An Arabic Will Written on a Ship
Skip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
|P.ACPSI. No. 16 = P.Rag. 6||Plate I||28 x 21.3 cm|
|D̲h̲ū al-Ḥijah 102 AH / June AD 721||Provenance Unknown|
This light brown papyrus is well preserved, except for the top which is broken off and several small holes throughout. There are three vertical folds measuring (from right to left) 5.4 cm, 8.5 cm, and 7.4 cm. At the bottom, there is a blank space of 10.3 cm. On the bottom left side, under the last line, there is a circular seal that may be clay or wax.
The heading of the document is lost. The text was written against the fibers in 13 lines, in black ink, by a neat, elegant hand, showing semi-Cufic characters (cf. APEL III 174 pl. XIV). Diacritical marks are absent. The other side is blank.
This document was written in D̲h̲ū al-Ḥijah, the month of Muslims' ḥajj, dated in the Umayyad period (AD 661–750) (Hawting 1986, 24 ff.) in the reign of Yazid II (AD 720–724) who appointed Bis̲h̲r b. Ṣafwān al-Kalbī as ruler of Egypt (101 AH). However, according to some rebels of the tribe of Quḍā͑ah, after the death of ͑Umar b. ͑Abdel- ͑Azīz (d. AD 720) he travelled to north Africa by the order of the caliph Yazid II, leaving his brother Ḥanẓalah b. Ṣafwān as a ruler (Ibn Iyās 1982, 126, and Ibn K̲h̲aldūn s.d., 76). The caliph Yazid II approved the decision of Bis̲h̲r. It is said that Ḥanẓalah b. Ṣafwān ruled Egypt three times and the last one was the year 128 AH (Al-Kindī 1908, 71).
The document is drawn up in the form of a private letter (see ll. 8–9n.), but it includes the manumission of a slave-girl (see l. 1n.) and sets aside a waqf, a house and vineyard for her benefit. By adding the seal and witnesses at the end, the letter becomes official. The testator is a female, a testatrix (see l. 5n.), whose name is not preserved. She has put a condition that she will live in her house for as long as she is alive, but after her death the house and a vineyard will be given to the manumitted slave.
The mention of locking the testatrix and other pilgrims on the ship means that the government prevented them from reaching the shore. Plague or some other epidemic disease might have dictated this sort of situation. The Islamic world had suffered at least five major plague epidemics before the Black Death in the 14th century. In 639, one of these outbreaks killed 25,000 Muslim soldiers in the army of 'Omar, the second Muslim caliph, yet the Black Death was far more deadly than any of the previous plague epidemics that had hit the Islamic world (see Dols 1977, 23). Islamic theology held different views about the plague. A Muslim should neither enter nor flee a plague-stricken land (see Dols 1974, 371–383). But in our text the possibility of a plague remains a pure speculation.
1 : In Islam, it is necessary that the person who makes a waqf should be balig̲h̲ (mature), sane, and should be doing so of his free will. Earlier, in Greco-Roman Egypt, both Egyptians and Greeks had the right to make wills too (see Taubenshlag 1971, 201 ff.). According to s̲h̲ari ͑ah, the testator should also have the right of disposal and discretion over his property. A feeble-minded person cannot make a valid waqf. There are hundreds of ḥadith that deal with issues of slavery. In Saḥiḥ al-Buk̲h̲ari, entire chapters of ḥadith are dedicated to dealing with the taxation, treatment, sale, and jurisprudence of slaves. Furthermore, numerous ḥadith mention slaves and their relation to their Muslim masters. Islam opened many ways for the emancipation of the slaves (Al-Tabataba'i 1390/1971, 338–358). Islam's followers treated their slaves humanely because it is part of their fundamental faith. The Qur ͗ān admirably recognizes that there are no differences between human beings regardless of their culture or color and it makes no suggestion as to which race is superior (Q. 49:13). The faith is generally tolerant of others and slave-owners were promised rewards in heaven for showing their piety and treating their slaves well. The Qur ͗ān also instructs Muslims not to force their female slaves into prostitution (Q. 24:34), and even allows Muslims to marry slaves if they desire (Q. 4:24). Emancipation of slaves was also declared to be expiation as a penalty for crime or sin (Q. 4:92, 5:89, 58:3). For instance, if a man failed to fast without any reasonable excuse during the month of Ramadan, or if he failed to observe the fast of i'tikaf or vow, etc, he had to free a slave, in addition to fasting afterwards (Al-K̲h̲u'ī 1974, 328–331, and Q. 4:92, 5:89, 58:3). Islam allows slaves to buy their liberty as it happened with the captives of the very first Islamic battle, Badr (who were freed on ransom in the form of money or work such as teaching ten Muslim children how to read and write), or to free them without buying their freedom as those of the tribe of T̲ay ͗ (Al-Wâqidī 1966, 129; and Ibn Sa'd 1912, 11, 14). The Prophet Muhammad, in his Farewell Sermon, exhorted Muslims to feed slaves with the same food as they eat and to clothe them with what they wear, and if the slaves commit a fault which they are not inclined to forgive, then they part with them, for they are servants of the Lord and are not to be treated harshly (Ibn ͑Abdel-Barr 1412, vol. 4, p. 1573).
3 : In Islamic law, a will or testament is a document by which a person (the testator) regulates the rights of others over his property after the death or before his travel to ḥajj. Usually, the pilgrim wrote his will before ḥajj, but it seems that the testatrix did not do it before her travel.
: This expression means that the guardian is one of the testatrix's relatives. Usually, the descendants of the benefactor become trustees. So, in our document we may conclude that the trustee of the waqf is one of the descendants of the testatrix, since the letter gives the impression of being addressed to some family member (see ll. 8–9n.).
: Here the document deals with waqf. The main items in a waqf contract are the waqf (endowment), the wāqif (donor), and the mawqūf ͑alyhi (the beneficiated) (Ibn al-Ṣīrafî 1994, no. 4). The waqf is made by a person, based on his or her rights of ownership, and contains clauses forbidding any intervention on the state of the waqf, and a clear word such as waqaftu, ḥabastu, and sabbaltu should be written ( ͑Abbās 1984, no. 566, p. 29). General waqf like on a mosque as well as private waqf as in our case does not require any reciprocal acceptance, as it is based on the concept of ownership as it exists in Islamic law. The will should include no more than one third of the inheritance. The Prophet Mohamed encouraged waqf as a kind of a sustainable giving or "ṣaḍaqa jāriya" (Qadrī 1909, 6) that benefits the poor, the needy, the students, the orphanages and other charitable institutions. (Sābeq 1999, 282; Bakr 1997, 128; and G̲h̲oneima 2002, 24–25). In Islam, it is allowed to provide the benefit from waqf to non-Muslims like Christians or Jews as Șafeya, one of the Prophet's wives who made a waqf for her Jew brother (Sābeq 1999, 287).
6 : One can conclude that the testatrix was in ḥajj because the document was dated in D̲h̲ū al-Ḥijah the month of ḥajj, but she was locked on a ship perhaps because of an epidemic disease. In the middle of the sixth century AD the Mediterranean world was struck by the so-called Plague of Justinian, an epidemic that would recur in further successive waves until the mid-eighth century. During the reign of the Emperor Justinian I (AD 527–565), the waves of bubonic plague first reached the Roman world in the spring of AD 541. It has taken its name "the Plague of Justinian" from the name of the Emperor (Russell 1968, 174–184). According to the historian Procopius, secretary to Justinian's General Belisarius, the first outbreak of the Plague that killed hundreds of thousands of people began in Constantinople in AD 542 (Bray 2000, 22–23). Russell estimates a 20–25 percent population during the first epidemic of AD 541–544, and a total loss of 40–50 percent of the pre-plague population over the period AD 540–700 (Russell 1968, 174-184). After that the Islamic world suffered from recurring epidemics of plague up to the 19th century (Biraben and LeGoff 1969, 1484–1510). The Muslim historian, Ibn K̲h̲aldûn, who lost his parents to the Black Death, wrote of its devastation (Dols 1977, 67). The Middle East as well was hit by successive outbreaks of the plague. Dols lists six "major" epidemics between 627 and 717 (Dols 1974, 371–383). According to Islamic law, a Muslim should neither enter nor flee a plague-stricken land. Therefore, in Egypt, the ships in the harbor that bear ḥajjy passengers on board might have been shut up according to the quarantine regulations. (see Dols 1974, 371–383). Anyhow, pilgrimage is required by every Muslim who can afford it at least once in a lifetime.
8–9 / (L. ): It is clear that the formula here is that of a letter, but since the sender asks the addressee to reply with his news, one wonders how this letter was delivered to the recipient since the sender was locked on the ship. I assume that the sender used pigeons (homers). The first actual records of using homing pigeons to carry messages come from Egypt (Herodotus 8.98). Pigeons provided the only method of communication, and the success of the pigeon post appeared in both official and private communications. Various governments established systems of communication for military, especially naval purposes to send messages between coast stations and ships at sea by pigeon post (James and Thorpe 1994, 526). The governor's pigeons flew straight for the houses where they were trained to reach their original nests. Egypt organized its first formal postal system and called it "al-Barīd" with designated routes starting (or ending) at the Cairo Citadel under the Arab caliphate of Mu'awiyya (d. 679) (Rā͗fat 1995, 2).
10–12 These lines contain the signatures of the witnesses and the scribe. The witness must be adult, mature, sane, just etc, (see Ibn al-Ṣīrafî 1994, 4, 364). Although the testament must include two witnesses at least, according to the Islamic law, the conclusion of a contract required four witnesses. Written agreements which were not formally witnessed and signed by capable persons were not regarded as binding. Contracts could be made orally, but to avoid conflict, people were encouraged to put them in writing, witnessed and signed by capable persons (Q. 2: 282).
12 : The name appears in Al-Zarkly 1980, 225, but one may think that the word is a verbal adjective instead (nomina patientis) (see Wright 1967, 134, 236) meaning "it (i.e. the letter) was written by dictation," which I prefer because the name in Al-Zarkly has an article.
|ʿAbbās 1984||ʿAbbās, Maḥmoud, Deed of Waqf (Cairo1984).|
|Al-K̲h̲u'ī 1974||Al-Khu'ī, Sayyid Abu'l Qasim, Minhajus Salihin, vol. II (Najaf 19743).|
|Al-Kindī 1908||Al-Kindī, Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī, Kitābu al-Wulati wa Kitābu al-Quḍati (Beirut 1908).|
|Al-Tabataba'i 1390/1971||Al-Tabataba'i, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn, al-Mizan fi Tafsir'l Qur'an, vol. 16 (Beirut 1390/19712).|
|Al-Wâqidī 1966||Al-Waqidi, Muhammad b. 'Umar, Kitabu el- Maghazi, vol. I, edited by M. Jones (London 1966).|
|Al-Zarkly 1980||Al-Zarkly, K̲h̲ayr al-Dīn, Al-Aʿlām, Qāmūs L-ʾAs̲h̲har al-Rejāl wa al-Nisāʾmen al-ʿArab wa al-Mustaʿribīn (Beirut 19805).|
|APEL||A. Grohman, Arabic Papyri in the Egyptian Library. 6 vols. (Cairo 1934–1961).|
|Bakr 1997||Bakr, I.M., Al-Fiqh al-Wāḍeh men al-Kitāb wa al-Sunna ʿala al-Mad̲h̲āheb al-ʾArbaʿa. 3 vols. (Cairo 1997).|
|Biraben and LeGoff 1969||J.-N. Biraben and J. LeGoff, "La peste dans la haute moyen âge," Annales (ESC) 24 (1969) 1484–1510.|
|Bray 2000||R.S. Bray, Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on History (New York 2000).|
|Dols 1974||M.W. Dols, "Plague in Early Islamic History," JAOS 94 (1974) 371–383.|
|Dols 1977||M.W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East (Princeton 1977).|
|G̲h̲oneima 2002||G̲h̲oneima, Abdel Fataḥ Moṣtafa, Al-Waqf fī Magal al-Taʿleem wa al-Thaqafa fī Miṣr khelal al-Qarn al- ʿEshreen, Qaḍaya Islamia, Al-Majlis al-Aʿla Le-al-Sheʾoun al-Islamia (Cairo 2002).|
|Hawting 1986||G.R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam, the Umayyad Caliphate AD 661–750 (London 1986).|
|Ibn ʿAbdel-Barr 1412||Ibn ʿAbdel-Barr, Al-Isti'ab fī Ma'rafat al-Aṣḥab (Beirut 1412).|
|Ibn al-Ṣīrafî 1994||Ibn al-Ṣīrafî, Al-Qānon fī Dīwān al-Rasāʾil, wa al-Ishāra Ila men Nāl al-Wizāra, Kitāb al-Waṣiya (Beirut 1990).|
|Ibn Iyās 1982||Ibn Iyās, Badā ʿal-zuhûr fī waqāi ʿal-Duhûr, inquiry by Muḥamed Muṣtafa, vol. 1 (Cairo 1982).|
|Ibn K̲h̲aldūn||Ibn K̲h̲aldūn, Tārîkh Ibn K̲h̲aldūn al-Musama bi-kitāb al-ʿAbar, wa Dîwān al-Mutada ʾwa al-Khabar fī Ayyam al-ʿArab wa al- ʿAgam wa al-Barbar, vol. 3 (Beirut, s.d.).|
|Ibn Sa'd 1912||Ibn Sa'd, al-Ṭabaqatul Kabir, vol. II.1 (Leiden 1912).|
|James and Thorpe 1994||P. James and N. Thorpe, Ancient Inventions (New York 1994).|
|Qadrī 1909||M. Qadrī, Murshid al-Ḥayrān Ila Maʿrafat Aḥwāl al-Insān fī al-Muʿamlāt al-Sharʿya (Cairo 1909) ed. by Aly Muhamed al-Bajāwy.|
|Rāʾfat 1995||S. Rāʾfat, A Snapshot of Egypt's Postal History: The Egyptian Mail (Cairo 1995).|
|Russell 1968||J.C. Russell, "That Earlier Plague," Demography 5 (1968) 174–84.|
|Sābeq 1999||Sābeq, El-Sayed, Fiqh al-Sunna, 4 vols. (Cairo 1999).|
|Taubenshlag 1971||Taubenshlag R., The Law of Greco-Roman Egypt in the Light of the Papyri (Warsaw 19952) 201 ff.|
|Wright 1967||W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language (Cambridge 1967).|
|P.ACPSI. No. 16||P.Rag. 6|