The camel and the stable

The first entry…
One idea for starting this blog came from my recent discovery of one of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s students: ʿUmar Sulṭān or Ibn Sulṭān. He received a biography in Najm al-Dīn al-Ghazzī’s work al-Kawākib al-Sāʾira, which to a large degree makes him seem an ordinary and decent scholar. Apparently, his private library was of some value and he allowed other readers generous access to it:

He was beneficial to his regular visitors for they could read his books at his [place] and could borrow them. He dictated a number of books. At the end he endowed them.

However, al-Ghazzī also mentions – I am not sure whether he does so critically or sniggering – that ʿUmar was made fun of by many of his contemporaries because of his appearance:

He was tall, had long limbs, wore loose dress and a large beautiful turban. The unemployed or idle (baṭṭālūn) he summoned to study gave him the nickname “the camel”, sometimes even “the camel of the miḥmal”, and he withdrew from the people.

Things got even worse, once ʿUmar decided to lease a village in the Bekaa valley. Among all the villages he selected for himself the one called al-Iṣṭabl (the stable) and thus gave his ridiculers yet more ammunition. While he was there to count the revenue, they lost no opportunity to play the game.

His envious contemporaries would ask then: “Where is the camel?” And they would answer: “In the stable.”

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "The camel and the stable", in Damascus Anecdotes, June 30, 2016,

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