Historians of Egypt

This article reviews in some details of the extensive efforts by Muslims in recordings of the history of Egypt. Such works have proven over time to be an invaluable source of information for successive generations of historians.

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Figure 1. Cairo plan from Pîrî Reis b. Haci Muhammad's book Kitâb-i Bahriye, Suleymaniye Library, Ayasofya 2612.

Islam entered Africa through Egypt. An early history of Egypt is the Futuh Misr wa'l Maghrib wa Akhbaruha (Conquest of Egypt and the Maghrib; Conquest of Egypt and the Accounts thereof) in seven books by Ibn Abd al-Hakam (c. 187 H/803 CE 257 H/871 CE). This work includes details of Muslim conquests combined with local interest of a somewhat later period. Mss of this work exists in London, Paris, and Leyden, and it has been published by the Yale University Press in the 1920s. This is the earliest printed work of an original text that recounts a Muslim account of the Muslim entry in Egypt and the West. Ibn Abd al-Hakam's Book I deals with the ‘excellencies of Egypt' (fadail Misr) and the ancient history of the country; Book II with the Muslim conquest under Amr Ibn al-As; Book III with the khitat or settlements of the Muslims in al-Fustat and al-Jiza (Gizh), and the holdings in Alexandria and the district of Old Cairo called al-Qata'i, etc. Book IV deals with various measures of Amr b. al-As in the Nile valley, the conquest of the oasis of al-Fayyum, Barqa and Tripoli, the temporary loss and subsequent retaking of Alexandria, the recall and death of Amr b. Al-As, the Muslim expansion into Ifrikiya (the Roman province of Africa), and the fighting with the Nubians in the South, etc. Subsequently, Book V deals with the conquest of North Africa and Spain; book VI with the qadis of Egypt down to 246/860-1, and book VII deals with various specifically Egyptian traditions.

Ibn Al-Daya (died 340 H/951 CE), is the author of the Sirat Ahmad b. Tulun wa'bnihi Khumarawayh (Biography of Ibn Tulun and his son Khumarawayh). This is a biography of the first Tulunid rulers of Egypt. There will be plenty more on later Egyptian historians such as al-Maqrizi and al-Djabarti dealing with various aspects of Egyptian history. Here is a group of historians dealing with the early Mamluk rule of Egypt.

One of the historians of Mamluk Egypt is Muhyi al-Din Ibn Abd al-Zahir (1223-92) who wrote a contemporary biography of Baybars (ruled 1260-1277). He also wrote biographies of his successors, Qala'un (ruled 1279-90) and his son Al-Ashraf (1290-3). Al-Zahir received a traditional Islamic education and rose to become the Chief Clerk of Baybar's chancery. An eminent Arabic stylist, which was an important qualification for the post, he was responsible for the drafting of state papers. The greater part of Al-Zahir's biography of Baybars (Al-Rawd al-Zahir fi sirat al-Malik al-Zahir) was written during its subject's lifetime. Of the Mss there are two extant copies, one nearly complete, the other covering approximately the first third of the work.

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Figure 2. The cover page of Abu'l-Izz Ismail Razzaz Al-Jazarî's book al-Jamiu bayn al-ilm wa'l-amal al-Nafi fî sinaat al-hiyal, Suleymaniye Library, Ayasofya 3606.

A great character amongst the historians of the time was the fighter-historian, Abu'l-Fida, Baibars Rukn Al-Din ad-Dawadar al-Mansuri (d. 725/1324-25). Due to the high level administrative posts which he held in the Mamluk state under al-Malik an-Nasir, this historian must be considered as one of the most authoritative writers of the period. Even before the accession of al-Malik an-Nasir to the throne, Baibars al-Mansuri had served in military campaigns against both the Crusaders and the Mongols in Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor under Sultans Qala'un (678—89/ 1279-90) and al-Ashraf Al-Khalil (689-93/1290-93) and as Governor of the fortress al-Karak. When al-Malik an-Nasir was enthroned in 693/1293-94, Baibars al-Mansuri, who had just returned from a military expedition to Hims, was given the highest feudal rank in the Mamluk army, Amir of a hundred and general of a thousand - and appointed Chief of Chancery, in which capacity he was in charge of the Sultan's correspondence but was employed for special missions as well. Around the beginning of 694/1294-95 for example, he was sent to Alexandria to put down acts of piracy by Frankish ships and stayed on to distribute famine taxes levied on the rich to feed the poor. When Lãgin became Sultan in 696/1296-97 Baibars al-Mansuri lost his position but was reinstated in 698/1298—99 when al-Malik an-Nasir was himself reinstated as Sultan. Later in that year he was left in charge of the Cairo citadel when the Sultan marched to Syria against the Mongols. Twice in 700/1300-01 he was sent at the head of military detachments to quell tribal uprisings, and in 702/1302-03 he fought in the Mamluk army against the Mongols in Syria, leaving us with an eyewitness account of the battle. Al-Malik an-Nasir sent him on still another mission to Alexandria late in 702/1302—03 in which he undertook the repair of the fortifications. Having lost his post as Chief of Chancery in 704/1304—05, Baibars al-Mansuri participated in the following year in an expedition against the Armenians of Sis as assistant to the commander of an advance detachment, in which capacity he could record a personal account of the campaign. When in subsequent years al-Malik an-Nasir fell under the tutelage of two powerful Amirs, Baibars al-Mansuri, according to his own account at least, worked on the Sultan's behalf, continuing his efforts throughout the Sultan's exile in al-Karak until his restoration in 710/1310-11. Probably as a reward for loyalty, al-Malik an-Nasir appointed him again to a high rank and in 711/1311-12 increased his fiefs and bestowed on him the second highest title in the Mamluk state, Viceroy of the Empire (na'ib as-saltana), which he held for less than a year. Deposed and imprisoned for five years, he no longer played a prominent role in state affairs and died an old man in 725/1324-25, leaving two important sources for events in which he had participated or which he had witnessed. One, Zubdat al-fikra fi tarrikh al-higra, (Cream of thought in the history of the Migration) is a general history of Islam up to 724/1323-24 whose extant parts end, however, with 709/1209-10. The other, at-Tuhfa al-mulikiya fi d-daula at-turkiya, is a compilation from the sections of Zubdat al-fikra that deal with the Turkish or Bahri dynasty, ending with annals for 711/1311-12. Comparison of these two works should yield insight into the author's methodology and, at the same time, establish a basis of comparison with other histories, many of which are indebted to Baibars al-Mansuri's works. Zubdat al-fikra includes headings and matters such as: An uprising of a group of Royal Mamluks; The accession of Zain a-Din Kitbuga to the Sultanate; A low Nile resulting in famine and high prices; Mongol strife resulting in the accession of Gazan; etc.

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Figure 3. A sample page from Erzurumlu Ibrahim Hakki's book Marifetname, Suleymaniye Library, Yazma bagislar, 2263.

With Sihab Al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab Al-Nuwairi (d. 732/1331-32) we come to the first historian who belonged exclusively to the bureaucratic, as opposed to military, institution. Son of a "katib of note," Al-Nuwairi served in various state offices during al-Malik an-Nasir's reigns, the first for which we have any record being the directorship of the sultan's properties in Syria in 701/1301-02, when he was in his early twenties. He stayed in Damascus in this post for approximately four years until 705/1305-06 when he returned to Egypt as Director of the Bureau of Privy Funds (diwan al-hass) and of the Qala'un complex of buildings (which consisted of Qala'un's mausoleum, madrasa-mosque, and hospital). In this capacity, he served on occasions in attendance on the Sultan. These positions he held for about two years-until 707/1307-08. In 710/1310-11 he was sent to Tripoli as intendant of the Diwan (sahib ad-diwan), and later in the same year he was appointed controller of the armies (Nazir al-Guyush) in the same province. There he served until 712/1312-13 when he was removed from this post and returned to Egypt. Sometime thereafter he became controller of Financial Bureaus (nazir ad-diwan) in the eastern provinces of ad-Daqahliya and al-Murtahawiva. Al-Nuwairi's role in the Mamluk administration is reflected in his work: Nihayat al-arab fifunun al-adab, a vast encyclopedia designed to contain "all the knowledge that was indispensable for a first-class scribe." Nearly half the work is devoted to history, arranged however, not in the manner of a universal chronicle but in the form of regional or dynastic sections, the last of which recounts the history of Egypt beginning with the Tulunids and continuing through the reign of al-Malik an-Nasir. Like Baibars al-Mansuri, Al-Nuwairi would have had access to state documents by virtue of his positions and he was an intimate of high- ranking officials, many of whom he quotes as authorities in his work. Few written sources are cited other than the writings of al-Birzali and al-Gazari for events in Syria and in Mongol territory. Al-Nuwairi also devotes a separate section to the history of the Mongols.

"The Islamic History of the Lighthouse of Alexandria" by Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Muqarnas, Vol. 23 (2006), pp. 1-14, Published by: Brill, Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25482435

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