After crossing a mountain, Ibn Fadlan comes to the territory settled by the Ghuzz Turks. Here, he is almost entirely concerned with the cultural traditions, customs and practices of the Ghuzz Turks but also touches briefly upon their democratic form of government.
We don’t learn much about Ibn Fadlan’s physical journey at this point or the terrain, except for the first mention of crossing a mountain and the mention of the desert as a place to cast a poor man or slave who has fallen ill and leave him to the elements.
One of the most prevalent themes in this section of text is Ibn Fadlan’s focus on the cultural and societal place of Turkish women. His first anecdote after introducing the reader to the Turks and their government is that of a woman who “bared her private parts and scratched” in the presence of the travellers, but, as her husband is pleased to comment, “protects them and allows no one near” (12). Ibn Fadlan and his companions respond to this incident by “cover[ing] our faces with our hands” and seeking God’s forgiveness in a reaction of evident horror and shock. This moment of disgust with the Turks’ cultural understanding of modesty and the female body immediately follows a commentary on the Turks’ bathing habits, the lack of which is clearly frowned upon by the Muslim traveller who himself ritually washes frequently and considers this to be good practice. By using a description of filthiness and “pollution” as a transition into discussing the female body and what parts of it should be covered, Ibn Fadlan demonstrates an understanding of modesty that requires women to “hide” certain parts of their bodies from the male viewer. Not only does he impose his own cultural understanding onto his interaction with the Turkish woman and her husband, he relates her husband’s response to his reaction, stripping the woman of any voice she may or may not have had.
Ibn Fadlan also writes of Turkish marriage customs, emphasizing that once a man has “paid his debt” to the man who “posseses” the woman he wishes to marry, he “comes without the slightest shame, walks into the house where the woman is and takes possession of her in front of her father, her mother and her brothers, and they do not stop him” (13-4). Ibn Fadlan’s use of the work “shame” indicates his disapproval of this custom, but his disapproval stems not from the ritual of purchasing a wife, or the moment of “possession” (which is understood to be intercourse and possibly, if not likely, rape) but rather the fact that intercourse takes place before the woman’s family and that “they do not stop him” (14). The individual listing of the bride’s “father, her mother and her brothers” emphasizes the disapproval and focuses the reader’s attention to the audience of the marital “tak[ing of] possession” and collaborates with the final comment that “they do not stop him” to display that this is the source of Ibn Fadlan’s discomfort, not the purchasing of a wife, like a slave, nor the possibility of rape. In fact, Ibn Fadlan’s failture to mention the reception of the bride to her husband only highlights his disinterest in women’s well-being, never mind their rights, agency, voice or representation.
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