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FATIMID DYNASTY. The institutional embodiment of the Isma’iliyah, a Shi’i sects that anise from the disputed succession to Ja’far al-Sadiq (c 700-756 ), the sixth imam imam of mainstream Shiism (the Imamiyah), was called  the Fatimid dynasty. Al-Sadiq’s son and designated successor, Isma’il, had predeceased him, and some Shi ‘is took Isma’il’s son, Muhammad, as the imam, rather than Isma’il’s brother,Musa al-Kazim, who was accepted by the majority, By the end of the ninth century, Muhammad ibn Isma’ils messianic role as the Mahdi was as no longer recognized by many Isma’liah, leading to an internal split. Direct spiritual leadership (and “Alid descent through Isma’il) was now claimed by a certain ‘Abd Allah (also known as ‘Ubaid Allah), who, with other members of his family, been living in Salmiyah, an Isma’ili center In Syria. His actual descent is a matter of dispute, especially as have energetically fied him and his successors.

The isma`ili movement-which held to a revolutionary messianism, claimed access to esoteric truths, and developed and elaborate Gnostic cosmology, later adding elements o Neoplatonism-was spread by a network of an off secret cells. As an offshoot of a “mission” in Yemen called Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Shi’i began a, campaign among the Kutama Berbers in Crating from the Kabyle Mountains in what is modern Algeria, and capitalizing on Berber hostility to the Aghlabid governors’ who ruled in Qayrawan and Raqqada (in what modern Tunisia) as repre sentatives of ‘Abbasid Sunnism, the new movement achieved great success, and the Isma’iliyah defeated the Aghlabids in 909.

‘Abd Allah had left Salamiyah and, after some perilous adventures, arrived to take over the active leadership of the Isma’iliyah in North Africa, adopting the messianic title of the Mahdi. Despite the subsequent execution of Abu `Abd Allah and Berber revolts, especially that of the Kharijite Abu Yazid (943-94), a Fatimid state (so named because of claimed descent from Fatimah, the Prophet’s daughter and `Alms wife) was established with loyal Berber support and element,; of the former Aghlabid army and bureaucracy. A newcapital, al-Mahdiyah, was founded in 920.

The logic of militant Isma’ili Shiism, with its claim to universal power and authority in Islam, led to attempts at eastward anti-‘Abbasid expansion. The extensive Fatirnid possessions in North Africa, however, were consigned to vassals and in due course lost. A series of expeditions against Egypt ended with its conquest iii 969 by Jawhar, the general of the Fatirnid caliph, al-Mu’izz (d. 975). A new residential and administrative complex was founded, north of previous centers, named al-Qahirah (cairo), to which al-Mu’izz moved in 973. Naval and military power, the splendor of the court, and Egypt’s artistic productions and burgeoning international trade projected the Fatimid regime as and equal of the Byzantine arid `Abbasid empires. Politically and militarily, however, its efforts to advance through Syria were checked by a resurgence of Byzantine power in the second half of the tenth century and by the new Tiirkmen and Seljuk incursions in the eleventh century.

Internally, the dogmas of Isma’iliyah made but little headway among the population at large. It was confined to the court and the state apparatus. Alexandria in particular remained a bastion of opposition as a strong cenief. Cairo, however, at reached as far as the Indus Valley and attempted to destabilize other Islamic regimes to brigs on the triumph of Isma’iliyah. The religious center this movement was the mosque of al-Azhar, founded 970.

The solidity of the Fatimid regime was tested by the eccentric reign of al-Hakim (r. 996-1021), and later, in the eleventh century, there were economic troubles exacerbated by insufficient Nile floods, famines and plagues, and growing bedouin depredations. There were also conflicts within the army. for the palace was increasingly unable to control the various contingents of Berbers, Arabs, Sudanese. Armenians, and Turks. The 1970s began a period of domination of the state by military men. The Armenian Badr al-Jamali (d. 1094) was the first of the “viziers of the sword.” The ideology of the Fatimids became increasingly irrelevant,, and when the vizier al-Afdal (d. 1121) ousted Nizar, the nated successor of al-Mustansw r, 1036-1094) ma’illvah of Iran threw w off their allegiance.

The internal weakness of Egypt encouraged the Crusaders to intervene, which led to a protracted contest for control of the country between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Nur al-Din (r. 1144-1 174) of Aleppo and Damascus. Saladin emerged as the new power in Egypt, initially as lieutenant to- Nur al-Din, and the Fatimid caliphate was abolished in 1171.

[See: also Abbasid Caliphate; Egypt; Isma’iliyah.]


Ganard, Maruis, “Fatimids.” In Encylopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 2, pp. 850\-862. Leiden, 1960-. Good introductory study.

Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphate: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century. London and New York, 1986. See pages 315-345.

Lewis, Bernard. “Egypt and Syria to the End of the Fatimid Caliphate.” In The Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. I, The Central Islamic Londs, edited by P.M. Holt et al. pp. 184-201. Cambridge, 1970.

O’Leary, De Lacy. A Short History of the Fatimid Khalifate. London, 1923. Rather old-fashioned, but one of the rare monographs devoted to the subject.

Stern, S.M. Studies in Early Isma’ilism. Jerusalem 1983. collection of Stern’s important and wide-ranging published articles, with notes on unpublished material.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/fatimid-dynasty/

  • writerPosted On: November 26, 2012
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