Ibn Jubayr

Ibn Jubayr
Born 1 September 1145
Valencia, Taifa of Valencia, now Province of Valencia, Spain
Died 29 November 1217 (aged 72)
Alexandria, Ayyubid dynasty, Egypt
Occupation Geographer, Traveler, Poet

Ibn Jubayr (1 September 1145[1] –29 November 1217; Arabic: ابن جبير[2]), also written Ibn Jubair, Ibn Jobair, and Ibn Djubayr, was a geographer, traveler and poet from al-Andalus. His travel chronicle describes the pilgrimage he made to Mecca from 1183 to 1185, in the years preceding the Third Crusade. His chronicle describes Saladin's domains in Egypt and the Levant which he passed through on his way to Mecca. Further, on his return journey he passed through Christian Sicily, which had only been recaptured from the Muslims a century before, and he makes several observations on the hybrid polyglot culture which flourished there.

A 13th century painting showing a Christian and a Muslim playing chess


Early life

Ibn Jubayr was born in 1145 A.D. in Valencia, Spain. He was a descendant of 'Abdal-Salam ibn Jabayr who in 740 A.D. had accompanied an army sent by the Caliph of Damascus to put down a Berber uprising in his Spanish provinces.[3] Ibn Jubayr studied in the town of Játiva where his father worked as a civil servant. He later became secretary to the Almohad governor of Granada.[4]

In the introduction to his Rihla Ibn Jubayr explains the reason for his travels. As secretary for the ruler of Granada in 1182, he was forced, under threat, to drink seven cups of wine. Seized by remorse, the ruler then filled seven cups of gold dinars which he gave him. To expiate his godless act, although forced upon him, Ibn Jubayr decided to perform the duty of Hajj to Mecca. He left Granada on 3 February 1183 accompanied by a physician from the city.


Map of the first journey by Ibn Jubair from Ceuta until Makkah

The sea journey from Ceuta to Alexandria

Ibn Jubayr left Granada and crossed over the Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta, then under Muslim rule. 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".[5] 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

Saladin and the Mamluks assured the protection of Caravan routes that allowed travel to distant lands.

Everywhere that Ibn Jubayr travelled in Egypt he was full of praise for the new Sunni ruler, Saladin. 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."[6] He points out that when the Nile does not flood enough, Saladin 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."[7] Ibn Jubayr is, on the other hand, very disparaging of the previous Shi'a dynasty of the Fatimids.

Of Cairo, Ibn Jubayr notes, are the colleges and hostels erected for students and pious men of other lands by the Sultan Saladin. In those colleges students find lodging and tutors to teach them the sciences they desire, and also allowances to cover their needs. The care of the sultan also grants them baths, hospitals, and the appointment of doctors who can even come to visit them at their place of stay, and who would be answerable for their cure. One of the Sultan Saladin's other generous acts was that every day two thousand loaves of bread were distributed to the poor. Also impressing Ibn Jubayr in that city was the number of mosques, estimated at between 8 and 12 thousand; often four or five of them in the same street.

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.

One of the greatest wonders that we saw in this city was the lighthouse which Great and Glorious God had erected by the hands of those who were forced to such labor as 'Indeed in that are signs for those who discern'. Quran 15:75 and as a guide to voyagers, for without it they could not find the true course to Alexandria. It can be seen for more than seventy miles, and is of great antiquity. It is most strongly built in all directions and competes with the skies in height. Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle.[8]

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

An Egyptian Mamluk in full armor and armed with lance, shield and sabre

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 the Cairo of Saladin, the walls of the citadel were being extended by the Mamluks with the object of reinforcing the entire city from any future Crusader siege. 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.

Ibn Jubayr in Sicily

In Sicily, at the very late stages of his travels (Dec 1184-Jan 1185), Ibn Jubayr recounts other experiences. He comments on the activity of the volcanoes:

At the close of night a red flame appeared, throwing up tongues into the air. It was the celebrated volcano (Stromboli). We were told that a fiery blast of great violence bursts out from air-holes in the two mountains and makes the fire. Often a great stone is cast up and thrown into the air by the force of the blast and prevented thereby from falling and settling at the bottom. This is one of the most remarkable of stories, and it is true.

As for the great mountain in the island, known as the Jabal al-Nar [Mountain of Fire], it also presents a singular feature in that some years a fire pours from it in the manner of the `bursting of the dam'. It passes nothing it does not burn until, coming to the sea, it rides out on its surface and then subsides beneath it. Let us praise the Author of all things for His marvelous creations. There is no God but He.[9]

Also striking Ibn Jubayr is the city of Palermo. He describes it as follows:

It is the metropolis of these islands, combining the benefits of wealth and splendour, and having all that you could wish of beauty, real or apparent, and all the needs of subsistence, mature and fresh. It is an ancient and elegant city, magnificent and gracious, and seductive to look upon. Proudly set between its open spaces and plains filled with gardens, with broad roads and avenues, it dazzles the eyes with its perfection. It is a wonderful place, built in the Cordova style, entirely from cut stone known as kadhan [a soft limestone]. A river splits the town, and four springs gush in its suburbs... The King roams through the gardens and courts for amusement and pleasure... The Christian women of this city follow the fashion of Muslim women, are fluent of speech, wrap their cloaks about them, and are veiled.[10]

Further journeys

San Giovanni degli Eremiti, an example of Arab-Norman architecture,[11] combining Gothic walls with Islamic domes; built in Palermo, Sicily by the Normans.[12]

Ibn Jubayr also travelled to Medina, Mecca Damascus, Mosul, Acre and Baghdad at Basra he saw how Indian timber was carefully used to make Lateen sail ships, returning in 1185 by way of Sicily. His path was not without troubles, including a shipwreck. On both occasions he travelled on Genoese ships.

Frequently quoted is Jubayr's famous description of Muslims being under an extremely high tax under the Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem:

We moved from Tibnin - may God destroy it - at daybreak on Monday. Our way lay through continuous farms and ordered settlements, whose inhabitants were all Muslims, living comfortably within the Franks... They surrender half their crops to the Franks at harvest time, and pay as well a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat for each person. Other than that they are not interfered with, save for a light tax on the fruit of their trees. The houses and all their effects are left to their full possession. All the coastal cities occupied by the Franks are managed in this fashion, their rural districts, the villages and farms, belong to the Muslims. But their hearts have been seduced, for they observe how unlike them in ease and comfort are their brethren in the Muslim regions under their (Muslim) governors. This is one of the misfortunes afflicting the Muslims. The Muslim community bewails the injustice of the landlord of its own faith, and applauds the conduct of its opponent and enemy, the Frankish landlord, and is accustomed to justice from him.[13]

Jubayr travelled to the East on two further occasions (1189–1191 and 1217), without leaving any account. He died on the 29 November 1217 in Alexandria during the second of these trips.[4]

Overview and publication

Ibn Jubayr provides a highly detailed and graphic description of the places he visited during his travels. The book differs from other contemporary accounts in not being a mere collection of toponyms and descriptions of monuments, but contains 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).

His writing is a foundation of the genre of work called Rihla, or the creative travelogue. This is a mix of personal narrative, description of the areas traveled and personal anecdotes.[14]

Ibn Jubayr's travel chronicle served as a model for later authors, some of whom copied from it without attribution. Ibn Juzayy, who wrote the account of Ibn Battuta's travels in around 1355 A.D., copied passages that had been written 170 years earlier by Ibn Jubayr describing Damascus, Mecca, Medina and other places in the Middle East.[15] Passages copied from Ibn Jubayr are also found in the writings of al-Sharishi, al-Abdari and Al-Maqrizi.[4]

A surviving copy of Ibn Jubayr's manuscript is preserved in the collection of the Leiden University Library. The 210 page manuscript was produced in Mecca in 875 A.H. (1470 A.D.) and appears to have been written at high speed: diacritic marks are often missing, words are omitted and there is confusion between certain pairs of letters.[16] The complete Arabic text was first published in 1852 by the orientalist William Wright.[17] An updated edition was published in 1907 by Michael Jan de Goeje.[18] A translation into Italian by Celestino Schiaparelli was published in 1906,[19] a translation into English by Ronald Broadhurst was published in 1952,[20] and a translation into French by Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes appeared in three volumes between 1949 and 1956.[21]

In popular culture

Jubair is widely identified as Jubair Al-Hakim from Assassin's Creed, where he preaches in Damascus before being killed by the protagonist Altair.[22]

See also


  1. Peters 1996, p. 91.
  2. Full name: Abū l-Husayn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Jubayr al-Kenani (Arabic: أبو الحسين محمد بن أحمد بن جبير الكناني), also called simply Jabair.
  3. Broadhurst 1952, p. 15.
  4. 1 2 3 Pellat 1986.
  5. Broadhurst 1952, p. 28.
  6. Broadhurst 1952, pp. 44-45.
  7. Broadhurst 1952, p. 49.
  8. Broadhurst 1952, pp. 32-33.
  9. Broadhurst 1952, pp. 343-344.
  10. Broadhurst 1952, pp. 348-350.
  11. "Church of San Giovanni Degli Eremiti". Palermo Arabo Normanna. Palermo Arabo Normanna. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  12. Les Normands en Sicile, p. 54.
  13. Broadhurst 1952, p. 316.
  14. Grammatico & Werner 2015.
  15. Dunn 2005, pp. 313–314.
  16. Ibn Jubayr, Wright & de Goeje 1907, pp. 14-15.
  17. Ibn Jubayr & Wright 1852.
  18. Ibn Jubayr, Wright & de Goeje 1907.
  19. Ibn Jubayr & Schiaparelli 1906.
  20. Broadhurst 1952.
  21. Ibn Jobair & Gaudefroy-Demombynes 1949–1956.
  22. Markley, John Drew (2 March 2012). "Assassin's Creed 3 box art unveiled". Gaming and Tech.com. Retrieved 26 September 2016.


Further reading

External links

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