Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids 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). In 973, Imam al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975) transferred the capital of the empire to Cairo, a city he founded.
The Fatimid period is one of the best documented periods in Islamic history. Although most of the literary corpus of the Fatimid dynasty has not survived directly, this material was preserved partially by later historians such as al-Maqrizi (d. 1442), who produced the most extensive account of the Fatimids in several of his works particularly 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 Imams and Caliphs). The Itti‘az was devoted exclusively to Fatimid history.
From al-Maqrizi’s Itti’az al-hunafa:
“One cold blustery winter’s day in al-Mansuriyya, al-Mu’izz summoned several Kutama shaykhs….He stood in a large square room carpeted in felt, wearing a robe over his clothes. Open doors led to a library…. Then he said:
“…I thought of sending for you so that you could see what I do when I am away from you and far from your eyes. My status exceeds your only because I have responsibility over your affairs on earth and because God has singled me out as your Imam. I busy myself with letters from the east and the west to which I respond in my own hand.
My concern with the pleasures of the world lies solely in what protects your lives, makes your lands prosper, vanquishes your enemies and subdues your opponents.
So when you are on your own O shaykhs, do as I do. Do not be haughty and imperious, lest God withdraw His favour from you and bestow it on others. Show compassion to your subordinates who have no access to me, just as I am compassionate with you. In this manner benevolence may abound, virtue may prevail and justice may thrive among the people…”
Fatimid Caliph Imam al-Mu’izz
“I have been involved in the field of development for nearly four decades. This engagement has been grounded in my responsibilities as Imam of the Shia Ismaili Community, and Islam’s message of the fundamental unity of “din and dunia,” of spirit and of life. Throughout its long history, the Ismaili Imamat has emphasised the importance of activities that reflect the social conscience of Islam, that contribute to the well being of Allah’s greatest creation – mankind, and the responsibility which Islam places on the fortunate and the strong to assist those less fortunate.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Annual Meeting of The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, May 5, 2003
Speech at AKDN
IIS Publishes Arabic Critical Edition of al-Maqrizi’s Itti‘az al-hunafa’ (accessed December 2016)
Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis Their History and Doctrines, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Compiled by Nimira Dewji
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