Zayn al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Fākihī al-Makkī, author of a book on hunting and fighting, was born at the eve of a war that was going to change the political landscape of the Middle East profoundly. He was born in 920 of the Islamic calendar, that is between 1514 and 1515 of the Common Era, just about a year before a decisive struggle took place over the control over Egypt. The two competing forces were the Mamluks, who had ruled over Egypt since the mid-thirteenth century, and the Ottomans, a new empire on the rise. Just half a century earlier they had brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans emerged victories from this conflict and began their rule over Egypt in 1517.
It was by virtue of their victory over the Mamluks that the Ottomans also, at least formally, gained control over Mecca. The holy city of Islam was governed by a local ruler, known as the sherif. It was in the city of Mecca that al-Fākihī saw the light of day. It was here too that he died in 982/1574. Al-Fākihī is reported to have been prolific, but the details of his literary production are hard to establish. His works may not have been widely known. Abbès Zouache locates him in an environment of cultural revival in early Ottoman Mecca and identifies various scholars he was connected to as well as two brothers, one of whom died in Gujarat/India. Al-Fākihī’s book on hunting was thus part of a larger portfolio of cultural achievements. Significance should be attributed to the fact that the book was dedicated to the sherif of Mecca, Abū Numayy. Apart from illustrating the author’s connections to the upper social strata, this might suggest that he, or the sherif, had an active interest in hunting, but they might also just have had an interest in acquiring more knowledge about the subject. The book is also interesting insofar as it was composed during a period of cultural and intellectual bloom which has only recently been attracting more attention among western historians. The Middle East had long been thought to have experienced a cultural decline during this period. In recent scholarship, this impression has been reexamined and amended.
That al-Fākihī would have written a book about fighting in early Ottoman Mecca is not surprising. The topic had been popular under the Mamluks who had gained their authority by virtue of their military skills. The war between the Mamluks and the Ottomans gave further relevance to the topic. A third party too was involved in these rivalries: the Portuguese. Al-Fākihī in fact wrote his book in or perhaps just after 947/1541 in Mecca when a Portuguese incursion into the Red Sea took place.
Al-Fākihī’s milieu thus reflects the beginning global race of colonial powers which is so characteristic of the early modern period. Historians have long wondered why it was western Europeans rather than Middle Eastern or Asian powers that first expanded into the western hemisphere. In part, an answer to this question has been presented by Giancarlo Casale in a recent book on Ottoman efforts to extend their influence over the Indian Ocean in order to gain control over trade routes. Al-Fākihī’s Manāhij al-surūr appears to be connected to this set of historical circumstances. A compilation of earlier and diverse material, it reflects the literary trends of the period. Dealing at its heart with warfare and fighting, it picks up earlier trends of Mamluk furūsiyyah literature, which deals with equestrian games and practices, but presents them against the backdrop of international confrontations.
The section on birds of prey in this book is somewhat encyclopaedic in nature. The author distinguishes four birds of prey: saker falcon, hawk, peregrine falcon and eagle, and then offers information about each of them. Some of this assessment is similar to earlier falconry literature (appearance of birds, behavior, strengths), but the author includes a greater variety of information, including linguistic comments and the significance of these birds appearing in dreams. Some poetic quotations are included as well. As Zouache points out, the character of this book as a compilation has led previous readers to dismiss its significance or quality. The unique features of this book are subject to further research, but the greater range of information compared to the Abbasid treatises as well as the integration of a section on falconry in a book on fighting make this an interesting text. It may very well be the case that this is a good example of a Mamluk trend to do so.
The history of the manuscript too is subject to further research. The manuscript was copied about twenty-six years after the author’s death. Zouache observes that it is similar to the two other manuscripts and suggests that all three probably circulated in Cairo and were probably copied in Egypt. Further research might also reveal how and when this manuscript ended up in Paris.
Abbès Zouache, ‘Une culture en partage: la furūsiyya à l’épreuve du temps’, Médiévales 64 (Spring 2013), 57-76.
Abbès Zouache, ‘Le Kitāb manāhiǧ al-surūr d’al-Fākihī (m. 982-1574), la menace portugaise sur Djedda (948-1541) et la frontière islamo-chrétienne’, in Stéphane Boisselier and Isabel Cristina Ferreira Fernandes (eds), Entre Islam et Chrétienté. La territorialisation des frontiers, XIe-XVIe siècles (Rennes, 2015), 233-256 and illustrations.
The passage on dream interpretation in the section on saker falcons:
Seeing a saker falcon in one’s dream points to glory, power, victory, achieving fortunes, children and spouses, something like slaves, health, the relief of worries and adversaries, and many journeys from which one returns with great gains. It can also point to death or something like captivity, and shortage in something like food. He who sees a saker falcon follow him (sees) a courageous man who follows and supports him. And if his wife is pregnant, they will be blessed with a courageous son.