“I Wish I’d Been There”
By Barnaby Rogerson
What an offer! To travel back in time and return as a true witness to the history that I have so often thought and dreamed about. Perhaps I could travel in the habit of a Christian envoy from some Celtic island monastery off the west coast of the British Isles, sent east to seek advice from the wise holy man of whom we had heard, far off in Arabia. For in my homeland the light of civilization seems on the point of extinction, as Barbarian invaders appear like devils from out of the German sea.
I would arrive in the oasis of Medina at a time of peace, when all of Arabia was sending delegations to seek peace and instruction. Here, in my imagination, I would be befriended by Ali and taken back to his home, where I would witness how this battle-scarred warrior was also content in his role as a young father, playing with his boys Hussein and Hassan on the reed mats in his humble hut amongst the palm groves.
Then, in a flurry of energy, I receive a last-minute invitation to join the Prophet’s Last Pilgrimage to the holy shrine at Mecca. Although I am not permitted to approach the shrine itself and am left at a campsite just outside the pilgrimage city, I make certain to record the events as told by the eyewitnesses I travelled with.
On the journey back, I bear witness to the exact succession of events at the Ghadir Khumm campsite: the blessings, the sermon and the ritual actions of the Prophet ordaining Ali as his successor. These I faithfully record in the pages of my journal, before hurriedly departing and returning to my homeland. There, the account of my travels is neatly copied out onto vellum and placed in the monastery library. Years later, the monastery is sacked by raiders coming out of the sea, who in their fury destroyed even the walls of this holy place. But this was fortunate in a way, for the domed roof of the library collapsed preserving all the books, which lie there still…
About the writer: Mr. Barnaby Rogerson was born in Dunfermline, Scotland. Travel was a vital aspect of a childhood, which followed in the wake of his father’s career in the Royal Navy. A degree in History at St Andrews University led to writing guidebooks to first Morocco, then Tunisia, Cyprus and Istanbul followed by a string of narrative histories. A History of North Africa was followed by The Prophet Muhammad, a biography, and then The Heirs of the Prophet, in which Rogerson transports the reader back to the 7th-century in a gripping tale surrounding the division of Islam into Shia and Sunni factions. His latest work is The Last Crusaders, a story of the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Last Crusader Kings of Christendom.
Mr. Rogerson is currently writing a book on nine heroic figures from the Maghreb for an American Publisher, Overlook. Over the last fifteen years he has contributed travel articles, book reviews and historical essays on various North African and Islamic themes to several magazines and newspapers including Conde Nast Traveller, Geographical, The Guardian, Independent, Vanity Fair, Harpers & Queen and the Times Literary Supplement (TLS).
He has set up www.barnabyrogerson.com as a store house of travel stories and historical anecdotes brought back from numerous Middle Eastern and African countries. Mr. Rogerson also works at Eland Books, www.travelbooks.co.uk, which is home to over a hundred different classic travel books.
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