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Shajar al-Durr (Arabic: شجر الدر, "String of Pearls") (Royal name: al-Malikah Ismat ad-Din Umm-Khalil Shajar al-Durr (Arabic: الملكة عصمة الدين أم خليل شجر الدر) (Nicknamed: أم خليل, Umm Khalil; mother of Khalil) (d. 1257, Cairo) was the widow of the Ayyubid Sultan as-Salih Ayyub who played a crucial role after his death during the Seventh Crusade against Egypt (1249-1250). She was regarded by Muslim historians and chroniclers of the Mamluk time as being of Turkic origin. She became the Sultana of Egypt on May 2, 1250, marking the end of the Ayyubid reign and the starting of the Mamluk era.

Background

Shajar al-Durr was purchased as a bondmaid by as-Salih Ayyub. in the Levant before he became a Sultan and accompanied him with his Mamluk Baibars (not Baibars who became a Sultan) at Al Karakmarker during his detention in 1239. Later when he became a Sultan in 1240 she went with him to Egypt and delivered their son Khalil who was called al-Malik al-Mansour . She was of Turkic originand was described by the historians as a beautiful, pious and intelligent woman.

On April 1249, as-Salih Ayyub, the Ayyubid Sultan and husband of Shajar al-Durr who was gravely sick in Syria, returned to Egypt and stayed in Ashmum-Tanah, near Damiettamarker after he heard that King Louis IX of France has assembled a crusade army in Cyprusmarker and was about to launch an attack against Egypt. On June 1249, the crusaders landed in the abandoned town of Damietta, at the mouth of the Nile river. as-Salih Ayyub was carried on a stretcher to his palace in the better protected town of Al Mansurahmarker where he died on November 22, 1249 after he ruled Egypt about 10 years and amid one of the most earnest situations in the history of Egypt.Shajar al-Durr informed Emir Fakhr ad-Din Yussuf Ben Shaykh (commander of all the Egyptian army) and Tawashi Jamal ad-Din Muhsin (the chief eunuch who controlled the palace) of the Sultan's death but as the country was under the attack of the crusaders they decided to conceal his death. The coffined body of the Sultan was transported by boat in secret to the castle of al-Rudah island in the Nile and, despite the deceased Sultan did not make testimony concerning who should succeed him after his death, Faris ad-Din Aktai was sent to Hasankeyfmarker to call al-Muazzam Turanshah who was the son of the deceased Sultan. Before he died, the Sultan signed thousands of blank papers which were used by Shajar al-Durr and Emir Fakhr ad-Din in issuing decrees and giving Sultanic orders and they succeeded in convincing the people and the other government officials that the Sultan was only ill—not dead. High officials, Sultanic Mamluks and soldiers were ordered - by the will of the (ill Sultan) - to give oath to the Sultan, his heir Turanshah and the Atabeg Fakhr ad-Din Yussuf.

Defeat of the Seventh Crusade

The news of the death of as-Salih Ayyub reached the crusaders in Damietta in a way or another. Encouraged by the news of the death of the Sultan and by the arrival of reinforcement led by Alphonse de Poitiers, the brother of king Louis IX, the crusaders decided to march to Cairo. A crusade force led by Louis IX' brother Robert d'Artois crossed the canal of Ashmum (known today by the name Albahr Alsaghir ) and attacked the Egyptian camp in Gideila , two miles (3 km) from Al Mansurah. Emir Fakhr ad-Din was killed during the sudden attack and the crusade force advanced toward the town of Al Mansurah. Shajar al-Durr agreed about Baibars's plan to defend Al Mansurah . The crusade force was trapped inside the town and Robert d'Artois was killed and the crusade force was annihilated by an Egyptian force and town population led by the men who were about to establish the state which would dominate the southern Mediterranean for decades : Baibars al-Bunduqdari, Izz al-Din Aybak , and Qalawun al-Alfi.

In February 1250 the dead Sultan's son Al-Muazzam Turanshah arrived in Egypt and was enthroned at Al Salhiyah as he had no time to go to Cairo. Feeling relieved by the arrival of the new Sultan, Shajar al-Durr announced the death of as-Salih Ayyub. Turanshah went straight to Al Mansurah and on April 6, 1250 the crusaders were entirely defeated at the Battle of Fariskur and king Louis IX was captured.

Conflict with Turanshah

Once the Seventh Crusade was defeated and Louis IX was captured, troubles between Turanshah on one side and Shajar al-Durr and the Mamluks on the other began. Turanshah, knowing he will not have full sovereignty while Shajar al-Durr, the Mamluks and the old guards of his late father are there, detained a few officials and started to replace old stuff, including the vice Sultan, with his followers who came with him from Hisnkifa then he sent a message to Shajar al-Durr while she was in Jerusalemmarker warning her and requesting her to hand him the wealth and jewels of his late father. The request and manners of Turansha distressed Shajar al-Durr. Complaining to the Mamluks about Turanshah's threats and ungratefulness, the Mamluks and in particular their leader Faris ad-Din Aktai were enraged. In addition, Turanshah used to drink alcohol and when drunk he abused the bondmaids of his father and threatened the Mamluks. Turanshah was assassinated by the Mamluks at Fariskur on May 2, 1250. He was the last of the Ayyubids Sultans.

Rise to power

After the assassination of Turanshah the Mamluks and Emirs met at the Sultanic Dihliz and decided to install Shajar al-Durr as the new monarch with Izz al-Din Aybak as Atabeg (commander in chief). Shajar al-Durr was informed at the Citadel of the Mountain in Cairo and she agreed. Shajar al-Durr took the royal name "al-Malikah Ismat ad-Din Umm-Khalil Shajar al-Durr" with a few additional titles such as "Malikat al-Muslimin" (Queen of the Muslims) and "Walidat al-Malik al-Mansur Khalil Emir al-Mo'aminin" (Mother of al-Malik al-Mansur Khalil Emir of the faithfuls)She was mentioned in the Friday prayers in mosques with names like "Umm al-Malik khalil" (Mother of al-Malik Khalil) and "Sahibat al-Malik as-Salih" (Wife of al-Malik as-Salih). Coins were minted with her titles and she signed the decrees with the name "Walidat Khalil". Using the names of her late husband and her dead son were attempts to gain respect and legitimacy for her reign as an heir of the Sultanate.

After paying homage to Shajar al-Durr and matters were settled, Emir Hossam ad-Din was sent to King Louis IX who was still imprisoned in Al Mansurah and it was agreed that Louis IX leaves Egypt alive after paying half of the ransom that was imposed earlier on him in exchange for his life and Damietta. Louis surrendered Damietta and sailed to Acre On May 8, 1250 accompanied by about 12000 war prisoners.

Conflict with the Ayyubids

The news of the murder of al-Muazzam Turanshah and the inauguration of Shajar al-Durr as the new Sultana reached Syria. The Syrian Emirs were asked by Cairo to pay homage to Shajar al-Durr but they refused and the Sultan's deputy in Al Karak rebelled against Cairo. The Syrian Emirs in Damascus gave Damascus to an-Nasir Yusuf the Ayyubid Emir of Aleppomarker and the Mamluks in Cairo answered by arresting the Emirs who were loyal to the Ayubbids in Egypt. In addition to the Ayyubids in Syria, also the Abbasid Caliph al-Musta'sim in Baghdadmarker defied the Mamluk move in Egypt and refused to recognize Shajar al-Dur as a monarch. The refusal of the Caliph to recognize Shajar al-Durr as the new Sultana was a great setback to the Mamluks in Egypt as the custom during the Ayyubid era was that the Sultan could gain legitimacy only through the recognition of the Abbasid Caliph. . The Mamluks decided to instal Izz al-Din Aybak as a new Sultan. He married Shajar al-Durr who abdicated and passed him the throne after she ruled Egypt as a Sultana for about three months. Though the period of Shajar al-Durr's rule as a monarch was of short duration, it witnessed two important events in history. one, the expelling of Louis IX from Egypt which marked the end of the crusaders ambition to conquer the southern Mediterranean basin and two, the death of the Ayyubid dynasty and the birth of the remarkable Mamluk state which dominated the southern Mediterranean for decades .

To please the Caliph and have his recognition, Aybak announced that he is merely a representative of the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad. And to satisfy the Ayyubids in Syria the Mamluks nominated an Ayyubid child named al-Sharaf Musa as a cosultan. But this did not satisfy the Ayyubids and armed conflicts between the Mamluks and the Ayyubids broke out. The Caliph in Baghdad, having in his mind the Mongols who were raiding territories not far from his capital, preferred to see the matter settled peacefully between the Mamluks in Egypt and the Ayyubids in Syria. Through negotiation and mediation of the Caliph that followed the bloody conflict, the Mamluks who manifested military superiority reached an agreement with the Ayyubids that gave them control over southern Palestine including Gazamarker and Jerusalemmarker and the Syrian coast. By this agreement the Mamluks did not only add new territories to their dominion but also gained recognition for their new state.In addition to the conflict with the Ayyubids of Syria, the Mamluks successfully countered serious rebellions in Middle and Upper Egypt. Then, Aybak, fearing the growing power of the Salihiyya Mamluks who actually with Shajar al-Durr installed him as a Sultan, had their leader Faris ad-Din Aktai murdered. The murder of Aktai was followed instantly by a Mamluk exodus to Syria where they joined the Ayyubid an-Nasir Yusuf. Prominent Mamluks like Baibars al-Bunduqdari and Qalawun al-Alfi were among those Mamluks who fled to Syria. Aybak became the sole and absolute ruler of Egypt after the Salihiyya Mamluks who were the supporters of Shajar al-Durr left Egypt and turned to his foes.

End

By 1257 disputes and suspicion became part of the relation between Aybak, a Sultan who was searching for security and supremacy, and his wife Shajar al-Durr, a former Sultana who had a strong will and managed and saved a country that was on edge of collapse during an external invasion.Shajar al-Durr wanted to rule Egypt solitarily, she concealed the Sultanate affairs from Aybak and in addition, she prevented him from seeing his other wife and insisted that he should divorce her. But, instead, Aybak who was in need to form an alliance with a strong Emir who can help him against the threat of the Mamluks who fled to Syria, decided in 1257 to marry the daughter of Badr ad-Din Lo'alo'a the Ayyubid Emir of al-Mousil. Badr ad-Din Lo'alo'a warned Aybak that Shajar al-Durr was in contact with an-Nasir Yusuf in Damascus. Shajar al-Durr, feeling at risk and betrayed by Aybak, the man who she made a Sultan, she had him murdered by servants while he was taking a bath. He ruled Egypt seven years.Shajar al-Durr claimed that Aybak died suddenly during the night but his Mamluks (Mu'iziyya) who were led by Qutuz did not believe her. The involved servants confessed under torture. Shajar al-Durr and the servants were arrested and Aybak Mamluks (Mu'iziyya Mamluks) wanted to kill her but the Salihyya Mamluks protected her and she was taken to the Red Tower where she stayed. The son of Aybak the 15-year-old al-Mansur Ali was installed by the Mu'ziyyah Mamluks as the new Sultan . Shajar al-Durr was beaten to death by the bondmaids of al-Mansur Ali and his mother. Her body was found lying outside the Citadel. The servants who were involved in the killing of Aybak were executed.

Shajar al-Durr was buried in a tomb, not far from the Mosque of Tulunmarker, which is a jewel of Islamic funerary architecture. Inside is a mihrab (prayer niche) decorated with a mosaic of the "tree of life," executed by artists brought from Constantinoplemarker specifically for this commission. The wooden kufic inscription that runs around the interior of her tomb, while damaged, is also of extremely fine craftsmanship.

Impact

Before their deaths, Aybak and Shajar al-Durr firmly established the Mamluk dynasty that would ultimately repulse the Mongols, expel the European Crusaders from the Holy Land, and remain the most powerful political force in the Middle East until the coming of the Ottomans.

Shajar al-Durr in Egyptian folklore

Shajar al-Durr is one of the characters of Sirat al-Zahir Baibars (Life of al-Zahir Baibars), a folkloric epic of thousands of pages that was composed in Egypt during the early Mamluk era and took its final form at the early Ottoman era . The tale which is a mix of fiction and facts reflects the marvel of the Egyptian commons for both Baibars and Shajar al-Durr. Fatma Shajarat al-Durr, as the tale names Shajar al-Durr, was the daughter of Caliph al-Muqtadir whose kingdom in Baghdad was attacked by the Mongols . She was called Shajarat al-Durr ( tree of pearls ) because her father dressed her in a dress that was made of pearls. Her father granted her Egypt as she wished to be the Queen of Egypt and as-Salih Ayyub married her in order to stay in power as Egypt was hers. When Baibars was brought to the Citadel in Cairo she loved him and treated him like a son and he called her his mother. Aybak al-Turkumani, a wicked man, came from al-Mousil to steal Egypt from Shajarat al-Durr and her husband al-Salih Ayyub. Shajarat al-Durr killed Aybak with a sword but while fleeing from his son she fell from the roof of the citadel and died .

Coins of Shajar al-Durr

Such names and titles were inscribed on the coins of Shajar al-Durr: al-Musta'simiyah al-Salihiyah Malikat al-Muslimin walidat al-Malik al-Mansur Khalil Amir al-Mu'minin. ( The Musta'simiyah the Salihiyah Queen of the Muslims Mother of King al-Mansur Khalil Emir of the faithfuls ) and Shajarat al-Durr. Also names of the Abbasid Chaliph were inscribed on her coins: Abd Allah ben al-Mustansir Billah

See also



Notes

References

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