Al-Subkī does not mention the sexualization of enslaved cupbearers. This is surprising since the beautiful male cupbearer was a topos in homoerotic poetry. The cupbearers, like the jamdārs, were enslaved young boys. Just as he does with the jamdārs, al-Subkī demands extraordinary moral agency from the cupbearers.

Translated from the Arabic by Shaun Marmon. Tāj al-Dīn Abū al-Naṣr ‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Subkī, Kitāb Mu‘īd an-Ni‘am wa-Mubīd an-Niqam, The Restorer of Favours and the Restrainer of Chastisements, edited by David W. Myhrman (London: Luzac, 1908), 53-54. This translation CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Their responsibility is to bring drinks. They are among the ugliest innovation[1] and the most vainglorious in the world. For the Companions, may God be pleased with them, (and their sovereignty was greater than that of the kings of the Turks and the possessions that were in their hands exceeded these possessions to an extent that only God can count) drank water from their cupped hands. For all of the people who hold these offices [of cupbearer] there is appropriate advice on how to do their jobs. We mention two things for the cupbearer:

1. The first is that it is not permitted for the cupbearer who believes in God and the Last Day to bring his master prohibited drink [i.e. wine]. It is upon him [the cupbearer] to come up with stratagems and tricks to close the door to this [sin] and to distance himself from the amīr according to his [the cupbearer’s] capacity and his strength. It is the responsibility of the cupbearer to lie and to say “I did not find it” or to go away [from his master’s presence], or [to do] anything of this kind that is evident to a God-fearing person. If he sees that the amīr is a tyrant who will not respond with justice, he [the cupbearer] must seek intercession and defend against the prohibited[2] as much as he can and distance himself from it; especially at the times when the amīr sits to judge among the populace. Oh, woe to the drunken amīr who sits in judgment on the populace!

2. Secondly, the cupbearer’s duty is to guard the rights of his master and to protect him from enemies who might place deadly poison in his master’s drink. But I have heard that many of the enslaved cupbearers kill their masters for worldly goals. And may God make their ṭa’ifa odious! We have researched this, and we have not found a mamlūk who has served his master so who has not soon been destroyed by God. He [the murderous mamlūk] does not achieve anything he hope for. Instead, his hopes are thwarted, and his circumstances change for the worst.

[1] Innovation (bid‘a), a practice that departed from the tradition of the Prophet Muḥammad and his companions, was a popular topic for moralizing treatises.

[2] Commanding the right and forbidding the wrong/prohibited is a basic tenet of Islam. Muslim jurists and ethicists were, however, conscious of the tension between this tenet and relationships of dominion, especially in the case of slaves vis a vis their masters and married women vis a vis their husbands. Muslim thinkers also recognized that even adult Muslim men might be unable to “forbid the wrong” in the face of political authority. “Forbidding the wrong” silently, with the heart, was permissible. But al-Subkī does not give the enslaved cupbearer or the enslaved jamdār this option.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you see a consistent theme in al-Subkī’s advice to the jamdārs and the cupbearers? Does he expect enslaved children to be the moral guardians of their adult male owners?

2. What would have been the consequences for the enslaved cupbearer who made use of the ruses that al-Subkī suggests?

2. Does this “odious” tā’ifa have any chance for redemption in al-Subkī’s eyes? Are they worse than the jamdārs?

3. Al-Subkī’s claim that enslaved cupbearers poisoned their masters is not supported by historical evidence. What do you think his purpose was in making use of this rhetorical device?

Related Primary Sources