Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg





Al-Maqrizi: The Conscience of Egypt’s History

I am writing a wide-ranging intellectual biography of Taqiyy al-Din al-Maqrizi (1364-1442), one of the most important Mamluk historians.  My research in the primary sources has uncovered extremely revealing details about the life of this most staid and conservative of scholars, who nonetheless was one of the most critical, if not the most critical, voices of his time.  His voice comes loud and clear in his written oeuvre, especially the books he wrote about his own period or the essays he penned about the policies of the Mamluk rulers he witnessed and about some of the more pressing theological/historical debates in Islam. Chief among his books is the Kitab al-Mawa‘iz wa-l-I‘tibar bi-Dhikr al-Khitat wa-l-Athar, abbreviated as the Khitat. Written between 1415 and 1440, it is the most elaborate repository of topographic and historical data on Cairo and Egypt n general and, arguably, the first true urban history written in any language.
My book aims to re-present al-Maqrizi as a historian with an exhaustive and structured historical project that follows the changing fate of Egypt in time through chronicles of the various stages of the country’s political history from the Islamic conquest to his days, biographical dictionaries of its most important denizens from sultans to officials to the ulama, and the architectural/topographical history (khitat) of its main cities, especially Cairo, as the barometer of its prosperity and decline. The Khitat, I argue, constitutes the culmination of al-Maqrizi’s ambitious historical project. It was the first book in the series he attempted and he was continuously redacting and adding to it until his death. The Khitat in fact represents the conclusion of the cumulative narratives on the history of Cairo and illustrates in an almost visual way the ravages of immoral and unjust rule, which al-Maqrizi blamed on the Mamluks of his time, on its architecture and urbanization. This was al-Maqrizi's critical stance as it were, conceived and presented from within the epistemological framework of a medieval Muslim thinker; in other words, moralizing and inherently teleological, but still redolent with an anguished search for truth.