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The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay and the Judge Ibn Hajar the Big Criminals during the Plague of 841 A.H.:

The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay and the Judge Ibn Hajar the Big Criminals during the Plague of 841 A.H.: The Historical Narratives of Al-Makrizi as an Eyewitness of the Plague of 841 A.H. – 2 of 2





Published in March 31, 2020

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy





6- During the lunar month of Shawwal and the Lesser Bairam.

6/1: (...All people in Greater Cairo and its suburbs were in trouble; the number of those who died of the plague increased; more than 100 persons daily as per the names recorded within the department of inheritance; as for the suburbs, 22 persons died in one day. Markets closed down and no one bought goods usually bought by women; preventing women from walking in the streets and going shopping caused an economic crisis. Wives, progeny, and mothers of Mameluke soldiers who were sent to a military campaign in the Levant pined for their men because of their long absence. The people of Greater Cairo suffered from the Mameluke prince who was the new Muhtasib because of his cruelty and severe punishments; people were frightened of swift death caused by the plague as many children, slaves, and servants died; the Jews and Christians were severely persecuted by the Mameluke authorities; all people felt unhappy during the Lesser Bairam and no one was merry...). We note the following.

6/1/1: The term (Greater Cairo) refers to Cairo and its suburbs referred to until now by resident of Upper- and Lower-Egypt's towns and villages as (Egypt). Greater Cairo included, during the era of Al-Makrizi, the three old capitals of Egypt: Al-Fustat city built by Amr Ibn Al-As upon the Arab conquest of Egypt, Al-Askar city built by the first Abbasid governor after the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate and the murder of the last Umayyad caliph (who fled to Egypt) Marwan Ibn Mohamed, and Al-Qata'i city built by the founder of the Tulunid dynasty Ahmad Ibn Tulun. More stretches of land were annexed to Cairo, the capital city built by the first ruler of the Fatimids after their conquering Egypt and settling in it to establish their caliphate. Until now, Cairo, the current Egyptian capital, is the biggest city in Egypt and Africa, with more than 25 million residents (about 1/4 of the Egyptian population of 100+ million citizens).    

6/1/2: The focus of Al-Makrizi was on the recorded victims of the plague in Greater Cairo during the Lesser Bairam. Economic depression is alluded to by this great historian. This is like the economic crises worldwide in 2020 because of the Coronavirus epidemic. A curfew was imposed on women (who formed most of purchasers in all markets) as if this would remove the plague; people suffered from the cruelty of the Muhtasib (or inspector) who was the Mameluke prince named Khaja. 

6/1/3: We note that the affluent women of Mameluke soldiers worried too much about their absent husbands who were sent for a long military campaign. 

6/1/4: Fear seized the residents of Greater Cairo since the plague caused the death of most children, slaves, and servants; more details about the cruelty of the Muhtasib will be mentioned in a coming article of this book.

6/1/5: Al-Makrizi, who died in 845 A.H., had a sharp eye for the conditions of the Cairene people since he was an eyewitness within the event of 841 A.H.; he writes that (...all people felt unhappy during the Lesser Bairam and no one was merry...). 

6/1/6: This means the Egyptians at the time suffered two calamities simultaneously: the periodic/cyclic plague and the ongoing grave injustices caused by the big criminals: Mamelukes and clergymen.

6/1/7: The focus of Al-Makrizi was only on Greater Cairo and details of events in it; no one wrote about the weak, oppressed ones in Upper- and Lower-Egypt's towns and villages and those in the other Mameluke regions like the Levant and Hejaz; we should imagine that their despicable conditions and their plight were far worse than the case inside Greater Cairo.

6/2: (...During the Lesser Bairam, in winter, news came from the Levant that strong, cold winds swept over many Levantine cities: Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, Homs,...etc., and all trees were frozen; crops and fruits were destroyed; many people died of hunger apart from those who died of the plague; many horses and cattle died...News came from Morocco that a huge, raging deluge occurred in Fez and many people there drowned and many houses and mansions collapsed...). We note the following.

6/2/1: So, in the East, freeze and gold winds caused a famine as trees, crops, and fruits were destroyed, and many people, horses, and cattle died of hunger apart from those who died of the plague.

6/2/2: So, in the West, in Morocco, a destructive flood caused the death of many people who drowned and many houses were destroyed. 

6/3: (...On the 6th of Shawwal, the sultan Barsbay re-appointed Ibn Hajar again as the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine in Greater Cairo after dismissing the former supreme judge Al-Balkini; yet, instead of receiving a bribe from Ibn Hajar as usual, the sultan commanded Ibn Hajar to pay back to Al-Balkini the bribe he paid earlier to the sultan; the bed-ridden Barsbay swore never to take bribes again from those who seek any positions especially judges; the sultan feared God's wrath since the plague swept and killed thousands of people swiftly; many female servants/slaves of the sultan died along with many of his sons and daughters; many eunuchs and male slaves died also inside the palace plus a dozen of the concubines of the sultan in his seraglio; what alarmed the sultan is the death of thousands of Mamelukes soldiers and guard inside the multiple-story towers of the palace...). We note the following.

6/3/1: Appointing supreme judges (and even ordinary judges) was by means of paying bribes to the sultan; Ibn Hajar Al-Askalany got dismissed several times from his post but he regained it through paying bribes; of course, such corrupt judges and supreme judges impose bribes paid to them by people who sought the services of the judicial authority. No one had qualms about this; everyone paid bribes shamelessly; this means no justice was applied since judges and supreme judges got their positions by means of bribing the Mameluke sultan. Ibn Hajar was appointed as the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine (this high-rank post was more important than the supreme judge of the other three Sunnite doctrines since Al-Shafei doctrine was mostly the one applied in Egypt at the time); when Barsbay removed Ibn Hajar from his post and appointed a man named Al-Balkini in his place, Ibn Hajar sought to restore the post to himself by paying a bribe as usual; Barsbay re-appointed Ibn Hajar and removed Al-Balkini but after commanding Ibn Hajar to repay the bribe sum paid earlier to Barsbay by Al-Balkini. 

6/3/2: Ibn Hajar had no pricks of conscience while he repaid Al-Balkini the bribe sum to take his place as the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei Sunnite doctrine; the one who felt guilty was Barsbay since his 'repentance' while he sought to be cured from his ailment drove him to swear never to accept bribes from seekers of high-rank jobs; yet, Barsbay never returned the bribe of Al-Balkini himself; he made Ibn Hajar repay it from his own wealth! At least he kept his vow of never to receive bribes anymore; Barsbay was afraid of death; he saw the plague killing off many people in Greater Cairo and then his own Mameluke soldiers and guards and his eunuchs, (fe)male slaves, his concubines, and also his sons and daughters (except the eldest: the prince Youssef). The bedridden sultan Barsbay feared that he would die of the plague since he was taken seriously ill; he suffered severely pains – by the way, he did not die of the plague which brought sudden, swift, painless death; he died of his painful chronic ailment after suffering from its torment for long months within humiliation and disgrace.     

6/4: (...Many painful incidents took place among the common people in Greater Cairo; a woman saw her only son dying of the plague in her own house; when men washed his corpse and put it in the shrouds and in the coffin, this woman desired that she would attend the burial of her son in the graveyard in the desert where those who died of the plague were buried; the Mameluke policemen prevented this woman from moving a step further out of her house as per the sultan's decree of never allowing women to walk in the streets; the saddened woman felt utter despair and committed suicide by jumping from the rooftop of her house...Another woman had to step out of her house within a case of emergency; as she walked down the street near her house, the Mameluke policemen lead by the Muhtasib Khaja spotted her and arrested her so that Khaja would beat her in public; yet, once she was arrested by the policemen, she fainted out of fright and some intercessors among her neighbors beseeched Khaja to have mercy on her and not to punish this frail woman; Khaja decided not to punish her, and the neighbors carried her home; she had bouts of madness and became bedridden for a long while; eventually, she died...). Those who did not die of the plague died because of the grave injustice of the big criminals who were enthroned tyrants!

6/5: (...On the 9th of Shawwal, an unprecedented incident took place; the sermonizer in Al-Azhar mosque delivered his first Friday sermon from the pulpit to the congregation which included our person; he sat on a chair to have a little rest, as usual, before delivering the second sermon; yet, the more he tried to stand up, the more he failed; he had to sit down for a long while, and people were astonished for his sudden weakness; the sermonizer sat motionless for a long while and some men among the congregation screamed that the sermonizer died; commotion ensued; some men screamed and lamented in sorrow and some wept and cried; we, ourselves, wept in silence, and some other men hurried out of Al-Azhar mosque while fearing that the plague swept through it; some men fainted out of fear. Some other men discussed who would deliver the second sermon and become the imam for the Friday noon congregational prayers; suddenly, the sermonizer stood up and took his position as an imam; he performed the prayers, in two Raqas as usual, in silence and so did the men behind him; some coffins with dead people were put later on in front of us for the sake of funeral prayers; we knew not who was the imam for such funeral prayers since the sermonizer was carried home once he finished the Friday prayers. Many men felt that the Friday prayers were rendered nullified and they suggested they must re-perform them but in four Raqas; many groups did so with different men as imams; some other men repeated the Azan; a man ascended the pulpit and delivered two short sermons and prayed as imam with a larger group of men as the congregation. Another imam was brought and led the prayers performed with larger group of men as the congregation. Some other men protested and insisted to pray alone on their own, within four Raqas, and many men took it as an ill omen that the Friday noon prayers had several sermons and were performed by separate imams and groups; many felt that this ill omen indicates the imminent death of the sultan Barsbay; some others assumed that this ill omen indicates that the plague would increase and kill more people in Greater Cairo; many men wept; as we and the congregation got out of Al-Azhar mosque, cold winds were felt; some men were frightened and assumed that the angels of death came to take their souls; many people felt that the deaths of the plague will increase; such superstitions were un reasonable; people are imagining things and feel frightened by such illusions; may the Lord God have mercy on us; to Him is the outcome of all matters...). We note the following.

6/5/1: Al-Makrizi was an eyewitness within such incident that indicates the following facts.

6/5/1/1: We note that fear seized people because of the increase of the death rates of the plague; when the sermonizer fainted, most men felt afraid as he might have died suddenly of the plague; some fainted out of fear, some wept and cried, and some hurried out of Al-Azhar mosque.

6/5/1/2: We note that religious disputes occurred a lot; this is a bad habit in societies where religiosity and trivialities dominate as people focus on appearances and not on attaining piety. 

6/5/1/3: Superstitious men assumed that what occurred was an ill omen predicting the death of Barsbay; at the time, two Friday prayers and sermons by two different imams in the official mosque of the sultanate (i.e., Al-Azhar) indicated the death or abdication of the sultan especially when the imam/sermonizer would be changed instead of being the same man for the Lesser Bairam prayers (if performed on a Friday) and for the Friday congregational prayers.   

6/6: (...The plague caused the death of the daughters and the sons of the sultan inside his palace and also the death of many concubines, male and female servants, eunuchs, male and female slaves, as well as the Mameluke soldiers and guards who resided in towers near the palace, and this is not to mention some Mameluke princes who died. Hundreds of people died of the plague in Greater Cairo and its suburbs; in Upper Egypt villages and towns, in the oases of the desert, in Fayoum, and in the eastern region of the Nile Delta...). Al-Makrizi here mentions that the curve of the plague reached its highest point inside and outside Greater Cairo; rich and poor people died of the plague without distinction, and so did Mamelukes and non-Mamelukes, residents of the palace and residents of poor villages, concubines, servants, and slaves and free people, soldiers and guards.

6/7: (...On the 6th of Shawwal, a civil war broke out between the tribes of Qais and Tamim in the Levant; at least thousand men were killed in this war; but some other pieces of news assert that the number of the dead was less than that. The Levantine people were very much afraid because the number of the dead ones increased every day because of the plague; people were saddened as trees, crops, and fruits were destroyed and the specter of a famine loomed in the horizon; there was no house or mansion except which had people mourning  and lamenting their dead or had dying people who got infected with the plague...). Such two tribes of madmen disregarded the torment of the plague and engaged into a civil war for a trivial reason; this resulted in more dead bodies as if the plague and famine were not enough types of torment! This incident of the 6th of Shawwal, 841 A.H., is very much like the widespread of the Coronavirus epidemic in 2020 A.H. while insane people are still fighting one another in useless wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria. There is nothing new under the sun within the planet of the Muhammadans! 

6/8: (...On the 21st of Shawwal, the names of the dead people recorded in the department of inheritance was 344 people though 1000 persons died on that day as per the counting of the funeral prayers performed in all mosques of greater Cairo...). Of course, no statistics were recorded for the number of the dead ones who died of the plague outside Greater Cairo as the plague reached its highest point; only names of rich persons who left inheritance money were recorded by the greedy men of the Mameluke authority who must have the greater share of the inheritance money left by any dead rich person. 

6/9: (...On the 23rd of Shawwal, the caravans of the pilgrims left eastern Cairo to the Suez port, on the Red Sea, to take the ship to the Jeddah port near Mecca...). Sadly, many pilgrims were infected with the plague and carried it to the Hejaz region where Mecca is located! This means other non-Egyptian pilgrims got infected at the time!

7- During the lunar month of Zu Al-Qaeda.

7/1: (...The common people suffered on all levels and within an unprecedented manner; the painful ailment of the sultan Barsbay increased and he could hardly leave his bed; many rumors spread about his death and he had to refute such rumors; thousands of Mameluke soldiers and guards inside the palace of the Mameluke sultan (and those who resided inside towers adjacent to the palace) died of the plague. About 160 female slave died of the plague and so did 150 eunuchs, 15 concubines, and 17 sons and daughters of the sultan Barsbay. Thousands of people died of the plague in Greater Cairo, in the Levantine cities like Damascus, Gaza, and Aleppo, and also in the cities of Mesopotamia. When a caravan of merchants left Cairo to head for the Levant, it reached Al-Arish city where more than 70 of the merchants died of the plague including some of our own acquaintances. The goods remained in markets and no purchase were made; an economic crisis loomed in the horizon; the only prosperous trade was the purchase of coffins and shrouds and other requirements for burials and funerals. Yet, the number of those who died of the plague decreased this month when compared to the previous month...). We note the following.

7/1/1: So, many servants/eunuchs and Mameluke fighters, guards, and soldiers who served Barsbay died of the plague inside the palace and its towers; Al-Makrizi received their exact numbers; as for people who died of the plague outside the palace; i.e., the common people in Egypt and the Levant, no one cared to estimate their exact numbers; economic depression ensued; people bought only things related to death: coffins, shrouds,...etc.

7/1/2: We note that the curve of the plague began to descend; this is indicated by the number of victims of the plague which decreased gradually.

7/2: (...Swarms of locusts destroyed the crops and fruits in the suburbs of Greater Cairo; cattle and horses died of the plague on this month; thousands of dead fish emerged on the surface of the Nile River; people assume that fish died of the plague as well; the number of the persons who died of plague increased in Ramadan and Shawwal; at least 400 persons died every day; yet, the number decreased in Zu Al-Qaeda; yet, the number of the names of dead ones recorded in the department of inheritance was less because only names of rich ones who left wealth were recorded; most of the dead persons where children and women and male and female slaves who left no money; the dead rich men and women did not get buried in secret as the Mameluke policemen watched every funeral prayers in all mosques and notified the department of inheritance...). We note the following.

7/2/1: So, the plague was assumed to cause the death of cattle, horses, and fish; crops were destroyed by swarms of locusts; such types of torment were added to the main torment of the plague killing off thousands of people.

7/2/2: Al-Makrizi noticed that the department of inheritance did not record all numbers and names of people who died of the plague; only the rich among them since dead children and slaves/servants had left no wealth at all.

7/3: (...Though the number of those who died of the plague decreased in this month, strangely, the slaves market suffered lack of purchasers; the depression caused many markets of goods to close down; people in the streets refrained from buying male and female slaves since they died swiftly of the plague...).

8- During the lunar month of Zu Al-Hijja.

8/1: (... Most people suffered lack of servants and slaves in their houses and mansions; during Ramadan, Shawwal, and Zu Al-Qaeda, more than one-hundred thousand persons died in Greater Cairo, mostly male and female children, male and female servants, and male and female slaves; most houses and mansions in Greater Cairo and the Levantine cities lacked servants and slaves and children...). Al-Makrizi could write the exact numbers within only the capital: Greater Cairo; yet, we can easily guess that matters were worse in Upper-Egyptian and Lower-Egyptian towns and villages and houses there lacked children, slaves, and servants as well as they died of the plague.

8/2: (...During Zu Al-Hijja, the plague increased and spread in the Egyptian cities of Alexandria, Damietta, Foh, and Damanhur as well the villages near each city; thousands of people died of the plague there; more than 100 persons died every day in Alexandria...). This took place after the death of Barsbay.

9- Al-Makrizi writes the following about the end of the year 841 A.H.: (...Thousands of thousands of people died of the plague and of wars in Egypt and the Levant...). We note here that the big criminals who are the Mameluke sultan, rulers, governors,...etc. never did anything to face the plague or to protect people; instead, more people died within wars of the Mamelukes.

 In the next article of this book, we comment on more lines written by Al-Makrizi about the big criminals (i.e., the sultan Barsbay and other Mamelukes and statesmen, judges, clergymen,...etc.) and what they did during the year of the plague 841 A.H. 




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