Whatever happened during fatimid times
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Post by kmaherali »

Today in history: Imam al-Mu’izz succeeded to the Imamat

Imam Abu Tamim Ma’add succeeded his father to the Imamat and Fatimid caliphate on March 7, 953 1 at age of twenty-one, adopting the regal title of al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, ‘the one who strengthens the religion of God.’

Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestors, established their empire in 909 in North Africa when Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed Caliph. The Fatimid Caliphate remained in North Africa during the reign of Imams al-Mahdi (r. 909-934), al-Qa‘im (r. 934-946), and al-Mansur (r. 946-953). Imam al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975) founded the city of Cairo which subsequently became the capital of the empire.

The city of Cairo, which remains the Egyptian capital today, was planned by Imam al-Mu’izz while he was still in al-Mansuriyya. Modelled after the cities of al-Mahdiyya and al-Mansuriyya founded by Imams al-Mahdi and al-Mansur respectively, the Egyptian city was originally named al-Mansuriyya, but later renamed to al-Qahira al-Mu’izziyya (‘The Victorious City of al-Mu’izz’), al-Qahira for short, today known as Cairo. Imam Mu’izz’s general, Jawhar, also carried out the construction of the mosque of al-Azhar as the city’s main congregational place of worship as per Imam’s plans.

Jawhar issued, on behalf of Imam al-Mu’izz, a guarantee of safety (aman), which assured peace and security in the country, and ensured the pilgrimage routes to Mecca would be safeguarded. The aman agreement also proposed to renovate mosques, pay regular salaries to caretakers, and affirmed that the sunna (tradition) of the Prophet would be observed. It also stated that the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book), that is the Christian and Jewish communities of Egypt, would be protected and could build their worship centres.

In 973, Imam al-Mu’izz transferred the seat of Imamat to Cairo, taking with him the coffins of his predecessors. “These were buried within the palace precincts in an area that came to be known as Turbat al-Za’faran. [The Sunni historian] Al-Maqrizi reports that every time al-Mu’izz went out of the palace, on his return he would always go past this burial place and pay respect to his ancestors. He also did this every Friday and on Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha, and generously distributed alms” (Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire p, 104, n. 297).

“As well as being a patron of scholarship, al-Mu’izz was an accomplished scholar and linguist with mastery of several languages including Arabic, Berber, Greek, and Sudanese, who composed a number of treatises and is also acknowledged to have inspired the invention of the fountain pen. Imam established a palace library which was, in the words of Heinz Halm, ‘unmatched anywhere in the contemporary world.’ A decade before his death, al-Mu’izz commissioned a map of the world that was subsequently displayed in his mausoleum” (Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire).

Moez al-mu'izz Muizz Cairo
Moez Street in modern-day Cairo. Source: Keladawy, Wikipedia
During their 200-year reign in Egypt, “the Fatimids introduced the Ismaili madhab in law and changed certain external aspects of the ritual – such as the call to prayer – in accordance with Ismaili tradition, they never tried forcibly to convert the mass of the Egyptian population, who were and remained Sunni, to the Ismaili creed. The da’wa was limited to the sessions of wisdom (majalis al-hikma), which no one was compelled to attend” (Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, p 31).

Under the Fatimids, Cairo “grew rapidly into a thriving metropolis and one of the major centres of arts and sciences in the Muslim world. Al-Azhar evolved into a leading institution of Islamic scholarship, attracting students from across the Muslim world. The priority given to the development of Al-Azhar, which ranks among the oldest institutions of higher education in the world, is reflective of the Fatimid commitment to the promotion of knowledge, consistent with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad” (Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire, p 21).

“The Fatimid capital was not only a strategic centre but also an inland port with a robust ship traffic along the Nile, as well as being the terminus of trans-Saharan trade in gold, ivory, and other products as far as West Africa. All these factors, together with the Fatimids’ substantial investment in construction, contributed to the city’s rapid development. According to the Persian poet-philosopher Nasir-i Khusraw who visited Cairo in [1047], the city had over 20,000 shops, numerous bazaars, caravanserais, and bath houses, as well as fine houses and gardens … He also reported with astonishment that the drapers, jewellers, and money changers of Cairo did not lock their shops due to the high degree of peace and security that prevailed the city” (Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire, p 25-26).

Bloom notes that Imam al-Mu’izz’s greatest contribution “was the nurturing of the mature Fatimid state. It was characterized by a rigorous administrative and financial organization, solid political and religious institutions, and a brilliant intellectual and artistic life […] (Arts of the City Victorious, p 42). “The period from the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969 to the middle of the eleventh century was not only a glorious one for Fatimid architecture but also the first truly brilliant period in Egyptian art and culture since the fall of the Ptolemies one thousand years earlier …. Once the Fatimids were firmly in power, however, and ruling over an empire spanning most of North Africa, Arabia and occasionally the Levant, as well as exerting their influence over a much larger area, their capital city of Cairo seems to have set the artistic taste of its time” (Ibid. p 51).

1 Shainool Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2009, p 53
Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning. I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 1997
Jonathan Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious, Yale University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007

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Post by kmaherali »

Book Review

The Shia Century

A case for the study of Islam’s ‘other’ history.

Those few students in Britain who study Islamic history by and large learn the Sunni version. This is the familiar story of the four ‘rightly-guided’ caliphs who succeeded Muhammad and the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates that followed them. When Shia dynasties, like the Buyids of Iraq and Iran, the Fatimids of Egypt and North Africa, the Hamdanids of Northern Iraq and Northern Syria or even the Safavids of Iran, feature in this version of Islamic history, they appear mainly as foils for the Sunni narrative.

Given that Sunni-Shia sectarianism is a key factor in the politics of the Middle East, thinking about Islamic history in this skewed way is unhelpful. A few recent books, such as Hugh Kennedy’s The Caliphate (2016) and John McHugo’s A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is (2017), have begun to redress the imbalance. More can be done. One institution working to highlight the Shia contribution to Islamic civilisation is the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, which, since its founding in 1977, has produced specialist studies on Ismaili Shia theology and culture. Through its new World of Islam series, the Institute is seeking to reach a broader readership.

The first volume in this series deals with the origins of the Fatimid Empire (909-1171), an Ismaili Shia state that, at one time or another, covered most of North Africa, Egypt, Sicily, the Levant, the Hijaz and Yemen. Ismailism is a minority branch of Shia Islam. Ismailis pledge allegiance to a line of imams descended from Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far (d. 762), the son of the sixth imam of the Twelver Shia. They believe not only that these imams are the legitimate political rulers of the Muslim community, but also that they know the inner truth (al-batin) of the Quranic revelation – an esoteric way of viewing Islam more often associated with Sufism.

After the mid-eighth century, the Ismailis’ extensive missionary activity (da‘wah) found success among many Muslim intellectuals as well as the Kutama Berbers of North Africa and much of the rural populace of Iraq. At this time the imams themselves were living through a period of concealment (dawr al-satr), while the Ismaili faithful awaited the return of the Mahdi or messianic guide, who would return to rule in the final years before the day of judgement, ridding the world of evil in the process.

In 909 an army of Ismaili Kutama (North African Berbers) conquered Qayrawan, the capital of the Sunni Aghlabids. Later that year the Ismaili imam ‘Abd Allah emerged out of concealment and headed to Qayrawan, where he declared himself Commander of the Faithful and the Mahdi, thus inaugurating the Fatimid Caliphate.

The first century of the Fatimid Empire witnessed the Fatimids, whose naval strength was without equal in Islamic history, struggling for control of the Mediterranean with Byzantium and the Umayyads of Cordoba. It also saw the systematisation of Ismaili theology and law. Perhaps the Fatimids’ greatest legacy from this period, however, was the foundation in 969 of Cairo (al-Qahira, ‘The Victorious’), which in 972 became their new capital. In Cairo the Fatimids founded the great Al-Azhar mosque-university, which would later become the global centre of Sunni orthodoxy – a sign that Islam cannot be understood without reference to what some historians have called ‘the Shia century’.

In bringing the Fatimids’ history to a new audience, Shainool Jiwa’s book performs an important service. It should be on the reading list of all serious students of Islamic history.

The Fatimids: The Rise of a Muslim Empire
Shainool Jiwa
IB Tauris 160pp £8.99

Fitzroy Morrissey is a fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford.

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Post by kmaherali »

[May]This month in history: Fatimid Imam al-Mansur succeeded to the Imamat
Posted by Nimira Dewji

Imam al-Mansur succeeded his father to the Imamat in May 946. He commissioned the building of a second Fatimid capital (the first being al-Mahdiyya) directly south of Qayrawan (in present-day Tunisia), naming it al-Mansuriyya. The new royal city served as the dynasty’s capital from 948 to 972, when Imam al-Mu’izz transferred the capital to Cairo, a city he founded.

Information about the city is known exclusively from the accounts of medieval geographers, who describe the city as round with the Imam-Caliph’s palace at its centre, and at least four iron gates with special names: Bab Wadi Qassarin (‘Gate of the Qassarin stream’), Bab al-Futuh (‘Gate of Conquests’), Bab Kutama and Bab Zuwayla, names of tribes who had supported the Fatimids. The city had abundant supply of water, “numerous and extensive garden palaces, private houses…and fine markets” (City Walls p 234).

Mansuriyya had a mosque (also called al-Azhar) which was the seat of the Friday public teaching sessions. “Foreign visitors were impressed by the magnificence of al-Mansuriyya palaces which were described as splendid structures with water pools and gardens” (Women and the Fatimids p 71).

Imam al-Mansur strengthened the bond between the operations of the da’wa and the judiciary as demonstrated by the office held by the Fatimid jurist and da’i, al-Qadi al-Nu’man (d. 974), who had begun to serve Imam al-Mahdi in various capacities, and was appointed the supreme judge and chief missionary in 948 by Imam al-Mansur. Hence, the responsibility for explaining “the zahir, or the commandments and prohibitions of the shari’a and interpreting its batin or inner meaning, were united in the same person under the overall guidance of Ismaili Imam of the time” (The Ismailis An Illustrated History p 82).

Al-Nu’man, the founder of Ismaili jurisprudence, prepared lectures on the external according to the Ismaili school of jurisprudence (madhab), which was accessible to everyone during the public teachings sessions at the mosque in Mansuriyya every Friday after mid-day prayers. His main work, the Pillars of Islam (Da’a’im al-Islam) remains the classic of this school.

al-Numan Da'a'im Pillars
Title page of the second volume of Al-Numan’s “Da’a’im al-Islam” produced in India in 1686. Source: The Ismailis An Illustrated History
The lectures in the batin, or the ‘sessions of wisdom’ (‘majalis al-hikma‘) which were only accessible to Ismaili initiates, were held in a special room at the Fatimid palace on Fridays following the afternoon prayers. Lectures of the majalis al-hikma had to pre-approved by the Imam-Caliph himself. “What the Qadi al-Nu’man taught in his majalis al-hikma has come down to us in his work ‘The Interpretation of the Pillars of Islam (Ta’wil da’a’im al-Islam), the esoteric counterpart to his exoteric compendium of Ismaili law” (Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning p 29).

al-Numan Pillars tawil hermeneutics
A page from the beginning of the 10th majalis of al-Numan’s “Ta’wil da’a’im al-Islam” (Hermeneutics of the Pillars of Islam) copied in 1858. Source: The Ismailis An Illustrated History.
A mint also operated in al-Mansuriyya, beginning in 948 ; the last Fatimid coins from this mint date to the mid-11th century.

al-Mansur Mansuriyya Fatimid coin
Gold dinar of Imam al-Mansur. Source: The Ismailis An Illustrated History
The gold dinar of Imam al-Mansur has the kalima on the front centre field and a marginal inscription of Qur’an 9:33:

He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse.

The centre field on the back contains his name and titles and the marginal inscription gives the mint name and date (Mansuriyya, 341/952-953).

Imam al-Mansur died in 953 and was succeeded by his son al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah (r. 953-975). Imam al-Mu’izz spent the major part of his life in Mansuriyya, from where he led an extensive network of da’is who were working in Iraq, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent.

Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam, Edinburgh University Press, 2006

Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 1997

Jonathan Bloom, “Walled cities in Islamic North Africa and Egypt,” City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective, Ed. by James D. Tracy, Cambridge University Press, 2000

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Post by kmaherali »

Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mahdi personally bestowed robes of honour

The tradition of bestowing a garment of honour as an indication of special favour dates to ancient cultures of China and Central Asia, along the Silk Road, to the Middle East. In Persia, luxurious robes were used as early as 333 BCE when Alexander conquered Persepolis and found several of them. “In early use, the robe was a personal recognition by the leader of the follower’s successful and loyal service…” (Gordon, Robes and Honor, p 379) rather than appointment to a public post.

Robes bestowed during the Sassanian period (224-651 CE) were not restricted to appointments of court officials, but were also given out each fall and spring. The king gave his used clothes to his subjects along with gold, silver, and horses; it was viewed that the king’s “essence” remained with the clothing.

Robing ceremonies also took place in the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 CE) for bureaucratic promotions as well as personal recognition by the emperor. As the Empire spread, so did the tradition of robing, incorporating local styles and traditions.

Byzantine Sassanian robes khilat
Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
In the countries of Islam, robes of honour, khil’a (sing. khil’at), became widespread in the ninth to eleventh centuries. The Arabic term khil’at literally means a garment that has been taken off by one person and given to another (Sanders, Robes and Honor, p 225). Prophet Muhammad is said to have given the cloak he was wearing to the poet Ka’b b. Zuhayr who composed poems in praise of the Prophet.

“While earlier rulers certainly bestowed such “castoff” garments as honorific robes, the term khil’at came into usage during the Abbasid period (750-1258). In time, it came to refer to a garment bestowed by the ruler upon an official (Sanders, Robes and Honor, p 225). The term was used interchangeably with the Persian term sir-o pa (literally, ‘head to foot’).

“In the Sufi tradition, the presentation of the robes by a Shaikh to his followers remained one of the core ceremonies of legitimacy and loyalty for centuries. Sufi teachers had a practice to give their own ‘patched’ robe (khirqa, frock and muraqqa) to their followers as a visible symbol of discipleship” (Shivram).

Robes of honour were presented in the durbar or formal court of the rulers in front of an audience. However, by the tenth century, the honorific robes were no longer cast-offs, but were produced in caliphal factories for this purpose. Clothing symbolised authority, conveying information about the recipient’s rank at the court and the wealth of the dynasty. Robes were among the gifts exchanged between rulers, for diplomatic purposes as well as to demonstrate their wealth. In addition to bureaucrats, honorific robes were also presented to scholars, physicians, and poets, including women.

The creation of textiles was among the most important of the arts in the medieval Muslim society. Royal garments, made from luxurious fabrics (fine linen or silk), were inscribed with the caliph’s name and came to be known as tiraz – from the Persian tirazidan, ‘to embroider.’ The term later came to describe a line of embroidered or woven inscription, and then the weaving institution itself. Inscribed textiles with the names of the rulers, as well as the dates and sites of production, were highly valued in the early Islamic period. Since silk, the finest of fabrics, was readily available, its presence alone was not enough to distinguish a court-official from a non-courtier; gold embroidery remained the distinguishing feature.

In the Fatimid Empire, the khil’a ceremony gained importance during the reign of the Caliph-Imam al-Mu‘izz (r. 953-975) although Imam al-Mahdi (r. 909-934) had bestowed robes of honour in North Africa as reported by his administrator Ja’far:

“We saw the Mahdi in the middle of the tent on his throne, resplendent like the sun with beauty and gracefulness. Weeping, we threw ourselves down before him, while he laughed and humbly praised God, may his name be blessed, thanked him and exalted him. Then he said to Sandal: “Give the two splendid garments which I have been keeping especially in such-and-such a trunk.” He brought them, and the Mahdi donned one of them, and the Qa’im the other. Then he said, “And now the clothing and the swords, which I have been keeping for these here!” Then, after he first clothed Abu Abdallah with his own hand, wound a turban around his head and girded him with a sword, he also clothed me, …” (Sanders, p225).”

Ja’far described the fine textiles and named others who were also presented with robes. Although the garments were not cast-offs, the account emphasises the importance of the Imam personally clothing the recipients..

tiraz robe khilat
Tiraz fragment, 10th-century Egypt, inscribed with the name of the fourth Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz. Source: Aga Khan Museum

tiraz kufic Fatmid
Tiraz fragment, late 10th century Egypt. The inscription in Kufic reads: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent, Victory [is from God . . .] Al-Mansur, the Imam al-‘Aziz bi’llah, Commander [of the Faithful].” Source: The Met Museum
tiraz Fatimid khilat
Tiraz fragment, early 11th century, Egypt, bearing the name of the sixth Fatimid Caliph, Imam al-Hakim. Source: Aga Khan Museum
This custom spread to the Indian subcontinent in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After overcoming initial philosophical issues about the clothing of the Hindu rulers, they adopted the tradition, rewarding anyone they wished with luxurious robes.

khikat robes tiraz textiles
Miniature, dated ca. 1615, India. The painting focuses on the weighing ceremony of a Mughal prince; however, several folded robes of honour can be seen in trays in the foreground. Source: The British Library
Balkrishan Shivram, From Court Dress to the Symbol of Authority: Robing and ‘Robes of Honour’ in Pre-Colonial India

Maryam Ekhtiar and Julia Cohen, Tiraz: Inscribed Textiles from the Early Islamic Period, in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paula Sanders, “Robes of Honor in Fatimid Egypt,” Robes and Honor Edited by Stewart Gordon, Palgrave, New York, 2001

Kel’at , Encyclopaedia Iranica

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Post by kmaherali »

During Fatimid times the central administration operated through the diwan system
Posted by Nimira Dewji

(E) From the time of the Imamat of Hazrat Mawlana Ali (A.S.), the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitution in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.
The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

During the time of Prophet Muhammad, his residence in Medina served as his Seat of administration as well as a mosque. Prophet’s successor, Hazrat Ali (d. 661), the first Imam of the Shi’a and the fourth Caliph of the Ummah, transferred his Seat to Kufa, Iraq. During the Fatimid period (909-1171), the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat moved from Qayrawan (in modern-day Tunisia), to al-Mahdiyya, and then to al-Mansuriyya (also in Tunisia), cities founded by and named after Imams al-Mahdi (r.909-934) and al-Mansur (r.946-953) respectively. The Seat eventually moved to al-Qahira (now Cairo) in Egypt, a city founded by Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestor, Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975). Historically, the seat of the Imamat was generally the Imam’s residence.

During the Alamut (1090-1256) and post-Alamut times, Imam resided in various towns in Persia including Anjundan, Kahak, Shahri Babak, which were also seats of administration and to where da’is, pirs, and representatives of the community travelled to meet the Imams.

Alamut Lockhart
Photo of Alamut by Lawrence Lockhart (1890-1928) who trekked through the area in 1928. The Ismailis An Illustrated History.

Anjundan Alamut Mustansir
Imam Mustansir bi’llah II’s mausoleum at Anjundan. Source: The Ismailis An Illustrated history.
Kahak Persia Nizar
Restored mausoleum of Imam Nizar II in Kahak. Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.
Pir Sadr al-Din, in many of his compositions, refers to the Imam of the time (Imam Islamshah) residing at Alamut, for example, in the second verse of the Ginan Dhan dhan aajano daadalore:

Alamut gadh patan Delam deshji
Tiyan avtariya shah mankha veshiji, hetno mera.

“The Imam has descended in human garb at the foot of Alamut, the capital of the land of Daylam” (tr. Shafique Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, p 43).

Imam Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan I (r. 1817-1881) established his residence to Bombay (now Mumbai). Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III established his residences in Bombay, Cannes (France), and Geneva (Switzerland). Mawlana Hazar Imam established residences in Aiglemont and Geneva.

On June 3, 2015, Mawlana Hazar Imam signed an agreement to establish the Seat of Ismaili Imamat in Lisbon, the first institution of its kind in Ismaili history. (AKDN Press Release).

In his address to the Parliament of Portugal during the Diamond Jubilee commemoration, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

“Through the centuries, the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat has been formally designated in one or more locations by the Imam-of-the-Time, depending on the requirements of the day. It has known many homes over the years – throughout the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, in South Asia, and in North Africa. It moved to Cairo in the tenth century, when my ancestors founded that city. The decision to establish a new Seat here in Portugal, at the gracious invitation of your Government, is one that has been taken after much reflection and consultation. It represents a true milestone moment in the long history of the Imamat.”
Lisbon, Portugal, July 10, 2018
Video of Hazar Imam’s address

On July 11, 2018, Mawlana Hazar Imam officially designated the Henrique de Mendonça Palace located at Rua Marquês de Fronteira in Lisbon as the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat, and declared that it be known as the “Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat.”

Sear Ismaili Imamat Lisbon
Mawlana Hazar Imam ordains the instrument to designate the Henrique de Mendonça Palace as the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat on 11 July 2018. Photo: The.Ismaili/Zahur Ramji
From the Arabic diwan and the Persian devan, the term was originally used to refer to a log book or a pension list of the finance department to award compensation to soldiers in Islamic societies. The term subsequently evolved to refer to a financial institution. In Mughal India, during the time of Akbar (1556–1605), the term was associated primarily with government finance, the chief finance minister being the diwan, with provincial dawawin under him. The term can also refer to chief treasury official, finance minister, or prime minister in some Indian states. Until the nineteenth century, Iranians used the term to refer to a central government in general. In the Ottoman Empire, the diwan referred to an imperial chancery headed by the grand vizier.

During Fatimid times, “the central administration was carried on through the diwan system, and the various diwans (ministries, departments or offices) were at times situated at the residence of the caliph or vizier. The first central organ in Fatimid Egypt, in which the entire government machinery seems to have been concentrated and which at some unknown date split into a number of departments, was the diwan al-majalis.” (Daftary, The Ismailis Their history and doctrines, p 224)

There were three main diwans through which the central administration of the Fatimids operated:

diwan al-insha or al-rasa’il, the chancery of state, entrusted with issuing and handling the various official documents including the caliphal decrees and letters;
the diwan al-jaysh wa’l-rawatib, the department of the army and salaries;
diwan al-amwal, the department of finance.
The term diwan was subsequently extended to mean the audience chamber of important government officers, whose offices, furnished with mattresses and cushions along the walls, account for the extension of the meaning to sofa – a long, low, soft seat without a back or arms.

The diwan can also refer to a collection of poems by one author.

Diwan Nasir Khusraw Divan
Diwan-i Nasir Khusraw, Dated 1843, copyist unknown. Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Shafique N. Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press, 2007
The Seats of Ismaili Imamat, Ismaili Gnosis

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Book Review

What the world looked like to a mapmaker in medieval Cairo

In September 2000, Christie’s called up the Oxford historian of Islamic science Emilie Savage-Smith. The auctioneer wanted to show her an unusual manuscript. The covers were scruffy, badly fitting and disfigured by bird droppings. But inside were 48 sheets containing 14 unique maps and an unknown treatise. After much detective work Savage-Smith and her co-author Yossef Rapoport, who teaches at Queen Mary University of London, concluded that it was a copy made around 1200 of the Book of Curiosities, which is originally dated to between 1020 and 1050. Most likely written by a smart man at the Egyptian Fatimid court, it is one of the most important Arabic manuscript discoveries in the last century – amply worth the £400,000 the Bodleian Library paid for it in 2002.

The authors have taken their time but in Lost Maps of the Caliphs they offer a comprehensive and fascinating appraisal of the manuscript, putting it in the context of other Arab and world maps. Remarkably, the Book of Curiosities contains the earliest world map annotated with the names of cities – 395 in all. It contains the earliest recorded use of the word ‘Angle-Terre’ (Inqiltirrah) to identify England. It also has an early version of the circular world map that adorns later editions of al-Idrisi’s Book of Roger, which was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1138. Drawing on late antique and Byzantine sources, the Book of Curiosities is the Fatimid missing link connecting the competing Islamic and non-Islamic cultures clustered around the Mediterranean.


https://www.apollo-magazine.com/lost-ma ... ok-review/
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Fatimids’ inclusive model of governance was reflected in the Aman proclamation of the tenth century

Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestors, established their empire in 909 in North Africa when Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed Caliph. The Fatimid Caliphate remained in North Africa during the reign of Imams al-Mahdi (r. 909-934), al-Qa‘im (r. 934-946), and al-Mansur (r. 946-953). Imam al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975) founded the city of Cairo which subsequently became the capital of the empire.

At the time of the transference of the Fatimid capital from Mansuriyya to Cairo, the Fatimid General Jawhar, issued the Aman, or ‘guarantee of safety’ on behalf of Imam al-Mu’izz.

The Aman has been recounted by the prolific Sunni Egyptian historian, Taqi al-Din Ahmad al-Maqrizi (1364-1442). “Despite the fact that al-Maqrizi was a Mamluk historian, he sustained a unique interest in the Fatimids and systematically recorded multiple facets of their reign in many of his works. Similarly, the Aman has also been recorded in its entirety by the Tayyibi Ismaili historian Imad al-Din Idris (1392-1468 CE). Both these authors are in all likelihood quoting Ibn Zulaq (919-996 CE), a prominent historian and biographer, contemporary to the Fatimid invasion of Egypt, who wrote a biography on al-Muizz, which unfortunately is no longer extant” (Jiwa, Inclusive Governance: A Fatimid Illustration).

The document stated:

“In the name of God, the most Merciful the most Compassionate. This is a letter of Jawhar al-Katib – the slave of the Commander of the Faithful, al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, may God’s blessings be upon him – to the people of Misr [Egypt] and others who inhabit there…

[You have the right] to follow your madhhab or any other Muslim madhhab, to perform your obligations according to religious scholarship, and to gather for it in your mosques and places of congregation, and to remain steadfast in the beliefs of the worthy ancestors from the Companions of the Prophet – may God be pleases with them…

I guarantee you God’s complete, universal safety, eternal and continuous, inclusive and perfect, renewed and confirmed through the passage of days, and recurrence through the years, for your lives, your property, your families, your livestock, your estates and your quarters, and whatever you possess – modest or significant. There shall be no opponent opposing you, no harasser harassing you and no pursuer pursuing you. You shall be safeguarded, protected and defended. We will defend you and protect you against [enemies]…

This safety document [was written] in Jawhar’s own hand in Sha’ban of the year 358 [June-July 969]: “Blessings of God be upon Muhammad and all his progeny.”
Al-Maqrizi, Itti’az al-Hunafa, ca. 15th century

“The inclusive spirit of the Aman formed the bedrock upon which the Fatimids founded their institutional network in ethnically and religiously diverse Egypt. In the realm of political governance, competent administrators from varying backgrounds, ranging from Yaqub b. Killis and Isa b. Nestorius to Badr al-Jamali, rose to the most senior positions within the wazirate. As such, they contributed significantly to the enduring socio-economic vitality of the Fatimid empire” (Sajoo, A Companion to the Muslim World, p 173).

The Fatimids “invested in the creation of institutions of learning that fostered an inclusive outlook. This included offering ‘sessions of wisdom’ for women of the Fatimid court as well as of the dawa, enabling leading Fatimid women such as Sitt al-Mulk (970-1023) and the Sulayhid queen Arwa (1048-1138) to achieve prominent rank within the Fatimid dawa” (Sajoo, A Companion to the Muslim World, p 174).

The Fatimid Caliph-Imams adopted an inclusive model of governance that enabled political and economic stability, intellectual advancements, and artistic grandeur for two centuries of their reign, considered a remarkable period in Egyptian and Muslim history.

Dr Shainool Jiwa, Inclusive Governance: A Fatimid Illustration, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Dr Farhad Daftary, Ismaili History, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Dr Amyn Sajoo, A Companion to the Muslim World, I.B. Tauris in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 2009

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Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy in Fatimid Isma‘ili Interpretations of the Qur’an

Dr. Karen Bauer


Several authors have noted that the Yemeni Sulayhid Queen Arwa (d. 532 AH / 1138 AH) was a rare, perhaps unique, example of a woman said to hold both spiritual and temporal power in a medieval Islamic context.[2] Queen Arwa, also known as Sayyida Hurra and al-Hurra al-Malika, was the effective head of the Isma‘ili da‘wa in Yemen from 467 AH / 1074 to 532 AH / 1138 CE; according to some sources, she was appointed to the spiritual rank of hujja by the Fatimid Isma‘ili caliph-Imam al-Mustansir in 477 AH / 1084 CE.[3] A hujja represented the Imam in a given region, and was therefore the highest Fatimid dignitary in that region, responsible for the spiritual appointment and training of lesser-ranking individuals.

Competing theories have been espoused about the nature of al-Sayyida al-Hurra’s rule, and whether there was anything specific to Fatimid Isma‘ili thought that would allow for a female spiritual leader. Mernissi claims that al-Sayyida al-Hurra’s rule was only temporal, not religious, and that her ability to assume power at all was due to her ethnicity as a Yemeni, rather than anything intrinsic to Fatimid Isma‘ilism.[4] DeSmet and Traboulsi independently examine a treatise written within the lifetime of al-Sayyida al-Hurra, Ghayat al-mawalid by al-Khattab (d. 533 AH /1138–9 CE), in which al-Khattab not only asserts that she is a spiritual ruler, but also defends her right to rule by saying that one’s outward sex is a garment in which is clothed the true spirit, which does not have an inherent gender, but may be described as masculine or feminine depending on spiritual ranking. Both DeSmet and Traboulsi say that al-Khattab’s gendered presentation of spiritual ranking is an innovation. However, in their study, Cortese and Calderini note that it is common for Fatimid Isma‘ilis to describe spiritual rankings as masculine or feminine.[5] Aside from their brief mention of this phenomenon, it has remained unexplored.

This article describes the relationship between gender hierarchy and spiritual hierarchy in the writings of three Fatimid Isma‘ili authors prior to al-Khattab: al-Qadi al-Nu‘man (d. 363 AH /974 CE), Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman (d. 380 AH / 990 CE) and al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi (d. 470 AH / 1078 CE). I show that these authors interpreted references to males and females in the Qur’an as references to spiritual teachers and their students. According to them, verses that, on the outward (zahir) level, speak of the gender hierarchy refer, on the inner (batin) level, to the spiritual hierarchy. For them, physical gender matters in the physical realm, and a worldly gender hierarchy exists, but physical gender is not always a defining factor in spiritual rankings. All three of the authors analysed here were prominent in the Fatimid spiritual rankings themselves: Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman was ‘Chief Gate’ (bab al-abwab) to the Imam, al-Qadi al-Nu‘man was Chief Judge (qadi al-qudat) and al-Mu’ayyad was both bab al-abwab and Chief Missionary (da‘i al-du‘at); their writings would have been widely known among Fatimid Isma‘ili initiates. The texts analysed here provide a general background for al-Khattab’s explicit and specific assertions that a woman had the right to assume the rank of hujja. This article sheds light on the way in which these prominent Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers view the base physical realm as a symbolic reference to higher spiritual truths, and give examples of the ways in which specific Qur’anic stories, such as that of Adam and Eve, or Joseph and Zulaykha, are interpreted as referring to the male/teacher and female/student relationship on the spiritual hierarchy.

This article is divided into three parts. It begins by discussing al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story; in his interpretation, Eve (Hawwa’) is not Adam’s physical spouse but one of his hujaj. This theme is later taken up by al-Mu’ayyad. In the second part of the article, we delve more deeply into the question of the spiritual and the gender hierarchy, exploring the relationship between the descriptions of gender hierarchy and spiritual hierarchy in the writings of al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ja‘far b. Mansur and al-Mu’ayyad. The ideology that the Qur’an’s references to women could be interpreted as references to students on the spiritual hierarchy was also espoused by the Nusayris, a group founded by Abu Shu‘ayb Muhammad b. Nusayr (d. c. 270 AH / 863 CE).[6] Consequently, for the Nusayris, all people on the spiritual hierarchy were men: women could attain no spiritual rank.[7] On the contrary, the Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers analysed here allow that women can attain spiritual merit and rank, even above men. The final section of this paper is a re-examination of the originality of the treatise of al-Khattab, Ghayat al-mawalid, in light of the analysis of the previous Fatimid Isma‘ili conceptions of the spiritual and gender hierarchy as espoused by al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman and al-Mu’ayyad.

1. Creation

The narrative of the creation of the first humans is one essential point on which the Isma‘ili doctrine differs radically from that of the mainstream Sunni and Imami Shi‘is. The Qur’an does not mention the method or substance of the creation of the first woman; but in pre-modern Sunni exegesis (tafsir), the creation of Adam and Eve follows the basic Biblical narrative: Eve (Hawwa’) is created from Adam’s rib while he is sleeping. Pre-modern Imami Shi‘i authors of tafsir works mention the rib interpretation; they also include an interpretation that Eve was created from the soil left over after Adam’s creation. Many Sunnis and Imami Shi‘is indicate that they see Eve’s creation as secondary to Adam’s, and that this secondary creation has implications for all women’s status in the world, and for the laws governing their behaviour.[8]

According to al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, the creation of Eve from Adam is a creation of spiritual hierarchy, not a physical creation. In the Fatimid Isma‘ili cosmology, each era has a law-giving prophet (natiq), followed by an executor (wasi). In addition, each natiq has several hujaj, who act as his representatives in the world. Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man clearly states that the mainstream interpretation is false, and that the creation of Eve from Adam is not physical; instead, it is a spiritual fashioning of her as Adam’s hujja, a rank attained by the knowledge she gains through spiritual discipleship:[9]

God, Exalted and Almighty, created Eve from Adam, and that is known from His words created from it its mate [Q. 4:1], and that is the creation of the discipleship (ta’yid), not a bodily creation. That is to say God ordered Adam to undertake the discipleship (ta’yid) of Eve, and her education, and her spiritual enlightenment; and he made her attached to him, and he made her his wife, and she was his ‘proof’ (hujja), which God had given to Adam in place of Iblis. [It is] not as the general populace claims, that God Almighty delivered Adam unto sleep, and he slept, and then He extracted one of his ribs, and created Eve from it.

In this passage, al-Qadi al-Nu‘man explains that Eve was given to Adam as a replacement for Iblis. The Qur’an describes how Iblis, alone of all of the angels, refuses to bow down to Adam, because of his pride. Twice in the Qur’an he is reported to say to God “I am better than him [Adam]: You created me from fire, while You created him from clay” (Q. 7:12; Q. 38:76). For al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Iblis had been designated as Adam’s hujja, but because of his refusal to bow down and accept Adam’s authority, he is rejected by God.[10] Q. 2:34 (We said to the angels: Prostrate yourselves to Adam, and they did, except Iblis, who refused and was proud, and became a denier) describes this moment of Iblis’ pride, and then says that Adam Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy and his wife were sent to live in the Garden. This is interpreted by al-Qadi al Nu‘man to mean that Eve became Iblis’ replacement in the spiritual hierarchy.

This interpretation shows that many aspects of spiritual lineage are passed down not through physical descent, but through ta’yid, a term that literally means ‘strengthening’ but that I have translated above as ‘discipleship’, because it entails the passing on of specialised knowledge. Eve becomes Adam’s hujja because of the knowledge that he imparts to her. Nor is Adam born into this knowledge; he is taught it by God, as in Q. 2:31, then He taught Adam all of the names. The knowledge imparted to Adam by God is understood by Fatimid Isma‘ilis to consist of knowledge of higher truths. In the Qur’an, when God teaches Adam all of the names, He gives him knowledge that is unknown to the angels; they must ask him for it. It is this knowledge, taught by God, that distinguishes Adam as a natiq prophet. Similarly, in a later age, Muhammad is distinguished from other humans by his knowledge, imparted by God.[11] The particular knowledge of prophets is described by Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman.[12] Not only does knowledge distinguish prophets, but it creates the bond between prophets and their disciples. Thus, the relationship of discipleship between Adam and Eve is not that of a physical lineage; it is the relationship of shared knowledge, the specialised knowledge from God that Adam imparts to Eve through his mentorship and through her acceptance of ta’yid.

For al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, the physical realm is used as a marker of a deeper spiritual truth; this particular interpretation of the physical creation, where Eve is created from Adam’s rib is a means of expressing the spiritual creation stemming ultimately from Adam. The natiq prophets are usually identified as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.[13] Since Adam is the first natiq, he is the spiritual father of all subsequent nutaqa. Just as in mainstream Sunni and Imami interpretation Adam is understood to be the ultimate physical parent of all of humankind, in the Fatimid Isma‘ili doctrine he is the ultimate spiritual parent of the sons of Adam. His spiritual children are those who believe in Adam as a spiritual predecessor of the nutaqa and who believe in tasalsul, the spiritual lineage, down to the Imam of their current time.[14]

The zahir of verses that mention the creation of Eve, such as Q. 4:1, Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and created from it its mate, is that Eve was created from Adam; but beyond that, the text is silent, creation from a rib is not mentioned in the Qur’an. The creation from a rib symbolically expresses the spiritual creation of humankind and the ultimate spiritual lineage; but it is an incomplete version of the story. Because they have only heard a part of the true interpretation, and have misunderstood it, the majority understand the creation of Eve as a creation from one rib, and as a physical creation. Instead, al-Qadi al-Nu‘man says, the human ribs are the physical structure corresponding to the nuqaba’, the representatives of the natiq, and it is false to say that this is a physical creation of one being from another’s rib.[15] Each age has a natiq, and each natiq has representatives, nuqaba’, who operate on his behalf. Twelve of these undertake the teaching of the batin knowledge, while twelve undertake the teaching of the zahir, the manifest worldly instructions. The human body, with its twelve ribs on each side, is the physical representation of this religious truth, and therefore, the story of creation from a single rib is simply an incomplete version of the true rib-creation narrative. Complete spiritual creation was from all twelve ribs on each side, meaning the 24 representatives of the natiq, twelve acting in the world and twelve hidden. The true interpretation refers to God’s knowledge, passed from the natiq to his wasi and from the natiq’s nuqaba’ to the populace.[16]

Al-Mu’ayyad’s sermon 79 also incorporates the idea of the physical world and physical lineage as a symbolic expression of the spiritual world and spiritual lineage. After the opening invocation, the sermon begins with the concept of tasalsul, or spiritual lineage, which says that every prophet is Adam in his turn, progenitors of a spiritual lineage just as Adam was the progenitor of a physical lineage.[17] The prophet is the spiritual father, the wasi is the spiritual mother, and the progeny of the spiritual marriage between them are the spiritual children, who are the followers of the prophet and the wasi. The notion of spiritual parents, with a spiritual lineage that parallels the physical lineage, is exemplified in a hadith:[18]

The attestation of [the spiritual lineage] is found in the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to Ali (upon him peace) ‘You and I, Ali, are the fathers of the believers’, indicating the spiritual sonhood, how it exists, and that it is in the domain of the Godly word (kalimat ilahiyya) which is one of the remnants of the power of the Messenger, just as there exists a physical sonhood in the domain of sperm, which is one of the remnants of the power or manhood. Since the sperm exists as a measure of the connection of lineage between a father and son, the word of God Exalted, which is the truest and foremost remnant of the power of the Messenger, exists as a measure of what is between the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and the community.

Al-Mu’ayyad draws a parallel between physical lineage, perpetuated by sperm, and spiritual lineage, perpetuated by the Godly word: sacred teachings are passed from teachers to students throughout the generations, creating a spiritual family. This passage also hints at the audience to which these sermons were delivered: it seems likely that the audience are those very beneficiaries of knowledge mentioned here, who were already of a certain rank within the Isma‘ili hierarchy.[19] The idea of the Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy spiritual parents is explained elsewhere in al-Mu’ayyad’s writings, in which the spiritual guide takes on the role of parent: rather than a physical being, he makes a spiritual being. He sets up the idea of a subtle natural hierarchy in this lineage, with hints of the love and affection that occur between fathers and sons.

The notion that Adam’s lineage is spiritual, and that references to Eve are really references to his hujja or wasi, means that although Eve is referred to using a female pronoun, and is referred to as a wife, Adam’s hujja is not necessarily a woman at all. The female pronoun is used here, and is able to be used, because the spiritual marriage that occurs between a disciple and a teacher is in parallel to the physical marriage between a husband and wife. That is because, for these three Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers, many of the Qur’an’s references to the gender hierarchy are actually references to the teacher-student hierarchy.

2. Gender Hierarchy as a Parallel for Spiritual Hierarchy

The Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers analysed here draw a parallel between the hierarchical relationship between men and women as expressed in the Qur’an and the hierarchical relationship between teachers and students. References to men and women in the Qur’an are alluding not only to the physical gender hierarchy, but also to teachers and students, or, in the words of Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman, ‘he made those things pairs, male and female, and I don’t mean by that masculine and feminine but rather paired in terms of greater and lesser excellence and merit’.[20] As described above, excellence is acquired through knowledge, passed down from God through his natiq prophets, and from the natiq prophets to their hujaj and nuqaba, and from them to the wider populace. Thus pairings between those with greater and lesser excellence, merit and learning, occur at every stage of the learning hierarchy, from God and the natiq prophets on down. These hierarchies are the true spiritual essence of the merely physical hierarchy expressed in gendered terms in the Qur’an. The example given above, of the true meaning of the story of Adam and Eve, a male and female pair, actually referring to Adam and his hujja, is by no means isolated or unique in Fatimid Isma‘ili writings.

Another example of a woman in the Qur’an being treated figuratively occurs in al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s interpretation of the story of Joseph. In Surat Yusuf, there is an incident which seems to refer to Joseph’s interaction with the wife of the person who has taken Joseph into his house. She is known by later commentators as Zulaykha, and her husband is called al-Aziz or Potiphar. In the Qur’an, she seems to be enchanted with Joseph and to wish to seduce him. Q. 12:23–5 reads:

But she in whose house he was sought to turn him from himself; she fastened the doors and said ‘Come here, you’. He said ‘God forbid! He [your husband] is my lord!’…and she desired him, and he desired her, except that he saw the evidence of his Lord, thus that We might turn away from him all evil and lewdness, indeed he is one of Our sincere servants. So they raced one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind.

These verses are widely understood to refer to Zulaykha’s attempt to seduce Joseph, and to his interest in her, but his refusal of her. Al-Qadi al-Nu?man offers a different interpretation. He says that the incident refers to Joseph’s interaction with a potential disciple, who was interested in Joseph’s knowledge. She desired him and he desired her ‘means she desired that he should disclose to her the true knowledge, and he desired that he could deliver that to her’.[21] However, to do so would have been outside of the proper boundaries and limits of that knowledge, which must only be passed down in strict sequence, between specific persons who have taken a covenant. Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man justifies his interpretation on the basis that the majority’s interpretation of the verse would attribute to a prophet an improper emotion:[22]

As for what the ahl al-zahir have attributed to him, regarding the wife of the king. In the zahir, she was his [actual] wife. She desired him, and he desired her, in other words he reached a state of excitement regarding her, and he was prepared to commit unseemliness because of her (qa‘da minha maq‘ad al-khina’). [But] God has preserved His friends from that, which is blatant fornication. And they raced one another to the door, meaning that each one of them tried to reach the door of the owner of that place first, in order to inform him about what had occurred between the two of them. And she ripped his shirt from behind, God says she cast dishonour on his character and so he exposed her.

Thus the story about a man and a woman becomes about a potential student and his teacher. Rather than being subject to the type of temptation that would lead to the sin of fornication, which is unthinkable for a prophet, instead Joseph is tempted to share his knowledge; but he does not: the proof that he was correct is in the indiscretion of the potential student, who is eager to reveal his secrets. The story that seems to be about a man and a woman is really about two men; the secrets between them are not sexual, but secrets of knowledge and identity.[23] In this case, as in the case of the Adam and Eve story, the zahir of the verse is not as the majority have interpreted it. The batin interpretation is the true interpretation, because the words of the verse as they are normally interpreted would entail an unacceptable result.

The stories of Adam and Joseph highlight the complex relationship between the batin and the zahir. Fatimid Isma‘ilis are not antinomian: al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, for instance, stresses the importance of adhering to the zahir laws. The physical laws of the world Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy represent base physical existence, and are really a sign for deeper spiritual truths, but nevertheless those physical worldly laws exist: the sun rises and sets, the stars and the moon shine at night, and just because these physical phenomena have a deeper significance it does not detract from the reality of their existence. Likewise, humans must obey the laws of prayer, fasting, religious tax (zakat), and so on; but all of these laws also have a deeper significance.[24] Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman says that the batin is the religion of God, while the outer aspect is the ‘revealed paths of religion and its symbols’.[25] The inner and outer aspects of the religion not only support each other, but are essential for each other.[26] But there are verses of the Qur’an that do not speak of the zahir law, and of these verses, there are some which are symbols for inner meanings. In some of these symbolic verses, the outward (zahir) meaning is not valid. Such was the case in the story of Joseph. Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man comments, with regard to the verse We have propounded for men in this Qur’an every kind of example (mathal) (Q. 30:58; Q. 39:27):[27]

It is not the way of the zahir and the batin that the example (mathal) and that which is exemplified (mamthul) are both fixed principles (mafrudayn thabitayn); rather, the fixed and the necessary is that which is exemplified. Like the example of His words, Guide us on the straight path, the path of those with whom You are pleased, not those with whom You are angry, nor the misguided. The ‘path’ linguistically means a road and the ‘road’ here indicates the Imam, because it is requisite for the path not to be misguided, and likewise it is requisite that the Imam is not misguided. And the intention of ‘path’ here is the Imam, not the road which is a way of going upon the earth.

Thus it is that the words of the Qur’an may be symbolic representations, and that which is exemplified is the true meaning and intention of the words. The true meaning is understood not with reference to grammar and linguistic interpretation, as in works of tafsir, but rather with knowledge known only to initiates. The explanations of the true interpretation often appeal to reason. Because in the case of the Fatiha the path on which believers are guided must be unerring, it must not be a real, physical road, but rather the Imam, who does not err. The idea that the Qur’an’s language is at times allusive explains how it could refer to women, either in general or specifically, and actually be gender-neutral. In each case, there is a logical reason why a sexual relationship cannot be indicated, as in the case of Zulaykha and Joseph, and the impossibility of his feeling lust for her.

The law always stands, and it also has an underlying meaning. The outer law must be obeyed, but its inner aspect is the true essence, which makes the outer law meaningful. Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man explains that women must not lead prayer for men.[28] But the underlying meaning of this law is that prayer stands for the da‘wa, the call to religious truth. Here the student (mustafid) cannot call the teacher (mufid) to religious truth; the teacher must be the one who calls the student.[29] In this case, women in general stand for beneficiaries of knowledge (mustafid), and men stand for their benefactors (mufid), those who are knowledgeable and their teachers.[30] This representation is used because the teacher deposits knowledge in the student as the man deposits sperm in the woman. Thus the outward, zahir, law of women not leading prayers for men is adhered to, but its deeper, spiritual meaning exemplifies its true significance. The idea that ‘women’ can stand for students, disciples, or the mustafid, while men stand for the mufid appears in numerous places in al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s Asas al-ta’wil and his Ta’wil al-da‘a’im. These instances preserve the notion of a natural physical hierarchy as representative of the spiritual realm: the term ‘women’ always stands for students and beneficiaries, not the teachers. The interpretation of ‘women’ and ‘men’ as a symbolic representation indicating rankings on the spiritual hierarchy is a different level of meaning that no longer has to do with actual physical gender. Therefore, although women may not lead prayers for men, this does not stop them from attaining spiritual ranking: al-Qadi al-Nu‘man includes women in the spiritual hierarchy in his book Iftitah al-da‘wa, where he references women in his own times who were du‘at.[31]

The physical coupling between a man and a woman also has a spiritual parallel. Al-Mu’ayyad explains the way that the spiritual lineage passes from the prophets to the believers through the relationship between the mufid and the mustafid, with reference to Q. 4:1, Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and spread forth from the two of them many men and women:[32]

Regarding God’s words created you from a single soul, the single soul from which we were created as a people of religion is the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family, the pure ones), thus the souls were fashioned in the image of the Final Abode from his origins, and from the remnants of what was revealed to him they rose and streamed forth. The ‘mate’ created from him, a rib from one of his ribs, as the being of Eve was created from one of the ribs of Adam, is the intermediary [Ali] (the prayers of God be upon him), who was one of the proofs, and became a mate to the Prophet, pregnant with his knowledge, treasure-keeper of his secret, repository for his knowledge and his wisdom. And spread forth from the two many men and women, men, the possessors of knowledge and benefactors (al-‘ulama’ al-mufidun), and women, the seekers of knowledge and its beneficiaries (al-muta‘allimun al-mustafidun).

Because each prophet is an Adam in his turn, like Adam every prophet has a mate created from him; that mate then becomes pregnant with his knowledge, to pass this along to the community of believers through the spiritual hierarchy. Therefore, Ali is Muhammad’s mate, created from his ‘rib’, who then becomes pregnant with the knowledge imparted by Muhammad. The ‘single soul’ and the ‘mate’ are terms that refer to the relationship between the natiq prophet and his wasi; so these terms may refer to the relationship between Adam and Eve, or between Muhammad and Ali: just as Eve was created as a spiritual being from Adam’s knowledge, Ali was created as a spiritual being from Muhammad’s knowledge.

The terms ‘men’ and ‘women’, those who were spread forth from the union of the single soul (Adam/Muhammad) and its mate (Eve/Ali), are teachers and students, the mufidun and the mustafidun. The mufidun are those who have specialised knowledge, and who are given permission by the Imam to disseminate that knowledge to certain people, the mustafidun; some of the latter group may then acquire enough knowledge to become mufidun themselves. The mufid is thus akin to a mentor, or an advisor, of students, guiding them through knowledge of the zahir laws and interpretations into the batin laws and interpretations.[33]

In the works of al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman and al-Mu’ayyad, the natural physical hierarchy between men and women in this world is a representation of the spiritual hierarchy between teachers and students; however, there is a difference between these two types of hierarchies. The gender hierarchy is a fixed physical principle, whereas the spiritual hierarchy is based on knowledge and can be acquired. At its highest ranks that knowledge is imparted directly to the natiq prophets by God, and from the natiq prophets to their awsiya; these rankings are chosen from above and cannot be attained by striving. However, the rankings below these highest are, in theory at least, based on the acquisition of knowledge from teachers to students, and therefore the apt student, by virtue of his own acquisition of knowledge, may move up the rankings to a certain point.

In his treatise on the relationship between student and teacher, Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman describes how any person can rise up through the levels of the hierarchy by striving truly.[34] Another description of rising through the ranks is provided indirectly by al-Qadi al-Nu‘man. In the batin interpretation of who can lead the prayer, he explains the significance of the ‘problematic’ hermaphrodite, in other words the hermaphrodite whose true gender is unknown. He says that, in the zahir law, the problematic hermaphrodite is unable to lead prayers for men because it is unknown whether he has reached a state of manhood or not; in the batin interpretation of this ruling, if a student is unsure of whether he has reached the stage of the mufid, he should not lead prayers for those who are already mufidun as this may entail a forbidden result, namely the student leading the teacher in prayers.[35] This statement about the shift between the mustafid and the mufid indicates that students can become teachers, they can become the ones who impart knowledge; and that differentiates the gendered language of the spiritual hierarchy from the worldly, physical gender. The strict rankings of the spiritual hierarchy indicate that a person may be, spiritually, both ‘male’ and ‘female’: a hujja is female in relation to the Imam, who is above him in spiritual rank, but male in relation to a da‘i, who would be below him on the spiritual ranking.

The Nusayris also use gendered language to describe the teacher-student relationship, and one of their leading authors, Maymun b. Qasim al-Tabarani (d. 426 AH / 1034 CE), has a detailed explanation of the parallels between gender and spiritual hierarchies. Tendler Kreiger explains that al-Tabarani uses the language of the birth cycle to describe religious initiation. He speaks of intercourse, impregnation, gestation, birth itself, suckling, and finally motherhood, which is when a man becomes the mentor of another man. The cycle creates ‘true kinship as opposed to biological consanguinity’; in this, their creed parallels that of the Isma‘ilis. The Nusayris also interpreted the

Qur’an’s references to men and women to mean teachers and students, just as did the Isma‘ilis. Through this initiation cycle, Kreiger explains, men take on feminine roles, and women are excluded from the spiritual community. By taking on both masculine and feminine roles, a man can become the complete and pure believer.[36] It is plausible to posit that there was some interaction between the Nusayris and the Isma‘ilis, or that they had a common source for their ideas of sex, gender and the spiritual hierarchy.

Despite some shared vocabulary and concepts between these groups, they differ in that the Nusayris exclude women from any spiritual attainment, while the Fatimid Isma‘ilis do not. In his interpretation of Q. 4:34, Men are qawwamun over women, with what God has given the one more than the other, and with what they spend of their wealth, al-Mu‘ayyad speaks of the need to adhere to the zahir law of marriage – women should obey their husbands. He then admits that there is a weakness in this zahir law, because many women are spiritually better than their husbands:[37]

Exalted God has said men are in charge (qawwamun) of women, with what God has made the one superior to the other (Q. 4:34), meaning that the possessors of knowledge (al-‘ulama’) are in charge (qawwamun) of the seekers of knowledge (al-mutallimin). God has made their superiority over them manifest, and He has made the seekers of knowledge cleave to them with the attachment of a wife to her husband. The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said, ‘If it were permissible for anyone to prostrate themselves to anyone other than God, I would have ordered that woman prostrate herself before Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy her husband.’ In its outward meaning (zahirihi) this is an obligatory ruling, despite the weakness that enters into certain aspects of it: how many women are better than their husbands, fear God, and are stronger preservers of the limits imposed by God? Thus the doctrine is taken according to the aspect of [inner] wisdom which secures it from its defectiveness and faults; for the being of the possessor of knowledge is superior to the seeker of knowledge in all aspects, and the Prophet said ‘the possessors of knowledge are almost Lords (kada al-‘ulama’ arbaban).’

In most contemporary Sunni and Imami Shi‘i works of tafsir, the exegetes seek to confirm the outward meaning of Q. 4:34 by explaining the intrinsic mental and physical differences between the sexes. Al-Mu’ayyad, however, admits to weaknesses and faults in the logic of the notion that women should always be subservient to men, and especially in the apparent meaning of the hadith that implies the husband’s spiritual superiority by saying that if women were ordered to bow down before anyone, they should bow down to their husbands. This is weak, he says, because many women are better than their husbands and more pious. The batin of this verse, which refers to the hierarchical relationship between teachers and students, is thus more true and correct than its zahir aspects, although the verse still indicates a ruling that is obligatory in its zahir sense, which is that women must be subservient to their husbands.

3. Justifying a Female Spiritual Leader: The Ghayat al-mawalid by al-Khattab

In 467 AH / 1074 CE, three years before the death of al-Mu’ayyad, the Yemeni Queen Arwa, al-Sayyida al-Hurra, gained power; she is said to have been made hujja in 477 AH / 1084 CE. The question of whether or not al-Sayyida al-Hurra was a hujja is one with important political, not just religious, implications. The time in which she was Queen in Yemen was one of political turmoil for the Isma‘ili community; the split in the community over the succession to the caliph-Imam al-Mustansir was in 487 AH / 1084 CE, twenty years after she began her political rule over Yemen.[38] Al-Sayyida al-Hurra supported the succession of al-Mustansir’s son al-Musta‘li, along with the majority of Isma‘ilis in Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Gujrat, while the eastern Isma‘ilis, in Seljuk areas, supported the succession of al Mustansir’s son Nizar.[39] Some years later, the Musta‘lis in Yemen and Gujrat became known as Tayyibis, because they followed Musta‘li’s grandson al-Tayyib.

Cortese and Calderini have suggested that political affiliation divides the accounts describing the nature of al-Sayyida al-Hurra’s rule: while some sources refer to her using the term malika (‘queen’), others use the term hujja (‘spiritual leader’); Cortese and Calderini suggest that those who use hujja did so in order to support Tayyibi claims to legitimacy. [40]However, it should be noted that their argument rests on either the presence or absence of the term hujja in different accounts of her rule, not on any positive arguments against her as a spiritual leader. According to the sources naming her as a hujja, after Imam Tayyib is said to have gone into seclusion, al-Sayyida al-Hurra used her spiritual authority as hujja to appoint a representative of the absent Imam, called the da‘i mutlaq. The office of da‘i mutlaq is one that still persists in the Tayyibi branch of Isma‘ilism.

Al-Sultan al-Khattab, in whose lifetime these events occurred, was an ardent supporter of Tayyibi Isma‘ilism. In his treatise Ghayat al-mawalid, he defends al-Tayyib’s Imamate, in the course of which he spends several pages defending al-Sayyida al-Hurra’s right to spiritual leadership of the Yemeni community. As described above, Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers had indicated that women could attain a spiritual rank: al-Qadi al-Nu‘man mentioned, by name, women du‘at, and al-Mu‘ayyad said that wives might be more spiritually correct than their husbands. But Ghayat al-mawalid appears to be the first direct defence of a woman’s right to hold a spiritual ranking. The question remains to what extent this defence is in line with previous elements of Fatimid Isma‘ili thought, and to what extent it presents new ideas.

Al-Khattab begins his defence of al-Sayyida al-Hurra by describing the way she is perceived by her subjects. He speaks of the honourifics accorded to her, while assuring the reader that these are not merely whimsical, but accorded because they are appropriate descriptions: ‘the Pure’ and ‘the One of the Age’ (wahidat al-zaman), ‘the Support of Islam’ (‘umdat al-Islam). He says that they also pay their religious tax (zakat) to her.[41] This is an indication that they perceive her as a spiritual leader.

He goes on to say that al-Sayyida al-Hurra is the protector (kafila) of the people, and that whoever denies her rank has denied a God-given truth. The denier, he says, cites as proof that women do not deserve the rank of hujja. To assert this, he says, is to deny the orders of the Imams, and to ‘exit the circle of obedience to them and to deny their deeds’; he goes on to mention many women who have been in the spiritual ranks, including Fatima al-Zahra al-Batul (the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad), Fatima, the daughter of Asad (the mother of Ali), Khadija (the wife of Muhammad), Safiyya, daughter of Abd al-Muttalib (grandfather of the Prophet), Maryam, the daughter of Imran, and Sarah, daughter of Aaron.[42] These are women from the age of prophets: relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the daughters of other prophets. Cortese and Calderini show that Fatima and other women of the Prophet Muhammad’s household were often referenced by Fatimid authors; Fatima herself was mentioned on a coin.[43] Al-Khattab’s listing of these women implies that they have a spiritual rank.

Following the list, al-Khattab reaches the heart of his argument (this part of the manuscript has been published by Poonawala and described by Traboulsi[44]). Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy Al-Khattab explains that the bodily form is like a garment (qamis) rather than the intrinsic essence of a person; what matters are the good deeds rather than the bodily form. Many women have been better than men, such as the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.[45] He then says that when a woman acquires certain excellences, she may be considered to be masculine on the spiritual hierarchy, although her bodily form is that of a woman:[46]

Masculine and feminine are human garments (al-qumus al-bashariyya) that do not express the truth nor do they lead to His path … Femininity and masculinity are not [truly] in the aspect of bodies, which are the garments that they have, but rather in the aspect of benefit and the beneficiary only … and, in short, the female is always the beneficiary (mustafid) and the male is always the benefactor (mufid).

Various arguments have been applied to these statements of al-Khattab. DeSmet claims that, although al-Khattab was inspired by previous Isma‘ili authors, in this treatise he breaks with ‘orthodox’ Fatimid Isma?ilism: by comparing the body to a shirt, he implies an extremist view of ‘incarnation’ (hulul); the work, according to DeSmet, is a kind of proto-Druze ideology.[47] The text, however, does not mention incarnation. Indeed, Traboulsi’s analysis shows not only that it cannot be Druze, but also that the ‘male’ and the ‘female’ represent stages on the religious hierarchy, with the male more advanced than the female.[48] However, he has noted only ‘vague antecedents’ in earlier Fatimid writings, and claims that, in essence, the idea of becoming spiritually male was devised to support the reign of al-Sayyida al-Hurra. This study shows that al-Khattab’s language, and the doctrine of the masculine mufid and feminine mustafid as stages on the spiritual hierarchy, is well established and not new. What is new here is the application of the doctrine to a real woman, and the explicit assertion that, in the spiritual hierarchy, outward maleness and femaleness do not matter.[49] Al-Khattab himself states that he is writing in defence of al-Sayyida al-Hurra because of those who would argue against her: his statements about women’s spiritual potential are not disinterested or apolitical.[50] However, the sentiments that he expresses could be considered as a development of, rather than a radical break from, previous Fatimid Isma‘ili writings, which consider the spiritual hierarchy as being more important than the worldly gender hierarchy.


Although women’s gender forms a category within zahir law that must be adhered to, as in the instance of women not leading prayers for men, for the Fatimid Isma‘ilis analysed here, physical gender is a part of the base, worldly realm, and is transient. For al-Mu’ayyad and other Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers, the spiritual hierarchy was one Journal of Qur’anic Studies in which the ranks, to a point, could be acquired through knowledge and were open to women. The idea that this worldly realm is of less importance than the spiritual pervades the work of Fatimid Isma‘ili thinkers prior to al-Khattab, such as al-Mu’ayyad.[51]

The Qur’an interpretations in these Fatimid Isma‘ili texts bear little relationship to the works of Sunni and Shi‘i tafsir of the same period. The genre of tafsir (exegesis) with its specific aims and methods, reveals specific aspects of interpretation, and although it often seems to elaborate on all interpretations of a verse, it was actually circumscribed. The works studied here show that, in order to appreciate the full extent of Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an, it is necessary to go outside of the genre boundaries of the tafsir tradition.

Though the interpretations discussed in this article did not appear in works of tafsir before, during, or after the period in question, the concept of the gendered relationship between teacher and student lives on in subsequent Sufi works.[52] As in the writings of the Fatimid Isma‘ilis studied here, for the Sufis a shaykh’s spiritual lineage was important. The training and discipleship of the spiritual novice is referred to as a ‘spiritual birth’.[53] Sufi shaykhs are variously described as mothers or lovers, and ‘marriage and sexual intercourse are imbued with cosmological significance’.[54] The idea of spiritual lineage appeared long before the Fatimid Isma‘ilis, in the writings of the Christian Gnostics. Further investigation may establish the exact linkages between the gendered vocabulary and ideas in the writings of Gnostics, Nusayris, Fatimid Isma‘ilis and Sufis, and therefore trace the growth and development of these concepts through time and space.


[1] I am deeply grateful to Abedeali Qutbuddin for his help on all aspects of this article, and particularly for his careful reading of several drafts. I would also like to thank Husain Qutbuddin and the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this piece.

[2] These authors include Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderni, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), pp. 127–38; Farhad Daftary, ‘Sayyida Hurra: The Isma‘ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen’, first published in Gavin R.G. Hambly (ed.), Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998), accessed online at: https://iis.ac.uk/academic-article/sayy ... ueen-yemen; Daniel DeSmet, ‘Une Femme Musulmane Ministre de Dieu Sur Terre? La réponse du da?i ismaélien al-?attab (ob 1138)’, Acta Orientalia Belgica 15 (2001); Fatima Mernissi, The Forgotten Queens of Islam (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1993), ch. 7; and Samer Traboulsi, ‘The Queen was Actually a Man: Arwa bint Ahmad and the Politics of Religion, Arabica 50:1 (2003), pp. 96–108.

[3] Daftary, ‘Sayyida Hurra’, pp. 4–5.

[4] Mernissi, The Forgotten Queens of Islam, p. 154, p. 157.

[5] Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids, p. 35.

[6] Bella Tendler Kreiger, ‘Marriage, Birth, and Batini Ta’wil: A Study of Nusayri Initiation Based on the Kitab al-Hawi fi ?ilm al-fatawi of Abu Sa?id Maymun al-Tabarani’, Arabica 58 (2011), pp. 53–75.

[7] Tendler Kreiger, ‘Marriage, Birth, and Batini Ta’wil’, p. 61.

[8] On Sunni and Imami Shi?i interpretations of verses on women’s status, see Karen Bauer, ‘Room for Interpretation: Qur?anic Exegesis and Gender’ (unpublished PhD dissertation: Princeton University, 2008).

[9] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Asas al-ta’wil, ed. and intr. Arif Tamer (Beirut: Dar al-Thaqafa, 1960), p. 58.

[10] Al-Qadi al-Nu?man, Asas al-ta?wil, p. 55, p. 58.

[11] In two instances in the Qur’an, Muhammad is commanded to admit that he is a person, like other people; but in both instances he is distinguished by wahy, revelation from God (Q. 18:110, Say: I am only a man like you, but it is revealed to me (yuhy) that your God is one God; Q. 41:6, Say: I am only a man like you, it is revealed to me that your God is one God).

[12] Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman, Master and Disciple (Katab al-‘alim wa’l-ghulam), ed. And tr. John Morris (London: I.B. Tauris, in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001), p. 95.

[13] Al-Qadi al-Nu?man, Asas al-ta?wil, p. 41.

[14] The spiritual lineage from Adam is also explained by al-Mu’ayyad, Sermon 77, al-Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyya, ed. Hatim Hamid al-Din, 2nd edn (Mumbai: Leaders Press Private Ltd., 2002), vol. 1, pp. 375–6.

[15] ‘They [the mainstream] have only heard a part of the ta’wil, and they do not know it. They have heard that God exchanged one of Adam’s ribs, and from that rib He made Eve. But the matter is not like that; rather, God gave Eve to Adam in exchange for Iblis, who was the appropriate person to be Adam’s hujja, as we have said. And he made him one of the twelve nuqaba’, because their representation in the outward creation of humans is the ribs of the body, because the human has twelve ribs on each side, and the right side is the representation of the inward knowledge, while the left side is the representation of outer knowledge, and the nuqaba’ of the inner knowledge are twelve, and likewise the nuqaba’ of the outer knowledge’ (al-Qadi al-Nu ‘man, Asas al-ta’wil, p. 59).

[16] This is clearly explained by Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman in The Master and Disciple, p. 82–3. He speaks of the nutaqa, the hujaj and the nuqaba’, the du?at and the ‘ulama’ as different ranks among knowers.

[17] Al-Mu’ayyad, al-Majalis, vol. 1, p. 383. Al-Mu?ayyad also mentions each prophet being an Adam in his age in Sermon 77.

[18] Al-Mu’ayyad, al-Majalis, vol. 1, p. 384.

[19] Tahera Qutbuddin explains the probable audience for the sermons in the Majalis. She explains that there were different types of lesson on different days, and that the sermons from the Majalis were probably read on a Thursday. She says: ‘Admission to the higher level of majlis was probably considered an honour; al-Mu’ayyad calls this admission a rutba (‘spiritual rank’) which would seem to indicate that there was some special significance to the majlis held on this day’ (Tahera Qutbuddin, al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi and Fatimid Da‘wa Poetry: A Case of Commitment in Classical Arabic Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2005), p. 86).

[20] Al-Yaman, Master and Disciple, p. 81, para 89. Elsewhere, the teacher refers to himself as the student’s spiritual father, or the boy is referred to as a son (p. 64, para. 76); and the young man says he is young and needs to be raised and educated (p. 71), and he compares proper and improper initiation to the difference between ‘fornication and marriage’ (p. 78). Proper initiation is that which takes place with the requisite permission to impart knowledge from the Prophet, wasi or the Imam.

[21] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Asas al-ta’wil, p. 142.

[22] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Asas al-ta’wil, p. 142.

[23] Another example of specific women in the Qur’an being interpreted as references to men is that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad are interpreted as being his hujaj (al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Asas al-ta’wil), p. 328.

[24] Al-Mu’ayyad mentions these examples in Sermon 64, al-Majalis, vol. 1, p. 305–9, which is a refutation of those who say that a person who knows the deeper significance of the laws does not need to obey them.

[25] Al-Yaman, Master and Disciple, p. 83.

[26] See, for instance, al-Yaman, Master and Disciple, p. 102.

[27] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Asas al-ta’wil, p. 61.

[28] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ta’wil al-da‘a’im, ed. Muhammad Hasan al-A‘zami (Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif bi-Misr, n.d.), p. 240.

[29] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ta’wil al-da‘a’im, p. 241.

[30] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ta’wil al-da‘a’im, p. 241.

[31] ‘There were women who accomplished such work and devoted themselves to it, seeking thereby to gain reward for it, such as the wife of Yahya b. Yusuf … she adhered to the da‘wa and her conduct was good. She brought the money and presented it to him, informing him of the last wishes of her husband. She had money which she expended for jihad. She would prepare food with her own hands for fighters, for poor believers and for those of them who stopped by her family, to the extent that her hands would bleed from grinding and handling food for them. There were other women like her whose account would only lengthen this book. They attended instructional sessions (majalis) and listened to words of wisdom. There were some old women, who followed these sessions and rose to the rank of da‘is (hadd al-da‘wa). Among them were Umm Musa, daughter of al-Hulwani, whom we have mentioned before, and other old women of the Kutama. They also rendered services to the believers, looked after the sick and treated the wounded with devotion and insight, because these women, as well as the men whom we have mentioned before, listened to admonishment and wisdom, and were strengthened with education and right conduct’ (Hamid Haji, Founding the Fatimid State: The Rise of an Early Islamic Empire, an Annotated English Translation of al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s Iftitah al-Da‘wa (London: I.B. Tauris, in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2006), p. 109.

[32] Al-Mu’ayyad, Sermon 79, Majalis, vol. 1, pp. 384–5.

[33] Thus the translation of ‘ulama’ in this context is best rendered as ‘possessors of specialised knowledge’, though it is an awkward phrase.

[34] Abu Ja‘far al-Yaman, Master and Disciple, pp. 106, p. 96.

[35] Al-Qadi al-Nu‘man, Ta’wil al-da‘a’im, p. 241.

[36] Tendler Kreiger, ‘Marriage, Birth, and Batini Ta’wil’, p. 61.

[37] Al-Mu’ayyad, al-Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyya, vol. 1, pp. 382–5.

[38] Daftary, ‘Sayyida Hurra’, p. 5.

[39] Daftary, ‘Sayyida Hurra’, p. 6.

[40] Cortese and Calderini, Women and the Fatimids, p. 136.

[41] Institute of Ismaili Studies Hamdani Collection MS 1496 (Handlist 67), p. 19. Note that the page numbering in this manuscript does not follow the usual pattern; instead each individual page is numbered like a book, so there is no r. or v.

[42] IIS Hamdani MS 1496, p. 20.

[43] For example, they refer to ahadith cited by al-Qadi al-Nu‘man extolling Fatima (Cortese and Calderni, Women and the Fatimids, p. 7), and to her name being used on a coin (Cortese and Calderni, Women and the Fatimids, pp. 106–7).

[44] Ismail Poonawala, Sultan al-Khattab hayatuhu wa-shi‘ruhu (Cairo: Dar al-Ma‘arif bi-Misr, n.d.), pp. 315–18; Traboulsi, ‘The Queen was Actually a Man’.

[45] IIS Hamdani MS 1496, p. 23. Poonawala, p. 316, has omitted mention of the names of the women who are the ‘lowest of the low’, or his MS omitted those names.

[46] IIS Hamdani MS 1496, pp. 24–5.

[47] DeSmet, ‘Une Femme Musulmane Ministre de Dieu Sur Terre?, p. 160.

[48] Traboulsi, ‘Arwa bint Ahmad’, p. 105.

[49] As Traboulsi argues, it seems that this argument is brought forth explicitly at this time in order to justify the rule of al-Sayyida al-Hurra, the queen to whom al-Khattab was allied.

[50] Thus al-Khattab in a sense confirms Traboulsi’s argument that he is writing out of political concern.

[51] ‘We say with reference to His words the earth is built that the sky is to the earth in the place of the male to the female, in both the physical and the rational/spiritual realms, because the sky provides the benefit (ifada) and the earth accepts the benefit and is the beneficiary (istifada) …’ (al-Mu’ayyad, Sermon 80, al-Majalis, vol. 1, p. 390).

[52] Margaret Malamud, ‘Gender and Spiritual Self-Fashioning: The Master-Disciple Relationship in Classical Sufism’, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64:1 (1996), pp. 89–117.

[53] Malamud, ‘Gender and Spiritual Self-Fashioning’, p. 95.

[54] Malamud, ‘Gender and Spiritual Self-Fashioning’, p. 99.

This is an edited version of the article Spiritual Hierarchy and Gender Hierarchy in Fatimid Isma‘ili Interpretations of the Qur’an originally published in Journal of Quran.
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Post by kmaherali »

"The Fatimid Legacy and the Foundation of the Modern Nizari Ismaili Imamate" in: The Fatimid Caliphate: Diversity of Traditions, ed. Farhad Daftary and Shainool Jiwa (London: I.B. Tauris and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2017)

Daniel Beben

The Fatimid era is ubiquitous today in the discourse of the Nizari Ismaili imamate. Yet this was not always the case. As with other societies and religious communities the world over, the arrangement and presentation of history in the Ismaili tradition has evolved in the course of time, with new historiographical agendas and subjects of emphasis emerging or receding in response to changes in the political and social contexts. In this chapter the place of the Fatimids in the cultural memory of the Nizari Ismailis in the post-Mongol era will be explored. It will be argued that the emphasis placed on the Fatimid era in present-day Nizari discourse is a relatively recent development, rooted in the dynamic changes that occurred in the social and political context of the community in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rather than the Fatimids, the primary locus of Nizari communal memory in the earlier period from the 7th/13th to the 12th/18th centuries was the Alamut era, and particularly the declaration of the qiyama (spiritual resurrection) under Imam Hasan 'ala dhikrihi'l-salam at Alamut in 559/1164. It was only in the 18th century, when the Nizari imamate emerged from a long period of concealment and entered into a new-found position of political and social prominence, that we see the first signs of a de-emphasis of the qiyama and a renewed focus on the Fatimid era and its legacy.

The entire chapter can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/35515527/_The_ ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

Title: Al-‘Aziz bi’llah, Encyclopaedia Islamica

Title: Al-‘Aziz bi’llah

Author: Shainool Jiwa

Source: Daʼirat al maʻarif -i buzurg-i Islami, The Encyclopaedia Islamica,Vol 3.

Publication: This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in Daʼirat al - maʻarif -i buzurg-i Islami, The Encyclopaedia Islamica, Vol 3, p. 988-997 ed. Wilferd Madelung & Farhad Daftary, Brill(London, 2011).

The article can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/6711858/Title_ ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

The Propagation of Fatimid Isma’ilism in Egypt and Beyond

The entire paper can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/30900535/The_P ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

‘A Philosophical Response from Fatimid Egypt on Leadership in Islam’

The paper can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/11719977/_A_Ph ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

Tahraoui Ramdane

This paper tries to investigate the Fatimid educational administration experience in Egypt. It starts by reviewing the historical conditions that paved the way for the establishment of this Ismaili state, as well as the principal foundations of their ideology. This is significant, because in medieval Islam administration of educational activities was part of an interconnected bureaucracy, in which education, religious sectarian preferences and politics were inseparable.

Writing about the Fatimid educational administration is always difficult because the Fatimid political apparatus’s nature, and the wide spread culture of secrecy. What makes the matter more complicated is the style of recording events by Muslim historians of that era. They followed a methodology which chronicled the political, religious and economic aspects of life on annual basis, and neglected other aspects such as educational administration. Concepts related to modern educational administration literature like centralization, unity of command, span of control and merit, were rarely mentioned in the historical sources. These difficulties made this research a testing challenge.

The paper can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/9478665/THE_FA ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

A Fatimid da’i reports on the mercy and patience of Imam al-Mu’izz
Posted by Nimira Dewji

The Ismaili scholar and author Idris Imad al-Din (d. 1468 CE) was the chief da’i of the Yemeni Ismaili da’wa, descended from the prominent al-Walid family, who led the Tayyibi Musta‘lian Ismaili administration for more than three centuries. Thus, Idris had access to the literary heritage of the Ismailis, including the majority of the surviving Fatimid texts.

In his seven-volume Uyun al-akhbar wa funun al-athar (‘Sound Sources and Trustworthy Tradition’s), composed around 1434, Idris recounts the key developments in Ismaili history from the time of Prophet Muhammad and the Shi’i Ismaili Imams until the decline of the Fatimid dynasty in the twelfth century. The text draws upon the sayings and anecdotes of Imam al-Mu’izz as recounted by his chief judge and chief da’i al-Qadi al-Nu’man (d. 974).

“The works of al-Nu’man are among the earliest Fatimid writings on the history and doctrines of the Ismaili imams, as well as the authoritative source on al-Mu’izz’s words and actions. Idris’s extensive referencing of the Qadi’s works in his narrative indicates their continued importance in Ismaili thought, long after the demise of the Fatimid state” (The Founder of Cairo p 2).

Uyun al-akhbar idris IIS muizz
Uyun al-Akhbar. Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Idris reports on the mercy and patience of Imam al-Mu’izz:

“The Commander of the Faithful, al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, was clement and forgiving; this made his distant enemies draw close to him and who became his loyal servants and slaves…Al-Qadi al-Nu’man b. Muhammad said: Countless times I witnessed al-Mu’izz during his audiences, when attending to matters or during his outings, being opposed in ways that would invoke anger and punishment. Perhaps a slave of his would oppose his views, interrupt him as he was speaking and protest against what he had ordered and instructed him. He would reply to al-Mu’izz in regards to the matters that he ought not to, causing anguish in the hearts of those who were present and those who heard them. Yet, I never saw al-Mu’izz become angry or punitive about it.

The most [angry] I ever saw him was when one day al-Mu’izz left al-Mansuriyya for some purpose. People crowded around his mount and surrounded him from every direction, requesting their needs and presenting their issues. Although he had appointed administrators, they refused [to address them] and reverted only to al-Mu’izz. Throughout all this he was receiving them, listening to them and issuing orders to fulfill their needs until it became impossible for him, for he could not move and his horse turned around and bolted under him. So al-Mu’izz ordered them to leave, instructing his footmen to disperse them. Yet they persisted and remained, nor were the footmen able to scatter them. So he pulled a lance from the hands of his men and said, ‘What it takes to disperse you (the crowd) is to strike one of you with this!’ Then he looked at us, smiled instantly and said, ‘Do you see what we are [caught up] in?’ He continued to talk as if no one had opposed him regarding any matter.

Although those who were accompanying him, including myself, were extremely vexed by what we saw, by God he did not react that way, except for what I have already mentioned. He used his generous disposition in the same way as a rod is used to threaten and scare a child who is ignorant and for his own benefit.

Indeed, I (al-Nu’man) followed suit in being [merciful] to those of my men and slaves who were ignorant and disregardful, to forgive their mistakes and pardon their errors; yet they were arrogant, and made it difficult for me to deal with many of their matters…..

…I noticed that the command of al-Mu’izz led to positive outcomes and good deeds because of the clemency, perseverance and patience that God had bestowed upon him…”

Extracts from The Founder of Cairo, Translated with annotations by Shainoool Jiwa, p 101-105

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Post by kmaherali »

Monumental Calligraphy in Fatimid Egypt

Epigraphy in Stone, Stucco, and Wood

Article with illustrations can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/36432712/Monum ... o_and_Wood
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Post by kmaherali »

Recruiting Crews in the Fatimid Navy (909-1171)


Recruiting crews for the fleet was always problematic for medieval rulers. The Ismai’le Fatimids were no exception. In spite of every kind of adversity, from civil war to Sunni resistance and the crusades, they succeeded in building one of the most powerful navies of their time (tenth-twelfth centuries). The recruitment system, based mostly on financial attraction of crews and the organization of navies, partly explains both the success and the final failure of the Fatimids.

The article can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/2372747/Recrui ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

“Fatimid Aspirations of Conquest and Doctrinal Underpinnings in the Poetry of al-Qaim bi-Amr Allah, Ibn al-Andalusi, Amar Tamim b. al-Muizz, and al-Muayyad al-Shirazi"

Tahera Qutbuddin
University of Chicago
For Paul E. Walker
On His Seventieth Birthday

At the high point of the Fatimids’ two hundred and fifty plus years of rule, their territory spanned large parts of the Islamic realm — all of North Africa, Egypt, Sicily, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, the Hijaz, and even theAbbasid heartlands of Iraq, with additional covert mission cells in Byzantine Armenia and Anatolia, Central Asian lands, and places as far away as India.

Traditional historical sources supply ample data regarding the Fatimids’ appearance on the political scene in the Maghrib, their conquest of Egypt and their move there, and their battles in Syria and Iraq. Internal histories of the Fatimid and Taayyibi “dawa” even provide some doctrinal commentary. (The term “dawa”, which denotes the Fatimid’s religio-political mission of education, proselytizing, and activism, is used frequently in this paper). But neither the external nor the internal histories discuss the motivation steering these conquests, and many questions about whys and wherefores remain — such as why the Fatimids moved east from North Africa rather than continuing there or going north into neighboring Spain; in what manner they differed from other more opportunistic and locally ambitious North African dynasties like the Aghlabids whom they replaced; and the nature of the claims they made in their challenge of the Abbasid caliphate. We could turn to the Fatimid theological and philosophical tracts for answers, but although these provide detailed expositions about the imam’s role in the spiritual and temporal leadership of the world, they are less concerned with factual details of political history. It is primarily the literary materials, and particularly Fatimid poetry, that systematically bring together both categories of information, the mundane and the abstract. There are limitations, of course, to the use of poetry as a historical source, for it is dense and intense, and it alludes to actions and ideas without actually spelling out a cohesive narrative of events. But when utilized alongside the traditional sources, the poetry tells us what specific historical events mean in their ideological framework, connecting military actions with the doctrines that drove them. In this paper, I analyze the verse of four major poets spanning the heyday of Fatimid power in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries — the caliph-imam al-Qaim bi-Amr Allah (d. 334/946), the court poet Ibn Hani al-Andalusi (d. 362/973), the royal prince Tamim b. al-Muizz (d. 374/984), and the chief dai (missionary and activist) al-Muayyad fi l-Din al Shirazi (d.470/1078) — with a view to identifying the lands the Fatimids sought to rule, and understanding the multifaceted mahdist ideology of the imamate that underpinned their gradual conquest of large parts of the Islamic empire.

The entire article can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/15729826/_Fati ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

Kinship, Camaraderie and Contestation: Fatiimid Relations with the Ashraf in the Fourth/Tenth Century

Shainool Jiwa

The founding of the Fatimid caliphate across the southern Mediterranean, and then in Egypt, Syria and the Hijaz at the turn of the fourth/tenth century, necessitated its negotiation with the ashraf, those who claimed lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad, and who by this time had gained significant influence as a social class based on their charismatic descent. While other dynastic powers fostered relationships with various members of the ashraf, the Fatimid–ashraf dynamics were distinctive in that the Fatimids legitimised their rule as Ismaili Shia imam-caliphs, based on their claim of descent from the Prophet Muhammad, and as the sole successors to his authority and leadership over the Islamic world. Consequently, Fatimid–ashraf relations were permeated by fraternal camaraderie as well as by competing contestations based on their shared claim to Prophetic lineage.

The paper can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/30457988/Kinsh ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

The Fatimid period has been designated “the Ismaili century”
Posted by Nimira Dewji

Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids, ancestors of Mawlana Hazar Imam, established their rule in 909 in Tunisia, in North Africa, when Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed caliph. The fourth Fatimid caliph, Imam al-Mu’izz, founded the city of Cairo to where he transferred his capital in 969.

In Cairo, the Fatimids promoted intellectual activities, founding major institutions of learning and libraries. Through their efforts, “Cairo became a major centre of Islamic scholarship, sciences, art and culture, in addition to playing a prominent role in international trade and commerce. The Fatimid period “marked not only a glorious age in Ismaili history, but also one of the greatest eras in Egyptian and Islamic histories; and as such a milestone in the development of Islamic civilisation” (Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis p 66).

“It was however, in the sphere of intellectual life that Fatimid achievement seems most brilliant and outstanding. The Fatimid rulers were lavish patrons of learning, and their generous encouragement of scientific research and cultural activity caused Cairo to exert a degree of magnetic attraction such as to draw renowned mathematicians, physicians, and astronomers to the city from all over the Muslim world…

The universities of Al-Azhar and Dar al-Hikma provided a monumental and enduring testament to the Fatimids’ love of learning. Figures of outstanding ability such as al-Nasafi, al-Razi, al-Sijistani, al-Nu’man, Hamid al-Kirmani, al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi, and Nasir-i Khusraw, made crucial contributions to the articulation of Isma’ili theology which… was characterized by a remarkably upsurge of intellectual activity which [the French historian] M. Canard [d. 1982] has described as analogous to that which took place in Europe in the eighteenth century.

The cultural impact of the Fatimid state was not confined to the Muslim world. At the height of its power, while the Fatimid fleet and commerce dominated the eastern Mediterranean, the influence of the universities at Cairo spread into Europe with Fatimid writers contributing significantly to the development in the West of sciences such as optics, medicine, and astronomy” (Esmail, Nanji, Ismai’ili Contributions to Islamic Culture p 237).

Aziz Esmail and Azim Nanji, “The Isma’ilis in History” published in Isma’ili Contributions to Islamic Culture, Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, Tehran, 1977

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Post by kmaherali »

Did Salah al-Din Destroy the Fatimids’ Books? An Historiographical Enquiry
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2015Fozia Bora

A persistent myth featuring in some modern accounts of the transition from Fatimid to Ayyubid rule (1169–71) is that one of Salah al-Din's (r. 1171–93) first actions upon attaining sovereignty over Egypt was to destroy the Fatimids’ book collections in their entirety. Medieval sources present a different, more nuanced depiction of books sold and dispersed over a decade or more, rather than extirpated and put out of circulation altogether. This article collects and examines medieval Arabic accounts of the episode, and finds further indications of the robust survival of Fatimid-era works in the composition of later chronicles, where native Fatimid-era accounts, which clearly did endure beyond the Fatimid age, are well-represented. The article also looks at the tendentious aspects of medieval accounts of Salah al-Din's policies, and the difficulties they pose to a modern appraisal of the sultan's character and intellectual-ideological tendencies.

The article can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/14828116/Did_S ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

The Dhimmis and their Role in the Administration of the Fatimid State

Mohammad Hamad

saleh kharanbeh

One of the most recurring questions today is the Islamic state's relationship with the dhimmis (Jews and Christians living under early Muslim rule) and their status in the early days of Islam and up to the late days of the Islamic Caliphate. This relationship may have been varying, swinging up and down. Perhaps the more legitimate questions are: What were the factors that affected the nature of the Dhimmis relationship with the ruling power in the Islamic state? What was the status of the Dhimmis and what roles did they play in the early Islamic states, with the Fatimid Caliphate as a model? The Fatimid Caliphate rose up and centered in Egypt, which was then home for Coptic Christians and Jews, living side by side with Muslims. That is why the author has chosen the Fatimid State, in specific. Another driver for this selection is the fact that when the Fatimid Caliphate was ruling in Egypt, the Europeans were launching their Crusades in Jerusalem, which placed such a relationship between Muslims and Christians at stake.

The article can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/30239800/The_D ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

[Jan 4]Today in history: Imam al-Mahdi was officially proclaimed caliph in the North African capital

On January 4, 910, the eleventh Ismaili Imam Abu Muhammad Abd Allah, who took on the titles of al-imam al-mahdi bi’llah (the imam rightly guided by God) and amir al-mu’minin (commander of the faithful) was publicly proclaimed as caliph in Raqqada in present-day Tunisia, the capital of the Aghlabids (r. 800-909) whom the Fatimids succeeded. On the following day, a declaration was read out in the mosques “announcing that the caliphate had come to be vested in the ahl al-bayt” (Daftary, The Isma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, p 128). The jurists of North Africa were instructed to give their legal opinions according to the Shi’i interpretation, paying particular attention to the teachings of Imam Jafar al-Sa’diq (d.765). The new dynasty was named Fatimiyya after the Prophet’s daughter Fatima through whom Imam al-Mahdi and his successors traced their ancestry to the Prophet.

The first three Fatimid caliphs, Abd Allah al-Mahdı bi’llah (r.909–934), Abu’l-Qasim Muhammad al-Qa’im bi-Amr Allah (r.934–946) and Abu Tahir Isma’il al-Mansur bi’llah (r.946–953) reigned from North Africa. In order to have better access to the Mediterranean and eastern lands, Imam al-Mahdi founded the town of Mahdiyya to where he transferred his capital from Qayrawan in 921. The Fatimid capital was subsequently moved to Muhammadiyya and then to Mansuriyya, towns founded by and named after Imam al-Mahdı’s two successors.

Mahdia Mahdiyya Fatimid
The harbour that originally housed the Fatimid navy at al-Mahdia is still in use. Photo: Christopher Rose, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

In 973, Imam al-Mu’izz transferred the seat of Imamat to Cairo, a city he founded, taking with him the coffins of his predecessors, burying them in the Fatimid palace in Cairo. This marked the end of the North African phase of Fatimid history.

The Fatimids established vast networks of trade and commerce that contributed substantial revenues to the treasury. Imam al-Mu’izz’s reform policies improved agriculture that flourished during Fatimid reign. At its peak, the Fatimid state had transformed from a North African regional power to a Mediterranean empire extending from present-day Morocco to Sicily, Palestine, and Syria.

Fatimid Cairo
The Fatimid Empire at its height. Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Fatimids placed a high value on intellectual and artistic activities, founding esteemed institutions of learning such as the Al-Azhar and Dar al-Ilm, transforming Cairo into a major centre of scholarship, the arts, and commerce.

Al-Azhar Mosque
Jami Al Azhar, Cairo. Photo: Nasser Rabbat, Archnet.
Cairo was also a major centre for the production of artefacts, satisfying the desire of the ruling class for luxury goods, but also supplying the daily needs of the prosperous people. Furniture and textiles made in Cairo had a particularly high reputation and were exported to the entire Mediterranean region.

fatimid lamp lantern
Fatimid lanterns on display at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Fatimids established a network of da’is who were trained at special institutions of learning. The Ismaili da’is of the Fatimid period “were at the same time the scholars and authors of their community, producing what were to become the classical texts of Isma’ili literature dealing with a multitude of exoteric and esoteric subjects […] The da’is of this period elaborated distinctive intellectual traditions. In particular, certain da’is of the eastern, Iranian lands, such as Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani and Hamid al-Kirmani amalgamated Isma’ili theology with different philosophical traditions into highly complex metaphysical systems of thought. It was indeed during the classical Fatimid period that Isma’ilis made their most lasting contributions to Islamic thought and culture” (Daftary, The Isma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, p 162).

The dynasty was noted for employing their officers based on merit rather than on heredity. Halm states “the priority accorded to the intellect by the Fatimids was intentionally pluralistic and meritocratic, open equally to all Muslims, Isma’ilis and others, Christians and Jews, enabling the original thinker, creative scientist or talented poet, as much as the astute politician and military strategist, to rise high in the offices of court and state.” Hence, the concepts of knowledge society, meritocracy, and pluralism were well expressed in the Fatimid state.

The reign of the Fatimids for almost two centuries, is often referred to as a ‘golden age’ in Ismaili history, but also “one of the greatest eras in Egyptian and Islamic histories, and as such, a milestone in the development of Islamic civilization” (Daftary, A Short History of the Isma’ilis p 66).

Farhad Daftry, The Isma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Isma’ilis, Edinburgh University Press, 1998
Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and Their Traditions of Learning, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 1997
15 Minute History, Episode 61: The Fatimids, The University of Texas
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Post by kmaherali »

Earthenware jar with lustre dated 11th century, Fatimid Egypt. Source: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
In the jewellery industry, Tolba states that although Fatimid jewellery art borrowed from neighbouring cultures such as Sassanian and Byzantine, the Fatimid craftsmen created a syntheses “which ultimately led to a unique and distinctive style” (RAWI Magazine).

The Cairo Geniza, a trove of medieval documents found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat or Old Cairo, Egypt, provides a great deal of important information about jewellery production during the Fatimid period, indicating prices, terminology, and production details about the goldsmithing and jewellery industry, much of which was staffed by Jewish craftsmen (Aga Khan Museum).

Scholars agree that many pieces of Fatimid jewellery were not melted down for re-use or for monetary value due to their aesthetic beauty created by skilled craftsmen. Tolba notes that the two distinctive features of Fatimid jewellery art rendered them of high value and in great demand were feligree and granulation.

feligree granulation gold aga khan museum

Gold filigree, granulation biconical bead, 10th-11th century Egypt or Syria, Source: Aga Khan Museum
With feligree “the piece’s surface was decorated with small, thin twisted wires, soldered together to form an openwork… it is usually accompanied by a secondary technique of granulation… where the surface of a piece is decorated with small gold spheres, whether granules, balls or grains, applied on a gold sheet. The Fatimid use of feligree and granulation techniques produced masterpieces of artwork” (RAWI Magazine), and influenced successive dynasties including the Mamluks, Nasrids of Spain as well as nineteenth- and twentieth-century Egyptian jewellery art.

feligree granulation Fatimid Egypt jewellery
Sheet gold and feligree pendant, 11th century Egypt. Source: The David Collection

feligree granulation fatimid egypt
Gold; filigree and granulation ring, 11th century Egypt. Source: The Met Museum

feligree jewellery fatimid
Gold feligree and granulation earrings, Fatimid 11th century. Source: The Trustees of the British Museum

feligree Fatimid art Egypt
Gold filigree miniature Qur’an case, 11th century Egypt. Source: Spirit & Life Catalogue, Aga Khan Trust for Culture
According to Grabar, Fatimid art “is traditional in many ways… yet its innovations… are almost always forerunners of the great changes which swept most of the Muslim world in the twelfth century” (Fatimid Art, Precursor or Culmination, IIS).


Stanley Lane-Poole, The Art of the Saracens in Egypt, Chapman and Hall Limited, 1886, Internet Archive
Jonathan M. Bloom, The Origins of Fatimid Art, Archnet
Oleg Grabar, Fatimid Art, Precursor or Culmination, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

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Post by kmaherali »

[June 10] Today in history: Imam al-Mu’izz transferred the Fatimid capital to Cairo, a city he founded

Posted by Nimira Dewji
Descendants of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and her husband Hazrat Ali b. Ali Talib, and named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids were a major Ismaili dynasty that ruled various parts of the Muslim world from 909 until 1171. Fatimid rule was founded in Ifriqiya (Tunisia and eastern Algeria), through the efforts of the Ismaili da’i Abu Abd Allah al-Shi’i, who had been active in the region since 893. Having conquered most of Ifriqiya then ruled by the Aghlabids, he made it possible for Imam al-Mahdi to be installed to the new Shi’i Fatimid caliphate in Qayrawan (present-day Kairouan) in Tunisia.

The first three Imam-Caliphs ruled from North Africa, founding the cities of al-Mahdiyya and al-Mansuriyya, named after Imams al-Mahdi (r. 909-934) and al-Mansur (r. 946-953) respectively. Under the fourth caliph al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975), the dynasty’s seat was transferred to the newly founded Egyptian city on June 10, 973.

Originally named Mansuriyya after its prototype, it was re-named to al-Qahira al-Muizziyya (‘the Victorious One of al-Mu’izz’), al-Qahira for short, today known as Cairo. Imam al-Mu’izz “brought with him the coffins of his predecessors, al-Mahdi, al-Qa’im, and al-Mansur” and buried them in the courtyard of the Fatimid palace.

In their new capital, the Fatimids founded major institutions of learning including the al-Azhar built by the Fatimid General Jawhar, close to the Fatimid palaces, based on the plans drawn by Imam al-Mu’izz; it was inaugurated in 972. Originally built as a congregational mosque, successive Fatimid Caliph-Imams enriched al-Azhar with endowments to serve as an academic institution in 988, the oldest university in the world. “Under the Fatimids, al-Azhar played a crucial role in the dissemination of Ismailis doctrines, with numerous scholars, jurists, and students constantly participating in its seminars. Public sessions on Ismaili law were also held there on a regular basis” (Daftary, Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis p 25).

Imam al-Mu’izz pursued a policy of diplomacy, “resulting in territorial expansion and peaceful relations with the local dynasties…The sources abound in their praises of al-Mu’izz’s statesmanship and diplomatic skills. He was also an organiser and contributed significantly to the development of the state’s political, administrative and financial institutions. All in all, al-Mu’izz played a crucial role in transforming the Fatimid caliphate from a regional power into a great empire as well as promoting the rise of intellectual and artistic life and initiating the development of a brilliant civilisation which reached its full flowering on the banks of the Nile” (Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis p 75).

In 1005, Fatimid Caliph-Imam Imam al-Hakim founded the Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge), sometimes called Dar al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), where a variety of subjects including Qur’an, hadith, grammar, astronomy,mathematics and other subjects were taught. The institution was equipped with a major library.

The Fatimid Caliph-Imams generally adopted a tolerant policy towards other religious communities employing Sunni Muslims as well as Christians and Jews to high positions in the Fatimid state. Cairo became a major centre of scholarship, sciences, trade, commerce, and the production of valuable artifacts.

“The Fatimid Epoch is one of the most brilliant and extraordinary periods of Muslim Egypt. The creative vitality of the Fatimid period of history is expressed in monuments of astounding variety and beauty as well as many exquisite objects made from a range of materials from textiles, to rock crystal, wood and ceramics” (Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis p 63)

Halm states that “the reign of the Fatimid imam-caliphs was one of the most brilliant periods of Islamic history, both politically and in terms of its literary, economic, artistic, and scientific achievements….the Fatimid traditions of learning have spread their influence geographically far beyond the limits of the Fatimid empire itself – as far as India and western Europe – and chronologically beyond the political end of the dynasty” (The Fatimids and Their Traditions of Learning p 2)

Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis, Edinburgh University Press, 1998
Farhad Daftary, Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Plymouth, 2012
Shainool Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire, I.B Tauris Publishers in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2009

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Post by kmaherali »

Title: Historical representations of a Fatimid Imam-caliph: Exploring al-
Maqrizi’s and Idris’ writings on al- Mu‘izz Li Din Allah


Dr Shainool Jiwa

Source: British Alifba: Studi Arabo-Islamici e Mediterranei , Vol XXII

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in
Alifba: Studi Arabo-Islamici e Mediterranei, Vol XXII - the published proceedings of the International Conference on the Fatimids and the Mediterranean held at the University of Palermo, Italy in December 2008.


It is a happenstance of history that the two most comprehensive extant sources on the Fatimid era (909-1171 CE) were composed by two 15th Century scholars: Taqi al-DinAhmad b. Ali al-Maqrizi (d.1449 CE) and ‘I
mad al-Din ldris (d.1468 CE). Although they composed their works almost three centuries after the Fatimid dynasty had waned, their writings assume primary source significance as, in constructing their narrative, they draw upon a spectrum of earlier North African, Egyptian and Iraqi, Sunni and Ismaili sources,which have not survived the vagaries of time and circumstance. Though they were contemporaries and died within two decades of each other, both authors,the first an Egyptian Sunni Shafi‘i jurist, the second a Yemeni, Tayyibi Ismaili Chief Da‘i,have significantly different interests and motivations when writing about the Fatimid era.Their belief in the purpose of history, their methodology in using source material, the focus of their narratives as well as their target audience make their approaches to recording Fatimid history distinctive. This provides a relatively rare opportunity to study two discrete perspectives from which to understand and examine Fatimid historiography.The reign of the fourth Imam-caliph, al-u‘izz
li Din Allah (953-975 CE), an exemplary sovereign in whose era Egypt is brought under Fatimid sway, thus transforming their North African state into a Mediterranean empire, has received focussed attention from both al-Maqrizi and Idris. Their respective works, the Itti‘az al hunafa’ bi -akhbar al-
a’imma al - Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ (Lessons for the Seekers of Truth on the History of the Fatimid Imamsand Caliphs)i and the ‘Uyun al-akhbar wa Funun al-Athar (Sound Sources and Trustworthy Traditions)ii together provide comprehensive coverage of the life and times of al-Mu‘izz, with both writers drawing from sources available to them but which, unfortunately, are nolonger extant. An examination of their notions, purposes and expressions of history consequently forms the focus of this paper.

The paper can be accessed at:

https://www.academia.edu/6711859/Histor ... view-paper
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Post by kmaherali »

Lessons From the Fatimids For Today: Dr. Shainool Jiwa of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London


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Fatimid art incorporated the doctrine of Imamat
Posted by Nimira Dewji

Works of art have made up the visual landscape of Islamic societies for fourteen centuries, playing an important role in the devotional lives of Muslims. Writing the sacred word was considered an act of piety, inspiring the development of diverse calligraphy styles from the Kufic, named after the city in which it is believed to have been developed by Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib.

The Word of God was inscribed on the interior and exterior walls of religious and domestic structures as well as on objects used in daily living such as bowls, plates, ewers, as well as on clothing. The sacred word was believed to be endowed with special power, hence was inscribed on doorways, gates, and clothing for protection.

Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids were a major Ismaili dynasty that established their rule in 909 in modern-day Tunisia. In 973, they transferred their seat to Cairo, a city founded by Fatimid Caliph-Imam al- Mu’izz. In Cairo, the Fatimids promoted intellectual activities, founding major institutions of learning and libraries. Through their efforts, Cairo became a major centre of Islamic scholarship, sciences, art and culture, in addition to playing a prominent role in international trade and commerce.

“The Fatimids were great patrons of the arts, funding a flowering of creativity, and encouraging an unparalleled pluralistic approach to culture. This religious and ethnic diversity is reflected in bronze wares and ceramics, marble, ivory and wood carvings, as well as in rock-crystal work” (Smith, BBC). The Fatimids “made Cairo the most important cultural centre in the Islamic world. Nearby, Old Cairo, known as al-Fustat, became a major centre for the production of pottery, glass , and metalwork, and rock-crystal, ivory, and wood carving. .. rock-crystal carvers demonstrated great skill in works created for and treasured by the caliphs themselves” (Yalman, Met Museum).

The Fatimid dynasty developed a distinctive visual language, prominently displaying their doctrine of Imamat. The recurring theme articulated in their art is the doctrine of nass, “the explicit designation of an [Imam] by his predecessor through special religious knowledge and divine guidance, which is believed to have been first invested by the Prophet in Ali” (Allan, Diversity and Pluralism in Islam, p 97).

Fatimid coins incorporated the doctrine of Imamat. Paul Walker states that Imam al-Mansur “had already altered the design of his coins to begin a distinctive style of Fatimid coinage that featured concentric circles of writing around a central field with a horizontal inscription.

Obverse, earliest Fatimid coin, dated 909, struck in Qayrawan by da’i al-Shi’i without naming the Imam. Source: Paul E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire
Reverse of the earliest Fatimid coin struck in 909 in Qayrawan. Source: Paul E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire
Coin, Imam al-Mansur, struck at Mahdiyya, 337 AH/909 CE. Source: David Museum
In the centre is inscribed:
“the Imam no god but God, al-Mansur bi’llah”

surrounded by marginal inscription:
“in the name of God, this dinar was struck in al-Mahdiyya in the month of Ramadan in the year seven and thirty and three hundred.”

Al-Mu’izz … made an even more radical change both in design and in Shi’i content of the inscription. He dropped the horizontal field altogether in favour of a central dot surrounded by three concentric circular bands of writing, illustrating that all things originate from the dot, the centre.

Coin of Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu’izz minted in Misr (Cairo), Egypt, in 972-3. Source: The British Museum
Obverse of first Fatimid coin minted in Egypt, bearing the name of Imam of al-Mu’izz, dated 969 CE, minted probably in Old Cairo (Fustat). Source: David Museum
On the obverse, from the inner to the outer, the circles read:
There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Ali is the most excellent of executors and deputy to the best of those sent by God.
Muhammad is the apostle of God; God sent him with the guidance and religion of truth to proclaim it above every religion despite the opposition of the idolators (Qur’an 9:33 and 61:9).
(Paul E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire, illustration 3).

Reverse of Fatimid coin of al-Mu’izz. Source: David Museum
On the reverse, from the outer to the inner, the circles read:
In the name of God, this dinar was struck at Misr, in the year 358;
The Imam Ma’add summons to the absolute onenness of God the Eternal.
al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah, amir al-mu’minin.
(Ibid. illustration 4).

These aggressively Shi’i issues in fact continued for only two years [954-955], to be replaced by a more moderate type that from [954] to the end of his reign, read in the corresponding space simply: ‘And Ali is the most excellent of the heirs and is the deputy (wazir) of the best of those sent [by God].’ But al-Aziz preferred to alter even those to ‘Ali is the best of God’s elite (khayr safwat Allah).'” (Exploring an Islamic Empire p 97).

The coins of Imam al-Mustansir bi’llah issued from 1048-1049 to 1080-1081 “seem purposely to imitate those of al-Mu’izz from the years [954-955 to 975] (Ibid. p 98).

The Mosque of al-Aqmar (built in 1125) whose facade is considered “the most beautiful of Fatimid stonework to survive,” (Bloom) richly articulates the doctrines of Ismailism.

Fatimids al-Hakim Cairo
The word Allah is carved on the base of a minaret of the Mosque of Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Hakim. It resonates a call to God within a circle with five loops, framed by interlacing pentagons, the number five representing “Five Persons of the House [of Muhammad], ” i.e. Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn. Source: The World of the Fatimids
Its central doorway has an elaborate medallion containing intertwining names of Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali surrounded by the Qur’an 33:33, which refers to the Ahl al-Bayt as well as the Ahl al-Kisa (‘People of the Cloak’) namely, the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, Hazrat Ali and their sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn. Many of the motifs and the techniques of carving the stone can be traced to the decoration of the nearby Mosque of al-Hakim.

Fatimid Cairo
Facade of Aqmar Mosque. Photo: Jonathan M. Bloom/Archnet
In the ceramic dish, a prayer (du’a) wishing God’s graces upon the owner is written on the rim in plain Kufic script:
“Full blessing, integral favour, success, felicity, health, total alacrity to its owner may secret (sirr) save him.”

fatimids bowl egypt
Earthenware bowl painted in golden colour, Egypt, 11th-12th century, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington. Source: The World of the Fatimids
The wish is that the owner “be saved” (or perhaps that his understanding of the true meaning of the divine revelation be purified). “The wish of esoteric knowledge (sirr, literally “secret”), reproduced a great many times in the 10th-11th century Iranian metalwork, occurs a few times in Fatimid golden (“lustre”) wares. Khallasahu sirr may variously be understood as “may secrecy/esoteric knowledge rescue him” or perhaps “may esoteric knowledge purify his understanding of true knowledge” (Ibid p 136, n 58).

Not all artefacts were made for Fatimid rulers; the decoration of some of the pieces reflects the customer’s interest – from Christian motifs to Greek animal fables, astronomical subjects, or references to ceremonial occasions. However, it is generally agreed that the Fatimids, who founded their capital city of Cairo, exerted a huge influence over craft and design.

James W. Allan, “Islamic Art and Doctrinal Pluralism,” Diversity and Pluralism in Islam Edited by Zulfikar Hirji, I.B. Taurus Publishers in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2010
Jonathan Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious, Yale University Press in association with The Institute of Ismailis Studies, 2007
Paul E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources, I.B. Tauris in association with The Instute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2002
Sibylle Mazot, “The Fatimids, Decorative Arts,” Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, Konemann
Suzan Yalman, The Art of the Fatimid Period (909-1171), Heilbrun Timeline of Art History, The Met Museum
Sylvia Smith, What did the height of luxury look like in the 10th century, BBC
The World of the Fatimids Edited by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, Aga Khan Museum in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies and Hirmer, 2018

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Post by kmaherali »

The Fatimids, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestors, promoted an infectious book culture

Posted by Nimira Dewji
The first revelation to the Prophet was about knowledge and learning. The acquisition of knowledge came to be perceived as a way of improving understanding of the faith and its practices. Motivated by the central message of the Qur’an to pursue knowledge and the Prophetic Tradition, ‘Seek knowledge, even though it comes from China,’ the rulers incorporated some of this material into their own way of looking at the world, founding many institutions of learning; faith and learning were seen to be interactive and not in conflict with each other. This began the period of translation compilation, and advancement, ushering in the era of knowledge exchange whose effects are felt today (Nanji, The Muslim Almanac p 5).

Due to the sacred nature of the Qur’an, copying the text, like its recitation, was a pious act. Consequently, all arts associated with the text – copying, conserving, and decorating – acquired increasing prestige. While calligraphy occupied one of the prime spots in the filed of artistic expressions, the decorative arts developed into a sophisticated art form, which was later used for secular books. Princely workshops for the production of manuscripts and books were established in many regions. The book was associated with power; owning a library rich in scientific, philosophical, literary, and historical works was a symbol of the cultivated sovereign.

Learned people were book collectors, but also produced tomes as authors and copyists. “The typical mechanisms by which books were purchased, owned, and gathered in collections consisted of copying them, presenting them as pious donations, and trading in them. Also, since books were generally very expensive, they were considered valuable commodities to be passed on through inheritance as family heirlooms” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 408-409).

The warraq was the person associated with medieval Islamic book production. “Encompassing the role of paper vendor, seller of writing tools, copyist and scholar in his own right at any one time, the warraq could occupy varied positions on the social scale from a marginal who scraped a living through writing for others to a distinguished member of the scholarly elite. … Whether produced for a commission or through individual initiative, the ultimate purpose of copying books as a profession was to sell them. For this reason often the activities of the copyist overlapped with that of the kutibi, the vendor or broker of volumes already in circulation” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 409)….”The works circulated via the warraq were mostly the result of personal selection by the copyist and/or the commissioner; they were often influenced by intellectual trends within specific scholarly networks and were produced with a specific project in mind. By contrast, the book vendor, the kutubi, had to rely on whatever and whenever stock was available; he had to go out of his way to procure books to sell, a factor that meant he was exposed to a reliant on the contingencies of the time and place in which he lived.

In terms of cultural impact, by circulating extant books, the kutubi provided greater potential for popularization of a broader, random and diverse range of subjects to a broader audience while, at the same time, contributing – deliberately or by default – to the life or death of a particular form of literary tradition” ( Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 409).

“Fatimid Egypt offers a distinctive social, religious and cultural context in which to map the function and role that the book trade played in facilitating intellectual interaction. While defined by activities and events linked to and/or determined by an Ismaili dynasty – except for strictly da’wa literature – the practical means of book exchange transcended Ismailism as a doctrinal entity…. The Fatimids, as a Shi’i Ismaili dynasty were a religious minority ruling over a majority Sunni population, a state of affairs that meant that contrasting and competing scholarly traditions were brought into contact. For example, the imam-caliph al-Hakim, founded in Cairo, his ‘Abode of Knowledge’ or dar al-ilm ostensibly as an outreach venture intended to serve scholars irrespective of their religious affiliations. In Egypt the Fatimids became the first Muslim dynasty to give their patronage to major libraries located in royal palaces and in the learning institutions they supported” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 411). The Fatimid library was a wonder of the medieval world (Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning p 91). The Fatimids “recognized the universality of knowledge and opened the door of knowledge to all people” (Akman).

“Books were produced for Ismaili da’wa purposes with a very strictly limited circulation; however, books were written on Ismaili law that could be publicly circulated and, outside the doctrinal context, books on all the known fields of learning were written, copied, circulated, and praised. The book culture that the Fatimids promoted was so infectious that it was embraced by high-ranking officers of state – for example the vizier Ibn Killis [d. 991] and al-Afdal [d. 1121] – as well as the wider urban culture” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 411).

Although the price of books varied from one region to another due to fluctuations in currency values, “it is generally agreed that books were an expensive commodity. Typically, written sale contracts were drafted when books were purchased, a practice that otherwise wa sonly applied to the purchase of houses, other immobile property, and slaves. With so much at stake, book acquisition would need careful consideration and discernment on the part of the buyer.

Ibn Jama’a [d. 1333] in his Tadhkira provides guidelines on how to buy a book. For example, to ensure its quality the buyer should check that it is complete at beginning and end; that there are no missing parts in the middle; that the general state and quality of the paper is consistent with the asking price. The book’s editorial qualities would have to certain expectations and conventions. Indeed we can detect a degree of preciousness over the quality of books at the Fatimid court… In fact, it appears that the purchase of existing books was not contemplated in the detailed budget of al-Hakim’s dar al-ilm where, instead, enormous sums were set aside for paper, scribes, writing tools and book restauration” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 411-412).

“In times of cash-flow crisis books also entered the book market through being institutionally and formally released from the Fatimid royal libraries to serve as collateral in lieu of monetary payments owed by the regime to government officials… books served as financial security…” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 418).

“For all its triumphs and upheavals, it was ultimately the cultural, religious and economic fluidity that characterised Egypt under the Fatimids that transformed that region from a cultural backwater into a centre of intellectual activity serving as a launch pad for books to boldly go where no volumes have gone before” (Cortese, Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World p 426).

Azim Nanji, “The Prophet, the Revelation, and the Founding of Islam,” The Muslim Almanac Ed. Azim A. Nanji, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1996
Delia Cortese, “Beyond Space and Time: The Itinerant Life of Books in the Fatimid Market Place,” in Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World, Edited by Orkhan Mir-Kasimov, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2020
Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd. in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 1997
Nakhlu Zatul Akmam, Fatimid Library: History, Development and Management, Researchgate

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Post by kmaherali »

Artisans trained in the Fatimid school influenced art in Sicily
Posted by Nimira Dewji

“There is no doubt that the artists of Egypt under the Fatimids were skilled to a degree that found no parallel in the handicrafts of Europe…. “
Stanley Lane-Poole, The Art of the Saracens in Egypt,1886

In the year 909, the Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed as caliph in present-day Tunisia, founding the Fatimid reign. In 969, the Caliph Al-Mu’izz conquered Egypt, founding the city of Cairo, where he transferred his capital in 973. Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the reign of the Fatimids Caliph-Imams for almost two centuries is often referred to as a ‘golden age’ in Ismaili history.

Sicily came under Fatimid rule in the tenth century shortly after Imam al-Mahdi established the dynasty’s caliphate in North Africa in 909. The island developed vital trade relations with Fatimid North Africa and with Egypt when the seat of the Fatimid administration moved to their new capital of Cairo.

The Fatimid period was a golden age of arts and crafts. Cairo became a major centre for the production of valuable artefacts, supplying the daily needs of a prosperous sector of the population. Furniture and textiles made in Cairo had a particularly high reputation and were exported to the entire Mediterranean area. Ceramics were much sought after in Italy, where Fatimid bowls – bacini – were used as decorative items or as vessels for religious ceremonies.

Fatimid bacini, 11th century, Musée nationale de San Matteo.
Bloom states that “although bacini – presumably representing an urban art acquired by merchants travelling abroad – may represent the numerically largest category of Fatimid art in Italy, church treasuries comprising Fatimid court items were more highly valued. These textiles, carved rock crystals, glasses, ivories and metalwares were usually valued not for their pedigree but for their precious materials … and fine workmanship” (Arts of the City Victorious p 194).

Although the Fatimids lost control of the island in the twelfth century, the influence of Fatimid art is evident in Sicily and southern Italy including the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina in Rome, the royal chapel of the Norman kings. The painting of the ceiling, one of the best surviving examples of Islamic art in the Mediterranean, was commissioned by King Roger II around 1143. Some sources state that a team of artisans may have been imported from Cairo to produce the luxurious royal palace.

palermao capella palatina fatimid art
Palermo, Capella Palatina, painted muqarnas ceiling, 1130s. Image: Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious
“UNESCO World Heritage describes Cappella Palatina as an example of a social-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French)” (Italian Notes)

The coronation mantle of Roger II, which according to an inscription embroidered on the hem was made in the royal workshops at Palermo, ‘has long been cited as an important example of Fatimid inspiration‘ (Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious p 100).

Coronation mantle of Roger II, Palermo, Vienne, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Image: Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious
The Fatimid treasury included silk textiles and vessels enamelled or inlaid with precious gems, perhaps influenced by Byzantine art.

Glove, Palermo, 1220, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Image: Sibylle Mazot, Islam Art and Architecture

Liturgical robe, Palermo, 1181, Vienna, Kunsthistoriisches Museum. Image: Sibylle Mazot, Islam: Art and Architecture
The silk lined robe has wide bans of silk embroidered in gold and set with pearls and precious stones. it bears two inscriptions – in Arabic and Latin – recording that it was made in 1181 in the royal tiraz workshops of Palermo for King William II. It was worn as a coronation robe by both Frederick II in 1120 and Charles V in 1520 (Mazot, Islam Art and Architecture p 162).

The closest artistic connections between Sicily and Fatimid Egypt can be seen in the woodwork especially the doors of the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in Palermo. The craftsmen who carved these doors, were said to have been ‘trained in the Fatimid school’ (Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious p 193).

Pair of doors ordered by Imam al-Hakim for al-Azhar in 1010. Cairo, Museum of Islamic Art. Image: Jonathan Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious.

Palermo, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, wooden doors with Fatimid style panels, twelfth century. Image: Jonathan Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious
The Christian patrons, King Roger and his agents, “appropriated and adapted traditional Islamic programs to their own needs, and how the Muslim artisans painters, who had made other similar ceilings for palaces in the Fatimid Mediterranean before King Roger summoned them to Palermo, responded by themselves appropriating and adapting the Christian models that their patrons required them to follow. It will be argued that neither patrons nor painters were the passive recipients of a traditional decorative program, and that both collaborated as active agents in the creation of a unique, new, hybrid art” (UCLA).

Bloom notes that Fatimid art “cannot truly be considered a dynastic style in the sense associated with later Islamic times, such as the Mamluks or Ottomans, because there is no evidence that the Fatimids consciously directed artistic production from the top…. Fatimid art played an essential role in the history of Islamic art and architecture in Egypt… In the long term perhaps the most important contribution of the Fatimids was their founding of Cairo and the creation of a metropolitan style of art focused in the Egyptian capital….they were able to transform Egypt’s emerging and provincial Islamic culture to make it the centre of Arab-Islamic civilization for centuries to come. The Fatimids, more than anyone else before, attracted talented people from near and far, to make it one of, if not the, largest urban centres of the Mediterranean world, a position it retains to this day…. Cairo not only replaced Damascus and Baghdad, the capitals of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, but also eventually superseded them” (Arts of the City Victorious p 199).

Jonathan M. Bloom, “The Legacies of Fatimid Art”, Arts of the City Victorious, Yale University Press, 2007
Painters, Patrons, and Program: The Ceilings of the “Cappella Palatina” in Palermo, UCLA
Cappella Palatina, A Tribute to Tolerance, Italian Notes”

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Post by kmaherali »

Imam al-Mahdi: “not a gathering more illustrious on earth than this one, as four imams are gathered here”

Posted by Nimira Dewji

The Fatimids, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestors and descendants of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and her husband Hazrat Ali b. Abi Talib, were a major Ismaili dynasty who ruled various parts of the Muslim regions from 909 until 1171. Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids established their rule in Ifriqiya (Tunisia and eastern Algeria) in 909. The first three Imam-Caliphs ruled from North Africa, founding the cities of al-Mahdiyya and al-Mansuriyya, named after Imams al-Mahdi (r. 909-934) and al-Mansur (r. 946-953) respectively. In 973, the fourth caliph Mawlana al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975), who was born in Mahdiyya, transferred the dynasty’s seat to Cairo, a city that he had founded.

Jami al-Kabir, Great Mosque of Mahdiyya (Mahdia) founded by Mawlana al-Mahdi. Photo: Russell Harris, Archnet

One of the most comprehensive accounts of the Fatimid era is to be found in the writings of Taqi al-Din Ahmad b, Ali al-Maqrizi [d. 1442] a Sunni scholar of the Mamluk period (1250-1517 CE). “His writings spanned many facets of Egyptian society, from its political history, topography and economic characteristics to biographical works chronicling its distinguished individuals. He painstakingly penned works that recorded Egyptian history from the time of its Muslim conquest to his own era, displaying particular pride in all things Egyptian” (p 32).

He maintained a distinctive interest in the Fatimids, although the dynasty had long ceased to exist during his time. Thus, his writings represent the most comprehensive account of the Fatimid era. His Itti‘az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al a’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ (Lessons for the Seekers of Truth in the History of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs) focuses principally on the Fatimid age, and so it is a particularly valuable historical source on this dynasty.


Arabic Critical Edition of al-Maqrizi’s Itti‘az al-hunafa. The Institute of Ismaili Studies

“Al-Maqrizi carefully compiled his narrative from a wide range of materials then available to him, many of which are no longer extant, demonstrating a scholarly discernment regarding the value and limitations of his sources that was unusual among medieval Muslim historians. Moreover, he records a number of official documents, letters and sermons of the Fatimids in their entirety, often making his works the only surviving source for this material. As such, it is a rare work of its kind and makes a significant contribution to the study of the Fatimid era” (p 2).

“His propensity to accept the Fatimids as legitimate successors to the Prophetic lineage is evident in the Ittiaz, as in the following extract from Ibn Zulaq, a contemporary Egyptian historian:

“One day al-Qa’im bi-Amr Allah, upon him be peace, was in his father al-Mahdi’s majlis (gathering), seated in front of him. His son, al-Mansur, was standing in front of his grandfather, when al-Mahdi said to him, ‘Bring me your son,’ that is, al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah. So his nursemaid brought him. He was one year old or a little older. Al-Mahdi took him on his lap and kissed him. Then he said to his son al-Qa’im bi-Amr Allah, ‘O Abu’l-Qasim, there is not a gathering more illustrious on earth than this one, as four imams are gathered here,’ that is, al-Mahdi himself, his son al-Qa’im, his grandson al-Mansur, and his great-grandson al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah.

Additionally, the parasol bearer (sahib al-mizalla), Abu’l Fadl Raydan, told me that al-Mahdi gathered them in a cloak and said, ‘The Prophet of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, gathered in his garment three imams, in addition to himself, but in this cloak there are four imams” (p 28-29).

Shainool Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2009

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