Post-classical history

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Document 16 AL-KAMIL MUHAMMAD AND THE FIFTH CRUSADE

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khallikan (d. 1282) was an Iraqi jurist. He worked as a qadi in both Cairo and Damascus, in the second of which he twice attained the rank of chief justice (1261–71 and 1278–82). He is best known for his biographical dictionary,Wafayat al-A‘yan wa-Anba’ Abna’ al-Zaman (The Deaths of Notables and Information on the Sons of the Age). The following extracts are from his entry in this work on al-Malik al-Kamil.

Abu’l-Ma‘ali Muhammad, the son of al-Malik al-‘Adil, mentioned above, called by the titles al-Malik al-Kamil [and] Nasir al-Din (The Perfect King, Supporter of the Faith): some information about him has already been given in the biography of his father. When the Franks arrived at Damietta, as we have mentioned above, al-Malik al-Kamil had just begun to rule independently as sultan.

Ibn Khallikan then gives a detailed account of a failed attempt by one of al-Kamil’s brothers and a senior emir to depose the sultan. His account of the Fifth Crusade, on the other hand, is somewhat briefer:

The well-known incident at Damietta took place, and there is no need to elaborate on it here. After the Franks took control of Damietta, and it fell into their hands, they set out from there aiming for the new and old cities of Cairo. They encamped on the tip of the island on which Damietta lies, with the Muslims opposite them in the village known as al-Mansura and the river, which was the River Ushmum, forming a barrier between them. God, be He exalted, through His grace and the beauty of His benevolence, gave victory over them to the Muslims, as is well known, and the Franks departed from their position on the eve of Friday 7 Rajab 618 (26 August 1221). Peace was concluded between them and the Muslims on the 11th of the month mentioned (30 August 1221), and the Franks departed from the country in Sha‘ban (September–October) of the same year. They had spent 40 months and 17 days in the lands of Islam, partly in al-Sham and partly in Egypt, but God protected [us from] their evil. Praise be to God for that! That [event] has been set forth in detail in the biography of Yahya ibn Jarrah, and may be examined there (in fact, the biography referred to provides little more detail).

When al-Malik al-Kamil’s mind was eased with regard to this enemy, he occupied himself with the emirs who had taken sides against him, and he banished them from the country, dispersed their unity and drove them out. He entered Cairo, where he made arrangements to restore the prosperity of the country and to gather the taxes from its various districts. He was a sultan mighty in power and fine in reputation, having affection for the ulema and holding closely to the Prophetic sunna, correct in his belief, on intimate terms with eminent men and judicious in his affairs, never resolving any matter in a way that was either extravagant or stingy. Every Thursday night a group of learned men would spend the evening with him, and he would take part in their discussions, asking them about difficult topics of all sorts, behaving with them as if he were [merely] one of them.

The author goes on to describe al-Kamil’s campaigns to extend his territory, including those against his relatives, up to the sultan’s death, and then gives a brief synopsis of the reigns of the other major Ayyubids up to the Mamluk takeover. It is striking that Ibn Khallikan completely omits any mention of Frederick II’s crusade and the handover to him of Jerusalem by al-Kamil.

Source: Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khallikan. (1968–94) Wafayat al-A‘yan wa-Anba’ Abna’ al-Zaman. Ed. Ihsan ‘Abbas. Beirut: Dar Sadir, Vol. 5, pp. 79–81.

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