659-926 A.H.   /   1261-1520 A.D.

Mustansir, the Egyptian Caliph, 659 A.H. 1261 A.D.

THE Caliphate, long in hopeless decrepitude, had now disappeared, and there remained no possibility of its revival. But a shadow survived in Egypt, — a race of mock-Caliphs, having the name without the substance; a mere spectre as it were. Shortly after his accession to the throne, Beibars, hearing that a scion of 'Abbasid descent survived in Syria, conceived the design of setting him up as Caliph, and of receiving at his hands a spiritual blessing and title to the Sultanate. Sought out from his hiding, the 'Abbasid was brought to Cairo. At his approach, the Sultan with his Court went forth in pomp to meet him. Even the Jews and Christians had to follow in the train, bearing the Book of the Law, and the Evangel, in their hands. Soon after this, Al-Mustansir Caliph-nominate, robed in gorgeous apparel, girt with the sword of State and mounted on a white steed, was installed in the office, and sworn fealty to by Beibars, his Amirs, and the people; which function ended, there was read from the pulpit a pompous patent by the Caliph, conferring on Beibars the sovereign title, and impressing upon him the duty of warring for the faith, and other obligations which Al-­Mustansir now imposed upon him. Then, with sound of trumpet and shouts of joy, the royal procession wended its way through the streets back to the palace; — the Caliph following the Sultan on horseback, — all the rest on foot.

A few months later, Beibars resolved to reinstate his


so-called Caliph in Bagdad, and accompanied him for this end to Damascus, with an army.

His attempt on Bagdad.

There, however, the Mosul chiefs, who were to have joined the expedition, warned Beibars of possible danger to himself from a resuscitated Caliphate; and so, withdrawing from the enterprise, the Sultan suffered his Protégé to pursue his march with a diminished following, composed chiefly of Bedawi clans. The Mongol governor of Bagdad met the force at Hit, defeated the Caliph, and left him dead upon the field.

Line of nominal Caliphs, 661-926 A.H. 1263-1520 A.D.

The following year, Beibars secured another scion of 'Abbasid descent, and installed him as Caliph, but now on an altogether different footing, — that, namely, of a priestly attendant at his Court or as we might say, a high ecclesiastic, to give at each succession his benedic­tion and formal title to the throne, and also to lead the public prayers. A mere creature of the Court, he was lodged, more or less under surveillance, in the citadel, and occupied a quite dependent and, in the main, servile place.

Their position and functions.

The succession of such Egyptian Caliphs was maintained unbroken in the same line, on the nomination of the Sultan of the day, throughout the dynasty of the Memluks, which for two centuries and a half forms one of the most painful episodes of tyranny and bloodshed in the history of the world. During this long period we hear little of these Caliphs, excepting in so far as it devolved upon them to enthrone each new Sultan, and validate his title with the sanction, as it were, of the Muslim church. The Caliph also presided at the public prayers, in which his name was pronounced after that of the reigning Monarch. Beyond this, the notices are sparse and rare, and for the most part unimportant. Here we read of a Caliph carried in the Sultan's train to witness his conquests, or perchance with him to be taken captive by the enemy; anon we hear of another imprisoned by his Sovereign, or it may be deposed and exiled for interfering in the affairs of State, or conspir­ing against the throne. But once, we find a Caliph himself elevated to the Sultanate; not, however, in virtue of his office, and but for half a year. Now he is preaching a holy war against the Mongols or Osmanlis; again he is employed


in the more fitting task of mediating peace, or heading a procession of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, each holding aloft their scriptures, and praying for deliverance from the plague. In the eighth century of the Hijra, the Caliph, in company with the Sultan received a deputation bearing precious gifts from Mohammad, son of Taghlak, who prayed for a patent of investiture from him, and for the mission of a Doctor of 'Abbasid lineage to instruct his Indian subjects in the faith. But, whether in honour or in neglect, we seldom find the so-called Caliph, through­out these two hundred and sixty years, other than the tool and servant of the ruler of the day.

Rise of the Osmanlis,

But a new power now rose in the East, which was soon to crush the Memluk dynasty, that namely of the Osmanlis.1 Like other hordes that overspread the West, these, in the seventh century of the Hijra, issued from the steppes of Central Asia beyond the Caspian. In the eighth century they achieved the conquest of Asia Minor, and eventually crossing the Bosphorus, planted the crescent on the walls of Byzantium.

who conquer the Memluks, 922 A.H. 1516 A.D.

After a long struggle on the plains of Syria, the Memluk arms finally gave place to the Osmanli. In the year 922 A.H., on the fateful field of Merj Dabik the Egyptian troops suffered defeat and Kansuh al-Ghuri, the last but one of the Memluks, was left on the field. The remnant fled to Damascus; but the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil, who had followed in Kansuh's train, waited on Selim the conqueror at Aleppo, and was by him courteously received. Tumanbey, the last of the Egyptian dynasty, vainly endeavoured to resist the advance of his enemy, whose offers of peace were rejected.

Selim enters Cairo, i. 923 A.H. Jan., 1517 A.D.

On the Egyptian plain of Ridaniya his troops were finally defeated, about the close of 923 A.H.; and on the first days of the following year, Selim made his triumphal entry into Cairo, with the Caliph in his train. There Al-Mutawakkil used his influence with the Conqueror to stay the tumult and rapine raging in the city, and to save the Memluk chiefs, of whom some thousands fell victims to Osmanli hate. The Sultan, who had fled across the Nile, was betrayed

1 So called from 'Othman (pronounced in the West Osman), son of Ertoghral, who settled in Asia Minor in the latter half of the seventh century, A.H.


by a Bedawi chief, whose protection he had sought, and put to death.

The Caliph carried to Constantinople, 923 A.H. 1517 A.D.

Thus came to an end the dark and hateful Memluk rule. Selim rested eight months in Cairo, abandoning himself to a course of dissipation, of which even a Memluk might have been ashamed. He then returned to Constantinople, and with other Egyptians carried Al-Mutawakkil also with him. There at first he was held as Caliph in high honour and esteem; but this he gradually forfeited by a graceless and unworthy life.

Imprisoned, 926 A.H. 1520 A.D.

Two or three years later, convicted of the misappropriation of property committed to his trust in Egypt, he was cast into confinement in the fortress of Saba Kuliat. Selim's successor, Suleiman, set him at liberty, and allowed him to return to the Capital, where he lived for a time on a miserable pittance.

Resigns office into Sultan's hands.

Shortly after, he resigned his rights into the hands of the Osmanli monarch, and retired into Egypt. We hear no more of him but that he joined a rising there, 929 A.H., and died in the year 945. Thus ended the last shadow of the 'Abbasid Caliphate.

Claim of Osmanli Sultans to the title.

In virtue of Al-Mutawakkil's cession of his title, the Osmanli Sultans make pretension not only to the sovereignty of the Muslim world, but to the Caliphate itself that is, to the spiritual, as well as political, power held by the Successors of the Prophet. Were there no other bar, the Tartar blood which flows in their veins would make the claim untenable. Even if their pedigree by some very flattering fiction could be traced up to Koreishite stock, the claim would be but a fond anachronism. The Caliphate ended with the fall of Bagdad. The illusory resuscitation by the Memluks was a lifeless show; the Osmanli Caliphate, a dream.

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