Travels to Egypt

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Travels to Egypt

Travels in Islamic world was important in the light of Islam as the Prophet encouraged his followers to seek knowledge even as far away as China, indicating that knowledge is borderless and travelling is a good way to expand the horizons of knowledge and experience. Leisure, curiosity and mostly pilgramage were reasons for travelling and as long as the underlying intention is a good one, like to recuperate before going back to work, to appreciate a new culture or country, or to spend time with family. Besides, Arabs were traders as much as they were travellers hence they were crossing multi-nations for business purposes.

This was soon followed by Prophet Muhammad and the first Muslims who migrated to different countries on different occasions and later worked hard in spreading religion to different communities. Even members of the companions were widely known to cross borders for the sake of Islam. They came as far as India, Persia, amongst others, in order to seek knowledge from Prophet Muhammad and later crossed oceans to spread their love for Islam. Travelling as a Muslim is not different as compared to travelling before becoming a Muslim, as long as certain guidelines are attached to.

Tourists, Muslim or not, are required to be respectful of their place of travels, to represent themselves and their own country in a positive light. In his travel writing “Safarname”, Nasir Khusraw the Persian traveller spent about three years and three monthts in Egypt, Began with the Marw in the East in Rabi and finished with balkh in Khurasan in Jumadi in about 1052. Nasir Khusraw told his observations or unusual occasions he had heard about in detail and according to his own impressions of the event.

In the travel writing of Nasir, it can be seen that he is concerned to the routes and the distances and also the dangers and difficulties on his way. Moreover, his mentions about the different atmosphers and qualities of differentcities and countries which he visited. His writing is kind of helping the reader to create a picture of his travel stories. Seemingly, he demands that people in his own region to believe him and what he described. With that reason he compared his observations with dimilar occasions in the Eastern regions. In Nasir’s travel writing he described Cairo, the capital of Egypt.

Also he is not just talking about Cairo and also about the old city Misr. At those times Cairo was so important and serving as the heart pf political, economic, administrative and religious life. His section on Egypt is not so long however he wrote worthy account on social and economic life of the place. Also, he wrote with kind of a clear picture of the city’s social life and organisation in that time. Nasir’s telling of Cairo leads reader to adore the city, focusing on its beautiful qualities and sometimes give reader the feeling of exaggeration.

This kind of adorement showing that Nasir’s involvement with the capital especially after his visit during the most powerful, strong and expansive time of Cairo under the reign of Caliph al Mustanser. In the wirting of Nasir there are two kinds of narrative style. First one is when he himself was the witness of the occasion he wrote and the other one is when he got the information from someone. He stayed in Cairo for three years and readers could get the feeling that three year stay in Cairo was long enough for somebody to get know the surroundings and writing his observations accurately.

Although Nasir wrote most of the phenomenas that he saw, he mentions that he is not responsible about the exactness of what he heard and then record. As it is mentioned above Khurshaw gave a obvious image of Cairo2s social life and structure while his visit and he als mentions about the differences betweent the two parts of Cairo. First one is al-Qahira and other one is Misr. New Cairo had been established in a desert place, about one mile east of the Nile, to the north of Misr. In the writing he is giving detailes information.

To summer up that information, he is talking about the location and occupation of Egypt, the ruler and the rules in country, servants who served him and also beautiful landscapes like gardens, palace and inside of the city and enviroment. Furthermore, it can be seen from Khusraw’s account that many of the shops and houses in Cairo were owned by the caliph/imam, referred to as the sultan. One can imagine the measure of this source of income for the sultan’s treasury. And this great treasury allowed the Fatimids to live in luxury with glorious ceremonial.

Khusraw mentioned that there were no less than twenty thousand shops in Cairo, all of which belonged to the sultan, many of which were rented out for as much as ten dinars a month, and for not less than two dinars. He added that the Imam owned eight thousand houses with the rent collected monthly. Khusraw’s descriptions of both Cairo and Misr show that Cairo served a central role in the administrative life of the Fatimids in addition to its importance for concentrating the Fatimid troops in their quarters.

This gave it a unique quality as a strategic capital city. On the ther hand Misr seemed, in Khusraw’s eyes, to be as a centre of trading and of the economic life of Egypt through its markets and their links with other centres throughout Egypt. The period which Khusraw spent in Egypt (1047-1050) seems have been one of wealth and development and his accounts are regarded as witness and testimonial to different aspects of life there. Khusraw took pains to say whether his remarks were based on what he himself witnessed or what somebody else told him. The opening of the canal (khalij), for example, he described in detail because he was an eyewitness.

He even tended not to mention everything he saw, because if he did so, it would take too long. The magnificent picture that Khusraw presents describes only the specific period of his stay in Egypt. Compared with other Fatimid sources, Khusraw’s accounts of Cairo seem to be quite close to reality, although they sometimes take on a certain emphasis and exaggeration when describing a given phenomenon. Khursaw’s two main objects supports accuracy of his writing, first his period in Cairo was politically and economically stabilized. Also, he is aware of the importance of telling differences between what he saw and what he heard.

Therefore, Khusraw’s Safarnama is considered a reliable primary source for many aspects of Egypt within a specific period. On the other hand In the Ibn Jubayr’s memoirs of Egypt and Cairo he gives a highly detailed and graphic description of the places he visited during his travels and “The Travels of Ibn Jubayr. Differently from its contemporaries, Ibn Jubayr’s account was not a mere descriptions of monuments, showing in-depth analysis qualities in the observation of geographical details as well as cultural, religious and political matters.

Ibn Jubayr sails the Mediterranean for thirty days finally arriving in Alexandria in 1183. He spent the next four months in Egypt. It is here that the reader first hears of the great Sultan, Saladin, and the numerous accomplishments previously described. While in Egypt, Jubayr punctuated his visit with a stop in Cairo, the city of the ancient pharaohs. Here he sees the great pyramids and compares them to a rising minaret in the heavens though he falls short of forming a concrete opinion as to their origins saying only that God knows their story.

Indeed, this would be his response throughout his chronicles anytime he is confronted with the uncertainty of whether a holy site was authentic. Upon leaving Cairo, Ibn Jubayr joins a boat full of pilgrims—many of whom were also going on the Hajj. His travel writing reflects Egypt’s important commercial role, and its appeal to merchants from all over the Muslim world. Everywhere that Ibn Jubayr travelled in Egypt he was full of praise for the new Sunni ruler, Saladin.

For example he says of him that: “There is no congregational or ordinary mosque, no mausoleum built over a grave, nor hospital, nor theological college, where the bounty of the Sultan does not extend to all who seek shelter or live in them. ” He points out that when the Nile does not flood enough, Saladdin remits the land tax from the farmers. He also says that “such is his (Salahuddin’s} justice, and the safety he has brought to his high-roads that men in his lands can go about their affairs by night and from its darkness apprehend no awe that should deter them. Ibn Jubayr is very disparraging of the previous Shi’a dynasty of the Egypt.

In Cairo, he visited the cemetery at al-Qarafah, which contained the graves of many important figures in the history of Islam. He noted while in Cairo that the walls of the citadel were being extended by foreign Christian slaves with the object of surrounding the entire city. Another building work that he saw was the construction of a bridge over the Nile, which would be high enough not to be submerged in the annual flooding of the river.

He saw a spacious free hospital which was divided into three sections: one each for men, women and the insane. He saw the pyramids, although he was unaware of who they had been built for, and the Sphinx. He also saw a device that was used for measuring the height of the Nile flood. On numerous occasions Ibn Jubayr makes mention of God’s goodness or faithfulness, and he likewise proceeds to bring God’s blessings or vengeance on a government leader, tax collector, recalcitrant Shiite or crusading Christian.

One of the most striking elements in reading historical sources such as Ibn Jubayr’s travel account is that it deals with actual people in real events. A Muslim living in the twelfth century in the peripheral of Islamic influence saw the world differently than an imam in Baghdad. He also saw the world differently from a Christian peasant in England. To sum up, both Nasir and Jubayr did their travels for pilgramage. Because of the differences in their beliefs to Islam the both reflected cities and coundries differently. It is true that if the writer has sympathy to the belief in that country he reflects the facts more positive.

The journey of the Hajj, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, links together not only Muslims of different nationalities, but also Muslims across time. I n short, travel in pursuit of knowledge may be said to constitute a central teaching of Islam although its terms and categories can never capture the varieties of historical practice, for “historical ‘Islam’ does not coincide with doctrinal ‘Islam,’ and the practice and significance of Islamic faith in any given historical setting cannot readily be predicted from first principles of dogma or belief.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 December 2016

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