Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leo Africanus

I have taken many classes in which the professors suggested reading the Book Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf, although I never had the time to actually read the book, now I know why they pushed it so much. It is a great firsthand source to the global structure in the 15th century. Especially after reading our other assigned readings, which were much more factual and dry, this is a nice change. It presents all the main cultural and social points we learned about Muslim Spain in this period, but in a more relatable form.
The story of "Leo Africanus" begins with The Book of Granada in which we meet Hasan, the central character who will become a great traveler and scholar in his adulthood. First, we learn of the story of Hasan's father and mother, which reveals a great deal of cultural knowledge. The first story focuses on the competition between Hasan's mother and his father's second wife. The competition of who can get pregnant first, but more importantly, who can bear a son first. Following the story of Hasan's birth and intimate description of his circumcision and the following large celebration, we also hear from many other voices of this time period. Stories from Hasan's uncle, father, and again his mother show us the social, cultural, and political atmosphere of the time.
Obviously, throughout the first part of the book, the role of religion in society is stressed again and again showing its importance. From the story of "Noah's flood" to the old shaikh who condemns the "wine drinkers and poets" of the community and finally the veililng of women in the communities. Furthermore, this overly religious shaikh is mocked and made fun of for blaming the people's sins for the eventual fall of Granada. But when this prediction comes true, he was no longer mocked. The religiousity of the people is palpable in every page of the book. It truly portrays the atmosphere of 15th century Islamic Spain.

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