Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some Medieval Travelers on Jonah and Mosul

Today ISIS destroyed the Mosque of Jonah in Mosul, which some articles suggest contained his tomb.  Here is what the tenth century Muslim traveler al-Maqdisi (sometimes al-Muqaddasi) reported about the prophet and Mosul (in Basil Collins' translation):
In the countryside near Mosul are the Mosque of Jonah, and other places associated with his name.  Close to ancient Nineveh is a place known as Hill of Repentance atop which is a mosque, and residences for the devout.  It was built by Jamila, daughter of Nasir al-Dawla, and she settled a considerable bequest on it.  It is said that seven visits to it equal a Pilgrimage to Mecca; it is visited on Thursday nights.  It is the place whither the people of Jonah went when they were convinced of impending chastisement.  Half a farsakh from this place is the Spring of Jonah.  Outside the town of Balad is a spring out of which it is claimed Jonas emerged: healing of leprosy is its waters.  Here is a mosque in his name, and also the place of the gourd plant.
I don't know the geography in question, but I think the destroyed mosque is a much-renovated version of the one endowed by Jamila, a princess of the 10th century Hamdanid dynasty whose territory roughly parallels that ruled by ISIS now, with Aleppo and a chunk of southeastern Turkey as important additions.  In the Qur'an, a gourd grew to cover Jonah (Arabic "Yunus") after the whale spit him out.  Here is Ibn Jubayr in the 1100s (Roland Broadhurst translation):
Among the benefits God has especially conferred on this town is that about a mile to the east of it, across the Tigris, is the Hill of Penitence.  It is the hill on which stood Jonah with his people and prayed with them until God relieved them of their distress.  Near to this hill, also about a mile away, is the blessed spring named after him.  It is said that en enjoined his people to purify themselves in it and to take thought of repentance, and that then they ascended the hill praying.  On the hill is a large edifice which acts as an asylum for the needy with many chambers, rooms, and ablution and drinking chambers, all approached by one door.  In the middle of this door is a pavilion over which hangs a curtain, and below this is bolted a blessed door, wholly inlaid.  It is related that this is the place where Jonah stood and that the mihrab of this pavilion was the chamber in which he worshipped.  Around the pavilion are candles, thick as the trunks of palm-trees.  Men go out to this asylum every Friday night and there devote themselves to God's worship.

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