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The Comments of Al-Makrizi about the Last Year of the Reign of Barsbay – 3
What Did the Big Criminals Do during the Plague of 841 A.H.?:

What Did the Big Criminals Do during the Plague of 841 A.H.?:

 The Comments of Al-Makrizi about the Last Year of the Reign of Barsbay – 3



Published in April 8, 2020

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy




The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay and the Judge Ibn Hajar the Big Criminals during the Plague of 841 A.H.: What Did the Big Criminals Do during the Plague of 841 A.H.? The Comments of Al-Makrizi about the Last Year of the Reign of Barsbay – 3



Eighthly: the month of Shawwal, 841 A.H.:

1- (...On the first day of this month, the sultan Barsbay left the palace in horseback, along with his manservant and guards, and spent one day distributing charity money on the poor; his manservant distributed the money himself, but the poor and the beggars gathered around him in large groups and pushed him until he fell from his horse; the sultan was furious; he summoned the heads of the groups of beggars and commanded them to prevent all types of beggars from begging in the streets of Greater Cairo so that they would be forced to work to earn their living; the governor of Greater Cairo arrested any beggar who would violate this decree by begging in the streets and forced the violators of this decree to work as diggers for no wages at all; the streets became empty of most beggars with the exception of the blind and paralyzed ones, those who have lost any of their limbs, and those with chronic ailments – with the permission of the sultan, of course. This decree was unprecedented; many poorer beggars who could not work grew hungry since they could never beg for money or food; they invoked God's wrath against the sultan and supplicated to God to make the angels of death take his soul soon; days later, on the 7th of Shawwal, the ailment of the sultan became severer and he suffered extreme pains; he became bedridden...).

1/1: This incident about the decree of Barsbay to punish beggars by preventing them from begging in the streets shows that they formed what was like a syndicate with many different groups, and each had its head; this means poverty rates increased at the time; of course, violators of the decree of Barsbay were punished by unpaid forced labor or corvée as diggers; this means that many beggars had physical strength to work (but they preferred begging instead) with the exception of the sick and blind ones and those with amputated limbs who were allowed to continue begging in the streets of Cairo.

1/2: Such an unjust decree by Barsbay incurred the wrath of the common people and the beggars; they wished that Barsbay would die soon; we guess they were glad when his ailment increased and caused him to be bedridden; they felt, for sure, that the Lord God has punished this tyrant.

1/3: Let us bear in mind that Barsbay, who was known for being greedy, miserly, and stingy, had to distribute charity money while hoping that he would get any better and that any improvement within his health would take place and continue longer. Of course, such behavior is typical of big criminals (i.e., tyrants) in times of hardships and ordeals.

2- (...During this month, the plight and adversities of Jews and Christians increased; they were humiliated and insulted in public by all Mameluke employees and soldiers, and they were forced to offer documents about the amount of their assets, properties, and possessions owned by them since the day when the sultan Barsbay ascended the throne of the sultanate; before any inheritance money of any dead rich Jew or Christian would be distributed, the larger part of it was taken by the sultan Barsbay in the form of a heavy tax; of course, behind his back, the sultan was verbally abused, and all Cairene people of all denominations prayed ardently that he would die soon and would never recover from his ailment...). So. The severe sickness of the bedridden tyrannical sultan Barsbay never prevented him from committing grave injustices against the Egyptian People of the Book. Even the Muhammadans prayed to the Lord God so that the unjust, tyrannical sultan Barsbay would die sooner.  

3- (...On the 9th of Shawwal, the ailment of the sultan Barsbay increased to an unbearable, unprecedented level; yet, he concealed his severe physical pains and pretended before his statesmen and courtiers that he was getting a little better; in fact, he was getting worse with the passage of time; part of his pretense was to lavish rich gifts to his physicians to thank them for making him get 'better'; he also rode his horse and roamed the streets of Cairo, along with many guards, to convince onlookers that he enjoyed the best of health; yet, people noticed how pale his face was and that he talked very slowly; he concealed his desire to scream and bemoan his severe pains; two days later, he became bedridden again and could not leave his bedchamber in the palace...). We see here an example about how the Lord God inflicts torment on the big criminals in this transient world before the torment waiting for them in Hereafter for eternity: "... Whoever works evil will pay for it..." (4:123). Thus, tyrants who oppress and torture their nations inevitably suffer the torment of severe physical pains and mental anguish or psychological pains; they typically smile and conceal their feeling any pains so that they would appear strong, and alive and kicking,  before their enemies, allies, ministers, and nations; they hate to show their weakness before anyone since they fear that any power-seeking rivals would depose or dethrone them or even assassinate them. Tyrants conceal their moans and screams and pretend, in public, to be healthy and quite well; eventually, they scream and fall when sickness overwhelms and oppresses them; the tortured victims of tyrants are in a better state since they can scream and weep to lessen their pains. We can perceive in this passage we quote that Barsbay eventually could no longer bear the pretense as he suffered unbearable pains and he had to scream and keep to his bed since he was unable to move.   

4- (...On the 19th day of this month, the caravan of pilgrims and guards moved from the suburbs of Cairo, while also carrying money, goods, and the Kiswah of the Kaaba; the prince/emir of pilgrimage was a Mameluke leader named...Yet, many of the pilgrims died of the plague within two days, before the caravan would reach the Red Sea port to take the ship, and the dead ones included the son and the father of the prince of pilgrimage; thousands of Mameluke soldiers and leaders of the towers in the palace of the sultan Barsbay, who served him, died of the plague as well...). If the plague was of any use, it made people get rid of the fierce Jilban Al-Ashrafiyya Mamelukes (i.e., the ones serving the sultan Al-Ashraf Barsbay) who hated the Egyptians and insulted them and spread corruption on earth by raiding, looting, and raping.

5- (...On the 22nd day of this month, the sultan Barsbay granted money-gifts and other rich gifts to this physicians and declared that they helped him get a little better and he could leave his bed...). As usual, such getting 'better' was temporary; Barsbay felt happy and rewarded his physicians.

6- After such pretense, the heinous crime occurred two days later: Barsbay had his two physicians halved; i.e., they were put to death by being cut into two halves by the sword striking their waists and leaving them to bleed to death while seeing their entrails coming out of their bodies; such savage death was imposed by many of the big criminals who were Mameluke sultans; of course, beheading is a swifter and less painful way to kill victims. (...On the 24th day of Shawwal, the sultan Barsbay commanded the halving of the two physicians, named Al-Afeef and Khedr, who earlier received his gifts; the sultan was keen on preserving his own life and wanted to get well sooner; when his sickness got worse, he lost his temper and accused his physicians of failing to cure him on purpose and of making mistakes in preparing the medicines prescribed for him since they were negligent ignoramuses; the sultan summoned the governor of Greater Cairo who was the head of the policemen; when he came, he saw the sultan on his throne surrounded by his courtiers including the two physicians and the secretary, the treasurer,...etc. ...after the governor of Greater Cairo kissed the ground under the sultan, the furious sultan commanded him to half both Al-Afeef and Khedr in the dungeon-prison of the palace; as guard took them, Al-Afeef fell silent and was stoic as if he was resigned to accept his fate; in contrast, Khedr screamed in fright and begged for mercy but in vain; the courtiers kissed the ground under the furious sultan and kissed his feet and implored him, in vain, to spare the lives of the two physicians; the governor of Greater Cairo waited and did not put them to death as the sultan might change his mind; yet, the sultan sent several men to hasten the halving and he showed no mercy at all; later, eyewitnesses in the dungeon said that Al-Afeef remained silent and  resigned as he lied down motionless on his back and the executioner cut him into two halves from his waist by a big, sharp sword; in contrast, Khedr screamed in fear upon seeing the execution of his friend and defended himself by saying repeatedly that he was innocent; the guards had to grab him and to tie his body; he kept screaming and writhing and wriggling in vain; his halving was more painful and difficult; the corpses of both Al-Afeef and Khedr were sent to their families in their respective houses in Cairo so that they would be buried; upon hearing the news, the people of Cairo felt aversion towards the sultan for his brutality against two innocent men, and they verbally abused him behind his back and invoked God's wrath against him...They implored God to cause his death sooner...).

6/1: The torment inflicted by the Lord God on Barsbay made him lose his mind and to lose his temper in a fit of rage; he assumed that his two physicians conspired against him by neglecting their healing him in order to get more gifts/money from him or even by killing him slowly as per commands of any power-seeking rivals who wished to get rid of Barsbay; he commanded their being halved and showed no mercy! Even intercessors failed to make him spare the two innocent physicians; even the governor of Greater Cairo waited in the dungeon while expecting that Barsbay would change his mind! This did not happen! Instead, Barsbay sent someone to hasten the execution! 

6/2: The people hated the tyrannical sultan Barsbay and wished he would die sooner.

6/3: Kissing the ground under the feet of Mameluke sultans was part of the protocol followed at the time; it was to prostrate to the self-deified sultan; even the ruler of Mecca prostrated to kiss one of the hooves of the camel which carried the Kiswah of the Kaaba from Cairo, within the caravan of pilgrims, as per the protocol of showing respect to the authority of the Mameluke sultan. Of course, such polytheism of prostrating to mortals was never refuted or protested against by the obsequious supreme judge Ibn Hajar Al-Askalany, the prince of hadiths, who felt this was part of acceptable sharia laws!   

7- (...On the 29th of this month, the ailment of the sultan Barsbay grew severer and caused him too much pains; he remained in bed, but he summoned the higher military leader of all Mamelukes, prince Jaqmaq, to his chamber along with other Mameluke princes and military leaders; the sultan told them he was dying and advised them to discuss choosing his successor to avoid a destructive civil war like the one which preceded the reign of the Mameluke sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh; long discussions ensued but no conclusion was reached; no definite course of action was agreed upon by them...). Thus, the dying sultan Barsbay sent for Jaqmaq (who was like his defense minister) and his military leaders under him (they were like a supreme military council) and some other high-rank Mameluke princes; the topic of discussion was to settle on a successor of the sultan Barsbay without civil wars or internecine fighting which would certainly weaken the Mameluke sultanate and cause much damage in Greater Cairo as was the case when Al-Moayyad Sheikh engaged into a long war against his rival Nayrouz as both powerful Mameluke leaders sought the throne before Al-Moayyad Sheikh defeated and killed his rival and became the sultan. The discussion in the bedchamber of Barsbay never resulted in anything at all on that day, as the members of that meeting differed and disputed in vain and endlessly.  


Ninthly: the month of Zu Al-Qaeda, 841 A.H.:

1- (...As people were in the plight of the plague that caused the death of hundreds persons on a daily basis, the ailment of the sultan grew severer and man rumors spread that he died; the plague caused the death of thousands of Mameluke soldiers and leaders of the towers in the palace of the sultan Barsbay...). Of course, rumors spread when sultans were ill; people feared that once a terribly sick sultan would die, wars and strife among power-seeking Mamelukes (and their troops) would harm people who would be robbed, murdered, and raped in Greater Cairo; the common people usually paid the heavy price of any civil war among Mamelukes; the plague spread in Cairo, but luckily, most of the Ashrafiyya Mamelukes of Al-Ashraf Barsbay died of it and people got rid of such criminals and their evildoing. Barsbay had to cede power to his son Youssef who became a sultan while Barsbay was still alive: (...On the 4th day of this month, the sultan held an official ceremony, in the presence of all Mameluke princes and leaders and all judges, to leave the crown and the throne to his son and successor, prince Youssef, who became the sultan Jamal-Eddine Youssef...). More details about this ceremony are in the following passages we quote from the history-book titled (Al-Solok) by Al-Makrizi.

2- (...The sultan Barsbay felt he was dying and he would never recover; the judge Zayn-Eddine Abdel-Basset convinced Safy-Eddine Jawhar, the treasurer of the sultan, to talk to the sultan Barsbay, in private, about the suggestion to make his son, prince Youssef, as his successor to the throne and to convince him that this is the best solution to the current problem; the sultan made his treasurer turn all the sultan's money, possessions, and estates into the source of funding for certain mosques and madrassas; the sultan approved of the suggestion of the judge and the treasurer since the latter told him this would prevent any strife and would unify all Mamelukes for the general good...).

2/1: The treasurer of private property of the sultan was typically the nearest courtier, and he is not to be confused with the Treasurer (or financial minister) of the sultanate, and Barsbay knew that within wars among power-seeking Mamelukes after the death of sultans, many Mamelukes lose their lives and/or their wealth; Barsbay had to dedicate his wealth as part of Waqfs (i.e., religious endowments) to spend on religious institutions (a madrassa or a Khanqah) and this would prevent any possible confiscation when he would die and his adolescent son, Youssef, would rule the sultanate alone; this solution to prevent confiscations was created by the civil wing of the big criminals: judges and clergymen and high-rank employees in the departments of the government, such as the judges Ibn Hajar and Abdel-Basset. The Sufi religion dominant at the time would prevent anyone from confiscating money dedicated to maintaining religious institutions and to pay salaries of those working in them; this money of such Waqfs had its guardian; i.e., in this case, Barsbay and his son Youssef, who would typically, like the previous Mameluke rulers and princes who did so before them, would spend very little on the religious institutions and live off the rest of such ill-gotten money. This is why in the Mameluke Era, thousands of mosques and other religious institutions were built; it was a way to prevent confiscation of ill-gotten money and a way, as per the Sufi religion of Satan, to obtain the intercession of saints and remittance of sins so that sinful, unjust, tyrannical Mameluke rulers and princes would enter into Paradise in the Hereafter!     

2/2: Of course, the one who suggested that Barsbay would choose his son as his successor was among the high-rank judges/scholars of the civil wing of the big criminals (who were clergymen): the judge Zayn-Eddine Abdel-Basset who was many times the victim of many previous Mameluke sultans; he feared the sudden death of Barsbay which would lead to turmoil and military strife and the destruction of Cairo in a civil war; at such times of troubles, looting and confiscations increased and many non-military men lost their wealth and/or lives. At one time, Al-Makrizi mentions that in 838 A.H., the Mamelukes of the towers near the palace of the sultan resented the fact that their salaries were not paid; they were two weeks late; they carried their swords and sieged the mansion of the judge Zayn-Eddine Abdel-Basset who oversaw the needs, payments, and training of the troops of the Mameluke soldiers at the time and was like a sort of grand vizier who controlled the sultanate in the absence of the sultan; after sieging his mansion for a day, they broke into it and stole everything they could lay their hands on.

3- (...The bedridden sultan Barsbay admired very much the idea of ceding power to his son Youssef as the new sultan; he held an official ceremony in the next day, by night, in the presence of all judges, Mameluke soldiers, Mameluke princes and leaders, and the Abbasid prince and other  statesmen, courtiers, and viziers...All of them witnessed the decree of the sultan, to cede power to prince Youssef as his successor, written by the judge Sharaf-Eddine Abou Bakr the deputy of the secretary; the secretary Salah-Eddine Ibn Nasr was taken ill and could not attend the ceremony of write anything; he was bedridden and suffered a fever since the day when the two physicians were halved; his extreme fright caused his ailment which increased with the passage of time; eventually, the symptoms of the plague appeared on his body...The four supreme judges signed the decree as witnesses and everyone solemnly swore fealty to Youssef Ibn Barsbay...). We read here about the psychological crises of the secretary of Barsbay as he feared he would be halved like the two physicians, since he witnessed their tragedy, if the whims of the dying sultan Barsbay would be inclined to impose such a fate on him; his fright caused him a fever and then he suffered from the plague; the decree to cede power to the son of Barsbay was written by the deputy of the secretary (though such important documents should have been written by the secretary himself) who was also a judge (i.e., a clergyman or a fiqh scholar since all judges at the time were clergymen). 

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