FAKHR AL-DAWLAH AB AL-MUFADDAL IBN AL-‘ASSAL (b. c. 1170)
The father of the Coptic writers of the beginning of the thirteenth century. He is known as Awlad al-‘Assal. His honorific title Fakhr al-Dawlah (pride of the state) indicates his social importance. He came from a rich Coptic family in Cairo that distinguished itself in the service of the Fatimids and the Ayyubids, as the titles, kunyah (surname), and nicknames of certain of his ancestors indicated. He was the son of Mu’taman al-Dawlah Abu Ishaq Ibrahim, son of Abu Sahl Jirjis, son of Abu Bishr Yuhanna al- Katib al-Misri, whose father was nicknamed al-‘Assal. Fakhr al-Dawlah’s kunyah requires some explanation.
Occasionally the spelling Abu al-Fadl can be found even in Coptic manuscripts of the thirteenth century (such as in the National Library, Paris, Arabe 201, and Vatican Arabic 103, fol. 18v, last line) in the text of the Majmu’ Usul al’Din (this is an easily made copyist’s error, involving the omission of the small letter mim). Less frequently we find Abu al-Fadail (as in Oriental Library, Beirut, 583, Coptic, fourteenth century) in the same passage; this version was adopted by G. Graf (1932, p. 35). Most frequently we find Abu al-Mufaddal, a reading confirmed by a verse composed by the Muslim poet al-Sarraj al-Warraq in which the reading Abu al-Fadl is incompatible with the meter.
Fakhr al-Dawlah married twice. By his first wife he had two sons, al-As‘ad Abu al-Faraj Hibatallah and al-Safi Abu al-Fada’il Majid. After his first wife died, he remarried and had two other sons, Mu’taman al-Dawlah Abu Ishaq Ibrahim (named after his grandfather with all his names) and al-Amjad Abu al-Majd al- Rashid (cf. Awlad al-‘Assal). He may have had other children, but there is no record of them.
Fakhr al-Dawlah’s enviable position enabled him to give his children a good education. Yusab, bishop of Fuwwah, the church historian who composed a detailed chronicle of contemporary events, stated during the second quarter of the thirteenth century (Graf, 1947, Vol. 2, pp. 369-71) that Fakhr al-Dawlah had engaged as tutor for his children the shaykh al-Sani Abu al-Majd Butrus ibn al-Muhadhdhib Abu al-Faraj. The shaykh was known as al-Thu‘ban al-Rahib or as “the priest of Abu Sarjah” (concerning him, see Sidarus, pp. 8-15 and 19-20). He was the father of the historian, theologian, and linguist Abu Shakir ibn al-Rahib (Graf, 1947, pp. 428-35, and especially Sidarus). Three of his sons became great Coptic writers and a fourth (al-Amjad) a high official. They were effective agents of the Coptic Renaissance in the thirteenth century.
Fakhr al-Dawlah was generous to those in need. This is attested by al-Sarraj al-Warraq, a Muslim poet who died in 1296 and who composed a poem of eight verses. In the poem he sings the generosity of the ‘Assalids and of Abu al-Mufaddal in particular for his discretion in giving. This suggests that Fakhr al-Dawlah was still alive at the time the poem was composed, around 1250.
- Graf, G. “Die koptische Gelehrtenfamilie der Aulad al-‘Assal.” Orientalia 1 (1932):34-56, 129-48, 193-204.
- Ibn Fadlallah al-‘Umari. Masalik al-Absar. fi mamalik al-amsar, Vol. 1, ed. Ahmad Basha Zaki, pp. 369-71. Cairo, 1924.
- Khalil Samir. Al-Safi ibn al-‘Assal. Brefs chapitres sur la Trinité et l’Incarnation. PO 42, fasc. 3, no. 1920, pp. 10-12. Turnhout, 1985.
- Sidarus, Adel Y. Ibn ar-Rahibs Leben und Werk. Ein koptisch- arabischer Enzyklopädist des 7./13. Jahrhunderts Islamkundliche Untersuchungen 36. Freiburg, 1975.
- Yusab, bishop of Fuwwah. Histoire (manuscript of Dayr al-Suryan). In Kitab Tarikh wa-Jadawil Batarikat al-Iskandariyyah al-Qibt, 1943. ed. Kamil Salih Nakhlah, 47a. Cairo, 1943.
KHALIL SAMIR, S.J