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.”

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "An African Sufi shaykh in Damascus: Mubārak al-Qābūnī al-Ḥabashī", in Damascus Anecdotes, February 1, 2018,

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