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Cairo's Historic Cemetery of al-Suyuti Conflicting Claims.

SAYYIDI MANSUR AL-BAZ

A descendant of the prophet whose lineage is documented in the shrine. This shrine was originally south of Bulaq in the vicinity of the Radio and Television Building and was moved to this location when the street was widened in 1905. Only used to be visited in passing by Rifa’i Sufis on the way to al-Jini or ‘Abata. The caretaker is a descendant of al-Baz.

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Identification

The family of al-Baz is one of Egypt’s most famous ashraf families, and the internet has a mishmash of information about its origins and branches. While some of the information contradicts each other, what seems to be agreed on is the relationship between the al-Baz and Rifa’i lines both as kin and as tariqas. An account of the most plausible of these versions follows.

Ahmad al-Rifa’i, the famous 6th/13th century Iraqi shaykh and founder of a tariqa that would become one of the most popular in Egypt, was the maternal nephew of the original Mansur al-Baz al-Ashhab al-Bata’ihi. When al-Rifa’i’s father died when the former was 7 years old, he was put under the care of Mansur al-Baz. The nasab of al-Baz al-Kabir is as follows: Al-Sayyid  Mansur al-Baz al-Ashhab al-‘Iraqi al-Bata’ihi b. al-Sayyid Musa b. al-Sayyid Kamil b. al-Sayyid al-Zahir ‘Abd al-Sadiq b. al-Sayyid Ja’far al-Dhaki b. al-Sayyid ‘Ali al-Hadi b. al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Jawwad b. al-Sayyid ‘Ali al-Rida b. al-Sayyid Musa al-Kazim b. al-Sayyid Ja’far al-Sadiq b. al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Baqir b. al-Sayyid ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin b. Sayyidi al-Husayn b. al-Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.

The grandson of al-Baz al-Kabir, Mansur al-Baz al-Ashhab al-Qibabi, immigrated to Egypt sometime in the 7th/14th century with his brothers Yahya and Nasir. They established a long line of descendants, some of which, like the Mansur al-Baz of this shrine, or Ahmad al-Bahlul al-Kabir and ‘Ali al-Baz whose shrines are in the Delta, or a namesake of Mansur al-Baz buried in the village of al-Qibab in Dikirnis, al-Daqahliyya were minor religious figures.  Certain place names such that of the village of al-Qibab mentioned above, or more importantly Kafr al-Baz also in Dikirnis Daqahliyya, indicate a direct relationship between the original settlers and the Baz line. There is also a Sayyidi ‘Abdallah al-Baz in Harat al-Baz in the area immediately north of the Citadel.

 ‘Ali Mubarak mentions al-Tariqa al-Baziyya is one of three houses (bayts) within al-Tariqa al-Ahmadiyya al-Rifa’iyya (al-Baziyya, al-Malalkiyya, al-Habisiyya), yet it seems that its line is now extinct. There also seems to be a manuscript, referred to by a number of the social media sites of these families and of the ashraf, that lists the different offshoots of this line and the locations of its shrines all over Cairo.

The current shrine has an odd story because it does not mark the original burial spot of Mansur al-Baz. According to the custodian currently living there (Faruq ‘Abd al-Mun’im Hasan Muhammad Mansur al-Baz), who claims to be the descendant of Mansur al-Baz, the shrine originally stood very close to where the current Ramses Hilton is, immediately north of the current Maydan ‘Abd al-Mun’im Riyad. The 1919 1:5000 map shows a relatively wide street cutting diagonally from north of the Egyptian Museum to merge with the Corniche Road where the current Radio and Television Building is. It is called Sahil al-Ghilal, and the whole area is identified as ‘Ishash Jarkas. It was removed in 1905 when the street was widened and the human remains were reburied in this new location in the cemetery of Sayyidi Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti. This is not as bizarre, as it may seem as this was standard practice in the late 19th and early 20th century in Cairo when major urban transformations were underway, and it was considered sacrilegious to remove shrines completely. For example, Hasan Qasim mentions that the mosque and shrine of another of Jalal al-Mahalli and al-Subki which lay in the vicinity of the Bab al-Nasr cemetery were moved to a dome north of their original location when the street running parallel to the northern city wall (ironically now called Jalal Street) was widened.

The identity of this particular shaykh is not clear. There is a marble plaque that puts the date of death as 554 H, but this was added by the father of the current caretaker and could only correspond with the timeline of al-Baz al-Kabir who never came to Egypt. A second sign that describes al-Baz as Qadam al-Sada al-Rifa’iyya substantiates this deduction.

Furthermore, the original shrine would have been  in the middle of the Nile in the 6th/13th century, because the location of the Nile was further east than it was today. Nor is it indicated in the Description d’Egypte map or referred to by ‘Ali Mubarak which means that it was a minor shrine for a minor saint.

Myth and Ritual

According to the caretaker, the engineer who exhumed the body and transferred it to its current location found the cadaver still intact in its crypt. This is normally taken as a sign of sanctity. Next to it, was a second body, also in a state of preservation, said to belong to one of the sons of Mansur al-Baz. The original shrine seems to have been a site of visitation and ritual with an annual mawlid. Visitors gave votive donations (nadhrs) and distributed food to the poor, particularly rice pudding.

While this practice was discontinued when the shrine was transferred to the cemetery, members of the Rifa’iyya tariqa would stop on their way to visit other shrines (such as al-Jini for example) and chant a salute to the shrine. Yet even this practice seems to have stopped after the 1970s.

Description

The caretaker claims that the original shrine close to the eastern bank of the Nile occupied a total area of 1500 m2. This is a far cry from the current shrine which doubles as the caretaker’s residence. Although its location at the intersection of al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street and Sayyidi Jalal Street is ideal, it is not noticeable as a site of cultic visitation. The right of the descendants of al-Baz to reside there, according to the current caretaker, was legalized in 1939, when they were under threat of evacuation in accordance with the laws prohibiting residence in the cemetery to non-turabis

The elevation is a plain modern-looking brick façade with a rough cement render. A central door leads to a wedge-shaped room that contains the cenotaph with a second reception room annexed to it. A second door leads to the living area which consists of a central space flanked by two rooms. The building has been recently remodelled and it is difficult to tell what it looked like because most of it was converted into living space.

The cenotaph which is located behind a rough wooden screen, is draped with green cloth. A metal model of a ship hangs above it. Models of ships are common in Egyptian shrines. A wooden boat hangs above the gate of Bab Zuwayla where the saint al-Mutawalli is said to manifest himself; Athar al-Nabi in Dar al-Salam has boats as does the shrine of Yunus al-Sa’di in Bab al-Nasr. They could refer to esoteric meanings of sailing into the sea of God’s grace or could commemorate the boat-trip to the holy lands for hajj.

 

Bibliography

Websites:

Darat al-Ashraf website;

http://www.dartalashraf.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=11&Itemid=15&limitstart=15

Darat al-Sada al-Ashraf website:

http://alashraf.montadamoslim.com/t2213-topic#9474

Kafr al-baz website:

http://kaferelbaz.jeeran.com/book.html

Published Books:

Arnaud, Jean-Luc & Zaki, Heidi, Toponymie du Caire (CEDEJ, 1994).

’Ali Mubarak, Al-khitat al-tawfiqiyya al-jadida li-Misr wa’l-Qahira, (Bulaq, 1305H), V6, p. 130

Al-Sakhawi, Abu’l-Hasan Nur al-Din `Ali, Tuhfat al-ahbab wa bughyat al-tullab fi’l-khitat wa’l-mazarat wa’l-tarajim wa’l-biqa` al-mubaraka, ed. M. Rabi`& H. Qasim (Cairo, 1937), p. 40

Al-Sha’rani, ’Abd al-Wahhab b. Ahmad, Al-Tabaqat al-kubra, ed. K. al-Mansur (Beirut, 1997), pp. 200-208

Al-Manawi, ’Abd al-Ra’uf, Al-kawakib al-dhurriyya fi tarajim al-sada al-Sufiyya (Cairo, n.d.), pp. 650-659.

Maps:

Survey of Egypt Map 29;  1:5000, 1919.