Post-classical history

§ ‘Abbas as Vizier and the Murder of Ibn al-Sallar

As for the unrest in which Ibn al-Sallar was killed (may God have mercy upon him), it happened like this.63 Ibn al-Sallar had prepared an army to send to Bilbays to defend the country from the Franks;64 it was commanded by his stepson, ‘Abbas, who brought with him his own son, Nasr (may God have mercy upon him). Nasr stayed with his father among the troops for a few days, but then returned to Cairo without permission or leave from Ibn al-Sallar. Ibn al-Sallar objected to this and ordered him to return to the army, since he thought Nasr had gone to Cairo just for fun and games because of the hardships of army life.

But meanwhile, Nasr had hatched a plot with al-Zafir. The caliph got a group of his attendants, with Nasr at their head. Their plan was to use them to attack and kill Ibn al-Sallar in his palace while he spent the evening in the private quarters and slept. Nasr arranged with one of Ibn al-Sallar’s household managers65 to inform Nasr when his master had gone to sleep. It also happened that the owner of the palace, Ibn al-Sallar’s wife, was Nasr’s grandmother, so he was free to enter it without asking permission. And so, when Ibn al-Sallar fell asleep, the manager informed Nasr of it, and he, with six of his attendants, attacked Ibn al-Sallar in the chamber where he slept and killed him (may God have mercy upon him). Nasr cut off his head and brought it to al-Zafir. That happened on Thursday, 6 Muharram in the year 548 (3 April 1153). Now, in Ibn al-Sallar’s palace there were about a thousand men drawn from his mamluks and sentries. But they were in the public chambers while he was killed in the private quarters.66 Ibn al-Sallar’s men left the palace and a fight broke out between them and the followers of Nasr and al-Zafir until Ibn al-Sallar’s head was raised up on a spear. As soon as Ibn al-Sallar’s men saw that, they split into two groups: one group [19] that left through the Cairo Gate and went to Nasr’s father, ‘Abbas, to offer their service and loyalty, and another group that threw down their weapons and came to Nasr himself, kissed the ground before him and entered into his service.

Nasr’s father, ‘Abbas, arose the next morning, entered Cairo and took his seat in the Vizierate Palace. The caliph al-Zafir invested him with robes of honour and handed over to him the affairs of state. Meanwhile, Nasr became the caliph’s constant companion and his intimate friend. His father, ‘Abbas, came to loathe Nasr67 for that, suspicious even of his own son, knowing as he did the way in which some people could turn one group against another so that they destroy one another and be rid of them both and take possession of everything they owned. One night, the two of them, father and son, summoned me to their presence. They were alone in a private place, hurling accusations at each other, ‘Abbas barraging him with words while his son kept his head lowered as if he were a leopard, rebutting him word for word, which only infuriated ‘Abbas and made him blame him and vilify him all the more.

So I said to ‘Abbas, ‘My lord ‘Abbas, how much more blame and reproach are you going to hurl at my lord Nasr, while he remains silent? You should really point the blame at me. For I have been with him in everything he does and I do not claim to be innocent of his deeds, bad or good. What then has he done wrong? He has not mistreated any of your companions, nor has he frittered away any of your money, nor has he criticized your regime. Indeed, he has risked his life so that you might attain this position. He has therefore done nothing to merit blame from you.’

And so the father relented and the son held me in high regard.

§§ Al-Zafir’s Plot against ‘Abbas

Al-Zafir now concocted a plan with Nasr, convincing him that, if Nasr killed his father, al-Zafir would appoint him to the vizierate in his place. He also sent him generous gifts. One day I was in Nasr’s presence when he received twenty silver trays holding twenty thousand dinars – a gift from the caliph. Then the caliph ignored him for a few days, only to send him every variety of clothing, the likes of which I had never seen before in one collection. Then he ignored him again for a few days, later sending him fifty silver trays holding fifty thousand dinars. And then he ignored him yet again for a few days, later sending him thirty baggage mules and forty camels with all their tack, bags and ropes.68 [20] The one who used to act as go-between for them was a man named Murtafa’ ibn Fahl. During this whole period, I was with Nasr all the time. He wouldn’t permit me to be absent night or day; I used to sleep with my head at the end of his pillow.

I was with him one night at the Shabura Palace, when that Murtafa’ ibn Fahl came and talked with him through the first third of the night. I kept away. Murtafa’ then withdrew and Nasr called me to him and asked, ‘Where have you been?’

‘By the window,’ I replied, ‘reading the Qur’an. I really didn’t have time to read from it all day.’

He then began to open up to me about what he was planning, so that he might get a sense of where I stood on the matter, hoping I would strengthen his resolve to do the evil deed that al-Zafir had persuaded him to do.

So I said to him, ‘My lord, let not Satan make you stray, and be not beguiled by him who would delude you! For killing your father is not like killing Ibn al-Sallar. Do not do anything that will leave you damned until the Day of Judgment.’69

At this, he lowered his head, cut short our conversation and we went to sleep. He later acquainted his father with the whole affair. So the latter behaved kindly towards him, won him over – and plotted with him to murder al-Zafir.

§§ ‘Abbas and Son Murder al-Zafir

Al-Zafir and Nasr were the same age, and they used to go out together at night in disguise. So Nasr invited the caliph over to his house, which was by the Sword-Makers’ Market, having set up a band of his companions in one side of the house. As soon as the caliph was all settled in the sitting-room, Nasr’s men rushed out at him and killed him. That was Wednesday night, the last day of Muharram of the year 549 (15 April 1154). They threw him into a deep well in Nasr’s house. A black servant of the caliph’s had accompanied him, a man called Sa’id al-Dawla, who never used to leave his side. They killed him too.

The next morning, Thursday, ‘Abbas went to the palace as usual to give his greetings and took a seat in a side-chamber in the Vizierate Assembly-Hall as if he were waiting for al-Zafir to come and hold audience and receive greetings. When the time during which the caliph usually held audience had elapsed, ‘Abbas summoned the chief prefect and said, ‘Why has our lord not held audience to receive the customary greetings?’

The prefect was at a loss to reply.

‘Abbas shouted at him, ‘What’s with you that you don’t answer me?’

The prefect replied, ‘My lord, we don’t know where our lord is!’

‘Would someone like our lord just go missing?’ ‘Abbas countered. ‘Go back and see what’s going on.’

So he left, then came back and told him, ‘We couldn’t find our lord.’

At this ‘Abbas said, ‘The [21] people cannot remain without a caliph. Go in to the lords, his brothers, and bring out one of them so we can pledge our allegiance to him.’

So the prefect left, then came back and said, ‘The lords say to you, “We have nothing to say about the matter of the caliphal office. Al-Zafir’s father cut us out of it, and established it with al-Zafir, and so the office belongs to his son after him.” ‘

‘Abbas replied, ‘Then bring him out so that we can pledge our allegiance.’

‘Abbas, having murdered al-Zafir, decided to claim that the caliph’s own brothers had killed him and to have them killed because of it. The son of al-Zafir70 now appeared, a mere infant, carried on the shoulders of one of the household managers of the palace. ‘Abbas took him up and carried him, as the people wept. Carrying him, he went inside with him, to the boy’s father’s audience-chamber, where now stood the sons of al-Hafiz:71 the amir Yusuf, the amir Jibril and their nephew, the amir Abu al-Baqa. We were sitting in the portico, with more than a thousand Egyptian troops in the palace, when we were surprised to see a bunch of men burst out of the audience-chamber into the hall, and then to hear the sounds of swords striking someone. So I said to one of the attendants, an Armenian, ‘Go and see who was killed.’ And off he went.

When he came back he told me, ‘Those men are no Muslims! That was my lord Abu al-Amana they just killed (meaning the amir Jibril)! One of them cut open his stomach and was yanking out his intestines!’

Then ‘Abbas came out, dragging the amir Yusuf, the latter’s naked head clenched under his armpit. He had already struck Yusuf with a sword, for blood was pouring out of him.72 Abu al-Baqa, his nephew, was in the hands of Nasr, so they brought the two of them into a side-chamber in the palace and killed them there.73 And yet all this occurred while there were a thousand swords unsheathed in the palace. That day was one of the most disquieting days I have ever lived through, given all the hideous injustices that occurred, injustices condemned by God (may He be Exalted) and all His creatures.

§§ An Amazing Thing: The Dead Steward

[22] One of the amazing things that happened on that day was this: ‘Abbas, when he tried to go into the audience-chamber, found that its door was locked from inside. The man whose job it was to open and close the audience-chamber was an old steward called Amin al-Mulk. They tried the door various ways and finally opened it. When they went in, they found that steward behind the door, dead, the keys still in his hand.

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