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"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, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but 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."
Thus wrote Leo Africanus, in his fortieth year, in this imaginary autobiography of the famous geographer, adventurer, and scholar Hasan al-Wazzan, who was born in Granada in 1488. His family fled the Inquisition and took him to the city of Fez, in North Africa. Hasan became an itinerant merchant, and made many journeys to the East, journeys rich in adventure and observation. He was captured by a Sicilian pirate and taken back to Rome as a gift to Pope Leo X, who baptized him Johannes Leo. While in Rome, he wrote the first trilingual dictionary (Latin, Arabic and Hebrew), as well as his celebrated Description of Africa, for which he is still remembered as Leo Africanus.
only agreed to come at the end of an hour’s entreaty, and then for gold: two dinars if it was a girl, four dinars if it was a boy. When she saw the fragile pink cleft between the baby’s swollen thighs, she called out to me in a vexed tone: ‘Two dinars!’ To which I replied: ‘If everything ends well, you’ll get four all the same!’ Overjoyed at such generosity, she promised to return several days later to perform the excision, which she would do for nothing. I asked her not to do so, explaining
Central Europe? Probably not. The re-establishment of peace in the Mediterranean? An end to the depredations of the pirates?’ He replied to each of his own questions with a doubtful frown. Clement took over again: ‘What is certain is that it is time to build a bridge between Rome and Constantinople. But I am not a sultan. If I dared to go too quickly, a thousand criticisms from Spain and Germany would rain down upon me, from my own colleagues.’ He smiled at his slip of the tongue. ‘I mean
prevaricate no longer: ‘If the head of the Church was not listening to me, I would say that religion teaches men humility, but that it has none itself. I would say that all religions have produced both saints and murderers, with an equally good conscience. That in the life of this city, there are the Clement years and the Adrian years, between which religion does not allow you to choose.’ ‘Does Islam allow a better choice?’ I almost said ‘we’ but caught myself in time: ‘Muslims learn that
the victim of injustice. A feeling which wounds, but which puts balm on wounds, a feeling which sometimes kills, but one which much more often gives women powerful reasons to live and to struggle. Salma had none of this. ‘I felt myself crushed by adversity. For me that day was the Day of Judgement; I was about to lose your father after having lost the city of my birth and the house in which I had given birth.’ So we got back on to our mules without knowing which direction to take. Muhammad
to sell cheaply. Buyers are rare.’ Out of politeness I inclined my head slightly. Feeling that he had gained my trust, he went further: ‘This year is the worst since I began working thirty years ago. People do not dare to show the merest hint of their dinars, for fear that they will be accused of hiding their riches and that someone will come and extort it from them. Last week, a singer was arrested merely on the strength of a denunciation. The sultan himself submitted her to questioning while