The Baqt Treaty :( pros and cons)Sun, 24 Sep 2017
This study deals with an historic milestone with significant dimensions essential for understanding the nature of relationships between Nubia and Arabs in Egypt. The subject of the study is the Baqt treaty, an agreement signed between Christian Nubians and Arab Muslims led by Abdullah Ibn Saad Ibn Abi Sarah. It offers an analytical critique of some concepts related to the interpretation and understanding of the nature of this treaty. Because there are a lot of contradictions starting with the interpretation of the term “Baqt” and what it stands for in this treaty, the study delves more deep in discussing the text of the treaty and motives that pushed the two parties to sign such an agreement that governed relations between Nubia and Muslim states.
The Baqt Treaty
Views on the Baqt Treaty
The Baqt Treaty
Due to the controversy over the treaty raised recently, the Baqt agreement is considered one of the most important issues pertaining to the history of Arabs and Nubia in the middle ages. Several Arab historians and writers addressed the topic, but the Baqt treaty indeed needs a thorough review because of the many loopholes in the text of the agreement in light of the prevailing circumstances in Nubia land and Arab States at the time.
Given the details of the agreement, we find that Nubians had to meet some conditions, and in return Arabs had to reciprocate by fulfilling other terms. Controversy over the Baqt rose from what some Arab historians wrote saying that the terms of the agreement were imposed by Abdullah Ibn Abi Al-Sarah on the Nubian King which he reluctantly accepted.
The first military confrontation between Nubians and Arab Muslims began with the Arab’s entry into Egypt during the reign of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, when the first campaign or expedition( scholars differed over its nature) was sent by Egypt’s ruler Amr Ibn Al-as led by Nafi’ Al-Fahri. After the death of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, his successor, Othman Bin Affan in 31 AH, removed Amr Ibn Al-as and appointed Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah as ruler of Egypt.
When Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah took over, Nubians were continuing their incursions and raids into upper Egypt, particularly after they learned of the death of Caliph Omar and the removal of Amr Bin Al-as. Therefore, Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah sent a 5000-strong man army to Nubia in 652-651 AD and besieged Dongola, capital of the Nubian Kingdom. But it became clear to Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah that the siege was futile due to the strong resistance put by the Nubians. So, he began to bombard the city with a catapult, destroying their church in Dongola. The Nubians were stunned by the catapult, a weapon they did not know before and showed their desire for conciliation. King Kulaidorot of the Nubia surrendered and showed weakness and a desire for peace, so the Arab leader decided to conclude a peace agreement with the Nubians known as the Baqt treaty. As Nubians showed stiff resistance and Arabs suffered big losses and were not able to defeat the Nubians, no doubt that this urged Abdullah to accept the peace offer presented by King Kulaidorot.
Yusif Fadl says that from the previous opinions, he tends to believe that the attack by Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah against Dongola was not a decisive victory as Abdullah realized and was convinced that he was facing a competent enemy that was why he opted for a truce, but there was no victory or defeat. This fact was clear in the terms of the treaty.
Scholars differed over the term ”Baqt”, (Trimigham) believed it is derived from the Greek word (Pactum) which means tax paid in kind, while in Latin the word Pactum means charter or pact.
Maqrizi says” Baqt refers to Nubian captives delivered by Nubians annually to Egypt as taxes and if the word comes from Arabic then it can mean a sum of money or piece of land. It can also mean the amount of dates that fall from a palm tree when cut. So it generally means: some of what is in the hands of Nubians.”
Another opinion says the word is derived from the Greek word (Pakton) which was interpreted in many ways as an imposed tribute and an agreement for the exchange of commodities between two sovereign States. In the researcher’s opinion, the Greek word (Pactum) is closer to the meaning of Baqt, as the Greek language was used in rituals of Christian Nubians and it is not surprising to be contained in this treaty.
According to circumstances during which the treaty was concluded and the political situation in both States as sovereign entities, the researcher believes the latter view is likely to be correct regarding the term Baqt
Due to the significance of this treaty that regulated ties between Muslims and Nubians for long periods of time, we see it necessary to include the text of the treaty as follows:
“In the name of God, most merciful and compassionate,
A warranty deed is hereby granted by the emir Abd Allah ibn Sa'd Ibn Abi Sarah to the king of Nubia and all his subjects to which all Nubians old and young from the frontiers of Aswan to the land of Alwa, are required to comply. We will not attack you or wage war on you, nor make incursions against you as long as you abide by the terms settled between us and you, when you enter our country, it shall be as travellers, not as settlers and when we enter your country , it shall be as travelers not settlers , you shall protect those Muslims or their allies who come into your land and travel there until they quit, you should return fleeing Muslim slaves to the land of Islam, and return and not give support or refuge to fugitives who are fighting against Muslims, you should protect the mosque and keep it clean and lit and no Muslim should be prevented from praying in it, You shall deliver each year 360 slaves of both sexes to be selected among the best in your country and sent to the Imam of the Muslims. All will be free from defects. We shall have no decrepit old men or old women or children below the age of puberty to be delivered to the Wali of Aswan. No Muslim is obliged to aid you against an enemy of yours from the frontier of Aswan land. If you killed a Muslim or one from the Muslims’ allies or destroyed the mosque in your city or abstained from delivering the 360 slaves, then the treaty shall be null and void and we shall return to our state of enmity, so may God be our witness.”
MacMichael says this text was written by Omar Bin Sharhabil in Ramadan in the year 31 AH, corresponding to between May and June 652 AD. Yusif Fadl agreed with that but believed the text was written in April-May of the same year. Sharhabil also wrote that before Nubians breached the Baqt treaty, they sent 40 slaves to Amr Bin Al-as as a gift but he refused to accept it and sent it back to (Saqmos) the Nubian King with some commodities and wine. He went to write that after the Nubians were subdued and opted for conciliation they agreed to deliver 360 slaves yearly and the Muslim commander Ibn Sarah promised to supply Nubians with grain after the Nubian King complained about shortage of foodstuff in his country as part of the Baqt treaty.
Abi Khalifa Humaid Bin Hisham Al-Buhturi detailed some of the treaty’s terms as follows:
“The Nubians shall deliver 360 slaves for Muslims benefit and 40 others to the Amir of Egypt who in return shall deliver a thousand Ardebs of wheat and the same amount of Barley and wine as well as two thoroughbred horses and different kinds of clothes.”
The treaty remained the foundation of Muslim-Nubian relations for over six centuries during which the Baqt was delivered annually to the ruler of Luxor, five miles south of Aswan. At the same time the Nubians used to deliver 40 more slaves with many gifts to the Arabs. .The source of this large number of Baqt was brought by the Nubians from their atheist neighbors.
Some writers indicated that the place of delivery of the Baqt was the city of Luxor south of Aswan near the Balaq Island.
According to the terms of the Baqt treaty, Nubia was given a semi-autonomous status, the same as the status once enjoyed by Nobadia with Rome. However, whether the arrangement was considered a victory for the Nubians over the Arabs or vice versa, the issue remained controversial for a long time. Political and religious rights were guaranteed for the Nubians for lifetime, while at the same time they were obliged to deliver 360 slaves annually apart from the humiliation they endured by entrusting them with cleaning the mosque built by Muslims in Dongola. Nevertheless, there were parts of the treaty that stipulated the exchange of commodities equal in value, as Nubians received goods, perfumes and oils against the slaves they delivered to the Arabs.
What is striking in this agreement is that it defined what the Nubians should deliver while it did not oblige Muslims to pay back anything. As for what has been the practice of sending foodstuff and clothes to the Nubians, it was because Ibn Sarah saw their dire need for it as a poverty-stricken State. Therefore it became a tradition followed by all who came after him as rulers.
From the details reported by Al-Buhturi and the amount of commodities exchanged, it becomes clear that the treaty was not limited to the political side only but it also directly organized trade ties between the Arab Muslims and the land of Nubia. However, despite of the merit of this view which is supported by historical facts, the non-abidance of Muslims to pay anything in an official manner, implies some sort of claimed sovereignty over the Nubia.
In spite of the military victory achieved by the Muslims and their ability to reach Dongola, the Muslims did not apply the same rules applied on countries that they conquered by force. This may be attributed to the poor economic situation of the Nubia. Muslims saw no point in occupying such a poor land and that there was no harm in having a non-threatening Christian neighboring state, particularly as Muslims were still facing many internal and external problems that they preferred to tackle.
Moreover, the treaty paved the way for Muslim merchants to enter Nubia for trade purposes not as settlers, however, Muslim rulers were probably aware of the role played by merchants as an active element in propagating Islam which is not imposed but preached through peaceful co-existence among indigenous population, in addition to the role played by the mosque built by Muslims in Dongola.
Ahmed Al-yas believes that the mosque was built in the city of Ibrim, reached by the armies of Kafur Al-Ikhshidi in 956 AD where they stayed for two years, so it is obvious that Muslims built the mosque in Ibrim, a clear indication that the mosque was not in Dongola. He also questioned the appearance of the name of Dongola in the Baqt treaty in the first place. This view makes us assume that Muslims might have built the mosque in Dongola after the battle of 652 AD and as part of the terms of the treaty when it was revised.
This proves that Muslims were keen to propagate their religion, although the exact date of the building of the mosque was not known. It might have been built prior to the campaign of Ibn Sarah or built by Muslim merchants who frequently visited Nubia before the conquest of Egypt. If that is proved right, then Islam must have begun to spread towards the area before the Muslim military expansion.
According to the treaty, Muslims were not obliged to defend the Nubians in case they were attacked by an enemy, as Muslims were aware of the difficult terrain in the Nubia. The proximity of the Christian Kingdom of Alwa to the south and having the Bija people as neighbors to the east raise the possibility of hostilities between Nubia and these neighbors for internal reasons and Muslims were not in a position to suffer any unwarranted losses by aiding the Nubians, particularly that Nubians did not yet embraced Islam.
The Baqt treaty granted sovereignty to Nubia, a non-Muslim nation, which was a rare precedent in the early history of Islam.
Due to the complex nature of the treaty, its interpretation was a source for controversy even among contemporary Arab jurists. Some considered it as a conciliation although, the term implies that Muslims occupied Nubia and had the upper hand there. In fact, Nubia had never been fully under control of Muslims during the early centuries of Islam. The treaty was a special case and was considered in the end to be a truce or a mechanism for neutralization or conciliation.
However, the main purpose of the Baqt was clear, as the primary interest of Arabs in Nubia was the provision of slaves. Because Muslims and Christians living under the custody of the Islamic State cannot be enslaved, there was a benefit derived from maintaining an independent but politically neutralized Nubia, exempted from the rules of Islam.
Despite an argument that the treaty dealt with the Nubians as subordinate populace, but still that makes enslaving them a non-ethical practice. This issue was settled by assuming that Nubians themselves secured slaves from their atheist neighbors.
Views on the Baqt Treaty:
The study and analysis of this treaty requires a closer look at the circumstances in which Muslims and Nubians concluded this agreement. The situation in the newly united Christian Nubia was fragile. That union was a result of the need for security, as the Kingdom of Nobadia in the north suffered an invasion as we mentioned before, thus making Nubia much weaker in face of the Arabs who were the world’s super power at the time. Meanwhile, the Arabs founded a strong Islamic State in a short span of time and became a force to be reckoned with. They conquered great powers such as the Byzantine and Persian empires, thus making them in much stronger position than Nubia.
From this point we can assume that the word pact, agreement, armistice or any other term used to describe the situation falls short of representing the reality as witnessed by Both Arabs and Nubia at that time. The more accurate version of the events was that Abdullah Ibn Abi Al-Sarah dictated the terms of the treaty and the Nubians reluctantly accepted them, hoping to get rid of the treaty soon.
Based on the foregoing, it is clear that there was obvious shortcomings in describing and interpreting the events that spurred both parties to conclude the agreement. In addition to that, the biased writings of Arab historians led to confusion in attempts to understand the nature of the treaty. It was customary at the time for Arab writers to glorify their leaders and describe their reigns as prosperous.
The Baqt treaty became a cornerstone in Nubian-Muslim relationships. The Nubians were left in peace for centuries during which Islamic armies swept through North Africa, Spain, the Byzantine Empire and Asia Minor. At the same time, the establishment of economic ties in accordance with the terms of the treaty secured a constant Egyptian interest in the southern land of Nubia.
Obstacles that affected relations between the Christian Nubia and its Muslim neighbors were mostly attributed to Nubians inability or refusal to meet the terms of the Baqt, therefore, the treaty is looked at as deeply enshrined in the history of medieval diplomacy.
Worth noting that the treaty was met with some criticism by some Arab sources that refused to consider it as a truce, such as Yazid Bin Abi Habib, who denied the conclusion of any pact, alliance or charter and insisted that it was merely an armistice to facilitate the exchange of slaves and commodities. This dealing was generally known as Baqt.
However, attempts by Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah to put an end for Nubian incursions into Upper Egypt brought mutual benefits for both sides such as security and trade. It is also probable that what was recounted by Yazid is closer to the accurate estimation of actual events that took place in 652 AD.
As for Maqrizi’s text, it had most probably portrayed the final stages of the development of this tradition, when he said the treaty was concluded in this manner after the battle of Dongola, which is a fact, supported by various accounts of Arab writers like Maqrizi who wrote the following text in his book titled” conquests of countries”.
“We were told by Aby Obais Bin Salam, quoting Yazid Bin Abi Habib as saying “between us and the black tribes (Al-Asawid), no treaty or covenant exists. Only a truce was arranged between us, according to which, we agreed to give them some wheat and lentils, and they give us slaves in return. It is alright to buy their slaves from them or from others”.
He also quoted A-Laith Bin Sa’ad as saying ” the conciliation between us and the Nubians stipulated that we shall not fight them and they shall not fight us and they shall give us slaves and we in return shall give them foodstuff, and If they sold their women, it is alright to buy them”.
Maqrizi also reported quoting Anas Bin Malik as saying that” the land of Nubia until Alwa is a land of conciliation and it is not allowed to buy their slaves”. But others like Abdullah Bin Al-Hakam, Abdullah Bin Wahab , Al-Laith Bin Sa’ad and Yazid Bin Abi Habib had differed with him. Al-Laith said “we know the Nubia land well than Malik Bin Anas, as we agreed not to invade their land or support them in battles against their enemy. Those enslaved by the Nubians are allowed to be bought but others enslaved by Muslim outlaws and thieves are not allowed to be bought “.
Among things that were difficult to ratify, is the existence of the Dongola mosque which was built in an earlier date afte the arrival of Muslim Arab groups in late 975 AD. In that year, Ibn Salim Al-Aswani visited Dongola and did not point to the existence of a mosque there. Al-Aswani said” on Eid Al-Adha, he went to the outskirts of the city together with 60 fellow Muslims and offered the Eid prayer.”
This indicates that there was no mosque in Dongola at the time, otherwise he should have prayed in it according to the terms of the treaty that stipulates that no Muslim shall be prevented from praying in the mosque built in the city.
Despite conflicting views over the treaty, the Baqt continued as a tradition paid annually to the ruler of Egypt. The distribution of the slaves was as follows: 360 slaves for Bait Al-Mal (treasury), 40 slaves for the Amir of Egypt, 20 slaves for the Amir of Aswan and 5 slaves for the local governor of Aswan. Another 12 slaves are paid to witnesses who attend the delivery of the Baqt. The place where this process is done is known as Al-Qasr.
This contract can be interpreted as a good neighborly covenant that guaranteed the safety of Muslims’ borders in the south, opened Nubia for trade and provided a workforce from strong-built Nubians to serve the State. It also safeguarded Arab Muslim interests and their religious freedom and helped spreading Islamic culture in Nubia through peaceful means.
Regardless of whatever this treaty meant, it represented a kind of constant communication between Arab Muslims and Christian Nubians for six centuries. We can consider the conciliation as based on mutual interest with both parties dealt with on equal footing. The treaty remained in force until the establishment of the first Mamluk State in Egypt in 1253 AD. During this period ties between Nubians and Muslims began to deteriorate, leading to the ultimate downfall of the Christian Kingdom and the spread of Arab culture.
As part of the terms of this treaty, Muslim merchants were allowed to enter Nubia as travellers not settlers but Arabs did not abide by this condition. Al-Masu’di reported that many Arab tribes resided in Aswan and later moved southwards to Maris land where they bought lands from Nubians. This took place in the early stages of the Umayyad and Abbasaid rule.
Al-Masu’di narrated the story of the people of Aswan who bought a place called Maris, a vast area of the adjacent Nubian lands. When the Abbasaid Caliph Al-Ma’moon entered Egypt, the Nubian King sent a delegation to inform him that the land and other property in the area belong to him and the people there were his slaves and had no right to sell any of it. He requested that Al-Ma’moon return the land to him. Upon hearing that the land was about to be seized, the buyers told the Nubians to deny any enslavement status. The governor of Aswan was charged with resolving the case. When the governor asked the Nubians, they denied any slavery status and said that their relationship to their King is akin to that of the Muslims to their Caliph.
Worth noting that Al-Mas’udi reported that those Arab Muslims used to pay land taxes to the Nubian King. This indicates that Muslims groups recognized the influence and authority of those Nubian Kings in the area in which they were living, despite the fact that this authority was nominal. The story also showed that Arabs goaded the Nubian population to deny being slaves to their King. This also showed the weakness of the King himself and his inability to exercise full control over his Kingdom. The indigenous people of Makouria, the only ones to accept slavery status to the Nubian King, lived in the area beyond the second cataract, where Arabs were not allowed to enter except for trade purposes. This meant that half of the population of Makouria in Maris was no longer bound by the old relations with the King which were based on slavery and blind obedience.
The presence of those Arab groups in Nubia was confirmed by archeological research conducted in Maris area, where many Arabic language inscriptions dating back to the third Hijri year were discovered. The Arab groups seemed to enjoy a quite stable life there. Tombstones with Arabic calligraphy bearing Arabic names were found in Tafa and Klabsha , dating back to 832-929 AD.
The political situation between the Arab Muslim State and Christian Nubia remained stable with Nubians paying the annual Baqt and receiving various commodities in return. This commitment by both sides contributed to maintaining cordial relations between the two parties. Even after the Umayyad and Abbasaid came to power the treaty remained in force, despite the fact that Nubians occasionally breached the agreement but soon resumed the payment of the Baqt. Sometimes the demand for slaves would be far beyond the resources of the Nubians; therefore ties were cordial at times and hostile at others depending on payment or non-payment of the Baqt.
However, relations once developed to reach the level of Nubian diplomatic representation at the Islamic Court, a matter we will discuss later in this study.
The study of the Baqt treaty is one of the most obscure topics in the history of Sudan. A number of Sudanese historians have criticized it, but we can conclude by saying it was a historical fact which had been wrongly formulated. Therefore, it must be well studied and analyzed in a scientific manner and be considered within the framework of the prevailing circumstances and in light of events that took place at that time which pushed the two sides to conclude the agreement.
It is noticed that the terms agreed upon mostly covered the regulation of trade between Arab Muslims and Nubians and reserved the rights of each party. Despite the fact that Arab writers who tackled the issue insisted that the Nubians suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Arab Muslims, in fact, that is not true as the treaty remained in force for hundreds of years after the death of Abdullah Ibn Abi Sarah. Thus, affirming that the treaty was concluded by mutual consent. In addition to that, the impact of defeat would not have remained the same for such a long time during which the terms of the treaty were observed.