A Palestinian Saint of the Early Ottoman Era

The Dome of the Rock, which served Shaykh Dajānī- like generations of Palestinians before and since- as a frequent oratory and not just destination of pilgrimage. Photo by the author, 2017.

While Islam has often been associated, for a complex and not totally inaccurate set of reasons, with urban life, the stress on Islam as ‘properly’ the religion of urban life ignores the many, many counter-examples of Islamic practice flourishing in rural settings. And while saints and sainthood have long been recognized by historians as central to many experiences of rural Islam, this reality has often been interpreted as due to the ‘syncretic’ nature of sainthood, or the lack of sophistication of rural religion, and the like. The saint profiled below, Shaykh Aḥmad al-Dajānī (d. 1562), is a good counter-example to such an overly simplistic story, as his life moved between the Palestinian countryside and the more urbanized and Ottomanized world of nearby Jerusalem. My discussion here is lightly adapted from my recent dissertation, wherein it comprises part of a sustained discussion of rural sainthood in the sixteenth century Ottoman world. While not entirely my original intention therein, Shaykh Dajānī’s story also speaks to the deep historical roots that present-day Palestinians have in historical Palestine, with the saint’s family a continuing presence today (with his shrine still standing, albeit after a great deal of struggle against various attempts to erase its intended function). Because quite a bit of Shaykh Dajānī’s hagiography focuses on protecting local inhabitants from the depredations of power, it seemed somehow appropriate to share a modified version of this section now, even if I have no illusions that my small intervention is liable to make much if any difference in the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people in their ancestral lands. If nothing else this story (which, ironically, is based primarily off of a manuscript version of the saint’s manāqib which is held by the Israeli National Library) demonstrates that contrary to many propagandistic narratives the substantive historical ties of modern Palestinians go far back into history and take the land itself, with Jerusalem and its sacred precincts a major component in that historical identity and sense of place.

Such a ‘thickening’ of the meaningful landscape and of deep historical roots hardly began with Shaykh Dajānī. The rural Palestine of the saint was by the sixteenth century dense with holy places of either originally or adapted Islamic pedigrees, from the modest tombs of village shaykhs crowning hilltops to more spectacular constructions honoring a seemingly endless cast of ancient prophets of diverse provenance, most with traditional stories and rituals long associated with them.[1] In central Palestine nomadic groups were generally fewer (though still present) than was the case elsewhere in the Ottoman’s Arabic-speaking provinces, with sedentary peasants the norm. At the heart of this landscape was the holy precincts of Jerusalem, al-Quds, with its rich array of holiness-drenched places and spatially rendered cultural memories.

The life and hagiographic traces of Shaykh Dajānī reflects a dialect of sainthood at once rooted in the life and landscape of rural Ottoman Palestine while also oriented towards the Holy City, drawing upon the venerable sources of sanctity embedded in the landscape, while also distinguishing the saint and his performance of sanctity from them. Not only did Shaykh Dajānī have to differentiate himself, as it were, from the many loci of sanctity around him, but he was also confronted with negotiating a new political order under the Ottomans and their exercise of authority and claims to saintly status. In what follows we will explore the particular dialect of sanctity manifest in the life of Aḥmad al-Dajānī and his work of sainthood, all within the context of his oscillation between an already sanctity-abundant Palestinian countryside and the holy precincts of Jerusalem (which, it should be recalled, was in this period a large, albeit spectacularly walled, town, with a decidedly rural ambience right up to and even within the walls). Despite being primarily connected in more modern memory with his family’s custodianship of the Tomb of David,[2] we will see that earlier routes of memory, as reflected in the manāqib of the saint written by his grandson Muḥammad ibn Ṣālaḥ al-Dajānī (d. 1660), recalled Shaykh al-Dajānī to be just as much, if not more a saint of the countryside as of the city, both around Jerusalem and beyond the boundaries of its sancâk, his imaginal saintly territory encompassing much of Palestine as it is understood today.[3]  I will now briefly introduce the life of Shaykh Dajānī, his saintly repertoire and its particular dialect, followed by an examination of some of the ways in which his practice of sainthood tracked onto and dealt with the topography of both rural Palestine and of Jerusalem and its environs, both during his lifetime and, primarily in the context of his tomb-shrine in the Mamilla Cemetery, after his physical death.

While early Ottoman Jerusalem and the surrounding Palestinian countryside have received a considerable share of scholarly attention over the years, with works such as that of Amy Singer proving especially helpful in sketching the social and economic context of Shaykh Dajānī’s world, religious life among Muslims in Ottoman Jerusalem and wider Palestine has received comparatively less coverage, with the exception of synthetic works like Kan’ān’s classic volume or James Grehan’s recent study of rural religion in Syria and Palestine.[4] Shaykh Dajānī receives but a single passing mention in Grehan’s work. However, Aharon Layish profiled Shaykh Dajānī in his analysis, some years ago, of another Palestinian rural saint, Ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Asadī, based outside of Safad, a discussion to which we will have recourse further along.[5] My primary source for this saint of rural Palestine is Muḥammad al-Dajānī’s manāqib of his grandfather, a hagiographic treatment closely connected with another surviving trace of the saint, his much restored tomb-shrine located in what was formerly part of the Mamilla Cemetery in contemporary West Jerusalem.[6] While it is today situated somewhat ingloriously in the corner of a parking lot and maintenance area for Independence Park—Shaykh Dajānī’s tomb-shrine and some remnants of Ottoman era tombstones the only surviving traces of this section of Mamilla Cemetery—the shrine is now in good condition and has been the main point of veneration for the saint for centuries.[7] As such it forms a significant part of the saint’s manāqib, a text that appears to have had at least two goals: as Muḥammad al-Dajānī explicitly states in the introductory material, he feared that the oral circulation of accounts of his grandfather’s saintly career would ultimately come to an end, and wished to preserve that memory into the distant future. Second, like much seventeenth century hagiographic production Muḥammad seems to have had in mind puritanical attacks on the Friends of God and the need to defend them and particularly their performances of karāmāt.[8] That said, Muḥammad’s foremost aim was clearly the perpetuation of his saintly forefather’s memory and the promotion of his cultus through the textual deployment (and almost certainly continued oral recitation, perhaps in the setting of the Mamilla tomb-shrine) of that memory.

After introductory eulogistic praise of Aḥmad al-Dajānī as the ‘quṭb of his age, the walī of God’ followed by a brief explanation from Muḥammad al-Dajānī of his reason for writing, the manāqib commences with a karāma-story that reveals some of the intersecting spatialities of the saint’s life, aspects of his position vis-à-vis the Ottoman authorities in Jerusalem, and central aspects of his saintly repertoire. This first story opens with mention of Shaykh Dajānī’s practice of writing down notes of intercession (shifa) addressed to the Ottoman security patrol (sūbāshiyya)[9] and judges, which were always effective, the reader is assured.[10] However, there was one judge who did not accept Shaykh Dajānī’s intercession and who in fact wanted to kill him, having discovered the saint’s practice while reviewing the performance of the subaşı (here meaning the head of policing functionaries) of the city, who presented him with a ‘sack-full’ of intercessionary notes. When the judge asked who they were from, the sūbāşī replied, ‘From the venerable Shaykh al-Dajānī—they’re intercessions for those I’ve accosted, and it’s not possible for me to contradict him!’ Enraged with the revenue-costing shaykh the judge asked where he could find him. Learning that he was then in the settlement of Ra’s Abū Zaytūn, the judge at first wanted to send someone to bring the shaykh in, but was told, ‘This is a man from among the saints of God, from the masters of unveiling and gnosis, you won’t be able to make him come to you.’ Instead, he was told the judge would need to intercept Shaykh Dajānī when he came to al-‘Aqṣā for Friday prayers. Here our hagiographer adds that all this was before the shaykh took the Tomb of David ‘from the Franks,’ and that he was at this time dwelling in a place known as Ra’s Abū Zaytūn, which he himself established, building a masjid (also functioning as a zāwiya) and a qubba for his saintly mother who died there.[11] Ra’s Abū Zaytūn is about thirty miles from Jerusalem, and seems to have served as Shaykh Dajānī’s base of operations before he moved permanently to Jerusalem (a move, as I will discuss below, that curiously figures hardly at all in the saint’s recorded manāqib), making visits to al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf not prohibitively difficult though not daily affairs either. Instead, the hagiographic record suggests that Shaykh Dajānī divided his time among a range of places, including his zāwiya on Ra’s Abū Zaytūn, various other rural locales in Palestine, and the Dome of the Rock.[12]

Returning to the story, when Friday came the ḳāḍī placed a functionary at Bāb Hutta, the main northern entrance of the al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf compound and Shaykh Dajānī’s usual point of entry, instructing him to confront the shaykh and to bring him into the ḳāḍī’s presence. Shaykh Dajānī willingly came to the ḳāḍī and ate the feast set before him, a feast which had been poisoned, of which the saint was naturally aware. Having eaten, he entered the lavatories alongside al-ʿAqṣā and vomited all of the food he had eaten. At this very moment the stomach of the ḳāḍī ballooned out massively, and he began crying out, seeking the succor of the shaykh, sending his retinue out to the shaykh asking for his pardon. When they found the saint, Shaykh Dajānī wrote out something on a piece of paper and told them to scrape the writing into some water and give it to the ḳāḍī to drink—‘and by the permission of God he will be healed’—and so he was, even repenting and becoming a disciple of the saint. For a while, we learn at the conclusion of the account, Shaykh Dajānī ceased writing his intercessions for those who ran afoul of the Ottoman authorities, but resumed the practice when the Prophet appeared to him in a dream-vision and upbraided him.[13]

There is much that can be gleaned from this story, beginning with the relationship it depicts between Shaykh Dajānī and the Ottoman authorities of Jerusalem. While the ḳāḍī ends up, in proper hagiographic fashion, learning his lesson and receiving repentance at the hands of the saint, antagonism otherwise pervades the account. The initial conflict is precipitated by the need on the part of inhabitants (and visitors from the countryside, such as Shaykh Dajānī himself) for intercession to deal with the depredations of the Ottoman sūbāşī, the saint standing in as not so much counter-power to the Ottomans as an ameliorating presence (with the implication being that at least some in the Ottoman administrative apparatus recognized and respected his status as a walī Allāh). But not everyone: Shaykh Dajānī must confront the perfidious ḳāḍī and bring him to heel, and so reaffirm his saintly authority within Jerusalem, even in the face of Ottoman power. The spatial trajectory he follows in doing so is one that appears throughout the manāqib: Shaykh Dajānī begins from his rural zāwiya, from whence he enters into al-‘Aqṣā and the Dome of the Rock, moving back and forth between Ra’s Abū Zaytūn and al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf, his presence and activities in both locales contributing to his performance of sainthood. In this iteration of Shaykh Dajānī’s hagiographic memory he is depicted as a saint of the countryside, inserting himself into Jerusalem’s sacred and social fabric, even in the face of opposition from Ottoman officialdom.

An additional element of his saintly repertoire, and one which might be seen as a matter of local saintly dialect, is the centrality of the bodily and even grotesque: several times in the manāqib Shaykh Dajānī is depicted removing something from someone’s stomach (paralleled in the above story by the shaykh’s own vomiting out his stomach’s contents) and ingesting it, so healing the person of a disease or, in the case of one of his disciples, extracting a potent spiritual ‘state’ (ḥāl) and protecting it for the Day of Resurrection.[14] While ingestion of substances—such as, in the above story, the scraped off ink of the saint’s handwriting—is a consistent theme in hagiography not just in Islam but in other traditions as well that give priority to sacred texts, Shaykh Dajānī’s particular practice of inserting his hand into the stomach of another and removing an object—variously described as ‘fig-like,’ ‘shining,’ and like ‘a shining star’—which the saint then consumes, if not unique to early modern Palestine, is not something I have encountered in other Ottoman local traditions of hagiography.[15] Command of material and otherwise substances figures prominently in Shaykh Dajānī’s karāmāt: in several stories he causes money to appear under his prayer rug, a common enough karāma, but in each such account the money is still glowing hot, as if just cast, a detail that appears to be unique to this context, though it does allude—intentionally or not is hard to determine—to the frequent closeness of saintly karāmāt and the practice of alchemy. And as with most of the other rural saints under consideration here, the disbursement and miraculous generation of food plays a large role in Shaykh Dajānī’s manāqib, though in this story the details are grotesquely reversed: where the scheming ḳāḍī violated hospitality by poisoning the offered feast, Shaykh Dajānī both consumed and voided—literally—the tainted food, then, in answer to the ḳāḍī’s supplications, gave him sacred sustenance to ingest for healing.

If Shaykh Dajānī’s interactions with Ottoman officials can be seen as a means of establishing the saint’s authority within Jerusalem, many other instances of territorialization appear in the manāqib, with the sum effect of inscribing the saint’s authority over particular geographic bounds, namely, rural Palestine as well as the sacred precincts of Jerusalem, where his authority is further underlined through stories of pilgrims coming from elsewhere in the Ottoman world and facing difficulties, difficulties which the saint solves for them.[16] Yet the majority of the karāmāt stories take place elsewhere in Palestine, most of all at the saint’s zāwiya but also in other locations where he was engaged in a range of social activities when not working karāmāt, from leading devotional rituals to acting as a saintly mediator among quarreling peasants (and hence offering himself as an alternative to Ottoman legal-administrative justice, insofar as it was available at all in the countryside). Shaykh Dajānī raises a dead girl at the home of man in Nablus who had invited him to perform a mawlid; in a mosque in Majdal Yaba, on the coastal plain, a foreign saint appears to him and announces to him that, like ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilānī, Shaykh Dajānī’s foot was upon the neck of every other male and female saint of his time; every year the saint would hold a dhikr circle alongside the tomb of Isaac in al-Khalīl, then spend a month in khalwa there. At his death, in addition to villagers from around Jerusalem, residents of the towns of Ramla and Lod on the coastal plain trekked up the hills to attend his funeral procession, requiring, we are told, careful crowd control just to convey everyone through the narrow streets of the city.[17] His saintly authority extended all the way north to the ancient crossing of the Jordan, the Bridge of Jacob: one day while he and his fuqarā’ were practicing dhikr in his little masjid on Ra’s Abū Zaytūn, the shaykh gestured with his hand and water splashed on the faces of the disciples. A few days later a muleteer came to visit, explaining that as he was crossing the bridge his mule slipped, so he cried out ‘Yā Shaykh Ahmad! Yā Dajānī! This is your time and your aid! If you raise the mule up whole the load is for you!’ The muleteer, his mule miraculously being lifted from the Jordan, had come to pay his vow. This story, our hagiographer notes, was in wide circulation in various forms.[18] All of these stories indicate an imaginal holy geography bound by the saint’s power and presence, radiating out from his hilltop zāwiya and his sites of presence in Jerusalem. In hagiographic memory, Shaykh Dajānī provided a way to see the Ottoman Palestinian landscape—which in this iteration is not confined to Ottoman administrative boundaries, notably—as a more unitary whole, stitched together by the saint’s perambulations and the reach of his holy power.

In the manāqib, the genealogy of Shaykh Dajānī’s sanctity is portrayed as rooted in the Palestinian landscape and its holy places, with minimal dependence on ‘outside’ sources. Like other holy figures in the Levant Aḥmad al-Dajānī had ties to the famed Shaykh ʿAlwān of Hama—clearly one of the most important and influential saints of sixteenth century Syria—through the latter’s disciple Muḥammad ibn ‘Arrāq, and, we are told, reproduced Shaykh ʿAlwān’s distinctive ritual of shakawat al-khawāṭir (laying bare stray thoughts to one’s shaykh for interpretation and resolution) for a while. But then one day, according to material from Shaykh Naṣīr al-Nābulusī replicated in Muḥammad al-Dajānī’s account,[19] ‘he said, “Ya fuqarā’, we have folded up the ṭarīqa [of Shaykh ʿAlwān] and put it on the shelf, so let us practice the remembrance of God!” So they set to dhikr in the manner of standing and with singers (munshīdūn). Spiritual states and ecstasy (hāl and wajd) would occur in the midst of the circle through the baraka of the shaykh.’ Besides pointing to the contingent nature of a ṭarīqa as a bundle of sanctifying practices and genealogical ties, both of which might be adapted and modified or even rejected based on particular needs, this account suggests Shaykh Dajānī’s sense of independence and his desire to incorporate decidedly local methods, namely, loudly vocal, indeed musical, dhikr. The practices of and genealogical link with the great Syrian saint were no longer necessary—and perhaps did not have particularly strong purchase in Shaykh Dajānī’s social setting. More central to Shaykh Dajānī’s saintly genealogy as it is depicted in the manāqib than the linkages in his silsila was his mother (his father, by contrast, plays no role in this manāqib). She was, we learn, one of the ‘great saints,’ and was honored by her son with a qubba after her death. Early in his career, his grandson tells us, Shaykh Dajānī was seized by the ‘men of the forty,’[20] who were looking to replace one of their number who had died. Shaykh Dajānī’s mother, however, was able to miraculously free him from their ranks, saying, ‘My son is going to accomplish a great matter, and is not from among you, rather, he is a quṭb!’ Not only, then, did Shaykh Dajānī inherit, as it were, sanctity from his mother (who was almost certainly of peasant background, there being no indication in this early material otherwise), but it is she who ensured that he remained physically in Palestine to pursue his saintly career.[21]

The localization of Shaykh Dajānī’s presence and memory continued apace after his death through his tomb-shrine in Mamillah, which is the focus of a sizeable portion of the manāqib, the text probably best seen as a component in the promotion and memory-shaping of this site. Lying outside of the city’s walls, the tomb-shrine serves as an apt symbol of the in-between nature of Shaykh Dajānī’s sainthood, inflected by and formed in both the Palestinian countryside and within the walls of Jerusalem. The miracle tales associated with the tomb replicate, at a different scale, many of the themes of his karāmāt performed during his physical life. The following story, besides providing a fascinating snapshot of daily life in early seventeenth century Jerusalem, returns to the question of Ottoman power and presence. One day, the story runs, one of Shaykh Dajānī’s descendants (Muḥammad al-Dajānī himself perhaps?) came to the great water reservoir in Mamilla (which stands a few hundred yards from the saint’s tomb-shrine) [22] in order to learn how to swim.[23] He had just gotten to the bank of the pool when a group of ‘Turkmen’ from the jumaʿa al-sanjāk, that is, soldiers of some sort in local service, came, driving away those who were by the pool. The boy fled to his grandfather’s side—that is, the tomb-shrine—and was sitting at the head of his tomb when one of the Turkmen who were driving people from the pool entered the shrine: ‘I was frightened by that, so I said, “Ya Sayyidī, this is your time, I am the son of your son! This man wants to do wrong.” When he saw me sitting by [the saint’s tomb], he said to me: “What are you doing here?” I answered, “I am by my grandfather and in his protection!” He replied, “This fellow is dead and can’t help you against me!”’ The boy cried out, and went unconscious; when he awoke, the Turkmen was gone, and he never heard tale of him again. As during his bodily life, this story indicates, so after his bodily death Shaykh Dajānī could be a source of reprieve from the often unpredictable machinations of Ottoman power, or, to put it more bluntly, violence carried out under the auspices of Ottoman power. There is as well a sexual undertone to the story—the Turkmen irregular, it is implied, was seeking to violate the boy, and so violated, for a moment, the saint’s precinct, an unwise transgression as it turned out.[24] As with the unjust ḳāḍī, the Ottoman irregular—explicitly identified as a Turkmen, a foreign presence—we are made to understand did not respect the power and honor of the saints until it was too late.[25] Here and in another story of a descendant of the saint—a majdhūb and holy person in his own right—it is possible that currents of Ottoman puritanism are detectable, with Muḥammad’s hagiography an expression of pushback against such hagiophobic sentiments.[26]

Finally, because Shaykh Dajānī’s memory and, to a lesser degree, veneration has continued into the present, we are fortunately able to see some transformations which will better allow us to contextualize the saint in the Ottoman milieu. In more modern hagiographic memory—sustained today, as in the Ottoman period, by the labor of the Dajānī family in particular—the most salient point of Shaykh Dajānī’s life and sanctity was his being invested with the Tomb of David by Sultan Süleymān, an investment which is indeed well documented by archival evidence.[27] This investment—which included extensive, and long-lived, awqāf placed in the control of the Dajānī family—was interpreted by Aharon Layish as an example of Ottoman Islamization like that carried out under the auspices of Shaykh Ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Asadī in the Galilee, and on the face of it such an explanation seems plausible.[28] However, the astute reader will notice that we have scarcely mentioned Shaykh Dajānī’s occupation and control of the venerable Franciscan convent on Mount Zion. The reason is quite simple: the earlier iterations of hagiographic memory we have, from the pen of Shaykh Dajānī’s grandson (as well as, some years later, from ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s visit to the saint’s tomb and his discussion of the saint and his saintly majdhūb descendant), makes but passing reference to this occupation and investment. Muḥammad al-Dajānī notes the connection in passing at two points in his account, while for al-Nābulusī Dajānī’s significance lay in his sainthood as perpetuated in his tomb-shrine in Mamilla. As we have seen, the spatial framework of Shaykh Dajānī’s sainthood, as it was recalled by his grandson, was oriented around Ra’s Abū Zaytūn, al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf, and various places elsewhere in Palestine. And far from painting a glowing picture of Ottoman authority, Shaykh Dajānī appears in the manāqib as a protector against the violence of that authority as it was expressed in and around Jerusalem.

How should we explain the apparent disjunction visible here? I suggest that far from representing an instance of Islamization (with the implicit analogy of ‘missionary’ or ‘colonizer’ dervishes earlier in Ottoman history, itself a problematic concept), Ottoman recognition of both Shaykh Dajānī and of the saintly rural Shaykh Ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Asadī, along with whatever degree of legal or otherwise intervention (which is somewhat opaque in both cases) and material investment (more evident) the authorities bestowed, ought to be seen as an attempt to capture and manage the sanctity of these two Palestinian saints, sanctity that, as Shaykh Dajānī’s karāmāt tales make clear, was known to have political charge and potency. It is useful here to think of sanctity as a resource or a shared field of discourse, practice, and value, a resource invested in but not irrevocably tied to any one individual or community, and that can be deployed for a whole range of ends from narrowly political measure to the elevation of one’s spiritual state to the preservation of bodies and property.

The resource of sanctity, in turn, is constantly being contested, modified, and employed by different actors. Shaykh Dajānī accumulated the resource of sanctity in himself and in those extensions of himself that would live on after his bodily life, rendered in congruence with local dialects and topologies of sanctity and sainthood. In his case and many others Ottoman sultans and members of the wider Ottoman ruling elite sought to channel and control that resource, ensuring both its perpetuation and that it remain relatively harmless; by tying Shaykh Dajānī to a particular site, one which could be fully secured only through the intervention of the Sultan himself, his sanctity could be contained within social space under Ottoman government ambit and purview. Such a strategy might be of especial use in supporting the project of presenting Ottoman sultans as possessors of sanctity and sainthood in their own right and as deserving of subordinate respect and affiliation on the part of other holy people, a project we will return to in greater depth below. And while his early modern hagiography is muted in its discussion of this process—precisely, I suspect, out of recognition for what was really going on—it is equally clear that Shaykh Dajānī himself made strategic use of this Ottoman strategy, employing the Tomb of David as his new base of operations for the remainder of his bodily life. At the end of his bodily life, however, he would come to once again occupy his own space, without the walls, in a move that must be understood as strategically directed against Ottoman attempts at control and monopolization. Muḥammad’s manāqib represented, in its turn, a local intervention in the making of Ottoman history, his arguments as potent in what he left out as what he included: there is no explicit discussion of the conquest of Selīm or of the presentation of Selīm and Süleymān as saintly figures.[29] Instead, it is in the selective appearance of Ottoman authorities and the strategic silences that Muḥammad reworks historical memory so as to situate his saintly ancestor, not the Ottoman sultans and their functionaries, at the center of the story and at the center of the contested land- and city-scape of early Ottoman Palestine.

The spatial trajectory, then, of Shaykh Dajānī as traced in his manāqib is one that largely confronts or skirts the Ottoman administrative and ideological order. The outstanding question that arises then is the degree to which the relative invisibility of the Ottoman authorities is a matter of later, seventeenth century hagiographic memory, or whether it reflects the realities of the saint’s life and his immediate historical afterlife among those who knew him and continued to venerate him as a powerful friend of God. While it is clearly the case, based, if on nothing more than the off-handed nature of Muḥammad al-Dajānī’s references, that Shaykh Dajānī’s occupation and use of the Tomb of David at the behest of Süleymān (who, notably, is not named in the manāqib) was well-known in Jerusalem, and may not have required extensive textual elaboration as a result, it seems likely that any hagiographic-tinted stories or records connected with the Tomb of David would not have made their way into Muḥammad’s account had they existed (unless our author himself had an explicit but unstated agenda in suppressing any such accounts). As with Aḥmad ibn ʿAbdo, within the stream of oral tradition the saint became adapted for later conditions, in particular the increasingly central and powerful role of the Dajānī family: a saint who was originally of the countryside, his zāwiya perched atop one of the seemingly endless rocky hilltops of Palestine, and whose relationship with Ottoman power was ambiguous at best, a careful and sometimes adversarial dance, was in time transformed into a thoroughly urban saint tied into the mainstream of respectable Ottoman history. Both images are very much the work of the communities that gradually forged them and the social and political conditions in which those communities existed. They remind us of just how socially contingent sainthood, especially in the short or long historical afterlife of the saint, truly is.


[1] On the history of sufism and earlier Islamic saints in Palestine, see Daphna Ephrat, Spiritual Wayfarers, Leaders in Piety: Sufis and the Dissemination of Islam in Medieval Palestine (Cambridge, Mass: Distributed for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University by Harvard University Press, 2008); on shrines themselves, from earliest Islamic constructions to the relative decline in shrine veneration in contemporary Palestina and Israel today, see Andrew Petersen, Bones of Contention: Muslim Shrines in Palestine, (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). While obviously now very dated, Tawfīq Kanʻān’s work Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine (London: Luzac & Co., 1927), remains usable with care and is by turns quite charming and informative, even if his premise—the recovery of the immemorial religious life of the land of the Bible—tended to determine in advance his interpretations.

[2] Alone of the saints featured here, not only did al-Dajānī give rise to an important family, it has persisted to this day and even has a website laying out the family history and status within Palestinian society.

[3] I should note that while I am not making or seeking to support any contemporary political claims per se—the realities and concerns of the pre-modern Ottoman period are in many respects quite different from those of today—the story of Shaykh Dajānī has definite implications for how Muslims of Ottoman Palestine imagined themselves and the landscape they inhabited, a reality that runs counter to certain narratives of the period which seek to denigrate or remove entirely any organic connections between present-day Palestinians and Palestinian identity and the deeper history of the land. As with the issue of Kurdish ‘ethnic’ identity, it was not my intention to wade into some of the most fraught questions of the modern Middle East with this study—they arose and demanded answers organically, as it were.

[4] Most obviously, Amy Singer, Palestinian Peasants and Ottoman Officials: Rural Administration around Sixteenth-Century Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), while her Constructing Ottoman Beneficence: An Imperial Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem (Albany : State University of New York Press, 2002), deals with certain aspects of the interrelation between rural peasant and an urban charitable institution by means of the waqfs, drawing upon the revenues of designated villages, supporting that institution. While his analysis post-dates the period of Shaykh Dajānī himself, Dror Ze’evi, An Ottoman Century: The District of Jerusalem in the 1600s (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012) is helpful in contexualizing Muḥammad ibn Ṣālaḥ al-Dajānī’s life within a Jerusalem dominated by Ottomanized local elites. In such a context Muḥammad’s text (and related efforts no longer visible to us to promote his ancestor’s cultus) can be seen as, among other things, an attempt to raise the stock of the Dajānī family within Jersualem, offering the shaykh as a source of power and stabilization in the fraught period of decentralization and widespread violence so typical fo the first half of the seventeenth century.

[5] Aharon Layish, ‘“Waqfs” and Ṣūfī Monasteries in the Ottoman Policy of Colonization: Sulṭan Selīm I’s “Waqf” of 1516 in Favour of Dayr Al-Asad,’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 50, no. 1 (1987): 61–89.

[6] On the contemporary situation of the shrine, as well as a helpful precise of current hagiographic and historical memory concerning Shaykh Dajānī, see Ahmad Mahmoud and Anna Veeder, Hidden Heritage: A Guide to the Mamilla Cemetery, Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Emek Shaveh Organization, 2016), 7-8, 10-11; for the current conflict over the cemetery, see Gideon Sulimani and Raz Kletter, ‘Bone Considerations: Archaeology, Heritage, and Ethics at Mamilla, Jerusalem,’ International Journal of Cultural Property 24, no. 3 (August 2017): 321–50.

[7] The current state of the shrine has not always been the case in recent years: according to their website, the Dajānī family had to wrest it back into their control after it was taken over and turned into a bar by an Israeli propriertor who laid claim to the structure, a claim that Dajānīs were able to successfully legally contest.

[8] While we are getting ahead of ourselves somewhat, the defensive posture Muḥammad takes in this text suggests that even during the first half of the seventeenth century—when he would have presumably been writing this text—puritanical discourse and perhaps actions had made their way to Palestine, or at least into the vicinity, enough so that Muḥammad would feel compelled to confront them in preserving his grandfather’s memory. As with any hagiography written some time after the subject, we may safely assume the presence of earlier iterations of hagiographic memory—the context of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—as well as the concerns and developments of the hagiographer’s own time.

[9] More precisely, the retinue (described as ‘patroling,’ dawwār) of the sūbāşī in charge of Jerusalem and its surroundings. On the history of the position, see J.H. Kramers and C. E. Bosworth, ‘Ṣu Bas̲h̲i̊,’ in Encyclopaedia of Islam2.

[10] While it has as its focus the guild system of the city, Amnon Cohen, The Guilds of Ottoman Jerusalem (Leiden: Brill, 2001), deals extensively with interactions between guilds and qāḍīs, illuminating the context of Shaykh Dajānī’s reported involvement in th jurisdictional-administrative system. Cohen’s interpretation of the power of the guilds vis-à-vis the qadis and other officials strikes a similar note to Shakyh Dajānī’s interventions, at least at first: ‘the kadi not only honoured the guild’s decision as to who should be chosen to conduct its affairs, but would even submit to their decision as to who should be appointed. In the triangular relationship of members, governor and kadi, the latter, who on the face of it had so much regulatory power, actually used it in response to the will of the people, while the services the members rendered to the state apparatus elicited its support for the entire guild system.’ Ibid., 113.

[11] Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 74a. This new settlement resembles a mezraʿa, a place under cultivation but either of a temporary or provisional nature (often in an auxillary or satellite role to established villages), on the way to establishment as a village proper. See İnalcık and Quataert, An Economic and Social History, 170-171, dealing primarily with Anatolia but analogous to the situation in sixteenth century Palestine. While based on the available evidence we can only speculate, it seems that Shaykh Dajānī—who probably hailed from the village of Janiya, (probably) formerly known as Dajāniya—sought to establish himself in ‘new’ territory removed from the confines of the village by establishing himself on a nearby hilltop, perhaps after some conflict or disagreement in the village (as Dajānī family oral tradition today suggests). Unauthorized peasant movements, such as those that might have aided in the establishment of Shaykh Dajānī’s settlement (he himself probably fell in an ambigious category), were technically prescribed by Ottoman law, but still took place and was not always strictly enforced, as discussed at both the wider imperial and the specifically sixteenth century Palestinian level in Amy Singer, ‘Peasant Migration: Law and Practice in Early Ottoman Palestine; New Perspectives on Turkey 8 (1992): 49–65.

[12] Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 72b, 75a (Abū Zaytūn, with many others besides), 75b (Majdal Yaba), 76a, 77a-77b (Nablus), 79a (Hebron), 83a (Ramla, Lod).

[13] Ibid., 74a.

[14] Ibid., 77b, 79a-79b.

[15] Unfortunately, whatever the case historically, early modern manāqib texts or similar accounts such as the one consulted here are rare from Palestine, which makes it difficult to move from identifying the possibility that particular items were indeed a common component in the dialect of sainthood as it was widely understood. The closest analogue to which I have had access are the hagiographic components in ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s riḥlas, which however date from the late seventeenth century.

[16] Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 77a-77b, 78b.

[17] Ibid., 82a-83a.

[18] Ibid., 77b-78a.

[19] Muḥammad’s source for al-Nābulusī’s story is a manāqib—written in the form of commentary upon a poem, curiously—of Abū Bakr ibn Abī al-Wafā’, the majdhūb of Aleppo, by , which is so far as I know the only other early modern hagiographic record of Shaykh Dajānī, resides in a small library in Jerusalem’s Old City, al-Khālidiyya, which during my stay in the city I attempted to reach but was repeatedly frustrated in so doing.

[20] That is, the forty saints, unseen by most, who are part of God’s hidden government of the world. For an overview of this motif and a fascinating example of its application in a very different part of the empire, see Edith Gülçin Ambros and Jan Schmidt, ‘A Cossack Adopted by the Forty Saints; an Original Ottoman Story in the Leiden University Library’, in The Ottoman Empire; Myths, Realities and ‘Black Holes’, Contributions in Honour of Colin Imber, ed. by Eugenia Kermeli and Oktay Özel (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2006), 297-324.

[21] Shaykh Dajānī’s mother is not the only female saint to figure into his manāqib: One of the disciples related: I was with Shaykh Dajānī one day in the Dome of the Rock and there was a woman in the mihrab praying the canonical prayer. After doing the first bow, she straightened up, did the first prostration, then she sat down for the period between the two prostrations, with her legs stretched out and moving [which would usually invalidate the ṣalāt], then made the second prostration, then stood for the second raka’a, doing as she had done in the first one. After the giving of the peace, I said to the shaykh, ‘Ya sayyidī, did you see what this woman did in her ṣalāt?’ He said, ‘Yes, I saw her.’ I said, ‘Her ṣalāt is invalid!’ He smiled at what I said, and himself said to me, ‘If you recognized her spiritual state (ḥāl) you would be amazed.’ So I said to him, ‘I ask you, what is her state?’ He replied, ‘This one is from among the saints of God—for love of him she has come on pilgrimage to this mosque from Samarqand, having left her son in his cradle. He started crying while she was in the first prostration, so she moved her leg in order to rock the cradle. She has gone to him after completing her salat, God be pleased with her and with him, and may I and all Muslims be aided by her baraka and that of his saints, amen!’ Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 78a-78b.

[22] Mostly empty today, this massive open-air (primarily) reservoir, which connects into Jerusalem’s extremely old underground water system, is one of the older extant structures in Jerusalem, dating back to at least the early Byzantine period if not before.

[23] Incidentally, this is one of the only, if not the only, reference to recreational swimming from the pre-modern Ottoman world that I have come across; swimming for pleasure and recreation emerged in force as a documented pasttime in early modern England and elsewhere around this time, so if recreational swimming—as very much seems to be on display here—was wider spread in the Ottoman world then it would represent yet another point of mutual development across Eurasia during this period. See Nicholas Orme, Early British Swimming, 55 BC-AD 1719: With the First Swimming Treatise in English, 1595 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1983), 46.

[24] Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 85b.

[25] It is striking that a ‘Turkmen’ Ottoman auxiliary could at least be imagined as disregarding a local saint, presumably—though the story does not make this explicit—by virtue of the saint being local and hence unknown and unworthy of respect.

[26] The account begins with an unnamed man, though known to Abū al-Fataḥ, had been trying to get an adze from a descendant of al-Dajānī through one of his daughters, a man named Shaykh Yusūf, who was known in Jerusalem as a ‘majdhūb, immersed in his jadhb.’[26] The man treated Shaykh Yusūf ‘roughly,’ and later admitted to the author that his behavior with the majdhūb was simply out of a desire for jest and amusement, and did not reflect any actual need for the majdhūb’s implement. After one such unkind bout with the saint, the man went to sleep at night and had a vivid dream-vision, in which he beheld the domed tomb of al-Dajānī festooned with banners, and a great crowd of people surrounding it, as if for a mawlid celebration. He tried to get to where he could see what or who the crowd is gathered around, being first interrupted by a figure guarding the precints and demanding to know his intentions. When he finally reached the vicinity of the shrine, none other than Aḥmad al-Dajānī confronted him, a glowing hot lance in hand, with which he proceeded to strike the man. The man cried out for succor from the saint, but dream-al-Dajānī only continued to treat him ‘roughly,’ in reward for how he had treated Shaykh Yusūf. The man awoke in the midst of this treatment, shivering like a fever patient, and when morning broke he went to the majdhūb, kissed his hand, and—somewhat unexpectedly from the story’s course, but perhaps as way of verification of his dream-vision—once again asks for the adze. The saint replied, ‘Did what you saw not suffice you?’ At this the man once again kissed the saint’s hand and ‘turned to God’ in repentance. Al-Dajānī, Risāla fī dhikr, 85a-85b.

[27] Sijillāt maḥkāmat al-Quds al-shar’īyya, sijil 40, 16th of Rajab, 968-969 AH, cited in Mahmoud and Veeder, Guide, 23, n. 20.

[28] Layish, ‘Waqf,’ 74-75.

[29] That the process of memory making and of identity making—including renderings of Selīm and Süleymān as saintly—took place at the ‘local’ level can be seen in, for instance, in the existence in the Khālidiyya of an anonymous manuscript entitled Risālat fī madḥ al-Sulṭān Salīm wa dhamm al-Jarākis al-mumālīk, al-Khālidiyya 1716. While we will examine further the production of ‘alternative’ cultural memory of the House of Osman (as it relates to sainthood, at least) in the provinces further along, ‘pro-sultanic’ memory construction in the Arabophone lies outside of the scope of this work even though it was evidently underway during our period.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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