You read in the things you like to read about to divert yourself, for a little, from the bad condition that necessitates fleeing… and what is worse and more painful than losing your friends and those you love?… some of them are even prestigious figures whom one realizes how tragic their loss is to the country… and so you find in what you read what you want to tell people about, especially if it has to do with a troubled reality we all live.
I picked the book “al-Mawa’ez wal Atebar bezekr al-Khetat wal Athaar” known as al-Makrizi plans, to review some of what I have already read before about Arabs entering Egypt… I stopped before a piece of information where the author; Taq’ei ad-Din Ahmed ibn Ali al-Makrizi gave details about how the relation between Amr ibn el-Aas and Egypt started.
I went to al-Makrizi or you can say I recalled him in a conversation I had with some of those I met in the funeral ceremony of my dear friend Dr. Ali as-Siwaisi… the funeral ceremony took place in a huge hall in Gami’eat al-Qora’an in al-Arba’ean neighborhood in Suez. The conversation was about the displacement phenomenon… in specific, from Upper Egypt to Suez… the conversation proceeded to talk about the human displacements to Egypt and its cities in general… we stopped at the point of Arabs entering Egypt hoping we will continue our conversation later.
In the conversation, I said that Amr ibn al-Aas used to come to Egypt in the pre-Islam time to enjoy its urbanization and the greatness of what was in it of archeticture and cultural and civilization aspects… also, to enjoy himself of its pleasures that may appeal to one coming from a desert place where simplicity reigns… I chose the word simplicity so that I do not go deep in describing the desert environment lest one thinks I belittle the desert and its people. I said that it looked like Amr was dazzled by what he saw, experienced, and enjoyed… and so when the right moment came, he decided to have all of Egypt for himself.
Of course, some denied what I thought of… but when I recalled what al-Makrizi wrote, I found the next text “in the first part, page 444, first edition published by Maktabet Madbouli in 1997”… “… ibn Abdel-Hakam said: in the eighteenth year after Prophet Muhammed’s Hijra when Omar ibn al-Khattab went to al-Gabiya, Amr had a word with him and had his permission to invade Egypt… Amr had already been to Egypt in the pre-Islam era, known its ways, and seen how wealthy the country is…”
“… This story of Amr coming to Egypt started when he was on a business trip to Jerusalem among a group of people of Quraish… there was one of the Roman deacons who came from Alexandria to have prayers in Jerusalem… he went wandering in the mountains while Amr was herding his camels and those of his friends… that deacon was terribly thirsty when he passed by Amr… and so Amr slaked his thirst by giving him his goatskin bottle… the man drank until he quenched his thirst then he went into sleep… next to the deacon, there was a hole where a giant snake came out… when Amr saw it, he hit it with an arrow and killed it…”
“… When the deacon woke up and saw the snake, he said to Amr: what is this? Amr told him about what happened… the deacon kissed Amr’s head and said: God sent you to me twice to save my life… first when I was dying out of thirst and the second when this snake was about to kill me… but what brought you to this country?... Amr said: I came with my friends on a business trip… the deacon said to him: how much money do you expect to make out of your trip? Amr said: I hope to make what is enough to buy a camel as I have only two… the deacon said: how much is the wergild you pay for one of you?... Amr said: hundred camels… the deacon said: we are not people of camels, but people of money… Amr said: then a wergild is thousand Dinar worth… the deacon said: I am a strange man in this country… I came here to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and wander for a month among these mountains…”
“… I made a vow and I will keep it… now I want to go back to my country, will you come with me to my country and I take the oath to give you two wergilds as God saved my life twice by sending you to me… then Amr said: where is your country?... the deacon said: Egypt, in a city called Alexandria… Amr said: I do not know it… I have never been to it… the deacon said: if you saw it, you would have known that you have never been to one like it before… Amr said: will you keep your oath?... the deacon said: yes, I swear I will and I will send you back to your friends… Amr said: how long will I stay?... the deacon said: we will take ten days to arrive and you stay for another ten, then you come back in ten days… and you have my word that I will take care of you when we go and I will send someone to take care of you when you return…”
“… Amr asked the deacon to wait until he tells his friends whom he went to and told them about all what happened… he asked them to wait for him until he comes back and promised them half what he will have… he also asked for one of them to accompany him in his journey… then Amr set off with the deacon until they arrived in Egypt…”
Al-Makrizi said: “Amr saw the architecture of Egypt, its people, what in it of money and wealth and liked all this… he went to Alexandria and saw the abundant money, architecture, the many good people of it… and so he became even more amazed… it also happened that the time when Amr came to Alexandria coincided with a great feast where its kings and well-off people used to gather… there was a Gold ball which they used to throw and catch it with their sleeves… according to some who experienced this ball, they said that whoever the ball fell in his sleeve, he shall not die until he becomes king on this country… when Amr came to Alexandria, the deacon was so generous to him… he clothed him in a garment made of silk… Amr and the deacon sat with the people in that gathering where they used to throw the ball… the ball fell in Amr’s sleeve and people wondered… they said: this ball has never lied to us except for this time… will this Bedouin ever be king over us?... that will never be…”
“… That deacon went to the people of Alexandria and told them that Amr saved his life twice and that he promised to give him two thousand Dinars and asked them to collect the money for him and they did… they paid Amr who set off along with his companion friend and a guide whom the deacon sent with them… the deacon also supplied them with what they needed and was generous to them until Amr came along with his friend back to their friends… and so Amr knew the way to and out Egypt… he also knew that it is the best and wealthiest country… and so when he came back to his friends, he paid them a thousand Dinar and kept a thousand for himself…”
“… Amr said: that was the first money I earned and saved”… the text of al-Makrizi ended here… if such text was mentioned in a historical research, we would have analyzed it, interpreted what was vague in it, and discovered new significance out of it… the space allowed, however, is not enough for this… though, the text confirms that Amr came to Egypt before and that the thing behind Arabs entering Egypt is not only limited to the religious side… actually it exceeds this to what dazzled Amr ibn el-Aas.
Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar
This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on August 30, 2017.
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