Friday, April 29, 2011

Muslim Captured by "Christian Pirates" : 1518

Let's watch all the parallels in our day and time what with "extraordinary renditions" via Big US planes of "ordinary" persons (foot soldiers) and "extraordinary" (scholars, business men, engineers)*** (SEE NOTE AT END) - many who profess the Muslim faith - who've been captured by bounty arranged between US and other nations and often not even charged. Then imprisoned in Guantanamo (many remaining there to this day) or sent to various black sites in Afghanistan, around the world and other areas for interrogations (still by some manner of torture or threat) and often under the auspices or instruction of the US CIA. Some prisoners are even "renditioned" to secret military ships supposedly out of rich by international law.

The title page of the 1600 English edition of Leo Africanus’s book on Africa.

Moroccan literature

Joannes Leo Africanus, (c. 1494 – c. 1554?) (or al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, Arabic:حسن ابن محمد الوزان الفاسي) was a Moorish diplomat and author who is best known for his book Descrittione dell’Africa (Description of Africa) describing the geography of North Africa.

Most of what is known about his life is gathered from autobiographical notes in his own work. Leo Africanus was born in Granada in around 1494 but his family moved to Fez soon after his birth. In Fez he studied at the University of Al Karaouine. As a young man he accompanied an uncle on a diplomatic mission to the Maghreb, reaching as far as the city of Timbuktu (c. 1510), then part of the Songhai Empire.

In 1517 when returning from a diplomatic mission to Constantinople on behalf of Sultan of Fez Muhammad II he found himself in Rosetta during the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. He continued with his journey through Cairo and Aswan and across the Red Sea to Arabia, where he probably performed a pilgrimage to Mecca.

On his way back to Tunis in 1518 he was captured by Spanish corsairs either near the island of Djerba or more probably near Crete. He was taken to Rome and initially imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo but when his captors realized his importance he was freed and presented to Pope Leo X. He was baptized in the Basilica of Saint Peter's in 1520. It is likely that Leo Africanus was welcomed to the papal court as the Pope feared that Turkish forces might invade Sicily and southern Italy, and a willing collaborator could provide useful information on North Africa.

Leo Africanus left Rome and spent the next three or four years traveling in Italy. While staying in Bologna he wrote an Arabic-Hebrew-Latin medical vocabulary, of which only the Arabic part has survived, and a grammar of Arabic of which only an eight page fragment has survived. He returned to Rome in 1526 under the protection of Pope Clement VII. According to Leo, he completed his manuscript on African geography in the same year. The work was published in Italian with the title Della descrittione dell’Africa et delle cose notabili cheiui sono, per Giovan Lioni Africano in 1550 by the Venetian publisher Giovanni Battista Ramusio.

The book proved to be extremely popular and was reprinted five times. It was also translated in other languages. French and Latin editions were published in 1556 while an English version was published in 1600 with the title A Geographical Historie of Africa. The Latin edition, which contained many errors and mistranslations, was used as the source for the English translation.

It is unlikely that Leo Africanus visited all the places that he describes and he must therefore have relied on information obtained from other travelers. In particular, it is doubtful whether he ever visited Hausaland and Bornu and it is even possible that he never crossed the Sahara but relied on information from other travelers that he met in Morocco.

At the time he visited the city of Timbuktu, it was a thriving Islamic city famous for its learning. Timbuktu was to become a byword in Europe as the most inaccessible of cities, but at the time Leo visited, it was the center of a busy trade carried on by traders in African products, gold, printed cottons and slaves, and in Islamic books. Nothing is known of Leo's later life.

According to one tradition, he left Rome shortly after the sack of the city in 1527 and is said to have died in 1554 in Tunis, having reconverted to Islam.

In fiction

A fictionalized account of his life, Leo Africanus, by Amin Maalouf, fills in key gaps in the story and places Leo Africanus in all of the prominent events of his time.

It has been suggested that William Shakespeare may have been inspired by Leo Africanus' book to create the character of Othello. See bio note in the Wikipedia entry: # 7. ^ Verde, Tom (2008), "A man of two worlds", Saudi Aramco World (January/February 2008): 2–9,

Other Notes (subject to further editing)

1. ^ Rauchenberger 1999, p. 26
2. ^ a b Masonen 2001
3. ^ Leo Africanus 1896, p. v Vol. 1. He was 12 years old when the Portuguese captured the port of Safi on the coast of Morocco in 1507 and 16 years old when he visited Timbuktu in 1509-1510.
4. ^ He took the names Joannes Leo de Medicis (Latin), Giovanni Leone (Italian), and Yuhanna al-Asad al-Gharnati (Arabic).
5. ^ Leo Africanus 1600; Leo Africanus 1896
6. ^ Fisher 1978
7. ^ Verde, Tom (2008), "A man of two worlds", Saudi Aramco World (January/February 2008): 2–9,


* Fisher, Humphrey J. (1978), "Leo Africanus and the Songhay conquest of Hausaland", International Journal of African Historical Studies (Boston University African Studies Center) 11 (1): 86–112, doi:10.2307/217055, JSTOR 217055, . Link requires subscription to Jstor.
* Masonen, Pekka (2001), "Leo Africanus: the man with many names", Al-Andalus Magreb 8-9: 115–144, .
* Rauchenberger, Dietrich (1999), Johannes Leo der Afrikaner: seine Beschreibung des Raumes zwischen Nil und Niger nach dem Urtext, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, ISBN 3447041722 .
* Leo Africanus (1600), A Geographical Historie of Africa, written in Arabicke and Italian. Before which is prefixed a generall description of Africa, and a particular treatise of all the lands undescribed. Translated and collected by John Pory, London: G. Bishop . The first translation into English.
* Leo Africanus (1896), The History and Description of Africa (3 Vols), Brown, Robert, editor, London: Hakluyt Society . Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3. The original text of Pory's 1600 English translation together with an introduction and notes by the editor.

[edit] Further reading

* Davis, Natalie Zemon (2007), Trickster Travels: a sixteenth-century Muslim between worlds, New York: Hill and Wang, ISBN 0809094355 .
* Jean-Léon l'Africain (1956), Description de l'Afrique: Nouvelle édition traduite de l'italien par Alexis Épaulard et annotée par Alexis Épaulard, Théodore Monod, Henri Lhote et Raymond Mauny (2 Vols), Paris: Maisonneuve . A scholarly translation into French with extensive notes.
* Hunwick, John O. (1999), Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh al-Sudan down to 1613 and other contemporary documents, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 9004112073 Pages 272-291 contain a translation into English of Leo Africanus's descriptions of the Middle Niger, Hausaland and Bornu. Corresponds to Épaulard 1956 Vol II pages 463-481.

Personal data
Name Africanus, Joannes Leo
Alternative names al-Wazzan al-Fasi, Hasan bin Muhammed
Short description Moroccan author
Date of birth 1488?
Place of birth Granada, Spain
Date of death 1554?
Place of death Tunis, Tunisian Republic

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Readers may also want to see the Harvard Book Review "A Bird Among Fish" for this topic posted 28 April 2011 at or CLICK here

*** NOTE: I used the terms "ordinary" and "extraordinary" for effect and parallels.
These terms are often no more than for certain distinctions yet are not indicative of the fullest meaning of each one's life and experience.

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