Friday, May 1, 2015

Ibrahim Khoury's bias led him to dispute Ahmad b. Majid's Authorship of all the Verses of the as-Sufaliyya

Ibrahim Khoury’s translation of the Sofala Arjûza (Urguza) and the comments therein are biased. When Khoury wrote his book he had the self-conviction that Ahmad ibn Majid never met Vasco da Gama. As a result, he undervalued the breath of knowledge ibn Majid had regarding navigation in the Muslim World. As a result, he took for granted the ability of Majid to keep up with latest events relating to navigation in the Indian Ocean.

Ibrahim Khoury ( Ed.), The Poem of Sofala, by Ahmad ibn Majid, he acknowledges on the title page that ibn Majid, lived between 1431 and 1510 [
 ]. This indicates that ibn Majid probably lived to be 81. If he died in 1510, ibn Majid would have heard of many adventures of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean.

Instead of respecting the birth and death dates for ibn Majid, Khoury had the certainty that ibn Majid had not met the Vasco da Gama and he did not know about the Portuguese. As a result, he takes for granted what ibn Majid wrote in the Sofala arjuza, and claims that 105 verses in the Sofala arjuza were probably written by someone else. 

Khoury based his conjecture on five points: “These evidence may be outlined under five topics the [1] date of the composition of as-Sufaliyya, [2] the old age or the death of Ibn Magid, [3] the dates for the first Portuguese voyages to India, [4] the number of verses in as-Sufaliyya, and [5] its doubtful unity in the photocopy”.

These “five topics”, is not hard evidences. First, of all he says the date of the composition of the poem would preclude its creation during the period of the Portuguese expansion in the Indian Ocean. This is a straw man argument, because Khoury admits that “Nothing is said specifically about the time of its composition” (pg.15).

To date the Sofala arjuza he uses information found in the amended “Golden Poem”. Khoury argues that the original version of the “Golden Poem” was probably written before 880 H/1475 AD, since it was mentioned in the al-Fawa’id (pg.16). 

Khoury argues that “On the basis of this evidence , Ibn Majid could not possibly have reported in as-Safiliyya any material event or incident, not yet happended and occurring after 880H /1475AD, or, with extreme indulgence after 895H/1489AD, that is, in both cases, a very long time after he had finished his poem”.
Although Khoury bases his entire argument that any information in the Sofala arjuza about the Portuguese was not written by ibn Majid by dating the poem back to 1475 , he notes that the version of the “Golden Poem”, he uses to date as-Sufaliyya was amended in 1489.

Khoury’s acknowledgement that he was basing his dating of “Golden Poem” on the version amended 895H/1489 AD, indicates that Majid amended his work as new knowledge about navigation came to his attention. 
Since, Khoury knew the “Golden Poem” had been written in 1475, and amended in 1489, this should have been a clue to Khoury that the Sofala arjuza could have also been amended. As a result, the as-Sufaliyya, probably dates back at least to 1489.

Khoury’s contention that information about the Portuguese in as-Sufaliyya was not written by ibn Majid because the events in “both cases, a very long time after he [Majid] had finished his poem”. This is pure conjecture because, Khoury admits, “Nevertheless, the amended version of the “Golden Poem of 895H/1489, mentions 16 poems which have been composed before “ad-Dahibyya”. As-Sufaliyya is cited by name among them”(pg.16). Since the “Golden Poem” was amended in 1489, there is no way we can positively say that the Sofala arjuza was not amended before Majid died in 1510.

This view is supported by Khoury in note #1. In note #1 Khoury notes that the “Golden Poem” was amended in 1489, and the Kitab al- Fawa’id, was abridged the same year. This begs the question that if both “Golden Poem” and Kitab al Fawa’id were updated in 1489, why is it impossible for Khoury to believe that ibn Majid could have updated the Sofala arjuza.

Khoury bases his conclusion that Majid did not know anything about the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, because the Chronicler Ibn Muțahhar says nothing about the first voyage of Vasco da Gama. In fact, Ibn Muțahhar does not discuss the Portuguese until they attacked the port of Aden ,Yemen 1513 (pp.19-21). Khoury feels that ibn Muțahhar would have mentioned the da Gama voyage if it was known to contemporary chroniclers in Arabia.

Khoury citing ibn Muțahhar as the foundation for his declaration that 105 verses in the Sofala arjuza was unfounded. It was Khoury’s misconjecture on how ibn Majid obtained knowledge about navigation and the nautical sciences that gave Khoury the self-conviction to deny ibn Majid the agency in writing 105 new verses to the Sofala arjuza.

Ibn Majid made it clear in his writings that he would keep his Rutters current and up-to-date. Ibn Majid wrote “I swear twice by God, he said, it is most probably, in my deep hard think[ing], that the pilots will leave all the writing of the ancient and new Navigators and rely upon my say[ing]s in poetry and prose, to improve themselves to the extreme and final degrees” (p.26).

Ibn Majid did not depend on Chroniclers to provided him knowledge about events that were happening on the Seven Sea. Majid was in constant communication with “expert pilots”, who would have kept him informed about development in the Indian Ocean. In verse 554, Majid wrote “The above people [pilots] contact each other. A sea separates them. They have a terrestrial boundary extending the sea shore at the west. Experienced pilots told me about them” (p.76). Majid noted in verse 630, “I retained only the true information reported by the experienced pilot” (p. 81).

Khoury also claims that the dates in the Sofala arjuza are off and not accurate. This is not true. In verse 27, Majid wrote “The Franks went to Calicut, take this useful information, in 906H, even after” (p.89). The date 906H, is 1501 AD, this corresponds to Vasco da Gama returning to India and blockade of Arab access to the Red Sea.

In conclusion, when Khoury claims that the additions to the Sofala arjuza were not written by Majid he is mistaken. The amendment of the “Golden Poem”, Kitab al -Fawa’id and probably Sofala arjuza in 1489, makes it clear that he could have added the additional 105 verses to the as-Sufaliyya before he died in 1510, as he obtained new information from his pilot contacts.

Some researchers claim that if Majid was not the pilot that led Vasco da Gama to India, and there was no way that he could have met da Gama prior to his voyage to India. This is not necessarily true. Vasco Da Gama was stationed in Tangiers in 1478, and the two navigators could have met at this time. As noted above, Majid made a habit of questioning navigators about their nautical knowledge, he would not have been afraid to talk to the Franks (Europeans) to learn about their ability as navigators.

This possibility is supported by ibn Majid in the Sofala arjuza verse 106, where Majid wrote “He [Allah], exclusively , granted me the privilege to voyage to all countries, [and] guides and led me safely to my destinations” (p.95). Since ibn Majid traveled to all countries he probably visited Tangiers, and maybe even ports in West Africa. We know he was well acquainted with navigation throughout the Muslim world through his own travels or as he notes in verse 565, “I relate what regards the Sudan and Magrib, as reported by an experienced man” (p.77). I did not see any discussion of navigation in Sudan and Magrib in the Sofala arjuza, so it may be in one of the other Rutters, translated by T. A. Chumovsky, Tres roteiros desconhecidos de Ahmad Ibn-Madjid, o piloto Árabe de Vasco da Gama .

1 comment:

Ajwaiyah said...

Dr. Winters, when I first read Mr. Khoury's 1982 work I was struck by the many inconsistencies in his reasoning. Particularly so the logical extension of his argument regarding Arab knowledge of Portuguese (or Frankish) presence in the Indian Ocean after 900 Hijra. It seems that he supposes that since Ibn Mutahhar - an authority whom he attaches supreme importance to - did not address specific events, no knowledge of said events would be present among *all* Arabs in Yemen and elsewhere in Arabia (and which seems to include Arab settlements in the Indian Ocean littoral) - an absurdity given the numerous encounters the Portguese had along the Mozambique, Swahili and Somali coasts since at least early 903 Hijra (1498).