks of] the boats to one another, and fill the interstices with pegs of palm-tree wood. When they have completed the building of a jalba in the way just described, they smear it with castor oil or with oil of qursh [a fish], which is even better. More surprising still is the sail of the jalba which is made of leaves of muql [Theban palm] plaited in the same careless and irresponsible way as the whole boat is built. May God protect such boats, for He alone can give salvation!

[p. 297] The behaviour of the inhabitants of 'Aydhāb towards the pilgrims is that of tyrants. They pack the travellers in the jalba to the point that one sits on top of the other, and treat them harshly as if they were fowl crowded in a cage. Their only concern is to rent the boat and make the highest profit from it in one journey; they do not care what may befall them while on the sea. They say: "We take care of the planks (alwāḥ), let the pilgrims take care of their lives (arwāḥ)" which is a current proverb among them. (ibid., pp. 68 - 70).

The inhabitants of the town ['Aydhāb] belong to a kind of Sūdān who are called Beja (bujāh). They have a king of their own, who lives in the mountains near the town. Perhaps he occasionally came [to 'Aydhāb] to profess some form of submission to the wālī of the Turks (al-ghuzz), but his representative (mustanāb) has his residence in a village together with the wālī. Most of the income goes to him [the wālī]. This section of Sudan is the most hopelessly astray and they were more stupid than cattle; they have no religious knowledge other than the profession of the unity of God (kalimah at-tawhīd) by virtue of which they externally profess themselves as Muslims; but, inside, they conceal many vicious beliefs that are inadmissible. Their men and women go around naked, they wear only a loin-cloth to hide their shame; the majority wear nothing at all. (ibid., pp. 70 - 71).

May God save the pilgrims from this town ['Aydhāb] by allowing the reopening of the way to His holy sanctuary. Normally the route from Miṣr to the Holy City [Mecca] was by way of ʿAqaba-Ailat. It is a short way on which one has the sea on the right and the great mountain of Tor on the left. But the Faranj hold a fortress near the place, with a garrison, and this prevents the pilgrims from passing through there, (ibid., pp. 72 - 73).