Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī: part 3

Black History Month continues with my third instalment on Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī. This time, the biography following below comes from Ibn Ayyūb.

  • Ibn Ayyūb, Sharaf al-Dīn Mūsā. Kitāb al-rawḍ al-ʿāṭir fīmā tayassiru min akhbār ahl al-qarn al-sābiʿ ilā khitām al-qarn al-ʿāshir. Staatsbibliothek Berlin, MS Wetzstein II 289 (you can read it here).

Last week, we looked at how his successor Ibn al-ʿImād inserted a new episode which, to my understanding, plays heavily on Mubārak’s African origin. Ibn Ayyūb’s biography does not feature it. Yet, it is the most unconventional characterization of Mubārak. Let’s jump right in and I’ll point out why I think that afterwards. Words in red are written in red ink in the manuscript as well:

Mubārak b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Qābūnī al-Shāfiʿī, the shaykh, the pious, he recited the Ghāyat al-ikhtiṣār in Shāfiʿī law (fiqh). The shaykh al-islām Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn built for him a zāwiya in Qābūn, to which he came frequently. He made him a student and increasingly convinced him of his viewpoints (ṣāra taḥta naẓrih).

Then, the unruly youth (ʿutūrat al-shabāb) rallied to shaykh Mubārak and they began to waylay transports of alcohol, which came from Ṣayyidnāya, and they stopped them and destroyed the vessels. This was reported to the governor of Damascus ʿĪsā Pasha, and he apprehended some of the unruly youth and put them in prison at Bāb al-Barīd. Then, Shaykh Mubārak came down to plead for them, and [the governor] captured him and beat him and put him in the prison. Then the shaykh al-islām Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn sent to intercede for him and freed him, and the unruly youth stayed in prison, and their comrades were incited and they attempted repeatedly to [open] he gate of the prison and broke it open and got out the inmates.

That was reported to the governor and he sent against them his Mamluks. They killed about seventy of them at the Bāb al-Barīd and the amber market and the Umayyad Mosque. The rest fled and I have seen in the book al-Tamattuʿ bi-l-Iqrān by Ibn Ṭūlūn no similar [account about] (mā mithāluh) on Mubārak ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Qābūnī.

[But] our shaykh Ibn al-Mibrad mentions him in his Riyād and speaks: ‘Shaykh Mubārak appeared in the year 897 and to him flocked followers (murīdūn). He took up the injunction of good and the forbidding of evil and the spilling of alcoholic spirits (khumūr), among other things. After he abolished that, he turned against the Turks, and the Turks turned against him more than once. And he destroyed their taverns, and they wanted to kill him but could not.’ And his account is famous. End.’

I spoke: ‘the mentioned shaykh Mubārak was a pious man and one of God’s friends […], he was strong, incredibly brave, and very tall (ʿaẓīm al-khalqa), of black [skin color], and had complete knowledge of songs and their principles (ʿilm) and knowledge of the hunt and shooting and he was strong (lahu yad ṭūlā) in firing the crossbow (or musket; bunduq) and in swimming and other things.

His son, the shaykh Muḥammad told me about his father shaykh Mubārak that he went for the hunt with his followers in direction of the lake (baḥra) in the Marj and one crossbow broke into two halves. He put the half into the center of the bow (qūs) and shot with it a bird and brought it to the ground. Then he used the [other] half and brought down another bird […]. Swimming, he would come up from the water with fish in his toes and fish in his fingers and in his mouth a bigger fish. And under every arm pit (absaṭ) he [carried] a fish.

He carried out the dhikr in the zāwiyas of Ibn Dāwud and Saʿd bin ʿIbada in al-Mnīḥa and in the mosque (jāmiʿ) which is in the Sulaymānī quarter, and in his zāwiya in Qābūn.

He has a speech impediment. Ibn Ṭūlūn spoke: the truth is that they are making the dhikr until their augustness restricts it to the Hamza and the Hāʾ, but they carelessly replace the Hāʾ with Ḥāʾ. So they are saying: ‘uḥ uḥ’.’

{Comment in the margins: He is the first who [mentions?; sh..n?] the language of shaykh al-Qābūnī}

Shaykh Mubārak died on Thursday, 1 Rabīʿ I 944 in Qābūn al-Taḥtānī and he was buried in the turba of al-Qābūn. His funeral drew a large crowd; present were the virtuous and some of the notables of the city (aʿyān al-balad). Parts (athār) of his zāwiya remain until today.

And apropos his son, our ṣāḥib shaykh Muḥammad…[and then the last half page is about Muḥammad]

The first noticeable thing is certainly the greater length of the account, even if we leave aside the half page dedicated to Mubārak’s son Muḥammad. This should not concern us too much, however. Ibn Ayyūb probably knew the son and perhaps also the father personally, and it is a common feature in Arabic biographical literature that such relationships would be highlighted in a biographical work. They added to the author’s credentials as much as to those of the biographee.

But the real difference to the afore going biographies is the way in which Ibn Ayyūb characterizes Mubārak’s following. Here they are unruly youth, which eventually slip out of his control all together. They are blamed for the bloodshed. Them and Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn, who takes on a role not unlike that of Senator Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels. He lures Mubārak into a position where he can only lose. Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn is pulling the strings, it seems. As to why Mubārak is spoken free of all responsibility, it is not entirely clear to me. I prefer to believe that Ibn Ayyūb had an interest in portraying him in an infallible light. But it is possible that he did not want to attribute the perhaps most successful campaign against the vices to a lowly former slave but instead emphasized the impact the local notable Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn had on the matter.

There are other puzzles in that biography. The most important one, in my opinion, is that the central events appear to have been transposed into an Ottoman environment, even though they actually happened about two decades before the Ottomans occupied Damascus. The major antagonist of Mubārak was defintely not ʿĪsā Pasha. ʿĪsā Pasha was most certainly the eighth Ottoman governor of Damascus who ruled the city around around 1521 (the fourth year of Ottoman rule).

Also, when describing Mubārak’s posts, Ibn Ayyūb uses a decisively Ottoman topography: the Sulaymānī quarter was named after the mosque complex Sulaymān the Law Giver had built on the site of the old Mamluk palace on the shores of the Baradā river. What we can gain from that is that Mubārak’s struggle was still relevant for Damascenes in Ibn Ayyūb’s time. That can also be seen by his reference to the remains of Mubārak’s zāwiya. As I understand it, the fight against vices had not ended with the beginning of a new rule.

Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī, part 2

It is still Black History Month in the US. Last week, I introduced Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī and presented the first (actually, chronologically the last) biography he received from a local Damascene author. Also, I want to point to this article which outlines some of the benefits of Black History Month.

Today, we continue with another one, which was written several decades before al-Ghazzī’s:

  • Ibn al-ʿImād, ʿAbd al-Ḥaiy Ibn Aḥmad. Shadharāt al-dhahab fī akhbār man dhahab. [Nachdr. d. Ausg. Kairo 1931-32] ed. 10 vols. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1982, vol. 8, pp. 259-260.

Ibn al-ʿImād’s work is structured not alphabetically by first name (ism) but chronologically by date of death. Mubārak’s entry can be found in the section for the year 944/1537-38.

As I stated in the preceding post, there will be some repetition between both biographies. This is not only explained by Mubārak’s life being the subject of both texts but also by their intertextual connections. Biographical dictionaries were perceived as a continuum, one scholar taking on where a member of an earlier generation had left off. al-Ghazzī used both this biography and the one treated in the upcoming post as sources to compose his own (you see, it makes sense to start from the end!).

The last thing I’d like to do before we delve into the source material is to point out which elements can be considered Ibn al-ʿImād’s own addition, not found in earlier biographies: the episode about the pilgrimage and his offer to sell himself as a slave to provide for his companions is not found anywhere before. I’ll return to it after the biography:

[In his year died] Mubārak b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥabashī al-Dimashqī al-Qābūnī, the shaykh, the pious, the educator (murabbī).

Ibn al-Mibrad spoke in his Riyāḍ: ‘the shaykh Mubārak appeared in the year 897 and to him flocked the rebellious (marīdūn). He took up the injunction of good and the forbidding of evil and the spilling of alcoholic spirits (khumūr), among other things. After he abolished that, he turned against the Turks, and the Turks turned against him.’

Ibn Ṭūlūn spoke: ‘The shaykh Mubārak recited the Ghāyat al-Ikhtiṣār before al-Taqī Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn, and he built him a zāwiya close to Qābūn al-Taḥtānī where he and his followers took residence. Said shaykh al-islām visited him frequently. [Mubārak] and his followers kept watch over the road for transports of alcohol, then they destroyed or spilled the vessels.

Then the rulers (ḥukkām) were informed and the governor captured some of the shaykh’s followers and imprisoned them at the Bāb al-Barīd. Shaykh Mubārak went down to plead for them. He was thrown into prison with them. But Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn interceded on his behalf and freed him.

Then the majority of shaykh Mubārak’s following assailed the prison and destroyed its gate and got out all their comrades, still in there. Then the governor was informed and he sent a unit of his Mamluks. Then they killed about seventy of them close to the Bāb al-Barīd and the Umayyad Mosque. Then shaykh Mubārak abandoned this and secluded himself in the zāwiyas, like that of the Shaykh Abū Bakr Ibn Dāwud on the slopes, and for a certain time […].

Shaykh Mubārak was of very dark, black [skin] and very tall (ʿaẓīm al-khalqa). He was determined, incredibly brave, and strong. He had complete knowledge of singing and the hunt and swimming. He used to dive into the current — when he appeared again, he held the fish in both the fingers of his hands and the toes of his feet.

It was transmitted that he and a group of his companions made the ḥājj. When they reached Mekka, they were out of provisions. The shaykh (then) told one of his companions: “Bind my hands and take me to the market, take my price and use it for the (good of) the rest of the group!” He did as told, and a Persian merchant purchased him, then freed him.

Ibn Ṭūlūn spoke: ‘Shaykh Mubārak had a speech impediment and the truth is that they are making the dhikr until their augustness restricts it to the Hamza and the Hāʾ – they carelessly replace the Hāʾ with Ḥāʾ. So they are saying: ‘Āḥ Āḥ’.’ [I really cannot say in which context they did that –TW]

And he died on Thursday, 1 Rabīʿ I 944, and he was buried in the turba of al-Qābūn al-Taḥtānī.

More or less the same information as in al-Ghazzī’s biography with some minor emphases on one point or other. What is interesting for me is that Ibn al-ʿImād does not, in contrast to al-Ghazzī, cite the works of Ibn Ṭūlūn but only him as a general authority.

Yet, as I said earlier, this biography is indeed different in that it introduces the bit about the pilgrimage. The author’s phrasing “it was transmitted” is instrumental in this. He does not ascribe it to a specific authority nor, as is the case with the other anecdotes, to a concrete work. And I speculate that this was done on purpose.

Let’s take a step back and look at one of the most important biographical dictionaries of Mamluk Egypt, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sakhāwī’s Al-Ḍawʾ Al-Lāmiʿ Li-ahl Al-qarn Al-tāsiʿ (12 vols., Cairo: 1936). There we find yet another short entry for a Mubārak al-Ḥabashī (vol. 6, p. 238):

Mubārak al-Ḥabashī: the freed slave of al-Taqī al-Fāsī. He died in Rabīʾ I 44 and was one of those who had traveled to the Persian lands (al-ʿajm) and returned rich from trade. He and was distinguished as the master (ṣāḥib) of the Hijāz.

However, this cannot be “our” Mubārak. Sakhāwī died in Medina in 1497 and it was probably there that he learned of this person who also came to the area (alḥijaz) a half-century before him.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that Ibn al-ʿImād had read this biography and, furthermore, used it in his biography of “our” Mubārak. Most of the elements of his Mecca anecdote are present, albeit in a veeery different context: The Persian element even features twice, if we assume that he could have misread al-Fāsī for al-Farsī; this Mubārak was a freed man, meaning that at one point he was a slave; trade plays a role, and to be honest Sakhāwī’s entry does not make it entirely clear whether the person becoming rich through trade is Mubārak or al-Fāsī.

We could assume that Ibn al-ʿImād made an honest mistake in reworking Sakhāwī’s entry. After all, the death dates of both Mubāraks refer to the year 44 – even though one century apart. But let’s look at it from a different perspective: Why would it make sense that Mubārak offered himself for purchase as a slave and seemingly everyone else involved went along with it? The only obvious explanation seems to be that he was black and therefore a suitable subject of slavery. Whereas this episode certainly shows Mubārak’s own altruism, it also betrays more general social mechanisms pertaining to his skin color. Not only was slavery very much alive in 16th century Mecca, it was also intricately connected to Africa in the minds of Ibn al-ʿImād, al-Ghazzī and their Arab contemporaries.

I do not know enough about the 16th-century Damascene equivalent of modern-day racism to make any conclusive remarks. I only want to point out that if we read our sources against the grain – for instance in Black History Month – we might get closer to the life worlds of those authors and the underlying assumptions that influenced their writing.

An African Sufi shaykh in Damascus: Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī

In the US, February is Black History Month and that provides the welcome opportunity to return to one of my favourite characters from the Late Mamluk and Early Ottoman sources. I am currently awaiting the publication of an article I dedicated to him, and he also appeared in another that I announced here earlier this year. Finally, he was prominent in my book as well.

Instead of providing my own biographical sketch (that can be read in the announced and the upcoming articles), I thought it might be better to let the sources speak for themselves. Mubārak received biographies in at least these three biographical dictionaries two of which have been edited:

  • Ibn Ayyūb, Sharaf al-Dīn Mūsā. Kitāb al-rawḍ al-ʿāṭir fīmā tayassiru min akhbār ahl al-qarn al-sābiʿ ilā khitām al-qarn al-ʿāshir. Staatsbibliothek Berlin, MS Wetzstein II 289.
  • Ibn al-ʿImād, ʿAbd al-Ḥaiy Ibn Aḥmad. Shadharāt al-dhahab fī akhbār man dhahab. [Nachdr. d. Ausg. Kairo 1931-32] ed. 10 vols. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1982.
  • al-Ghazzī, Najm al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad. al-Kawākib al-sāʾira bi-aʿyān al-miʾa al-ʿāshira. Jibrāʼīl Sulaymān Jabbūr ed. 2 vols. Beirut: al-Matba`ah al-Amirkaniyah, 1945, vol. II, pp. 245-246.

This post begins with the latest biography by al-Ghazzī. It is the shortest but still contains most narrative elements that are fleshed out more in the two preceding works. In a chronological order, it would not be much fun since everything would have been addressed in more detail by his predecessors.

If I find the time during this month, I will also add other descriptions of the events with which the biography starts. I sure hope so. With that being said, here is al-Ghazzī’s biography of the brave, the strong, the proud Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī:

Mubārak ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥabashī: Mubārak ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥabashī al-Dimashqī then al-Qābūnī al-Shāfiʿī, the shaykh, the pious, the educator.

Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions in Al-tamattuʿ bi-l-Aqrān that Ibn al-Mibrad mentioned him in his Riyāḍ. He said: ‘Shaykh Mubārak appeared in the year 897 or earlier or later, and to him came followers and the amr bi-l-maʿrūf. He worked against evil (al-munkar) by destroying alcohol, among other things. After he had destroyed it, he turned against the Turks, and they against him.’

And Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions in the Mufākahat al-Ikhwān that Shaykh Mubārak had recited the ghāyat al-ikhtiṣār before the Shaykh al-Islām Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn, and (already) he built for him a zāwiya in the vicinity of al-Qābūn al-Taḥtānī. There, he lived with his household (jamāʿa), and they searched the road for alcohol traders, and [, when they apprehended them,] cut open the vessels and spilled the alcohol.

When this became known to the authorities, the governor captured some of the Shaykh’s faction and threw them in the prison at Bāb al-Barīd. Shaykh Mubārak came to intercede on their behalf but the governor had him imprisoned (as well).  As these news were brought to Shaykh Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn, he interceded, freeing him.

Then the rest of Shakyh Mubārak’s faction attacked the prison, shattered its gates, and freed their comrades. News reached the governor, and he sent a detachment of his Mamluks who killed about seventy people around the Bāb al-Barīd, the Sūq al-ʿAnbariyyīn, and the Umayyad Mosque. Then, Shaykh Mubārak gave up and only stayed in the zāwiyas, like the zāwiya of Shaykh Abū Bakr Ibn Dāwud on the slopes (of the Qāsyūn mountain) […].

It is said that Shaykh Mubārak was of very dark, black [skin color] and very tall (ʿaẓīm al-khalqa). He was determined, incredibly brave, and strong. He had complete knowledge of singing and the hunt. He and his Sufis and followers would find recreation on the hunt. They took crossbows (qusīy al-bunduq) to the Marj and hunted pigeons, geese, cranes, and other birds. It is said that once his crossbow broke into two halves, and he hunted a large bird with either half. He was a skilled swimmer and used to dive into the current — when he appeared again, he held the fish in both the fingers of his hands and the toes of his feet.

It was transmitted that he and a group of his companions made the ḥājj. When they reached Mekka, they were out of provisions. The shaykh (then) told one of his companions: “Bind my hands and take me to the market, take my price and use it for the (good of) the rest of the group!” He did as told, and a Persian merchants purchased him, then freed him.

Ibn Ṭūlūn said: “Shaykh Mubārak had a speech impediment, concerning the distinction of the Hamza and the Hāʾ. They substitute the Hāʾ with Ḥāʾ. He says Āḥ Āḥ.”

His death was on Thursday, 1 Rabīʿ I 944, and he was buried in the turba of al-Qābūn al-Taḥtānī.”

Ibn Tulun manuscripts in Leiden

Among other libraries, Leiden University hosts several autographs by Ibn Tulun (for an introduction of the Oriental MS collections, see here). The collection is quite extraordinary among those, since every Ibn Tulun text is bound individually, even though most of them are of modest size. Their page numbers range between single and low double-digits. Judging by my experience that would make them ideal candidates for publication in majmu’as (and I address that issue in an article submitted to the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts).

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to consult the whole collection in person. So far, I had to rely on the catalogue made by Carlo von Landberg shortly after the acquisition in the 1880s and the Handlist of P. Vorhoove. In both, the Ibn Tulun manuscripts are clustered within a range of about twenty call numbers (132-146 in Landberg, 2503-2520 in the Handlist). While this could be attributed to their common author, it is also possible that this cluster was retained from the collection of the Cairene seller Amin al-Madani and ultimately from their original state in autograph majmu’as.

Be that as it may, Leiden has uploaded one of those manuscripts, MS Or. 2512, which contains the short text Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb. This is, in fact, the title as it is given in Ibn Tulun’s own work list, whereas the Leiden catalogue gives a slightly different title that is written on the first recto of the manuscript: Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb bi-akhbār al-kathīb.

This is apparently owed to the author’s phrasing that this text contains “mā akhbaranā shaykhunā al-muḥaddith…” and perhaps also to titling conventions at the time when this title was added (the hand is different and more modern than the author’s). Yet, both titles refer to the same work as Ibn Tulun mentions the “warada” title on the verso of fol. 1.

Initially, I was surprised that the writing already begins on the recto of fol. 1. For Ibn Tulun this is highly unusual, especially since the text appears to be a (very well preserved) fair copy. To elaborate, it contains no other handwriting than the author’s, and that is restricted to an even and regular text block of 23 lines per page. The margins seem wider than I have seen in other, more annotated Ibn Tulun manuscripts.

Getting back to my surprise, a quick check on the verso made sure that the text begins only here. Instead, the writing on the recto, albeit also in Ibn Tulun’s hand, seems to be an audition certificate, giving part of the isnad, some of the attendants and the date of the text’s recitation: 9.11.936/15.07.1530. ّIt also indicates that all attendants received a certificate for transmission (ijāzat riwāya) from the author.

The catalogue gives that date as the date of the text’s completion but I am uncertain whether that conclusion can be so easily made. I am not even sure whether we can assume that this specific manuscript was completed before that date. The clean state of it suggests rather that it might be a fair copy of the original, which would have been in existence by 936/1530.

The text itself is a collection of reports and sayings about Moses (al-kathīb) and his shrine (maqām/ziyāra) near the village Masjid al-Qadam, south of Damascus. The most interesting thing about it – for me – is that it appears in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary Dhakhāʾir al-Qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr.

At least three of the biographees included in this work heard recitations of this work. One of those heard it recited at the “Ziyārat al-Kathīb close to the village Masjid al-Qadam” on the same day as the one given in the samāʿ. This Muḥammad b. Mūsā b. ʿAbduh al-Qubaybātī al-Ḥanbalī known as Ibn Qayṣar went on to write a mulakhkhiṣ of this work, giving a rare proof to Ibn Tulun’s reception through emulation.

 

The real manuscripts of Dar al-Kutub

In December 2017, I attended a workshop on Arabic codicology at the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo (IFAO). It was taught by Elise Franssen and co-organized by Mathieu Eychenne and Abbas Zaouche.

In this context, we also paid a visit to the Dar al-Kutub, the Egyptian National Library, which holds one of the largest collections of Arabic manuscripts in the world. I also visited its department for manuscript on two more days during my stay. Noah Gardiner has written an exhaustive guide to research and especially the manuscript catalogues of the Dar al-Kutub.

It was my second visit to this institution, after I had spent a week there in November 2016. Before this first visit I had heard from friends and colleagues that with such little time it would not make sense to even try to get access to the physical manuscripts, and thus I restricted my research to the microfilm section, which is situated in a different part of the city (Bab al-Khalq).

To be sure, this visit paid other dividends but it made it apparent to me several questions that could not be answered without consulting the manuscripts themselves. And research at the Nile branch where the manuscripts are kept turned out to be much more pleasant than anticipated. The staff is in general very forthcoming and the head of the section is knowledgeable in manuscripts and himself an experienced editor (muḥaqqiq).

Some things should, however, be considered prior to one’s visit. These are not always congruent with the procedure at the Bab al-Khalq branch, and actually less strict. For instance, computers are allowed. The first thing you should prepare is a list of manuscripts you want to see with call numbers, titles and author names. Secondly, bring your passport or another kind of ID. You will have to leave it at the entrance.

You will need your institution to provide you with a letter of recommendation in Arabic. Best, if it already lists the manuscripts you aim to see. If your institution is not able to do that, one alternative option is to ask at the IFPO if they provide a letter.

The other thing you will need is time. There is the issue of finding and bringing the manuscripts. You can only have one on your desk so these intervals appear repeatedly. And on the first day you might be invited for a review of your letter of recommendation as well. The best time to arrive is around 10:00 a.m. Although the section opens at 9:00, the staff often arrives later than that.

With a closing time at 2:30 p.m., you might need at least a week if you are interested in the content of a longer work. Time is also required if you prefer to get images of the manuscript. In my experience, they will usually be made within the day but not long before closing time. And if you don’t want the full manuscript, calculate an extra day to get also those pages photographed that were missed on the first try (Do not make the mistake I made!).

Finally, the images are of a good quality albeit not of a resolution as high as those you get from, let’s say, Chester Beatty Library. But then you pay a pittance compared to that library. The only downside is the watermark that all images from Dar al-Kutub carry. Unfortunately, that leads to some annotations being not as legible as in the manuscript itself.

During my admittedly short stay, the other visitors could be counted on one hand. So if you need manuscripts from the Dar al-Kutub, the time to get them is now.