In the previous article, we spoke of Pope Shenouda I, the fifty-fifth patriarch and his relationship with Egypt’s tax-collector, Bin al-Mudabber who imposed heavy taxes on Egyptians, especially Copts. He was the first to build fortresses for monks to hide from raids. He continued to shepherd the congregation until his departure in 880 A.D. Pope Shenouda I was contemporary with several Abbasid caliphs, In fact, he became patriarch in 859 A.D., at the end of al-Mutawakkil’s tenure (847-861 A.D.), and departed during the tenure of al-Mu’tamid. We already spoke of al-Mutawakki who was eventually murdered.
Caliph Mohammed al-Muntasir 247-248 Hijri (861-862 A.D.)
He took over after his father’s murder. His Turkish sentries played a vital role in having him ascend the throne, which is why he gave them high position. Thus, they became quite influential and interfered in all State’s affairs. Professor Doctor Hassan Khalifah writes, “Turkish commanders started commanding the caliphs who could not breach any order!” No sooner had al-Muntasir become caliph, than he deposed his brothers al-Mu’taz and al-Mu’ayad from the caliphate, as per his commanders mandate.
So, al-Mu’taz and al-Mu’ayad brought him a memo in which they admitted their inability to manage the State’s affairs and become caliphs. They disavowed people from their allegiance, after which they went to al-Muntasir and told him about it. Historian Bin al-Athir writes that after they had given al-Muntasir this note, he said (in the Turks’ presence), “Do you think I deposed you because I wish to live till my son grows up and I pledge allegiance to him? I swear I never wanted this! Had this been the issue, I would have wanted my cousins to succeed me. But they, (he indicated all his associates), pressed me to depose you. So, I feared lest anybody body kill you. What do you think I should do then? Kill them? I swear their blood wouldn’t be enough to avenge you.” These words show how influential the Turks were in the State’s affairs, supporting whoever they wished, and deposing whoever they rejected.
Yet, al-Muntasir’s tenure lasted for about six months only. He lived in complete distress, for he felt guilty for what his complicity in killing his father. Thus, he became so ill that he died. Historians disagree regarding the reason of his death. Some say he died by angina pectoris: for he could not breathe. Others say he had a tumor in his stomach which affected his heart. A third group says that he was poisoned by his physicians. There are many stories, in fact.
Though al-Muntasir’s tenure was short, he is said to have been brave, just, and generous to his subjects. Also, he alleviated the tribulation the Alawites were through during his father’s tenure, rebuilt al-Hussein’s shrine and allowed visits to it. Yet, when he was appointed by his father proconsul of Egypt, he hated Copts. We already mentioned the mandates he issued against Copts at that time. Historian Alfred Moir writes, “Caliph al-Muntasir was the first to make his tomb visible, for his predecessors wanted to be buried in tombs unknown to people lest they rummage them.”
After his death, the caliphate was passed on to Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Musta’in bellah.
Caliph Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Musta’in bellah 248-252 Hijri (862-866 A.D.)
It came to pass that after al-Muntasir’s death, the Turkish commanders and statesmen assembled. After several discussions, they agreed to depose al-Mutawakkil’s two sons lest they avenge their father. So, they chose one of al-Mu’tasim’s grandsons, namely, Ahmed bin Mohammed bin al-Mu’tasim, aka., al-Musta’in bellah. He became caliph in 248 Hijri (862 A.D.) It is said that he was a make-believe caliph! He had no say. The true upper hand was his two commanders’ Wassif and Bugha. So much so that one poet described him as follows:
The caliph is in a cage
a prisoner to Bugha and Wassif
He repeats what they say to him
just like a parrot.
During al-Musta’in’s tenure, his chief minister Atamesh had the upper hand in governance and finance, which infuriated many. So, they assembled under Wassif and Bugha and murdered him and his scribe and took his money and possessions. Then, al-Musta’in appointed Abu Saleh bin Abdullah bin Mohammed who fled from young Bugha who wanted to kill him.
The caliph was, from thence, never to appoint a chief minister. So, the commanders handled it and competed. In effect, envy and conspiracies spread. Then, a Bagher conspired to kill al-Musta’in with Wassif and Bugha. When the caliph got to know, he had Bagher put to death, which infuriated his associates. So, they aroused riot, and al-Musta’in got scared. So, he fled to Baghdad with Wassif and Bugha.
These incidents occurred in 251 Hijri (865 A.D.) When the soldiers got to know of this, they marched to Baghdad and asked al-Musta’in to return to Samarra, which he refused. So, they agreed to appoint a new caliph in his stead, and released al-Mu’taz and al-Mu’ayad, pledging allegiance to al-Mu’taz as caliph, and al-Mu’ayad heir apparent. Taghribirdi writes, “Al-Musta’in was in great turmoil because of killing Bagher who had killed al-Mutawakkil’s. Turkish princes got tumultuous too, after which war broke out between al-Musta’in and the Turks who continued pressing al-Musta’in until they deposed him and released al-Mu’taz bin al-Mutawakkil and his brother al-Mu’ayad Ibrahim bin al-Mutawakkil from the dungeon and pledged allegiance to the former as caliph and his brother as heir apparent.” Thus, there became two caliphs, al-Musta’in in Baghdad and al-Mu’taz in Samarra, only to start more conflicts and stories. Stories never end in Beautiful Egypt.
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center