Abu al-Fida (d. 1331) on the Caliphate of al-Hasan b. Ali (d. 669)

Al-Malik al-Mu’ayyad Abū al-Fidā’ Ismā‘īl b. ‘Alī al-Ḥamawī (d. 1331) was a Kurdish historian, geographer and local prince in fourteenth-century Syria. His universal history of the Islamic world, entitled al-Mukhtaṣar fī Akhbār al-Bashar, is one of the most interesting chronicles from the fourteenth century Islamic world. The work is concerned with historical events, key personalities, topography, intellectual developments, art, and architecture and—while not as elaborate as the histories of al-Tabari or Ibn Kathir—is truly universal in scope. Abū al-Fidā’s history is also characterized by an attempt to maintain partiality and historical accuracy, rather than an attempt to make strong judgments and identify clear heroes and villains in history. The section in question is particularly interesting because it represents a late medieval Syrian (Sunni) narrative of the caliphate of al-Hasan b. ‘Ali, often identified as the fifth of the “rightly-guided caliphs.” Continue reading

A Hispano-Muslim Embassy to the Vikings in 845: An Account of al-Ghazal’s Journey to the North

In 844 A.D., Norsemen raiders (commonly referred to as “Vikings”) attacked al-Andalus, sacking Cadiz, Lisbon, Medina Sidonia before capturing Seville. They maintained their control over Seville for a little over a month before being defeated by an army sent by the Umayyad emir, ‘Abd al-Rahmān II (r. 822–852) to repel them. The battle, according to most accounts, was quite fierce and ended in the victory of Andalusi Muslims over a large Viking force consisting of about 15,000 men. Following the retreat, the emir—recognizing the vulnerability of his kingdom to raids and seeking to avoid future confrontations within his own territory—ordered the construction of a navy (the first of its kind in al-Andalus) and sent emissaries to initiate peace talks with the Vikings. There is a lot of dispute about the origins of the Norsemen who reached al-Andalus. If they were Norsemen, their raids would most likely have been launched from Ireland, while Danes would have most likely have set out from the territory comprising modern-day Denmark. The surviving account of the Andalusi embassy—included below (which is a slightly revised version of W.E.D. Allen’s)—is also ambiguous on this point and mentions only that the Norse monarch’s court was located on an “island” (which could signify either Ireland, where the chieftain Turgesius/Turgeis [d. 845)] was based, or the island of Zealand, where the court of King Horik I [d. 854] was located).  I am personally inclined to believe that it was to the Vikings in Ireland that this account refers, due to some of the details provided within the text.

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Abu al-Fida’ (d. 1331) on Umar b. Abd al-Aziz’s Abolishment of the Public Cursing of Ali b. Abi Talib

Al-Malik al-Mu’ayyad Abū al-Fidā’ Ismā‘īl b. ‘Alī al-Ḥamawī (d. 1331) , an important fourteenth-century historian from Mamluk Syria provides important insight into the practice of the cursing of Imām ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661) by the Umayyads by demonstrating, on one hand, how this practice was in fact initiated by Mu’āwiya b. Abī Sufyān (r. 661-680) and, on the other, emphasizes the fact that it was carried on by all subsequent Umayyad caliphs until it was definitively abolished by the eighth Umayyad caliph, ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (r. 717-720). This short excerpt also gives historians an idea of the public nature of this cursing and how it would take place immediately following the Friday sermon in mosques across the Umayyad empire.

Translation

‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-Azīz’s Abolishment of the Practice of Cursing ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib from the Pulpits:

It was customary for the Umayyad caliphs to publicly curse ‘Alī (may God be pleased with him) from the years 41 A.H. [661 A.D.], the same year that al-Ḥasan [b.’Alī] surrendered the caliphate, to the beginning of 99 A.H. [717 A.D.], in the last days of the caliphate of Suleymān b. ‘Abd al-Mālik. However, when ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz became caliph, he abolished this practice and wrote to his governors and officials commanding them to abolish it. When he gave his Friday sermons, he would replace the cursing [of ‘Alī] that had ordinarily concluded the sermon with the following words of God Almighty: “Verily God enjoins justice, righteousness and good treatment of kith and kin, and forbids abomination, evil, and transgression. He admonishes you so that you may be mindful” [Q. 16:90]. After this day, ‘Alī was no longer publicly cursed from the pulpits and, instead, it became customary for all those giving the Friday sermon to recite this verse. Due to his actions in this regard, the caliph was highly praised by ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Khuzā‘ī:

When you became caliph, you refused to curse ‘Alī and you did not perpetuate any vile practices.

You spoke truthfully and followed it with righteous action and for that you earned the praise of every Muslim”

[Abū al-Fidā’, al-Mukhtaṣar fī Akhbār al-Bashar (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, 1998), Vol. 1, p. 250]

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Famous Historical Muslims of African/Black Origin

Originally posted on Ballandalus:

Islamic civilization currently encompasses every culture, ethnicity, race, and language on the planet. The foundations of Islam are quite egalitarian and encourage diversity, a fact which has attracted various peoples to its teachings across the centuries. The pages of Islamic history are filled with the emergence of many different ethno-linguistic groups, from regions as far apart as West Africa and Central Asia, as important political and cultural forces, which greatly impacted the direction of Islamic civilization. Unfortunately, despite this reality, Muslim history has often been presented as a series of accomplishments revolving around Arabs, Persians, and Turks, to the exclusion of all other groups; this is equally the fault of Western Orientalists and Muslim historians. The rich histories of hundreds of Muslim ethnic, racial, and linguistic groups have too often been overlooked or overshadowed by this mistaken approach towards Muslim history and expropriated by the master narrative which seeks to…

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Abu al-Fida (d. 1331) on the Rise of the Almohad Dynasty

Al-Malik al-Mu’ayyad Abū al-Fidā’ Ismā‘īl b. ‘Alī al-Ḥamawī (d. 1331) was a Kurdish historian, geographer and local prince in fourteenth-century Syria. His universal history of the Islamic world, entitled al-Mukhtaṣar fī Akhbār al-Bashar, is one of the most interesting chronicles from the fourteenth century Islamic world. The work is concerned with historical events, key personalities, topography, intellectual developments, art, and architecture and—while not as elaborate as the histories of al-Tabari or Ibn Kathir—is truly universal in scope. Abū al-Fidā’s history is also characterized by an attempt to maintain partiality and historical accuracy, rather than an attempt to make strong judgments and identify clear heroes and villains in history. This can be seen in his treatment of the Norman invasion of Sicily, in which he praises the new Christian rulers for “treating the Muslims with dignity and respect and protecting them from any harm that should befall them” (al-Mukhtaṣar fī Akhbār al-Bashar, p. 286). While other historians of the period would almost obsessively follow any reference to non-Muslim rulers with the epithet “may God curse them!” this sort of language is entirely absent from Abū al-Fidā’s chronicle.

The section translated below is particularly interesting—in my mind anyways—because it provides significant insight into how an early fourteenth-century historian from the central Islamic lands viewed the rise of Ibn Tumart (d. 1130) and the Almohad dynasty.

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Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) on the Evils of Cursing (La’n)

The following is a translation of a sub-section of the “Evils of the Tongue” taken from the Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111). Since I had recently translated and shared a text from another Sunni scholar dealing with a similar issue (Yazid b. Mu’awiya and the permissibility of cursing him), I thought it would be useful to provide another perspective from another medieval scholar who, unlike Sibt b. al-Jawzi (d. 1256), (in)famously declared (as can be read in the translation) that it is absolutely impermissible to invoke curses upon Yazid b. Mu’awiya. It is interesting that al-Ghazālī’s only commentary on a such a critically-important historical issue such as Karbala and the massacre of the Ahl al-Bayt can be found embedded in an ethico-legal discussion on cursing. Although we are also in possession of a legal responsa (fatwa) by al-Ghazālī that is preserved in the Wafiyāt al-A’yān wa Anbā’ Abnā’ al-Zamān of Abū al-‘Abbās b. Khallikān (d. 1282) that provides a more explicit perspective on Yazid (I am currently working on translating it, and will publish it soon), it seemed necessary to translate and post the fuller discussion of the issue of cursing in general as presented in the Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn in order to provide the context for understanding al-Ghazālī’s (admittedly problematic) position on the issue. This can allow us to better appreciate, and thus more accurately critique, his perspective.

Several questions are inevitably raised by his strong stance against cursing, a concept enshrined both within the scriptural tradition and the broader culture of medieval Islam. Was he perhaps concerned with the dangers posed by a sectarian appropriation of cursing, given the central role of tabarru’ within Shi’i Islam? Perhaps, as a former government official, he also understood its subversive qualities and its capacity to be used as a tool of the oppressed against the central authorities? Is it even possible that he sought to preserve the integrity of the institution of the caliphate by seeking to disassociate Yazid b. Mu’awiya from the massacre of the Ahl al-Bayt at Karbala? It is clear that a variety of considerations–legal, theological, social and political–played an important role in determining al-Ghazālī’s position on the issue. The inclusion of the section on the status of Yazid, however, inclines the historian to believe that there is more at work in this section than a mere discussion of ethical behavior.

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Sibt ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1256) on Yazid ibn Mu’awiya (d. 683)

Shams al-Dīn Yūsuf b. Qizughlī (d. 1256), better known as Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī, was the grandson (through his mother’s side) of the great twelfth-century Ḥanbalī theologian and jurist Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201). Although raised in Baghdad during his earlier years, where he studied with his grandfather and other senior scholars, he moved to Damascus around the year 1202 where he joined the service of the Ayyubid Sultans of Syria. It was around this time that he abandoned the Ḥanbalī school in favor of Ḥanafism. One of the many fields in which he excelled was history. His monumental historical work, entitled Mir‘āt al-Zamān—much like his own grandfather’s al-Muntaẓam—is a wonderful work of history and contains a wealth of information. One of the most interesting facts about Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī are his strong Alid tendencies (leading some of his later biographers to describe him as a Shi’ite), which are nowhere more clear than in his work entitled Taẓkirat al-Khuwāṣ al-Umma fī Khaṣā’iṣ al-A’imma. This work is essentially a narrative of the historical and religious importance of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661) and his descendants. The specific section translated here is taken from that particular work and is part of a broader project to make available in English different perspectives on Karbala from medieval Muslim sources. As can be seen, Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī’s perspective on Yazīd is uncompromising and is particularly notable for the details that he provides about the latter’s actions against the people of Mecca and Medina. Although the section dealing with the history of Karbala itself occupies nearly 50 pages (not translated here), it is notable that a substantial amount of the work is devoted to making a case for the permissibility of the cursing of Yazīd. In many ways, as can be seen from the translation below, this section reads almost like a commentary on Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī’s treatise entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib al-‘Anīd al-Mānī‘ min Dhamm Yazīd in which the author provides elaborate proofs for why it is permissible for the believer to curse Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya. Although it is unsurprising for a major Sunni figure such as Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī to speak negatively about Yazīd, it is nevertheless important that such a major figure would endorse cursing him, especially considering that other Sunni figures have either forbidden cursing Yazīd (Abu Hamid al-Ghazali) or even considered him worthy of praise (Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi).

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