Having crossed the length of North Africa and wandered the Levant, Ibn Battutah arrived in Damascus. This was a city which impressed the Berber traveller like no other. He speaks of its great mosques (Mosque of the Umayyads) and learned men (Alam al-Din al-Birzali, a historian and religious scholar). It had taken him more than a year (having departed from Tangier in June, 1325 and reached Damascus in August, 1326). Battutah spent the holy month of Ramadan in the company of generous Damascene citizens. This is an aspect he noted in detail, embellishing his description with a first hand account:
“As I went along a lane in Damascus, I saw in it a young slave boy out of whose hand there had just fallen a Chinese porcelain dish. It had broken to bits. A crowd gathered round him and one of them said to him, ‘Pick up the pieces and take them with you to the custodian of the endowment for utensils.’ So he picked them up and the man went with him to the custodian, to whom the slave showed the broken pieces and thereupon received from him enough to buy a similar platter. The endowment is one of the best of good works, for the boy’s master would undoubtedly have beaten him for breaking the dish, or at least have scolded him, while he too would have been heartbroken and upset because of that. The benefaction is thus indeed a mender of hearts – may God well reward him whose charitable zeal rose to the heights of such an action.”
For all the travelling he had done, Ibn Battutah did not lose his soft spot for the weak and less fortunate. The act of kindness he witnessed in Damascus lingered long enough to be noted down. Makes one appreciate him even more.
Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on a painting ‘La Réception d’une délégation vénitienne à Damas’ (Reception of a Venetian Delegation in Damascus), dating back to 1511, and connected to the Bellini brothers (Giovanni and Gentile, from the city of Venice). The authorship is not clear. The painting is kept in the Louvre Museum.
Reference: The Travels of Ibn Battutah (edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith)