I was very moved by the passage between Leo Africanus and Huran regarding Mariam. Harun wished to marry Mariam, the sister of Leo, and set up an arranged marriage with her father, having a marriage contract drawn up. Iniatially, this was rather disturbing to me, as arranged marriages seem very unnatural and unfair. These feelings are surely embedded in the fact that this is not tradition in our culture, so I accepted it and moved on.
Leo states, "In other circumstances Muhammad...would have considered that a porter with no other fortune than the good name of his guild would have been a very poor match. But Mariam was already in her nineteenth year, an age at which of all the women of Fez only a few slaves or prostitutes would not yet have celebrated their marriages" (179). This quote tells readers that Huran is not of very high status, and under normal circumstances would not be suited to marry Mariam. However, due to her circumstances, he is a fine match, and possibly even a great one. Mariam's circumstances are poor, as she was taken into confinement four years earlier by the Zarwali and the shaikh of the lepers, and still remains there. Harun is set on freeing Mariam and making her wife, however, this is a very risky and dangerous feat. He would have to flee Fez with her. Leo was very confused by Harun's desires, and asked, "How can you forsake your city, your family, your guild of your own free will, to go and live in exile, like a criminal, fleeing from one mountain to another for frea of being clapped in irons, all this for a girl to whom you've only ever once said a word in your life?" (180). Harun's response was very moving to me. He opened up to Leo and told him of an instance many years earlier when he was just a boy and snuck into the women's hammam. While in the hammam, Harun saw Mariam, and Mariam saw - and recognized - Harun. Rather than screaming or telling her mother of Harun's presence, Mariam covered herself, smiled, and guided her mother out of the room. Being in the woman's hammam was very dangerous, and Harun could have been severely punished if Mariam had revealed him. Harun was mesmerized by her act of kindness, and revealed to Leo that from that day forward he had felt love for Mariam - initially wishing her his sister, and later his wife. Harun tells Leo, "Even if the whole world had betrayed her, the memory of the hammam would have prevented me from abandoning her...I shall save her as she saved me, and we shall make verdant the land that makes us welcome" (181).
Reading these words spoken by Harun really touched me. He is willing to sacrifice his own life and happiness to save Mariam, because of her kind action many years earlier. People do kind things for others all the time, but they are often forgotten. Harun could have thanked Mariam for her actions and moved on, but he was truly grateful and appreciative, which I think is very admirable. He was so moved by what she did for him that he is willing to go to great lengths to repay her and give her the life he thinks she deserves, even if it means a lesser life for him. Harun's intentions are extremely brave, admirable, and exemplify true love for another being. This section was very uplifting to me and I was very happy to find it in the novel.