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The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay and the Judge Ibn Hajar the Big Criminals during the Plague of 841 A.H.: An Introduction

The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay and the Judge Ibn Hajar the Big Criminals during the Plague of 841 A.H.: An Introduction





Published in March 27, 2020

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy





1- As we follow the news of the Coronavirus epidemic now (March, 2020), we remember the history of the epidemics, pestilences, and plagues that occurred in the East and the West from time to time; they are a type of partial destruction and torment as we have mentioned in some episodes of our YouTube show titled (Quranic Moments); this is why we have decided to include a chapter about the 841 A.H. plague that broke out during the Mameluke Era in our book titled "The Big Criminals Who Are Tyrants and Clergymen in the Planet of the Muhammadans".

2- In order to understand the alliance between the big criminals who are the tyrannical sultans and the clergymen within the Mameluke Era, we provide a brief overview of the Mameluke sultanate. The Arabic term Mameluke means (a slave); the Mamelukes were bought as slaves when they were children or adolescents and were trained to be soldiers and then freed in order to serve the Ayyubid sultans; when the Ayyubid State collapsed, Mameluke sultans, who were former slaves, ruled free people who were nations of Egypt, the Levant,...etc. This made Mameluke rulers and princes feel a sort of inferiority complex; they always clung to something to 'legitimize' their rule. Hence, the Mameluke sultanate was a theocratic military State; i.e.,  the hierarchy began with the Abbasid prince (i.e., the head of the family of the survivors of the Abbasid dynasty brought to Cairo, Egypt, after the destruction of Baghdad and the Abbasid caliphate by the Mongols) and the Mameluke sultan and then the four supreme judges representing the four main Sunnite doctrines; by the way, the main supreme judge among them was the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine. Of course, the Abbasid prince along with the four supreme judges officially undertook the coronation of Mameluke sultans; this means that the high-rank Mamelukes would vie for the throne of the sultanate within intrigues, conspiracies, and scheming as well as bloodshed and military strife; once a Mameluke ascended the throne, he would receive the theocratic 'legitimacy' from the Abbasid prince and the four supreme judges. In other words, the big criminals who were the clergymen (i.e., the Abbasid prince and the four supreme judges) lent 'legitimacy' as per the Sufi-Sunnite religion (which dominated at the time) to the coronation of the big criminals who were the Mameluke tyrannical sultans. By the way, the theocratic nature of the military Mameluke rule was asserted by the fact that Mameluke sultans built mosques and other Sufi religious institutions carrying their names in Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, Jerusalem,...etc. in order to create a place where Mameluke sultans would draw 'benediction' and hear supplications offered to the Lord God for the sake of the sultans by the obsequious Sufi sheikhs/clergymen; at the time, the central notion of the Sufi religion was the intercession of intercessors/saints and the worshiping of entombed saints; the Mameluke sultans asserted their theocratic rule further by the annual event of reciting Al-Bokhary book within 30 days every Ramadan within the lunar year; this major event was attended by the sultan and the other big criminals: judges, fiqh scholars, sheikhs/clergymen, and the Mameluke princes and military leaders.          

3- We write about persons who exemplify the big criminals in Cairo, Egypt, during the Mameluke Era; we have chosen the time of the plague which struck the Mameluke sultanate in 841 A.H. / 1437 A.D. which is the same year when the big criminal or the Mameluke sultan Barsbay died. Among those big criminals or Quran-hating clergymen who supported the tyrant Barsbay were the three Godfathers or parrains of other big criminals among Mameluke sultans/tyrants at the time and who attended the ceremony of reciting Al-Bokhary book every Ramadan: (1) Ibn Hajar the historian, supreme judge, and fiqh scholar who was given the titles (Sheikh of Islam) and (Leader of hadiths) who wrote an exegeses book about Al-Bokhary hadiths, (2) Al-Ainy the historian, supreme judge, and fiqh scholar who also wrote an exegeses book about Al-Bokhary hadiths, and (3) Abou Al-Mahasin the Mameluke aristocrat and historian and fiqh scholar. On the other hand, in writing about the events of 841 A.H., we quote from the lines of history written by Al-Makrizi, in his many-volume history-book titled (Al-Solok), who is the greatest Egyptian historian in the Middle-ages in our view. Of course, Abou Al-Mahasin wrote about the events of 841 A.H. in his sixteen-volume history-book titled (Al-Nojom Al-Zahera fe Akhbar Masr wa Al-Qahira) or "The Bright Stars in the History of Egypt and Cairo". Likewise, Ibn Hajar wrote about the events of 841 A.H. in his history-book titled (Enbaa Al-Ghumur Be Abnaa Al-Umur) or, roughly translated, "Historical Events from the Chronicle of the Years". Hence, this entails that at first, we must introduce such historians to our readers in the next paragraphs before we analyze what they wrote about the plague of 841 A.H.        


Firstly: Ibn Hajar Al-Askalany (773 – 852 A.H.):

1- Ibn Hajar was appointed and dismissed from his post as the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine many times as per the Mameluke policy of dismissing and (re)appointing to receive more bribes; high-rank positions were bought by means of bribes paid to the Treasury of the Mameluke sultans; this was never a source of shame at the time; in fact, there was a public department of the reception of bribes in the Mameluke government to help rich seekers of governmental prestigious posts! Hence, Ibn Hajar intermittently assumed the post of the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine 21 times from 827 A.H. until shortly before his death in 852 A.H.; each time, he paid larger sums to bribe his way to restore his position. Ibn Hajar was also a mufti (i.e., issuer of fatwas) and he was employed in the judicial department/authority. Because of his close ties with the big criminals (rulers + clergymen), Ibn Hajar was appointed as a teacher/tutor in many Sufi-orders madrasas and institutions (by the way, some Sufi schools were named as Khanqah); he was also appointed as the sermonizer in several grand mosques; e.g., the Umayyad grand mosque in Damascus and Al-Azhar mosque and Amr Ibn Al-As grand mosque in Cairo. Since he was among the big criminals who were the obsequious clergymen serving rulers, Ibn Hajar delivered sermons many times in the grand mosque adjacent to the Castle of the Mount; i.e., the palace of the Mameluke sultans and center of their rule and authority. Of course, Ibn Hajar had close ties with the Mameluke sultan Barsbay whom we will mention a lot in what we will write about the events of 841 A.H. Ibn Hajar sometimes accompanied Barsbay in his travels and he was a well-known public figure in Cairo; when he died, 50 thousand men attended his funeral including the Mameluke sultan Jaqmaq, the Abbasid prince Suleiman, and the Mameluke princes and leaders who vied for carrying the coffin containing the corpse of Ibn Hajar (as if to draw benediction from the dead clergyman!). This funeral of Ibn Hajar symbolizes, in our view, the alliance between the two types of the big criminals: tyrants/sultans and clergymen.         

2- Ibn Hajar authored several many-volume history books about Egypt and its notable figures (sultans, princes, leaders, scholars, judges, clergymen,...etc.); some of them are merely manuscripts in the Egyptian Dar Al-Kotob (the Central Library) in Cairo. When we were studying for our PhD thesis in the 1970s, we quoted from such manuscripts whose importance are derived from the fact that many contemporary historians in our modern time quoted from them. The main book by Ibn Hajar widely published until now in Egypt and the Arab world is his exegeses of the Al-Bokhary hadiths; his book from which we quote events of 841 A.H. from his point of view is (Enbaa Al-Ghumur Be Abnaa Al-Umur); in this book, Ibn Hajar writes the history of his own era from 773 A.H. (when he was born) until 850 A.H. shortly before his death.   


Secondly: Badr-Eddine Al-Ainy (762 – 855 A.H.):

1- He came to Cairo and served a Sufi-order sheikh named Al-Sirami; through this Sufi sheikh, Al-Ainy became close to the Mameluke sultan Barqoq who appointed him as a tutor/teacher in the Sufi school built by the Sultan. Later on, Al-Ainy was (re)appointed and dismissed alternatingly from his prestigious post as the Muhtasib of Cairo (i.e., the general inspector in markets and streets + the tax collector); this job of Hisbah was given typically to fiqh scholars and Mameluke princes only who bribed their way to get this high-rank post. Besides, in 819 A.H., Al-Ainy was appointed as a high-rank governmental employee: a scribe in a governmental department; in 829 A.H., Al-Ainy was appointed as the supreme judge of the Abou-Hanifa doctrine. 

2- Al-Ainy focused to get closer to the Mameluke sultans; he was a contemporary to a number of them; he was the favorite courtier of the Mameluke sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh; he allowed Al-Ainy to enter into his palace anytime he would choose. The same applies to Barsbay who loved spending hours in conversations with the supreme judge Al-Ainy as his favorite courtier; Barsbay typically said that if it had not been for Al-Ainy, he would not have learned 'Islam' and how to rule the sultanate. Barsbay had little education (if any at all); he was taught by Al-Ainy what was deemed at the time as 'Islam' (i.e., the Sufi-Sunnite hybrid religion) and historical accounts of ancient rulers and kings. Abou Al-Mahasin the historian mentions in one of his books that Barsbay listened for hours (intermittently for several months) for Al-Ainy who read to him books of history written by late historians about kings and sultans. Abou Al-Mahasin mentions that Barsbay was, in fact, illiterate and was enthroned after he reached the age of 40 and he felt he was ignorant and must learn by listening to historians and fiqh scholars so that he would rule the sultanate in an efficient manner.    

3- Because Al-Ainy was busy teaching Barsbay (and other sultans before him) about religion and history, his books on hadiths, fiqh, and history are trivial, shallow, and of minor importance; his exegeses-book of Al-Bokhary hadiths was a very poor affair in comparison to the exegeses book authored by the erudite Ibn Hajar. At one time, the obsequious historian Al-Ainy flattered the Mameluke sultans Al-Dhahir Tatar and Al-Moayyad Sheikh by writing their biographies in two separate books dedicated to them. He also wrote annals of history titled (Eqd Al-Juman fe Tareekh Ahl Al-Zaman) or "Pearl Necklace in History of the People of Time", where he summarized what other ancient historians have written until 707 A.H. during the era of the Mameluke sultan Al-Nasser M. Ibn Qalawun; this means that unlike other historians, Al-Ainy never wrote history of his own era as an eyewitness.     


Thirdly: Abou Al-Mahasin Ibn Taghribirdi (813 – 874 A.H.):

1- Abou Al-Mahasin was of an aristocratic Mameluke origin; his father was the Mameluke prince Taghribirdi who was a Mameluke military leader and then he was appointed as the governor of the Levant (i.e., a deputy of the Cairo-based Mameluke sultan). This means Abou Al-Mahasin belonged to the free, arrogant, and rich aristocratic class members who were sons of Mamelukes; this is why Abou Al-Mahasin reflects the voice of his own class in contrast to another historian, Ibn Eyas, who was born within the aristocratic class but his writings reflect the voice of common people in Egypt. 

2- The main book of Abou Al-Mahasin is the sixteen-volume history-book titled (Al-Nojom Al-Zahera fe Akhbar Masr wa Al-Qahira) or "The Bright Stars in the History of Egypt and Cairo", in which Abou Al-Mahasin begins with the Arab conquest of Egypt and later eras (i.e., he copied from other ancient historians) until his own era about which he wrote as an eyewitness until 873 A.H. and he died in 874 A.H. By the way, Abou Al-Mahasin mentions by the end of this book that he authored it to gratify his dear friend the prince M. Ibn Jaqmaq the son and heir of the Mameluke sultan Jaqmaq; he assumed at first that this prince would ascend the throne once day after the death of his father so that the book would end by his era; yet, this prince died in 847 A.H.

3- Al-Makrizi died in 845 A.H.; this means his many-volume history-book titled (Al-Solok) ends in 844 A.H. The disciple of Al-Makrizi, Abou Al-Mahasin, had to continue writing the events of contemporary history as an annex to (Al-Solok); this annex was later on published as a separate book titled (Hawadith Al-Dohor fe Al-Ayam we Al-Shohor) or "Events of Time Per Days and Months". By the way, selected passages of this book were published in Paris in 1930 A.D., edited by William Popper. Abou Al-Mahasin wrote also a five-volume book of brief biographies of the luminaries, princes, scholars,...etc. of his own era with about 3000 entries. Abou Al-Mahasin typically acknowledges in his writings how much he is indebted to his tutor Al-Makrizi; he imitated his style, but his level was decidedly below Al-Makrizi, especially regarding criticizing the injustices spread in their era.  

4- Of course, Abou Al-Mahasin lived in luxury like the rest of the aristocratic class members; he excelled in the equestrian skilled and h mastered both the Arabic and Turkish tongues; this means that as a historian, he was aloof and distant from the common people in the Egyptian society; in the point below, we quote an incident as a proof.

5- The Mameluke sultan Einal at one time made counterfeit money within silver coins of dirhams; he had to hold a meeting in 861 A.H. in his palace to face the protests and demonstrations of the angry people of Cairo who stood before the gates of the palace; Abou Al-Mahasin writes that the massive demonstrations forced the sultan Einal never to leave the palace, as intended, to lead a procession which was supposed to pass through all the streets of Cairo; Einal had to hold a meeting whose members included the four supreme judges, several Mameluke princes, and representatives of wealthy merchants and landlords; the demonstrators never greeted back the supreme judge Al-Balqini as he moved through the crowds to enter into the palace; the masses rebuked, slandered, and verbally abused him since he remained silent and never cared for the interests of people. The meeting ended while no results were reached; people were told by callers/heralds of the sultan Einal never to use the counterfeit coin; in many phrases and poetry lines, the demonstrators ridiculed Einal for his annulling a jinxed coin bearing his own image. Such ridicule has been typical of the Egyptians in all eras. Abou Al-Mahasin, who describes such rare type of demonstrations since the masses in Cairo protested angrily against the corruption of the Mameluke sultan Einal and his corrupt retinue members of clergymen, judges, sheikhs, and fiqh scholars who were the big criminals, writes that the angry demonstrators chanted slogans of verbal abuse, curses, and insults against Einal and all statesmen, judges, and clergymen; Einal feared that his Mameluke soldiers and princes (especially those power-seeking ones who joined the ranks of Mamelukes as grownups, not as enslaved children, while seeking wealth and fame) might seize the chance to revolt against him after his being humiliated by the masses. Einal was frightened by his loss of stature and awe because of the demonstrators; at first, he  thought of quelling and crushing the demonstrations around the palace using his Mameluke soldiers; yet, he had to cancel this idea lest the power-seeking Mameluke military leaders would join the masses and a full-fledged revolt would occur leading to his dethronement. When the demonstrators knew that Einal would never use force to make them return home and leave the gates of the sultanate palace, they continued to curse and slander all statesmen, judges, and leaders who stole and confiscated in the name of the sultan and imposed heavy taxes; they also threw stones at one overseer and he had to flee along with his guards and servants lest he would get killed; Abou Al-Mahasin expresses his discontentment since the masses emerged victorious and forced the sultan Einal to submit to their demand; he writes that the sultan sent them his own son, the prince, to discuss their demand; their demand was to restore the original value of the currency after taking back all counterfeited coins and giving people original dirhams. When the prince promised to talk to his father, the sultan Einal, about such demand, the masses insisted that the sultan must announce his decision today; finally, the masses had their way to the consternation of Abou Al-Mahasin. This means that this aristocratic historian belonged to the class of big criminals or the unjust affluent ones and not to the clergymen class since he was a courtier of Einal the tyrannical Mameluke sultan; he disapproved of the fact that Einal had to submit to the demand made by the people of Cairo and describes them pejoratively as (the masses).            


Lastly: Taqi-Eddine Ahmad Ibn Ali Al-Makrizi (766 – 845 A.H.):

1- Al-Makrizi assumed many posts as an imam to several mosques and as a Muhtasib (inspector of markets), but he refused to be appointed as a judge in Damascus; later on, he dedicated his time fully to writing history books.

2- Al-Makrizi was a prolific author; he wrote on general history, Egyptian history, and the international history (i.e., of the ancient world) and this is not to mention his specialized books on several branches of knowledge and also on the Egyptian civilization. 

3- Al-Makrizi wrote majors many-volume history-books such as (Al-Khabar An Al-Bashar), or "History of Mankind", (Al-Dorar Al-Modeeia fe Tareekh Al-Dawla Al-Eslamiyya), or "Shiny Pearls in the History of the Islamic Caliphate", and (Emtaa Al-Asmaa bima Lilrasool min Al-Abnaa' we Al-Ahwal we Al-Hafada we Al-Mataa), or "Pleasing the Ears with Historical Accounts of Muhammad the Messenger's Progeny, Grandsons, Events, and Possessions". As for his many-volume books about Egyptian history, they include three major books: (1) (History of Al-Fustat City) which is about the period from the Arab conquest to the Fatimid conquest, (2) (History of the Fatimid Caliphs) which is about the Fatimid caliphate as Al-Makrizi copied from and commented on lines of that history from other historians who witnessed such caliphate, and (3) (Al-Solok), or "the manners/ways", which is his seminal book about the history of the Ayyubid and the Mameluke eras in Egypt, and this book stops at the events of the year 844 A.H. because Al-Makrizi died in 845 A.H. Within his style, Al-Makrizi skilled at copying and summarizing the lines of history written by ancient historians and he wrote detailed comments about what he copied expressing his own political and religious views and his criticism of grave injustices and unjust people. As for his writing on his own era as an eyewitness, in the last chapters of (Al-Solok), he wrote comprehensively about almost all aspects of life in Egypt. His another seminal book or encyclopedia is titled  Al-Khetat, or "the plans/maps", in which he describes streets and districts of Greater Cairo and then of other Egyptian cities, as he wrote on main landmarks, monuments, buildings, mosques, etc. and the social life in each Egyptian city during his lifetime.    

4- Al-Makrizi was a pioneer in writing about the historical and sociological aspects of his era as he followed the footsteps of his tutor Ibn Khaldoun (who died in 808 A.H.); yet, unlike Ibn Khaldoun who disregarded Egypt in his history-book and his sociology book titled (The Introduction), Al-Makrizi made Egypt the focus of his writings; i.e., Egypt's past and present within the political, sociological, civilizational, and religious aspects. Al-Makrizi wrote a four-volume book about the biographies of Egyptian historians, scholars, scientists, rulers,...etc., who visited Egypt or lived in it since the Arab conquest, but this book is still an unpublished manuscript. In another book, Al-Makrizi writes about the biographies of notables, landlords, dignitaries, judges, and courtiers of his own era in Egypt; he referred to this special book in his other books. Al-Makrizi also authored booklets about economy and money, history of Desert-Arabs, singing, music, irrigation projects, religious life in Egypt, history of pilgrimage, notable pilgrims, and the Kaaba in Mecca, and civil wars of Arabs, biographies of ancient kings, biographies of the notable descendants of Ali and Fatima (daughter of Muhammad), and the strife between the Umayyads and the Hashemites.

5- Apart from being a prolific author who has a big number of books on diverse branches of knowledge, the writing style of Al-Makrizi was outstanding and exceptional; he wrote in a scientific, objective manner regarding recording historical events but he also courageously added his own views against injustices and his criticism of unjust persons. We will quote Al-Makrizi in his writing about the plague of 841 A.H.   

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