http://www.linamalkawi.com/2010/04/al-m ... nt-to.html
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Kafur: A testament to Levantine racism and Egyptian tolerance
The story of al-Mutanabbi and Kafur al-Ikhshidi testifies to Levantine/Iraqi racism and Egyptian tolerance.
The notorious satirical poems in which the Iraqi/Levantine poet Abut-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi insults the ruler of Egypt Abu al-Misk Kafur Al-Ikhshidi for being a former black slave and mocks the people of Egypt for allowing him to rise to power and accepting him as their leader, is often cited as an example of Arab racism. However, I see it as an example of tolerance, particularly on behalf of the people of Egypt.
Abu al-Misk Kafur was originally a black slave from Ethiopia. Muhammad Bin Tughj, the first of the Ikhshidid princes of Egypt, purchased Abu al-Misk Kafur as a slave in 923 AD and, recognizing the slave's potential, made him a tutor to his children and a military officer, and later promoted him as minister (Vizier) of Egypt. Eventually, Kafur gained so much power that he succeeded bin Tughj after his death, becoming the de jure ruler of the Egypt and southern Syria.
For a black save to climb the power ladder to become a prince or king is quite extraordinary and it took al-Mutanabbi by surprise. Not only was this black slave able to take control of Egypt—one of the most important countries of that time—but the people of Egypt were fine with it.
This is not the only example of slaves rising to power in Egypt. The Mamluks were soldiers of slave origin who converted to Islam, and eventually became a powerful military caste in various Muslim societies, particularly in Egypt. The mamluk phenomenon lasted from the 9th to the 19th century AD.
However, Kafur was not only a slave—he was black. Also remarkable about him is the way he outsmarted and made a fool out of al-Mutanabbi (perhaps the most famous Arab poet in Arabic history).
After trying unsuccessfully to gain political power in the Levant, by praising Saif al-Daula, Prince of Aleppo, al-Mutanabbi went to Egypt and tried to get close to Kafur in hopes of being appointed governor of Sidon in reward for his poetry.
Kafur could see through al-Mutanabbi's praise poetry that he was actually a racist and ignored him. Al-Mutanabbi became furious and started mocking him instead.
Here are some verses of scathing satirical poems Al-Mutanabbi wrote about Kafur:
صارَ الخَصيُُ إمام الآبقين بهـا .. فالحُـرُّ مُستعبدٌ و العبدُ معبودُ
The neutered slave has become leader of free people (in Egypt). The free are now enslaved and the slave is worshiped.
لا تشترِ العبد إلاَّ والعصا معـه .. إنّ العبيدَ لأنجـاسُ مناكيــدُ
Never buy a slave unless the stick come comes along with him. Slaves are sleazy and belligerent.
ما كنت أحسبني أحيا إلى زمنٍ .. يُسيء بي فيه عبدُ وهو محمودُ
I never thought I would live to a time when a slave would insult me and he would be praised for doing so.
من علّم الأسود المخصي مكرمة .. أقومُــه البيضُ أو آباؤه الصيدُ
Who taught the neutered black man to become noble: his white people or his aristocratic fathers?
وتعجبني رجلاك في النعل إنني .. رأيتكَ ذا نعل إذا كنت حافيا
I am amused by how your feet look in your shoes. I would think you had shoes on even if you were barefoot.
ومثلك يؤتى من بلاد بعيدة .. ليضحك ربات الحداد البواكيا
A person like you is sought from far away places just so he can make sad, morning women laugh.
For establishing support and credibility, Kafur was more comfortable surrounding himself with religious scholars than with poets.
Al Mutanabbi mocks the people of Egypt and their religious scholars for accepting Kafur as leader by saying:
سادات كل أناس من نفوسهم .. وسادة المسلمين الأعبد القزم
The leaders of all nations are from amongst themselves, except the Muslims; their leaders are low-life slaves.
أغاية الدين أن تحفوا شواربكم .. يا أمة ضحكت من جهلها الأمم
Is shaving your mustaches the most important thing in religion? You are surely a nation that all nations have laughed at because of your ignorance.
Well, look who got the last laugh!