Political humor is aimed at political leaders, politicians, parties, and political institutions. It is sometimes associated with controversial political issues that might trigger laughter. However, the structure of this kind of humor is not complicated but simpler than other forms of humor such as “ethnic or sexual humor” (Raskin 1985: 222). Political humor is crucially based on the idea of “contradiction” or “incongruity” that can be traced back to the incongruity theory of humor in the works of Hutcheson (1725), Schopenhauer (1818), Kant (1951), Bergson (1900), and Morreall (1983). These ideas have further been developed by Victor Raskin’s The Semantic Script Theory of Humor as well as his notions of the two contradictory scripts. As he assertively puts it, “Usually, the former script presents the target as ‘good,’ or proper, and the latter script sees it as ‘bad,’ or improper, in a certain way” (Raskin 1985: 222).
There are two different types of political jokes. The first type is “denigration jokes,” which is primarily concerned with the denigration of a person, an idea, or a group of people within society. The second category, on the other hand, is “exposure jokes,” which criticizes the suppression and tyranny of a certain political regime (Raskin 1985: 222). This division can also be traced back to “Hostility Theories” that are also known as “disparagement theories,” “derision theories,” “superiority theories,” or “disappointment theories” (Allen 1998: 10). These theories focus generally on the negative and aggressive side of humor.
Political humor takes many forms like jokes, anecdotes, satires, puns, riddles, caricatures, dramatic comedy, and “political invective” (Schutz 1977: 24). Charles E. Schutz asserts that political humor “has something of a folk nature” and the same story will appear again and again in different forms with different characters and different guises but with the same point over the years. It is a timeless story not bound by time or place. This kind of humor is “a testimony to certain enduring features of politics that they continue to be objects of ridicule or aggressive humor” (Schutz 1977: 26). Political jokes can be an “offensive” weapon that has an aggressive nature. However, these jokes have defensive purposes as well, which might be clear in “quick witted answers to aggressive remarks” (Speier 1998: 1354–5).
From the perspective of humor theories, three important issues can be observed in Ibn Mammātī’s pamphlet. First, the element of “comic aggression” is the dominating theme in Ibn Mammātī's Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh. Second, political humor in Kitāb al-Fāshūsh takes the shape of anecdotes that are so dynamic that some of their “Factual narratives can be fictionalized by stripping them of their original historical garments and by placing them in a different environment in terms of time, protagonists, locality, and even motivation” (Marzolph 1998: 120). Therefore, the powerful jokes in the book have turned the character into a universal symbol of tyranny and injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. Qarâqûsh’s folktales have been repeated, adapted, reincarnated, and spread like wildfire in different times and various regions in the Arab world. Finally, sometimes jocular tales serve as a way of “relieving tension and channeling social frustration” (Marzolph et al., 2002: 762). I argue that these jokes have served the people as a defense mechanism against all the tyrants over the ages.
The aim of this study is, therefore, to investigate political humor in the Arabic culture in the Middle Ages and to examine the powerful and sometimes destructive roles of humor in distorting historical facts. One aim of this study, however, is to point out that the text contains some timeless humorous elements that transcend the limitations of time and place. My argument is that humor in this pamphlet has developed as a weapon against not only Qarâqûsh of the Ayyubids but other ruthless neo-Qarâqûshs as well.
1.1 Authors and manuscripts
Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh (stupidity, or the decisions of Qarâqûsh) is believed to be authored by three writers (Casanova, 1893; Shaʿlān 2012). The original author is al-Qādī al-As’ad Abū’l-Makārim As’ad ibn al-Khatīr Abī Sa’id Mūhadhab ibn Mīnā ibn Zakarīya ibn Abī Qūdāma ibn Abī’l-Malīḥ Mammātī al-Miṣrī (native of Egypt) (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 192). The book is written as a pamphlet to be submitted to Salāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb known as Saladin (1137–March 1193) against his deputy in Egypt Qarâqûsh Ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Asadī, surnamed Bah'āaddīn (splendor of religion) (n.d.–April 1201). The second author, on the other hand, is Abū al-Faḍl ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Abī Bakr ibn Muḥammad Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khuḍayrī al-Suyūṭī (1445–1505). He has written another pamphlet to answer his students’ questions about the story of emir Bah’āaddīn Qarâqûsh and to examine the historical validity of these stories and whether they are historically true or pure fiction. The final version is entitled “Al-ṭarz Al-manqūsh fi Ḥukm al Sultān Qarâqûsh” by ‘Abd al-Salām Al-Malky (1564–1668 AD).
There is consensus among scholars that al-Fāshūsh is originally authored by Ibn Mammātī (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 520), and after approximately 300 years, the text has been recollected and rewritten again by Al-Suyūṭī to suit his student’s purposes at Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo as he states in his introduction to the book (Al-Suyūṭī 194 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd: 33b–34a). This means that Ibn Mammātī’s stories have been circulated so widely to the point of arousing the curiosity of serious students and scholars in Egypt after 300 years. The colloquial nature of the text might support the idea that these stories have been orally transmitted from one generation to the next and many stories might have been added as well. As a serious scholar, Al-Suyūṭī has endeavored to collect these stories and codify them in the form of a pamphlet and he has not imagined that his small project will spread like wildfire in the form of so many pamphlets in the Arab and the Muslim world. So far the manuscripts are still wrongly ascribed to al-Suyūṭī and not to their original writer.
There are many theories about the original manuscript which has been written by Ibn Mammātī, the real author. Some Arab scholars believe that such a copy has never existed (Alshāl 2000: 12–3). Other scholars, on the other hand, believe that the original manuscript is lost (Ḥamzah 2000: 142–3). However, there is an extract from this manuscript quoted by Paul Casanova (1893: 468–72) in his pioneering study on Qarâqûsh under the title of “extraits d’ un manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Khédiviale du Caire.” Abdulatif Ḥamzah has quoted and used all the anecdotes in this study in his books (Ḥamzah, 1945, 1951, 2000) without looking for the original manuscript itself. This practice made other writers like ʿAzzām (1999) and Shaʿlān (2012) to doubt the manuscript’s very existence. I have found almost the same manuscript in Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyyah (The Egyptian National Library) which is originally called Khedivial Books House in 1870 amid some collected epistles written by al-Suyūṭī under the title 59 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd as it contains all the anecdotes which have been quoted before by Casanova himself. The mere existence of this historical manuscript today refutes the claims of the previous authors and authenticates Paul Casanova’s version of the stories. However, I think the final decision of attributing this version directly to ibn Mammātī needs more serious investigation.
I believe that the overflow of pamphlets which has led to this chaotic situation is related in one way or another to “the correlation between oral and written tradition.” In other words, the give and take relationship between the oral and the written is a decisive answer to my previous questions. I think the original manuscript has been greatly influenced by the oral tradition, and many stories have been added to it as well. Also, the written manuscript has influenced the oral tradition by feeding the imagination of people and driving them to invent and create more stories. The result will inevitably be many pamphlets and different versions and narrations of the same stories, which are “natural” for stories belonging to oral tradition and for popular literature.
Probably one of the most important steps in the development of folk narrative research in the twentieth century was the growing awareness of a continuous correlation between oral and written tradition. Oral tradition at the same time both draws from written sources as well as inspires further written production. Seen from the opposite perspective, written tradition exploits the oral while it also serves as a mine of material for reproduction in the oral. Written tradition appears to be the more durable partner of the reciprocally dependent twins, while oral tradition is the more spontaneous one.
1.2 Qarâqûsh and Ibn Mammātī
Ibn Mammātī was a prolific writer, a distinguished poet and a historian. He was born in Cairo around 1149 AD, and was the third in a line of highly placed government officials descended from a Coptic family originally from Asyūt in Upper Egypt. His grandfather Abī’l-Malīḥ was the highest official in Egypt despite the fact that he was a Christian (Cooper 1974: 9). He worked under the commander of the armies Badr al-Jamālī, the vizir to the Fatimid caliph Mustanṣir (1036–1094), and he was well-known for his generosity and highly praised by the poets of his time. Abī’l-Malīḥ was succeeded in the Dīwān al-jaysh by his son Mūhadhab known as al-khātir. When Shīrkūh seized control of the country, as vizier for the last Fatimid caliph, Mūhadhab with his sons converted to Islam. Mūhadhab occupied his position until his death in 1182. As’ad ibn Mammātī inherited his father’s position and he made use of his friendship with influential men like Al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil who described ibn Mammātī as “bulbul al-majlis” (the nightingale of the council), because of his wit and eloquence (Cooper 1974: 10). During the reign of Salāḥ ad-Dīn (1169–1193) and his son al-Malik al-ʿAziz (1193–1198), ibn Mammātī was in charge of Dīwān al-mal in addition to Dīwān al-jaysh. His influence and power were consolidated when he occupied the position of Nāẓir al-dawāwīn, an inspector of all the Dīwāns who has the authority to supervise, observe, and revise all the actions of all the Dīwāns or ministries. Ibn Mammātī’s new position qualified him to challenge and oppose the appointment of Qarâqûsh as regent to al-Malik Al-Manṣūr (Cooper 1974: 9–10). However, when his colleague and rival Ṣafi al-Dīn ibn Shukr was elevated to the vizierate during the reign of al-Malik al- ʿAdil (1200–1218), he confiscated all his properties and he was forced to flee to Aleppo. Ibn Mammātī remained in that city until he died, on Sunday the 30th of the first Jumada, A. H. 606 (November, A. D. 1209), aged 62 (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 195).
Qarâqûsh, on the other hand, was one of the foreign elements in the new Ayyubid state. In Arabic, the meaning of the Turkish name Qarâqûsh is “black eagle” (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 521). Emir Qarâqûsh Ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Asadī (client of Asad ad-dīn), surnamed Bahʾāaddīn (splendor of religion), was a slave to Salāḥ ad-Dīn, or, by another account, to that prince’s uncle, Asad ad-dīn Shirkuh, from whom he received his liberty. When Salāḥ ad-Dīn established his dominion in Egypt, he appointed him in many positions like chamberlain for the royal family, his deputy in Egypt, and his most important advisor. He was sent by Salāḥ ad-Dīn to defend and fortify “Akka,” but he fell a slave to the Franks in 1191. Salāḥ ad-Dīn paid 10,000 dinars for his ransom (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 520–1). Qarâqûsh was well-known as a famous builder. He built the wall that surrounds Old and New Cairo; he built Galat al-Jabal (the Citadel of Cairo) and the bridge of Gizeh. In addition to his famous buildings and engineering designs, “his name was perpetuated by a quarter of Cairo, Hârat Qarâqûsh, situated outside the Futuh Gate” (Margoliouth 1907: 51–2). Qarâqûsh joined the service of Salāḥ ad-Dīn’s son al-Malik al-ʿAziz, and after his death, he was selected to be a regent for his son al-Manṣūr. Qarâqûsh held this post for a short time as the majority of Amirs and the head of the chancellery, Ibn Mammātī, declared him unfit to occupy this position due to his old age. Therefore, al-Manṣūr’s uncle al-Malik al-Afḍal took over the regenancy. Finally, Sultan al-ʿĀdil seized the throne in 596 (1200). Qarâqûsh died in Cairo, on the 1st of Rajab, A.H. 597 (April, AD 1201), and was interred at the foot of Mount Mukattam in the funeral chapel which bears his name (Ibn Khallikān 1842: 521).
Some scholars believe that there might be some kind of political rivalry between Ibn Mammātī and Qarâqûsh. It was historically well-known that Ibn Mammātī was one of the first who opposed Qarâqûsh’s guardianship of al-Manṣūr on account of his advanced age (Cooper 1974: 11). This might be the reason behind his attempt to write Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh; he used the book as propaganda to sway the public opinion against him. In this way, Qarâqûsh would appear like an unworthy, incompetent, and unfit character to be entrusted with a guardianship. He used exaggeration to portray him as a comically distorted character or as a caricature. This kind of excessive and unreal exaggeration revealed hatred and animosity toward that man because of his fame, honorable, and glorious history (Saʿd 1990: 30).
A number of extraordinary decisions are attributed to Qarâqûsh, as having been pronounced by him during his administration; nay, things have gone so far that al-Asaad Ibn Mammati composed a small volume under the title of Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh (stupidity, or the decisions of Qarâqûsh) and containing things which it is highly improbable that such a man as Qarâqûsh could have said or done. They are manifestly mere inventions, for Salah ad-din would not have confided to him the affairs of the empire unless he had an entire confidence in his knowledge and abilities. (Ibn Khallikān vol. 2, 1842: 520)
The study tries to adopt a balanced approach toward the analysis of Qarâqûsh’s character. It has nothing to do with evaluating, defending, or condemning the character from a historical perspective, an approach that has exhausted many Arab scholars; it is an attempt to investigate the humorous elements in the document in order to understand the different impacts and mechanics of humor. I believe that Qarâqûsh was a Coriolanus-like character. The man was simply a rough soldier and the time was a time of war. It was likely that Qarâqûsh might have made some mistakes against the common Egyptian people during his rule. Ibn Mammātī was able to penetrate his character, identify his weaknesses, and targeted them. Ibn Mammātī grabbed the opportunity to magnify these mistakes in his pamphlet and he injected it with a powerful combination of wit and humor. The result was amazing! I think he was successful because of the nature of the Egyptian people themselves who suffered the pressures of so many foreign regimes for centuries and who used humor as a defense mechanism and sometimes as a way of protest. The book is well received and is so popular that it has survived for centuries and many stories have been added and many versions of the book have been found. The Egyptian people have turned Qarâqûsh into a mythical figure that represents and symbolizes all the smugness, severity, and injustice of foreign rulers.
2 Literature review
In modern times, Egypt has continued to be the center of satire and political humor in the Arab world. It began with journalism in the mid-nineteenth century, when Ya’qub Sannu’ published his satirical and anti-British newspaper Abū Naẓara Zarqā (The one with the blue spectacles). A number of humorous publications followed like the famous humor magazine Tank īt wa al-Tabkīt (Joking and censure) by the Egyptian journalist ʿAbdullah Al Nadeem in 1881, al-Kashkūl (Scrapbook) by Sulayman Fawzi in 1914, and Rose al-Yusif in 1925. After the foreign occupation of Egypt, the Egyptian humorists aimed their arrows at their native oppressors. Within the framework of humorous political jokes, many Egyptian writers criticized Nasser’s humiliating defeat in 1967, attributing it to the corruption, inefficiency, and stupidity of that regime (Kishtainy 2009: 55). Khalid Kishainy (1985) dedicated a chapter in his famous book Arab Political Humour to the humor of the 1967 War. In 1970 Jihan Al-Sadat, wife of the Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat was a predominant theme of political and sexual humor at that time (Shehata 1992: 82). President Mubarak’s jokes (1981–2011), on the one hand, were mainly focused on questioning “his intelligence and capabilities as a leader” as he was often ridiculed and compared to “animals” (Shehata 1992: 85). A prolific number of humor studies, on the other hand, have been conducted on the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2011. For instance, a plethora of studies have been conducted on this issue by Hassan (2013), Anagondahalli and Khamis (2014), Gaad (2012), Makar (2011), El Alaoui (2014), Høigilt (2017, 2019), and many others.
A very limited number of studies, on the other hand, have been made on ancient and medieval political humor in Egypt. Houlihan (2001), for instance, studied different forms of wit and humor in ancient Egypt like puns and wordplay. He asserted that there was evidence of political humor in ancient pharaonic texts like letters in addition to temple and tomb drawings and decorations. Many critics like Attardo (1994: 33) described the Middle Ages as the “dark ages” from the perspective of humor studies. Marzolph et al. (2002, 2011), however, in his pioneering studies on Arabic humor have proved that “Arab literature holds a vast stock of humorous narratives.” Many scholars like Heinrichs (1990) and Ashtiany (1990) have agreed that Arabic jocular tradition can be divided into three major periods “classical, intermediary (post-classical, pre-modern), and modern.” The classical period begins before (800 CE) to the Mongol invasion and the collapse and downfall of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258. The classical period was regarded by many scholars as “the golden age” of Arabic jocular tradition especially from 1000 to 1200. The intermediary period, on the other hand, was concurrent with the Mamluk or Ottoman period (between 1258 and 1800) and was regarded by many scholars as an age of “decline and decadence.” The intermediary period was described as “a stage of preservation and imitation.” Finally, the modern period began with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt and was regarded by many scholars as a break with native Arabic tradition. Marzolph (1995: 162), however, has proved that “this break never occurred for jocular literature, at least not to a decisive extent.”
Like Qarâqûsh, there were many folkloric characters that went through similar accumulated historical manufacturing processes which added so many lights, shades, and colors to their original identities like Buhlûl and Juhâ. Buhlûl is “a jester at Hârûn al-Rashîd’s court” and he was probably a mentally disordered character. He was belonging to a group of characters known as ‘uqalâ’ almajânîn or “Wise fools,” and they were similar to the European court fools. The wise fools try to violate the normal codes of social behavior in order to create humor and laughter. In fact, they were “tolerated” and even “cherished” by some rulers and by this way Buhlûl’s character went through many complicated historical manufacturing processes until he became a symbol and a representative of all wise fools in Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish traditions (Marzolph et al. 2004: 504–5).
Juhâ, on the other hand, was first mentioned in the late ninth century in al-Jāḥiẓ’s Kitāb al-Bighāl and he became so popular in both oral and written forms of Arabic literature. Juhâ’s character developed so rapidly and many stories were added to the original corpus until it was documented in the early eleventh century in al-Tawḥīdī’s al-Baṣāʾir wa-l-dhakhāʾir, al-‘Abī’s Nathr al-durr, and Ibn al-Jawzî’s Akhbār al-Ḥamqā wal-mughaffalīn. Major additions occurred in the fifteenth century in az-Zaydi’s, Lubāb Nathr ad-durr and in two compilations of the seventeenth century (Nuzhat al-udabāʾ, al-Mīlawī, Irshād man naḫā) (Marzolph 1998: 127). Juhâ’s character is so dynamic that it has survived for centuries; and, in the world of today, Juhâ is perceived as “a popular jocular character whose image developed over a period of more than a thousand years” (Marzolph 1999: 164). Fiction played a crucial role in the formation of three characters. However, each one of them had a different character, gained a specific image, and occupied a unique position in the Arabic jocular narrative.
Paul Casanova (1861–1926) conducted two studies on Qarâqûsh in (1892–1893). In his first study, entitled “Karakouch (sa légende et son histoire),” he traced the legend of Qarâqûsh and made a comparison between the myths associated with this character in the Egyptian folklore and historical facts at that time. On the other hand, in the second study, entitled “Karakouch,” he considered Kitāb al-Fāshūsh as a mark of two important historical incidents at that time. The first incident is the decline of the Fatimid dynasty and the second one is the rising of the new emerging Ayyubid state. He asserted that the book is a clear signal of the Egyptians’ hatred of the new invading Ayyubid state. Casanova believed that this book expressed in one way or another the Egyptians sorrow for the collapse of the great Fatimid Empire, the loss of their political independence and their reduction again to be a mere state in the Abbasid Caliphate.
In Arabic modern researchers have focused more, on the other hand, on the serious aspects of the Arab culture, ignoring an important aspect of the Arabic culture in the Middle Ages which is humor and jokes. However, the eminent literary critic and historian Shawqi Ḍaif (1999) wrote a book on Poetry and Humor in Egypt. He surveyed the works of some humorous Arab writers like Ibn Mammātī’s Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh (stupidity, or the decisions of Qarâqûsh), Ibn Sawdoun’s Nuzhat Al-nūfūs Wa Mḍḥik alʿbûs (Diversion of Souls and Drawing Laughter on the Scowling Face), and Hazz al-Quhūf bi-Sharḥ Abi Shādūf (Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded) by Youssef El Sherbiny.
Al-Fāshūsh is so influential that many modern Arab scholars found themselves obliged to clear Qarâqûsh’s reputation. They thought that the man had been historically misquoted, misdated, and misrepresented by this book. Historical facts had been meticulously and ardently studied and investigated in books and articles by Abdulatif Ḥamzah (1945, 1951, 2000), Anān (1957), Saʿd (1990), Al-Jāsir (1998), ʿAzzām (1999), Alshāl (2000), and Munir (2016). A very limited number of articles have briefly dealt with the humorous element in the book like Zuhairi (1966), El-Calamawy (1966), Al-Najjār (1978), and Shaʿlān (2012).
3 Research methods
The study sets out to apply the three-dimensional model of discourse analysis developed by Norman Fairclough (1992a, 1995a, 1995b, 2001, 2003) to selected anecdotes from Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh by Ibn Mammātī. Fairclough’s approach contains a hierarchy of different concepts and ideas that are interconnected in a three-dimensional model. He tries “to bring together three analytical traditions, each of which is indispensable for discourse analysis.” The first tradition is a “detailed textual analysis within the field of linguistics (including Michael Halliday’s functional grammar),” the second tradition is “micro-sociological, interpretative tradition within sociology,” and the last tradition is “macro-sociological analysis of social practice (including Foucault’s theory)” (Fairclough 1992b: 72).
Therefore, the first dimension in Fairclough’s model includes “description” and depends on “textual” analysis, traditional linguistic tools (such as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and sentence coherence). The second dimension, on the other hand, involves “interpretation of the relationship between the (productive and interpretative) discursive processes and the text.” It examines discourses as “communicators of ideology” and makes use of the methods of genre, heteroglossia, and intertextuality. The final dimension is an “explanation of the relationship between the discursive processes and the social processes” (Fairclough 1995a, 1995b: 97–8). One of the most important goals of the analysis is to explain the links between the discursive practice and the wider, more general, and broader cultural and social structures. To Fairclough, textual analysis alone is not a sufficient tool for discourse analysis as it does not reflect the interconnected links between the texts and the other cultural and societal aspects of life. So he has adopted “an interdisciplinary” approach that combines textual and social analyses (Figure 1).
This interdisciplinary approach suits the nature of political humor in Kitāb al-Fāshūsh. Humor in this book takes the form of folktales. Folktales are not supposed to be studied as “literary monuments.” In order to understand and appreciate this kind of humor, the anecdotes and tales should be examined in the context in which they are told. They should be perceived in the light of the dynamics of narration and tradition and the various contacts and interactions that were responsible for their development (Marzolph 1998: 118–9). Norman Fairclough has dealt with some important concepts in his theory such as the “order of discourse,” where he refers to “the sum of discourse types and their internal positioning within a given social institutions (e.g., a particular movement) or social domain (e.g., the welfare state)” (Porta 2014: 204). The concept of “Intertextuality” is another crucial concept in his model, where “texts explicitly draw on other texts,” for example, by citing them (Fairclough 1992b: 117). According to Jørgensen, Phillips (2002: 60), Norman Fairclough’s approach of discourse analysis represents “the most developed theory and method for research in communication, culture, and society.”
Since it combines three different forms of analyses, the model has proved to be a useful tool for the analysis of historical texts. The study investigates the semantic and syntactic aspects of the language used in the text. It traces the discursive practice in the Ayyubid period and sheds light on the origins of this kind of writing in the Arabic culture. Then it examines the social and cultural contexts that have led to the formation of this discursive practice or what Fairclough (1992b: 237) calls “the social matrix of discourse.” Finally, it attempts to understand the enigma of this pamphlet and how it has been very influential across the Arab world.
4 Data analysis and discussion
This part attempts to apply the three-dimensional model of discourse analysis developed by Norman Fairclough (1992, 1995a, 1995b, 2001, 2003) to seven anecdotes from Kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh (stupidity, or the decisions of Qarâqûsh) by Ibn Mammātī. It falls into three major sections according to Fairclough’s model. The anecdotes have been selected from five manuscripts:
- La stupidité montrée dans les décisions de Qarâqoûsch, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Arabe 3552 by al-Soyoûṭî.
- Kālām fi Qarâqûsh (Talk on Qarâqûsh) by Jalāl ad-Dīn Al-Suyūṭī, Dār al-Kutub wa-al-Wathāʼiq al-Qawmīyah (Egyptian National Library and Archives), 25 Majāmīʿ Qawalah 167a–167b, Catalogue of the private collections of manuscripts in the Egyptian National Library, Dār al-Kutub, Al-Furqān Foundation, volume 6, 2015, page 416, Compiled by Aḥmad Abdulbaset.
- Manuscript Landberg MSS 258 (1736 AD), Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, al-Fāshūsh fi Ḥukm Qarâqûsh by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khuḍayrī al-Suyūṭī (al-Suyūṭī, 1736 AD: 104b–110b).
- Al-Suyūṭī, A. (1311 AH). al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām wa ḥikāyāt Qarâqûsh (Decisions and Anecdotes of Qarâqûsh). Cairo: The Būlāq Press or El-Amiriya Press (Al-Suyūṭī, 1311 AH: 1–15).
- Ibn Mammātī, As’ad. Selected Anecdotes from kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Ḥukm Qarâqûsh. 59 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd, Publication (Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation (London, England), Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in The Egyptian National Library (Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyyah) - Collections (Majāmīʿ), volume 4, 2011, page 347, Edited by Abd al-Sattar al-Ḥalwaji.
The original Arabic anecdotes are selected, numbered, transliterated,1 and translated into English by me.
4.1 Dimension 1 description
جاءته امرأة سوداء لها جارية تركية بيضاء فقالت له: يا وزير ﺇن هذه جاريتى قد أساءت على الأدب فأدبها، فنظر ﺇلى بياض الجارية التركية وسواد المرأة، ثم قال لها: أولك خلق الله تعالى جارية تركية بيضاء و أنت جارية سوداء، ما يقول ذلك ﺇلا مجنون أو مدهوش أفلا تكون هذه البيضاء جارية لك يا سوداء. يا غلمان اجعلوا هذه التركية البيضاء سيدة لهذه السوداء، و السوداء جارية للتركية، فإن أرادت بيعك باعتك أو أعتقتك، فقالت السوداء: أما انصفت يا وزير ؟! فقال: هكذا يكون اﻹنصاف وما أنا مجنون و لا مدهوش ، انصرفى عنى يا سوداء يا قبيحة المنظر لا خير فى الأسود ولو كان فى المسك والعسل. فلما رأت السوداء ذلك الحكم الذى لا مفر عنه أخذت تتعطف بخاطر البيضاء التركية وتقول لها: أعتقينى ﺇلى وجه الله تعالى وأنا أعطيك كذا وكذا ولا أشتكيكي أصلا، فقالت له التركية: ﺇنى قد أعتقت جاريتى السوداء، فقال جزاك الله خيرا انصرفى عنى بجاريتك ولا تعودى ثانيا. (السيوطى ، 1311 هجرى: 3-4)
Jāʾathū Iymrā sawdāʾ lahā jāriya turkiya baiḍāʾ faqālt lahū: yā wazir Ina hadhī jāriyati qad ʾasāʾt ʿaliya aladab fadibha, fanaẓara ilā bayaḍ al-jāriya al-turkiya wa sawad al-marā, thuma qāl lahā: awalaki khalaq Allāhu taʿāla jāriyata turkiya baiḍāʾ waʾanti jāriyata sawdāʾ, ma yaqul dhalika ilā majnun ʾaw madhūsh ʾaflā takun hadhi al-baiḍāʾ jāriya laki yā sawdāʾ. Yā ghulmān ijʿalū hadhi al-turkiya al-baiḍāʾ sayyidah lhadhi al-sawdāʾ, wa al-sawdāʾ jāriyata lil-turkiya, fin arādat bayʿaki baʿatki ʾaw ʾaʿtaqtki, faqalt al-sawdāʾ: ʾamā ʾanṣaft yā wazir?! Faqāl: hakadhā yakun alinṣaf wamā anā majnun walā madhūsh, inṣarfi ʿani yā sawdāʾ yā qabiḥat almanzar lā khiyr fi alʾasawd walau kān fi almisk wa alʿasl. Falamā rʾat al-sawdāʾ dhalik alḥukm aladhi lā mafar ʿanhū ʾakhdhat tataʿaṭaf bikhaṭr al-baiḍāʾ al-turkiya wataqūl lahā: ʾaʿtiqini ilā wajh Allāh taʿala wʾana ʾauʿṭyaki kadhā wa kadhā wala ʾashtakiki ʾaṣlā, faqālt lahū al-turkiya: iny qad ʾaʿtaqt jāriyati al-sawdāʾ, faqāl jazaki Allāhu khirā inṣarfi ʿani bi jāriyatik walā taʿūdi thānia. (al-Suyūṭī, 1311 AH: 3–4)
A black woman went with her white Turkish slave to Qarâqûsh and said, “O vizier, this is my slave who misbehaved towards me, so punish her.” He looked at the whiteness of the Turkish girl and the blackness of the woman, and said, “Is it for you that God, the Exalted, has created this white Turkish slave and you are a black slave! Whoever says that would be either crazy or lunatic; this white woman must not be a slave to you, black woman! Guards, make this white Turkish a mistress of the black woman, and the black woman a slave to the Turkish. She can sell you whenever she wants or even set you free,” “O vizier, would you not mete out justice?!” the black woman replied. “This is justice! I am not a crazy or lunatic, get out of my sight, you ugly and black! There is no good in black even if it is musk or honey,” he said. When the black woman had seen this ineluctable verdict, she pleaded with the white Turkish and said to her, “Set me free, for God’s sake and I will reward you bountifully!” The Turkish said to him, “I have made my black slave a free woman!” He replied, “May God reward you well! Leave with your slave and do not come back again!” (My translation)
The turn-taking system in the conversation is built upon a complaint submitted by the black woman to Qarâqûsh against her white Turkish slave. In his response to the woman’s complaint, Qarâqûsh explicitly states his racist ideas about color and the superiority of the white race over the nonwhite. Instead of punishing the insolent Turkish slave, he punishes the black woman and makes her a slave to the Turkish. The old traditional social order of the universe has been collapsed and the roles have been switched. Under Qarâqûsh’s verdict, the lady turns into a slave and the slave turns into a lady. The situation has completely been reversed; the black woman has become a real slave, so entreated her Turkish slave, who has become her own mistress, for emancipation. Humor and sarcasm figure prominently in this incongruous, contradictory, grotesque, and bizarre situation.
Racist2 words about color are one of the most important linguistic features of the previous discourse. For instance, words like “white” and “whiteness” have been repeated six times while words like “black” and “blackness” have been used for ten times. The color adjectives “black” and “white,” on the other hand, are antonyms. The repetition of the two synonyms “crazy or lunatic” twice by Qarâqûsh himself elicits laughter from the readers and supports the ironic tone of the text. Humor lies in the fact that the man who has issued this “crazy lunatic” verdict is repeating the same two adjectives twice in order to support the validity of his argument and the fairness of his judgment. The word “slave” has been repeated eight times and Qarâqûsh insists on attributing this adjective to the black woman even after being emancipated by her Turkish slave.
قال وتوقف النيل بمصر اياما فنظر الى جمال السقايين عشرين عشرين جملا قال فتفكر عند ذلك وقال فأنا اقول لما ما يوفى من هذه الأفات يا غلمان نادوا فى المدينة قد امر بهاء الدين قراقوش لا يملى احدا من البحر الا جملا واحدا قال ففعلوا ذلك فأوفى النيل فقال لهم يا هولا, الويل لكم ان عدمتمونى فكيف رأيتم رأيى عليكم فما هو الا رأى مبارك. (ابن مماتى، 59 مجاميع رصيد: 171أ -171ب)
Qāl wa tawaqf al-Nil bimiṣr ayāma fanazar ilā jimal al-saqqayyin ʿīshrin ʿīshrin jamalan qāl fatafakr ʿinda dhalik wa qāl fanā aqūl lamā mā yūfi min hadhi al-afāt yā ghulmān nādū fi al-madina qād amra Bahʾāaddīn Qarâqûsh lā yamlī aḥadā min al-baḥr ilā jamalan wāḥda qāl fafaʿalū dhalik f ʾawf ā al-Nil faqāl lahum yā hawlā, alwail lakum in ʿadamatumuni fakif raʾytum raʾiyy ʿalykum famā huā ilā raʾiun Mubarak. (Ibn Mammātī, 59 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd: 171a–171b)
The situation in this anecdote is very complicated and critical, because Egypt is the gift of the Nile as Herodotus puts it. Qarâqûsh thinks that the cause of water shortage is the camels which are loading drinking water in groups of 20. In order to solve that problem, he gives his order that camels should load water from the river one by one. He did not realize that his command was useless because all the camels by the end of the day were loading the same amount of water without saving anything. So his opinion or command is illogical, irrational, and absurd as usual. However, humor lies in the fact that the river has flowed again and Qarâqûsh is really happy because of his blessed judgment. Humor lies in the contradiction between this stupid command and the happy result at the end of the anecdote.
He said: The Nile did not flow in Egypt for some days. Qarâqûsh looked at the Saqqa’s (persons responsible for bringing drinking water) camels while they were loading water in groups twenty by twenty. He thought for a while and said, “The water did not flow because of these pests. Guards, go to the city and announce that I Bahʾāaddīn Qarâqûsh have hereby proclaimed that nobody is permitted to load water from the Nile except one camel for each time.” They did what he said and the Nile did flow again. Qarâqûsh said “Wow! Woe would betide you if you lost me. What do you think of my judgment now? It is only a blessed judgment!” (My translation)
This anecdote is marked by what Fairclough calls “overwording” which is usually a high degree of wording as the text involves many words which are synonyms or near synonyms. This overwording shows preoccupation with some aspect of reality which may indicate that it is a focus of ideological struggle (Fairclough 1989: 115). Words like jimal and jamalan are all synonyms of camels and are employed three times in the text by the author. The verbs yūfi (flows) and f ʾawf ā (flowed) are used by the writer more than once. The two verbs tawaqf (did not flow) and yūfi (flows) are antonyms. The word al-baḥr (the sea), on the other hand, is used instead of al-Nil (the Nile) and this is called Hyponymy where the meaning of one word is included within the meaning of another word. According to the Dictionary of Contemporary Arabic, “Every great river is called the Nile Sea” (Omar 2008: 163). This usage is still used by the Egyptian peasant’s in rural areas today. However, repetition, synonyms, paradigms, paraphrase, parataxis, and parallelism are essentially Arabic and they are at the heart of the language discourse (Johnstone 1991: 11, 74, 75, 109, 113). This repetitive discourse can essentially be attributed to the oral nature of this way of speaking (Johnstone 1991: 113–4). For instance, the repetition of qāl (told) six times in this anecdote has other syntactic reasons that might be related to the oral transmission of popular stories.
In addition to “overwording,” the second anecdote is marked by an informal use of language which is an important linguistic feature of folklore narrative. This language is characterized by the use of contractions, casual language, colloquialism, short simple sentences, less complex vocabulary, and an excessive use of the active voice. One typical orthographic feature of Middle Arabic (MA) is the omission of the hamza that implies the loss of the glottal stop (‘) (Blau 2002: 32–3; Lentin 2008: 220; Versteegh 1997: 99; Nakamichi 2014: 319). For instance, in manuscript 59, Majāmīʿ Raṣīd yamlī is used instead of yamlīʾ. The loss of the conjunction “wa” (و), on the other hand, in the use of ʿīshrin ʿīshrin instead of ʿīshrin wa ʿīshrin might be attributed to the behavior of the copyist or a mistake in the process of copying by the scribe.
Qarâqûsh describes the Saqqa’s (water sellers) with their camels as “pests.” This kind of description sheds light on ideologically motivated words and descriptions. Qarâqûsh looks down upon the common Egyptian people. They are just helpless “pests” who are not even able to think for themselves. He thinks for them and solves their problems and that is the responsibility of the master toward his slaves. Again his discourse is marked by the absence of any hedges like “well,” “sort of,” “a bit,” “you know,” “kind of,” “I think,” and “perhaps.”
ومنها ان الفلاحين وقفوا له وانهوا ان القطن تلف من البرد وسالوه وضع الخراج عنهم فقال والله لا تدفع احط عنكم الخراج الا ان حلفتم أنكم من السنة الاتية تزرعون مع القطن صوفا حتى تبقى حرارة هذه تدفع برودة هذا فقالوا بسم الله يا مولانا فوضع عنهم الخراج. (السيوطى، 25 مجاميع قولة: 167 ب)
Wa minhā ana al-fallāḥin waqafū lahu wa anhū ana al-quṭn talaf min al-bard wa saʾalūh waḍʿ al-kharāj ʿanhum faqāl wallahi lā tadfaʿ aḥuṭ ʿankum al-kharāj ilā an ḥalaftum ʾanakum min al-sana alātiyya tazraʿun maʿa al-quṭn ṣūfā ḥata tabqā ḥarārt hadhi tadfaʿ brūdat hadhā faqālū bismillāh yā mawlānā fawaḍaʿ ʿanhūm al-kharāj. (al-Suyūṭī, 25 Majāmīʿ Qawalah: 167 b)
The former anecdote takes the shape of a request submitted to Qarâqûsh from the peasants. They have asked him to exempt them from the cotton tax, because their harvest has been damaged by the severe cold. The butt of the joke in Qarâqûsh’s argument is that they should have planted wool with the cotton to warm it. The ruler of the country, like all the tyrants in all ages, knows nothing about economy or agriculture. Three words are very significant in the previous discourse. On one hand, the first two words are al-quṭn (cotton) and al-bard (the cold) as each one of them has been repeated twice by the author. On the other hand, the third and most important word for the peasants is the word al-kharāj (tax) which has been repeated three times. The peasants are using a very humble and pleading language like wa saʾalūh (they asked him) and bismillāh yā mawlānā (We swear by the name of Allah, our lord!). Qarâqûsh’s language, on the other hand, is threatening, commanding, and violent as he uses swearing expressions like wallahi lā tadfaʿ aḥuṭ ʿankum al-kharāj ilā an ḥalaftum (I swear by God that I will not exempt you from the Kharāj tax until you swear an oath) and he compels them to swear to him by God in order to exempt them from the tax. The turn-taking system in the conversation is dominated by Qarâqûsh who speaks more words and controls the whole situation. The conversation is not between equals but between a master and his slaves. The previous anecdote is marked by the use of expressions like lā tadfaʿ aḥuṭ ʿankum (I cannot “pay or push” exempt you). I think the verb tadfaʿ (pay or push) is misspelled for the verb yanfaʿ and in this case it will be read from the perspective of the Egyptian colloquial language as lā yanfaʿ (I cannot exempt you), which makes more sense according to the context of the previous anecdote. In a similar vein, the next anecdote reads:
A group of peasants went to Qarâqûsh and told him that the cotton crop was damaged due to the cold and they asked him to exempt them from the tax. He said, “I swear by God that I will not exempt you from the Kharāj tax until you swear an oath that you will plant wool together with cotton to keep it warm against the severe cold.” They replied, “We swear by the name of God, our lord!” So he exempted them from the tax. (My translation)
ان جماعة من الفلاحين انهوا له ان الزيتون تلف و سألوه أن يحط عنهم الخراج فقال و الله لا احطه عنكم ﺇلا أن حلفتم لى انكم من السنة تزرعون مع الزيتون جبن حالوم و لا تخالفوا المرسوم فحلفوا له فحط عنهم الخراج. (السيوطى ، 1736 م: 106 أ)
Ana jamāʿa min al-fallāḥin anhū lahu ana al-zaytun talaf wa sʾalūh an yaḥuṭ ʿanhum al-kharāj faqāl wallahi lā aḥuṭuh ʿankum ilā an ḥalaftum ʾanakum min al-sana tazraʿun maʿa al-zaytun jubn ḥālum walā tukhālifū al-marsūm faḥalaf ū lah faḥaṭ ʿanhūm al-kharāj. (al-Suyūṭī, 1736 AD: 106 a)
Just as in the previous anecdote, the peasants went to Qarâqûsh to ask him to exempt them from the tax, because their olive harvest was damaged. The Arabic verb yaḥuṭ (exempt) has been used three times by the author as it is very crucial in the context of negotiations with a man like Qarâqûsh. The fourth anecdote looks slightly more formal and Qarâqûsh himself resorts to the use of legal language like wallahi (I swear by God), ḥalaftum (you swear an oath), al-marsūm (order), and faḥalafū (They swore). Also, the anecdote is written in the form of a request or a petition from the peasants to Qarâqûsh. This solemn atmosphere is disrupted by Qarâqûsh’s queer verdict as usual when he orders the peasants to plant halloumi cheese with olive and that is the butt of the joke. Humor is heightened when the poor peasants swore their oath to Qarâqûsh and they were lucky enough, because he pardoned them.
A group of peasants complained to Qarâqûsh that the olive harvest is damaged and they asked him to exempt them from the tax. He said, “I swear by God that I will not exempt you until you swear an oath that you will plant halloumi cheese with olive and not to violate that order. They swore to him and he exempted them from the tax. (My translation)
يحكى أن جنديا نزل فى مركب وكان فيها فلاح وزوجته فضربها الجندى فسقطت وكانت فى سبعة أشهرفشكا الفلاح الجندى له فقال له خذ زوجة الفلاح عندك و أطعمها و أسقها حتى تصير فى سبعة أشهرعدها الى زوجها فقال الفلاح يا مولانا تركت أجرى على الله و أخذ زوجته وذهب. (السيوطى، عربى 3552: 8)
Yūḥka ana jundiā nazal fi markib wa kān fihā fallāḥ wa zawjatuhu faḍarabhā al-jundi fasaqaṭat wa kānt fi sabʿa ʾashur fashakā al-fallāḥ al-jundi lahu faqāl lahu khudh zawjat al-fallāḥ ʿindak wa ʾṭʿmhā wa ʾsqihā ḥata taṣir fi sabʿa ʾashur ʿidhā ila zawjhā faqāl al-fallāḥ yā mawlānā taraktu ‘ajri ʿala Allāh wa ʾkhadha zawjatuhu wa dhahab. (al-Suyūṭī, Arabe 3552: 8)
In the fifth anecdote, there are four major characters: a soldier, a peasant, his wife, and Qarâqûsh. The peasant complained to Qarâqûsh because the soldier struck his wife and thus she had an abortion. Instead of punishing the soldier for his ruthless crime, Qarâqûsh asked him to take the peasant’s wife to his house and to give her food and drink until she becomes pregnant again in 7 months and then return her to her husband. The implied meaning of ḥata taṣir fi sabʿa ʾashur (until she becomes pregnant again in seven months) is clear as the soldier has to have sex with her until she becomes pregnant again in 7 months in order to compensate the poor peasant for his loss and that is the butt of the joke.
A soldier boarded a boat with a peasant and his wife. The soldier struck the peasant’s wife causing her a miscarriage in her seventh month. The peasant made his complaint to Qarâqûsh against the soldier. Qarâqûsh said to the soldier: “Take the peasant’s wife to your house, give her food and water and when she becomes pregnant in seven months, return her to her husband. The peasant said: “My lord, I leave my recompense to God!” Then, he took his wife and left. (My translation)
ومنها ان شخصا ادعى على آخر انه عض اذنه فسأله قراقوش فقال يا خوند هو كاذب بل هو عض اذن نفسه فقام قراقوش من مجلسه ودخل البيت وجلس على كرسى والتفت الى اذنه ليعضها بفمه فما قدر على ذلك وانفرك به الكرسى فسقط على يده فانكسرت فخرج وهو بهذه الحالة وامر بضرب المدعى عليه وقال انت الذى عضيت هذا وكسرت ذراعى زيادة على ذلك. (السيوطى، 1736 م: 106 ب)
Wa minhā ana shkhṣā idaʿa ʿala ākhar anahu ʿaḍa ‘audhunah fasaʾalhu Qarâqûsh faqāl yā khawand huwa kādhib bal huwaʿaḍa ‘audhun nafsih faqām Qarâqûsh min majlish wa dakhal al-bayt wa jalasaʿala kursi wa iltafata ilā ‘audhunah liyaʿuḍhā bifamih famā qadr ʿala dhalik wa infaraka bihi al-kursi fasaqaṭ ʿala yadhū fankasart fakharja wa huwa bihadhi alḥāla wa amar biḍarb al-mudaʿa ʿaliyya wa qāl anta aladhi ʿaḍiyyt hadhā wa kasart dhirāʿi ziādaʿala dhalik. (al-Suyūṭī, 1736 AD: 106 b)
Another complaint is made to Qarâqûsh by one man against another. One of them accused the other of having bitten his ear. Qarâqûsh interrogated the defendant who insisted that the other man is a liar and he bit his own ear. Qarâqûsh is perplexed and confused; he is not able to issue his verdict in this case. In order to think about this complicated case, he went home and tried to bite his own ear but in vain. The scene of Qarâqûsh’s falling on the floor in his desperate attempt to bite his own ear is extremely ludicrous. I believe the previous anecdote combines both verbal and visual humor and anticipates the emergence of a new kind of comedy which is known in the world of today as caricature. Ibn Mammātī is cunningly reducing Qarâqûsh to the position of an idiotic clown on an absurd theater.
Two men went to Qarâqûsh. One of them accused the other of having bitten his ear. Qarâqûsh questioned the defendant who said: “No my lord, he is a liar, he bit himself.” Qarâqûsh went home, he entered his private room, sat on a chair, and tried to bite his own ear but he could not. In his endeavor to bite himself the chair leaned with him and he fell down on the floor and broke his hand. He went out in that condition and ordered the defendant to be beaten, and said: “It’s you who bit this man’s ear and broke my arm as well!” (My translation)
ومنها انه اراد مجامعة زوجته فلم يقم ذكره عليه فغضب وقال لها والله لابيعن هذا و اشترى ذكرا غيره. (السيوطى، 25 مجاميع قولة: 167 ب)
Wa minhā anahu arād mujāmaʿat zawjatuhu falam yaqm dhakarahu ʿalyhi faghaḍaba wa qāl lahā wallahi lʾābiʿana hadha wa ashtari dhakarā ghyrh. (al-Suyūṭī, 25 Majāmīʿ Qawalah: 167 b)
The language of sex and money dominates the discourse of the previous anecdote. Sexual language can be seen in words such as mujāmaʿat (to have sex), yaqm (erect), and dhakar (penis). The word dhakar (penis) is repeated twice because it is the major problem or knot in the story. The language of money is used by the author in the two antonyms: lʾābiʿana (sell) and ashtari (buy). However, these two verbs are crucial in solving the whole problem. They are very significant and important not only for the life of people at that time but for the personal and sexual life of Qarâqûsh himself as well. This sheds light on the ideology of that time and how by money you can simply buy anything even if you have to sell your old dick and buy a new one! From another perspective, however, it is historically well-known that Qarâqûsh is originally a eunuch. Many Arab scholars, therefore, regard these sex jokes as substantial evidence for the fabrication of all stories in Kitāb al-Fāshūsh (Ḥamzah 1951; ʿAzzām 1999; Alshāl 2000; Al-Jāsir 1998). Munir (2016:44), on the other hand, politicizes the previous joke by claiming that “Every Qarâqûsh ruler, who is unable to fulfill his duties and responsibilities toward his home in the first place, will not be necessarily able to carry out the duties of governance and he does not deserve it.”
Once Qarâqûsh wanted to have sex with his wife and his penis did not erect. He got angry and said to her: “I swear by God that I will sell this penis and buy another one.” (My translation)
In terms of vocabulary, there are some words and phrases in the previous anecdotes which are ideologically contested. By ideologically contested words and phrases I mean certain words and phrases that express an ideological standpoint or perspective. This language throws some light on the hierarchical nature of the Egyptian society and state in the medieval time. At the top, there are the rulers and the masters with their soldiers. At the bottom, there are the lower classes, the peasants and the slaves. For instance, the use of racist vocabulary (such as “black” and “white” in the first anecdote) has an experiential value in terms of a racist representation of a particular group or class of people. This racist language unveils a racist ideology that the speaker harbors toward those people. The first anecdote, for instance, is full of racist words: “black,” “white,” “slave,” “free woman,” “master,” and “mistress.” In anecdote number 2, Qarâqûsh describes the Saqqa’s with their camels as “pests.” The intricate relationship between a master and his slaves in Egypt in the medieval time can be inferred from some words like “slaves,” “executioner,” “government,” “soldiers,” “my lord,” “Sultan,” “Turkish,” “Set me free,” “reward you,” “vizier,” “judgment,” “justice,” and “serve.” The agricultural nature of the Egyptian society is exemplified by words like “peasant,” “agriculture,” “harvest,” “tax,” “cotton,” “olive,” “ halloumi cheese,” “wool,” “the Nile,” “the Saqqa’s,” “camels,” “money,” “ buy,” and “sell.” The text is characterized by “overwording” and rewording with a special focus on the use of synonyms and repetition. The language of the previous anecdotes is a mixture of both formal and informal use of language.
Regarding grammar, the previous anecdotes are characterized by the use of “overwording,” informal use of language, the use of contractions, casual language, colloquialism, short simple sentences, less complex vocabulary, and excessive use of the active voice. Qarâqûsh’s discourse in the previous anecdotes is marked by the absence of any hedges like “well,” “sort of,” “a bit,” “you know,” “kind of,” “I think,” and “perhaps.” These hedges are usually associated with politeness, logical thinking, meditation, and avoidance of “any particular attitudes or prejudices that reflect cultural biases and emotional attachments” (Piechurska-Kuciel 2013: 6). Qarâqûsh’s language is a mixture of Middle Arabic and classical fusha which is typical of any foreign ruler who is not familiar with the language of the country. The Egyptian people poked fun at this hybrid language calling it “broken Arabic,” and it was one of the most important linguistic features of Turkish rulers who occupied Egypt for a long time. The language of the peasants, on the other hand, is humble, weak, and pleading like “our lord Sultan,” “we beseech you o lord,” “my lord,” and “O vizier.” Sometimes they resort to ambiguous replies as a way of avoiding the aggression, violence, and suppression of Qarâqûsh. Sometimes, they resort to silence and pleading with God. Qarâqûsh uses commands and orders while the peasants are using humble requests. Qarâqûsh is controlling all the situations. The turn taking system in the majority of the anecdotes is based upon complaints submitted to Qarâqûsh who is dominating all the dialogues and all the anecdotes with his queer character and his stupid verdicts.
4.2 Dimension 2 discursive practice (text production-text interpretation)
Discursive practice is a complicated procedure which involves processes of “text production, distribution, and consumption.” Henceforth, the researcher has to examine the text’s production conditions: processes that the text goes through before it is printed, changes that might happen during those processes and whether he can trace an “intertextual chain” of texts where the same text can be seen in a range of different versions. The analysis of the intertextual chain can prove how the structure and the content of the text are changed or transformed (Fairclough 1995b: 77ff). Scholars have found that folktales are not “canonized” or “unchangeable” texts, and the narrators, therefore, are shaping their texts according to the different situational contexts. Some narrators are gifted enough to creatively combine these folktales and “embellish them with individual traits.” This process might involve “inserting” or adding new elements to the original narrative (Marzolph 1998: 119).
4.2.1 Origins of this style in Arabic
The book is originally written in the form of Risāla (“Epistle” or “treatise”) which is a popular and widely recognized kind of prose writing in medieval Arabic literature and especially in the Ayyubid period (1171–1250). This kind of writing is marked by beauty of language, elegance of expression, excessive use of metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech. The process of writing takes so much time and effort due to the density of linguistic embellishments sometimes even “more than poetry” (Salām 1990: 197). During the Ayyubid period, the most important and prestigious treatises were issued from “Dīwʾān al-inshʾāʾ” (the Chancery or Bureau of Official Correspondence), which was responsible for “the writing of all governmental correspondence, decrees and diplomas” (Cooper 1974: 8). In this Dīwān, treatises were written by the best and the brightest writers like al-Qāḍi al-Fʾāḍil, Imadad-din al-Asbahānī, Ibn Shaddād, Ibn Mammātī, Ibn al-Athīr al-Jazari, and Baha’ al-din Zuhair (Salām 1990: 197). There were many kinds of treatises. For instance, Ibn al-Athīr wrote an epistle on the river Nile (Ibn Khallikān 1977: 395) and other writers wrote epistles on a wide variety of topics like description of wars, castles, fortifications, arguments, and countries and also for personal purposes like congratulations and love treatises. The art of maqâmât writing by Ibn Muḥriz Al-Wahrānī is another kind of prose that flourished during that epoch. Al-Wahrānī wrote collections of visions and epistles (which bear his name) with a charming prose style that was a proof of his “buoyant humor, acute mind, and accomplished wit” (Ibn Khallikān 1842, 95).
Similar anecdotes have been circulated so widely in some books like al-ʿIqd al-Farīd (The unique necklace) by Aḥmad Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (860–940), Nathr al-Durr by Abū Saʿd Manṣūr Ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Ābī (2004 – 1030), al-Tadhkirah al-Ḥạmdūnīyah by Ibn Ḥamdūn (1102–1167), and al-Mustaṭraf fī kull fann mustaẓraf by Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Abshīhī (1388?–1446?). All these anecdotes are very similar in language and they share the same plot and characters, for example,
Thus we are told, among the cases decided by a Turkish Kdzi, that two men came before him one of whom complained that the other had almost bit his ear off. The accused denied this, and declared that the fellow had bit his own ear. After pondering the matter for some time, the judge told them to come again two hours later. Then he went into his private room, and attempted to bring his ear and his mouth together; but all he did was to fall backwards and break his head. Wrapping a cloth round his head, he returned to court, and the two men coming in again presently, he thus decided the question: “No man can bite his own ear, but in trying to do so he may fall down and break his head” (Clouston 1888: 86–7).
وقال بعضهم: رأيت معلما وقد جاء صغيران يتماسكان فقال أحدهما: هذا عض أذني، فقال الآخر: لا والله يا سيدنا هو الذي عض أذن نفسه، فقال المعلم: يا ابن الزانية هو كان جمل يعض أذن نفسه.
(الأبشيهي، 1998: 476)
Wa qāl baʿḍuhum: raʾiyyt muʿalamā wa qad jāʾa ṣaghirān yatamāsakān faqāl ʾaḥduhamā hadhā ʿaḍa ‘audhuni, faqāl alākhr: lā wallahi yā sayyidina huwa ala dhi ʿaḍa ‘audhun nafsih, faqāl al-muʿalam: yā ibn al-zānia huwa kāna jamal yaʿuḍ ‘audhun nafsih. (Al-Abshīhī 1998: 476)
Anecdote number 5, on the other hand, is attributed to a slave girl in al-ʿIqd al-Farīd (The Unique Necklace) by Aḥmad Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (860–940). A girl went to Abu Ḍamḍam and said: “this man kissed me,” he replied “kiss him as he kissed you,” God says, “wounds equal for equal” (Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi 1983: 147). In another anecdote,
Somebody said: Once two students were fighting. They went to their teacher and one of them said, “This boy has bitten my ear.” The defendant replied, “My teacher, I swear by God, it is he who has bitten his own ear.” The teacher replied, “You son of a bitch. Is he a camel that can bite his own ear?!” (My translation)
وارتفع رجلان إلى أبي ضمضم، فقال أحدهما: أبقاك اللَّه، إن هذا قتل ابني. قال: هل لابنك أم؟ قال: نعم. قال: ادفعها إليه حتى يولدها لك ولدا مثل ولدك، ويربيه حتى يبلغ مثل ولدك، ويبرأ به إليك.
(بن عبد ربه، 1983: 147–148)
waʾartafaʿa rajalān ila abi Ḍamḍam, faqāl ʾaḥaduhamā: ʾabqāk Allāh, ina hadhā qatal ibni. Qāl: hal lʾibnik ʾum? Qāl: naʿam. Qāl: idfaʿahā ‘iilayh ḥata yuwaladha walada mithl waladik, wa yurabih ḥata yablugh mithl waladik, wayabraʾ bihi ilayka. (Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi 1983: 147–8)
Anecdote numbers 3 and 4 are quite similar. The butt of the joke in anecdote 3 is that the peasants should have planted wool with cotton to warm it up. In anecdote number 4, on the other hand, Qarâqûsh orders them to plant halloumi cheese with olive. Two similar anecdotes are mentioned by Ibn al-Jawzî in his famous book Akhbār al-Ḥamqā wal-mughaffalin (Stories of fools and simpletons) when Ibn al-Jaṣāṣ commands his agent to plant wool with ginned cotton to increase its weight. In the second anecdote, he asks his farmer to plant onions with vinegar to reduce its bitterness (Ibn al-Jawzî 1990: 54):
“Two men went to Abu Ḍamḍam,” one of them said, “God bless you, this man has killed my son.” He said to him, “do you have a mother for your son?” The man said, yes. Abu Ḍamḍam replied, “Give her to the man until he makes her pregnant with a son like yours and he raises him to be at your son’s age and then give him back to you.” (My translation)
وكتب ابن الجصاص إلى وكيل له يحمل إليه مائة منّ قطناً فحملها، فلما حلجها خرج منها ربع الوزن، فكتب إلى الوكيل: لم يحصل من هذا القطن إلا خمسة وعشرون مناً فلا تزرع بعد هذا إلا قطناً محلوجاً وشيئاً من الصوف أيضاً. ودخل يوماً بستاناً فثار به المرار، فطلب بصلاً بخل ليطفىء المرار، ولم يكن عند البستاني فقال له: لم لم تزرع لنا بصلاً بخل. (ابن الجوزى، 1990: 54)
Waktab Ibn al-Jaṣāṣ ila wakil lahu yaḥmil ‘iilayh miaʾa mān quṭnā faḥamlahā, flamā ḥalajahā kharj minhā rubʿ al-wazan, fakatab ila al-wakil: lam yuḥṣil min hadha al-quṭn ilā khamsa wa ʿshrwn manā flā tazraʿ baʿd hadhā ilā quṭnā maḥlujā wa shiyyā min al-ṣūf ‘ayḍaan. Wa dakhala yawmā bustanā fathār bihi almarār, faṭalab baṣlā bikhal lyuṭfiʾ almarār, walam yakn ʿinda al-bustani faqāl lahu: lima lam tazraʿ lana baṣalā bikhal. (Ibn al-Jawzî 1990: 54)
Like Qarâqûsh, there are many folkloric characters that have gone through similar accumulated historical manufacturing processes which have added so many lights, shades, and colors to their original identities like Buhlûl and Juhâ. Fiction has played a crucial role in the formation of the three characters. However, each one of them has had a different character, has gained a specific image and has occupied a unique position in the Arabic jocular narrative. As Muḥammad Al-Najjār (1978:56) describes it, I think there is a similarity between the narrative structure of stories in Kitāb al-Fāshūsh and stories of Juhâ. Marzolph (1998: 128) has pointed out that Juhâ is popular in the Arabic narratives, because of his character which is “open enough to allow the addition of so many new incidents.” I think this theory is applicable to Qarâqûsh’s character as well. Finally, I believe that folktales on al-Fāshūsh are heavily influenced by other earlier classical Arabic anecdotes and all these stories are refashioned, remolded, and redesigned again to suit Qarâqûsh’s character and period for some social, political, and economic reasons that will be discussed in the following section.
Ibn al-Jaṣāṣ wrote to his agent to send him one hundred mān (a unit of measurement) cotton. After the process of ginning, only one quarter of the total weight remained. He wrote to his agent: “Only twenty five mān of the total harvest remains, next time plant only ginned cotton and some wool as well.” One day, he entered a garden, he felt bitterness and he asked the gardener to bring him onions with vinegar to put a stop to bitterness. The gardener did not find it. He said to him, “Why have not you planted onions with vinegar for us?!” (My translation)
4.3 Dimension 3 social practice (the relationship between the discursive processes and the social processes)
This part deals with two main concepts. First, it explores the relationship between the discursive practice and its order of discourse (Fairclough 1992b: 237). Second, it investigates the social and cultural context that has led to the formation of the discursive practice or what Fairclough calls “the social matrix of discourse” (Fairclough 1992b: 237).
4.3.1 The Ayyubid period
The Ayyubid period was viewed by many historians as “a turning-point in Egypt’s pre-modern history” (Petry 2008: 211). It began with the rise of Salāḥ ad-Dīn to power in Egypt in 1171 and finally established its dominion in 1174. The new state ended two centuries of schism by the Fatimids and restored Egypt again to Sunnism and to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. The affiliation to the caliphate was just a formality; in fact, the Abbasid caliph at that time had lost his power and authority under the tremendous influence of the Seljuk’s (Holt et al. 2008: 205). At the beginning, the political situation in Egypt was fluid and the new emerging state faced a lot of challenges like two serious mutinies. The first one was plotted by some of the Sudanese foot soldiers and Armenian archers in 564/1169. The second mutiny, on the other hand, was plotted by the Fatimid partisans with the support of kings of Sicily and Jerusalem in 569/1174 to restore the Fatimid caliphate (Petry 2008: 216). In addition to all the internal and regional problems, the Ayyubid state had to face the dangers of the Third Crusade (1189–1192), the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204), the Fifth Crusade (1217–1229), the Sixth Crusade (1228–1229), and the Seventh Crusade (1248–1254).
The Ayyubid period was marked by the rise of the Turkish and Kurdish elements in the Egyptian society. This was due to the fact that the structure of Islamic armies in Iraq and Persia during the Seljuk period relied heavily on the employment of Turkish Mamluks. The Ayyubids brought their Turkish Mamluks with them and they played a crucial and prominent role in the Ayyubid army of Egypt (Petry 2008: 246). Ellis (1978: 114) pointed out that these Mamluks were “Turkish mercenaries” and they lived in the forms of “garrisons” and they took their salaries from the state revenue. Their influence became powerful and sometimes “disruptive” especially in the second half of the ninth century when the state iqta’s re-established itself as an economic system. During the Ayyubid period, the core of the Egyptian and Syrian armies were Turkish and Kurdish knights and their retainers. These foreign elements were divided into a limited number of landholders with their own slave armies and a larger number of “minor noblemen, known as the al-ḥalqa al-khaṣa.” Finally, some of the sultan’s slaves or mamluks were permitted to own fiefs of their own.
Tension and turmoil especially against black people in anecdote number one can be traced back to the revolt conducted by about 50,000 of Sudanese foot soldiers and Armenian archers in 564/1169. It began with Mu’ tamin, a black eunuch of al·‘Adid and the strong man behind the throne, who wrote to the Crusaders urging them to attack Salāḥ ad-Dīn’s forces in Egypt (Al-Maqrīzī 1418/1998: 4; Ibn al-Athīr 2003: 18). As a result, Mu’tamin was attacked and killed and all the servants who were working at the Fatimid Caliphate Palace were deposed and fired. Salāḥ ad-Dīn replaced the black eunuch Mu’ tamin with his white eunuch Qarâqûsh and put him in charge of all the Fatimid palaces (Ibn al-Athīr 2003: 18–9). Mu’tamin’s death sparked off the Battle of the Blacks, during which many blacks were killed and the rest were driven out of Cairo and dispersed and the military governors (wulat.al-ḥarb) were ordered to fight and kill them wherever they were found (Lev 1999: 141). Also, the House of the Armenians at the heart of Cairo was set on fire by Salāḥ ad-Dīn’s forces (Al-Maqrīzī 1418/1998: 5). At the end of the battle, many black Sudanese were deprived of their power and fiefs which were given to Turkish and Kurdish knights instead. The conflict between the white woman and the black woman in anecdote one is an extension of the conflict in the Egyptian society at that time between the black Sudanese (the masters who became slaves) and the white Turks (the slaves who became new masters) (Munir 2016: 52–3).
4.3.2 The economic system during the Ayyubid period
In order to deal with the economic situation of the Egyptian state during the Ayyubid period, one has to point out two important economic concepts at that time. The first concept is the iqta’ system. The second one is “Kharāj.” The two concepts are the backbone of the Egyptian agricultural society at that time. The military iqta’ system is introduced into Egypt by the Ayyubid sultan, Salāḥ ad-Dīn, through the Seljuqid and Zangid dynasties, which had inherited the Buwayhid iqta’ (Satō 1997: 234). However, the existence of military iqta’ in the Fatimid Egypt is well-known and attested to by a variety of sources. Al-Maqrīzī does not say that Salāḥ ad-Dīn was the first to introduce military iqta’ to Egypt; he only says that Salāḥ ad-Dīn expanded the system. The most important change introduced in the period of Salāḥ ad-Dīn was the assignment of all agricultural land in Egypt as iqta’ for the army. In the Ayyubid period, the holder of the iqta’ (muqta’) did not pay the tithe. The revenues of the iqta’ were calculated according to the annual average income (‘ibra) generated by the fief and paid in a monetary unit of account (dinar jayshi). The emirs, according to the value or their iqta’, were obliged to maintain a number of soldiers (Lev 1999: 159). Morimoto believes that the military iqta’ system has damaged the Egyptian fallāḥ and reduced him to the position of “a serf.” Al-Maqrīzī clearly states that the basic human relations of the country changed under this system. The society has been divided into two major classes. The first class is the military masters of the iqta’ lands like amirs, soldiers, prominent men, and district people who know nothing about farming or agriculture. The second class, on the other hand, is the peasants or the serfs with their children who had to cultivate the land and regularly pay what was imposed upon them to the treasury (Morimoto 1981: 262–63).
The word “Kharāj” refers to the tax imposed on agricultural land, and it has been mentioned in the previous anecdotes, i.e., more than once in anecdotes three and four. In Egypt, the agricultural land was assessed by the surface, sometimes with, and sometimes without a survey. Many factors determine the amount of Kharāj the peasant has to pay to the government, such as the type of crops, the previous year’s cultivation, and the height of the Nile flood which is a crucial factor in determining how much and in what manner the tax assignments are made to each district (Cooper 1976: 365–6). Finally, when the lands are cultivated, the government at the capital appoints intelligent men and sends them to the districts. Those reliable and honest men who are knowledgeable about the Kharāj are usually Copts (Cooper 1976: 373). Al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil and al-As’ad ibn Mammātī were the two persons in the state chiefly concerned with the distribution, survey, and supervision of the iqta’ and the assessment of its ‘ibra (fiscal value) (Dajani-Shakeel 1972: 82). Ibn Mammātī himself is the author of one of the earliest of the Egyptian administrative manuals on these highly technical issues at that time entitled “Kitāb qawānīn al-dawāwīn” (“Statutes of the councils of state”).
Anecdotes two, three, four, and five shed light on the terrible living conditions of the Egyptian fallāḥin (peasants) at that time. In theory, and according to the Egyptian iqta’ system, the muqta’ has only financial rights over the population of the iqta’. Therefore, “after the expected amount of revenue had been collected, the personal security and financial security of the fallāḥin (peasants) and their wives and children was inviolable” (Al-Maqrīzī 1418/1998: 161). In practice, however, the muqta’s often exercised “coercion” over the fallāḥin (Rabie 1968: 124). Nuwayrī designates the fallāḥin by the terms al-fallāḥin al-qrāriyya (resident peasants) (Al-Nuwayrī: 211) which means that they had to remain in the village until death (Rabie 1968: 123). If a fallāḥ fled from tyranny and cruelty, the muqta’ or his clerks had the authority of the state to oblige him to return (Rabie 1968: 123–4). In addition to that, the Egyptian fallāḥin have constantly suffered from many natural disasters and agricultural problems such as water scarcity in anecdote 2, severe cold in anecdote 3, and epidemics as we can infer from the context of anecdote 4. During the Ayyubid and Mamluk eras, there were many epidemics, for instance, the epidemic which occurred in the reign of Sultan al-‘Adil the Ayyubid in 596–9/1200–1203 and the epidemic of 694–5/1294–6, in the reign of Sultan Kitbugha (Rabie 1968: 135). The two epidemics have resulted in the death of a large number of villagers and villages were deserted by their Egyptian fallāḥin. Al-Maqrīzī (2007: 105) and Ibn Iyās (1975: 254) stated that the ajnad (Turkish soldiers) went to the iqta’s to cultivate the land, to harvest, and to thresh the crop instead of the fallāḥin during these epidemics. Social Discrimination is clearly evident in anecdote 5, especially in Qarâqûsh’s bias to the upper classes of soldiers against the lower classes of fallāḥin who have to suffer injustice.
4.3.3 The Development of Qarâqûsh’s Myth in the Arabic and Egyptian Folklore
18.104.22.168 Humor as a defense mechanism and a weapon of distortion
Humor is both a “lubricant” and an “abrasive” in social situations (Martineau 1972: 103). To survive the Egyptian people had to perpetuate what Boskin’s calls “vile stereotypes” (Boskin and Dorinson 1985: 93). Therefore, Shaʿlān (2012: 192) presumes that if Qarâqûsh’s character had not existed in the Ayyubid period, the Egyptian people would have created a similar character and would have stuffed it with all the human qualities and characteristics they hate so much to vent their anger on. Qarâqûsh has become a stereotype of all ruthless tyrants over the ages. Humor represents an accommodation to the Egyptian people and functions as a mechanism for survival. Like slaves, the Egyptian people used “veiled humorous language to vent anger, just as they employed coded sayings to mask true feelings” (Boskin and Dorinson 1985: 91). In the form of folktales, such in-group humor “fosters social cohesion” and operates as “a safety valve for repressed emotions” (Boskin and Dorinson 1985: 92).
Ostrower (2015: 183) asserts that “Humor became a unique weapon of those who felt helpless and could not rebel or resist.” She assures that “laughter was a form of rebellion against reality. Humor was the weapon of those whose lives were utterly in the hands of the executioners, those who were powerless to rebel or resist in any other way. They used humor as a defense mechanism” (Ostrower 2015: 184). She defines defense mechanisms as:
As opposed to laughter, medieval seriousness was infused with elements of fear, weakness, humility, submission, falsehood, hypocrisy, or on the other hand with violence, intimidation, threats, prohibitions. As a spokesman of power, seriousness terrorized, demanded and forbade […]. Distrust of the serious tone and confidence in the truth of laughter had a spontaneous, elemental character. It was understood that fear never lurks behind laughter [...] and that hypocrisy and lies never laugh but wear a serious mask. Laughter created no dogmas and could not become authoritarian; it did not convey fear but a feeling of strength. It was linked with the procreating act, with birth, renewal, fertility, abundance. Laughter was also related to food and drink and the people’s earthly immortality, and finally it was related to the future of things to come and was to clear the way for them. (Bakhtin 1984: 94–5)
Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, viewed humor as the highest, most mature form of human defense mechanism (Ostrower 2015: 185). Humor acts as a kind of lubricant for social interaction, contributing to social processes such as intensifying group cohesion, reducing tension, and creating a positive atmosphere (Ostrower 2015: 189). According to Pi-Sunyer (Pi-Sunyer 1977: 185), one of the most important functions of humor is that it helps to “alleviate anxiety.” Ben-Amos (1991: 37) asserts that fundamentally all explanations are functional, considering humor as a mechanism for survival. Oring (1983: 267) cites Rohatyn (1911) as stating that humor helps transcend troubled reality, and it serves as a defense mechanism (Dorinson 1981), as a defiance of authority (Whitfield 1986), and as an affirmation of social identity (Brandes 1983).
Automatic, psychological strategies, subconscious measures that protect the individual from external or internal pressures, which might include thoughts, memories, or emotions that threaten the individual or arouse unbearable anxiety. All defense mechanisms share two characteristics: (1) they are denials or distortions of reality, and (2) they operate unconsciously. (Ostrower 2015: 184)
Aggressive humor, on the other hand, facilitates the expression of hostility in response to frustrations, allowing the ability to attack without facing the prospect of punishment. Benatar (2002: 42) argues that racist humor can harm in a subtle way akin to damaging someone’s reputation by spreading rumors. I believe that rumors, jokes, and gossips have been used by the Egyptian people to show their opposition, express their anger, expose the corruption, and remove the halo of holiness surrounded by a certain regime or authority. Accordingly, the anecdotes become the only way to channel social frustration and criticize the tyranny of the ruling authority. In Egypt, humor, jokes, and gossips are moving at lightning speed, and they even precede rumors especially in the power and rapidity of spreading and circulation as it breaks all the barriers (Jābir 2009: 13).
The powerful and devastating role of humor, especially in distorting historical characters, has been frequently proved in the Egyptian history. There are many cases like the political dispute that has occurred between Ibn Mammātī and Qarâqûsh in the Arabic history. For instance, there has been a disagreement between the great Arab poet Al-Mutanabbī (915–965) and Abū al-Misk Kāfūr Al-Ikhshidi (905–968), because he wanted to be appointed a governor of a province, but Kāfūr refused to grant him his wish (Al-Mallah 2002: 21). Like Qarâqûsh, Al-Ikhshidi’s origin is very humble, as he is a black eunuch slave from Ethiopia. By working hard he is promoted until he has occupied the position of vizier in Egypt; and after the death of his master, he has become the sole ruler of Egypt and southern Syria. Al-Mutanabbī retaliated by heavily mocking and ridiculing Kāfūr with satirical odes called “Kāfūriyyat.” The result is that Kāfūr has ever been branded in Arabic poetry as “dirty,” “black,” “eunuch,” and “a slave.” For instance, this is a famous proverbial line of poetry well-known in the Arabic culture originally said to Kāfūr: la tashtari alʿbd ilā wa alʿṣā maʿahu ina alʿabid lanjās manākid (Do not buy a slave without buying a stick with him, for slaves are filthy and belligerent). This line of poetry has become proverbial in the Arabic culture, and the poor Kāfūr has been known in the Egyptian and the Arab culture through the lenses of Al-Mutanabbī’s famous verses, which are taught today in the Egyptian and Arab schools.
Egypt has occupied a unique position in the Arab world in producing and generating political jokes and anecdotes, for many historical, political, and environmental reasons, in addition to, the nature of the Egyptian people themselves. The Egyptian people have depended on very limited resources based on agriculture, as they lived and worked on the narrow banks of the river Nile. These geographical boundaries have put them under the pressure of the limited pieces of fertile land and the absolute authority of the ruler who owns it. Agriculture requires a large number of working hands or a high birth rate. This has resulted in a great deal of suffering because of poverty, illness, and terrible living conditions. Surrounded by or trapped between the deserts and the seas, they have not found any escape except to indulge themselves in mental escapes to release the pressure of their daily life. They have resorted to religion (as they have believed in the afterlife) and drugs like hashish and joking (Jābir 2009: 72–3). Abbās Mahmūd al-Aqqād has summed up this in one sentence “Jest and religiosity are the twins of the Egyptian character” (Kishtainy 1985: 146).
22.214.171.124 Qarâqûsh as an example of tyranny: Aḥkām Qarâqûsh
The Egyptian people always throw the cloak of Qarâqûsh on other tyrants and ruthless rulers like, for instance, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, the sixth ruler of the Egyptian Shīʿite Fāṭimid dynasty (13 August 985–13 February 1021?). He was notorious for his eccentricities and cruelty. He ordered, for example, the killing of all dogs, people to work at night, and sleep during the day; furthermore, no woman should be seen outside her home. He banned the game of chess, the sale of Mulūkhiyyah (a dish), watercress, decayed lupin seeds (Tirmus), grapes and raisins, shellfish (Assaad 1971: 116–117–119–120). Like all tyrants, the Egyptian people hated him so much and they tried to mock him by secretly and discreetly leaving offensive messages in his way in the form of anecdotes full of insults to him and his predecessors (Ibn Kathīr 1988: 12). Many of al-Ḥākim’s queer stories and verdicts are wrongly ascribed to Qarâqûsh.
The elements of the alien, the militarist and the whimsical ruler combined in the person of Qaraqush, to give us one of the most memorable characters in the literature of Arab humour. (Kishtainy 1985: 54)
I believe that all these comparisons have turned Qarâqûsh into a mythical figure. The name has been detached from the real historical character and became synonymous with tyranny, oppression, madness, lunacy, and eccentric behavior. The name which is foreign, strange, mysterious, exotic, and fearful has born all the sins of all tyrants over the ages. I think the words Ḥukm Qarâqûsh have become a lethal weapon in the hands of people and historians to lash and whip all the tyrants throughout the ages. This weapon is sometimes misused and the result will be tarnishing and defaming other historical figures. For instance, according to many historians, many figures who have been accused of issuing Aḥkām Qarâqûsh are actually innocent like the original Qarâqûsh himself.
the image of Qaraqush as an odd personality whose decisions exemplified peculiarity, occasionally even injustice, remained a vital force in medieval Egypt, undoubtedly thanks to the appearance of literary works about him. Thus the fifteenth-century Al-Maqrīzī reports that Emir Ala al-Din Ta[y]bars (d. 1308 or 1309), known as “the insane” (al-majnun), who was the officer in charge of the Gate of the Citadel (wali bab al-qala), made “Qaraqushi decisions” (ahkam qaraqushiyya), among them strict prohibitions against the appearance of women in public (Al-Maqrīzī 1934–73: II, 51; see also Ibn Taghri Birdi 1929–72: VIII, 230). Emir Ghalib al-Qazani (d. 1382), who served in his last post as a qadi [in Damascus?], was said to be an “ignoramus and of poor belief, yet generous,” his legal decisions rendered a la Qaraqush and Utlum [?] (Ibn Ḥajar al-ʻAsqalānī 1969–72: I, 265). To another Mamluk officer, Emir Sudun al-Shaykhuni (d. 1396), “people started to attribute [...] the kind of deeds” “done [by] Baha al-Din Qaraqush; these attributions [were] without foundation” (Ibn Taghri Birdi 1929–72: XII, 151–52; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʻAsqalānī 1969–72: I, 517). In a bio-graphical note about Sultan Jaqmaq (r. 1438–1453), he is said to have mixed justice with injustice, on occasion issuing decisions “in the man-ner of Shurayh and at other times in the manner of Qaraqush.” (Ibn Taghri Birdi 1942: 350–1)
126.96.36.199 Ḥukm Qarâqûsh
The expression Ḥukm Qarâqûsh or Aḥkām Qarâqûsh (the decisions or the judgments of Qarâqûsh) is used as a metonymy of injustice and tyranny in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In his book Folklore of the Holy Land. Moslem, Christian and Jewish, Hanauer (1850–1983) states in the footnotes that “the expression ‘This is one of the judgements of Karakash,’ is usual among the natives of Palestine, when a decision arrived at is hopelessly absurd, though based strictly upon the evidence in the case” (Hanauer 1907: 136). In his Dictionary of Egyptian Customs, Traditions and, Expressions, Aḥmad Amin states that “The expression (Ḥukm Qarâqûsh) is used by the common people as an example of an unjust rule” (Amin 2013: 179). In his Libyan Popular Expressions: Psychological and Social Implications: Presentation and Study, Alī Al-Misṛātī (1982: 256) points out that the previous expression “refers to the ruler Bahʾā addīn Qarâqûsh of the Ayyubid state. It symbolizes tyranny, intensity and cruelty in different countries and regions where this expression is used.” There is a consensus among all the previous sources that the expression Ḥukm Qarâqûsh is based upon fabricated stories, funny anecdotes, and rumors made by Qarâqûsh’s political enemies in order to defame this historical character.
Like the names of jesters in Shakespearean comedies, the names of the famous jesters in Arabic literature are attributive names, as they reflect the true nature of their characters. For instance, Juhâ in Arabic means “overhasty” or “rash.” The name Abū Nuwās is derived from “nawas” and “nawasan” which means “fluctuation” or “oscillation” (Shaʿlān 2012: 208). Some scholars, such as al-Aqqād and Littman, believe that the word “Karakoze,” which is widely known by the name of khayāl al-Zill in Syria and Turkey, is originally derived from the word Qarâqûsh (Shaʿlān 2012: 209). Khayāl al-Zill is a new type of public entertainment in public theater that is known by the name of shadow play and diverted to Arajūze or odes composed in rajaz meter in Arabic (Mubeen 2008: 26).
Qarâqûsh’s character has been associated for a long time with the stage, theater, and other forms of Khayāl al-Zill, like the Arajūze. In his book, The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century (1799–1882), Sadgrove (2007: 61) assures that the Cairene clowns are used to glorify and salute the champion of their comic plays, Emir Qarâqûsh (main assistant of Salāḥ ad-Dīn) whose anecdotes have become the eternal example of sheer stupidity in folktales. The new character of Qarâqûsh has always been a continuing source of inspiration for all writers in different eras. In the nineteenth century, for example, Ya’qub Sannu’ wrote many plays in which he portrayed the oppression of the poor under The Mamluk (Turks) in Egypt. Also, they demonstrated the government’s disregard for the lives and property of the common people. He wrote, for instance, a one-act farce, Ḥukm Qarâqûsh (The Rule of Qarâqûsh), set at the times of the Ghuzz. The farce concerns a peasant who must submit to the forced labor and must even sell his ox to pay his taxes (Moosa 1997: 54). Sannu’ was covertly criticizing the policies of Khedive Isma’il and his “authoritarian rule” by showing the oppression of the poor fallāḥ (peasant) as embodied in the “iniquitous taxes and the forced labor imposed upon him” (Moosa 1974: 411).
Also, Ḥukm Qarâqûsh (The rule of Qarâqûsh) is the title of a romantic comedy devised and presented to the audience by the great comic actor and director Naguib el-Rihani in 1935. The play attempts to reflect on the political events that occupied the Egyptian society at that time and to ridicule King Fouad I and his corrupted entourage. On the screen, on the other hand, Ḥukm Qarâqûsh (The rule of Qarâqûsh), is the name of a movie directed by Fateen Abdul Wahab in 1953 (Qasim 2018: 1953). The hero of the movie, Nasser, is named after the Egyptian lieutenant Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the Egyptian revolution in 1952. Many Egyptian lieutenants have participated in the movie, as the aim is to support the new revolution and to insult the previous regime.
Qarāqūsh wa-al-arājūz wa-al-ḥarfūsh is another play written by al-Sayyid Ḥāfiẓ in 2001. In this play, Ḥāfiẓ recalls the heritage through a strong historical symbol: Salāḥ ad-Dīn al-Ayyubi. However, he deconstructs this symbol through his analysis of history, and by calling other figures who have taken the image of the judge, the minister, the writer, the merchant, the woman, and the Arajūze. The writer exploits the tools of classical folk theater, such as Khayāl al-Zill and Arajūze, in order to express the main theme of the play, exposing the injustice and tyranny of the ruling power. Qarâqûsh, in this play, is not bound either by time or by place. He is a timeless character and represents all the Qarâqûshs over the history. The play deals with a political issue in the first place: the Arab dictatorial regime, which is based on injustice, oppression, tyranny, and manipulation of power (Majdouline, 2009). In order to expose the harshness of the Arab and the Egyptian reality today, and the various forms of social oppression imposed on the simple Egyptian man, the writer resorted to a powerful combination of both folklore and national history.
Daḥkat al’arajūze (The laugh of arajūze) is the name of another play written by Salim Kitchener in 2011. It is a comic representation of the reign of Qarâqûsh, during which the people suffered injustice and enslavement. It examines the fall of Qarâqûsh’s iron rule by jokes made by people and retold by the arajūze. Kitchener implicitly criticizes the regime of the deposed president Mubarak, making use of the resources of khayāl al-Zill and arajūze. The theme of Ḥukm Qarâqûsh is readapted, reincarnated, and represented in the form of many plays by other writers in different regions in the Arab world like Munir Kesrouani and his comedy band in Lebanon in 2009, and Shadi-Rasheed Al-Ḥallāq in Syria in 2011 (Ramzy 2013), in which he compares and synchronizes the time of the original story and the events in Syria today.
Eventually, the story of Qarâqûsh has invaded the fictional, fantasy, and mythical worlds of children stories. For instance, “Marmura w ‘ahkām Qarâqûsh” (2009) is a story written by Yaʿqub Ḥijāzi about a fish named Marmura. It went from Cairo to Madīnah with Bahʾā addīn Qarâqûsh and lived there for a long period of time until it was released by, Qarâqûsh, the man who issued strange and funny judgments and it eventually, returned with its companions to Egypt, its homeland (Ālsālhūt 2012: 48–9). The reader wonders whether Ḥijāzi uses this story to entertain and recreate the children, or he wants again to stimulate and raise in the minds of little kids many difficult and confusing questions about this mythical character which is shrouded in mystery.
The study aims to prove that political humor is old and original in the Egyptian and the Arab culture. An examination of the literature review, has proved that research in Arabic has concentrated on the serious aspects of the Arabic literature in the Middle Ages more than the humorous colloquial ones. For instance, the majority of studies conducted on kitāb al-Fāshūsh have focused on the historical validity of the anecdotes without paying enough attention to the anecdotes themselves.
Norman Fairclough’s three-dimensional model of discourse analysis has proved to be fruitful in the analysis of this important folkloric document which abounds with political humor. An investigation of the textual analysis has proved that the text teems with repetition, synonyms, parallelism, parataxis, in addition to, other orthographic features of Middle Arabic like the omission of the hamza. All these linguistic features might be related in one way or another to the oral transmission of popular anecdotes or stories. Also, the language is characterized by the use of ideologically contested words, the absence of any hedges and an excessive use of commands and orders. This unique use of language sheds some light on the structure of the Egyptian society and state in the medieval time and elucidates the suffering of the lower classes of the peasants and the slaves.
An investigation of the discursive practice in the Ayyubid period can prove that the style of writing in al-Fāshūsh is violating all the common rules of writing in that period, which is characterized by density of linguistic embellishments. The style of writing on Kitāb al-Fāshūsh, on the other hand, is colloquial, weak, and full of ribald humor and sometimes obscene jokes. In fact, the majority of the anecdotes are not original as they are directly or indirectly borrowed from earlier books like Akhbār al-Ḥamqā wal-mughaffalin (stories of simpletons and fools) by Abu’l-Faraj Ibn al-Jawzî and stories of Juhâ. The study has attempted to examine these folktales on al-Fāshūsh, and to assess their linguistic and cultural influence, and how these stories are refashioned, remolded, and redesigned again to suit Qarâqûsh’s character and period for some social, political, and economic reasons.
The Ayyubid period was a period of elevated tension, conflict, and war. The general state of chaos that was associated with the end of the Fāṭimid Dynasty and the beginning of the Ayyubid state can be traced through the linguistic and textual features of al-Fāshūsh. The study traces and throws light on these features whether they are historical, social, or economic as can be seen in the Crusades, the Battle of Blacks, the epidemics during the reigns of Sultan al-‘Adil and Sultan Kitbugha, the rise of the Turkish and Kurdish elements in the Egyptian society, the military iqta’ system, kharāj, and the upper classes of soldiers against the lower classes of fallāḥin.
The study attempts to understand the secret of this pamphlet and how it has been very influential across the Arab world. It postulated that Ibn Mammātī spoke directly to the poor Egyptian people in their own simple language, abandoning the sophisticated and elite language of hypocrite politicians and men of court. I think he was successful because he understood the nature of the Egyptian people who suffered under the pressure of so many foreign regimes for centuries and humor was used by them as a defense mechanism and sometimes as a way of protest.
The study focused on the nature and the mechanics of humor and whether we have some echoes of the past in our modern jocular narratives. The study aims to bridge the gap and to find the missing link between the past and the present jocular narratives. It aims to demonstrate that modern political humor, which is predominant in the Arab and Muslim worlds today, is not born out of a vacuum but it has a solid history that can be traced in the classical anecdotes of many classical comic figures, such as Juhâ, Buhlûl, Abū Nuwās, Ash’ab, Qarâqûsh, and many other figures.
The study aims to prove that the same kind of humor that has been cunningly used by Ibn Mammātī to ruin Qarâqûsh’s reputation is ironically developed to be an effective weapon against other tyrants and rulers. The name of Qarâqûsh itself became synonymous with tyranny, corruption, oppression, cruelty, and lunacy in both medieval times and in modern times as well. In the middle ages, the name had been used to describe other tyrants and ruthless rulers. In our modern age, on the other hand, the name inspired many writers to criticize the ruling authority exposing its corruption without fear of repercussions.
The study attempted to prove that the writer was able to develop and build on an antique style of humorous writing in order to humiliate and poke fun at his opponent. Therefore, the book was written for the common Egyptian people as a sort of political propaganda against Qarâqûsh because of some kind of political rivalry between the two important and prestigious characters at that time. However, the text contains some timeless humorous elements that transcend the limitations of time and place and the target of humor is not only Qarâqûsh of the Ayyubids but other ruthless Qarâqûshs as well. Qarâqûshs’ stories and folktales had been used in all the Arab and Islamic world as a defense mechanism against all the ruthless and heartless sultans, kings, rulers, and presidents. It is a way of peaceful protest and a silent cry against oppression and tyranny. Today, all these stories are curtailed and summarized in two words uttered by all people in all places when they fall victims to any kind of political or administrative violation “Ḥukm Qarâqûsh.”
- La stupidité montrée dans les décisions de Qarâqoûsch, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Arabe 3552 by Al-Suyūṭī.
- Kālām fi Qarâqûsh (Talk on Qarâqûsh) by Jalāl ad-Dīn Al-Suyūṭī, Dār al-Kutub wa-al-Wathāʼiq al-Qawmīyah (Egyptian National Library and Archives), 25 Majāmīʿ Qawalah 167a–167b, Catalogue of the private collections of manuscripts in the Egyptian National Library, Dār al-Kutub, Al-Furqān Foundation, volume 6, 2015, page 416, Compiled by Aḥmad Abdulbaset.
- Manuscript Landberg MSS 258 (1736 AD), Yale University Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, al-Fāshūsh fi Ḥukm Qarâqûsh by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khuḍayrī al-Suyūṭī (al-Suyūṭī 1736 AD: 104b–110b).
- Al-Suyūṭī, A. (1311 AH). al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām wa ḥikāyāt Qarâqûsh (Decisions and Anecdotes of Qarâqûsh). Cairo: The Būlāq Press or El-Amiriya Press (Al-Suyūṭī, 1311 AH: 1–15).
- Al-Suyūṭī, A. Al-Fāshūsh fi Aḥkām Qarâqûsh, 194 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd, Publication (Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation (London, England), Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in The Egyptian National Library (Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyyah) - Collections (Majāmīʿ), volume 3, 2011, pages 488–489, Edited by Abd al-Sattar al-Ḥalwaji.
- Ibn Mammātī, A. Selected Anecdotes from kitāb al-Fāshūsh fi Ḥukm Qarâqûsh. 59 Majāmīʿ Raṣīd, Publication (Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation (London, England), Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in The Egyptian National Library (Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyyah) - Collections (Majāmīʿ), volume 4, 2011, page 347, Edited by Abd al-Sattar al-Ḥalwaji.
Tranliteration System for the Arabic Words used in the Study
|Long ا or ى ا||ā|
|Doubled ي ـِ kasrah||iyy (final form ī)|
|Doubled و ـُ ḍammah||uww (final form ū)|
|Diphthongs ـَو||au or aw|
|Diphthongs ـَي||ai or ay|
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All the Arabic words are transliterated according to IJMES transliteration system.
For more information on social representations of “blackness” and “phenotypic diversity” in Medieval Arabic and Islamic culture, there are many useful references in this regard like: AKBAR, Muhammad, “The Image of Africans in Arabic Literature: Some Unpublished Manuscripts.” In Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa. Volume I. Islam and the Ideology of Enslavement, Edited with an Introduction by John Ralph Willis, Princenton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 47–74. CECERE, Giuseppe, “From Ethiopian Slave to Egyptian Ṣūfī Master? Yāqūt al-Ḥabashī in Mamluk and Ottoman Sources,” «NORTH EAST AFRICAN STUDIES», 2019, 19:1, p. 85–137. FARIAS, Paulo Fernando de Moraes, “Models of the World and Categorial Models: The ‘Enslavable Barbarian’ as a Mobile Classificatory Label.” In Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa. Volume I. Islam and the Ideology of Enslavement, Edited with an Introduction by John Ralph Willis, Princenton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 27–46. GOLDENBERG, 2003. The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Princenton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003 (Introduction). PATTERSON, Orlando, 1982. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. PERRY, Craig, 2014. The Daily Life of Slaves and the Global Reach of Slavery in Medieval Egypt, 969–1250 CE. An abstract of a dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History 2014 SERSEN 1985: William John Sersen, “Stereotypes and Attitudes Towards Slaves in Arabic Proverbs: a Preliminary View,” in John Ralph Willis (ed.), Slaves and Slaves in Muslim Africa. Volume One: Islam and the Ideology of Enslavement, London: Frank Cass, 1985, p. 92–105. WILLIS, John Ralph, “The Ideology of Enslavement in Islam.” In Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa. Volume I. Islam and the Ideology of Enslavement, Edited with an Introduction by John Ralph Willis, Princenton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 1–15. Sharawi, Helmi (2008) “The African in Arab culture: dynamics of inclusion and exclusion,” in Tahar Labib (ed.) Imagining the Arab Other, How Arabs and Non-Arabs View Each Other (New York: I.B. Tauris).
Qur’an surah Ghafir 29 (QS 40: 29) (Translated by M. M. W. Pickthall).
In Adab literature, there are at least three main phases (Meri, 2006: 13). At a certain point, al-Jahiz introduces the idea of mujun, which is not that rare to find.
Mirella Cassarino calls this the theoretical and practical principle of “emulation.” He points out that “each genre had precise historical or ideal antecedents to imitate and transcend” and every form of “originality” tended “to become fixed as norm or canon, in a dialectic resolving itself as a process of innovation to be realised within the tradition.” For instance, The Sulwān al-Muṭāʿ or Political consolations of Ibn Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī, is a text explicitly modeled upon the famous Book of Kalīla and Dimna, attributed to Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (died c. 757) (Cassarino, 2013: 102, 123, 124). See also Corti (1976).