Mu’jam al-Buldan (Gaza excerpt)

22 Mar

This is a small piece from Yaqut al-Hamawi’s Mu’jam al-Buldan. It is, in short, a collection of trivia and pieces of poetry about a huge number of cities across the Arab World (and a few beyond). As a general rule I don’t want to translate large swathes of classical Arabic poetry because I don’t believe I have the ability to do it well. I’m also not sure it can be done well.

I make an exception for works of this kind and biographical dictionaries because they are so fun it is worth a couple of dodgy translations in the poetry (for this I apologise). 

                        Yaqut al-Hamawi on Gaza


Gaza is a city on the edge of the Levant next to Egypt. There are 2 parasangs or less between Gaza and ‘Asqalan (Ashkelon) and they are on the Western edge of Palestine. Abu al-Mundhir said that “Gaza” was the wife of Tyre, the man who built the coastal city of Tyre.


Abu Dhu’eyb al-Hudhali said:


So what remains of the measures of wine has fallen


                                    in remembrance of a virgin, like ripples in shallow waters;


 the choicest wine enclosed in a pitch jar.


                                                The rear rider of the battalions, late to depart,


have been provided with wine by the people of Basra and Gaza


                                                    that emboldened the strength of their support.


So I came with the best of those men


                                                but no man was found true as the polished horizon



Hashim grandson of the Prophet (peace by upon him) died in Gaza and is buried there and so it is called Hashim’s Gaza. Abu Nuwas said:



The women’s course took them from the land of Fitrus


         From the blessed house (Jerusalem) they visited


Tawalib, nestled in the crotch of Hashim’s Gaza:


                        something to do on a break from pilgrimage when on their period



Ahmad son of Yehia son of Jabir said that Hashim died in Gaza at the age of 25 and this is generally accepted. It is also said by some that he died at the age of 20.



The Imam Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Idriss al-Shafi (may God be satisfied with him) was born in Gaza. He moved to the Hijaz as a child and did his education there. It is reported that he remembered Gaza thus:


How I yearn for the land of Gaza


                                                My restraint has betrayed me after a long separation


God has watered a land such that if I conquered its soil


                                    I would paint my eyelids with it so strong is my desire



Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Amr ibn Jarrah al Ghazi traces his ancestry to Gaza. Malik Ibn Anas and al-Walid Ibn Muslim speak about him as did Abu Zurah al-Razi and Mohammed ibn Hassan ibn Qatibah al-‘Asqalani. Also the poet Ibrahim ibn Othman al-Ashbahi traces his roots to Gaza. He travelled the world and died in Khorosan. He had set out for the city of Balkh (Afghanistan) and died on the route in the year 523 (Hijri:1129AD) and was born in the year 441 (Hijri 1050 A.D).



Abu Mansur said, and I saw it in the country of the Beni Saad ibn Zaid ibn Tamim, Ramlah and Gaza have a great abundance of date palms. And the poet al-Akhtal al-Wahish (I am guessing this is a poet by the name of al-Akhtal the terrible, which seems like a rather great name for a poet. I cannot find any other record of him and I have a slight suspicion it might be referring to an animal with floppy ears but this is the best way I can get the grammar to work!) also came from Gaza. He said, in a description of a she-camel.


Just after she joined the march he supposed


            that she was one of those Gazan beasts that shines bright white and soot black.


There is also a Gaza in North Africa. It is about third days from Kairouan on the caravan trail to Algeria. Abu Ab‘id al-Bakri and al-Hassam ibn Mohammed al-Hallabi mention it in their respective books. 



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