Islamic history, Syrian history

Hims: a couple of stories: the Pashas and other ”Royal” Titles Explained

A tale of ancient Hims (shami dialect)

Sir Reader Bullard gives a short account of a man named Willibald who ended his ten year pilgrimage, in 731, in the city of Hims. The journey was arduous, thanks to the power struggles between the Romans and the Saracens (muslims), which were conducted on several fronts across Europe and the Middle East. Williband couldn’t travel through Spain, as it was controlled by an Arab Caliphate (defeated in 732). Instead he journeyed across the Alps, through Italy, the Greek islands, Turkey, Cyprus and Iraq before reaching Syria. When he entered Hims he was imprisoned by the Saracens but eventually was given his freedom along with a pass to visit parts of the city, which were open to Christians.

This brings me on to my own brief visit to Hims, in 2005. A Muslim friend and I were visiting the Crac or Crac Chevaliers, a crusader castle and historical site, when she suggested having a look around Hims. My friend has a fascination for old churches and mosques (being a communist they do not have quite the same relevance for me but are interesting nevertheless). Following a visit to Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque, where my friend prayed, we went to the Christian church of the virgin’s belt (which holds a piece of cloth that belonged to the virgin Mary). We spoke to the verger, or at least my friend did, and we were able then to photograph the altar.

I just checked for names with the Rough Guide to Syria and being disparaging, it seems to shrug off the importance of the relic and say it is in a locked room. As I remember it though, the room was open and the altar visible. Anyway here is a photo of the altar and of the mosque of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, which I understand is central to the siege currently.

 I am delighted as I’ve finally had the idea of photographing my album snaps with a digi camera so they come out bigger.



I think it was President Assad, who, prior to the invasion of Iraq, accused Britain and America of continuing the crusades. Well I can only say he was right and the situation in Syria bears this out. True it has a mixed heritage but surely the days when a country was easy pickings for just about anyone, should have ended. After a long period of stability it is again an adventure playground for just about anyone, who wants to get their own way by force. True it has a rich history, that everyone should share but it has a huge population and those people deserve not to lose their homes. The invaders have to go.

An obvious point but the siege of Hims needs to stop, 3 years is long enough. Britain and its cohorts, whether western or Arabic should call off their fighters. If people continue to take food parcels to the mutineers, they will not leave. A harsh view, but inevitably it is the leaders of the invasion who  receive the ”aid” and have the ear of the U.N. workers; leading them to believe they will achieve a ”victory”.

If people genuinely want  a more Islamic style of government, kidnapping is not the way to innovate that change. Perhaps the amirates countries could accommodate the people who want this, instead they finance young men (with the blessing of the west), to die for a principle. If countries like Saudi Arabia spread its wealth to its own, then no muslim would have to go hungry or fight.

The journey of the Pasha dynasty continued

Since the next few entries on this weblog feature the Pasha family, it is worth saying that their 148 year old dynasty lasted until 1952 when the constitutional monarchy of ”King” Farouk was replaced by the more revolutionary and secular principles of Arab nationalism. For an account of the intrigue that surrounded the transition see Al Arabiya News,

I noticed somewhere on wikipedia that people regard the Pashas as founders of  modern Egypt; a view I concur with, in the light of what I’ve read. Ismael Pasha, son or grandson of Muhammed Ali became Khedive of Egypt in The Pasha family, seemed to have been governors in one guise or another until 1933 when king Fuad 1 categorised himself as a king. This was in the second half of his reign, that began in 1922.

An explanation of the titles attributed to Islamic rulers

If you noticed I put the word king in inverted commas, this is because of the tenuous nature of the titles attributed to the rulers of the Islamic world. If you research the period you will find references to the following:
(1) malik, sultan and shah

Malik and sultan are Arabic for king, though the former is the more commonly used in the Arabic world today. It derives from the semitic languages and probably was used first by the Mamluks of North Africa; who were defeated by the Pasha clan.

The word Sultan, though Arabic, was used by the Ottomans as they developed the caliphate system, which established Islam as a powerful, one god doctrine.

Shah is the Pharsi or Persian word for king.
(2) amir and sharif

Turkish and Arabic respectively, mean prince or from noble stock. Most of the Gulf states are ruled by amirs now; thus the term amirates.
(3) pasha

Is derived from Turkish and Urdu and possibly Pashtu, a dialectical based language spoken in Afghanistan. It pertains to a military rank as well as a political position, so governor-general seems a suitable translation.
(4) khedive

Is equivalent to vice-roi or a representative the king.
(5) wali and mullah

Mean master or teacher in Arabic and Turkish, Urdu and Pharsi, mullah might refer more specifically to a religious teacher.
(6) sheik

Is derived from Arabic and refers to a wise person, patriarch or local government official.
(7) ayatollah

Is a religious term derived from the Arabic and Pharsi word for Allah (god). It means a high-ranking church official, note though, that the renowned Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, was officially entitled Imam Ayatollah Khomeini, so the term is complex.
All the above are found in the qu’ran and may be used as first or family names; I guess they are kind of metaphors for the aspirations parents have for their children.

These interpretations, though they seem long drawn out, are fairly narrow so can be researched further on wikipedia.

Since I have exceeded a comfortable word count I will stop but the next entry is nearly written.


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