Teaching ḥadīth: Ibn Ṭūlūn and the Thulāthiyyāt genre

This week I return to Garret Davidson’s dissertation on post-canonical ḥadīth transmission. Davidson offers a wonderful overview of the genres involved in establishing elevated, i.e. short, chains of transmission and the status that these brought for people who had access to them. While these genres could amount to very different scopes and sizes, it is safe to say that in this context small-scale hadith collections occupied a central position. These often would include the most elevated and thus sought-after chains a well-aged transmitter had to offer to the following generations, and at minimal time to be afforded. This impetus became pervasive in other fields of knowledge as well, at least for a lay audience.

Here, I will not give a summary of Davidson’s classification, however. I reckon for that we will have to wait for the reviews once the book is published. But, continuing where I left off in an earlier post, I will connect his general findings to the specific case of Ibn Ṭūlūn. In this post, the Thulāthiyyāt genre of ḥadīth will be at the center.

The term Thulāthiyyāt denotes originally the shortest traditions found in al-Bukhārī’s canonical ḥadīth work al-Ṣaḥīḥ (and to a smaller degree in other canonical compilations), which link al-Bukhārī to the Prophet by only three intermediaries. Starting in the 12th century, they were frequently compiled separately, again putting emphasis on elevated chains of transmission between the author of a compilation and al-Bukhārī:

By compiling a selection of only the collection’s shortest three-link chains of transmission scholars created a conduit that served to connect them to the Prophet through some of the shortest possible and most venerated chains of transmission (Davidson, 261).

The brevity of these compilations was their greatest strength, since they enabled transmission “in a matter of minutes making it a time efficient way for scholars to hear hadith from the most revered collection of the canon through some of the shortest chains of transmission available” and from large numbers of transmitters (ibid.). This would remain a popular mode of transmission until the 20th century.

Our old friend Ibn Ṭūlūn himself authored only one work of this genre, titled al-ʿUqūd al-luʾluʾiyyāt fī al-aḥādīth al-thulāthiyyāt (The arrangement / the half-score of pearls of traditions with only three links between al-Bukhārī and the Prophet), which does not seem to have survived.

Yet, in at least two of his biographical dictionaries, the genre appears frequently in the context of recitation sessions, attesting to the high status of elevated chains Davidson describes. The two titles Thulāthiyyāt al-Bukhārī and Thulāthiyyāt al-Ṣaḥīḥ are used interchangeably. Whereas in al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya, Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions it as part of his education, in the second work, Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, he himself is the host or at least the authority in those sessions where the text is read.

I have not yet finished my reading of the former work. It is bulky with some 940 biographies covering mostly the 6th through 10th centuries. And so far, I have come across only one mention of the work. Yet, in unison with the other biographical work, it epitomizes the place the Thulāthiyyāt is granted in biographies. Moreover, in this case I would argue that the recitation was actually part of the author’s education and not purely for the sake of elevated chains of transmission.

The Thulāthiyyāt is mentioned in the biography of one Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān (885-916), with whom Ibn Ṭūlūn studied (Istanbul, Süleymaniye Library,  MS Şehid Ali Paşa 1924, fols. 20a-22b). As in the following cases, the text is mentioned in conjunction with al-Musalsal bi-l-awaliyya. As Davidson explains it, it “means literally the hadith of serial first transmission, because it became common for it to be the first hadith an authority would transmit to a student coming to hear hadith from him” (Davidson, 125).

The reading of both texts took place when Ibn Ṭūlūn had already reached maturity. According to his own calculations, he must have been in his late twenties at the time. Moreover, in this instance, he received a qualified license to teach these texts:
I recited before him al-Musalsal bi-l-awaliyya with his conditions (sharṭ), then the Thalāthiyyāt al-ṣaḥīḥ, then I heard in his articulation al-Silsil bi-sūrat al-ṣaff, then al-Ḥadīth min riwāyat Abī Ḥanīfa. Then I extrapolated all of it before him in [several] sessions, the last of which fell on Sunday noon, 27.04.908 in the ḥanafī miḥrab of the [Umayyad Mosque]. He wrote me an ijāza for teaching in his own handwriting.

The joint mention of both texts occurs repeatedly in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s accounts of biographical trajectories of other ḥadīth transmitters. Whereas this makes sense for the Musalsal (since it is defined by being the first one transmitted), the elevated status of the Thulāthiyyāt is emphasized by being a close second. As the quote shows, they are followed by several more ḥadīth works.

This is strong evidence for a teaching context. Even more so since Ibn Ṭūlūn continues to list five more works he studied with Ibrāhīm, receiving another ijāza for giving fatwas on 09.04.911. That indicates a longterm commitment on both sides to this teacher-student relationship (rather taraddud than mulāzama, I guess). The session also coincided with his appointment as imām of the Yūnusiyya Khānqāh in the quarter of Sharaf al-Aʿlā (on 08.04.908).

Turning to the second work, Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, here Ibn Ṭūlūn emphasizes his role as a teacher and authority. This is little surprising since contextual evidence suggests he authored the work during the very last years of his life. It is much smaller in scope than al-Ghuraf with some 160 biographies and a much more decisively local selection of biographees.

In at least 15 biographees, Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions the Thulāthiyyāt al-Bukhārī / al-Ṣaḥīḥ, exclusively when he was the transmitter. In this case, Davidson’s argument that most hadith transmission should not be considered an educational  but a devotional endeavor seems to hold true. Only in one case, an ijāza for teaching is issued and then only after repeated auditions.

This impression is substantiated when we look at the sites of the sessions. The only institution featured in the sample where Ibn Ṭūlūn had a post, is the Ottoman Salīmiyya Mosque (four entries for Ṣafar 942; one for 05.05.949). Admittedly, it is the one site mentioned most often but none of his other teaching posts are at all mentioned. Instead, the second-most important site is the garden of his cousin Burhān al-Dīn Ibn Qindīl (three entries for 13.05.940).

Another case in point is that the account of these recitations is usually immediately followed by a list of which of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works these people heard from him. Since the majority of those recitations took place in villages around Damascus, most importantly a shrine for Abraham in Barza (maqām Khalīl), and since those works were usually hadith compilations, this suggests that also the Thulāthiyyāt were recited in a devotional context.

“Speed reading” of hadith

I have recently been reading Garrett Davidson’s exciting PhD thesis “Carrying on the Tradition: An Intellectual and Social History of Post-Canonical Hadith Transmission“. It attempts – very successfully – a reassessment of the methods, purposes, and underlying logic of hadith transmission once the canon was fixed with the compilation of the canonical six books.

It contains a plethora of points pertinent to Ibn Tulun’s oeuvre, and I will address some more in the future, such as how the devotional character of reciting hadith as well as chains of transmission relate to several of his compilations on animals, plants or food. Even though he is often characterized as a historian, hadith was like the mortar that held the edifice of his written corpus together.

The one point I want to address today is the phenomenon of speed reading (sard) which  preserved the appearance of oral transmission while trying to fit as much text into a restricted period of time (pp. 107-112). Davidson mentions several outstanding examples of that practice when readers went through the entirety of Bukhari’s or other canonical hadith compilations in only a few days.

Interestingly, Ibn Tulun also mentions most of the same feats in his biographical dictionary Dhakhāʾir al-Qaṣr fī Tarājim Nubalāʾ al-ʿAṣr. They appear in the biography of one Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. ʿAlī al-Nābulusī al-Qudsī, who was also known as al-Hijazi (MS Gotha, Orient A 1779, fols. 57a-b). While Garrett cites multiple sources like the Meccan historian al-Fāsī, Ibn Rajab, al-Kattani, or Ibn Hajar himself, Ibn Ṭūlūn combines all this information in this inconspicuous place.

Among those examples is that of Ibn Ḥajar’s “most famous act of speed transmission[…,] his having raced through al-Ṭabarānī’s al-Mu’jam al-saghir, a collection that consisted of more than one thousand five hundred hadith, in a single audition session between the noon and afternoon prayers” and Bukhari’s Sahih in ten sessions (pp. 109-110).  Or, in Ibn Tulun’s own words:

the fastest thing happened to Abū al-Faḍl Ibn Ḥajar on his Syrian journey when he recited the al-Muʿjam al-ṣaghīr by Abū al-Qasim al-Ṭabarānī in one session between the noon and afternoon prayer[ recitation]. This book is a volume which is organized in about 1.500 ḥadīth, because he published one unique ḥadīth for each of his 1.000 shaykhs. And he transmitted the Ṣaḥīḥ in the Khānqāh al-Baybarsiyya in 10 majālis of 4 hours each.

Otherwise, Ibn Tulun says about the biographee that he heard some of Bukhari’s Sahih with him but recited by a member of the al-Shuwaykī family. While this took place in the Takiyya Salimiyya, he also attended shortly Ibn Tulun’s sessions (durus) in the Umariyya madrasa just next door. He also attended the teachings of shaykh Sharaf al-Dīn al-Ḥijāzī al-Ḥanbalī but fell out with him later. Almost half of the biography, however, is an account of feats in speed reading.

The practice seems to have been continued into Ibn Tulun’s own times. The biographee is doubtful that such fast readings could be done at all but Ibn Tulun (obviously) has examples at hand. He himself had seen in the thabat of the khatib Shihab al-Din al-Himsi that he had recited the whole Sahih al-Bukhari in six sessions in Ramadan 882. Ibn Tulun’s teacher had another example in Jamal al-Din al-Askari who went through the whole work in three and a half days at the end of Rabi II 880.

Ibn Tulun himself seems to have endorsed speed reading. The former’s cousin Zayn al-Din al-Askari recited the Sahih before Ibn Tulun in five days and Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Ahmad al-Sufi’s work named here only as al-Mu’taqad before him in three days, “the last of which was 15 Ayyār 1806 according to the Alexandrian and Roman (rumi) calendar, which is one of the longest days of the year”. So while Ibn Tulun did believe in the benefits of speed reading, he was also aware that certain extrinsic conditions could be favorable in doing such feats.

Finally, speed reading appears to have had a pervasive function in communal devotional contexts at the time. In 873 (1468-69), Damascenes suffered through a drought and, thus, a dearth in food prices. The price for wheat increased five-fold  to more than 2.000 dirham per sack (ghirara). Ibn Tulun’s near-contemporary Ali al-Busrawi describes in his chronicle that people were so desperate that they gave away their children and themselves resorted to eating “mayta” – carrion or corpses? – just to stay alive.

In reaction to their plight, people convened during the holy nights around Mid-Sha’ban praying for rain. Al-Busrawi also states that in the course of just two nights, they recited the complete Sahihs of both al-Bukhari and Muslim – twice each night! According to the account, those measures proved successful: the very next day, rainfalls began and simultaneously wheat prices plummeted by half.

Initially, I suspected the Sahih recitations (and some other aspects of the account) to be tropes. Yet, there are other explanations, one of them being speed reading. Nonetheless, if we compare this instance with the acclaimed feats mentioned before, the double recitations still seem out of the ordinary (or even the extraordinary). The only explanation I can imagine would be that in this context several reciters worked simultaneously, splitting up the two Sahihs between them. The auditory experience must have been incredible.

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.”