Building a Family Shrine in Ottoman Cairo

Five Waqf Endowments by Fāḍila daughter of Shaykh Muḥammad al-Bakrī, 1619-1629 [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 11, April 2016]

by Adam SABRA

The construction of a family tomb that may also function as a shrine is critical moment in the construction of a dynasty. Although this phenomenon is most closely associated with Sufism, ruling families also built family tombs, usually as part of larger waqf complexes. Such tombs gave a sense of continuity to a dynasty. At very least, family members would visit the tomb to pay respects to their dead on holidays and often on Friday eves, when many people would visit Cairo’s cemeteries to ask the holy dead to intercede on their behalf with God. As Christopher Taylor has shown (Taylor 1998), the increased popularity of these visits in the Mamluk period prompted the writing of a series of pilgrimage manuals dedicated to describing the locations of the graves of the holy dead and to narrating edifying anecdotes about their miracles.

Stephennie Mulder_The Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi i_Muqarnas_23_2006_fig.2
Cairo, Shrine of of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī in the Smaller Cemetery. (© Stephennie Mulder, “The Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi‘i”, Muqarnas 23 (2006), fig. 2)

By the time of the Ottoman conquest (1517), the construction of family shrine tombs had become routine. Each Mamluk sultan constructed his own waqf complex, usually containing his tomb, and a number of dynasties of religious scholars and Sufis had built tomb complexes that also served as loci for Sufi religious practice. The most prominent example of such as lineage was al-Sādāt al-Wafā’īya, who buried their dead in the Smaller Cemetery (al-Qarāfa al-ṣughrā), also known as the cemetery of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī (McGregor 2004: 58). This shrine/Sufi complex, which survives down to the present, has been renovated many times. Although the Ottoman rulers of Egypt did not build their tomb complexes in Cairo, local families of religious scholars and Sufis continued the tradition.

It should come as no surprise that the most prominent lineage of Cairene ‘ulamā’ during the Ottoman period constructed a shrine tomb, following the example set by the Wafā’īya and others. The Sāda al-Bakrīya (The Bakrī Lords) became increasingly prominent during the lifetimes of Abū al-Ḥasan Muḥammad ibn Jalāl al-Dīn al-Bakrī (d. 1545) and his son Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad (d. 1586), who forged close contacts with the new Ottoman rulers of Egypt. The building of a shrine did not begin until the second decade of the eleventh/seventeenth century, however, and it was the work of a female member of the lineage, apparently one of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad’s daughters.

Cairo_Jami al-Dashtuti_KAC_Creswell_archnet
Cairo, Mosque of ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Dashṭūṭī (© K.A.C. Creswell — From

According to Abd al-Wahhāb al-Sha‘rānī (Sabra 2010: 107), Jalāl al-Dīn al-Bakrī was buried in the mosque of ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Dashṭūṭī, known as the White Mosque (al-Jāmi‘ al-Abyaḍ). Al-Dashṭūṭī was a holy fool whose endowments were managed by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Bakrī. Jalāl al-Dīn’s son, Abū al-Ḥasan, who is often credited with the revival of the family’s fortunes, was buried next to the grave of his former teacher Zakārīyā al-Anṣārī (d. 1519), which now lies within the domed tomb (qubba) of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī (al-Sha‘rānī 2003: 77 says he was buried next to the shrine of al-Shāfi‘ī). The burial of the heads of the lineage next to their former teachers and Sufi masters suggests that no family tomb yet existed. The location of Abū al-Ḥasan’s tomb also suggests the increasing significance placed on the lineage’s affiliation with the Shāfi‘ī school of law.

Three endowments associated with the establishment of the Bakrī lineage’s shrine survive. These were not the only endowments that were established; the existing documents refer to two more such endowments. Nonetheless, the three surviving documents are sufficient to allow us to reconstruct the early history of the shrine tomb and to interpret its significance in historical context. The first surviving endowment was established by Fāḍila karīmat (daughter) of Abū al-Mawāhib al-Bakrī on 24 Dhū al-Qa‘da 1028/Friday 1 November 1619. This cannot have been the initial waqf, since it refers to an earlier endowment, dated 21 Ramaḍān 1026/Thursday 21 September 1617. The surviving document was recorded in the Court of Bāb al-Sha‘rīya (Sijill 30, page 287, entry 865), while the earlier endowment is listed as having been registered in the Court of the Sublime Porte (Maḥkamat al-Bāb al-‘Ālī). Bāb al-Sha‘rīya was a neighborhood inhabited by many religious scholars associated with al-Azhar. The Bakrīs initially resided there, although the principle residence of the lineage moved to the elite neighborhood of al-Azbakīya in the early seventeenth century. The Bakrīs maintained several residences, and some lineage members continued to reside in Bāb al-Sha‘rīya thereafter. This would have been their neighborhood court. The Court of the Sublime Porte, on the other hand, was a more prestigious court. It was presided over by the Chief Judge of Egypt (qāḍī al-‘askar), who was appointed from Istanbul. Its primary focus was on the establishment and administration of endowments (awqāf).

It is unfortunate that the endowment of 1026/1617 is not preserved, but we can get a sense of the early development of the lineage’s shrine from the donation of 1028/1619. Fādila, like most women of scholarly families of the time, cannot be attested from the biographical dictionaries or hagiographical works. Indeed, her identity is somewhat uncertain. She could have either been the daughter of Muḥammad al-Bakrī or his granddaughter via his son Abū al-Mawāhib (d. 1628). Later documents, however, make it clear that she was the daughter of Muḥammad al-Bakrī and the sister of Abū Mawāhib.

The properties donated to the endowment at this time were: 1) two buildings north of Lake Azbakīya; 2) a garden next door in Khaṭṭ Hārat al-Naṣārā; 3) a well with a sāqiya (waterwheel) in the garden. The well may have already been endowed in the donation of 1026/1617. These are all urban properties in an elite neighborhood of Cairo where the Bakrīs were taking up residence and owned considerable lands and other real estate. The income of these properties was likely to be quite modest, but the initial functions of the endowment were also modest.

Fāḍila reserved two-thirds of the revenues of the endowment for herself for the remainder of her life. Three Quran reciters were to receive 45 niṣf (paras) per month to reciter the holy book at her father’s maqām at her grave and that of her family members. The beneficiaries of the reward for this pious act would include these persons as well as the founders of the four schools of Sunnī law (mujtahid) and the deceased Muslims in general. The endowment was also to provide water for the cistern of Zayn al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Laṭif, the client (tābi‘) of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Bakrī and Abū al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī. The term client can be used in a number of ways, ranging from manumitted slave to Sufi disciple, and there is no way to know which was intended here. The endowment also benefited the tomb (turba) of Zayn al-Dīn’s daughter Zaynab, where the maḥyā (or prayer in commemoration of the Prophet Muḥammad) was to be held every Monday and Friday eve. As administrator of this endowment, Fāḍila named herself during her lifetime, to be followed by a judicially appointed candidate.

So far, what we have is the decision by a woman who wished to be buried near her father and other family members. Since she was pre-deceased by a least four brothers (‘Abd al-Raḥīm, Tāj al-Dīn, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, and Abū al-Surūr) we can assume that the gravesite of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad was already being used as a family burial place. Fāḍila also took the opportunity to assist the daughter of her father and grandfather’s freeman (clientage being heritable) or disciple, someone who was presumably a close personal friend. There is no mention of the fact that the maqām of the Bakrīs was located behind the maqām of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī, although the prayers on behalf of the founders of the four schools of law is notable in this context. The maḥyā prayer was popularized in the sixteenth century by Nūr al-Dīn al-Shūnī, one the principal shaykhs of ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Sha‘rānī (de Jong 1954-2005). Fādila was au courant with the latest in Sufi devotion.

Fādila registered the next installment of the endowment in the Court of the Sublime Porte (Sijill 105, pages 528-530, Entry 1932) on 10 Jumādā I 1034/18 February 1625. Here she is named as Fādila Khātūn bint Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Bakrī, which clarifies her identity. This donation significantly expanded the endowment, establishing a Friday mosque (jāmi‘) next to her father’s tomb, itself located next to the tomb shrine of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī. She names four properties to be included in the endowment. The first is a multi-purpose structure located in Sūq al-Ghanam that she purchased in 1029/1620. It includes residences, storehouses, and a bakery. The second property is an adjacent building, apparently one included in the donation of 1028/1619. The third is a building overlooking Lake Azbakīya. The fourth is a building donated in 1027. It may be that this is an error, and that the donation of 1026/1617 is what is intended. In addition, two additional sources of income came in the form of government stipends. One was a stipend recorded in the Daftar al-Mutaqā‘idīn, a state register for retired soldiers and shaykhs and their widows, which provided a stipend of three ‘Uthmānīs (silver coins) per day. The second was a stipend in kind (jirāya) of three irdabbs of good wheat per month. Both of these stipends were documented by an irsāl dīwānīya (document issued by the governing body of the province), written in Turkish, sealed, and with an ‘allāma (official seal). Fāḍila might have acquired these stipends in one of two obvious ways. Either she inherited them from her father, or she inherited them from her husband, assuming he was a state official of some kind. In either case, this donation is evidence that state-issued stipends were becoming commodified. Not only could they be inherited, they could be donated to perpetual endowments, just like private property.

The overwhelming majority of the entry is devoted to describing the organization of the mosque. The salaries officials of the mosque included an imām, a preacher (khaṭīb), a timekeeper, three muezzins, a custodian/doorkeeper, and someone to operate a fountain and a trough for animals brought by passersby (muzammalātī). There was also funds for carpets, oil, candles, additional funds to light the minaret, and some other minor expenses. The revenues from the stipend were to be collected by a shadd (clerk), while the endowment’s accounts were the responsibility of a scribe (kātib). Eight hundred niṣfs per year paid for water to be made available at the mosque and the tomb of [Muḥammad] al-Bakrī. Three Quran reciters would recite every night at the tomb, with the rewards designated for the Prophet, his companions, Imām al-Shāfi‘ī, followed by Abū al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī, Muḥammad al-Bakrī, his sons, especially his deceased sons Aḥmad Celebi, ‘Abd al-Raḥīm, Tāj al-‘Ārifīn, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, Abū al-Surūr, any subsequent descendants, the donor (Fāḍila) and her husband, Ḥusayn Efendi al-Tamīmī. There is also a reference to Tāj al-Dīn Efendi, who may be an ancestor (father?) of Ḥusayn Efendi. In addition, food should be distributed over Friday with 150 loaves of bread to the reciters, visitors, and those residing at her father’s tomb. Any extra revenues should be spent to purchase additional real estate for the endowment. Fāḍila named herself as administrator of the endowment during her lifetime, to be followed by a candidate of her choosing or a pious person named by the judge (presumably the chief judge since this donation was registered in his court).

The donation of 1034/1625 expanded the endowment significantly. First, it incorporated all of the preceding endowments into a single foundation. It provided significant new sources of funding, although it is not possible to know how much income was added. Most importantly, Fādila now founded a Friday mosque with all of the basic functions associated with such an institution. The new mosque was clearly associated with the shrine of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī and can be seen one way of asserting the preeminence of the Bakrī lineage among Shāfi‘ī scholars in Cairo at this time. The Bakrīs also utilized the existing cult of al-Shāfi‘ī to promote their own cult. It is now clear that this site was the lineage’s preferred burial place and that future generations of Bakrīs would be interred there. Other functions, such as distributing food at the shrine tomb and lighting the minaret at night were designed to attract more visitors and their prayers for the Bakrīs. Finally, we also learn the name of Fāḍila’s husband. His title Efendi suggests that he was a member of the judiciary or a state official of some kind.

The final donation to the endowment was made in the Court of the Sublime Porte (Sijill 111, page 375, Entry 1208) on 1 Rajab 1038/25 February 1629. Here, the donor is recorded as Fāḍila bint Muḥammad al-Bakrī al-Ash‘arī, and two previous donations are mentioned: 10 Jumādā 1034 and 17 Rabī‘ II 1036. I have not been able to locate the donation of 1036 in the court registers. The donation is in favor of the mosque next to the donor’s father’s maqām outside the dome (qubba) of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī. This new donation consists of 418 faddāns of agricultural land, and is based on a tadhkira dīwānīya in Turkish issued in the time of the wazīr Bayram Pasha, then governor of Egypt, on 23 Shawwāl 1037/26 June 1628. The lands in question came from 24 villages, 23 of which were located in the sub-province of al-Bahnasa in Upper Egypt. The location of the final parcel is unclear. All of these lands, which are listed in a tadhkira dīwāniya issued by Emir Ḥasan Efendi the Daftardār (Treasurer) of Egypt with his ‘allāma, were to benefit the mosque. The parcels are small, ranging from slightly more than one faddān to more than 59 faddāns. The beneficiaries named are the Qurān reciters and the shaykh.

This final donation significantly increased the financial assets of the endowment. Given that two of the donations remain unaccounted for, we cannot know exactly how much. Fādila added no new beneficiaries to the endowment, which was likely to be complete. The lands donated here appear to have been rizqa lands. As Nicolas Michel has noted (Michel 1996), rizqas were originally state lands which were set aside to provide income for various purposes. These purposes included providing income to local religious officials, religious institutions, or specific individuals, such as religious leaders. These lands could be passed through inheritance. It seems likely that the lands which Fāḍila donated in 1038/1629 to the mosque and shrine of the Bakrīs were originally in the hands of her father, and that she received them through inheritance. One cannot rule out other possibilities, of course, but it makes sense that her father, who was one of the most prominent religious scholars in Egypt in the sixteenth century, would have received rizqa lands. He may even have inherited them from his father Abū al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī.

The establishment of the Bakrī lineage’s tomb shrine and its endowment came at the hands of a daughter of the lineage’s most illustrious member. Fāḍila, the daughter of Shaykh Muḥammad al-Bakrī, built her endowment gradually, over a period of ten years. She began by assuring that her own burial near to her father with a modest donation. Over time, she added significant properties to the endowment, most likely properties she had inherited from him. Drawing on the lineage’s connection to the shrine of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī she appropriated prime real estate in one of Cairo’s cemeteries for herself and the other members of the lineage, including generations to come.

In 2008, I attempted to visit the shrine of al-Sāda al-Bakrīya with the aim of taking pictures. All that remained was a concrete room built onto the rear of the shrine of al-Shāfi‘ī. The elderly couple who cleaned and guarded the tomb told me that the original tomb enclosure was beautiful, but that it had been destroyed in floods a couple of years earlier. Of the mosque built by Fāḍila, no trace remained. The dome of the shrine of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī remains the most important landmark in the cemetery named after him, but of the Bakrīs all that remains is a sign at the entrance to a small room with a concrete cenotaph marking the place when Muḥammad al-Bakrīs remained were reburied.

Adam Sabra (University of California, Santa Barbara)



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To quote this publication:

Sabra, Adam, “Building a Family Shrine in Ottoman Cairo. Five Waqf Endowments by Fāḍila daughter of Shaykh Muḥammad al-Bakrī, 1619-1629″, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 11, online edition, April 2016, available at:

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