The Fatimids Origins

(969-1111). The Fapmid rulers claimed descent from Fatimah, the daughter of MuJ;tammad, and cAli, the fourth khalif. The conflict within the Muslim nation subsequent to the election of the latter had split it into two great parties. The supporters of Mucawiyyah, who eventually became khalif, were called Sunni (Orthodox) and the supporters of cAli Shici (Party [of cAli]). Although the Shici were unable to regain control of the central authority they remained very powerful and a group of them, followers of the Seventh hnam Ismac-tl, came from Syria in 909 and settled in North Africa, modem Tunisia. With the S 1,lpport of the Berbers they established themselves and created a new capital, al-Ma.l}.diyyah, but Egypt lay between them and their ultimate goal, Baghdad. They had made several attacks on Egypt during the early 10C but had been defeated by the Ikhshids’ army. In 969 Jawhar, commander of the forces of the fourth Fatimid khalif, al-Mu~z. entered Fustat meeting little resistance.


The Fatimids

He iliimediately started to build a new citY ~ little to the N of Fustat. It was named al-Qahirah (The Victorious) and consisted of a walled enclosure containing palaces and halls and the great mosque of al-Azhar. When it was finished, the khalif al-Mucizz came with the bodies of his ancestors and dwelt there. The Tilliinids and Ikhshids, although independent of Baghdad, recognised the Khalif as the leader of the Muslim community and never challenged this office. The aims of the Faµmids, on the contrary, were much greater, nothing less than claiming the khalifate for themselves, even assuming the titles and formalities proper to that office. The first three khalifs, al-Mu~z (953), al-cAziz (975) and al-I:Iakim (996), retained full personal control of the government as absolute monarch and imam. The .fiscal and administrative systems were revised to great efficiency.

The empire was vast, North Africa, Sicily, Syria, the I:Iijaz and Egypt itself as the centre of a vast propaganda machine spreading the cause of the Ismac-ili Shici doctrine throughout the Muslim sphere. A great slave army was built up consisting of many races-Berbers, Sudanese, European and Turks-in which the Turks gained dominance over the other groups.While the first two khalifs were moderate in their views and great organisers, the third, al-l;lakim, was mentally disturbed and issued many outrageous laws which greatly off ended the population. He disappeared one night while out riding, presumably murdered, and became the object of a cult among a section of the Isma9lis which eventually gave rise to the religion of the Druzes in Northern Syria.

He was followed by two minors, al-~ahir (1021), his nephew, and al-Mustan!?ir (1036), the latter’s son, neither of whom was fully in control of the government. Al-~ahir was controlled by his aunt, Sitt al-Mulk, who may not have been entirely innocent of complicity in the murder of her brother al-l;lakim. Al-Mustan!?ir, who reigned for almost sixty years, was at first subordinate to the personality of his wazir and also his mother but eventually managed to become independent. During these two last reigns, the power of the army commanders grew until they became the controlling force in the empire which,
because of these very troubles, :gradually dwindled.


The Fatimids Administration
administration broke down and a series of famines led to chaos. Indesperation the khalif sent for the governor of Acre, Badr al-Jamali, to come and take control. Badr arrived in secret in 1074 with his Armenian guards and immediately rounded up the army officers and had them executed. He was soon master of Egypt and had all the highest offices, military and civil, invested upon himself, including the wazirate. This post became permanent and he was succeeded by his son and a series of amirs, some of whom were not Shi9 but Sunni, who kept the khalif in tutelage.

These commanders restored peace, security and prosperity to Egypt and the Fatimid khalifate survived for another hundred years.
The wazir al-Afc;lal, the son of Badr, was powerful enough to choose the successor to Khalif Mustansir, not the elder son, al-Nazir, but the younger, al-Musta9i. This action destroyed the fatirnids’ spiritual leadership of the Isma9li Shi9s which passed to l;lassan i-Sabbah of the c Alamiit in Persia. The modem leaders of this faction are the Agha Khans of Pakistan. This leadership was further eroded when many Isma91is refused to recognise as the successor of al-Mu!?ta9i’s son al-Amir (1101), his cousin al-l;lafiz (1131).
The early Fapmids produced an able administration resulting in economic stability.


The Fatimids

Foreign trade expanded in Europe and India, the complex tax system, a great burden on the population, was abolished. Syria remained an important area of supply, providing minerals and timber. By 1079 Northern Syria was controlled by the Saljuk Turks who had invaded from the E, disintegrating into a series of rival states in perpetual feud, with Fapmid control confined to the coastal strip. It was at· this time that the First Crusade entered Syria from the NW in 1097, aiming to free Jerusalem from Muslim control. The Fapmids greeted the Crusaders in a friendly fashion until they attacked Jerusalem in 1098, which had been held by the Fapmids for two years; it was captured by the Crusaders in 1099. They established four Christian states on the Syrian seaboard centred on the Kingdom of Jerusalem, though they never established themselves far into the interior.


The Fatimids

At first the Muslim states paid scant heed to the new arrivals but one state gradually became all-powerful and was to take the lead in   the assault against the Crusaders. The Saljuk Sultan had in his service Zangi, a Turk who was appointed governor of Mosul in 1127. Over the next ten years he extended his control over Northern Syria, capturing Aleppo and threatening Damascus. 3

His success was due to a combination of military strength and the juggling of a series of political treaties with the and Muslim states. He eventually con quered Edessa, the most northerly of the states, in 1145 but died a year later. He was succeeded by his son, Niir al-Din, and, although the arrival of the Second Crusade in 1148 complicated the situation, he extended the territories even further in 1154 by capturing Damascus. The Kurdish commander of Niir al-Din, Shirkiih, had a brother Ayyiib whose son, ~ala.1;1 al-Din, accompanied him on his campaigns. When the crusaders attacked Egypt in 1168, they led an expedition there and were welcomed by the population. After several battles the Christians withdrew.


The Fatimids

In 1169 Shirkiih became the wazir of the Fa timid khalif al-cAc;lid (who had succeeded in 1160) but died almost immediately. He was replaced by ~ala.1;1 al-Din, who by 1170 was virtually independent of Niir al-Din and set about extending his power in Egypt. In 1171, asal-cAc;lid, lay dying, ~alal;lal-Dininstructed an imam to recite the khutbah (Friday sermon) in the name of the cAbbasid khalif, ·al-Mustac;li’, thus formally abolishing the Fatimid khalifate.