Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leo Africanus: Granada and Fez

Amin Maalouf’s Leo Africanus is extremely refreshing after the previous readings in this class because it is a collection of a man’s memories that convey important parts of history as opposed to a list of events, people, and places overtime. This reading personally reminded me of The Kite Runner because it is incredibly eye opening to a society entirely foreign to me. In this reading the majority of the stories are from when Hasan was very young, so they are told based on how he remembers his parents describing them to him. We learn how his family came to be, how Granada falls from a great city to a conquered land, how many people had to deal with the difficulties in taking refuge, and how religion and the notion of magic play a significant role in their lives. After the many troubles with war in Granada are described, Hasan and his family leave, only to deal with more difficulties such as dealing with not being welcome in Salma’s family’s home. The reading finishes abruptly with Hasan’s father telling his mother that they are divorced since she snuck into his room one night with a “magical” perfume, even though it was with good intentions.

I was shocked by stark differences from our society early on in the reading since it began with the story behind Muhammad and his two wives, Salma and Warda. It was both strange that he was betrothed to his cousin Salma at a very young age and that he held a Christian woman, Warda, captive as his second wife. Then, Salma’s words were the most astonishing to me: “For us, the women of Granada, freedom is a deceitful form of bondage, and slavery a subtle form of freedom.” These words were so strong because of course I have no way of relating to them, experiencing nothing even close to make me say such things. Also, I found the stories of unsafe roads to be intriguing since we have discussed in class how that has influenced trade for merchants in the past.

I found the role of religion to be the most interesting throughout this reading. The idea of having multiple wives, the elaborate ceremony for a son’s circumcision, the extreme conflict between different religions, and the overall fear of God were fascinating. Also, the story about Muhammad quickly beginning to pray on his rug facing Mecca even though he was at the time being robbed was an exciting story, especially since his commitment to religion is what made the bandits leave. My question would be, if this extreme level of religion influenced our society in America, how do you think our culture would be different today?


  1. The example of Muhammad stopping to pray is certainly remarkable considering the circumstances. In response to your question, the rise of not only science but also the mainstream media that spreads ideas alternative to religion have had major impacts on the extent of religious influence. I think that our culture would be more conservative mostly because people like Muhammad would be focused on meeting the strict requirements of their religion. It would be a much different society because it would not include the diversity of thoughts and philosophies that ours does, like atheism and Scientology. Finally, I further wonder if we would have a dominant religion like Islam in the Middle East; it would seem that it would be Christianity because of the makeup of our population.

  2. I really enjoyed your reference to The Kite Runner Clara, partially because that is one of my favorite books, but also because I understand your reference completely. I also find your question intriguing. My mother is a pediatrician, thus a large portion of her life is devoted to science, but she is also a very Catholic woman. Thus I find the debate that Jon brought up in the previous comment very interesting. Part of the fight between religion and science is over how life came to be, and I believe that if religion had a stronger impact in America, places would not be teaching evolution, and instead be they would be teaching creationism. I feel as though society might not be as advanced, although while I feel that due to knowledge of evolution society knows about the history of mankind, if religion was stronger, people would have a different understanding of humanity and life.