Al-Ashraf Sayf od-Din Qaytbay, the famous Burji Mamluk Sultan of Egypt and Syria
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
On 6th of the Islamic month of Rajab in 782AH, al-Ashraf Sayf od-Din Qaytbay assumed power in Cairo as the eighteenth Burji Mamluk Sultan of Egypt and Syria. He was Circassian by birth from the Caucasus, and was purchased by the 9th Burji ruler Sultan Barsbay (also a freed Circassian slave), before being manumitted by the 11th ruler, Sultan Jaqmaq, who appointed him executive secretary. Under the Sultans Inal, Khushqadam, and Yilbay, he was further promoted through the Mamluk military hierarchy, eventually becoming commander of a thousand troops.
Under Sultan Timurbugha, he was appointed “Atabak”, or field marshal of the entire army. When Timurbugha was dethroned in a palace coup, the Mamluk council chose Qaitbay as Sultan. During his 29-year rule, he stabilized the Mamluk state and economy, consolidated the northern boundaries of the Sultanate on the Syrian-Anatolian border with the rising Ottoman Empire, engaged in trade with other contemporaneous polities, and emerged as a great patron of art and architecture.
In fact, although he fought sixteen military campaigns, he is best remembered for his Islamic piety and the spectacular building projects that he sponsored, leaving his mark as an architectural patron on the holy cities of Mecca, Medina, and Bayt al-Moqaddas, as well as Damascus, Aleppo, Alexandria, and every quarter of Cairo.
During his Hajj pilgrimage, appalled by the pecuniary condition of the people of the two holy cities, Qaytbay initiated public welfare schemes, in addition to carrying out extensive renovation projects in Mecca and Medina including the rebuilding of Holy Shrine and Mosque of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA).
The position of Mamluk in Islam should not be confused with the oppressed state of slaves and bonded labour in the Christian West or other non-Muslim cultures. According to the dynamic laws of Islam, as was evident in the different lands the Muslims ruled and the societies they formed, purchases of human beings were made for emancipating them from oppression, and providing them education and training in various vocations. The Mamluk were viewed as adopted children, even eligible for marriage with the offspring of the person who purchased them, and this explains their rise as governors and even kings.