The Caliph and The Debate
During the Fatimid dynasty, there was a caliph, i.e. king, called Al-Mu’iz Li Din-Illah the Fatimid. Al-Mu’iz used to hold literary gatherings and was interested in debates on religion. He used to rally the religious leaders of the Muslims, Christians and Jews and let them debate in his presence, and directed that this should be carried out with neither anger nor contention.
There was a Jew in the council of Al-Mu’iz who espoused Islam in order to be assigned a minister. This man’s name was Jacob Ibn Killis.
Ibn Killis hated Christians, especially because he had a Christian rival whoI was dear to the caliph. He feared that the caliph would appoint the Christian as minister instead of him. The Christian man’s name was Quzman Ibn Mina, and had the title “Abul Yumn” (The fortunate one).
So, Jacob Ibn Killis called to him another Jew named Moses and wanted him to debate with the Patriarch Abram in the court of the caliph Al-Mu’iz.
The caliph sent a message to the Patriarch, saying, “If you want to debate the Jews someday, whether yourself or through one of the bishops you choose, come to my house and join the debate with them in my presence.”
So Patriarch Abram set a date for the debate, and took along with him Bishop Sawirus Ibn Al-Muqaffaa, the bishop of Ashmunin (in Upper Egypt), who was one of the church scholars in his generation. It was he who wrote “The Biography Of The Patriarchs,” and besides this he was well versed in theology, especially in comparative religion, and authored numerous volumes in this field. Of these books are: “A Book on Monotheism”, and “The Book of the Wondrous Presentation in Answer to the Jews”, among other books.
When the caliph was seated, together with the Jewish minister Ibn Killis and his friend Moses, he said to the Patriarch, “Speak my reverent Pope, or otherwise grant your companions the permission to talk.”
So the Patriarch said to Sawirus the bishop of Ashmunin,
“Speak my son, and the divine wisdom grant you wisdom.”
Bishop Sawirus addressed Moses and Jacob calmly,
“What if I furnish the proof for your ignorance, will you not be angry?”
“The caliph interfered out of tolerance, and eloquently,
“There is no need to be angry in the discussion; freedom is vouchsafed for each of you so that you may express each his own opinion frankly and without embarrassment.”
Bishop Sawirus continued addressing Moses and Jacob confidently,
“Well, it is not I that call you ignorant; it is rather a great prophet of yours, who had a special favor from God, who witnesses against you”
Moses the Jew asked him,
“And who can this prophet be?”
Bishop Sawirus answered immediately,
“It is Isaiah the prophet, who said about you, `The ox knows his master, the donkey, his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.'” (Is 1:3)
The caliph burst out laughing, for he was impressed by Bishop Sawirus’ prudence and skill of speech. Then the caliph asked Moses the Jew,
“Are these really the words of Isaiah?”
Moses said, with pent-up anger, “Yes, sire.”
And Bishop Sawirus continued talking,
“Behold a great prophet of yours has announced that the animals have more understanding than you do.”
This aggressive start of the debate upset the minister Ibn Killis and his friend Moses so much that they decided to take revenge on Pope Abram and Patriarch Sawirus. He chanced upon the verse that the Lord Jesus had said in Matthew 17:20, which says: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Moses the Jew and the minister Ibn Killis hastened to the caliph Al-Mu’iz and said to him,
“We have found it written in the book of the Christians that whosoever has faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. So it is our right to demand them to prove that their religion is right by means of this. If they cannot, they should be punished for the invalidity of their religion.”
The caliph kept silent and was mulling over this verse, thinking to himself that if the words of the New Testament were true, then this would be a golden opportunity to remove the mountain that was perched to the east of the new city (Cairo) so that it could stretch further east and would enjoy a terrific site, since the mountain was bordering Birket Elphil before it got removed. But if they proved unable to carry this out, this would be a cogent proof that the religion of the Christians was wrong, and so, should be done away with completely.
The caliph Al-Mu’iz sent for Pope Abram, who came to him and talked with him concerning this verse. He told him that he had to choose between these four alternatives:
1) To fulfill this commandment and move Al-Mokattam mountain
2) To convert to Islam and abandon Christianity on the account that it is invalid
3) To leave Egypt and immigrate to another country
4) To be killed by the sword altogether
The Patriarch kept silent, and was praying in his heart for the Lord to guide him in this ordeal.. Then he asked the caliph to give a three day respite, after which he would give him an answer.
Calling for a fast
When the Pope returned to his seat, he issued a public statement ordering all Christians in Egypt to fast for three days from dawn, till sunset, and to lift up prayers for the safety of the church. What a spiritual insight and heavenly wisdom is that which turns to God in such hard circumstances and distresses! How wonderful is the prayer of the church which it lifts up during the Mass, saying, “For we do not know another but You…Your holy name is the name we utter and our souls are revived by Your Holy Spirit.”
Thereafter, the Pope went to the famous church of Saint Mary in old Cairo, which is known as “The Suspended Church,” and called for the bishops who were present, together with the archdeacons and the monks to tell them what had happened between the caliph and himself. He said to them,
“We are to fast and pray these three days which I have asked of the caliph as respite, so that the Lord may show mercy upon us in His grace, and provide us a way of deliverance.”
All the people responded to the calling of the Pope, and the Coptic Christians fasted throughout the land of Egypt. Masses were held and prayers and supplications for this ordeal through which the church was going.
Pope Abram, together with some bishops, priests, monks and archdeacons confined themselves to the Suspended Church of Saint Mary during those three days.
[Text Wrapping Break]On the third day of fasting at dawn, the Pope dozes off for a short while, and saw the blessed Virgin Mary, and heard her say to him,
[Text Wrapping Break]”Fear not, faithful shepherd, for your tears which you have shed in this church, and the fasts and the prayers which you and your people have offered up shall not be forgotten. Now, get out through the iron gate that leads to the market-place and, when you are on your way out, you will find a one-eyed man in front of you carrying a jar of water. Take hold of him; for he is the man by whom the miracle will take place.”
As soon as the Virgin Mary said this, she disappeared from the sight of the Pope, who woke up from his sleep wondering.
Saint Samaan, the messenger of heaven
When the Pope went out to the iron gate that leads to the market-place, and saw outside it the man whom the Virgin Mary had spoken about, he took hold of him, brought him inside the iron gate, and closed it. The Pope told him what had happened between the caliph and himself, and what the Virgin Mary had ordered him to do, mentioning that it was he by whom the miracle would take place.
Saint Samaan said to him,
“Forgive me, my father, for I am but a sinful man.”
The Pope said to him in persistence,
“It is the command of the mother of Light.”
Saint Samaan answered in humility and submission,
“As long as it is the Mother of Light who decided that I should be entrusted with this great task, I, then, place myself at your service.”
The Pope asked him about his name, and why he was there in the market-place at such an early hour in the morning while people were asleep.
Saint Samaan answered, “My name is Samaan the Tanner. I work in tanning animal skins. But I wake up as early as this hour in the morning every day to fill my jar with water and distribute it to the elderly and the sick, who have been hampered from bringing water for themselves by old age or sickness.
When I am finished with this service of mine, I return my water skin to the house and go to my work at the tannery where I work till evening. And at sunset I go out with the rest of the wage workers and eat just a little, so as to keep myself barely alive. Then I turn to prayer…”
Saint Samaan urged the Pope to keep the true state of his affairs hidden as long as he lived on this earth.
The preparations for the miracle
After Saint Samaan had finished this, he said to the Patriarch,
“My honorable father, go up the mountain and take along with you the religious leaders, the deacons, and the archdeacons, and make them carry on high the Bibles, the crosses, and the long candles, these being lit, and the censers full of incense.”
“And ask the king and his retinue to go up with you… So you shall stand on one side of the mountain, while they stand on the side opposite you. As for me, I will stand among the people behind your felicity, so that no one would recognize me.
“Then after administering the holy sacraments, you raise up your voice with all of the people, repeating, “Kyrie Eleison” (have mercy, Lord) four hundred times.
“Then after that keep silent for some moments…. and worship you and the priests, before the Most High. Repeat this three times, and every time you stand up after worshiping, draw the sign of the cross over the mountain, and you shall see the glory of God.”
The Patriarch lifted up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who allowed the trial to come, but provided a way out.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Co 10:13)
The Patriarch told the caliph Al-Mu’iz Li Din Illah that he was ready to carry out his request by the grace of God. The caliph went out on the back of his steed, having with him several men of his retinue, his great men of honor, and his soldiers. He met the Patriarch and a great number of bishops, priests, deacons, archdeacons, the common people, and among these was Saint Samaan the Tanner. The two parties stood opposite one another on the mountain as Saint Samaan told them.
After administering the holy sacraments which the Pope and the bishops lifted up, the people repeated with a broken spirit and a crushed heart the “Kyrie Eleison” (have mercy, Lord) prayer, four hundred times; 100 to the east, another to the west, another to the north, and another to the south.
Then they kept silent for a moment between the hands of the Most High and they started to worship and stand up three times, while the Patriarch drew the sign of the cross. And behold a great earthquake swept over the mountain, and at each worship the mountain was thrust down, and every time they stood up the mountain would rise up and the sun would be seen from under it. And every time it would go back to its place.
When the miracle took place, the caliph Al-Mu’iz panicked and feared, together with all the multitudes that gathered with him; he cried out at the top of his voice,
“God is great; may His name be blessed.”
And he entreated the Pope to stop what he was doing; otherwise the city would be overthrown.
When the things calmed down once more, he said to the Pope,
“You have proven that your faith is the true faith
Results of the miracle
- Peace between the state and the church
- Spiritual renewal of the church
- Three days fasting preceding the Christmas fast
- Saint Samaan and Patriarch Abram icon
- Building a church for Saint Samaan in Mokattam
- Fossils of marine animals was discovered in Mokattam which assures that Mokattam was close to the Nile
Ref. PHILIP D. GINGERICH University of Michigan
- Formation of Al mokattam mountain is of clay and limestone
Clay like the soil beside river Nile as mentioned in the above study
- Book “The Seismicity of Egypt, Arabia and the Red Sea: A Historical Review” stated that many earthquake’s history in the Fatimid period were now lost in p.7 although it had stated that there were a large earthquake accompanied by violent storm in this period
- Another book assures marine mammal fossils in Al mokattam Late Eocene Sea Cows (Mammalia, Sirenia) from Wadi Al Hitan in the Fayum Basin
- Marco Polo the famous Italian traveler has stated the miracle in his book “The travels of Marco Polo book 1 chapter 10”
- Poem from the 7th century for the poet Salah el Safdy has written a poem for the Mokattam mountain http://www.almasalik.com/locationPassage.do?locationId=29854&languageId=ar&passageId=11947
- Al ahram the most popular newspaper testimonial date 9/10/2015
- Manuscripts in saint Antony monastery