Today in history: Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah succeeded to the Imamat

Jami al-Hakim, Cairo (Image: Archnet)
Jami al-Hakim, Cairo (Image: Archnet)

The Fatimid Caliph-Imam Abu Ali Mansur, who took the caliphal title of al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, succeeded his father to the Imamat on October 14, 996. The first Fatimid Caliph-Imam to be born in Egypt, Imam made the education of Ismailis a priority; various study sessions known as majalis were established in Cairo where he also completed the mosque in 1013 that bears his name, and that was begun during the reign of his father.

In the year 1005, Imam al-Hakim founded the Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge), where a variety of subjects were taught and where many Fatimid da’is received some of their training. This institution of learning was open to the public and remained in operation until the fall of the Fatimid empire.

Opening page and cover detail from the 1579 Latin edition of Ibn al-Haytham's Book of Optics.( Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Opening page and cover detail from the 1579 Latin edition of Ibn al-Haytham’s Book of Optics.( Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)

One of the most significant achievements during the reign of Imam al-Hakim was the production of an astronomical chart (zij), commissioned by the Imam and titled after him: al-zij al-Hakimi. The accuracy of the chart enabled the residents to plan the sowing and harvesting of crops in Egypt as well as outside the Fatimid domain. One of the most accomplished scientists, Ibn al-Haytham, served Imam al-Hakim in Cairo; his pioneering work on optics had far-reaching influences on medieval European thinkers, who came to know him by his Latin name Alhazen.

A prominent Ismaili da’i during the time of Imam al-HakimHamid al-Din al-Kirmani was one of the first early eastern Iranian da’is to live in the Fatimid capital of Cairo, coming there at the invitation of the Imam. About Kirmani, Paul E. Walker states:

Gold dinar of Imam al-Hakim (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Gold dinar of Imam al-Hakim (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)

“….in the literature of thought and of science of this period, no other figure in the da’wa came even remotely close to him [al-Kirmani]. It is thus certainly proper to regard him as its spokesman and his works as its finest achievements.”*

Right: Gold dinar of Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Alla minted in Cairo 1003-4. The front contains the kalima inscription from the Qur’an 9:33. The back has an inscription of the title of the Imam in the centre. The outer circle has an inscription of the mint and the date. The mint name al-Qahira al-Mahrusa (Cairo the Protected) is rare and it is likely this coin was a special issue commemorating the completion of the walls of Cairo (reprinted from The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)**

Sources:
*Paul E. Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani-Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim, I.B. Tauris London and New York, in association with Islamic Publications Ltd. 1999, Reading Guide, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed October 2015)

**Dr. Farhad Daftary, Dr. Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis: An Illustrated History, Azimuth Editions in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies

Dr Farhad Daftary, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed October 2015)

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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