Chapter 2 ‘Coplas del peregrino de Puey Monçón’: A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Poem about the Hajj

In: Narrating the Pilgrimage to Mecca
Miguel Ángel Vázquez
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This chapter presents and contextualizes a poem written in the sixteenth century in Aljamiado (Spanish of the sixteenth century rendered with the Arabic alphabet). In this text, written in Spanish coplas, the author describes different aspects of a hajj pilgrimage—likely undertaken at the beginning of the sixteenth century by a Mudejar from Aragon, who travelled from Spain to Mecca. The poem is a statement of the hybrid identity of its author (a traditional Spanish poetic form to express a Muslim message), and a testament to the poet’s (and his community of coreligionists’) resilience, because he remained and sustained his Muslim identity in the face of an administrative policy that had forbidden any and all expressions of Islam in Spain. As such, this was an act of counter hegemony that defied the persecution of Moriscos and Islam in Habsburg Spain. For all Muslims, performing the pilgrimage to Mecca is an achievement, for a Mudejar it was more than that, given the difficulties the Spanish authorities imposed on such travels. And for a Morisco, copying and keeping a manuscript version of this poem hidden at home, was an act of defiance and a form of jihad.

1 Introduction

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, a Spanish Mudejar,1 known as the ‘Pilgrim of Puey Monçón’, undertook the difficult journey from Spain to Mecca to perform the hajj. Upon his return to Spain, the details of his journey were memorialized in a poem, which narrates in 79 coplas2 the author’s travels: the journey by ship on the Mediterranean (including a storm that threatened the lives of the passengers); the stays in Tunisia and Egypt; the arduous trek over the desert from Egypt to Mecca; the holy places in and around Mecca; and the beginning of the return journey. The only version available to us of this poem is written in Aljamiado, a Hispano-Romance language of the sixteenth century rendered with the Arabic alphabet, instead of the Latin alphabet. In other words, the poem is written in a typically Spanish poetic form, but the text is written with the Arabic alphabet. It is also worth adding that this poem, even though it was written in Spanish, fits within the classical genre of riḥla: travelogues whose initial objective is to describe the journey to Mecca, but which often go beyond that to include descriptions of the places the pilgrims visited or the people they met as well as detailed accounts of the vicissitudes they experienced in their journey.

2 Aljamiado Literature

After the fall of the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492 and throughout the sixteenth century, Spain went through the process of constituting itself as a nation. The official discourse was one of homogeneity where purportedly all Spaniards spoke one language (Spanish), professed one religion (Catholicism), and were part of one culture. This entailed, under the threat of expulsion, the forced conversion of all Muslims into Catholic Christianity, and the obliteration of any expression of Muslim identity by means of royal edicts prohibiting an entire catalogue of habits and symbols considered Muslim. Those Muslims who decided to stay and convert came to be known as ‘Moriscos’. The conversions, however, were, for the most part, not sincere but simply a way to remain on Spanish soil as the newly converted minority continued to practice Islam in secrecy. Aware of this, the Christian authorities intensified the persecution and inquisitorial trials of many Moriscos. Furthermore, Catholic Spaniards feared that Spanish Muslims might become a ‘fifth column’ and aid a Turkish invasion of Spain. This atmosphere consisting of constant tension and hostility toward the Moriscos culminated in 1609, with their expulsion from Spain. As exiles, the majority of Moriscos settled in North African countries (Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia), but not without leaving behind a silent testimony of their presence in Spain. The Moriscos participated in clandestine activities to preserve their culture. Throughout the sixteenth century, they produced a corpus of manuscripts written in Spanish that is written with the Arabic alphabet instead of the Latin alphabet. This is known as ‘Aljamiado literature’. It contains everything a person would need to know about Islam based in the Morisco situation. Since the possession of such manuscripts was grounds for an inquisitorial accusation, the Moriscos hid them in false floors, walls or columns. This is why the manuscripts were able to survive until their discovery in the late nineteenth century. The mere presence of the Moriscos in the Iberian Peninsula during the Renaissance challenged the actuality of the aforementioned discourse of homogeneity. The canonical writers of the Golden Age never imagined that Spanish subjects would utter praise for Islam or fiery condemnations of Catholicism.

From the point of view of a Spanish reader, the first impression these manuscripts produce is that of something foreign: they are written, after all, with the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Nothing could be more alien to the canonical literature of Spain than this alphabet. Yet the reader is surprised by the fact that they are written in Castilian language dusted with Aragonese dialectal features, and some Arabic words. Not only does the alphabet force one to write—and to read—in the opposite direction than texts written with the Latin alphabet but, as Luce López-Baralt (one of the leading experts in the field) suggests, through these texts, Spain itself emerges as its own mirror image (López-Baralt 1995). One of the most striking examples of this mirror image is the appropriation of quintessentially Spanish poetic forms for Islamic poetic purposes. There are many examples of Aljamiado poetry from the Mudejar and Morisco periods written in traditional Spanish forms, such as the Cuaderna Vía, the Romance, the Silva, or the Octava Real, among others, that praise Allah, Muhammad, and Islam, as well as anti-Christian polemic poetry, and Islamic didactic poetry (Vázquez 2007). In the words of Gerard Wiegers:

One might argue that from a formal point of view these Romance strophes and Islamic Spanish literature are different stages of the process in which Spanish became a literary language of Islam.

Wiegers 1994, 38

3 Background of the Poem

The poem ‘Coplas del peregrino de Puey Monçón’ can be found in a miscellaneous Aljamiado manuscript, which was edited in its entirety by Tarek Khedr in 2004, even though it had already been edited by Pano y Ruata in an unscholarly edition published in 1897.3 It should be noted that the manuscript is somewhat deteriorated, and therefore, we are missing the title the author gave his poem. Also missing are verses from the first, third, fifth, and sixth stanzas, and it is possible that the last stanzas detailing the return to Spain were lost. The specific date or year when the pilgrimage was performed—or when the poem was written since we must not assume that both dates are the same—has been difficult to establish because there is very little internal evidence pointing towards a date. Attempting to ascertain to the best of our abilities the period in which the pilgrimage was undertaken is of key importance, since we would be dealing with very different situations depending on whether a Mudejar or a Morisco performed this hajj.

‘Mudejar’ and ‘Morisco’ both refer to Muslims living in Spain, but under different legal circumstances. ‘Mudejar’ (from Arabic: mudajjan, meaning ‘tamed’, ‘domesticated’, ‘permitted to stay’) was a term used to refer to Muslims who continued living in Christian-dominated territories after the Reconquista. Mudejars were free to practise Islam, and had to pay the crown a special tribute. In 1502, in the kingdom of Castille, and in 1526, in the kingdom of Aragon, Islam was outlawed, and Mudejars were forced to convert to Catholicism or face exile. Muslims who converted to Catholicism would be known thereafter as ‘Moriscos’. Thus, during the Mudejar period it was not impossible for a Muslim to go on hajj; however, it was illegal for Muslims to go on pilgrimage to Mecca during the Morisco period (1502/1526–1609).4 This means that performing the hajj as a Morisco would have implied a greater risk, and therefore a greater act of defiance to the Spanish authorities.

The first scholar to propose a date for the pilgrimage depicted in this poem was Pano y Ruata, who dated the actual pilgrimage to 1603 (Pano y Ruata 1897, 286–291), but his logic is not reliable, since he assumed several variables—such as, assuming the pilgrim spent about a month in Alexandria, even though the poem does not state so.5 Following Pano y Ruata, Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón (1956, 30), also used 1603 as the date the pilgrim went to Mecca. Epalza Ferrer on the other hand, based on a linguistic approach, suggested a much earlier date of 1505–1517 (Epalza Ferrer 1990, 56), placing the actual pilgrimage within the Mudejar period in Aragon.

When Khedr (2004, 14) published his edition of the manuscript where the poem is found, he did not propose an actual date for the poem, but simply quoted Montaner Frutos (1988) who, using codicological criteria such as watermarks, type of paper, and marginal notes, had suggested that the manuscript containing the poem was put together between 1579 and 1588 (Khedr 2010, 138). Even though he was not attempting to date the coplas in particular, his dating of the entire manuscript showed that the pilgrim could not have been on hajj in 1603. Later, both Khedr and Montaner Frutos (2010) appear to have echoed Epalza Ferrer’s dating but without explaining why.6

It was not until 2018 that the dating issue was methodically taken up by Xavier Casassas Canals, who in his ‘Tres riḥlas mudéjares’ narrowed down the period of this hajj to between 1505 and 1509 (Casassas Canals 2018, 121–125).7 Casassas Canals based his dating mainly on two clues provided by the poem. First, the pilgrim writes that he visited the al-Ghūrī mosque in Egypt which was built between 1503 and 1505, so the pilgrimage could not have taken place before that date. Second, the pilgrim states that he paid a tax to the baile of Valencia that would permit him to leave Spain for Mecca. This baile was the title given to an official tasked with dealing with issues pertaining to the Muslims. Once Islam was outlawed in Spain after 1525, the office of the baile was no longer needed (ibid., 121). Casassas Canals further narrowed the time window for this pilgrimage by taking into account detailed lists of Italian ships that set sail from Valencia to Tunis or Algiers (ibid., 123–124), and cross referenced these with those months that corresponded to the most likely dates in which any pilgrim would have left Spain to arrive in Mecca for the Muslim month of dhū al-ḥijja (ibid., 122–123).

Roza Candás, on his part, called attention to an article by Emilia Salvador, who cites a document from 1517 that registered two Mudejars from Puimonzón leaving for North Africa from the harbour of Valencia (Roza Candás 2018, 65). This detail is of note because it specifically names Puey Monçón as the pilgrims’ place of origin, and also because in the poem the pilgrim talks about a travelling companion. Therefore, whether the date of the pilgrimage was between 1505–1509, or took place in 1517, there is strong evidence that the pilgrim was an Aragonese Mudejar—and not a Morisco—, since, as stated above, Islam was not outlawed in the kingdom of Aragon until 1526.

As for the identity of the poem’s author, since this kind of literature is usually anonymous given the need of secrecy for any kind of Muslim endeavour in this period in Spain, we know nothing of him. The issue is complicated by the fact that we must not assume that the actual pilgrim was also the author of the poem. The pilgrim could have returned to Spain, told the story of his pilgrimage, and then someone else could have written the poem. In this sense, Roza Candás suggests that it was possible the poem was based on another written version of this pilgrimage originally written in prose (ibid., 66). In an attempt to ascribe authorship to the poem, both Ángel González Palencia (1928) and Juan Vernet (1972), perhaps influenced by Pano y Ruata’s unlikely dating of the poem, gave authorship of this poem to Muḥammad Rabadán, one of the best Morisco poets of the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century. However, neither González Palencia nor Vernet elaborate on the reasons why they reached that conclusion. In sum, the only thing that we can probably establish with some certainty about the poet is that he was a Mudejar who lived during the Aragonese Mudejar period in Pueyo Monçón—today known as Pueyo de Santa Cruz (Zúñiga López 1988–1989, 460)—, a small town north east of Zaragoza.

Before looking at the poem more closely, at the outset, it is important to remember that even though it depicts the journey of a Mudejar, it appears in a Morisco manuscript written in Aljamiado. Therefore, a question we must keep in mind as we follow the journey is: What made this and other hajj accounts—like that of ʿOmar Paṭōn8—worthwhile for the Moriscos to preserve in their Aljamiado manuscripts? In the context of Morisco Spain, the copying, writing, and owning of these manuscripts was dangerous since, if caught, the perpetrator faced an inquisitorial process. I hypothesize that, since the laws in Spain during this period made it so difficult for Moriscos to travel outside the Iberian Peninsula, these written logs of pilgrimages to Mecca might have allowed the Moriscos to travel to Mecca virtually, as it were.

4 Content of the Poem

Let me now turn to the content of this poetic riḥla and summarize the itinerary that the anonymous Mudejar followed. From his town of Puey Monçón he went to the port of Valencia where, after paying the baile the necessary fee to exit Spain, he paid for passage with a Venetian ship captain (copla 4). From there, he went to Tunis, where the ship, probably a merchant vessel, made several stops along different ports. The cities are not named in order in this part of the poem, but if we follow a West-East direction, we can easily reconstruct the order: Hammamet, Hergla, Sousse, Monastir, Mahdia, Sfax, Mahres, and Djerba (cc. 5–14). In Tunis, he is amazed by the size of the city and its riches; in Djerba, he admired the many fruit trees and ‘delightful’ sights:

Isla es muy deleytosa

It is a very delightful island

de muchos árboles fruytales

abundant in fruit trees

mançanos, priscos i peros

apple, peach, and pear

muchas viñas i figarales,

many vineyards and fig orchards

ay de muchas datileras

there are many date trees

qu-es una fruyta sabros[a],

which is a delicious fruit

isla es muy deleytosa,

a very delightful island

maguera toda arenales.

in spite of its sandy areas. (c. 14)9

But apparently not everything goes smoothly for the pilgrim, since he reports having spent three days without food before arriving in Sfax. Not receiving anything to eat out of charity, he and his companion were able to buy a lamb at a low price, which they cooked without water, sauce, or any spices (c. 11).

Continuing the voyage, on their way to Alexandria from Tunisia, close to the gulf of Sirte, a terrible storm threatened the ship. It must have been quite a frightening experience, since the poet dedicated nine coplas to describing the incident (cc. 15–21):

Partimos con alegría

We happily set sail

de Jerba los alḥiǧantes

from Djerba

con muchos de mercadantes

with many merchants

para ir en-Ališandría;

to go to Alexandria;

navegando nuesa vía

sailing on our way

por l-alta mar tenpestosa,

through the tempestuous sea

tomonos mala marina

a bad sea storm engulfed us

una muy terrible cosa.

it was a terrible affair. (c. 15)

As part of the efforts to save the ship, the captain ordered to ‘empty the galleon’ (c. 16), an order which the sailors frantically executed without regard for the contents of any of the boxes or packages they were throwing. As a result, the ship was saved, but most of the food provisions ended up at the bottom of the sea. They were able to make do with some cakes that the crew of the ship rationed until they arrived at an unnamed port in Monte Barca. Eighteen days later they finally arrived in Alexandria, where they continued on foot towards the city of Cairo. This city (cc. 25–33) amazed the pilgrim with its many inhabitants that ‘cannot be counted’ and its public lighting, which made the city look ‘as clear when it is night, as when it is day’ (c. 25). There, he visited the most important mosques: The mosque of Ibn Ṭūlūn, al-Azhar, and the mosque of Sultan al-Ghūrī. He also had the opportunity to visit the ruins of the ancient Heliopolis where he gazed with wonder at the obelisk:

todo de letras formado,

it is covered in letters

pareçe que oy enparten mano

far from human knowledge10

no las sabe leir moro

Muslims do not know how to read them

nin judío, ni cristiano.

neither Jews, nor Christians. (c. 33)

At Birka al-Ḥajj, a pond or water reservoir a few kilometers from Cairo that became a meeting spot for caravans embarking on the hajj (Zúñiga López 1988–1989, 462), the amīr al-ḥajj set up his tent for three days. The amīr al-ḥajj, or ‘commander of the pilgrimage’, was an office held by an individual appointed by different Muslim empires from the seventh to the twentieth century. His duties included guiding the annual pilgrims’ caravan from Egypt to Mecca, and protecting them against raids with soldiers and weapons. Travelling through the Sinai Peninsula, and into the Arabian Peninsula on his way to Mecca, the traveller reported seeing the tombs of ancient prophets11 emanating light:

Deziros-é lo que ví,

I shall tell you what I saw,

por las tierras i collados,

along the lands and hills,

de las tierras que pasé,

about the territories I went through,

de los montes despoblados:

about the desolate hills:

ví alnnabīes enterrados

I saw buried prophets

llenos de gran resplandor,

full of great light,

que alabaron su Señor

who praised their Lord

fueron bienaventurados.

they were blessed. (c. 39)

Once in Mecca, the poem describes the ceremony where the Sharīf of Mecca, of the Sharīfian family ruling Mecca from the tenth to the twentieth century, receives the amīr al-ḥajj with great honours. In this ceremony amīr al-ḥajj gifts the Sharīf of Mecca a silk veil that adorns the Kaʿba, which was woven in Egypt (cc. 41–46). After this, there are other descriptions: the Grand Mosque and its impressive architecture, the Kaʿba with its Black Stone, the interior of the Kaʿba, and the Zamzam well as well as some of the rituals performed there, such as the prayers and walking seven times around the Kaʿba (cc. 47–59). The pilgrim also visited the tomb of Khadīja, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the houses of the Prophet’s companions Abū Bakr and ʿAlī. Outside the city, he visited Muzdalifa, ʿArafa, Minā and the caves of al-Thawr, where the Prophet and Abū Bakr hid from the Quraysh on their way to Medina (cc. 60–66). Then, he travelled to Medina where he visited the tombs of the Prophet Muhammad, Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and Fāṭima (cc. 68–70). There, he claimed to have seen the ‘light of the Prophet/ that went as high as the heavens’ (c. 73). On his way back through Tabūk and ʿAqaba, he lamented not having been able to visit Jerusalem, especially the Valley of Josaphat (where eschatological traditions say that Judgment Day will take place), and not having climbed Mount Sinai (cc. 75–78). Here, the poem abruptly ends, which leads scholars to believe that there were more stanzas that described his return from Egypt to Spain, and perhaps the reception he received from his community in Puey Monçón.

5 Other Hajj Accounts from Spain: Before the Morisco Period

This poem is a humble example of the riḥla genre, of which we have much finer and more ambitious specimens, such as Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s voyage and that of Ibn Jubayr. In the context of Spain in particular, this poem is not the only account of a hajj that started in Spain—the first accounts of which date back to the eighth century.12 It is important to realize that Spain was at the periphery of the Islamic world at the time, which added extra considerations when it came to deciding whether or not to embark on the hajj. As an alternative to taking such a long and, by default, costly journey, many Muslims from Spain went on pilgrimages to local holy places within the peninsula as well as North Africa (Roza Candás 2018, 32–33). As far as those Mudejars who, in spite of all the difficulties, did go on pilgrimage to Mecca, I will highlight a few examples.

In a manuscript of possible Morisco origin copied at the end of the sixteenth century and edited by Epalza Ferrer in 1982–1983, there is an account of a Mudejar from Tortosa, in Catalonia, Aḥmad Ibn Fatḥ Ibn Abī al-Rabīʿ, who went on a pilgrimage in 1396. The route he followed is similar to that depicted in the sixteenth-century poem discussed above: he started in Tortosa, and sailed to Bijaya in Algiers and from there to Tunis, where he met with Muslim literati. In Tunis, he embarked on board a ‘Christian ship’ that took him to Alexandria. After that, he visited Cairo, and then, just like the Mudejar pilgrim, he joined other pilgrims who were going to Mecca at the aforementioned Birka al-Ḥajj (Epalza Ferrer 1982–1983, 26–27). Just like in the poem, this writer also described the ceremony where the Kaʿba’s covering cloths are handed over.

We should also mention ʿOmar Paṭōn’s riḥla from Ávila to Mecca between 1491 and 1495, whose pilgrimage account might have been important to Moriscos, since it appears in two Aljamiado manuscripts: one that was found in Teruel in 1988 and another that is part of the collection of the Escuelas Pías de Zaragoza.13 From Ávila, Paṭōn and his travelling companion, Muḥammad Corral, travelled to a city in Catalonia (Zaragoza?), and from there, by river, they reached Tortosa, from where they sailed to Tunis. They spent a year there for reasons he does not explain; when they finally obtained access to a ship that was travelling to Beirut, but the ship was affected by an outbreak of a plague after a stop in Methoni (Greece). When the authorities at an unnamed port in the Aegean Sea prohibited the ship from docking, it was forced into the small port of Çesme (Turkey). Once he and his travelling companion were strong enough to continue, they travelled on camel back to Istanbul, then on horseback to Aleppo where they joined a caravan of pilgrims going to Mecca via Damascus. A year later they travelled to Jerusalem and Cairo. Then, fearful of the dangerous journey through the desert, they decided to go by boat on the Red Sea from the port of Sinai to the port of Jedda, and from there to Mecca. His return home starts again by boat through the Red Sea from Jedda to the port of Sinai. From there to Cairo, then Alexandria, and finally Malta. Of his return to his hometown we know nothing since the pages of the manuscript detailing this part of his trip are lost.

6 Other Hajj Accounts from Spain: During the Morisco Period

The above accounts of pilgrims from Spain performing the hajj come from a period when it was still legal, although not easy, for a Spanish Muslim to travel to Mecca and back. There is, for example, a document dated to November 12, 1491 that gives permission (licencia) to a faqīh from Ávila to travel outside Spain to perform the hajj (Casassas Canals 2015, 234). However, relatively soon after the fall of Granada, especially in 1502 after the Christian authorities quelled a two-year Mudejar revolt, the promises that Ferdinand and Isabella had made to preserve Muslim institutions in Spain were declared null and void. This begins of a policy of repression that a century later would culminate with the massive expulsion of the crypto-Muslims.

Thus, in 1511, the newly converted minority was forbidden from carrying weapons, owning books in Arabic, and even killing animals to produce halal meat. Also, in 1526, in Granada, an edict prohibits an entire list of activities considered Muslim, such as speaking or writing in Arabic, wearing Muslim garb, jewelry, or any kind of symbol that may identify the wearer as Muslim as well as circumcision, among other things (Vincent 1987, 83–99). As for the hajj, as Leonard Harvey states, ‘during most of [the sixteenth century, mv] the legislation of the Spanish authorities did not leave Muslims free to travel to Muslim countries’ (Harvey 1987, 14). Given that the Spanish Christian authorities made it so difficult for the Muslim minority to go on hajj, adding to other known difficulties such as high financial costs and the dangers of the long journey, the Moriscos would have been justified in not performing the pilgrimage. In spite of this, we must wonder: were the Moriscos so concerned about this pillar of Islam that they attempted it, in spite of the odds? Was our poem, and other written hajj accounts in Aljamiado, an inspiration for Moriscos to attempt the perilous journey to Mecca and back? Fortunately, we do have some documentation from the Moriscos themselves that allows us to attempt an answer to these questions.

One of the most important and interesting Morisco writers called himself the Mancebo de Arévalo (the Young Man of Arévalo). He is the author—or co-author—of at least three manuscripts, one of which is titled Tafsira. This is an extensive manuscript of over 450 folios written in Aljamiado, the text of which was edited in its entirety by María Teresa Narváez. It is of great importance to us, because throughout the text the Mancebo includes vignettes of the day-to-day lives of the Moriscos. The people he describes and to whom he talks were not famous characters and would have been forgotten to history had it not been for his Tafsira. Through this text we bear witness to a clandestine network of crypto-Muslim operations; it is precisely in what we may call the ‘minutes’ of a secret meeting of Moriscos in Zaragoza that the Mancebo de Arévalo discusses his hajj preparations, or ‘romeaǧǧe’ as he calls it, and how he received monetary help from his community:

As my pilgrimage was already at hand, and all that was wanting was the arrival of the company from Ávila la Real, and since Don Manrique knew about the difficulties of my journey, he made up part of my need, and gave me ten Morisco doblas. The other scholars present all contributed in my favour. May Allah grant such merit as I may earn if Allah grant me grace to reach Mecca, exalted may it be.

Harvey 1987, 21

The Mancebo de Arévalo promised to write an account of his pilgrimage, and the nineteenth-century Arabist Pascual de Gayangos claimed to have seen a manuscript titled Peregrinación del Mancebo de Arévalo. However, it is not clear if this manuscript really existed or was lost (Harvey 1987, 20).14 There is another manuscript by the Mancebo de Arévalo, his Breve compendio de la santa ley y sunna, that contains a brief indication of another Morisco’s pilgrimage: the wise Morisca Nuzayta Calderán ‘said (…) that the text at Mecca was inscribed on leaves whiter than silver inside a dome of marble with an iron grille to protect it’ (ibid., 18–19).

Two anonymous Morisco manuscripts provide further evidence of the Moriscos’ concern about travelling to Muslim lands. Both manuscripts contain guides on how to leave and how to return to Spain safely and in secrecy (López-Baralt and Irizarry 1987). Manuscript 774 of the Bibliothèque nationale de France details an itinerary to be followed: starting from the northeast of Spain, the traveller would go on foot through the south of France to Italy, being careful not to set foot on the ‘lands of the Emperor’.15 Once in Italy, the traveller would go to Venice, where they could take a ship to the north of Africa or Turkey. This travel guide also gives the clandestine Moriscos ‘warnings for the road’, which constitute a fascinating view of practical considerations for Muslim travellers concerned with concealing their identity and goal, such as how much to pay for lodging or food or, when asked by the authorities why they are leaving Spain, that they should claim they are fleeing debts, and are going to hide in France. They are also advised as to whom it is safe to approach, although always keeping secret the final objective:

[In Venice, those, mv] you will see wearing white head covers are Turkish, those you will see wearing yellow ones, are Jewish merchants of the Great Turk. To those you will ask everything you want, since they will guide you.

López-Baralt and Irizarry 1987, 561, translation by me, mv

The other clandestine text is found in manuscript T16 of the Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia. It offers a very detailed itinerary (ninety towns or cities are mentioned) of a return to Spain from Venice via the north of Italy, traversing France and arriving in Spain through Catalonia (ibid., 580–582).

Aside from the Morisco sources themselves mentioned above, there is further evidence from non-Morisco sources pointing at Moriscos travelling to Muslim lands throughout the sixteenth century:

(…) in 1561, the Spanish Ambassador in Venice insisted in his reports that many moors from Valencia and Aragon were travelling to the Levant, and this in spite of several edicts, like those published by the Zaragoza Tribunal, which prohibited Moriscos from leaving Aragon, and prohibited Christian from guiding them through the Pyrenees.

Roza Candás 2018, 34–35, translation by me, mv

The fact that edicts prohibiting Morisco travel outside Spain had to be repeated suggests they were not being followed. Based on the above, it is safe to say that the need of the Moriscos to connect with their Muslim counterparts and to travel to Mecca was ever present and that some indeed attempted the dangerous journey to Mecca.

7 Back to the ‘Coplas del peregrino Puey Monçón’

From the above, it is clear that in spite of the Spanish Christian inquisition and coercive conversion laws, the Muslim minority remained steadfast in their religious obligations, including the importance of performing the hajj. Aided by hundreds of texts of their own production written in Aljamiado, they devised ways to continue practicing Islam in secrecy. Furthermore, these texts aided in guiding their spiritual lives in a period in Spain’s history when being caught with anything written with the Arabic alphabet was grounds for an inquisitorial trial. In this context, performing the hajj, with all the dangers the journey entailed, was a heroic act and, I would argue, a form of jihad. Kathryn Miller explores the concept of ‘scholar’s jihad’ within the context of Aragonese Mudejar leadership. These Mudejars felt a sense of duty ‘in remaining in Aragon, doing what it took to keep Islam alive among their unlearned brethren’ (Miller 2008, 128–129) even against the insistent advice of North African and Granadan jurists who felt it was the duty of all Muslims living in Christian-dominated lands to emigrate to Islamdom. This sense of duty and disposition to fight the Christian authorities on a cultural and religious front continued well into the Morisco period at the hands of those literate crypto-Muslims, like the Mohammed Escribano family (López-Morillas 1984; 1983), who produced and distributed many Aljamiado manuscripts. As the story of the pilgrim of Puey Monçón shows, the next best thing for someone who cannot go on pilgrimage is to support someone elses’ hajj. For example, in his Tafsira, as quoted above, the Mancebo de Arévalo related how his co-religionists came to his aid, gathering money to enable his pilgrimage to Mecca.

I wonder, in the case of the Mudejar author of the poem I have been following and contextualizing, whether the members of the small community of Muslims in Puey Monçón also pooled their resources together to enable his journey. We know that he made it safely back to Spain, because upon his return he either wrote an account of his trek himself or related it for someone to write. If we accept Roza Candás’s theory of how the poem came into being, the unknown Mudejar’s account of his pilgrimage was rendered into verses that made the narration easier to remember. The poem was then copied in Aljamiado, having in mind one audience: the Moriscos, who longed to practice their religion freely and without fear of persecution.

The fact that this poem was intended for an audience of persecuted Muslims, whose sense of identity hinged on proving that Islam was the one true religion, may explain some interesting omissions on the part of the poet with regards his pilgrimage. Aside from the storm at sea that threatens the ship in which he is travelling, the Morisco author of this poem makes no mention of the many dangers that pilgrims faced along their long trip to Mecca. There is documentation that thousands of pilgrims who started in Egypt died on their journey towards or returning from Mecca due to lack of water, drinking contaminated water from many of the wells found in the desert, or due to different illnesses that many of the pilgrims brought with them from their homelands (Casassas Canals 2015, 240; Zúñiga López 1988–1989, 468; Epalza Ferrer 1982–1983, 73). Let us also not forget the threat of Bedouin attacks, which explains one the amīr al-ḥajj’s duties: to provide protection to the pilgrims with armed soldiers. For the particular case of a Morisco attempting the hajj—if we can assume they went on pilgrimage—, there was also the language barrier issue once they found themselves in Arabic speaking countries (Casassas Canals 2015, 242), since, we must remember, the Moriscos had generally lost their knowledge of Arabic, which was limited to prayers and Muslim rituals. Once in Mecca, the traveller had to deal with the masses of pilgrims all of whom were trying to perform all the required rituals, which, inevitably, meant some mishaps as well as the inconvenience of losing one’s travelling partner(s) in the middle of the tumultuous process (ibid., 247).

The anonymous author of this poem mentions nothing of the above, and the omissions may very well have been on purpose. I would suggest that the author explicitly left out these details to offer his audience an idealized hajj where light shone from the graves of prophets, where the light of the Prophet was so bright that it reached the sky, and where the city of Mecca itself bestowed its blessings upon him. However, if the author was idealizing the hajj for the sake of his readership, how are we to interpret the long passage describing the storm at sea mentioned above? The author dedicated nine coplas to this event, so it must have been somehow important. On the one hand, it is possible to accept the storm as a true account of what befell the pilgrim in his voyage to Mecca. But on the other hand, it is also possible that this episode responds to more generic conventions of hajj narrations that depict part of the journey by sea. In this regard, the poem could be part of a long tradition of literary hajj accounts that almost always include a section of the journey taken by sea that invariably described a perilous storm—ʿOmar Paṭōn’s ship, for instance, was ravaged by the plague. This use of the storm might possibly be a metaphoric test of the pilgrim’s faith and unyielding desire to reach Mecca.

The tenth-century author Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, from Baghdad, in his Kitāb al-mawt relates a story where, after death, the pious deeds of the believer, such as his prayers, his fasting, and his walking to the mosque on Fridays, surround his body to protect it from the torture of the grave (Ibn Abī al-Dunyā 1983, 46). This story suggests that in Islam the body of the believer itself, not just one’s faith and morals, is key in the service of the religion. But in the context of the Mudejars, and especially in the case of the Moriscos, going on hajj was a particularly daunting task, not just because of the great distance the trip entailed, but also because the Spanish authorities made it so difficult for the Mudejars, and close to impossible for the Moriscos, to go on pilgrimage. In this context, reading narrations of the hajj afforded those Spanish Muslims who could not go to Mecca the possibility of being there vicariously. This poem is found in an Aljamiado manuscript most likely put together towards the end of the sixteenth century. The process of copying and producing these manuscripts implies the material selection to be included in any given volume. This was informed by what the copyist felt would be of interest and, especially, spiritually relevant to their readership. So, the fact that we find this poem in an Aljamiado manuscript (along with the other manuscripts containing the Aljamiado version of ʿOmar Paṭōn’s hajj and the manuscripts containing secret itineraries to leave and return stealthily to Spain) is evidence that the hajj was a central concern for the Moriscos. The poem itself, an emblem of their hybrid Spanish-Muslim identity, is an act of resistance against the Christian authorities, thus turning pen and paper into the weapons of their jihad.


Muslims who continued living in Christian-dominated territories after the Reconquista. Also, see page 76 in this chapter.


The traditional Spanish copla consists of a stanza of four verses, in this poem, however, the stanzas contain eight verses.


The manuscript itself is a collection of shorter booklets of varying lengths and topics that were sewn together. The poem discussed here is section 61 of 89.


This period will be discussed in more detail in section ‘Other hajj accounts from Spain: During the Morisco period’ in this chapter.


Pano y Ruata (1897) also proposes 1571 as another possible date (291).


Montaner Frutos (2010) described the ‘Coplas’ as ‘likely from the beginning of [the sixteenth, mv] century’ (54); and Khedr (2010) states that the coplas ‘include data that suggests it was composed in the Mudejar period, not the Morisco period’ (222).


A year before he had anticipated this date in passing in his De Ávila a la Meca, but without any evidence.


I follow here Roza Candás’s rendering of the name (Roza Candás 2018).


All quotes of the poem come from Khedr’s 2004 edition.


The sense of this verse is not altogether clear, as Khedr points out. I follow his explanation in my translation.


The pilgrim does not specify which prophets.


For a detailed account of pilgrimages performed from Spain before the Morisco period see Roza Candás (2018, 22–33). See also Epalza (1982–1983), and Sánchez Cantón (1956).


See the editions of Casassas Canals (2015), who edited only the manuscript found in Teruel; and Roza Candás (2018) who edited both.


Harvey, in fact, expresses doubts as to whether the Mancebo was ever able to go on hajj: ‘Did he ever escape from Spain and make his ḥajj? I fear that the odds were against him, and the Inquisition may have picked him up before he ever put to sea. I would like to be proved wrong by finding one day that manuscript of his pilgrimage which Gayangos spoke of’ (Harvey 1987, 21).


Likely a reference to Carlos V.


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Narrating the Pilgrimage to Mecca

Historical and Contemporary Accounts



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