The Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge) was inaugurated on March 24, 1005 in the Fatimid palace in Cairo. Founded by the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah, a variety of subjects including Qur’an, hadith, grammar, astronomy, and mathematics were taught at this institution which was equipped with a library that was accessible to everyone. In later Fatimid times, the Dar al-Ilm was moved to a new location and served the Fatimid da’wa until the fall of the state in 1171.
Imam al-Hakim’s friend and court chronicler al-Musabbihi was quoted by al-Maqrizi about the opening of the Dar al-Ilm:
“On this Saturday…the so called House of Knowledge in Cairo was inaugurated. The jurists took up residence here, and the books from the palace libraries were moved into it….After the building was furnished and decorated. and after all the doors and passages were provided with curtains, lectures were held there by the Qur’an readers, astronomers, grammarians and philologists, as well as physicians.
Into this house they brought all the books that the commander of the faithful al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered to bring there, that is manuscripts in all the domains of science and culture, to an extent to which they had never been brought together for a prince… He allowed access to all this to people of all walks of life, whether they wanted to read books or dip into them. One of the already mentioned blessings, the likes of which had been unheard of, was also that he granted substantial salaries to all those who were appointed by him there to do service: jurists and others. People from all walks of life visited the House; some came to read books, others to copy them, and yet others to study. He also donated what people needed: ink, writing, reeds, paper and inkstands.”1
Al-Maqrizi’s 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. The Institute of Ismaili Studies has published an Arabic critical edition of al-Maqrizi’s writings.
Compiled by Nimira Dewji