This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
History 1510-090 Book Report- Leo Africanus How did Religion influence Leo’s personal life? I intend to explain how Leo‟s life, a historical character represented here in a historical novel, was affected through religion from the moment of his birth (1488) until the last year reported on the book (1527). Our journey will take us through some of the most important years in world history, encompassing events like the re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, the fall of Constantinople, Columbus‟ travel to the Americas, etc. The religions mentioned in the text will also shape Leo‟s world, giving him both advantages and problems as he grew and became part of the changing atmosphere of the late 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. Leo‟s initial verses read: “I, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weigh-master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African…” (Leo Africanus p.1). One of the things that helped me understand how important religion was to the development of this man was my own story. I too was born in AlAndalus, just a little west in the city of Seville and, having been raised Catholic, my family converted to the LDS religion later on. Hasan was defined by the religion he belonged to and, in 1488 he happened to be born a Moor, the power that at one point controlled all of Iberia except for a small part in the north east. The Moors had first come to the peninsula in 711 CE, and were part of a Judeo-Christian tradition system from which the three foremost religions in the world sprung.
Caballero Prieto |2
The religion of Islam was an expansionist one; although by the time Leo is born, the Christian powers under the guidance of various kings are almost at the pinnacle of the reconquering of Spain. Spanish tradition states that the process had it greatest push by the hand of an exiled Christian named El Cid, with the help, curiously enough, of a band of rebel Arabs. The future Spaniards had long claimed to be the prime example of Christendom; but how could it be so when their lands remained conquered by the Moor? Therefore, by 1488 only four years separate the conquest of Granada from fruitful ends. The internal squabbles amongst the Arab leaders help bring this end to pass. It was the Almoravids who initiated problems in the Iberian Peninsula at the time of El Cid, and now the fight for power continued despite the efforts of people like Astaghfirullah (in our book) to end the fighting amongst its own people. It is curious that this very nickname means “the act of seeking forgiveness from God”. The author implies that the Moor believers had allowed themselves to go astray and that this was the real cause of the conquest by the Christians. Indeed, in the very conquest of Granada a final power struggle had taken place. Abu‟l Hasan, the old ruler of Granada was replaced in a conflict with Boabdil (Abu 'abd-Allah Muhammad XII) after, many say, he was instigated by his mother to do so. In the views of Astaghfirullah, this infighting and the corruption of the Muslim tradition by the Granadans leads to the real reason for the city‟s fall. Boabdil came to power very late (it would seem 1490 by the book‟s reckoning) and he is in fierce negotiation with the Christians for the right to remain at Granada or give it up without a fight. Of course, the Andalusian Caliphate was seen as week, since they had been exiled there due to conquest by other rival Caliphates. The author of the book takes careful aim in order to allows us to know, through the eyes of Leo, how divided the Islamic world was. There is mention of the Sultan of Egypt, that of Constantinople, and the like,
Caballero Prieto |3
that adds further legitimacy to the theory of Islam having lost its expansionist capabilities not due to lack of power, but to the unfaithfulness of its servants and its internal divisions. These problems, begun during this time, ring true today in Iraq as we continue to see internal divisions between the Shiite and Sunni populations that constantly fight one another. One clear example of the corruption of Islam as portrayed in our book is given to us in Leo‟s own father, Mohammad. He falls in love with a slave girl name Warda, a Christian, whom he adds as one of his wives. While Muhammad is within the law in the sense that he has no more than the four wives allowed by his religion, he tends to ignore his main wife, Leo‟s mother; he cares more about the “believer of the book”, a fair skinned woman. We read that Mohammad goes mad over Warda when he loses her to her brother and is returned to her family in Murcia, a Kingdom East of Granada but not too far away. Here the tolerance of the Muslim population towards other religions is made evident. The Christians would not prove to be very tolerant conquerors. In 1492, Granada is conquered without a fight and Boabdil leaves a little later for Fez, a city in northwest Morocco to which many Andalusian Granadans flee. Although at first promises by the Catholic king and queen keep many Moors in Granada, those same promises held no safety for the Jewish population of the city. We see Judaism through the eyes of Sarah, an unimportant character in power but extremely relevant to the Moor family of Mohammad, and especially for his main wife Salma. Judaism is represented as a religion of soothsayers and commercial entrepreneurs who had no land to claim them. Hated by the Christians, as I have heard many times pronounced in some Catholic services in Spain, because of Judas Iscariot‟s betrayal of Jesus at the last supper, this population was discriminated against savagely. It would seem that Judas represented the Jews‟ willingness to betray a prophet of the three major religions
Caballero Prieto |4
in the world, thus rendering all Jewish people as the commercial traitors (Judas was apparently the treasurer of the Apostles) of one of the most important figures of all time. This biased and misrepresented view has unjustly provided a reason for Jews to be discriminated against through the centuries. Due to this generalization, the Jews are killed and scattered around in reminiscence earlier times. The Moors seem to be the only people that show them any level of accceptance; they allowed them to flourish through small business entrepreneurship, although high governmental positions were still restricted to them. All of this Sarah represents beautifully. In addition, it is Sarah of course, who most fears the Christians due to their reputed lack of tolerance for Jews. She will leave for Portugal while Leo‟s family lingers in Granada since, we are told, Mohammad is desperately trying to get back Warda from her family in Murcia. Khali, Leo‟s uncle, is another voice of Muslim reason in the book. Deeply rooted in the Moor religion he understands that the time of Granada is over and that moving is a priority. He counsels Mohammed to let Warda, who has a daughter named Mariam not much younger than Leo, be with her family and move. Islam dictates that no Moor should live under the yoke of another religion unless he had to for overpowering reasons. However, Mohammed listens to no counsel and even allows himself to be seen at a tavern by Hassan and his friend Haruk later on in the book, adding to the author‟s explanation of his lack of luck and lasting prosperity. While in Fez, Leo and his family find themselves in foreign yet friendly land: friendly because it is ruled by fellow believers; foreign, because it is strange and unfamiliar as it is being ruled by a different Caliphate. Boabdil himself is relinquished to the role of a rich personality rather than a ruler, although he continues to make visits as a Caliph to some of his former
Caballero Prieto |5
subjects. We read that many Moors in Granada are being attacked and dispossessed by the Christians, who do not tolerate their presence any longer. The patron saint of Spain, Santiago Matamoros (James the Moor-killer) takes on this re-conquest persona. His flag, a red cross upon a white background is seen used by many extremists like the Templars as well as represented in any enterprise the Spaniards took, including its depiction on the sails of the Pinta, Niña and Santa Maria that Columbus used to sail to the Americas. Today, Spaniards (and many other Europeans) travel to Galicia using the Camino de Santiago, or James‟ way, in order to visit the alleged bones of the saint, buried there after his death in Rome. It is no wonder that the Castilian and Aragenese Christians considered themselves in right to re-conquest Iberia in what was seen as a desecration of Catholic lands; they felt justified due to their ardent fervor in Catholicism. Leo‟s enterprises will follow the themes explained above. Wherever he goes, Moors are fighting other Muslims and the religion is in upheaval. Only the Ottomans seem to have control over their empire, and our main Character finds himself in opposition to them as he protects a Circassian woman named Nur (Book of Cairo, Year of the Circassian) who has a son destined, according to her, to overthrow the Ottoman Empire. Leo is taken back by this idea, since the Ottoman Muslim emerge as the defenders of Islam and promise the Granadans back their lands. In all senses the Ottomans are the Muslim heroes of this time. Finally, Leo is kidnapped by corsairs and taken to Rome. There, Pope Leo X instructs him in the ways of the Catholic Christians and baptizes him. This is a great double-standard but one excused by the character in his first page: “I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road, my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages” (Leo Africanus, p. 1). Thus Leo easily professes no loyalties. It is curious that his friend „Abbad does not convert, at least there is no mention of it, but we are shown his great piety when, in the
Caballero Prieto |6
corsair ship, he exclaims: “Al-hamdu l’illah! Let us thank God for all his blessings.” (Book of Rome, introduction). Again we see the contrast between the faithful Muslim and the more adaptable counterparts of Leo and his father. In the final Book of Rome, Leo is converted although with a sense of reluctance, to Christianity. He becomes an insider with the Medici family, which will cost him dearly when Pope Adrian VI comes to power. An unexpected turn of events has Leo involved in a sort of civil war between Roman Catholics and Lutheran sectarians. This conflict springs up after a series of manifestos are written by the monk Martin Luther (who would lend his name to another revolutionary hundreds of years later, Martin Luther King Jr.), and that fiercely opposed Rome‟s supposed lack of piety. In the eyes of the Lutherans Rome needs to be chastised by its wrongdoings, therefore the city is invaded by German Lutherans after Pope Clement VII, another Medici, takes over. Leo is saved by the hand of fate, represented by Hans, in the final chapter of the book, “The year of the Lansquenets”. Thus, we see that while being mostly guided by his traditional Muslim religion, this moor from Granada both enjoyed benefits as well as problems from the two other major religions in the world. It is true that both Christians and Muslim are the major players of our story, but one cannot ignore the influence of Judaism and the sects of Christianity that would help shape the world in future years. The sect created by Martin Luther, although unintended by the creator himself, became a religion in its own right when Henry the VIII adopted it as the main religion in Great Britain. This would lead the defenders of the Catholic Church, the Spanish, to attack the country (1588) and lose in the attempt, making England the new maritime superpower.
Caballero Prieto |7
Religion is the major mover during the years of Leo‟s writings, and we see that reflected in his life and in his actions. Although vaguely criticized by the author of the book in the shape of characters like Sheik , Astaghfirullah and „Abbad, who stay true to their core Muslim values come what may, Leo is a political and religious shifter that adapts to the changing world around him, a job easily learned by a political negotiator like himself. The success of his ability to morph as needed and to blend with the background he was pit against, made him both successful and a survivor when problems came. In the end, the book tells us that religion shaped the world in the 15th and 16th centuries, and if you could not adapt to it, you would take on the shape of a martyr or move away. One could almost say that religion is in our genes, the problem does not reside in belief, for all religions arguably make men better, but in how we believe. Wars, crusades, terrorism; they all happen only when men measure their religious fervor against the amount of blood staining their sword.
J. A. Caballero
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.