How did Egypt – Qibt became Miṣr?

by vazir, Friday, October 18, 2013, 00:33 (1403 days ago) @ vazir

Exactly how and why did Egypt – Qibt became Miṣr?

According to Muslim historians, the Arabs, under the military command of ‘Amr bin al-‘Āṣ, marched on Egypt for the first time some 15 – 20 years after Muhammad’s (P) death. The history books tell us that the conquest of the Nile country came shortly after the liberation of Palestine from the Romans.

Prominent historian and geographer Yāqūt al-Ḥamwi (died in 1230 A.D), in his book entitled Mu‘jam al-Buldān (literally: The Glossary of Countries), describes with some detail the military campaign led by ‘Amr bin al-‘Āṣ.

According to Yāqūt, the first stop of the Arab march on Egypt was the town of al-‘Arish, which today lies on the border of Palestine and what is called the “Sinai Peninsula”, not far from Ghazza. The Arab army camped there for a while, then moved on towards the town of al-Farma, where the first military confrontation took place. Afterwards, he relates to us a crucial point in the campaign, which is when ‘Amr’s army reached a fortified Keep he called Babloun or Bab-lioun. The following are Yāqūt’s exact words:

اليون بالضم ثم السكون وآخره نون: باب اليون، ويقال بابليون، وهو أص ح هما لأنهما يحملهما اسم واحد

Then, he describes a fierce battle, wherein ‘Amr succeeded in storming the Keep and setting up his camp on that site which was called: al-Fusṭāṭ. Now, please read carefully what Yāqūt said about al-Fusṭāṭ on page 453 / Volume 5 of his book:

فتحه عمرو بن العاص، و بنى في مكانه الفسطاط، و هي مدينة مصر اليوم

Here is a translation of the text: "It (the keep) fell in ‘Amr’s hands and, in its place, he built al-Fusṭāṭ, which is the city of Miṣr today.”

What Yāqūt is telling us is very clear: the setting of ‘Amr’s camp, al-Fusṭāṭ, is what became known later (during Yāqūt’s day and age) as the “City of Miṣr".

As such, we can deduce the following:

1- That Miṣr was originally the name given to the city that was located in the exact spot where ‘Amr’s camp stood some 600 years before Yāqūt’s time.

2- The keep that had fallen in ‘Amr’s hand was called Bablioun (That is how Yāqūt wrote the name).

Yāqūt’s words are also supported by other prominent Arab historians, notably: al-Ṭabari, al-Atābki, and Ibn Katheer, all of whom agree that what became known as Miṣr - during their time - was originally called Bablioun.

In fact, British scholar Alfred Butler, in his book entitled “Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion” (1992), says that the keep was built in the era of Roman emperor Trajan, and was called Babylon-en-Keme. (Don’t be confused, this Babylon was in Egypt, not Babel in ancient Iraq!).

Could it be that the Romans, who had conquered Egypt previously, had built a fortified Keep in the delta region,and decided to name it “The Babylon of the Black Land”?

Remember: Keme is the ancient name of the Nile Valley, as it was called by the Egyptians themselves. The name means “black land” or “black soil”, as an indicator of the valley’s fertility.

Now, it is clear that the name Miṣr was NOT the original name of that Keep which became known as al-Fusṭāṭ, the name given to ‘Amr’s camp.

Now the question is: How and why did al-Fusṭāṭ become Miṣr?

Yāqūt al- Ḥamwi relates that the Babloun Keep eventually became the center of the military operations of ‘Amr’s army, and that he then marched from it westward towards Alexandria, which also fell into his hands with surprisingly little resistance. So it was that ‘Amr’s camp, al-Fusṭāṭ, that became the new center for the Arab state in Egypt, gradually grew into a city, and became a second capital for the so-called “Muslim Empire”. Today, al-Fusṭāṭ is nothing but a small district in Old Cairo (the capital of Egypt), barely the size of four city blocks.

The truth is that it was centuries after the Arab conquest of Egypt that the name Miṣr was introduced, for the first time, into that country. It was not the Qu’rān that associated the name with Egypt! However, its introduction did not initially spread to the entire country. It was only the al-Fusṭaṭ fort that eventually came to be called Miṣr.

The fact is that Egypt never knew the name Miṣr before the Abbasid Era. During Muhammad’s (P) time, the land was called al-Qibt. The Question is: why did the Arabs do that? Why did they introduce that name into the Nile country, and cause the future generations so much confusion?

Let’s read on to find out:

In his book Lisān’ul-‘Arab
(Literally: The Arab Tongue), Ibn Manẓūr mentions the word miṣr as a common noun, as follows (Arab readers can verify):

مصروا المكان تمصيراً، أي جعلوه مِصراً فتمصر

Here, Ibn Manẓūr mentions what was known as the tamṣeer of a place, (i.e. turning it into a miṣr). What he is essentially telling is that the development of a previously insignificant stretch of land into a center of attraction and a destination for travelers is referred to as the process of tamṣeer. Hence, this place, which was previously only an unattractive or unimportant spot in the wilderness, is turned into a miṣr; a place where living is easy and secure, and where goods and services are available.

In fact, in his book entitled Fūtūḥ al-Būldān (Literally: The Conquest of Countries), Arab historian al-Balādhiri talks about the tamṣeer of al-Kūfah (turning a previously insignificant hamlet in Iraq into a miṣr; an important destination). Hence, al-Kūfah became the miṣr of Iraq, just as al-Fusṭaṭ had become the miṣr of Egypt before it.

Can it be any simpler than this?

Every major city in the world today was, at some point, established through the process of tamṣeer - the transforming of an insignificant plot of land into a destination for travelers. In the ancient times, the process often involved building some kind of wall or enclosure around the place, so it became a safe haven not only for traders and their caravans, but also for adventurers and fortune-seekers, who sought shelter from the dangerous wilderness areas.

And so it was that al-Fusṭāṭ became the miṣr - the prime destination and trade center - of the land of Egypt under the Arab conquest, replacing Alexandria which previously played that role during the Greek and Roman eras. This purely linguistic fact should not sound strange to speakers of Arabic. In fact, the Arabic word maṣeer, which means “destiny/destination”, is derived from the root miṣr. Likewise, the human colon is called miṣrān, because it is the ultimate destination of food in the process of digestion.

This also explains why, even today, when modern Egyptians want to go to Cairo (the capital), they will say "We are going to Miṣr", even though they are already in Egypt! Why is that? It is because, deeply rooted in their memory, they know that somehow, the name Miṣr was associated with Old Cairo. This association originated with the Arab conquest of Egypt, sometime during the 7th Century A.D.

The introduction of the name Miṣr into Egypt by the Arabs was not a deliberate attempt of forgery. It was simply the reality of al-Fusṭāṭ having become the new urban center and final destination for all Egyptian travelers and traders that popularized the term. But the great catastrophe came later on when this word, which had gradually become a proper noun (effectively identifying the new capital), was eventually stretched to designate the entire land of Qibt (Egypt), and was interpreted as the very same Miṣr mentioned in the Quran, and as the setting for the story of Mūsa (P), Far’awn and the Israelites.

Compiled from: Search for Pharaoh Page 56-60

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