Sunday, 19 February 2017

Legends of the Alhambra

Legends of the Alhambra

The Gate of Justice

The Alhambra of Granada, built in AD 899 was originally conceived as a small fortress, although it was later turned into a royal palace by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar. Of the four gates in the Alhambra wall, the largest and most impressive one is the Gate of Justice, also known as the Gate of the Esplanade because of the large esplanade that extended before it.

This gate has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Alhambra, and one of the things that have contributed to this is perhaps the legend told about the gate.
The legend speaks about two symbols that are featured on the gate, the hand carved in the keystone of the arch and a key in the inner archway. The Muslims felt so confident about the inexpugnability of the gate that it was said that if the hand and the key were to unite it would mean that the end of the world had arrived. 

The Bewitched Soldier

There was once a Spanish student from the city of Salamanca that liked to travel around Spain during the summer, playing his guitar and earning money with his songs. The student travelled to Granada and was so amazed by the beauty of the city that he decided to spend the whole summer there. 
One day, when he was at the Alhambra, he noticed an anachronistic soldier, wearing armour and carrying a spear. He approached the soldier and asked him about his strange clothing. The answer left him stunned; the soldier said that he was bewitched 300 years ago, forced to guard Boabdil’s treasure for eternity.

The curse allowed him to leave the treasure room only once every 100 years, so he promised the student half of the treasure in exchange for his help to lift the curse. The student, blinded by the treasures that awaited him if he succeeded, accepted the soldier’s offer.

In order for the curse to be lifted, he had to find a pure maid and a fasting monk. The maid was easy to find but the only fasting monk that he found happened to have an insatiable appetite, although he promised to ignore it for the sake of the bewitched soldier.

The soldier took the student, the maid and the monk to a tower that didn’t seem to have any entrance, suddenly, out of nowhere, a big metal door appeared and opened in front of them, revealing the treasures of Boabdil.

The curse seemed to have been lifted but when the monk saw that the treasure wasn’t only made of gold and silver, but of delicacies that he hadn’t seen before in his life, he couldn’t resist himself and started eating. In the blink of an eye, the student, the maid and the monk found themselves out of the treasure room, the big metal door was gone and there was no sign of the soldier.

Because of the monk’s appetite the curse wasn’t lifted and the soldier was still force to guard Boabdil’s treasure.
According to the legend, the soldier can sometimes be seen, guarding the treasure, waiting for someone to lift the curse.

The Court of the Lions

Many years ago, there was an Arab princess named Zaira, she was beautiful, intelligent and sensitive; but her father, the king, was cruel, cold and evil.

The princess and her father travelled to Al-Andalus, and stayed at the Alhambra. Zaira fell so in love with Granada that she thought she was in a dream. Her father, on the other side, hated everything about the city and the Alhambra.

As the weeks went by, Zaira was feeling more and more like an Andalusian, and less like an Arab. The king forbade her to leave her chambers so she spent most of her days in a very well lit court next to her rooms.
One day she was surprised by a young man named Arturo that had sneaked into the court, saying that he had seen her from outside and had immediately fell in love with her.  She insisted that he left, for if the king found him he would be beheaded by one of the 11 men that formed the king’s guard. The young man left reluctantly, promising to come back.

The king found out about Arturo’s visit to her daughter and ordered that he be captured and locked away in the dungeons. Zaira was very sad and worried about Arturo, and discovered what seemed to be a diary lying around in his father’s chambers; she knew she shouldn’t read it, but something inside her made her do it. The first page she read left her in shock, it described how the man claiming to be his father and the king had murdered her parents and was waiting for the right time to kill her, however he couldn’t do it because Zaira always carried with her an amulet given to her by her mother. This amulet contained a spell casted by her mother that was supposed to protect her.

The princess, confused by what she had just read, asked the king to meet her at the court. The king agreed to meet her, so he went to the court with his 11 man guard. Zaira, with tears rolling down her eyes, confronted the king and asked him if what she read in his diary was true. The king, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to harm him because of his guard, admitted everything.  Upon hearing the truth, Zaira remembered what was the spell contained in the amulet, if she were to find the truth about her parents something terrible would happen to the king and his guard. Suddenly, she felt the wrath of a lion inside of her, and saw the king and his guard turn into stone lions. 

Zaira rescued Arturo and they lived happily ever after.

Since then, the court is known as The Court of the Lions, and few know that the lions are actually the evil king and his guard, turned into stone by the spell of Zaira’s mother.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ibn Battuta, the greatest Muslim traveller to ever live

Ibn Battuta – then and today

Mohammed Ibn Battuta (1304-1369 CE / 703-770 Hijri), one of the greatest travellers and explorers  who ever lived, a man of Berber descent, was born into a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier/Morocco. Knowing the Deen well and thus being able to act like a judge arbitrating conflicts helped him throughout all his life.*

The human dramas of his age were as overwhelming as the ones today. During his lifetime great political and natural disasters ravaged Eurasia: From 1346–1353 CE the black death, the plague killed 30–60% of Europe's total population. In northern Europe England and France fighting their Hundred Years’ War. In the south the Muslim civilization of Al-Andalus, which had already lasted 6 centuries, had by then entered its last 200 years, having been reduced to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim dynasty on the Iberian península, which built the Alhambra palace. For this very reason Ibn Batutta could travel to Granada, but not anymore to Seville and Cordoba. For a Muslim from Moroccan then, travelling East was not only indicated by the obligatory Hajj journey.

The devastating conquests of the great Mongol Empire (1206-1368) had also passed the climax of their stormy expansion: the Mongols were driven out of China, in Persia they dissolved into two parts, and in Eastern Europe they lost their position as a great power. This is why Ibn Battuta did not stop after having completed his Hajj, but he continued his travels over a period of thirty years, visiting most of the known Islamic world as well as many non-Muslim lands. Islam was still expanding into the East. Ibn Battuta’s journeys followed its light, in fact he was part of it.

The many adventures and anecdotes he recounts in the book, which is called “Travels (arab. Rihlat) of Ibn Battutah” or with its full title “A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.” (1355) There we read about him, from travelling with sledges drawn by dogs in today’s Russia (a story which today is rather seen as literature he copied than experienced fact), to meeting the highly erratic Sultan of Delhi, then the wealthiest Muslim man in the Muslim world. Under him Ibn Battuta leads the high life of a trusted subordinate before falling under the suspicion of treason; he sees strange animals (rhinoceros) most people in his homeland have never seen. Among the Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the freedom and respect enjoyed by women and remarked that on seeing a Turkish couple in a bazaar one might assume that the man was the woman's servant when he was in fact her husband. On the Maldives and in some sub-Saharan regions in Africa he suffers a culture shock, being scandalized by women moving about bare-breasted in public. On the Maldives he is also half-kidnapped into staying, becomes chief judge and marries into the local royal family. During his lifetime he meets extraordinary Men of Allah, but also nearly loses his life in an ambush he suffers by a group of bandits in India. Even if his Rihla is not fully based on what its author personally witnessed, it provides an impressive account of much of the 14th-century world.

We Muslims from Granada called our travel agency after his name to remind us on the wide spectrum of what a journey can be: whether you just want to spend a few relaxed days in the beautiful and rich historic landscapes of today’s Spain, whether you want to visit the sights of the amazing Muslim history in Al-Andalus, or whether you understand your journey as Ibn Battuta did: as Rihla travel practice which connects you to the collective consciousness of the ummah, generating a larger sense of community. In the time of Al-Andalus the performance of Rihla was an obligatory qualifier for the future elite of teachers and leaders. “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” someone said.

What was true for Ibn Battuta is true today: there is no better education than travelling with open eyes. “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” said Ibn Battuta. All we have to do, is to set out. Welcome to Spain, to the historic land of Al Andalus. Today you may see all those beautiful places, onto which even an explorer like Ibn Battuta could not set his eyes upon.

Ibn Battuta's travel