Citation for Fāṭimid Dynasty

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Daftary, Farhad and D. S. Richards. "Fāṭimid Dynasty." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 20, 2022. <>.


Daftary, Farhad and D. S. Richards. "Fāṭimid Dynasty." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 20, 2022).

Fāṭimid Dynasty

The Fāṭimid dynasty was a major Ismāʿīlī Shīʿī dynasty that ruled over parts of North Africa and the Middle East from 297 AH / 909 CEuntil 567 AH / 1171 CE Comprised of the following fourteen caliphs, the Fāṭimids were also acknowledged as Ismāʿīlī imams:

  • 1. al-Mahdī (297–322 / 909–934)
  • 2. al-Qāʿim (322–334 / 934–946)
  • 3. al-Manṣūr (334–341 / 946–953)
  • 4. al-Muʿizz (341–365 / 953–975)
  • 5. al-ʿAzīz (365–386 / 975–996)
  • 6. al-Ḥākim (386–411 / 996–1021)
  • 7. al-Ẓāhir (411–427 / 1021–1036)
  • 8. al-Mustanṣir (427–487 / 1036–1094)
  • 9. al-Mustaʿlī (487–495 / 1094–1101)
  • 10. al-āmir (495–524 / 1101–1130)
  • 11. al-Ḥāfiẓ (as regent 524–526 / 1130–1132, then as caliph 526–544 / 1132–1149)
  • 12. al-Ẓāfir (544–549 / 1149–1154)
  • 13. al-Fāʿiz (549–555 / 1154–1160)
  • 14. al-ʿāḍid (555–567 / 1160–1171)


Early Fāt.imids.

By the middle of the third / ninth century, the Ismāʿīlīs had organized a dynamic, revolutionary movement, generally designated as al-daʿwah al-hādiyah or the rightly guiding mission. The aim of this movement, led secretly from Salamīyah in Syria, was to install the Ismāʿīlī imam in a new Shīʿī caliphate, in rivalry with the Sunnī ʿAbbāsids. The Ismāʿīlī imams traced their ʿAlid ancestry to Ismāʿīl, the eponym of the Ismāʿīlīyah and the original heir designate of his father, the early Shīʿī Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148 AH / 765 CE). The early Ismāʿīlī daʿwah, propagated by a network of dāʿīs or missionaries throughout the Islamic world, achieved particular success in North Africa as a result of the efforts of Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shīʿī, who was active from 280 AH / 893 CE among the Kutāma Berbers of the Lesser Kabylia, in present-day eastern Algeria. By 290 AH / 903 CE, Abū ʿAbd Allāh had commenced his conquest of Ifrīqiyah, covering today 's Tunisia and eastern Algeria, at the time ruled by the Sunnī Aghlabids as vassals of the ʿAbbāsids. By 296 AH / 909 CE, Abū ʿAbd Allāh entered Qayrawān, the Aghlabid capital, and ended their rule.

In 289 AH / 902 CE, the Ismāʿīlī imam, ʿAbd Allāh al-Mahdī (who succeeded his ancestors in the leadership of the daʿwah) left Salamīyah to avoid capture by the ʿAbbāsids. After brief stays in Palestine and Egypt, he lived in Sijilmāsa, in southern Morocco, from 292 AH / 905 CE; he continued to hide his identity while maintaining contact with the dāʿīAbū ʿAbd Allāh. In Ramaḍān 296 AH / 909 CE, Abū ʿAbd Allāh set off at the head of his Kutāma army to Sijilmāsa, to hand over the reins of power to the Ismāʿīlī imam. ʿAbd Allāh al-Mahdī entered Qayrawān on 20 Rabīʿ II 297 AH / January 4, 910 CE, and was immediately proclaimed caliph. The Ismāʿīlī daʿwah finally led to the establishment of a dawlah, or state, headed by the Ismāʿīlī imam. The Shīʿī caliphate of the Fāṭimids commenced in Ifrīqiyah and came to be known as the Fāṭimid dynasty or Fāṭimīyah, named for the Prophet 's daughter and ʿAlī 's wife Fāṭimah, to whom al-Mahdī and his successors traced their ancestry.

Consolidation and Resistance.

The first four Fāṭimid caliph-imams who ruled from Ifrīqiyah encountered numerous difficulties while consolidating their power. In addition to the continued hostility of the ʿAbbāsids, the Umayyads of Spain, and the Byzantines, the early Fāṭimids devoted much energy to subduing the rebellious Khārijī Berbers belonging to the Zanāta confederation, especially the prolonged revolt of Abū Yazīd. They also confronted hostile Sunnī Arab inhabitants of Qayrawān and other cities of Ifrīqiyah, led by their Mālikī jurists. The Fāṭimids were city builders and founded al-Mahdīyah and al-Manṣūrīyah (the precursor of Cairo); these served as their new capitals in Ifrīqiyah.

In line with their universal claims, the Fāṭimids continued their daʿwah activities after they assumed power. The daʿwah was reinvigorated from the time of al-Muʿizz, who firmly established Fāṭimid rule in North Africa and successfully pursued policies of war and diplomacy resulting in territorial expansion. Al-Muʿizz also made detailed plans for the conquest of Egypt, a perennial objective of the Fāṭimids in their eastern strategy of expansion. Jawhar, a commander of long service to the dynasty, led the Fāṭimid expedition to Egypt in 358 AH / 969 CE A new residential and administrative complex was founded north of Fuṣṭāt and rapidly developed into a city, al-Qāhirah (Cairo). Al-Muʿizz arrived in his new capital city in 362 AH / 973 CE, marking the end of the North African phase of the Fāṭimid caliphate.

Fāṭimid Empire and Contributions.

Naval and military power, the splendor of the court, Egypt's artistic productions, and burgeoning international trade helped to project the Fāṭimid regime as an equal of the Byzantine and ʿAbbāsid empires. Politically and militarily, however, its efforts to advance through Syria were checked in the second half of the fourth century a.h./ tenth century c.e. by a resurgence of Byzantine power and the armies of the Qarmaṭīs of Bahrain; and later by the incursions of the Turkish Seljuks. Despite these setbacks, by the end of al-ʿAzīz's reign the Fāṭimid empire had attained its greatest extent, at least nominally, with Fāṭimid suzerainty recognized from the Maghrib to the Red Sea, Syria, and Palestine.

At the same time, Ismāʿīlī dāʿīs acting as secret agents of the Fāṭimid state continued their activities both within and outside the Fāṭimid dominions, with Cairo serving as the headquarters of the Ismāʿīlī daʿwah. But within the Fāṭimid state, the Ismāʿīlī doctrines made little headway among the population at large. In Fāṭimid Egypt, the population remained predominantly Sunnī with an important community of Coptic Christians. Indeed, the Ismāʿīlī daʿwah had its greatest lasting success outside of Fāṭimid dominions, especially in Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia.

The Fāṭimids established many institutions of learning in Cairo, including al-Azhar, originally a mosque but converted to a university also, and the Dār al-ʿIlm, or House of Knowledge, set up in 395 AH / 1005 CE by al-Ḥākim. During al-Ḥākim 's reign certain dāʿīs preached extremist ideas that culminated in the proclamation of this controversial caliph-imam's divinity and the formation of the Druze movement, which was opposed by the Fāṭimid regime.

Decline and Dissent.

Fueled by factional rivalries within the Fāṭimid armies, and economic troubles exacerbated by insufficient Nile floods, famines, and plagues, the Fāṭimid caliphate began to decline during the long reign of al-Mustanṣir, who was eventually obliged to call on the Armenian commander Badr al-Jamālī for help. In 466 AH / 1074 CE, Badr arrived in Cairo with his Armenian troops and speedily restored relative peace and stability to the Fāṭimid state. Badr became the “commander of the armies” (amīr al-juyūsh) and the first of the “viziers of the sword,” in addition to reaching the highest positions of the Fāṭimid state. Henceforth, military men, frequently appointed as viziers rather than caliphs, exercised effective power in the Fāṭimid state. Badr (d. 487 AH / 1094 CE) also ensured that his son al-Afḍal would succeed him as the real master of the Fāṭimid state.

On the death of al-Mustanṣir in 487 AH / 1094 CE, the Ismāʿīlīs split into the Nizārī and al-Mustaʿlī factions, named after al-Mustanṣir 's sons who claimed his heritage. Henceforth, these two branches of the Ismāʿīlīyah recognized different lines of imāms. The cause of Nizār (d. 488 AH / 1095 CE), the designated successor of al-Mustanṣir who was ousted by al-Afḍal, was taken up in Iran by Ḥasan-i Ṣabbāḥ (d. 518 AH / 1124 CE) who founded the independent Nizārī daʿwah. The Mustaʿlī Ismāʿīlīs of Fāṭimid Egypt and elsewhere acknowledged al-Mustaʿlī, who was installed to the Fāṭimid caliphate by al-Afḍal, also as their imam. By 526 AH / 1132 CE, in the aftermath of al-āmir 's assassination and the irregular succession of his cousin al-Ḥāfiẓ, the Mustaʿlī Ismāʿīlīs themselves split into the Ḥāfiẓī and Ṭayyibī branches. Only the Ḥāfiẓīs, situated mainly in Egypt, recognized al-Ḥāfiẓ and the later Fāṭimids as their imams.

The final decades of the Fāṭimid caliphate were extremely turbulent. Reduced to Egypt proper, the Fāṭimid state was continuously beset by political and economic crises, worsened by disorders within the Fāṭimid armies, the arrival of the Crusaders, and the invasions of the Zangids of Syria. Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn (Saladin), initially a lieutenant of the Zangids and the last of the Fāṭimid viziers, ended Fāṭimid rule in 567 AH / 1171 CE, and had the khuṭbah (Friday sermon) read in Cairo in the name of the ʿAbbāsid caliph.



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  • Halm, Heinz. The Empire of the Mahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids. Translated from the German by M. Bonner. Leiden, 1996.
  • Halm, Heinz. Die Kalifen von Kairo: Die Fatimiden in Ägypten 973–1074. Munich, 2003.
  • al-Maqrīzī, Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad. Ittiʿāẓ al-Ḥunafīʿ. Edited byJ. al-Shayyāl and M. Ḥ. M. Aḥmad. 3 vols. Cairo, 1967–1973.
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