The Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah was succeeded to the Imamat by his sixteen-year old son, al-Zahir li-I’zaz Din Allah, on February 13, 1021 1 after a reign of about twenty-five years. During his reign, Imam al-Hakim had continued the Fatimids’ pluralistic policies of intellectual pursuits.
“The culture of unhindered scientific thought attracted the finest minds of the age to the Fatimid court, whatever their religious persuasions: mathematicians and engineers like Ibn Haytham, astronomers like Ali b. Yunus; physicians like al-Tamimi, al-Israili and Ibn Ridwan.”2
The Hakim Mosque is the major monument to survive from Imam’s reign in Cairo; Imam al-Hakim also furnished the Azhar Mosque and other mosques through generous endowments.
He also founded the Dar al-‘Ilm (‘House of Knowledge’), “the first mediaeval institution of learning, a precursor of the modern university, which combined in its programme of studies a full range of the major academic disciplines, from the study of the Quran and Prophetic traditions through jurisprudence, philology and grammar, to medicine, logic, mathematics and astronomy. The institution was open to followers of different religions.”2
Having a keen interest in scientific astrology, Imam al-Hakim planned to build an observatory on the Muqattam hills, east of Cairo; this plan was realized in later Fatimid times. Among the most accomplished scientists who served under Imam al-Hakim was Ibn al-Haytham, whose pioneering work on optics had far-reaching influences on European thinkers of medieval times, among whom he came to be known as Alhazen. He compiled astronomical tables – al-zij al-Hakimi – named after the Imam who had commissioned them. Ibn al-Haytham’s studies were also of major importance for astrological and meteorological investigations.3
A prominent Ismaili scholar from the time of Imam al-Hakim was Hamid al-Kirmani. In the early eleventh century, al-Kirmani was the first of the great eastern Iranian Ismaili da’is to take up residence in Cairo, at the invitation of Imam al-Hakim. The Fatimid capital was then at the height of its glory and influence in the Muslim world.
About al-Kirmani, Paul Walker writes:
“Al-Kirmani was a forceful, intellectually gifted apologist for al-Hakim, one who never failed to advocate and defend his imamate, … In addition al-Kirmani[s], scholarly accomplishments and knowledge were a match for any of his contemporaries, including possibly the philosopher Ibn Sina ….Al-Kirmani had mastered the philosophical, scientific and theological discourse of his time and was able to translate it into a form which could be used in the work of the da`wa both for the benefit of scholars and members of the Jamat. As we have seen, Al-Kirmani wrote numerous treatises and books on a wide range of subjects and for a wide audience.”2
Walker states that “Al-Kirmani must be recognised for two reasons, of which the first was his contribution to the da`wa … in the literature of thought and of the sciences of this period, no other figure in the da`wa came even remotely close to him. It is thus certainly proper to regard him as its spokesman and his works as its finest achievements.”2
1 Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis, Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990
2 Paul E. Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim1, I.B. Tauris London, 1999
3 Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1997
Farhad Daftary, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed February 2016)
Compiled by Nimira Dewji