Ibn Jubayr

The travel route of Ibn Jubayr in the late twelfth century

Late in the twelfth century, far to the west in the Fatimid kingdom of Spain a young secretary to the Governor of Granada was offered a cup of wine by his employer. This seemingly innocuous offer has provided us with one of our great travel stories from medieval times. The sincere and devout Muslim declined indicating that he had never before partaken in drink. But his patron was taking none of this and had decided that Ibn Jubayr would drink, not just the cup offered, but seven cups in total and allowed no dissent of his demand. Reluctantly Ibn Jubayr complied and downed the seven cups, with the Governor much like a university student on frosh night, offering encouragement. We know of the trepidation which he felt at taking the drink, but Ibn Jubayr offers no insight as to how he felt the next morning, the governor however felt remorse and offered the clerk seven cups of gold, one for each cup of wine. With his quick mini fortune the young cleric decided, as a devout Muslim, to partake on the Hajj to Mecca, the pilgrimage that all able bodied and financially secure Muslim men are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.

Seventeenth century view of Mecca

Early in 1183 Ibn Jubayr departed Spain for Alexandria on a Genoese ship with Christians and Muslims on board. On his journey to Mecca Ibn Jubayr endured near catastrophe from sea storms, abuse by Egyptian customs officials and overcrowding on a small vessel crossing the Red Sea. After performing the Hajj Ibn Jubayr continued to Baghdad and Damascus embarking on a ship at Accre. His entire journey took him just over two years and three months. Despite the hardships of his travel Ibn Jubayr would encourage others to “Seize the chance of freedom from the cares of the world before family and children ensnare you, before the day comes when you gnash your teeth in regret of the time that is gone.”

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