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The rihla and self-reinvention of Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi.


In one of the most celebrated passages (1) in his account of his famous rihla to the East, the great Andalusi religious scholar Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi (d. 543/1148) describes his ship-wreck off the coast of Tripolitania. (2) He and his father, 'Abd Allah, washed up on shore, naked, battered, and penniless. The two men improvised garments from ruptured oil skins and made their way, famished and exhausted, to the nearest town. Because of his youth, and despite his strange appearance, the seventeen-year-old Abu Bakr was allowed by bodyguards to approach the local prince, who was playing chess in public. He describes how he won his favor by displays of knowledge, first by coaching him to victory in his chess game and then by interpreting some lines of poetry for him. When the prince took an interest in Abu Bakr, the young man summoned his equally bizarrely clothed father from his nearby hiding place, and both were taken under the wing of the local potentate, who provided them with food and clothing, treated them as honored guests, and even invited them to settle there. At the end of this account, Abu Bakr sums up the moral of the story: "Look at this knowledge ('ilm) which is closer to ignorance; how this scrap of salvaged belles-lettres (tilka l-subaba l-yasira min al-adab) rescued us from perdition. This recollection will guide you to your goal, if you understand it." (3)

Abu Bakr's admonition is not merely a passing commentary on an entertaining vignette in the broader story of his rihla. It is the moral of his rihla as a whole, a journey he undertook after the shipwreck of his family's loss of fortune. When the Almoravids overthrew the kingdom of Seville that Abu Bakr's father served as a wazir, the family's property was confiscated. Father and son set out for the East, each with a strategy to regain the status they had lost, the father through his political skills, the son by acquiring the knowledge that would allow him to become one of the most prominent Maliki jurists of his age.

Having floundered once, Abu Bakr brandished the precious credential of his 'ilm for the rest of his life, never letting his life raft out of sight, and creating a new genre in hopes of keeping his accomplishments in the eyes of his contemporaries as well. (4) While many prominent religious scholars of the Maghrib went in their youth to the East to study, (5) none refers to his rihla as frequently as Abu Bakr throughout his major writings, and none wrote a stand-alone account of his journey. Houari Touati has asserted that Abu Bakr's Tartib al-rihla (Arrangement of the Journey) was unprecedented in its time and inaugurated the Arabic genre of the travel narrative, the rihla. (6)

This article will analyze Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi's rihla from two related perspectives. First, drawing from his surviving accounts, it will look at strategies he and his father pursued during their travels to restore their fortunes in al-Andalus. Second, regarding Abu Bakr's descriptions of his journey in Qanun al-ta'wil and other works as literary artifacts, it will consider Abu Bakr's strategies in presenting his journey in later years for the sake of bolstering his prestige as a Maghribi scholar who had visited and studied in the pilgrimage sites and great centers of learning of the East. Naturally, insights about the literary representation will affect our understanding of the events described.


Abu Bakr was born in 468/1076 to a prominent family of the ta'ifa kingdom of Seville. His father 'Abd Allah (435-493/1043-1099) was a wazir of Muhammad Ibn 'Abbad al-Mu'tamid. 'Abd Allah's contemporary, al-Fath Ibn Khaqan, wrote of him, "He was a full moon among the heavenly bodies of Seville. His was the seat of honor in the council of its king. He was chosen by Ibn 'Abbad--a trustworthy selection at the advice of Ibn Du'ad--who appointed him to noble offices and raised him to exalted ranks." (7)

Religious knowledge was not the only kind prized in the courts of the ta'ifa rulers of al-Andalus. It was only one facet of the sophisticated and highly aestheticized court culture of the era. This culture is described by Cynthia Robinson as comprised of both court ceremonies of spectacular display and small gatherings of the ruler and his intimates (nudama'), who were expected to possess a highly refined aesthetic sensibility. The king and his court took pleasure in the exercise of their refinement through the creation and enjoyment of music and poetry, but also through learned and eloquent discussion of matters both sacred and profane, including astronomy and philosophy, fiqh and kalam. All of this transpired in what was called a majlis al-uns, an "intimate salon," enjoyed in sumptuous surroundings in the company of elegant, well-spoken, well-dressed, and, ideally, physically beautiful men. (8)

As a wazir of al-Mu'tamid--who had a palace called al-Turaya built especially for the majlis al-uns (9)--we can assume that 'Abd Allah was an adept participant in this courtly culture. He arranged for his son the best possible education in order to instill in him the ratified palate of a courtier, capable of making the highly nuanced aesthetic distinctions that were the marker of that class. (10) After memorizing the Quran by the age of nine, Abu Bakr began his studies under three personal tutors, one for the Quran, one for Arabic, and one for mathematics. His lessons lasted from after the dawn prayer until the evening call to prayer. In the course of his studies he learned the variant readings of the Quran, studied numerous grammars and diwans of poetry, and learned to use astronomical tables and an astrolabe. (11) Apart from his study with his personal tutors, he "heard a body (jumla) of hadith from the masters." (12) Along the way he gained mastery of Arabic and an eloquence that is evident in his later writings, (13) and also became quite proficient at chess as our opening anecdote shows. His student, the renowned Qadi 'Iyad (d. 544/1149), describes Abu Bakr's early education in al-Ghunya, writing that he received a refined cultural education (ta'addaba) and studied the readings of the Quran. (14)

In Qanun al-ta'wil, a work written in 533/1139 that contains an extensive account of his early life and travels to the East, Abu Bakr writes that one day while his father was observing his studies, a bookseller (simsar) stopped by to show his father some books. They included works by the Iraqi Abu Ja'far al-Simnani (d. 444/1052) on theological debating (al-'aqa'id wa-l-maqalat), an art that was apparently underdeveloped in al-Andalus. Al-Simnani had been the teacher of the Andalusi scholar Abu l-Walid al-Baji (d. 474/1081), who was responsible for introducing his works and teaching to al-Andalus. Those present--father, bookseller, and teacher--agreed that these were "great books and lofty sciences that al-Baji brought from the East." Abu Bakr writes,
   This word [i.e., al-mashriq] pierced my liver and struck my heart.
   They began to recount [Ibn Baji's] memory, and to say that the
   fuqaha' of our land do not comprehend him. How remarkable that this
   small quantity [of knowledge] is brought to a community (umma) and
   there is not a single one among them who can add to it except
   weakly and incompetently. (15)

Thus, his desire of traveling to the East to acquire true knowledge was awakened. This suggests an early intention to become the great religious scholar he became. But it should be noted that he relates the story, at least in part, because it provides an opportunity to take up one of his favorite themes: the inferiority of the West compared to the East and thus the superiority of the knowledge he gained while there.

Other passages on his study of religious sciences in the East suggest that this retrospective clarity of intent may be a later invention; when describing his early education Abu Bakr makes clear that he acquired a good deal of knowledge that lacked a religious dimension:
   These teachers took turns in instructing me (ta'aqaba 'alayya)
   [...] and I, in the heedlessness (gharara) of my youth, gathered
   from all of this that which was proper and that which was improper
   (ma yajmulu wa-ma la yajmulu), and providence (qadar) concealed
   this within me for use in refuting heretics (mulhidun) and as a
   preparation for the study of theology (usul al-din). (16)

This seems a sort of apology for having studied intensively until the age of sixteen without having acquired more than rudimentary knowledge of religious sciences: these early studies of the types of knowledge valued in courtly culture can be justified because they were later put to religiously justifiable ends. In the courtly milieu, sacred and profane knowledge were inextricably linked in a single worldview that Abu Bakr rejected in later life. (17) His embarrassment at his youthful education in this milieu is apparent in this passage.

An episode that reveals the milieu for which Abu Bakr's education had prepared him is his account of an evening spent in Bijaya in the company of one al-Qasim b. 'Abd al-Rahman, whom he describes as "handsome and reflective (rawa'an rawiyyatan), thoroughly versed (itqanan) in adab, a force in calligraphy, the beauty of his region, or you might say, the glory of his age." He writes further, "There was no defect to be seen in him like those betrayed by men who possess mere crumbs of knowledge." (18) They spent the evening in learned conversation that Abu Bakr describes with the attention and detail of a connoisseur. Their conversation indulged in neither levity nor excessive seriousness. It drifted effortlessly from topic to topic, and without their noticing, day turned to night. At one point Abu Bakr mentioned that one al-Tanuji (d. 514/1120-1), a Sevillian scholar of Arabic and literature, had said that the only noun in the Arabic language in which the first consonant and the second consonant are the same was the name Babus, found in a hadith. Without missing a beat, al-Qasim replied, "What about dad?" a word meaning "amusement" found in another hadith. Abu Bakr was impressed that this young man could outwit an older, learned man from his own city and resolved to study the linguistic eccentricities of hadith (gharib al-hadith). (19)

What is noteworthy is the pleasure Abu Bakr takes in this cultivated exchange in which the sacred and the profane are blended such that hadith serve not as a source of prophetic precedent, but rather as a vehicle for a demonstration of linguistic refinement. The conversation does not resemble the scholarly debates and discussions Abu Bakr recounts in his travels, after he is initiated into the intricacies of religious sciences. Rather, it calls to mind the rarified sophistication of the courtier, into which he had been initiated through his education in Seville. It was an exercise of the refinement that would have qualified him for participation in the majlis al-uns, of which his evening with the handsome and eloquent al-Qasim was a somewhat less glamorous instance. The incident shows the use to which Abu Bakr's learning might well have been put had events taken a different course.

In the event, the ta'ifa of Seville was conquered by the Almoravids in 484/1091 and the court of al-Mu'tamid disappeared. Yusuf b. Tashfin, the ruler of the Almoravid empire, wore simple woolen garments; he consumed only barley, camel meat, and milk until the end of his days. (20) He had no use for the effete customs of the tarifa courtiers and turned instead to the fuqaha' for counsel. The Almoravid movement was founded by a faqih, 'Abd Allah b. Yasin (d. 451/1059). Almohad-era sources go so far as to claim that the second Almoravid sultan to rule over al-Andalus, 'Ali b. Yusuf b. Tashfin, never made a decision without first consulting thefuqaha', (21) and a similar claim is made about Yusuf. (22) When the Almoravids took power in al-Andalus, they were aided in their conquest of two ta'ifa states, Seville and Granada, by prominent fuqaha' of those states. Of course, many fuqaha' took part in the culture of the ta'ifa courts as well, but it seems clear that the Almoravid rulers expected a more Spartan demeanor from their jurist advisors.

The Almoravid conquest of al-Andalus, and of Seville in particular, was popular with broad sectors of the population, burdened with heavy taxes and terrified of the Christian kingdoms to the north that the ta'ifa states had proven unable to resist. In addition to the welcome of the population, the Almoravids were often aided by local agents. In Seville, al-Mu'tamid put up stiff resistance. Two of 'Abd Allah Ibn al-'Arabi's colleagues died in defense of the kingdom. (23) Al-Mu'tamid went so far as to make alliances with the Christians in an effort to stave off conquest of his kingdom by the Almoravids. When Seville fell, after a six-month siege, there was much rape and looting in retaliation for the resistance. (24) Abu Bakr's maternal uncle, Abu Qasim, by contrast, aided the Almoravids in the overthrow of the Sevillan 'Abbadids, thereby avenging his father's murder at the hands of al-Mu'tamid's father al-Mu'tadid. (25)

Al-Mu'tamid was sent to exile in Aghmat along with his family, where they spent the rest of their days. (26) His wazir, 'Abd Allah Ibn al-'Arabi, had his family property confiscated, but was not sent into exile. One can speculate that he would have received harsher treatment had it not been for the connections of his wife's family. (27)

Given 'Abd Allah's close association with the regime it is not surprising to find Abu Bakr claiming, "our enemies rejoiced in our misfortune." (28) Whatever ambitions 'Abd Allah may have had for his son now had to be radically revised. In 485/1092, in the face of the displeasure of the new regime and the hatred of much of the population, 'Abd Allah asked permission to travel to the East to go on pilgrimage, much as his wife's father had done, and under similar conditions, some forty years earlier. (29) This is the equivalent of a disgraced politician today leaving office to spend more time with his family.


At the age of forty-nine 'Abd Allah left his wife and set out with his only son on an arduous journey to the East, uncertain whether he would live to see his homeland again; in the event, he did not. For his part, Abu Bakr was young for the journey to the East undertaken by many Andalusi religious scholars of note. (30) If it was a journey he had planned to undertake one day, these would not have been the circumstances he imagined. He writes of his departure on Rabi'a I 485/April 1092, "and so we set forth as honored men, or you may say despised men, confident and secure, or, if you prefer, terrified." (31) But even after this cruel turn of fate, Abu Bakr set out with a clear strategy in mind. The intellectual capital he had accumulated through his intensive studies had prepared him to compete in a world that had disappeared in a few short years. But this did not turn him against the accumulation of intellectual capital as a social strategy. It was clear to Abu Bakr that to recapture the status his family had lost when the ta'ifa of Seville was conquered by the Almoravids, he would have to obtain the knowledge valued under the new regime--knowledge of religious sciences and especially fiqh--in order to raise himself and his family from poverty and obscurity. With such knowledge he would be able to compete for prestige among the fuqaha', the new elite of al-Andalus. (32)

This objective guided both his travels and the account of those travels in his lost work Tartib al-rihla, which served as a partial curriculum vitae for Abu Bakr: the account of his studies, the hardships he endured and the triumphs he experienced, and, most importantly, a list of the luminaries who served as his instructors. Even though Tartib al-rihla is lost, we still have a good idea of the course of his journey from a fairly comprehensive account given at the beginning of Qanun al-ta'wil, from a reproduction of important documents he brought back to al-Andalus that is found in Kitab Shawahid al-jilla wa-l-a'yan fi mashahid al-islam wa-l-buldan, and from anecdotes scattered throughout most of his works that have come down to us. (33)

According to his account, no sooner had Abu Bakr set out with his father than he began studying with every learned man he encountered and dutifully recording the meetings, even with scholars with whom he could have spent no more than a few hours, such as those he met in Malaga or Almeria. (34) After the aforementioned stopovers in Bijaya and Tripolitania, he and his father spent some eight months in Egypt in 485-486/1092-1093, where they were disillusioned by the state of learning under the Fatimids. (35) From there they went to Jerusalem where 'Abd Allah made arrangements to go to Mecca on pilgrimage. But it was here that "the full-moon of knowledge" appeared to Abu Bakr, (36) and at his insistence they cancelled their pilgrimage plans and spent the next three years in and around Jerusalem while he studied.

In Jerusalem Abu Bakr came to appreciate first-hand the exhilaration of religious disputation, not only between Muslim scholars of different intellectual persuasions, but also between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. (37) He studied "the three sciences": kalam, usul al-fiqh, and ilm al-khilaf. He sought out numerous scholars, attending eighteen study circles and two madrasas, one Shafi'i and one Hanafi. (38) Of all who had come to Jerusalem for study, he was most impressed with the learning of the Khurasanis. (39) The closest scholarly bond he formed, though, was with his fellow countryman, Abu Bakr al-Turtushi.

It seems that he had been advised to look for al-Turtushi, for Abu Bakr writes of searching for him in the company of his father first in a particular spot in the Masjid al-'Aqsa called al-Ghuwayra and then finding him in another spot called al-Sikina. Once 'Abd Allah explained his son's intention and al-Turtushi saw Abu Bakr's seriousness, he agreed to teach him and opened to him "the doors to knowledge." (40) A bond of spiritual affinity formed between the two, and they took a mutual oath to draw their happiness from religious science and to live as ascetics. (41) Abu Bakr devoted himself to his studies, night and day, accepting nothing from the world, and speaking little to other people. He writes of impressing his instructors after six months of this regimen. (42)

In 488/1095, at the age of twenty, Abu Bakr went to Ashkalon on the coast where he studied for six months. It was there, while stuck in a crowded street, that he heard a slave girl recite some verses about lost love and the passage of time in vain. He took this to be a "Sufi revelation and a disembodied religious voice" (wahyun sufiyyun wa-hatifun diniyy) telling him that the time had come to leave Palestine and go to Iraq, something his father had been urging for some time. (43)

They traveled up the coast to Acre and from there to Damascus, where Abu Bakr spent some time studying and where the first glimpse of his father's activities is to be seen. Early in his account Abu Bakr writes of their journey being made possible by profit from commerce (ribhun fi l-tijara), a common means by which Andalusi scholars funded their study tours of the East, (44) and we can assume that 'Abd Allah spent much of his time in trading. (45) Furthermore, as we have seen, from the time they arrived in Jerusalem, going on the hajj was a priority for 'Abd Allah. In Damascus, however, we find 'Abd Allah preparing for his visit to Baghdad by securing letters of introduction to the 'Abbasid wazir from leading figures of the city, including a qadi Najm al-Qudat al-Shahrastani. (46)

From Damascus, they left for Baghdad, entering the desert late in the month of Sha'ban 489 (August 1096). When the crescent moon that signaled the beginning of Ramadan was sighted, the members of the caravan began calling out "Allahu akbar!" 'Abd Allah joined them and turned to face his son. In one of the most dramatic statements of his disdain for the Maghrib and accompanying proclamations of the superiority of the East, Abu Bakr writes that he did not return his father's gaze because his father was standing to the west of him, a direction he despised. He preferred to gaze in the opposite direction, toward his aspirations. (47) The fact that the rihla to the East was undertaken by many Andalusi religious scholars is a testimony to the East's primacy in the production of religious knowledge; but not every traveling Andalusi treated the Maghrib with such disdain. (48) His exile from al-Andalus seems to have resulted in genuine bitterness toward his homeland, though another motive for including this detail in his memoir is to remind his Andalusi readers of the superiority of his Eastern intellectual pedigree.

Even in the late fifth/eleventh century, Baghdad was one of the most magnificent cities in the world, (49) and Abu Bakr arrived eager to see its famous sites. The first things he did were to pray in the caliphal mosque and to sit in a study circle in the Nizamiyya madrasa. He quickly found that his knowledge was too advanced to benefit from this elementary-level study circle and joined instead an intermediate one. Seeing his youth, the instructor quickly asked him to answer a legal question as a test. So pleased was the instructor with his answer that he moved Abu Bakr to a spot closer to him in recognition of his rank among the students. (50)

As for 'Abd Allah, before he had taken steps to use the letters he had secured in Damascus, a chance encounter a few days after their arrival expedited his access to the caliphal court. While walking one day in suq al-rihaniyyin, one of Baghdad's markets, 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr unexpectedly met Abu l-Hasan al-Mubarak b. Sa'id al-Baghdadi (d. 490/1097), a merchant and religious scholar whom they had hosted and for whom they had convened a session of hadith recitation in Seville some six years earlier. (51) He greeted them enthusiastically, asked for their news, and agreed to help them win an audience with the 'Abbasid caliph through his connections with the wazir 'Amid al-Dawla b. Jahir.

'Abd Allah's objective in meeting the caliph was to secure documents from him that would recognize Yusuf b. Tashfin as his deputy in the Maghrib. It was an undertaking that did not bear fruit for a year and a half. (52) During the course of his campaign to win an audience with the caliph and to secure the desired documents from him, 'Abd Allah and his son also undertook other activities designed to spread the reputation of the Almoravids, and, not coincidentally, to raise their own stock with the new rulers of al-Andalus.

Within two months of their arrival in Baghdad, in Dhu l-Qa'da 489 (October-November 1096), (53) Abu Bakr and 'Abd Allah went on pilgrimage and continued their campaign on behalf of the Almoravid rulers. In Mecca this consisted of public supplications to God (dua) on behalf of "the amir and all of the Almoravids." 'Abd Allah was not content to pray alone, but asked others to join in these supplications, and told anyone who would listen about the acts and virtues of "the most glorious amir of his land, Abu Muhammad Sir b. Abi Bakr," the Almoravid general and governor of Seville. (54)

'Abd Allah's history with the Almoravids was too complicated for us to assume that his motives for acting on their behalf could have been uncomplicated. (55) It seems likely that he hoped that word of his public enthusiasm for the Almoravids would filter back to the Maghrib via pilgrims he encountered, as it did by way of al-Ghazali's letter to Yusuf b. Tashfin (our source for these events), which makes a point of referring to their publicity on the Almoravid ruler's behalf in Mecca. However, since it is surprising that the person acting as Almoravid ambassador to the caliph would be a disgraced former wazir of a ta'ifa state that resisted the Almoravids to the bitter end, the question of whether 'Abd Allah was acting in an official capacity on behalf of the Almoravids in securing caliphal recognition for Yusuf b. Tashfin, as Ibn Khaldun claims, (56) or was acting on his own initiative, (57) has been raised.

The coincidence of their setting out shortly after the failure of an earlier mission to secure a caliphal investiture for Yusuf Ibn Tashfin--the Fatimids had a messenger possessing correspondence from the 'Abbasid caliph for the Almoravids killed in Alexandria the year before--suggests that it could have been a second official mission. (58) The ill-fated messenger, Abu Bakr 'Atiq 'Imran b. Muhammad al-Raba'i of Ceuta (d. 484/1091-2), is said to have spent several years studying fiqh in Baghdad before returning to the Maghrib, which shows that an envoy was not expected to forego the opportunity to study while in the East on a diplomatic mission. (59) With his long experience in the court of al-Mu'tamid in Seville, 'Abd Allah would have possessed the diplomatic polish to make such a petition of the caliph, as indeed his ornate letter requesting recognition for Yusuf reveals. (60) In this letter 'Abd Allah writes as though he were on an official mission. In addition to requesting the documents, he asks permission to return home, having been away from his homeland for seven years, two of them spent in Baghdad (61)--seeming to imply that his return would only occur with the completion of his mission. He refers to their wifada, "official reception," several times, and uses the words wafid, "envoy," and wafada, "to travel as an envoy," to describe them and their journey. (62) Also in favor of 'Abd Allah having been entrusted with an official mission is Abu Bakr's strangely ambivalent description of their leaving Seville, quoted above: "And so we set forth as honored men, or you may say despised men, confident and secure, or, if you prefer, terrified." (63) Perhaps, having received permission to go on pilgrimage, the two men prepared to set off into exile only to be entrusted with a mission by which they could redeem themselves--a mission of honor coupled, oddly, with the jeering of their enemies, the confiscation of their property, and their loss of status might make sense of the strange sentence. But as it stands, there is no conclusive evidence for one position or the other. It seems unlikely that the Almoravids would first confiscate 'Abd Allah's property and then send him on an official mission, or that he would have to claim to be leaving al-Andalus for pilgrimage if he had such a distinction. Furthermore, as we shall see below, the documents he secured strongly suggest that 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr were insecure about their position with the Almoravids and about what kind of reception they would have when they returned.

In his request for recognition of Yusuf b. Tashfin, 'Abd Allah lists the deeds the sultan had undertaken in the name of the caliph, such as waging jihad against the Christians in al-Andalus, minting gold and silver coins of high quality, recognizing the caliph, and pronouncing the khutba in his name from the minbars of 2,500 mosques. (64) 'Abd Allah also requests recognition of a different sort for himself and for Abu Bakr, asking that their names be recorded in the caliph's "noble registry" (al-diwan al-sharif). (65)

The caliph's surviving response, preserved by Abu Bakr, has been described as very vague, praising his addressee and encouraging him to continue waging jihad, but not mentioning Yusuf by name and not explicitly recognizing him as the caliph's representative in the region. (66) Indeed, the few lines Abu Bakr reproduces certainly do not amount to a certificate of investiture, but their vagueness stems from the indirect style demanded by the genre of diplomatic correspondence; (67) more importantly, other documents leave little doubt that the caliph did issue an official certificate that was not included among the documents Abu Bakr reproduced in Shawahid al-jilla and so has not survived. The letter from the wazir Ibn Jahir, for example, as mentioned above, refers specifically to 'aqd wilayatihi, "the contract of his [Yusuf's] deputyship." (68) Ibn Jahir is also very explicit in his praise of 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr where the caliph was vague, specifically acknowledging that it was they who described the virtuous acts of Yusuf b. Tashfin and that whatever support the caliph might give to Yusuf is because of them:
   That which we witnessed of the state of the aforementioned jurist
   and his son and the excellence of their manner are among the
   factors that mandated their being brought into proximity, for we
   assessed them (ra'aynahuma) and trusted that we could honor and
   favor them. We issued this statement, which judges the amir fit to
   occupy his exalted position (asdarna hadhihi l-jumla al-qadiya
   bi-ihlal al-amir mahallahu l-munif), worthy of our honor and
   veneration, based on the report of these two and as a beneficence
   and out of gratitude and sympathy for them (nazaran li-maqalihima
   wa-ihsanan wa-ta'attufan 'alayhima wa-imtinanan). Let the amir--may
   God prolong his life--sanction the soundness of their affairs
   (fal-ya'tamid al-amir atala allahu baqa'ahu masalih umurihima). Let
   him strive for that which was customary of their sound
   circumstances (la-yatawkhkha ma ta'ud min istiqama sha'nihima),
   (69) and grant them an excellent position of deputyship to him
   (wa-la-yuwallihuma basan mawqi' al-niyaba 'anhu), and show them
   (wa-layabdu lahuma) (70) the cheek of good fortune by his grace
   (safhat al-iqbal bi-mannihi). (71)

This statement leaves little doubt that an official patent of investiture was issued. The reason that Abu Bakr did not reproduce it may have been that such a standardardized formal document did not make reference to him or his father--unlike all of the other documents he presents to his reader--and so did not serve his agenda of self-promotion.

Whether or not 'Abd Allah was acting in an official capacity, it can safely be said that he was not sure of Yusuf Ibn Tashfin's favor. He, the 'Abbasid wazir, and, to a lesser extent, the caliph took pains to make it very clear that the caliph granted the documents on the basis of his trust in the two Sevillians. If Yusuf accepted the caliphal support, he would have to accept the two men who procured it for him and, ideally, restore them to their previous status. If he rejected 'Abd Allah, whose trustworthiness was the basis of the caliph's approval of Yusuf, then he would render the caliph's endorsement null and void. It is easy to imagine such an audacious move on 'Abd Allah's part enraging the Almoravid ruler. It was a bold gamble that aimed to restore 'Abd Allah's status.

While 'Abd Allah pursued his efforts to win an audience with the caliph, Abu Bakr entered the final stage of his studies of religious sciences, but, as we shall see, with an agenda in tandem with 'Abd Allah's. As in all of the cities he visited, Abu Bakr studied with numerous scholars, including the renowned Abu Bakr al-Shashi, head of the Nizamiyya madrasa in Baghdad after al-Ghazali left the post. (72) But the scholar who made the greatest impression on him was al-Ghazali himself, whom he refers to reverently by the Persian title for sage, danishmand, which would have had the same exotic ring to the ears of his Andalusi audience as Doktorvater or maitre has to ours. He writes of this meeting,
   He took up residence in the ribat of Abu Sa'd facing the Nizamiyya
   College, shunning the world and turning toward God most high. I
   went to him and presented him with my aspirations. I said to him,
   "You are the one I have been searching for, my imam to whom I turn
   for guidance." Ours was a meeting of knowledge (laqayna liqa'
   al-ma'rifa) and through him I saw that which was beyond description
   (wa-shahadna minhu ma kana fawq al-sifa). (73)

In another description of their studies together, he writes,
   I consulted (fawadtu) with Abu Hamid al-Ghazali on this matter
   [Sufism] in Madinat al-Salam in Jumada II 490 [May 1097]. He had
   begun practicing the Sufi way (qad rada nafsahu bi-l-tariqa
   al-sufiyya) in the year 486 [1093], that is, for approximately five
   years at that time. He had devoted himself to it and had become a
   companion of seclusion (istahaba ma'a l-'uzla) and forsworn all
   sects (nabadha kulla firqa). He met exclusively with me (tafarragha
   li) for reasons I have made clear in the book Tartib al-rihla. I
   studied all of his books with him (qara'tu 'alayhi jumlatan min
   kutubihi), and heard (sami'tu) his book, which he titled al-Ihya'
   li-'ulum al-din [sic]. (74)

Abu Bakr found al-Ghazali welcoming and took advantage of his seclusion, visiting him at all hours of the day and evening, freely questioning him, and receiving private instruction from one of the greatest minds of the age. This was certainly an honor worth mentioning, as many of the great scholars of Baghdad, such as Ibn 'Aqil and Ibn al-Khattab, had profited from al-Ghazali's teaching by attending his public lectures. (75) Abu Bakr describes a certain intimacy with his master, visiting him at mealtimes, and being met in either fine or worn clothes (kana fi bazzatihi aw badhlatihi). (76) The description of such informality is significant: theirs was a meeting of the minds to which any formality was superfluous, in marked contrast to his meeting with al-Qasim b. 'Abd al-Rahman in Bijaya--the value of their meeting was that of mutual enjoyment of a rarified and elegant decorum, a different type of intimacy. Clearly Abu Bakr had gained a practical mastery of a different set of social conventions in addition to his intellectual mastery of religious sciences in the course of his training to become an 'alim and a faqih.

Al-Ghazali was also impressed with his student. He writes of Abu Bakr,

The shaykh and imam Abu Bakr achieved a quantity of knowledge in the course of his frequent visits to me that others do not achieve in all their lives (ma'a tul al-amad). This is because of the golden discernment and clever sensibility he possesses and the fire of his genius (ittiqad al-qariha). When he leaves Iraq he will certainly be capable of undertaking independent legal reasoning (ma yakhruj min al-'Iraq illa huwa mustaqill bi-nafsihi), distinguished among his peers (ha'iz qasb al-sabaq bayna qiranihi). (77)

This estimate of Abu Bakr's talents are found in a letter al-Ghazali wrote to Yusuf b. Tashfin with the objective of convincing the Almoravid ruler of the worth of 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr. In this we can see the confluence of Abu Bakr's efforts with those of his father. While 'Abd Allah solicited the support of the politically powerful, Abu Bakr sought documents from prominent religious scholars that would please the Almoravid rulers while recommending Abu Bakr and his father. Given the deference the Almoravids showed to the fuqaha', this was doubtless a clever strategy.

In addition to this letter in praise of Yusuf b. Tashfin and Sir b. Abi Bakr, al-Ghazali wrote a fatwa giving legal sanction to the Almoravids' overthrow of the ta'ifa regimes. (78) In the letter he carefully links his praise for the Almoravids to the trustworthiness and virtue of his source of information on their praiseworthy deeds, namely, 'Abd Allah. This is the same rhetoric as that found in the letter of the 'Abbasid wazir and the implication is clear: a rejection of 'Abd Allah means an invalidation of the letter writer's endorsement. Al-Ghazali also emphasizes the loyalty of the two Sevillians to the Almoravids and the esteem they enjoy in the caliphal court. Despite the caliph having invited 'Abd Allah to stay at his court in Baghdad, al-Ghazali writes, he insisted on returning to his homeland where he was needed to wage jihad. (79) Al-Ghazali concludes by seconding the wazir's counsel that 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr be restored to their previous position, writing: "As the virtuous say, treat well those over whom you have triumphed" (wa-qad qala al-muhsinun: fal-yastawsi bi-man zafara bihima khayrari). (80)


Having left Seville seven years earlier, (81) bereft of their property and status, to the jeering of their enemies, 'Abd Allah and Abu Bakr now felt it in their power to return and reclaim some of what they had lost. 'Abd Allah had obtained documents that would doubtless be much prized by the new rulers of al-Andalus, making official their claim to rule in the name of the 'Abbasid caliph. Abu Bakr had gained a mastery of religious sciences as they were practiced in the more sophisticated central Islamic lands, and in the process he had also acquired the habitus of the scholarly elite. He had been certified capable of ijtihad by the eminent Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and had obtained from him a fatwa legitimating the Almoravid seizure of al-Andalus, a document that should be valued by a ruler who prided himself on consulting with fuqaha'. With this precious capital the two set out for home.

They arrived in Alexandria in 492/1099, likely intending to make the journey by sea back to al-Andalus. Instead, 'Abd Allah became ill and died there in Muharram 493 (November-December 1099). To have his father and traveling companion die on the brink of return, the end of a long exile in sight, was no doubt a cruel blow to Abu Bakr. The father and mentor of his youth had become a comrade in the course of their travels together, someone of whom he could write that he was a "father in rank, but a brother in companionship" (ab fi l-rutba wa-akh fi-l-suhba). (82)

In Alexandria Abu Bakr stayed with al-Turtushi, who had taken up residence there. He seems to have felt some disillusionment when he first saw his former master again. In Jerusalem the two of them had agreed to draw their happiness from knowledge and to live as ascetics, but in Alexandria he found al-Turtushi sleeping in a bed and eating a dish called mulawwaf. (83) Abu Bakr asked him, "What was it that we pledged to do?" To which al-Turtushi replied, "I didn't request these things, but when they came to me, I accepted them." (84)

They also argued about living in Fatimid Egypt. Abu Bakr saw it as a center of blameworthy innovation (bid'a), which he strongly condemned, and he encouraged al-Turtushi to come with him to al-Andalus. Al-Turtushi rejected this suggestion:
   As for the land of the Maghrib, all of them are on a single path,
   ignorance has taken possession of them, scholarly imitation
   (taqlid) has spread among them, and they have abstained from
   rationalism (zahadu fi l-nazar). An Umayyad disposition and a
   traditional culture (sirat umawiyya wa-nash'a taqlidiyya) have
   hindered them from possessing this and if you were to live among
   them, you would live as one lost along with them. (85)

The two of them discussed Abu Bakr's staying on, but Abu Bakr reluctantly decided to go back to al-Andalus since returning to his mother--whose only child he was--was a religious duty. Other considerations may well have played a role, however. The very intellectual marginality of al-Andalus meant that Abu Bakr could use the cutting-edge Eastern religious knowledge he now possessed to gain status and prestige, which he did with great success.

He set out from Alexandria and entered Tunis in Dhu l-Hijja 494 (September-October 1101). Here he enjoyed what seem to have been his last days living the life he had pledged to lead with al-Turtushi, spending twenty days with a community of ascetics where he felt he was in heaven (akhira). (86) He returned via Sijilmasa and Fez to Seville, where his learning had its desired effect; he was able to reclaim some of the prestige his father had enjoyed although it was not until Yusuf b. Tashfin's son Ibrahim served as governor of Seville, between 511/1118 and 516/1122, that the family property was restored to him at the urging of the respected judge Abu 'Ali al-Sadafi. (87)

The fuqaha' of al-Andalus had come to exercise an even greater influence on an official level since his departure. Each of the three administrative districts of al-Andalus--the East, the Middle, and the West--was under the supervision of a chief judge (qadi al-qudat), who oversaw a judicial hierarchy of the land and had administrative as well as legal responsibilities. (88) Abu Bakr was soon integrated into this hierarchy, being first appointed mushawwar, a legal consultant to the court in Seville, and then in 528/1134 appointed qadi al-qudat of the West (al-gharb), whose capital was Seville. (89) He had his social capital--the knowledge of religious sciences he obtained in the East--to thank for the status. He never ceases to draw attention to his knowledge in all of his writings, and, as has been noted, he frequently underscores the superiority of the East over the West and thus the superiority of the knowledge he gained there. Not content with disparaging only those who had not gone to study in the East, he makes a point of declaring that even among those who do seek knowledge there, most come away with a paltry supply. (90)

Abu Bakr also brought back knowledge in the tangible form of books, which he guarded jealously. He once read to an audience in either Fez or Tlemcen from Kitab Asrar Allah fi l-masa'il by al-Dabusi (d. 430/1039). A man in the audience asked a question about the book and Abu Bakr told him that the issue was advanced, while the man's understanding of religious science was basic, and therefore he would not answer him. Incensed, the man then traveled to Baghdad and studied the book in a Hanafi madrasa. Abu Bakr counts this as one of the wonders worked by his travels, though he is careful to point out that he had heard that the copy of the book the man brought back was full of errors and regrets that he did not come to see him to correct the faulty copy against his own superior one. (91) Books were more than containers of ideas; they were sources of distinction.

A report that Abu Bakr introduced al-Ghazali's Ihya' 'ulum al-din to al-Andalus and had to wipe his copy clean of ink when it was ordered burned in Cordoba in 503/1109 (92) is almost certainly not the case. In Siraj al-muridin, Abu Bakr gives a list of the books he brought back from the East and the Ihya' is not among them. (93) It could be argued that he wished to distance himself from al-Ghazali and the controversy surrounding him, but he lists four other books by his danishmand: Mihakk al-nazar fi l-mantiq, Mi'yar al-'ilm, Tahafut al-falasifa, and al-Iqtisad fi l-i'tiqad. It seems from Abu Bakr's own account of his visits with al-Ghazali that the latter had not yet finished the Ihya' before he left Baghdad for Tus. As quoted above, Abu Bakr declared that he had studied all of al-Ghazali's books with him and heard the Ihya' from him, which suggests that it was a work in progress. (94)


With the transition from the muluk al-tawa'if to the Almoravids, important changes came about in political legitimacy and the social practice of the elite. The courts of the ta'ifa rulers were overthrown and a new order emerged in which the cultural practices associated with them--poetry, music, and refined discussion of topics sacred and profane--lost much of their prestige to strictly religious learning, especially fiqh. Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi trained throughout his early life to gain a practical mastery of courtly culture so as to compete for status in the ta'ifa court. When this milieu was eclipsed, he instead had to gain the knowledge necessary to compete as a faqih.

He made this transition with great success through the knowledge he brought back from the East. Abu Bakr's student, Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 578/1183), reports that no one had ever brought to Seville such a quantity of knowledge from the East. (95) He displayed his knowledge in public theological debate (munazira), among other venues. (96) This display of his knowledge acquired during his rihla led to the restoration of his fortune and the judicial and political appointments described above.

Abu Bakr is quite frank about the relationship between knowledge and power, acknowledging the other side of the coin as well: "What an aid in gaining knowledge is political power!" (wa-ni'mat al-'awn 'ala l-'ilm al-ri'asa). (97) One of his students, described as a pious ascetic (zahid 'abid), stopped attending his lectures after three months because he always kept his mule by the door of the mosque in case he was summoned by the sultan. (98)

The prevailing image of the Almoravids as an uncultured and puritanical regime is exaggerated and overly based on the caricatured portrayal found in Almohad-era sources. Abu Bakr's self-reinvention did not result in the total exorcism of his refined courtly sensibilities, nor did his success under the Almoravids require this. Qadi 'Iyad describes his former teacher as "eloquent [...] a litterateur and a poet," talents to which his prose attests. (99) In Ibn Bashkuwal's words, "he joined with [his learning] refinement, good morals (adab wa-l-akhlaq), and conviviality (hasan al-ma'ashira)." (100) Nonetheless, his experiences in the East and his attraction to asceticism did leave their mark on him. The man whose father must have enjoyed many evenings of song in the court of al-Mu'tamid ordered the cheeks of a flutist punctured to prevent him from playing his instrument. (101) And he who spent his early youth cultivating an appreciation for personal elegance and beauty ordered that young men with overly ornate hairstyles be beaten and have their heads shaved. (102)

Thanks to his acquisition of the knowledge and norms of the religious scholar, Abu Bakr regained his family's position among the elite after the transition to the Almoravids. His many references to his rihla and his accomplishments in the East suggest, however, that he might never have felt secure in this position and needed to remind his audience regularly of his credentials. As it happens, he had reason to be anxious. Less than two years after his appointment as chief judge, Abu Bakr ordered the inhabitants of Seville to donate the fleeces of the sheep sacrificed for 'id al-adha so that the proceeds could go to the repair of the city walls. Angry citizens stormed his house and ransacked his library while he took refuge on the roof. (103) Abu Bakr had to leave his native Seville for Cordoba.

Abu Bakr survived this event, but not the next change of regime. When the Almoravids were defeated by the Almohads, Abu Bakr was summoned to Marrakesh and detained there for over a year. On his return to al-Andalus, he died in the saddle outside Fez, where his tomb can still be visited today. It seems fitting that a man whose life had been so profoundly formed by his travels should die on the road.



(1.) Muhammad al-Sulaymani (Slimani), the editor of Ibn al-'Arabi's Qanun al-ta'wil (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1990), cites four works that reproduce the passage containing this incident (pp. 84-85 n. 6).

(2.) Shipwreck was not an unheard-of fate among Andalusis traveling to the East for study. See Maria Luisa Avila, "The Search for Knowledge: Andalusi Scholars and Their Travels to the Islamic East," Medieval Prosopography 23 (2002): 127.

(3.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 89.

(4.) A different explanation of Abu Bakr's innovation has been given by Yann Dejugnat, "A l'ombre de la fitna, l'emergence d'un discours du voyage: A propos du Tartib al-rihla d'Abu Bakr ibn al-'Arabi (m. 1148)," Medievales 60 (2011): 88-89, 95, 97-99. He likewise focuses on the political turmoil of the Almoravids' extinguishing of the ta'ifa kingdoms as the impetus for Abu Bakr's journey to the East, joining the political and the religious in explaining Abu Bakr's motives as a quest to heal simultaneously the fitna of the Almoravid conquest and the fitna of his desire for the more sophisticated religious knowledge of the East. He subdues these twin fitnas through his meeting in Baghdad with the 'Abbasid caliph, the "exoteric imam," and al-Ghazali, the "esoteric imam," respectively. Dejugnat's literary analysis of Abu Bakr's rihla casts it as a Sufi's pursuit of the spiritual path (suluk) and finds in it strong influence and evocation of al-Ghazali's Ihya' 'ulum al-din and Munqidh min al-dalal. I do not see these parallels with al-Ghazali's work.

(5.) Writing about scholars of the ninth and tenth centuries treated in the biographical dictionary of Ibn Harith al-Khushani, Akhbar al-fuqaha' wa-l-muhaddithin, Maria Luisa Avila ("The Search for Knowledge," 126) notes that 225 of 527 scholars are recorded as having traveled to the East to study.

(6.) Houari Touati, Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages, tr. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2010), 226-27, 246-50.

(7.) Al-Fath Ibn Khaqan, Matmah al-anfus (Egypt: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1916), 62. Cited in Sa'id A'rab. Ma'a l-qadi Abi Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1987), 10.

(8.) For discussions of the conversation topics appropriate to a majlis al-uns, see Cynthia Robinson, In Praise of Song: The Making of Courtly Culture in al-Andalus and Provence, 1005-1134 A.D. (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 67. On the qualities expected of a participant in a majlis al-uns, 70-71, 79.

(9.) Robinson (In Praise of Song, 48) reproduces a poetic description of al-Turaya by al-Mu'tamid's court poet, Ibn Zaydun.

(10.) Ihsan 'Abbas ("Rihlat Abi Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi kama sawwarahu Qanun al-ta'wil," al-Abhath 21 [1968]: 62-63) has written that Abu Bakr's education was entirely normal for his day, noting that in his later years he called for children to be educated differently, saving their studies of the Quran until later in life when they would be better equipped to understand what they were memorizing. But his early instruction cannot be considered entirely normal. Clearly, few families could afford to have their children accompanied by personal tutors from dawn to dusk, and to put expensive instruments such as astrolabes at their disposal. Muhammad Ya'la (Tres textos arabes sobre bereberes en el occidente islamico [Madrid: CSIC, 1996], 46) writes that Abu Bakr "recibia, en casa, una ensenanza primaria especial, conforme al sistema educativo adoptado por la elite sevillana."

(11.) For an example of how such knowledge, especially astronomy, was put to use in sessions of courtly pleasure, see 'Abd Allah Ibn Buluqqin, Mudhakkirat al-amir 'Abd Allah akhir muluk bani Ziri bi-Gharnata al-musamma bi-Kitab al-Tibyan, ed. E. Levi-Provencal (Egypt: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1955), 178-203. In the introduction of this final chapter, Ibn Buluqqin writes that he will reproduce some of his poetry that his secretaries (kataba) used to recite at "sessions of celebration and relaxation" (majalis al-ihtifal wa-l-rahat, although not majlis al-uns, the description makes clear that this is a slightly different term for the sort of intimate session described by Robinson). In fact, he reproduces very little poetry but a good deal of learned discussion of astrology, astronomy, natural philosophy, wine drinking, and medicine. He relates a story in which a wise man (hakim) was once seen with a Quran on his right side and an astrolabe on his left. When asked why he combined the two, he replied, "In the Quran I read God's words, while in the astrolabe I reflect on God's creation. Indeed, astronomy is a form of worship" (Tibyan, 190; tr. Amin T. Tibi, The Tibyan: Memoirs of 'Abd Allah b. Buluggin Last Ziryid Amir of Granada [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986], 183).

(12.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 73.

(13.) 'Ammar Talibi (Ara' Abi Bakr bin al-'Arabi al-kalamiyya [Algiers: al-Sharika al-Wataniyya li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawzi', n.d.], 1: 30) notes that Abu Bakr writes of his experiences in Qanun al-ta'wil in an eloquent style but sometimes indulges in the use of eccentric language to demonstrate his command of the language and all of its irregularities.

(14.) Qadi 'Iyad, al-Ghunya: Fihrist shuyukh al-qadi 'Iyad, ed. Mahir Zuhayr Jarran (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1402/1982), 66.

(15.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 76-77. I would like to thank Lahsan Haddushaan of Dar al-Hadith al-Hassaniyya for calling my attention to the relationship between al-Baji and al-Simnani and to the significance of Abu Bakr's reference to al-Simnani's books on theological debating.

(16.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 74.

(17.) For Robinson's discussion of this worldview, see In Praise of Song, 236-58.

(18.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 81. Robinson (In Praise of Song, 70-71) points out that Ibn Khaqan, chronicler of the world of the aesthetes of fifth/eleventh-century al-Andalus, describes almost everyone as possessing beauty and knowledge. Despite being the "glory of his age," al-Qasim left no traces in the biographical literature, likely because his glory lay in his aesthetic refinement rather than religious learning of the sort memorialized in the biographical dictionaries (Muhammad Sulaymani [Qanun al-ta'wil, 81 n. 2] found no entries on al-Qasim in any of the biographical dictionaries).

(19.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 81-82.

(20.) Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), 83. There is a suggestion that Yusuf b. Tashfrn did gain a taste for luxury in a letter written to him by Abu Bakr al-Turtushi, who admonishingly tells the amir that he heard that he was dressing in fineries and indulging his appetites (Ya'la, Tres textos arabes, 324. Future citations of this letter will refer to an abbreviated form of Kitab Shawahid al-jilla wa-l-a'yan fi mashahid al-islam wa-l-buldan, one of Ya'la's three texts). 'Ismat Dandash ("Dirasa hawl rasa'il Ibn al-'Arabi wa-llati tusammi bi-rihlat Abi Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi," al-Manahil 9 [1977]: 151) expresses surprise at this, citing Rawd al-qirtas and al-Hulal al-mawshiyya as evidence for Yusuf's ascetic behavior, and claims that there is no evidence to the contrary other than al-Turtushi's letter. Ihsan 'Abbas ("al-Janib al-siyasi min rihlat Ibn al-'Arabi ila l-Mashriq," al-Abhath 16 [1963]: 229-30) suggests that al-Turtushi is responding to new information that had reached him from the Maghrib. It seems likely that this is simply a trope, the sort of thing that an ascetic was expected to tell an earthly ruler. Ironically, when Abu Bakr met al-Turtushi again in Alexandria in 493-494/1099-1100 (during which time this letter was written), he found occasion to criticize al-Turtushi for lapses in his vow of asceticism, as will be seen below.

(21.) Maria Jesus Viguera Molins et al., El retroceso territorial de al-Andalus: Almoravides y Almohades, siglos XI al XIII (vol. 8/2 of Historia de Espana, ed. R. M. Pidal) (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1997), 55.

(22.) In his letter to Yusuf b. Tashfin, al-Ghazali writes that 'Abd Allah Ibn al-'Arabi had told him that Yusuf honored ahl al-'ilm and followed the prescriptions of their fatwas. Shawahid al-jilla, 310.

(23.) A certain Abu Bakr and Ibn Zaydun, son of the famous court poet, died in the defense of Cordoba in 484/1091.

(24.) The general in charge of the siege of Seville, Sir Ibn Abi Bakr, remarked, "Had I been attacking the very city of polytheism [i.e., Christianity], it would not have put up such resistance" (Tibyan, 171; tr. Memoirs, 168).

(25.) A'rab, Ma'a l-qadi, 11.

(26.) Al-Mu'tamid died in 488/1095. See Tibi, Memoirs, 270 n. 625.

(27.) Sa'id A'rab (Ma'a l-qadi, 13) suggests that this was the case.

(28.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 75.

(29.) Not believing that the hajj was the main objective of their leaving al-Andalus, Ihsan 'Abbas ("al-Janib al-siyasi," 219) cites Ibn Farhun, who says that it was.

(30.) There were some who traveled to the East at an even younger age. One Ibn al-Qallas set out at the age of thirteen in 283/896. The youth of such travelers is always noted and they are always accompanied by their fathers. Avila, "The Search for Knowledge," 131-33.

(31.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 77-78.

(32.) This understanding of Abu Bakr's strategy in his rihla was first suggested by Maribel Fierro, "La Religion," in Molins et al., El retroceso territorial (Historia de Espana, ed. Pidal, 8/2), 439. Fierro was inspired in turn by Michael Chamberlain, Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), which has also influenced my reading of Abu Bakr's career.

(33.) The fact that he never ceased to recount his travels demonstrates their centrality to the status he acquired upon his return to al-Andalus. In several of his works Abu Bakr refers to Tartib al-rihla for a full account of his journey. In "Rihlat Ibn al-'Arabi" (pp. 59-60) Ihsan 'Abbas lamented the loss of this work. Muhammad Ya'la (Tres textos arabes, 54) suggests that we may have the entirety of Tartib al-rihla at our disposal between the account of the journey in the beginning of Qanun al-ta'wil and the reproduction of documents in support of the Almoravids written by the 'Abbasid caliph, al-Ghazali, and al-Turtushi found in Shawahid al-jilla, but this is not the case.

Because Abu Bakr refers readers to his account of his journey in writings written long after his return to al-Andalus, such as al-'Awasim min al-qawasim and Siraj al-muridin, a sign that the book was still extant at the time, Tartib al-rihla must have been lost relatively late in his career. In Siraj al-muridin, Abu Bakr discusses his reasons for returning to al-Andalus after the death of his father, referring his reader to Tartib al-rihla for a fuller discussion of his reasoning. There is no such discussion in either Qanun al-ta'wil or Shawahid al-jilla, which shows that unique material was lost along with the book. Siraj al-muridin exists only in manuscript and is quoted here from Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 59. Houari Touati (Islam and Travel, 247) suggests that Tartib al-rihla was lost when Abu Bakr's house was ransacked in Seville.

(34.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 79-80. With little knowledge of religious sciences at this point, he refrains from judging the talents of the leading personalities of Almeria in legal questions and readings of the Quran (masa'il wa-qira'at), but he does feel qualified to dismiss the city's litterateurs as "mediocre in status, between the levels of inferiority and perfection."

(35.) The date and length of stay is attested to in al-(Awasim min al-qawasim', see Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 32. Abu Bakr's assessment of the state of learning under the Fatimids is given in Qanun al-ta'wil, 89-90.

(36.) Fa-laha li badr al-ma'rifa (Qanun al-ta'wil, 91).

(37.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 94-96. Abu Bakr shows a special interest in the Christian population of Palestine. He writes of having discussions (nufawid) with the Karramiyya, Mu'tazilites, Anthropomorphists, and Jews, but of debating the Christians (khasamna al-nasara). He comments that the countryside belonged to them, and notes that they filled the monasteries and churches. His interest likely stems from the danger in al-Andalus of newly aggressive and militarily effective Christian polities in the north of the Iberian peninsula.

(38.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 35, from al-'Awasim min al-qawasim.

(39.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 97-98.

(40.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 92-93.

(41.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 58, drawn from Ahkam al-Qur'an.

(42.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 94-95.

(43.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 102-3.

(44.) Avila, "The Search for Knowledge," 136. For an extensive discussion of how the wealthy and the poor financed their travels for study, as well as the hunger and deprivation suffered by the latter, see Touati, Islam and Travel, 80-96.

(45.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 75.

(46.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 116.

(47.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 107-8.

(48.) One Ibn Sa'Id (d. 685/1286), a Granadan who twice visited the East, wrote in verse to capture his feelings upon entering Egypt: "Voici l'Egypte, mais ou es-tu Maghreb? Depuis qu'il est loin de moi, mes yeux versent des pleurs. Mon ame l'a quitte par ignorance; on ne connait le valeur d'une chose que lorsqu'on l'a perdue." Gilies Potiron, "Un polygraphe andalou du XIIIe siecle," Arabica 13 (1966): 147.

(49.) In a letter from this period to a Khurasanl, Ibn 'Aqil describes his native Baghdad in impressive terms while promising his addressee that he will avoid mention of things that, while true, might seem so amazing as to defy credibility. He limits himself to the description of his own quarter, which he says is only one of ten, each the size of a Syrian town. See George Makdisi, "The Topography of Eleventh Century Bagdad: Materials and Notes (I)," Arabica 6 (1959): 185-95.

(50.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 109-10.

(51.) Abu l-Hasan came to Seville in 483/1090, and 'Abd Allah in his capacity of wazir was assigned by al-Mu'tamid to host him. Abu Bakr noted (Qanun al-ta'wil, 115), "My father honored him to the utmost. He convened for him our circle for hearing hadith (wa-'aqada 'alayhi majlisana fi sama') and forewent his theological debate in his mosque for [the sake of attending to] him (wa-takhalla lahu 'an munazaratihi fi masjidihi) and the man left us content."

(52.) Different terminology is used to refer to the document that 'Abd Allah brought back from the caliph al-Mustazhir for Yusuf b. Tashfin: Ibn Khaldun has 'ahd al-khilafa (see Levi-Provencal, "Le titre souverain des Almoravides et sa legitimation par le califat 'abbaside," Arabica 2 [1955]: 269); al-Ghazali uses the term taqlid, "appointment" (an answer from the caliph had not yet been received when al-Ghazali wrote his letter); and the wazir Ibn al-Jahir, writing in the name of the caliph, speaks of 'aqd al-wilaya, "contract of deputyship" (Shawahid al-jilla, 296).

(53.) According to Sa'id A'rab (Ma'a l-qadi, 35); but Ihsan 'Abbas argues for a different date, viz., a year later, 490/1097. 'Abbas points out that in Qanun al-ta'wil Abu Bakr notes his arrival in Baghdad and his studies, including his meeting with al-Ghazali--which, we know from al-'Awasim min al-qawasim (p. 24), occurred Jumada II 490 (May-June 1097)--but makes no mention of his studies being interrupted by the hajj. 'Abbas's case is compelling, but 489/1096 as the year in which Abu Bakr and his father performed pilgrimage is confirmed by Ibn Bashkuwal (Kitab al-Sila, ed. I. al-Abyari [Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Misri, and Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, 1989], 3: 856), and conclusive evidence against it, as we will see below, is a letter that al-Ghazali wrote to Yusuf ibn Tashfin testifying that Abu Bakr and his father publicly praised the Almoravids in Mecca while on pilgrimage. Al-Ghazali left Baghdad in the summer of 490/1097, before the hajj (one of his Persian letters shows that he was back in Tus by Dhu 1-Hijja 490). See Frank Griffel, al-Ghazali's Philosophical Theology (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), 49.

(54.) Shawahid al-jilla, 211-12. This account is given by al-Ghazali in his letter to Yusuf b. Tashfin. It is possible or even likely that 'Abd Allah also publicly praised Yusuf b. Tashfin by name, but in al-Ghazali's letter there is specific mention only of Sir b. Abi Bakr, though an earlier use of the term amir could refer to Yusuf. Of course, as a Sevillian, it would be in his interest to win the favor of Sir, the governor of Seville.

(55.) Ihsan 'Abbas ("al-Janib al-siyasi," 220) suggests that 'Abd Allah was convinced to invoke prayers upon the Almoravids by reports he heard from Maghribi pilgrims of Yusuf's actions in al-Andalus--in particular one qadi Ibn Qasim whom Abu Bakr writes of having met in 491/1098 and who had much praise for Yusuf b. Tashfin--and did so in all sincerity. But this would have been after Abu Bakr and 'Abd Allah went on pilgrimage.

(56.) Ihsan 'Abbas, "al-Janib al-siyasi," 219.

(57.) Muhammad Ya'la, Tres textos arabes, 49, citing A. H Kattani, Levi-Provencal, Ihsan 'Abbas, H. Mu'nis, M. J. Viguera, 'I. Dandash, and S. A'rab as having concluded that the mission was unofficial.

(58.) 'Abd Allah could have heard about this failed mission while he and Abu Bakr were staying in Alexandria, however, and was inspired to add it to their agenda.

(59.) G. Vajda, "L'aventure tragique d'un cadi maghrebin en Egypte fatimide," Arabica 15 (1968): 1-5, who cites Ibn al-Abbar's Takmilat al-sila, in which it is written that al-Raba'i was killed because of some writings (kutub) that were found with him from the 'Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadi bi-amr Allah to the amir of the Maghrib. Ibn al-Abbar does not specify that an 'ahd from the caliph for Yusuf b. Tashfin was among these writings.

(60.) Shawahid al-jilla, 279-90. According to Levi-Provencal ("Le titre souverain," 276), 'Abd Allah's letter "conforms entirely to the manner of the chancellery scribes: exaggerated use of invocatory formulae, consistent use of indirect style, affected writing, abuse of cliches characteristic of mi/."

(61.) Shawahid al-jilla, 286-87.

(62.) Shawahid al-jilla, esp. 289, but also 282, 285. This could be taken to indicate either that they are official delegates or that 'Abd Allah wished to create as much of an official aura around their visit to the caliph as possible, a point made by Levi-Provencal ("Le titre souverain," 276).

(63.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 77-78.

(64.) Shawahid al-jilla, 283-86.

(65.) Shawahid al-jilla, 288-89.

(66.) Levi-Provencal, "Le titre souverain," 278.

(67.) 'Abd Allah does not ask for a title for Yusuf, but writes that it is up to the caliph, "to order that he be honored, that his hopes be accepted, and that he be designated for that which strengthens his situation and fortifies his resolve."

(68.) Shawahid al-jilla, 296.

(69.) The wording in Muhammad Ya'la's edition of Shawahid al-jilla is wa-la-yatawakhkha ma ta'ud min bi-istiqama sha'nihima. This is clearly an error. It makes more sense to omit the preposition bi- and to retain the preposition min.

(70.) Here, too, Ya'la's edition errs in rendering la-yubaddilhuma. In Dandash's edition ("Dirasa hawl rasa'il Ibn al-'Arabi," 169) it is clear that it should be two words: la-yabdu lahuma.

(71.) Shawahid al-jilla, 298. I would like to thank Maurice Pomerantz for his advice on translating diplomatic correspondence.

(72.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 111.

(73.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 111.

(74.) Al-'Awasim min al-qawasim, 24.

(75.) Mustapha Hogga, Orthodoxie, subversion et reforme en Islam: Gazali et les seljuqides (Paris: J. Vrin, 1993), 23. Hogga cites Ibn al-Jawzi's al-Muntazam year 505.

(76.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 112.

(77.) Shawahid al-jilla, 312.

(78.) The two documents seem authentic. Abu Bakr reproduced documents from five different authors: his father; the caliph al-Mustazhir; the wazir Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Jahir, who served between 484/1092 and 493/1100; al-Ghazali; and Abu Bakr al-Turtushi. Each of these documents differs from the others in style and tone, suggesting that they were indeed written by different authors. The letters written in Iraq all contain commendation for 'Abd Allah, while al-Turtushi's, written in Alexandria after his death, does not. Both al-Ghazali and al-Turtushi give examples of model rulership from the past. Al-Ghazali's are taken from brief hadith, while al-Turtushi's are long stories about the actions of the rashidun caliphs.

(79.) Shawahid al-jilla, 312.

(80.) Shawahid al-jilla, 313.

(81.) According to Maria Luisa Avila ("The Search for Knowledge," 135) the average stay of Andalusis studying in the East was between four and seven years.

(82.) Shawahid al-jilla, p. 277.

(83.) I have been unable to locate any mention of this dish and am assuming the word is voweled thus.

(84.) Quoted in Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 58. The exchange was found in a manuscript of Siraj al-muridin.

(85.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 59, from Siraj al-muridin.

(86.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 59, from Siraj al-muridin.

(87.) Vincent Lagardere, "La haute judicature a Pepoque Almoravide en al-Andalus," al-Qantara 7 (1986): 207.

(88.) Vincent Lagardere ("La haute judicature," 137) has noted that the terminology for the appointment of a qadi changed in this period. The word for an official appointment of a judge was istinaba, but under the Almoravids either taqlid or tawliyya was used for the appointment of a qadi, just as it was for the appointment of any other functionary in the administration. This suggests that judges were fully integrated into the Almoravid administration.

(89.) Ibn al-Qattan, Nazm al-juman li-tartib ma salafa min akhbar al-zaman, ed. Muhammad 'Ali Makki (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1990), 34.

(90.) See Shawahid al-jilla, 275-77.

(91.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 60.

(92.) Ibn al-Qattan, Nazm al-juman, 71.

(93.) The list is taken from an excerpt of Siraj al-muridin published at the end of 'Ammar Talibi's edition of al-Awasim min al-qawasim, 377-79.

(94.) Al-'Awasim min al-qawasim, 24.

(95.) Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitab al-Sila, 3: 856.

(96.) A'rab, Ma'a l-qadi, 83.

(97.) Qanun al-ta'wil, 116.

(98.) Al-Maqqari, Nafh al-tib (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1968), 2: 29.

(99.) Qadi 'Iyad, al-Ghunya, 68. For examples of Abu Bakr's poetry, see al-Maqqari, Nafh al-tib, 2: 26-28. His eloquence in his account of his journey to the East in Qanun al-ta'wil has been referred to above.

(100.) Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitab al-Sila, 3: 856.

(101.) Al-Maqqari, Nafh al-tib, 2: 29: wa-qad rawa 'anhu annahu amara bi-thaqb ashdaq zamirin.

(102.) Talibi, Ara' Abi Bakr, 63. According to Abu Bakr, he did so to cut these young men off from their goals of rebelliousness and sin (ma'siya and fusuq). Such a punishment was mandatory as long as it did not leave a mark on the body. The passage is quoted from Ahkam al-Qur'an, but an edition to which I do not have access.

(103.) A'rab, Ma'a l-qadi, 86-87. See also al-Maqqari, Nafh al-tib, 2: 27.
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Author:Garden, Kenneth
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Date:Jan 1, 2015
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