Misconception 2 – Portraying the people of Egypt in a negative and unseemly manner in a letter to Amir al Mu’minin ‘Umar

Misconception 1 – Seizing the wealth of the Copts and humiliating them.
January 26, 2022
Misconception 3 – ‘Amr ibn al ‘As burnt the library of Alexandria
January 26, 2022

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Misconception 2 – Portraying the people of Egypt in a negative and unseemly manner in a letter to Amir al Mu’minin ‘Umar

 

In summary, this misconception is based on what has been said regarding ‘Amr’s portrayal of the Egyptians in an unseeingly manner by, allegedly, stating:

 

أكيس الناس صغاراً وأحمقهم كباراً

Laziest in their youth and stupidest in their old age.[1]

 

Answer

This misconception can be answered in four ways:

 

1. The Narration is Unverifiable

This attribution to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu is unfounded. This allegation has been recorded in some books of history as follows:

He was asked to describe the various cities and he described each. When describing the people of Egypt, he said, “Their youth are the laziest and their elderly are the stupidest.”

 

This has been recorded by al Fasawi in Al Ma’rifah wa al Tarikh[2] and from his chain ibn ‘Asakir[3]. The chain is as follows:

From Na’im ibn Hammad — from Rishdin — from ‘Amr ibn al Harith — from Bukayr ibnAbdullah ibn al Ashaj who said:

 

سئل عمرو بن العاص … قالوا فأهل مصر؟ قال أكيس الناس صغاراً وأحمقهم كباراً

‘Amr ibn al ‘As was asked … they asked, “And the people of Egypt?”

He replied, “Laziest in their youth and stupidest in their old age.”

 

This chain of transmission has two defects:

a. Rishdin ibn Sad ibn Muflih al Mahri, Abu al Hajjaj al Misri

  • Ahmed said, “He is not particular regarding who he narrated from. There is no issue with him in al Riqaq.” He also said, “I hope he is Salih al Hadith (satisfactory in Hadith).”
  • Ibn Ma’in said, “Laysa bi Shay’ (he amounts to nothing).”
  • Abu Zur’ah said, “Da’if.”
  • Al Jawzjani said, “He has many Munkar (unacceptable) narrations.”
  • I say, “He was a pious worshipper of weak memory, unreliable.”
  • Qutaybah said, “Rishdin would read anything that was placed in his hands.”
  • Al Nasa’i said, “Matruk (suspected of forgery).”[4]

 

b. Inqita’

There is inqita’ (break) within the chain since Bukayr ibnAbdullah did not meet ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu as stated by Ibn ‘Asakir.[5]

 

Alternate transmission

There is another chain of transmission for this narration which has been recorded by Abu Bakr ibn al Muqri’[6] and from his chain Ibn ‘Asakir. The chain is as follows:

From Ahmed ibn Zakariyya — from Abu Bakr Ismail ibn Ishaq ibn Ibrahim ibn Mahran al Thaqafi al Nisapuri the year ninety-two — from ‘Ubaidullah ibn ‘Umar — from Abu Umayyah ibn Yala who had met Nafi’ — from ‘Ali ibn Zaid ibn Judan who said:

 

قال رجل لعمرو بن العاص صف لي الامصار قال فذكر نحوه

A man said to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As, “Describe the cities to me.” The rest of the narration is similar.

 

This chain of transmission has three defects.

 

a. Abu Umayyah ibn Yala, Ismail:

  • Yahya ibn Ma’in said, “He is Da’if, Laysa bi Shay’ (amounts to nothing).”
  • Abu Zur’ah said, “Wahi al Hadith (feeble in hadith), Da’if in Hadith, Laysa bi Qawi (he is not strong).”
  • Al Nasa’i said, “Matruk al Hadith (suspected of forgery in Hadith).”
  • Abu Hatim said, “Da’if in hadith, his narrations are munkarah (unacceptable).”
  • Ibn Hibban said, “He narrates mu’dal[7] narrations from reliable narrators. Those who are of the fraternity of knowledge are convinced of it being a fabrication when hearing it. It is not permissible to present his narrations as evidence nor to narrate them except for study.”
  • Al Haythami said, “Very weak.”[8]

 

b. ‘Ali ibn Zaid ibn Jud’an

  • Shu’bah said, “‘Ali ibn Zaid narrated to us, he would elevate Hadith to Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam which were suspended on a Sahabi.” He also said, “‘Ali narrated to us before he became confused.”
  • Ibn ‘Uyaynah deemed him Da’if.
  • Hammad ibn Zaid said, “He would invert narrations.”
  • Ahmed said, “Da’if.”
  • Yahya said, “Not that strong.”
  • Murrah said, “Laysa bi Shay’.”
  • Al Bukhari and Abu Hatim said, “He cannot be used as evidence.”
  • Al Fasawi said, “He became confused in his old age.”
  • Ibn Khuzaimah said, “I do not use him as evidence due to the weakness of his memory.”[9]

 

c. Inqita’

Ibn ‘Asakir said, “‘Ali ibn Zaid ibn Jad’an has been deemed weak when narrating from those whom he met, what can be said when he narrates from those who he did not meet? He did not meet ‘Amr ibn al ‘As, neither did he see him.”[10]

Ibn ‘Asakir states:

قد روي معنى هذا عن ابنه عبد الله بن عمرو ثم أسنده الى الامام مالك قال قال عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص … ولاهل مصر أكيسهم صغاراً وأحمقهم كباراً

A similar narration has been recorded from his son ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr from whom Imam Malik narrated who said, “‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al ‘As said, ‘The people of Egypt are the laziest in their youth and most stupid in old age.’”

 

Ibn ‘Asakir comments, “This is munqati’ since Malik did not meet ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr.[11]

Thus, it becomes evidently clear that the attribution of this comment to ‘Amr ibn al ‘As or his son, ‘Abdullah, is unfounded.

This has also been narrated with an unauthentic chain of transmission from Ibn al Kawwa’[12] wherein he said:

 

أكلة من غلب

Lowly one’s, conquered.

 

And from Ibn al Lisan al Hummarah[13] with the words:

عبيد من غلب

Slaves, conquered.

 

This has been recorded by Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh. He comments on both these narrations by saying:

 

وعبد الله بن الكواء لا يعتمد على ما يرويه فكيف يعتمد على ما يقوله عن نفسه ولا عن غيره ويحكيه والاحتجاج بما قاله ابن لسان الحمرة من الاحتجاجات الباطلة المنكرة

‘Abdullah ibn al Kawwa’ cannot be relied upon when narrating from others, so how can he be relied upon when making statements of his own; and presenting the statement of Ibn Lisan al Hummarah as evidence is a baseless contradictory substantiation.[14]

 

Some biographers have recorded similar statements from Ayub ibn al Qirriyyah, without any chain of transmission. When Hajjaj asked him regarding the character of people from the various regions, he mentioned the regions and characterised them.[15]

Al Dhahabi speaking of this individual, Ayub says:

 

أعرابي أمي فصيح، مفوه يضرب ببلاغته المثل وفد على عبد الملك وعلى الحجاج فأعجب بفصاحته ثم بعثه رسولا إلى ابن الأشعث إلى سجستان فأمره أن يخلع الحجاج ويقوم بذلك ويشتمه فقال إنما أنا رسول فقال لتفعلن أو لأضربن عنقك ففعل فلما انتصر الحجاج جيء بابن القرية  فسأله عن البلدان والقبائل ومآثر العرب والآفات فأجابه عما أراد فقال فما آفة الحجاج بن یوسف قال لا آفة لمن كرم حسبه وطاب نسبه وزکا فرعه فقال أظهرت نفاقا ثم قال اضربوا عنقه فلما رآه قتيلا ندم

An eloquent unlettered bedouin whose eloquence had become proverbial. He came as a delegate to ‘Abdul Malik and to al Hajjaj. The latter was impressed by his ‘gift of the gab’ and sent him as an envoy to Ibn al Ash’ath at Sijistan. Ibn al Ash’ath instructed him to renounce al Hajjaj and to vilify him. He tried excusing himself by saying, ‘I am just an envoy’. Ibn al Ash’ath gave him an ultimatum, ‘Do it or I will chop your neck off.’ He thus did as he was instructed.

When al Hajjaj triumphed, Ibn al Qirriyyah was brought to him.[16] Al Hajjaj asked him to describe the feats of Arabia, its regions, tribes, and their evils and he responded as requested. He was then asked, “What are evils of al Hajjaj ibn Yusuf?”

He replied, “There is no evil for the one whose life is honourable, lineage pure, and issue unblemished.”

Al Hajjaj said, “You have displayed hypocrisy.” He then ordered his neck be sliced.

When he saw him lay dead, he regretted.[17]

 

Dear reader, this elucidation would leave no doubt in your mind that the allegation of spewing such statements are nought but falsities. The last, mentioned by Ibn al Qirriyyah has been recorded without any chain of transmission and in all that has been recorded, not one speaks of the women of Egypt.

 

2. The Opposite is Recorded

An eloquent and well thought out celebration of the Egyptian lands has been recorded and established from ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu. In this description he speaks of the blessed Nile that runs through it and the auspiciousness of it, amongst other acclamations, as reproduced in chapter one.

 

3. ‘Amr Admired the Copts.

When ‘Amr intended entering Egypt with his forces, he saw that Muqawqis had prepared an army to face them. He sent the following message to him:

 

لا تعجلونا لنعذر إليكم وترون رأيكم بعد فكفوا أصحابهم وأرسل إليهم عمرو إني بارز فليبرز إلي أبو مريم وأبو مریام فأجابوه إلى ذلك وأمن بعضهم بعضا فقال لهما عمرو أنتما راهبا هذه البلدة فاسمعا إن الله عز وجل بعث محمداً صلى الله عليه وسلم بالحق وأمره به وأمرنا به محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم وأدى إلينا كل الذي أمر به ثم مضى صلوات الله عليه ورحمته وقد قضى الذي عليه وتركنا على الواضحة وكان مما أمرنا به الإعذار إلى الناس فنحن ندعوكم إلى الإسلام فمن أجابنا إليه فمثلنا ومن لم يجبنا عرضنا عليه الجزية وبذلنا له المنعة وقد أعلمنا أنا مفتتحوکم وأوصانا بكم حفظا لرحمنا فيكم وإن لكم إن أجبتمونا بذلك ذمة إلى ذمة ومما عهد إلينا أميرنا استوصوا بالقبطيين خيراً فإن رسول الله و أوصانا بالقبطيين خيراً لأن لهم رحماً وذمة

Do not prompt us to come down heavily upon you; in a moment you will realize what you can do best. Thereupon they held their fighters back. ‘Amr sent them another message that said, “I shall come forward, let Abu Maryam and Abu Miryam approach me.” They consented to this and they granted one another safe-conduct.

Then ‘Amr said to the two Christian prelates, “You two are the ecclesiastics of this region. Listen. Allah sent Muhammad with the truth and He ordered him to hold to it. Muhammad conveyed to us every command he was given, then he passed away. May Allah have mercy upon him-having accomplished everything he had been told to do. The instructions that he left us are crystal clear: among the things he enjoined upon us is that we should do our utmost in warning the people with whom we come into contact. Therefore, we call upon you to embrace Islam. He who is willing to do so will be like one of us. To him who refuses, we suggest that he pay the jizyah and we will give him ample protection. Our Prophet informed us that we would conquer your lands and he has determined that we keep you from harm because of our family ties among you. If you accept our proposition, we will give you constant protection. Among the orders we received from our Commander was the order, ‘Take the interest of the Copts to heart, for the Messenger of Allah enjoined their best interests upon us, because they have ties of kinship with us and are therefore entitled to our protection.’”[18]

 

It is impossible that ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu recounted the advice of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in front of them and the Muslims only to characterize them in the manner alleged. In fact, he continued advising good treatment of the Copts even after the conquest of Egypt. This is evident from his famed sermon at al Fustat wherein he said:

 

واستوصوا بمن جاورتموه من القبط خيراً

I advise you to treat your neighbouring Copts well.

 

His son, ‘Abdullah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, narrates from him saying:

 

قبط مصر أكرم الأعاجم كلها ، وأسمحهم يدا، وأفضلهم عنصرا، وأقربهم رحماً بالعرب عامة ، وبقریش خاصة

The most noble of the non-Arabs are the Egyptian Copts. They are most generous, have the best pedigree, and are benevolent to the Arabs, especially to the Quraysh.[19]

 

4. Historical Awareness

‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu knew well what Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala had recounted regarding the magicians of Firoun, their belief in Musa ‘alayh al Salam and their steadfastness in front of Firoun notwithstanding his threats of severing their limbs and crucifying them to palm tree trunks. He also knew the resoluteness of Firoun’s wife and that of his daughter’s hairdresser, even in the face of torture and anguish. He was the one who informed the Copts of the advice of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam with regards to treating them well and protecting them; a result of kinship by way of our mother Hajar and Mariyah al Qibtiyyah.  How can anyone with a modicum of common sense then still believe the allegations of uncouth speech in relation to them by ‘Amr ibn al ‘As? In fact, not a single Sahabi would blemish their tongue with such.

After studying this discussion, dear reader, it is evident that the alleged statements cannot be in any way attributed to any Sahabi. Yes, it has been attributed to Ibn al Qirriyyah, though that too is without a chain of transmission. And if it were to be established that Ibn al Qirriyyah had indeed uttered these statements then so be it. He was an unlettered Bedouin, though eloquent in speech, during the era of al Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, an orator not a scholar.

 

NEXT⇒ Misconception 3 – ‘Amr ibn al ‘As burnt the library of Alexandria


[1]  Al Fasawi: Al Ma’rifah wa al Tarikh, vol. 2, pg. 364; Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 1 pg. 385.

[2]  Op. Cit.

[3]  Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 1 pg. 385.

[4]  Al Dhahabi: Mizan al I’tidal, vol. 2 pg. 49.

[5]  Ibid.

[6]Mujam ibn al Muqri’, pg. 174.

[7]Mu’dal report refers to a hadith with an isnad that contains two or more missing consecutive links.

[8]  Ibn Abi Hatim: Al Jarh wa al Ta’dil, vol. 2 pg. 203; Al Nasa’i: Al Du’afa’ wa al Matrukin, pg. 113; Ibn Hibban: Al Majruhin, vol. 3 pg. 147-148; Majma’ al Zawa’id wa Mamba’ al Fawa’id, vol. 10 pg. 268.

[9]  Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 1 pg. 358.

[10]  Ibid.

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  He is ‘Abdullah ibn al Kawwa’, from the leaders of the Khawarij as stated by al Dhahabi in al Mizan. Ibn Hajar states, “Al Bukhari said, ‘His narrations are not authentic.’ I say, he has many incidents with ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He would be in constant companionship of him and tire him with many questions. He left the Khawarij and came into the companionship of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan, vol. 3 pg. 329.

[13]  He is Wafa’ ibn al Ash’ar al Tamimi, known as Ibn al Lisan al Hummarah. He was well known for his eloquence. His teknonym is Abu Kilab and he is recorded amongst the Mu’ammarin (Those who lived longer than most). See, Ibn Hajar: Al Isabah, vol. 6 pg. 495.

[14]  Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 1 pg. 360.

[15]  See, Ibn Khallikan: Wafayat al A’yan, vol. 1 pg. 252; Al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam an-Nubala’, vol. 4 pg. 346-347; Ibn al ‘Imad: Shadharat al Dhahab, vol. 1 pg. 93.

[16]  Al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam an-Nubala’, vol. 4 pg. 346.

[17]  Ibn al ‘Imad: Shadharat al Dhahab, vol. 1 pg. 94.

[18]  Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, vol. 2 pg. 514; Ibn Kathir: Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, vol. 10 pg. 90.

[19]  Ibn ‘Abdul Hakam: Futuh Misr, pg. 24.

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