Salalah, Dhofar province, Oman 12 Dhul Qadah, 1428
I am struck by how many habits and customs remain intact from Ibn Battuta’s day almost 700 years ago. Mohammed and I were having lunch in Mirbat overlooking the sea when he idly picked up ‘The Travels [of Ibn Battuta]’ and read,
“One of their good customs is to shake hands with one another in the mosque after the morning and afternoon prayers; those in the front row turn their backs to the qibla, and those in the row next to them shake hands with them. They do the same thing after the noonday prayer on Friday, all of them shaking hands with one another.”
“But this is still done to this day”, exclaimed Mohammed surprised and seemingly rather delighted that this custom had been around at least since the 14th century, “It is disappearing now as the older men die off and foreign imams come to the mosques who do not know the custom”, he added, “but the old men still like to do this.” Earlier in the day we had visited Taqah castle which has been restored as an ethnographic museum. In one of the rooms hanging on the wall were some woven palm leaf prayer mats which he said people still used. Ibn Battuta had noted as much,
"In every one of their houses, there is a prayer mat of palm leaves hung up inside the house, on which the master of the house performs his prayers exactly as the people of the Maghreb do..."
This led to another, little-known fact; Ahmed, a young colleague of Mohammed, was remarking on the similarity of the language between the people of Salalah, eastern Yemen and Morocco. Ibn B had noted this in 1329,
"Another strange thing is that the people of this city of all men most closely resemble the people of the Maghreb in their ways...."
This led him to suppose that the legend of the Himayrite King (of Yemen) who had conquered north-west Africa and whose troops had then stayed, must in fact be true. By now experience has taught me that despite occasional skepticism on the part of locals about some of his writings, Ibn B is usually right and I have learned not to be swayed by the naysayers. But on occasion - and the Morocco connection was one of them - I wonder about fleeting fanciful notions on his part. But once again the keen oberver is right.