The 727/1327 Silk Weavers’ Rebellion in Alexandria: Religious Xenophobia, Homophobia, or Economic Grievances
By Mahmood Ibrahim
Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.16 (2012)
Introduction: In Rajab 727/May 1327, Alexandria rebelled against the wali Rukn al-Dīn alKarakī. This rebellion lasted nearly two months, and the sources describe it as a fitnah. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah says that he came to know of it when he was in Mecca that year. News of this event spread to other parts of the Islamic world. The most detailed accounts of this rebellion are found in al-Nuwayrī’s Nihāyat al-Arab fī Funūn al-Adab and al-Maqrīzī’s Al-Sulūk li-Maʿrifat Duwal al-Mulūk, two of the most important sources for the Mamluk period in Egypt. At first glance, this rebellion seems to have been no more than a scuffle between Egyptians and Europeans on the corniche. However, a third report that sheds new light on this incident was recently found in al-Jazarī’s Ḥawādith al-Zamān. This report turns out to be an account of the events told to al-Jazarī by two merchants who had been in Alexandria during the rebellion and were interviewed by al-Jazarī in Damascus about five months later. Because they had lived through the event, and because they themselves were merchants, they provide significant details that are not mentioned elsewhere, and they shed more light on an episode which scholars, relying on al-Nuwayrī and al-Maqrīzī, have described as a brawl between Europeans and Egyptians.
What is fascinating in these accounts is not that there are discrepancies in their story; variants are quite common in the sources and are to be expected, given that authors often provided brief and selective summaries and notices of what they chose to include in their chronicles. It is, however, the nature of those differences that proves to be unusual. Al-Nuwayrī offers religious grounds for the scuffle that marked the rebellion, while al-Maqrīzī provides a homophobic pretext for the same incident. It will be demonstrated in the following discussion that, according to the merchants’ account, the rebellion was rooted in grievances held by the silk-weavers in Alexandria against economic policies imposed by al-Karakī. Further, while al-Nuwayrī and al-Maqrīzī reduce their narrative to an isolated incident, al-Jazarī’s account shows that the scuffle is one of a series of related events. It will also be demonstrated that religious and homophobic grounds merely provided convenient tropes to justify the Egyptians’ reaction and to lay the responsibility for this fitnah and its disastrous consequences squarely on the shoulders of the Europeans.
You can read more about medieval Alexandria in the article: How Venice almost got a second head of Saint Mark the Evangelist