Saturday, November 7, 2009


The issue of polygamy came up in one of our lectures recently as Hasan's father Mohammed has two wives and this causes problems in the book. Later on when Mohammed is trying to get Warda back after her brother takes her away, he is advised to do charity and take on another wife. I thought this was interesting because I had never heard of polygamy as a means of charity. I did some research and found an article that talks about the reasons for polygamy in Islam:

First, in earlier times, wars and battles often decimated male populations leaving widows and their children. It was commonplace for the conquerers/victors to marry the widows to provide for their welfare. In general terms, marriage was often a charity in itself. For example, Hasan marries Fatimah because it is unlikely that anybody else would marry her. Harun may have also married Mariam for similar reasons.

Second, many wives led to accumulation of wealth as women had fortunes and properties that would be transferred to their husband's fortune/name. Similarily, having many wives may have also indicated manliness and wealth on the husband's part as he could support many wives and children.

Exponential Growth

In the Did you know? video we learned about many statistics about our world that we probably didn't even realize. It's amazing to see how our world has evolved so fast in a span of about ten years. And I would dedicate all of this advancement to electronic technology. The history of electronics dates back to the early 20th century with the knowledge of electrons. There was the telegraph, radio, tv, and then the computer. The first real computer was built in 1936. And in about 80 years our world has developed quicker than ever. The internet has become an essential part of our society. And to think that 10 years ago it was frequently used. Even with cell phones, it seems we can't go anywhere without it. These electronics has become a necessity in our lives when even 50 years ago it didn't exist. Our parents and grandparents saw the development of this exponential growth and it's interesting to see how we're developing so fast. Our society has really become a society of instant gratification. We need things now and we need to see these results right now. With that kind of mentality, it will be a matter of time when we start developing lots of conclusions to research. Even in medical research once we start making tools that give us results quicker it'll decrease the amount of time to get results.

I think the fact that said what we learn in our first year of college will get outdated by our third year was pretty interesting. It's kind of like we can't really accept these facts or theories because who knows when another one will come along and contradict what we learned. Our world is developing fast and it seems like we have to just wait for something better to come along everytime something gets developed.

Friday, November 6, 2009


This week's reading in Leo Africanus brought up a wide variety of social issues. Hassan's experiences in the caravan, and as a diplomat present international relations of the Middle Ages in a way I have never seen before. His relationship with his uncle, and the rest of his family, especially his sister in the leper colony really help me understand the Muslim family values of the time. But the most interesting part of the reading to me was Hassan's slave/lover Hiba. His description of how he came to own her was so frank. He describes her the way people describe an object they see in a store window, instead of the way modern Westerners describe the people they love. In history class my teachers always say, you have to compare these men to the people of their times. Slavery may have been completely normal in the fifteen hundreds, but reading such a straightforward account of slavery helped me understand the mindset of slave owners. Slaves are people, yet not people at the same time. For Hassan, wives are less partners and more possessions.

I was very interested in our discussion of modern day slavery. Its easy to forget that slavery still exists in many forms, and in many places. We discussed some of the forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, child labor and sex trafficking. What surprised me was the number of slaves in the world today. A US State Department Report from 2002 estimated that at least 700,000 up to 4 million men, women and children were held in slave-like conditions. This number at first astounded me. How, in this modern world of instant communication, can we not be aware of how many people are still enslaved? Slavery is just one example of the things that help me realize the difference between countries. Most Americans see slavery as a horrific crime against humanity, yet, it still exists, even here in the US where slavery has been illegal since the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865.

I also wondered why we are not aware of modern slavery, child labor and sex trafficking. Is it that we would rather avoid the ugliest parts of the world today? Or is there something more to it?


I found this section of the reading very interesting. I thought that the set up of the caravan was very complex. Hundreds of animals, armed guards, and merchants must have been a very exciting sight to see. Hasan and those involved in the caravan become consumed by it. Even the weeks leading up to it are all completely focused on the caravan. I find it interesting that he sees the caravan as a way of forgetting his numerous troubles he has back home.
I liked this chapter so much because we get to learn about the different areas the caravan passed through. Especially interesting was the custom at Umm Junaiba. Here, anyone who passed the “water course” had to jump and dance as they walked. Hasan mentions that most did this out of fun but some were cautious of the superstation that if they didn’t dance they would end up with bad luck.
I could never imagine having to go through something so extensive and drawn out as a caravan. It demands so much and is so dangerous. My question is did people in the caravan enjoy making the journey to sell their goods and experience new places or was it more of a reluctant obligation?

Coming of Age

This section saw the coming of age Hasan. There are many events that occur that help make Hasan a man. He goes on an embassy with his beloved uncle Khali and after his tragic death - becomes the leader of the caravan and the diplomatic mission. Hasan also becomes a man by his beautiful slave Hiba - with whom he has his first sexual encounter. Hasan gets married to his cousin Fatima and by doing so takes responsibility for his family as a man in that culture is supposed to do. He also does his duty to Mariam as a brother and as a man of the family by getting her freed from having to marry the evil Zarwali and also frees her from the leper place.

I found the transformation of Hasan into a man very interesting, especially the concept of giving a slave as a "present." This is very foreign concept to me. In addition, the parallels between Hasan and Mohammed his father were uncanny as both become stuck between a pretty slave and a crying cousin. This parallel was very ironic.

One thing I did not understand was why Harun wanted to all of a sudden want to marry Mariam? Maybe he felt a obligation as being Hasan's good friend?

Leo 2

In this section of Leo Africanus, we learn more about the traditions of Hasan's family. First we learn about the death of Hasan's grandmother. With the death of his grandmother, there is a 30 day mourning period for her. This event is able to show the readers the practice of a Muslim tradition. The inquisitors take over Granada and force Hasan out of his home, they also force many of the people to become baptized. In this section, the author is also able to show the readers the tradition of an arranged marriage between Hasan's sister, Miriam, and a much older man. This man later turns out to be a thief and Hasan is able to break this engagement. Harun eventually marries Miriam as they ran away together. Hasan later leaves with his uncle to travel on a caravan. With the death of Khali, Haran became in charge of the caravan. This event brings upon the transition of Hasan as a boy to a man. And then Haran marries Khali's youngest daughter Fatima, which was Khali's wish. However, this marriage doesn't become a happy marriage because Fatima did not want to marry Hasan. Hasan and Fatima give birth to a daughter, Sarwat.

I thought this part of the section was pretty interesting because it shows the progression of Hasan from a boy to a man. Every culture has their own way of pronouncing someone as an adult. And it's interesting to see how a young boy is seen as an adult because he becomes in charge of leading a caravan. It's also interesting to see how other cultures have their own tradition with certain events. Like the death of Hasan's grandmother and how the death of someone is respected with mourning of 30 days. I wonder what made each culture to be different if the events are the same. How did one culture stray from another and what makes each event different for others


In this week’s reading Leo is starting to mature and to become a man. This passing to manhood was first symbolized by the passing of his grandmother. Leo starts school and finds a companinon that joins him in his life and on his "journey". The goal of prosecution of this time was to convert all muslims to christianity or kill them during the process. Africanus begans to tell accounts of how entire city blocks were being baptized in order to safe their family and their lives. I find it interesting that they wanted to convert all muslims to christianity and this is symbolized by being baptized. Its like they believed that just because they are forcing religion on a subgroup that they will abide by the rules. Why didnt anyone think of this and just let it be? Then history would have been forever changed.

I also find it very intersting, amazing, and relieving that the treatment of women have became a social problem in today's society. During this time women seemed as objects in regards to men. Now that awareness has been raised, at least everyone knows it is wrong to treat women this way and the next step is to act upon it. My question is were records kept of which muslims were baptized? Were there any type of certificates or documents so that other inquisitors would not kill an already baptized family?


Death is a spectacle.  So says Leo Africanus this week.  I found the chapter on the death of his grandmother particularly interesting, as its religious and cultural traditions and practices regarding how to deal with the death of a loved one intersect in many ways with my own experiences when dealing with death.  For instance, in his Islamic tradition, all of the family and friends come to the house for the next several days to be with the family, and bring food as there is a religious prohibition on cooking in a house where someone has died.  In my own experience in different cultural circumstances, when a person dies, in Jewish religious and cultural customs, people will do the same thing, sitting shiva for the next week, and will bring food for the family, as they are dealing with the logistics and emotion of the passing, as well as the logistics of having guests.  Both societies also have ceremonies or gatherings after ceasing the initial services.  The sheik’s message on death, that it is a good thing that makes life worth living, as every bad part of the world is to make the good things valuable, also seemed to have many cross-cultural connections.  In a world so often divided along these lines, it is interesting to see how death is treated so similarly.  I guess my question is whether anyone else has similar facts or experiences within different cultures, so we can see if they all are this similar.

Africanus 2

Throughout this week’s reading Leo Africanus has started to become a man. The passing of his grandmother is first on his way to adulthood. The firsthand account gives a glimpse of how religion varies in past times. Also, the way women are treated compared to relative standards never cease to amaze me in revolution. Leo is sent of start school and along finds a companion for the rest of his days. Grenada fell into the hands of the Castilians. The inquisitors sought to convert all Muslims to Christianity or kill them in process. Africanus speaks of entire city blocks being baptized in order to safe their family. It is so interesting the stance that conquers implemented religion as way to break their captives or subdue them. When I think converting people to different religions today, I refer to missionaries and other ways, however, I do not think of imposing religion upon conquered states. An example of this is Iraq; the United States government did not impose the ultimatum convert to Christianity or die! This is just one interesting difference in social acceptability gained through insight of Leo’s journey.
The second point that’s not really understood until the reading of a firsthand account is the way women were treated. Leo Africanus is finally reunited with his sister after many years, only for father giver hand away in a pre arranged marriage for a business deal. The man turned out to be a low life who amassed riches from stealing, killing, robbing, and more. Today’s standards women have a choice, and are not as dependent on men for financial backing, as well, most marry for love. The women of this time period had no choice, and like a Muslim woman must keep her veiled from eyes. The standards for women have greatly increased; my question for you then is how have they changed in such places that are inhabited by Muslims?


In this week’s blog the book describes the travels and events surrounding Hasan’s life. One in particular when Harun must dress up as a women to get a better insight, in the first days he goes up Hasan and talks to him as he is at his post. He couldn’t recognize him at all except for his voice. On the second day Huran had a better disguise and went on his excursion only to come back and not tell Hasan what had happened to him while he was there. Hasan lets the imagination fill in the rest as he does not tell you what happens to him on his cross gender missions. Another story in the book is about his friend or acquaintance name the Zarwali who claimed to be a poor shepherd but in reality was a stone cold bandit who has acquired his riches and fame through plundering and destruction. In one excerpt he talks about how his travels were plagued with sandstorms, salt water, burning, filth and filled with aches, the arrival of making it to the palace so he can find some much needed rest. The final section I wanted to highlight was him at the hospital. He talked how people of that time took care of the sick in their own homes and never there, because there people just stayed there until they were cured or died and most of the people there were madmen, mentally ill who were chained by their feet so they could not do harm. However this did not stop Hasan from getting to close and coming under attack from one of the madmen.
I found piracy of this section of the book interesting. It’s neat to see that even back then people still have trouble not stealing from each other. It’s a problem that will never be solved; people always will look for the easiest way to make a buck.
I wish he would have talked about the hospital more and what it was like and what it meant to the people of that area. Today we see hospitals as saviors and not places for madmen. A hospital is where you go so you do not go to other side, back then it seems it was only for putting people that you did not want in society, locking them up and throwing away the key. It is just weird scenario.

Leo Africanus Pt. 2

In this section of the book we see the rapid maturation of Hasan. In just a few short pages he is grabbed from the world of an innocent child and thrust into that of a mature adult. He deals with mourning and anguish in the death of his gradmother and the planning of his sisters arranged marriage to a bad man. He grows in the work force as he leaves for Timbuktu with his uncle and, upon his death, is thrown into the main role of the caravan as they carry a message for the prince. He is forced to forgo love and instead marries his cousin to honor his late uncle. This is just another example of the extreme differences between his culture and ours. I personally can not imagine that many people in our culture are attached enough to a relative that they would marry a cousin to please them after their death. I understand that people have their last wishes, and that many are carried out by their loved ones after they have passed on, but to marry one's cousin is a bit of a stretch of the imagination for me, especially because Hasan is in love with a slave girl he met along the caravan's path.

Again, as in last week's reading, I enjoy the contrast in cultures that we experience through Hasan's day to day life. I am very interested in the events that cause him to mature so rapidly and the great detail the author uses to make these events more real to the readers. These details cause one to pause slightly and ponder the mental image set before them, assess its differences and similarities with what they are accustomed to, and move on for more. My only question is, was Hasan's sister sent to the Lepers quarters because Hasan exposed her husband-to-be as a bad person? Was this man that influential that he could have an innocent girl thrown into a life of disease and shame simply because her brother disliked how he acts?

Leo Africanus Blog 2

This week's readings again taught us more cultural and societal norms in the 15th century in Spain and Morocco through the journey of Hasan, Leo Africanus. These readings describe some major changed in the lives of Hasan and his family; the adjustment to Fez, Morroco after fleeing from Spain, Hasan's grandmother dying, Hasan's first experience at school, and the marriage negotiations for both Hasan and his sister, Miriam.
The first major event, the death of Hasan's grandmother, really demonstrates the sociology of the family at this time and place in history and gives us a glimpse into the culture of 15th century Morroco. The most striking thing for me was when it says on page 102, "Death is a celebration. A spectacle". Although this is also the case in some Western traditions I believe this practice is more common in the Middle East. Yes, the family mourns for the loss, but they look at death as a celebration of the deceased life. This is reiterated when Astaghfirullah preaches, "Too often, at funerals, I hear men and women believers cursing death. But Death is a gift from the Most High, and one cannot curse that which comes from Him". Additionally, the emphasis and importance of religion in this culture is again revealed. In the description of the death and ceremonies after, you can also see the people's longing for their old home, Granada. Many times the phrase "Granadas of Fez" is mentioned in conjunction with a "good death" or a "peaceful life". It is palpable that Hasan's family and friends miss their homeland.
Another important point in these readings is the obvious maturity of Hasan, now a twelve year old boy. Not only going to school and meeting new people, but his experience with the lions and death proves this. He comments on life, and uses the lions as a metaphor. He describes them as the bravest of all animals, but then in the conclusion of the chapter, he says, "At the age of twelve I still believed that as between beasts and men the former could do the most damage". He is showing his maturity in thought process.
Yet another staple of the culture in this time period, was the arranged marriage. The negotiations between Hasan and his father, both about his marriage and his sister's demonstrate the tradition of the time. Marriage was an opportunity to make connections in society, gain wealth and allies, and to protect one's family; in this way the opinion of the engaged usually did not matter. We see this in both Hasan and Miriam. Hasan's father is willing to give his daughter away even though he knows that the man has a history of violence against women. The idea of marriage was completely different then compared to now. Overall, I really enjoyed the book again this week. The prose is a great way for us to learn about this time period and its culture and to enjoy reading at the same time.
The only questions I have are: what do people today think about arranged marriages? There is an argument that because of the extremely high divorce rate in the US something is off with the institution of marriage. Some argue that arranged marriages last longer and have more happiness. What is your opinion on this?

BLOG 2: Leo Africanus

This sections of reading begins with Hasan's grandmother dying when he was eight years old. Muhammed and the community were mourning for her death; the culture really seemed to come together for the loss. Muhammed sends his son Hasan to school when he comes of age. In school, Hasan befriends a mischievous boy named Harun. Harun tells Hasan and the other boys that sometimes he dresses up like girls to spy on people without them noticing. One day, while the boys were wandering, Hasan sees his father in a tavern, he was in shock, he did not know what to do. Eventually he confronted Muhammed about it when they were fighting about something else: Miriam.
Muhammed had arranged for her to marry the Zarwali; however, Hasan was very against it because he heard terrible stories about the Zarwali's acts of violence towards people and women. But, Muhammed looked passed it for his own selfish reasons of gaining wealth in the family. Hasan was eventually able to save his sister from marrying the Zarwali, but the fact it came so close to happening scarred Miriam.
There were many interesting themes in this reading: loss, friendship, and arranged marriages. I find it very interesting how different cultures think about these same ideas. Similarly to their culture, our culture takes loss and friendship very seriously, they are very important in our lives. However, arranged marriages we do not see as frequently today. They take away people's power and force them to do something they do not want to do. In some cultures, you can still find cases of arranged marriages, but thankfully in ours today, we do not.

Hasan's Development

This week’s readings are themed by Hasan’s development into an adult as several events force him to take on more responsibility. It begins with the death of his grandmother, when Hasan is only 8. It is at this point that Hasan’s father and uncle deem him ready for school. At school, Hasan develops a friendship with the mischievous Harun. Eventually, Hasan and Harun’s adventures lead Hasan to encounter his father at a tavern. As another step toward adulthood, Hasan questions his father’s actions, especially regarding his father’s marriage arrangement involving Miriam. Hasan does not believe that his father’s reasons to gain wealth are valid. Hasan deftly exposes Zarwali and seems to successfully protect Miriam, though she is soon taken to the lepers’ quarter by officials. Subsequently, Hasan travels with his uncle in a caravan to Timbuktu, a center of trade in the Sahara. Along the way, Hasan observes several villages and tribes, each with their own customs and cultures. When his uncle develops an illness, Hasan is forced to act as a diplomat, communicator, and facilitator within the caravan. These skills eventually lead him to form a relationship with a slave girl named Hiba, whom he falls in love with. Hasan’s responsibilities are furthered when the illness takes the life of his uncle, as not only does it leave him in charge of the caravan, but it also leaves him in possession of a message for the prince. Most important, however, is the task of freeing Miriam. In honor of his uncle, Hasan forgoes his love for Hiba and marries his cousin in line with his uncle’s wishes. Marriage and eventually the expected arrival of a daughter once again further Hasan’s development, as he recognizes the need to generate more income. He does so by working in the mercantile business. Using the advice of the Genoese traders, Hasan finds success tempered only by renewed conflict with Zarwali.

Throughout all of these examples is an apparent step-by-step development and increase in responsibility for Hasan. He grows rapidly from a young child into a mature adult, with each succeeding event forcing him to apply and cultivate skills he has learned. Additional points of interest within this reading involved the caravan lifestyle and the description of cities. Caravans were basically mobile communities that had mutual self-dependence for survival and success. As characters in Lost say, it could be viewed as “live together or die alone.” Also, it is the highways that the caravan travels on that are the lifeblood of cities and villages, as without these highways, people would lose valuable exchanges of goods and ideas with other regions and cultures. The description of the cities along these highways was enlightening, as it stated that residents of cities put aside their dignity in order to gain the protection of a sultan who does not necessarily guarantee protection but requires a steep price for it. Also along the highways are villages that are not under the clutches of a sultan but are under the ever-present threat of attack by nomadic tribes. Basically, the highways provide a least a chance at a lifestyle in a world otherwise marked by fear and poverty. I wonder if the greater population in cities indicated that the priority at that time was safety and not income, as people were willing to satisfy a tax-free lifestyle for protection from nomadic tribes. Also, is a city more beneficial to its people in the sense that tax income is redistributed to the city in the form of additional defense, improved transportation, and similar programs?

Security, Trade, and the Caravan – Blog 9


Roger Mimo owns a small hotel in Tinerhir. He reconverted a splendid Kasbah into a 20 or so room hotel, each tastefully decorated with local colors and each interestingly named after one of the stages of the Caravan Route that linked the Maghreb to the Bilal al Sudan (literally, land of the Blacks). Marrakech, Oualata, Timbuktu, Gao, Koumi Sale- every room has its little story about the activities and trades one could encounter in each of these places. Perchance, I happened to stay in his hotel during my own Caravan travels and was eager to strike a conversation on the topic. As it happens, Roger had crossed the Sahara desert, along many of these caravan routes a few decades ago, in a 4 by 4. The road from Morocco to Mali is a dangerous one, crossing parts of Algeria and all of Mauritania. But Roger Mimo doesn't seem like the type of person to give up on anything!

  • Why did you name each of these rooms after a stage in the Caravan Route?

When I started this hotel, I had just returned from my trip across Mauritania where I had done quite a bit of reading about the Caravan routes. I thought it would be a good addition to the hotel.

Salt was one of the main goods transported across the Sahara from North to South. I know about the great Salt mines in Northern Mauritania. Do you know if there were any salt mines in Morocco?

I don't think salt was mined in Morocco. The land is very salty, actually just a few miles from here, North of Ouarzazate, there is a river called "Assif Mellah"- the Salty River. But I don't think they gathered Salt in Morocco. No, Caravans loaded fine crafts, dates and grains in Morocco, which they then traded for Salt in Mauritania.
In reading Leo, I am always stricken by the very 'un-Moroccan' nature of his prose. I don't think he would have been able to write such a work had he stayed in Morocco.
For sure, he needed to leave his country before he could truly reflect upon it. But remember that he was not Moroccan, he was Andalusian. At the time, the Andalus were more refined culturally and intellectually than any Moroccan or even Christian European. We owe a lot to their culture. 

In other ways, Leo's prose is actually quite Arabic or local. For example, in each of the regions he describes, he always lists the number of villages, then the number of 'chateaux' (castles). This distinction is odd, given the meaning of Castle for Italians- and there were certainly not that many single family, noble dwellings in Morocco. Having lived here for many years now I realize what he meant by this term. Castle, is Ksar, or fortified village- the wall enclosed towns you see all across Morocco. Village, on the other hand is Douar- a grouping of houses or tents.

Pages 101 - 200

This portion of the book follows the story of Hasan, as generally bad things happen to him. Christian inquisitors have made the lives of Muslims in Grenada very difficult. They generally abuse and torment the Muslim population. He has to stand by as his sister if manipulated into an arranged marriage by his father. His father basically sells his daughter for profit. Hasan’s sister was also afflicted by leprosy.

The next unfortunate thing that happens is the death of Hasan’s father, which you would think would resolve some of his issues, but no, it actually makes everything a bit worse. Now Hasan must marry a woman, Fatima, who he is not interested in at all. He actually loves Hiba, but there is nothing he can do, he marries Fatima. It seems that both of them despised their arranged marriage, and Hasan ends up comforting Fatima.

Hasan has no choice but to uphold his arranged marriage and deal with his newly established family. He is bound by the requirements of his strict Muslim culture and society.

The social interactions of this time seems very interesting to me. This seems commonplace to him at the time, but to someone of this day and age, it is almost outrageous. The change between the two is one of the most interesting and fascinating parts of the story.

Lepers and Grandmas

Two particular things struck me as interesting during this particular reading. The first was just a general curiosity about leprosy and how it has, as of late, been less paid attention too. Certainly throughout earlier years in mankind, leprosy was a huge issue. And the truth is- it still is! So, even though this is random, I think it's interesting how lepers are not really mentioned that much at all (at least in American media) despite the astonishing number of cases still occurring.

It's also especially sad to know that what happened to Mariam still happens to people today. The isolationism effect still exists in a lot of countries where leprosy cures are not as readily available and its contagiousness is considered dangerous.

Secondly, I found this sentence scary "She was thirty-two, old enough to be grandmother..." Woah! I kind of freaked out when I read that! And then I reread it. Thirty-two and old enough to be a grandmother... man times have really changed. 32 is pretty much normal for motherhood to begin, let alone grandmotherhood. I mean, I know that this was the case throughout history, since life was so much shorter, and usually women has children at much earlier ages, but. It is still kind of ridiculous don't you think?

I wonder, did the age in which women became grandmother go up gradually as life expectancy went up? Or were their other factors that affected the change in age?

Leo Africanus Blog Commentary Two

In this weeks reading, Maalouf took us through two major changes in Hasan’s life, and exposed us to many cultural customs. While I enjoyed last weeks reading, especially the beginning, this week I found more interesting and I feel as though I learned more facts about the culture and customs. Hasan’s coming of age was not a normal and stress free one, like most people would hope for their children.
The first thing that happened was the death of his grandmother; Maalouf goes into many details about the death and what happens after. The second main thing that changes Hasan’s life is the arranged marriage of his sister. She is past the prime age to be married and instead marries someone twice her age, and someone who is not the best fit. I have not been exposed to arranged marriages and I would never want one for my children nor would I submit to one myself. But the marriage in Leo Africanus is especially appalling due to the fact that the father seemed not to care about whether or not his daughter would be happy, safe, or better off because of the marriage. In fact, he seemed to wish her away and desire her to “get off of his hands.” I was wondering if anyone knows someone who was in an arranged marriage, or if anyone would submit to an arranged marriage themselves.
One thing I found the most interesting in this weeks reading was how their culture feels about death and the way their culture morns the dead. Personally, I thought the persons comment in the audience was truly interesting and expressed my own feelings about death; that it should be celebrated and not mourned. I have picked up these feelings from my father, he wants his funeral to be a party where people talk about all the funny, interesting and crazy things he did in his life, instead of a bunch of people standing around crying. Although, I believe that everyone has his or her own way of morning, and that is in necessary to cry it out, and let oneself feel vulnerable to the death. I also thought the length of the condolence parties to be quite long and unnecessary. I found it interesting that this was the way their culture celebrated a death, I would have expected it to be a much more solemn time in the past. I do like the idea they have of meeting up later again, because it’s always good to see others who care about the one who died like you do.

Leo Africanus 2

In this weeks reading Hasan's father decided it was time for Hasan to start school. Hasan proved to be a very smart student. At the school Hasan met a new friend named Harun. They were very close, fast.

During this Year, Melilla was conquered but the Castilians and then the Christians began to fortify the city. All of this movement was scaring the refugees in the area. Also, Harun and Hasan were exploring and creeping around the taverns when they saw Hasan’s father in one of them.

In these chapters and during this time people were tortured and if they refused Christianity you could be put to death because of it. However, it was that if you were Muslim and you did not rebel but if they did not it they were not expected to have a punishment. Also during this chapter Hasan got a job to help support his family.

Also in these chapters Hasan and Harun decided to dress up like women to spy, a lion attacked the house where his family lived even though no one was hurt, and more. Hasan realized he was aroused by his sister who was about to marry and make their father proud because the man she was betrothed to was wealthy. However, Hasan had heard bad things about him and was unsure of the bond. When Hasan expressed these thoughts with his father they got into a huge fight and were no longer close.

Then, unfortunately, Hasan’s sister was accused of being sick and was taken away to a leper colony. And Hasan wanted nothing more than to get her to a safe place again.

This book has man details and is very interesting. Also, poor Miriam, Hasan’s sister, seems to have a really hard life. It is really crazy to think that people were persecuted so much for their religion and put away in communities when they were sick and forced to marry people they were not happy with. It is amazing how much the world has changed.

--- Dorothy "Bunny" smith

The second part of this book is an excellent viewpoint into Hasan's world, as it opens with the death of his grandmother, and the mourning that comes with it. It gives us a sampling of his culture, as someone in the crowd remarks on the gift that is death, and how it should not be feared, but celebrated. They see death as a necessary part of life, if we are to take part in the positives like joy. We see the tradition of the six day condolence ceremony, as the grieving process is worked through together, beginning very solemn, but eventually coming to terms with the events. Forty days later the mourners would return, including "hired mourners," in order to make the guests more comfortable.
I respect this custom very much, as it allows all those effected to work through the process together, rather then giving them only a formal funeral. It is very reminiscent of the Irish "Wake" tradition, in which the deceased are remembered and celebrated by all members of the community.
The reading also deals with Hasan heading off to school, despite his young age. This is a perilous time for all young people, and the book does well to illustrate that fact.

Leo Africanus 2

In this section, I am once again struck by the huge differences in the way people treated time back then compared to now, in modern society. In this section, Hasan's grandmother died and that instigated a full 30 day mourning period. In this case, they took the pace of time much slower and took an entire month to grieve. Other times though, they increase the pace of time, putting pressure on Hasan to grow up faster than is fair. He is passed around from person to person to person, and has his childhood severely curtailed. This example is an instance where time is sped up for the characters.

I find it so interesting to see the differences between the society we live in now compared to the societies in the book, especially when it comes to the way time is treated. I feel like in some cases, like the funerals and/or grieving periods, and even something as specific as the caravan rides...people pay much more attention to the events and value time more. But in some culture aspects, children are expected to mature at an unfair rate, causing the children to miss out on their blissful time of childhood. I think its very interesting to see the dichotomy and how things back then are so different from the hustle bustle lifestyle we lead now.


In this weeks reading Hasan's grandmother passes away, and there is an extensive grieving process that takes place. 30 days of mourning to be exact. During this time Hasan’s father and uncle decide that he is ready to be placed into manhood by going off to school.
The first thing I found interesting is the 30 days of mourning that takes place in this culture. The process is a bit to extensive, but they felt it was necessary to help move on. Today in our society 30 days to grieve, in my opinion, would be a good thing. Although not to the extent they did, especially with hiring people to morn. When someone close dies grieving goes on longer than 30 days, because sometimes it takes longer for grief to hit people. If that person that passed away lived in the same house going through that persons belongings is part of grief. It takes months, years or a lifetime to go through things. In my opinion, 30 days of mourning would be a blessing.
The second thing I found interesting is the fact that Hasan is brought to school to become a man, and that he was beyond his years. This I found similar to our modern system of going to college. When you excel you are able to move up, and going to college is one way to get to know yourself.

Personal Journeys, Historical Facts

I am definitely enjoying learning through historical fiction more than learning through "cold facts." Of course there is a decided merit to learning about large-scale trends in history and society, but nothing can drive home a point better than storytelling.

Hasan's journey in Leo Africanus, both personal and literal, and especially in his relationships with his immediate and extended family, is one that we all can relate to. Family is the most basic organization of human relationships and structure. Although many of the details of this story are foreign to me, the historical and cultural differences, all the emotions involved are ones that I and every human being on the planet have known and experienced and felt the effects of.

It may be unfamiliar for us to read about people dealing with cultural norms like arranged marriages and polygamy without blinking twice. But reading in detail about the emotions the characters experience during these events are what really helps us understand that no matter how strange the traditions of a culture that is foreign to us, the people involved are exactly like us, and behave as we would have behaved if we had been raised in similar circumstances.

I have not had much chance to read about Muslim culture and I feel this book is a good introduction. Last semester I took a class about the history of modern East Asia, and for some reason every time I learn about a different culture I am amazed at the similarities to any other culture I have ever studied.

Anywhere you go on the globe, no matter how remote a place, there will always be internal power struggles within every societal unit, whether a family or a government. There will always be problems with distrust from in-laws, heritage, sibling rivalry, and marital problems. The battle of the sexes takes similar forms no matter what unique efforts are taken to subjugate and constrict the movements of one gender over another. And of course, no matter what color your skin, the emotional irrationality that comes with love and infatuation has the power to destroy any man or woman.

And that is the power of story, in conveying the emotions involved in being human regardless of culture or historical era. Historical facts can tell us what happened, but they leave out the emotions of the people who actually experienced them. And of course the fallibility of human emotion is the cause of these patterns in all cultures, and the human experience as a whole, because if we were completely logical, rational beings, none of the crap that makes life interesting would ever happen in the first place.

-katie dempsey

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leo Africanus - Blog 2

Leo Africanus continues with the death of Hasan’s grandmother. Hasan and Salma started living with Khali after Muhammad divorced Salma. Hasan made a friend named Harun, who is also called the Ferret. Inquisitors took over Granada and forced many people to become baptized. Mariam, Hasan’s half-sister, is worried about her future because she will basically be controlled by men. It is later revealed that her would-be husband is a thief and murderer. Hasan and Harun approached Astaghfirrulah who denounced the Zarwali (Mariam’s proposed husband) so that the engagement was broken. As payback, the Zarwali had Mariam taken to “the quarter” because she was presumed to be a leper. Hasan left with his uncle on a mission with a caravan. Along the way, Hasan received a slave girl named Hiba as a gift, and Khali died. This left Hasan in charge of the caravan, which was probably the first moment that he was forced to really be a man. It had also been Khali’s wish that Hasan would marry his youngest daughter, Fatima. This wish is realized, although their relationship is strained because she seems to not desire the marriage. Harun made up his mind that he was going to marry Mariam, so he eventually helped her escape from the quarter, ran away with her, and married her. Fatima then gives birth to a daughter, Sarwat (Fortune). Hasan’s fortune continued and he amassed large amounts of wealth through shrewd and lucky business deals. He then used his influence to force the Zarwali into exile.

I thought the most unusual part of this section was the way that Hasan developed. He had previously had idealistic goals for the freedom of women (as in his conversation with Mariam), but once he receives Hiba, he is happy to keep her as a slave. Although it appears that he loves her and so does not see her that way, the comparison must be drawn to Muhammad and Warda. The comparison is furthered when Hasan marries Fatima, which is like Muhammad and Salma. It also greatly surprised me that Hasan was so easily drawn into the wealth. He had previously not seemed to be so much stock in such things, but it is clear by the end of the passage that his intentions are to continue to be extravagant, as in the case of his palace. It just seemed strange to me that Hasan’s views of the world could have changed so drastically, although they now seem to fit society’s views much better. To me, it seems like Harun retained his ideals much more purely.

I would really love to hear more about the society from a woman’s point of view. Mariam sums it up when she says, “I must fear all other men: my father today, my husband tomorrow, all those not related to me and from whom I should hide myself” (127). The women live in a constant fear of what they will be led and forced to do merely by society’s conventions. Hiba, like Warda, seems to have more freedom: she does not need to remain veiled, and she is able to be perfumed and dance. I would also have liked to have had the wedding night from Fatima’s point of view. Why did she faint but was still smiling? Why was she trying so hard to please Hasan while still not seeming to want to? Hiba is another mystery. I understand why she would be ashamed of being barren, but I would have thought that she would have reveled in the freedom and continued love of Hasan. I wonder if Hiba and Fatima will eventually have a rift like that between Salma and Warda?

The Pressure for a Man on a Boy

This week in Leo Africanus we continue along his journey. He transitions quite quickly for boy to man. In the sense that he is faced with harsh realities prematurely. Maalouf shows the reality of a poorly matched arrange marriage. When his sister is married off to a significantly older chad of a man. It seemed as though she was married off because the father was more interested in lightening his burden then taking care of his child. Then we watch as the Inquisition forces Leo Africanus out of his home. Witnessing and hearing about such awful behavior is terrible for a small child to bear. Then again Leo Africanus is thrust into school where he applies a ridiculous amount of pressure on himself so he can graduate early.

I just feel terrible for him. I feel as though his childhood was cut short. The way he is passed around from father to uncle to embassy to school and forced to relocate is sad. A child needs to play, laugh, make mistakes, have adventures. But above all, a child has a right to feel safe and secure. It is terrible when a parent neither has the means or the inclination to give their children these opportunities.

At seventeen, he is forced to be a man. While many men and women of our society today believe that at age seventeen they are an adult, more often than not they are extremely unprepared to deal with life.

At twenty-one, I am so afraid of striking out on my own. The idea of failure is a strong motivational factor.

Do you think failure was every a motivating factor for Leo Africanus? Or rather he just knew it must be done and so he accomplished it?

Blog 9

This week's reading of Leo Africanus the story digs deeper into the life of Hasan. The story begins with Hasan's grandmother dying. This tragic event displayed the traditions Muslim practices for a death in the family to the reader. At this moment Hasan is 8 years old. During this time of mourning Hasan's family decided he should focus on school and prepare for college. Hasan being the intelligent young man that he was, knew he needed to focus on remembering the Qur'an in order to reach college faster.

Shorty after, Granada was taken over by the Castilians. Most of the Muslims fled to Fez. Hasan settled in Fez and continued focusing on school. He ended up at a very nice school in Fez and met a good friend Harun, who is described as being very mischievious. The Castilians and Christians moved along the coast of Morocco, taking over any opposition. Hasan's family and many others in fear kept moving, in hopes of keeping away from trouble. Throughout his travels, Hasan remained focused on school.

A situation arises that I found to be very interesting. Hasan's sister was to be married to a man named Zarwali. Zarwali had a bad reputation for the way he treated women, specifically abusing them. Hasan stayed true to his innocent, guy good role and objected to his sister marrying an abusive man. Hasan's father stayed to his selfish, greedy, almost villian like role and totally supported the marriage, but only because Zarwali was a wealthy man. The father and son end up butting heads over this situation. I can't imagine being a father and being ok with my daughter marrying an abusive man.I was happy Hasan stood up against his father and voiced his opinion in what was the right thing. I have found the more and more I read, the more I dislike Hasan's father.

Living in today's society, in the US, I can't imagine having to pick up and run away from my home because of my religion. Does anyone have any thoughts on how they would feel if a situation like that occured now?

-Justin Lovett

Harun and Mariam

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.

Leo Africanus 2

The second part of this book starts of with the death of Hasan's grandmother and her subsequent funeral. What I found to be most interesting ab0ut this section was how her death was represented. Someone in the crowd mentioned that we should not be upset with death, that death is a gift from God and should be celebrated. This person also said that without death other emotions like joy would have absolutely no meaning. After this speech the book talks about condolence parties. The condolence ceremonies would last for another six days with people coming at sunrise and not leaving until nightfall. While a few people would still be in heavy mourning, after a few days most might be at a place where they could smile or even laugh without being judged.Fourrty days after the death the condolence parties reappeared for three days. Also mourners were hired as a way for other people not to feel bad about not crying or being upset. The hired mourners were used as a way to make sure the deceased was respected while others celebrated the life of the person. I personally find these feelings about death to be a little harsh. Growing up where most of us have death is not thought of as a gift from God; most people see it as a punishment. Maybe people in other cultures have easier times mourning and letting people go because of their different mindset. Having six days of condolence parties is something absolutely unheard of in most parts of this country, especially about the guests having fun. I feel like most people would the easy enjoyment after so recent a death to be disrespectful, but maybe to some people it is how they move on. Maybe instead of mourning death we should celebrate life.

Leo Africanus: Commentary 2

In this week’s reading of Leo Africanus, we see Hasan face two personal challenges (amongst his family feeling Spain to Fex, Morroco): the death of his grandmother, and his start to school. Hasan explains, what I would refer to as “grueling,” mourning period that he and his family must go through. Condolence ceremonies for six days, then after a twenty-day period, there are three additional days of mourning. Being someone who has lost a family member for almost three years in a row, I could not imagine spending nearly 30 days a year in mourning – feeling sadness for myself. As if mourning for an extended period of time was not enough for Hasan, his father and uncle decide (despite his young age) that because he has excelled above others, he is ready to enter school.

It was in school that Hasan makes sort of his “first friend” at school, Haron. They go on plenty of interesting excursions together – one leading them to a taven where Hasan finds his father. Beginning to question his father’s actions, Hasan engages into a fight with his father regarding his sister, Marium’s arranged marriage to his father’s new business partner, Zwarali. The marriage ends up being called off, and feeling embarrassed and frustrated, Zwarali had Marium taken away to a Leper colony. This surprised me because I would think that a father would not let his daughter be taken away, all because of a failed arranged marriage.

There are two things I would like further clarification on. First being – why the so long mourning period? I know that during this time period, rituals were very big and important, and treated with much care but to carry on for nearly 30 days? Is this really necessary? Why did they feel it was so important to do such a thing? Second thing for clarification would this idea of an “arranged marriage?” Again, I know that culture during these times was much different – but I would expect a family from such a religiously diverse area would not fall into such thought. Any thoughts?

blog - 9

This week’s readings take us further into the lives of Hasan and his family – watching the family dynamics change as politics and people change. The beginning of the reading starts with him and his family fleeing Spain to live in Fez, Morocco. Hasan’s grandmother dies, and thus leads to Hasan’s entry into adulthood. During the mourning services Hasasn’s father and uncle decide he is ready to begin school, Hasan is a little bit young but they believe he is quite excelled for a boy his age. In school Hasan meets Haron, they become great friends. It is a known fact among the city that Haron is always up to mischief. Haron and Hasan go on expeditions together, one even lead to them to going into a tavern where Hasan encountered his father; seeing his father in the tavern was the first time Hasan really ever questioned his father’s actions. This leads to Hasan’s fight with his father over their disagreement on Marium’s betrothal. Hasan disagrees with his father’s intentions to marry her off for money. After this the marriage was called off after a tactic by Harun.
Because Zwarali (man whom marium was supposed to marry) was embarrassed by this rejection, he used his money and power to have Marium taken away to a Leper colony. This was striking to me, how could anyone doctor, peasant, person of authority, etc, be permitted to take a perfectly and obviously healthy girl away from her home? It seems as if the government had an immense amount of power over their people; and that money could buy ANYTHING – even the kidnapping and keeping of a daughter from a well-to-do family.
“At the age of 12 I still believed that as between beasts and men the former could do the most damage.” Hasan says this before he knew of Marium’s engagement while he and his family were being attacked by lions – the lions gave up. This shows though, that Hasan understands the terrible treatment of women and condemns it. If Hasan denounced this type of patriarchal behavior, other men at the time must have as well, right? Did men like this ever say anything to other men who were known to treat their wives like garbage?.. Did these men treat their wives any better, or were all men considered ‘weak’ if they stood up for women?

A Philosophical Foundation of Property, The U.S., and Mickey Mouse

(This post is for extra credit)

I like to think that the first concrete philosophy of property that has a strong relationship to the United States is John Locke's in his
Second Treatise (1689). Locke says that since we (each individual) owns his/her own body then the individual owns whatever s/he creates with/using his/her body. He says in his Second Treatise that people have the right to "life, liberty, and property". That is, since we own our life, we have liberty to do things, and we own what we make (as illustrated above). (Jefferson, in the Declaration, says that we have rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". He changed Locke's last right because he probably knew a new government would have to tax property. But, a pursuit of happiness can still be a product or intellectual creation.)

The Constitution says, "The Congress shall have Power To...promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries..." (A1, S1, C8, emphasis added). This is known as the Patent and Copyright Clause. Originally (...originalism...), it was scribbled into the Constitution to provide a uniform national standard of intellectual property regulation; "The utility of this power will scarcely be questioned," (Madison, Federalist 43).

Here is a brief sketch of the United States' copyright law as of 1998: if someone publishes a work in tangible form, then this work cannot be reproduced without permission for as long as the creator lives plus seventy years; or, if the work is of corporate authorship, then the work is under copyright for 95 years after its publication or 120 years after creation, whichever endpoint comes sooner.

Chris Springman in 2002: "Back in 1998, representatives of the Walt Disney Company came to Washington looking for help. Disney's copyright on Mickey Mouse, who made his screen debut in the 1928 cartoon short 'Steamboat Willie' was due to expire in 2003, and Disney's rights to Pluto, Goofy and Donald Duck were to expire a few years later.Rather than allow Mickey and friends to enter the public domain, Disney and its friends - a group of Hollywood studios, music labels, and PACs representing content owners - told Congress that they wanted an extension bill passed.Prompted perhaps by the Disney group's lavish donations of campaign cash - more than $6.3 million in 1997-98, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics- Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act [which extended copyrights to 70yrs after death or 95/120].

"So far so good - as far as Disney and its friends were concerned, at least. In 1999, a group of plaintiffs led by Eric Eldred, whose Eldritch Press offers free on-line access to public domain works, filed a challenge to the statue. Eldred argues that the CTEA is unconstitutional on two grounds: first, because the statute exceeds Congress's power under the Copyright Clause; and, second, because the statute runs afoul of the First Amendment by substantially burdening speech without advancing any important governmental interest. Eldred lost before the district court and the D.C. Circuit. However, there is good reason to believe that he may yet prevail in the Supreme Court."

This would not be the case. The Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. court's ruling by a vote of 7-2 in 2003. SCOTUS held that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act's 20-year extension does not violate the Copyright Clause (i.e. "...for limited times..."). This seems paradoxical, however: if a certain amount of time is set to expire in the future, and it is impossible for that expiration date to ever take place, then...
So, Mickey Mouse will not become a part of the public domain until sometime after 2019. But his tenure as private property might again be extended.

It seems like copyright law has been bent in favor of large corporations like Disney--perhaps in contradiction to what Locke meant by property, and by what Madison meant by utility.

-Stefan Larson

Caravan Travels

In this week’s reading we continue to follow our character has he travels to other interesting parts of the world. As we were talking about in class we discuss how they travel in large groups with everything they needed for their migration. These caravans not only had all the food and rations they would need, but it had hundreds of animals and camel guards to protect the group of people. One thing I found interesting with the caravans, is that most of the people did not know or have relations to the other travelers. This will be discussed later as this can be very difficult for humans, but was extremely important for survival. Leo explains how one would become immersed in the caravan, “When the wayfarers know that, for weeks and months, they must proceed in the same direction, confront the same perils, live, eat, pray, enjoy themselves, grieve, and sometimes die, together, they cease to be strangers to each other” (154). We could imagine how difficult it would be to travel with strangers that could have different beliefs and customs as us. As they continue on with their journey they are sent with messages and gifts for other lords and rulers. These gifts were brought to one town thought to be called Ouarzazate and he was given the diplomatic relation responsibility by himself. This was a little surprising to him as he says, “Hence I suddenly found myself entrusted with an embassy when I had not yet reached my seventeenth year” (162). This is very interesting part of the story as these gifts and graces were needed for good relations. The gifts such as gold and other riches were nice, but I found it interesting that he gave them Khali’s poem.

This is an interesting part of the story because they do a lot of traveling and encounter a lot of different people and cultures. As I said I find it amazing how the all of the people in the caravan got along with each other as there did not seem to have that many complications. This would be very difficult for us today as it is hard enough to get into a classroom and have a discussion without having at least one person that is too annoying to be around. This is hundreds of people of different ages, gender, social class, and occupation that had to live and travel together for months and possibly up to years. Obviously, we have evolved as a species to get a long and work well with each other because it increases our chance of survival. But, once we became such a dominant species it seems more and more difficult to work and live with people of different cultures and beliefs.

Another part I found surprising was how his uncle entrusted him with the embassy at the age of seventeen. Now, he would not even be considered a man. I know that they did not live as long back then so seventeen would be more like late twenties or early thirties at this time period but this would still be a daunting task at such an age.

Both of these parts of the story bring up some interesting questions. Today, we are so individualistic we can barely survive without our own vehicle. Even with large travel such as planes, trains, and boats many people cannot stand being stuffed up with the same people for even a couple hours. I just wonder if we could ever get along with such a large group of people and travel long distances. We could just say we will never have to travel like that again because of increased technology with transportation, but what if something happened to where travel such as caravans will be needed for survival?
In this week's reading, Hasan talks about the death of his grandmother and the experience of the funeral. He explains the mourning process and I couldn't help but to feel his pain when he says, "What better remedy is there than exhaustion for the pain caused by the death of a loved one?" Because he says that the condolence ceremonies continue for 6 days and then after 20 days, there are 3 more mourning days. That would be extremely exhausting! Hasan's father and uncle at the funeral, decided it was time for Hasan to start school even though he was not of the usual age, but they felt he was excelling beyond his years.

In the next chapter, Hasan talks about the year of Harun the Ferret, which is the year Melilla was conquered by the Castilians. The Christians began to build up the city and refugees from Granada were becoming more and more afraid. Hasan says that he was only slightly affected by worries because he was focused on his school work. The following year, inquisitors arrived at Granada who wanted all Christians that had converted to Islam should go back to their original religion, but the majority of them refused. The inquisitors said that anyone born a Christian and was baptized that is refusing to return to Christianity would be condemned to death. With this, the inquisitors started harassing the community, arresting people, setting churches on fire, etc.

What I found to be really interesting was the conversation between Sarah and Hasan;mother. hasan overheard them talking about his sister's arranged marriage and he asked them if they thought his sister would be happy marrying Zarwali, Hasan's father's new business partner. Gaudy Sarah replied, " Happy? Women only seek to avoid the worst." Not only does the aspect of arranged marriage interest me, but also the reaction of Hasan. He got extremely frustrated with the world and the injustices seen before him. He says, "I needed someone around me to show indignation, someone who would tell me that the world had not been created so that women and the joys of life should be handed over to the Zarwali and people like him." Even within the Muslim religion and culture and at such a young age, Hasan is able to recognize the unfairness that is present. I feel bad for Miriam, she is thirteen and on her way to marry a husband that she is not in love with and that her father is forcing her to marry because he is wealthy. I fell like this type of arrangement is a form of slavery. Hasan's father is basically giving his daughter away to this man that he will benefit from, without even thinking about his own daughter's happiness. I would want to know how Muslim women deal with these types of abuse, or if they even think anything of it?

Hasan's Coming of Age

During this reading of Leo Africanus I personally found the story through this coming of age to be the most engaging. It really started with the death of Hasan's grandmother which occurred when he was only eight, and then the audience begins to see him develop as a person. Muhammad sends his son to school (he later attends the most prestigious college in Fez) where Hasan becomes friends with Harun who is particularly known for his mischief. Hasan's interest in certain stories was particularly interesting. Kahli tells him all about the pirates and a shipwreck, where as Harun refuses to tell him what he has discovered when he disguises himself as a woman in order to spy on them. While Hasan and Harun are wondering around one day, Hasan sees his father in a tavern and really has no idea what to do. However, he brings it up later when he gets into a fight with his father about Miriam. She was going to be married to the Zarwali, but Hasan is strongly against it since he has heard stories of the man's violent ways and Muhammad is simply interested in the idea of being rich anyway.
I found Miriam's story to be the most intriguing yet devastating because even though Hasan was able to save her from being forced to marry the Zarwali, she was still punished for nothing when he naturally was upset with the outcome. It was incredibly unfair that she was accused of being sick and taken to another community.
Also, when it was discovered that the Castilians and Christians had officially conquered Melilla in Spain, it of course worried the Muslim population in Fez. I can barely even imagine what it would be like to constantly live in fear of making the decision between converting to a religion that is not my own and death. How could people possibly cope with this overwhelming horror in their everyday lives?

Social Injustice: Arranged Marriage

In this second portion of Amin Mallouf's "Leo Africanus," we get several important historical socio-perspectives, including those between Hasan and his uncle, Khali, during their caravan, as well as the corrupt and unjust marital arrangements that occur later between Hasan and Fatima as well as Harun and Hasan's unfortunate sister, Miriam. Her leprosy and condemnation by her father forces her to marry a man many years her senior; doubly detrimental is their fleeing to avoid the leprosy officials and further condemnation by society. Hasan describes his father's interest in marrying his daughter off to anyone that might take her: "Harun was an unhope-for-savior, and were it not for the loss of dignity it might entail, my father would have hissed the hands of this heroic fiance" (179).

Furthermore, Khali's death leaves Hasan to deal with a letter, which he identifies as "the heaviest thing to bear" (169) following Khali's illness and gievous end to life. The letter obliges Hasan to marry Khali's oldest daughter, Fatima, whom Hasan has no interest in marrying, and further personalizes as well as de-solidifies the institution of arranged marriages. His interest lies in beautiful Hiba, whom he continues to fawn over even after his marriage to Fatima. Ultimately, though, Fatima is also somewhat petrified by marrying her cousin Hasan; Maalouf shows this desperation by her fainting at the sight of the 15th century version of the honeymoon suite - the "marriage chamber" (187). Described by Hasan as "more troubled than troubling" (183), Fatima feels compelled to consumate their marriage even after she fails to do so the previous evening. However, Hasan shares her sentiments and comforts her, physically and emotionalyl protecting her from the tramatic implications of an arranged marriage.

Hasan feels compelled to care for his new family and responsible to uphold the cultural and societal standards of the institution of arranged marriage and the traditional Muslim family during the 15th century. This close socio-cultural look at the 15th century provides a perspective quite interesting to me; as another student pointed out, this is something that can rarely be conveyed in historical textbooks and its mico-level interpretation shows how this type of global culture truly existed outside of trade and other economic forces.

Quite obviously, I question the institution and ideals surrounding arranged marriage, but I also question the historical versus socio-cultual impacts as well as portrayals in textbooks. Maalouf's portrait of the effects on the characters was both literary and compelling, while also seemingly historically accurate. How do textbooks fail where literary pieces succeed? In the same way, how to literary pieces fail where textbooks succeed - notably from a socio-cultural point of view?


In this section of the novel, the caravan description was beautiful to me. It is a moving village, offering food, protection, and company for the travelers as they move towards their destination.

In class we spent a great deal of time talking about the way the slave girl was so easily and nonchalantly traded. There has been a great deal of discussion in the previous blogs about arranged marriage, the treatment of women (as second class citizens) and slavery. I find all of this fascinating. It is interesting to think of Miriam as having almost a slave status. She is essentially traded, or almost traded, to a man just for business reasons. “Marriage” certainly can be seen here as just a synonym for slavery, or ownership.

I don’t really find this that surprising, as a few other bloggers have. A 17 year old having an arranged marriage today is a lot different (hopefully) than Miriam’s arranged marriage would have been. Today arranged marriage happens as a way to ensure a good union, and keep a daughter safe. Miriam’s almost marriage was strictly for business means, as were many marriages in those times. Daughters were expensive to keep around, they just ate all the food without giving much back, they certainly weren’t going to carry on the family name and fortune (for it would either die with them if they weren’t married, or go to their husband if they were).

As for the Western world, marriage is still a hot topic. Marriage has seemed to have become less of a trade thing and more of a status symbol. If you are married in the United States today, you are able to merge funds, health insurance, and more easily take care of the people around you. Right now marriage seems to be able to ensure the first class status of hetero-couples. I guess it hasn’t really come all that far from ensuring the first class status of the patriarchy back in the day.

--Arielle Parris-Hoshour

Commentary 9

This week’s readings, from pages 101-200 of Leo Africanus, commenced with the death of Hasan’s grandmother. This event portrayed the ceremonial practices of funerals within the Muslim tradition. Hasan is now eight years old, and he better understands the world he lives in. He describes funerals to be a celebration of tradition within his culture. He says they are a “spectacle” (pg102). These “condolence ceremonies” (pg104) last for six days and forty days after death, they resume for another three days of mourning. This morbid reunion allowed Hasan’s uncle and father to argue. Within their quarrel, they decided Hasan should enter school, even if it was early within their society. School consisted solely for the memorization of the Qur’an, the Muslim’s religious text. Since Hasan was highly intelligent for his age, Hasan knew he could memorize the Qur’an at a faster average rate, in order to enter college sooner.
Meanwhile, a year later, the Castilians took over parts of Granada, instilling fear and worry into the people; although, Hasan was so focused on school that he was hardly affected. The party of inquisitors told all Muslims who had converted from Christianity to return to their former religion. Any man who refused was considered a traitor, and thus condemned for death. Many Muslim citizens of Granada began to leave. They escaped to Fez, or to the safety of the rural mountains. Muhammad began look for land of his own and Khali commenced on his own journey. This upset Hasan because he lacked purpose in his relative’s adventures, but soon was remedied by a job offered to him from Hamza, “the barber who had circumcised him” (pg118).
A summary of every event within these 100 pages is insightful, but I find a brief description of Muslim tradition and struggle to be more enlightening. I felt that Amin Maalouf gave readers immense knowledge on the lifestyle of Muslims in Grenada during the 15th century that I would not have gained from a textbook. Her fictional style adds validity to her description of non-fictional events. My question is, what information could I better attain from a historical analysis of 15th century Grenada that I have yet to gain through Maalouf’s literary style?

Injustice, Caravans, and Marriage

In the chapters we read this week we have continued to follow Hasan as he grows up amidst the grievous news of the Christian inquisitors back home, who torture, convert, and expel the Muslims from Granada. Powerless as a young boy, he is then forced to stand by as his half-sister Miriam, like so many young women, is maneuvered into an arranged marriage with a corrupt man double her age for the sake of her father's business ideals. Thanks to the sly work of Hasan and his friend, Zarwali, her betrothed, is exposed for the crimes responsible for his wealth, but his outrage brings the leprosy officials to the family's door and Miriam becomes hostage in the lepers' quarter.

While Hasan's uncle, Kali, must be gradual with his request of the prince to obtain her release, he takes Hasan with him on the caravan to Timbuktu, a hub of trade across the Sahara from Fez. Along the way, Hasan's wanderlust is appeased by curious villages and tribes with foreign customs. Though an illness that his uncle contracts gives Hasan the opportunity to develop diplomatic skills, which reward him with the gift of the slave girl Hiba with whom he falls in love, it eventually leads to Khali's death before their return to Fez, leaving him in charge of the caravan and a message for the prince. The responsibility of freeing Miriam is consequently left to him as well.

Aware of his uncle's wish for him to marry his cousin, Khali's youngest and most unattractive daughter Fatima, Hasan determines to do so despite his desire for Hiba, finding himself, regretfully, in the same position as his father. The awkwardness of consummating the marriage with his nervous and trembling cousin and pressure of fulfilling cultural rituals with the proof of the act made for a long and uncomfortable evening for Hasan, who nonetheless accepts it in honor of his uncle.

With a daughter on the way, Hasan recognizes the need to make more money and takes up a career in the mercantile business with the advice of the Genoese, finding himself the satisfaction of travel and fortune only to face again turmoil originating from Zarwali's vengeful resentment.

There were several things that I found interesting while reading, one of which was the Hasan's description of the caravan. What he seems to really appreciate about it is the sense of close community that results when people spend all of their days together, facing hardships and even death. In his words, "[I]t is a village." Something else that struck me was a conversation that Hasan had with the master of a house in a mountain village rich with goods and intelligence. Hasan couldn't understand because they were so isolated except for the highway. The master's response is very critical of cities. He says, "If you live in a city, you agree to set aside all dignity, all self-respect in exchange for the protection of a sultan, who makes you pay dearly for it even when he is no longer capable of assuring it. When you live far from the cities, but in the plains or on the hills, you escape the sultan...however, you are at the mercy of marauding nomadic tribes..." The highway, he explains, provides knowledge and riches, and "if you have no exchanges with other regions, you end up by living like an animal, ignorant, impoverished and frightened." (156)

Our study of world systems and the prosperity of those that come in contact with other cultures seems to reinforce this last claim. What about the others? He makes a good point, and yet one would think that some leader would emerge even in a village and claim rights of rule. His village seemed to be the exception rather than a rule. He raves against taxes, and yet, are they not necessary for the maintenance of common goods for communities? How did the village manage without them?

Leo Africanus Blog 2

This week’s readings of Leo Africanus took us further into Hasan’s travels and radically different society that he was living in as compared with today’s. Hasan was a Muslim so he and his family fled Spain to Fez, Morocco as a sanctuary from the Inquisition. There, Hasan began school and proved to be a very bright student, later going on to the most prestigious university in Fez. During his years at school, Hasan became close friends with another boy named Harun, nicknamed ‘the Ferret’ because of his mischievous ways.

Continuing Ferdinand and Isabella’s Inquisition, Castilians and Christians conquered the Spanish city of Melilla on the Northern coast of Morocco. All the refugees in Fez grew worried of the fate of Fez. Harun and Hasan decided to explore Fez, but noticed Hasan’s father in a tavern which prompted Hasan to run away and keep quiet about. I didn’t really understand why this was such a shame. Was it wrong for a married man to be in a tavern or something?

Hasan and his family toured the Moroccan countryside. On this trip, Hasan bonded with his sister whom he had a very close attraction to. Later she was about to marry Zarwali, a wealthy man notorious for violence towards women. Hasan’s father was very supportive because that way he’d be able to reach his dream of being rich but Hasan was not pleased due to the rumors, he wanted to protect his sister. Hasan decided to confront his father and it turned into a large argument in which Hasan also addressed spotting him in the tavern and they ended up off of speaking terms. Hasan’s father fled to a mountaintop as Hassan studied at the university in Fez as his sister eventually fell sick and was moved to a leper community.

What startled me the most about this text was the treatment of women in the society. Yes women have come a long way and aren’t even there in all societies, but being raised in America at this time is making it really hard for me to grasp what life would have been like having such minimal rights as Miriam and other women. I was just reading someone else’s posting and it mentioned how she tutored a 17 year old Somali refugee who was just in an arranged marriage, so women in many areas still do have very limited freedoms. Is it still this way for women in this area of Morocco? Is it due to their religious beliefs? Or is it something political? I don’t understand why an entire gender would ever be so downgraded, especially today.

Dana Bodnar