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.

New Publication in MSR: “Between Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus: Al-amr bi-al-maʿrūf and the Sufi/Scholar Dichotomy in the Late Mamluk Period (1480s–1510s)”

In time for the New Year, the most recent issue of Mamluk Studies Review (vol. 20) has come out and it features my first contribution to this journal. In “Between Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus” I have attempted to show three things.

The first point I am trying to make is that the distinction between ulama and Sufis is not really useful when trying to unearth Late Mamluk local and even imperial politics and alliances. Instead, I propose to follow the informal networks that transgress those groups and connect them as well to the Mamluk rulers on one side and the larger populace on the other.

Secondly, the discourse on justice subsumed under the phrase al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-naḥy ʿan al-munkar is identified as one banner under which proponents of these different status groups would rally. Moreover, I suggest that it offered a language to address one’s dissatisfaction with one’s own social-financial situation. Since it ties personal grievances to larger concerns about justice, I argue, the use of its terminology should be studied also from the perspective of social competition over the diminishing waqf resources towards the end of the Mamluk Era.

The third point I emphasize is the translocal nature of these politics. Following Albrecht Fuess, Dane Ephrat, and others, I bring the rather backwater town Beirut into the picture, showing how involvement in such places could feature in strategies of social-religious figures. The choice of place was thereby both dictated by the selected case study and a bow to my current place of residence.

These two arguments are presented on base of a case study that drawn scholars’ attention repeatedly since the second half of the 19th century. The Maghribi Sufi Ali Ibn Maymun has been described as a radical or a militant specimen of his status group by more established scholars.

To this discussion, the article adds the view point of one of his main opponents in Damascus, the shaykh al-islam and patron of Ibn Tawq, Taqi al-Din Abu Bakr Ibn Qadi Ajlun. The article illustrates the similarities in the involvement of both figures in the fields of Sufism, jurisprudence, and the fight against the vices, as well as in the geographical areas of their activities. Both people were active in Damascus, where they declaimed wrongful practices, and on the Mediterranean coast, where they organized defenses against pirate attacks.