Muqaddasi: A Muslim Native of Jerusalem


Muqaddasi is an observant and scrupulous reporter, experienced in the lands of the tenth century Islamic empire by reason of his broad travels and his acquaintance with almost all the classes of Islamic society. He could be dazzled on occasion--when he described the mosaic work in the great Umayyad mosque in Damascus, for example--but when he comes to speak of Jerusalem, Muqaddasi is not the awe-struck visitor of pilgrim seeing the Holy City for the first time. It was his city-- virtues, faults, and all:


Bayt al-Maqdis [the Holy House], also known as Iliya [Aelia], and al-Balat [the Palace or Pretorium]. Among provincial towns, none is larger than Jerusalem, and many capitals are in fact smaller…The buildings of the Holy City are of stone, and you will find nowhere finer or more solid constructions. And in no place will you meet with people more chaste. Provisions are most excellent here; the markets are clean, the mosque is among the largest, and nowhere are holy places more numerous…In Jerusalem are all manner of learned men and doctors, and for this reason the heart of every man of intelligence yearns toward her. All the year round, never are her streets empty of strangers…As to the saying that Jerusalem is the most illustrious of cities, is she not the one that unites the advantages of This World with those of the Next? He who is of the children of This World and yet is ardent in the matters of the Next may find here a market for his wares; while he who would be of those of the Next World, though his soul clings to the good things of This World as well, he too may find them here….


As to the excellence of the city, why is this not to be the plain [sahira] of marshalling on the Day of Judgment, where the Gathering Together and the Appointment will take place? Truly Mecca and Medina have their superiority by reason of the Ka'ba and the Prophet--the blessings of God upon him and his family--but truly on the Day of Judgment they will both come to Jerusalem and the excellence of them all will be united there. As to Jerusalem being the most spacious of cities, since all created things are to assemble there, what place on earth can be more extensive than this? (Muqaddasi 1896: 34-37)


…Still [he continues], Jerusalem has some disadvantages…You will not find anywhere baths more filthy than those in the Holy City; nor anywhere heavier fees for their use. Learned men are few, and the Christians numerous, and the latter are unmannerly in the public places. In the hostelries the taxes are heavy on all that is sold; there are guards at every gate, and no one is allowed to sell the necessities of life except in the appointed places. In this city the oppressed have no succor; the meek are molested, and the rich are envied. Jurisconsults remain unvisited, and erudite men have no renown; also the schools are unattended, for there are no lectures. Everywhere the Christians and Jews have the upper hand, and the mosque is void of either congregation or assembly of learned men. (Muqaddasi 1896: 37)


From F.E. Peters, Jerusalem. p 235-7