Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Heretical Doctor, Ibn al-Khatib (Part 2)

We All Fall Down, my latest release, features the central character Ibn al-Khatib in The Heretic. As revealed in my previous post, he suffered a great tragedy just when his star seemed poised to rise. But luckily for him, Ibn al-Khatib had a mentor on whom he could rely.

Ibn al-Khatib overcomes his first great adversity

Were it not for the aid of his former teacher Ibn al-Jayyab, a young Ibn al-Khatib might not have achieved his goals. Born approximately in November 1274, Ibn al-Jayyab came from a prominent family of Granada, the capital of the Nasrid Dynasty. He served among the ministerial body which advised the sultans through the reigns of Muhammad II, his sons Muhammad III and Abu'l-Juyush Nasr, their maternal nephew Ismail I and his sons Muhammad IV and Yusuf IV.

The Nasrid council chamber
Having been one of Ibn al-Khatib's tutors, Ibn al-Jayyab then became a comfort to his disciple. Ibn al-Jayyab had also endured his own terrible loss at some indeterminate time; the death of his son Abu'-l-Qasim. The pair bereft of beloved family members relied upon each other, the mutual, spiritual adoption of a foster father and son. With the aid of Ibn al-Jayyab, Ibn al-Khatib ascended to his first important role. He became the personal secretary of Sultan Yusuf I, responsible for the monarch's correspondence. Alongside his duties, Ibn al-Khatib wrote about the origins of the royal family based at Granada's Alhambra Palace; he completed the work around August 1341. He also continued recitations of poetry in honor of Yusuf on special occasions.

Ibn al-Khatib's family

While the life of a courtier and ministerial responsibilities must have kept him busy, Ibn al-Khatib had another personal important role; ensuring the continuation of his family line. With the loss of his elder brother in battle, he needed a wife. Unfortunately, he could not rely on the proposed match between his foster father and that man's daughter. Instead, Ibn al-Khatib married a woman named Iqbal.

Little is known of her except the sons she provided her husband and her likely date of death. Since his contrivance to marry into the families of Granada's ruling elite had failed, we can assume Iqbal did not number among their ranks. The union must have occurred at least by the autumn of 1342, because on July 22 of the following year, Iqbal gave birth to Ibn al-Khatib's first son, Abd Allah. Two other boys followed, Muhammad and Ali. Records of their names survive because of their circumcisions, an important ritual for medieval Muslim boys, which took place on November 8, 1348. No doubt, Ibn al-Khatib would have made certain each of his sons pursued the same scholarly path he had taken.

Ibn al-Khatib's evolving role at court

While in service to the sultan, Ibn al-Khatib became closer to Yusuf I. At his side for two major Nasrid military campaigns against Christians forces southeast of Sevilla, Ibn al-Khatib celebrated the ruler's victory during April 1343. In the spring of 1347, from April 29 until May 20, he accompanied the monarch on a tour of the eastern portion of the Nasrid kingdom and wrote of their travels. He gave vivid descriptions of the Moors in his land.

Alhambra Palace's southern gate
Ibn al-Khatib and his fellow council members would have ensured the planning for Alhambra Palace's great southernmost gate, known erroneously now as the Gate of Justice, which later opened in June 1348. The ministers also knew of construction of the sultan's new religious school, which would end April 1349. The relic still stands near the entrance of what was once Muslim Granada's silk marketplace, Alcaiceria.

The arrival of the Black Death

Something happened that likely interfered with the plans of Yusuf I. Whether or not the Moors anticipated, an invasion of their land would soon begin, which would terrify them and their Christian adversaries. Off Spain's southeastern coast in December 1347, the Balearic island of Mallorca witnessed the first ravages of a new virulent plague that had spread eastward. By May 1348, Barcelona and Tarragona became affected, before the disease entered Valencia. Nobles, clergy, and ordinary citizens died.

The Muslims of Granada must have heard of these incidents of the Black Death, but what did they think of them? They were familiar with earlier instances of plague. By March and April, there were also deaths in places where seaborne trade occurred with Morocco. It seemed the Moorish people would be resigned to their fates if the Black Death encroached on them because of their religious beliefs, which included the following about plague, "It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whoever he wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him but what Allah has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.”

The summer of 1348 showed the Muslims of Spain were as unprepared as anyone else for the horrific toll the epidemic took. The Black Death arrived on the eastern coast of the Iberian peninsula at the town of Almería. There, a native of the town and another disciple of Ibn al-Jayyab, called Ibn Khatima, observed the first deaths and wrote about the occurrence in a treatise, which also survives in Spain's Escorial library. Ten years younger than Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Khatima had been born in 1324 at Almería, where he practiced as a medical doctor. He indicated that on May 30, 1348, the Black Death claimed victims in a poor section of his birthplace. Eventually in his city alone, at least 70 persons died daily. At the time, the kingdom of Granada's inhabitants numbered 1.5 million.

In his subsequent treatise, Ibn Khatima wrote about the causes and symptoms of the plague. He also proposed some methods of treatment. Like many of their medieval counterparts, Islamic doctors believed in the theory of humors that could alter a person's physical condition. Ibn Khatima described the Black Death origins as "a consequence of a corruption of the humor or cardiac temperament, caused by the air alteration from its natural and innate state to heat and humidity...."

Ibn al-Khatib suffers a second personal loss

Whatever the source of the plague, its consequences would soon devastate Ibn Khatima and Ibn al-Khatib. From Almería, the Black Death cut across the peninsula, striking at Málaga in full through April to July 1439 and later Algeciras. Before the disease spread to those places, it may have claimed a victim in Granada, Ibn al-Khatib's beloved foster father and mentor, Ibn al-Jayyab. He died around January 15, 1349, in his 70's. Historians remain divided on whether he passed away because of the Black Death or during the time in which it befell the population of Spain.

The demise of the man who had nurtured his intellect, brought him into prominence at the side of Sultan Yusuf I, and treated him like a son must have burdened Ibn al-Khatib. In his grief, he composed an elegy for the master to whom he had devoted years of his life, which he recited at the grave side.

Yet, this incident would also not mean the end of Ibn al-Khatib's story.


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The Heretical Doctor, Ibn al-Khatib (Part 3)

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