This calligraphic stele is the earliest known waqf or endowment inscriptions carved in stone. It relates very closely to a marble tablet discovered in Ramla which carries a waqf inscription and is dated AH 301/913-14 AD, (M. Sharon, “A Waqf inscription from Ramla”, Arabica, XIII, 1966; “A Waqf inscription from Ramla c. 300/912-913”, BSOAS, 1997, Vol. 60.1.). The style of the kufic calligraphy on our stele with the distinctive large angular letter ha is matched in style by the dated Ramla tablet as well as another undated fragment of a waqf inscription carved in stone found in the same location.
The names of the donors on the dated Ramla tablet and this stele are also related. The donor of our stele is a certain Abu Salih Khayr al-Khadim and that of the Ramla tablet a certain Fa'iq al-Khadim. The donors in each case include the title al-Khadim which identifies them as eunuchs and therefore high-placed officials. The donor of our stele is described as mawla, or client, of the ‘Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tazz b'illah (r. 866-869). The Ramla tablet’s donor is described as a client of one of the successors of al-Mu’tazz - the Caliph of al-Mu'tamid 'ala Allah (r.870-892).
The late 9th century was a particularly turbulent period at the ‘Abbasid court with several short-lived rulers and much political instability. The Levant and Egypt were under the control of the Tulunid dynasty which often had openly hostile relations with the ‘Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. It is therefore not surprising that the date of the Ramla tablet does not actually match the regnal dates of the Caliph under whose jurisdiction it asserts it was composed.
Much of the political instability at this period was caused by the relocation of the ‘Abbasid capital to Samara. In the new capital the role of the Caliph transformed into that of a figurehead with the real power fought over by his court. As a result there was a rapid succession of Caliphs as the various factions at court vied for control. The Caliph mentioned in our stele was killed just three years after assuming his title. It is possible that our stele was carved after the death of al-Mu’tazz as perhaps the local rulers in the Levant or Egypt refused to recognise his successor. The similarity in calligraphy between the dated Ramla tablet and our stele suggests that both must be close in terms of dating. Logically however, our stele should predate the Ramla tablet as it carries the name of an earlier Caliph.
An individual by the same name as the donor of our stele, Abu Salih Khayr al-Khadim, is recorded briefly as one of the a'yan or nobles during the time of the Qadiship of Muhammad bin Badr al-Sayrafi (d. AH 330/942 AD) (Ruhvon Guest (ed.), The governors and judges of Egypt : or Kitâb el 'umarâ' (el wulâh) wa Kitâb el qudâh of el Kindî, Leyden, 1912, p. 560). Assuming that Abu Salih was slightly older than Badr al-Sayrafi, this would confirm that Abu Salih could have made an endowment of property towards the end the 9th century.
The angular forms of the kufic letters carved into the surface of our stele contrast with the later 10th century examples from the same region take more rounded form. This contrast is evident when examining the letter mim on a marble foundation tablet in the Louvre which was found in Ashkelon and is dated to the 10th century, (Inv. OA 8160; Thérèse Bittar, Pierres et stucs épigraphiés, Paris, 2003, no.28, p.90).
While there are a number of other tombstones and fragmentary carved inscriptions dating from the 9th century, this rare stele as the earliest known waqf endowment inscription carved in stone gives us a unique window into the turbulent Samarran period of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate.