Home Literature The Andalusian poet Al-Sahili, from Granada to Timbuktu

The Andalusian poet Al-Sahili, from Granada to Timbuktu

The Andalusian poet Al-Sahili, from Granada to Timbuktu

He became a cultural icon in the Mali Empire during the thirteenth century AD, and is celebrated today by cultural circles in his birthplace, Granada

By Ashraf Aboul-Yazid

Abu Ishaq al-Sahili, the Andalusian poet, architect, diplomat, and traveler, who was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, lived with a scoop of wisdom in his hand, and traveled carrying his destiny, until he became a cultural icon in the Mali Empire during the thirteenth century AD, and is celebrated today by cultural circles in his birthplace, Granada, in an annual celebration inaugurates the tenth anniversary of this gathering to honor an exceptional civilizational name in the world of global culture, between Europe and Africa.

Abu Ishaq al-Sahili; (born in 1290), was an Andalusian poet and fiqh scholar who became a favored member of the court of Mansa Musa, emperor of Mali. He is the most renowned of the scholars from the wider Muslim world who immigrated to Mali in the aftermath of Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage. Many European texts refer to al-Sahili as an architect, and attribute major innovations in West African architecture to him.

Al-Sahili-2On October 15, 2023 at 11:00 am the 11th Sahili Night was celebrated in honor of the poet Sahili, I was honored to be a special guest. For the last 10 years the organizers used to invite special guests to join this prestigious event. Two years ago, the most famous American poet, Jack Hirschman was the special guest poet. I was invited to read two poems, one of my poems and another one written by Sahili that we would provide you in Arabic by him.

Al-Sahili al-Gharnati (from Granada) was a poet nicknamed the Mutannabbi of al-Andalus, architect, diplomat and the greatest prose writer in Andalusia history according to Ibn al-Hatib. He died in Timbuktu on October 15, 1346.

Sahii went into exile from Granada, passed through Cairo, Damascus, Bagdad, al-Quds, Sanaa and Mecca to perform Haj, where he met the emperor of Mali, Mansa Musa who took him with him to Mali where he built several palaces and mosques, including the famous mosque of Timbuktu.

Any modern sources refer to al-Sahili as an architect and credit many architectural works of West Africa to him, including the Djinguereber Mosque and a royal palace in Timbuktu and the mosque of Goa. The French colonial official and scholar Maurice Delafosse regarded al-Sahili as the creator of what he referred to as the Sudanese architectural style, which he regarded as having been based on Maghrebi architecture.

Mahmud Kati al-Tulaytuli al-Andalusi married Miriam bint Muhammad Al-Sahili and his descendant, Ali-Gao made the first anthology of his prose and his valuable poetry. The poet Ismaël Dadié Haïdara descendant of the poet Al- Sahili of Granada organizes since 2013 in collaboration with the University of Granada and the Patronage of the Alhambra of Granada “La Noche Sahiliana”, night that is celebrated every October 15, on the anniversary of the death of the poet from Granada in Tombouctou, reading his poetry.

Being a poet from Egypt where Al-Sahili lived, I became the guest poet of this 11th Sahilian Night which took place on Sunday October 15. The event was held under the patronage of the Embassy of Mali in Spain, the University of Granada, the Board of Trustees of the Alhambra and Generalife, UNESCO – SPAIN and WPM Mali.

The program started with musical intervention with nay flute by Hamza Castro, and both poet Virginia Fernandez and researcher Pedro Enriquez had welcome words.  The poet Ismaël Dadié Haïdara invited H.E. the Malian ambassador to give his speech. Musical interventions have been introduced between speeches.

On my turn, I read my latest poem, The Monk at top of the Mountain with a gray head, I also read a love poem – in Arabic – written by Al-Sahili, while Virginia Fernandez read my poem in its Spanish translation done by Dr. Nadia Gamaleddin, Pedro Enriquez read the Spanish translation of Al-Sahili poem, The Facial Mole:

Al-Sahili-3“The Facial Mole is a center point on the cheek stares circled around it, on a darker and darker night, two nights from your temples or my longings. If you rise to full moon, you will have three choices: for the gap, for the wine, or for the cupbearer. And with every path of path there are eyes that adorn it. Oh, my gazelle, nice company was not tempted by sniping, and the crescent moon was on the horizon, and it was not launched by a target. How have you been hidden? Under your hair is a star for the cheek, rising from the collars, as wine in its folds negated the grain and the strength of the potion dividing our cups, drinking is one of her morals and getting drunk is one of mine”.

Another poem of Al – Sahili in Arabic was also heard by Maram Al-Masri, the well-known Syrian poet who sent it as a recorded message.

Alicia Choin was invited to read one of the Andalusian poet’s poems in Spanish, and so did Virginia and, Sofia and Pedro who gave way to Ismaël Dadié Haïdara to conclude speeches to appreciate the participants and highlight the role of Al-Sahili in culture, both in past and present.  The event was concluded with musical intervention with nay flute by Hamza Castro, playing the Andalusian muwashah; “Lamma Bada Yatathana”.


Ashraf Aboul-Yazid is an eminent poet, novelist, travelogue writer of Egypt who has authored over three dozen books. His poetry has been translated into over a dozen languages. He is Editor-in-Chief of Silk Road Literature Series.    


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