Things Have Always Been Terrible

A series in which I reflect on all the bad things that have happened to people, in order to gain perspective on stupid shit that goes wrong.

Middle East Black Death Epidemics

You know Aleppo, Syria, where things were recently terrible?

In October 1348, they had 500 deaths a day from the Black Death. THINGS HAVE ALWAYS

People in the streets of Aleppo were looking very poorly, with skin lesions and blood in their mouths, adn then they died.

Wild and domesticated animals were said to have also died by the hundreds. (Remember when cats or dogs might get covid? Jesus, thank you that wasn’t a thing. I would have chosen my cats.)

This guy Malik Ashraf, a Muslim leader, was attacking Baghdad. They said they had to quit because they were running out of supplies, but actually, the troops were falling ill with Black Death.

Here’s a fun story about Malik Ashraf: when his father died, he and his brother were trying to secure their claim to the throne. They found a slave who looked a lot like their dad, and had this slave “Dave” it until they could obtain power. Malik’s fake dad ultimately responded the way you might expect a slave who is asked to impersonate a king might: he stabbed Malik’s brother.

Black Plague spread through Mecca, leading to awkward conversations about if pilgrims, who were supposed to go to Mecca by Allah’s orders, had brought it.

Did these medieval people think God was punishing them? Even though they weren’t Christians? They sure did. Well it might be punishment for bad behavior, and it might be Allah was just pissed off.

I imagine that Islamic rituals of cleanliness were helpful during all times of illnesses, but in fact, Islamic law of the time required people to stay in areas where there was illness, and to dismiss theories of contagion. Oops.

They tried bloodletting, everyone’s favorite, since once the blood was out, the patient was always much quieter and did not complain. They tried cold water. And surgery.

Rural areas became ghost towns, as peasants who were theoretically required to tend the land left and never returned. In the cities, abandoned homes were looted. Everyone stopped paying taxes.

In Damascus, there were two months in which 1,000 people died every day.

Ultimately, a third of the Syrian population died.

Let me leave you with this encouraging story, which is set in the Ommiad Mosque. It was built in the 700s on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter AND a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, and it’s still there. During the plague, they had mass burials in the mosque. But they also came together to pray. According to Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, who was there:

the rulers, notables, judges and all different (social) classes gathered in the (Umayyad) mosque until they became crowded and they stayed the whole night. Among them were people who were praying, remembering (God), and calling out (to Him).” After the Morning Prayer, they all left together on foot and in their hands were Qur’ans (al-maṣāḥif). Ibn Batṭūṭa observes that the rulers were barefoot and all of the inhabitants of the city came out, “men and women, children and the elderly.” Among them were the “Jews with their Torahs and the Christians with their Gospels.” Everyone was crying, imploring and seeking intercession with God’s Books and Prophets. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa notes that after the event, God decreased the number of deaths in the city compared to others such as Cairo.

Sometimes people aren’t shitty.

The Umayyad or Great Mosque of Damascus. The site was first a Roman temple to Jupiter, then a Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist, and since the 700s it has been an important Muslim place.

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