The foregoing, a first draft of my introduction, was approved by my editor and ready for the press, when, in Kansas City, I found – – by chance – – a copy of a Catalog of Spanish Coins. I mechanically opened it, and the first thing that struck my eyes was the following section in the table of contents:
Coins of Iberian Granada; The minting by Arabs in Al Andalus.
My heart throbbed fast, I must confess. Was I at last on the trace of my coin’s engraver or was it spirituality that I was about to see nailed to the cross? I flew to the last pages of the formidable volume, and read;
In 711 AD, a Muslim general invaded Spain with seven thousand Berber horsemen. His name was Tariq ibn-Ziyad, and, he landed near the rock that would later bear his name “Tariq’s Mountain” (Gibraltar). The Muslims conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. The coins they struck in Spain closely imitated North African coinage: small, thick, silver pieces inscribed on their edge, in Arabic, was a Muslim message: “There is no god but God and He has no associate.”
The obverse bore a star, and the reverse inscription “this coin was made in Spain” in Latin, along with a date in Roman numerals using the Islamic calendar in which the year “1” was reconciled as 622 CE; the year when the prophet Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina with his followers. The silver is often alloyed with small amounts of copper to increase the hardness.
After a few years, the reverse inscription changed from abbreviated Latin to Arabic. Such bilingual coins are very rare; a very fine (VF) specimen in an 1806 auction sold for US $750.
It was, indeed, the same type of coin that I held.
In other words, that coin, to all appearances original, except perhaps for that engraving around the rim, was minted somewhere between 800 and 1400 AD.
This required further archival investigation; for it is necessary to engage in research of that kind to appreciate the difficulties found in defining the coin’s history. I consulted the catalogues of ancient books that came my way. I also visited the Kansas City shops of the coin dealers, the antiquaries, as they say back in England, visiting especially the two or three dealers who in Kansas City apply themselves to old silvers. These coin sellers also wrote to the major dealers in New York, Saint Louis, New Orleans, Chicago and Boston; all to no purpose. The very concept of Arabic language coins minted in Spain seemed to be unknown.
I was finally obliged to resort to the Library of Congress, and there at least I obtained an emergent gratification. I was shown two images of such coins. Unfortunately, the first image had water damage which made it useless for my search. The subject matter of the second image was engraved in Spanish, which was quite disappointing. Equally disappointing was an index that told of a third coin’s image; however, that image was missing from the Library.
Yet, I had a positive indication, and I pursued my investigations.
I might be more fortunate at The Princeton Theological Seminary Library. True however; it was not open to the public. But then, the Lay Fathers are hospitable. I therefore ventured into the Hallowed House; it was half past twelve, and dinner was nearly over. I asked for the librarian. After a few minutes, I saw coming toward me a short old man, appearing exceptionably civil, who, leading me through the common area, introduced me into another much narrower chamber, which was open to corridors on two sides. Thus, I was exposed to all eyes. This ingenious facility created a new desire — escape — anxiety had fully shown the need. I had no small trouble in explaining the object of my visit to the good lay Father, who was deaf and near sighted. He left me and went to the library, and soon returned, but empty handed. There also, in that sanctuary of knowledge – the Arabic coinage of Granada — was entirely unknown.
But one more expedient could I try; namely, go to Granada, Spain. A cruel and extremely long trip by horse, carriage and ship, it is granted, and I had little chance of getting there without expending all my monetary resources.
Therefore, the post office was my best method.
At last a letter from the city librarian of Granada put an end to my perplexity. The missing information was found. I received a list of all Arabic coins minted in Granada, during the Islamic occupation; by denomination, by year and which Caliph was in power at that time. Sufi spirituality coinage was scarcely mentioned and only on two pages, without any difference in the text between the Latin inscriptions and those in Arabic. And those two pages are not even a summary of the manuscript which I am now about to present to you; they only contained minute hints of the proposition and conclusion of the story that follows.
As for what was found in my discussions with the Persian immigrant – and the thirty spiritualists he introduced me to – endowed like ourselves with a body and soul, and capable of receiving salvation and damnation – it is necessary to record here. Thus, after so many endeavors, I had settled all the points which I intend to elucidate to you; I had discovered the meaning of Chasms, mirrors and birds. From the comparison of the dialogues between all thirty men, the Persian immigrant, and myself, I had surmised that the fragments of spirituality had nothing to do with the condemnation of theology, since they had not submitted to any political or religious organization.
What I did learn from them was that all of us, at some time or another, experience a great feeling of hope. It is an unexplainable filling of the chest which makes the experiencer feel like he or she is going to explode with happiness. This surely is not logical, for these feelings come without any prior forethought. The feeling appears out of nowhere, and, it sometimes drives people toward something that they feel is an unknown or illusory goal. I suppose you could call this a “Quest.”
The best written description of a quest was “Don Quixote;” although the Don has often been ridiculed for his rationalism. I would suggest that most quests end in being nowhere close to what the quester had intended; although, if the person who experiences the quest is spiritual, that person finds the experience merits the trip.
I have come to the conclusion, after listening to flocks of settlers heading westward, that the great majority have suffered greatly; some through ignorance, some through fate, and some through the consequence of human intersections. I must admit, a small minority of these pilgrims do find their fantasies of fame and fortune, while the great majority find happiness in the philosophy of spirituality. Those are the voices that are mirrored in the following text.
Lastly, I had become convinced that, except for a few dervishes, spirituality, without a doubt, is reality.
A happy event of their odyssey, which I hope I shall be excused for relating at length, follows. It is for the justification of those who quest – and no one else.
Oh yes, one more thing, although it is unimportant at this time; the Persian’s name was Dehkhoda; which translates to “Administrator of Understanding.”
The Dakota Explorer
Next Post; S1:E3 The Dehkhoda Welcomes those who Quest