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Memoirs of a Mission: The Ismaili Scholar, Statesman and Poet, al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi

Ismaili Heritage Series 9, London: I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2003, pp. xx + 160.

ISBN (Hardback): 1 86064 432 5

Publication page on Google Books

Download PDF version of Introduction (145 KB)

Al–Mu’ayyad fi’l–Din al–Shirazi was one of the most distinguished and gifted personalities of the Ismaili da‘wa under the Fatimids. In the heyday of Fatimid power during the 5th/11th century, he spent most of his life serving the caliph–imam al–Mustansir bi’llah (r. AH 427–487/AD 1036–1094) as a da‘i in various capacities – administrative, diplomatic, military and religious – eventually attaining the highest rank of da‘i al–du ‘at (chief da ‘i) in the Fatimid da‘wa.

Al–Mu’ayyad was first active as the regional leader of the da‘wa in his homeland of Fars in southern Iran, about 1,300 miles away from the Fatimid capital of Cairo. Fars was by then a nearly autonomous principality in the realm of the ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. As al–Mu’ayyad’s memoirs – his Sirat al–Mu’ayyad fi’l–Din – reveals, he was attempting to convince the Buyid ruler of Fars, Abu Kalijar, that a shift to the Fatimid cause would generate political and religious advantages for him. This was a highly dangerous task undertaken by the Ismaili da‘i in a hostile environment, during the days of a Sunni ‘restoration’.

After an adventurous flight via Khuzistan, northern Mesopotamia and Syria, al–Mu’ayyad finally arrived at the Fatimid court in Cairo in 437/1045 or shortly thereafter. Despite many setbacks, the ambitious refugee gradually worked his way up the hierarchy of the da‘wa, and was eventually appointed as chief da‘i of the Fatimid da‘wa. Except for a short interruption, al–Mu’ayyad was henceforth the da‘i al–du‘at and lived and worked at the Dar al–‘Ilm, the ‘House of Knowledge’, until the end of his life in 470/1078. There, as the head of the central institution of the da‘wa, he devoted his life to administering the affairs of the da‘wa, teaching missionaries from both inside and outside the Fatimid empire, and composing his theological works.

In his capacity as chief da‘i and executive head of the da‘wa, al–Mu’ayyad also authored 800 lectures prepared for delivery at the majalis al–hikma (sessions of wisdom), sermons he held in front of the community of believers every Thursday in the Fatimid capital. Al–Mu’ayyad is also the author of more than 60 Arabic qasidas, many of them poems of praise addressed to the Fatimid caliph–imam al–Mustansir and his predecessor al–Zahir li–I‘zaz Din Allah.

Among al–Mu’ayyad’s writings, his Sira is of particular historical significance. This work, written in three stages between 443/1051 and 455/1063, covers the years 429–450/1038–1058. Beginning with a very vivid and eloquent autobiographical report about his religio–political mission in late Buyid Iran, the Sira continues to give an account of al–Mu’ayyad’s experiences at the Fatimid court. In a further section of the work, al–Mu’ayyad speaks of his political negotiations with the local Bedouin rulers and the rebellious leader of the Turkish troops at Bagdhad, Abu’l–Harith al–Basasiri, underpinning his report with letters and documents. Thus, al–Mu’ayyad’s Sira is a highly valuable and authentic source, one written by an eye–witness and active participant in the crucial political events of the 5th/11th century. Indeed, the Sira fills and enriches the incomplete and fragmentary information provided by the historiographers of later Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk times.

Interest in al–Mu’ayyad’s works was reawakened in the twentieth century as manuscripts were discovered in the Ismaili libraries of the Yemen and India, opening another chapter in their reception and continuing history. Husain al–Hamdani (1901–1962), sketching the theological tradition of the Fatimids in 1931, considered al–Mu’ayyad to have brought the Ismaili spiritual heritage to its pinnacle and, furthermore, to have been its transmitter to the Yemeni da‘wa.

In this way, al–Mu’ayyad’s memoirs transcend the personal historical sphere of the life and activities of a da‘i and refer to the norms and laws informing the Fatimid da‘wa. The study evaluates the Sira as a source, not only for the history of the Fatimid da‘wa but also for reconstructing the international political dynamics at work at the beginning of the arrival of the Oghuz Turkoman people into the very heart of the Islamic world. This threatening development, anxiously observed by Fatimid officials, finally resulted in the removal of the Buyid military leaders and the establishment of the supreme authority of the Saljuq leader Toghril Beg in Baghdad, the seat of the Sunni caliphate, in the year 447/1055.

In view of the documentary evidence and research work on al–Mu’ayyad, it is no exaggeration to say that we do know a great deal about this multi–talented Fatimid scholar, who excelled as a clever diplomatic emissary, statesman, poet, preacher and philosophical theologian. But even if we know more about him than any of his colleagues in the Fatimid da ‘wa, many aspects of al–Mu’ayyad’s life still remain in the dark.

The aim of the work is not to investigate the theological and intellectual dimensions of al–Mu’ayyad’s writings, nor to delve deeply into his poetry. Rather, the intention is to offer what is known about him, as well as the circumstances surrounding his eventful and active life, to a broader public interested in the history of the Ismailis and in the organisation, strategies and ideals of the Fatimid da‘wa. Beyond this, the book addresses readers interested in the history and the dynamics of Middle Eastern societies in the 5th/11th century, which was a time of relative stability in Fatimid Egypt but one of radical and far–reaching change in the eastern and central parts of the Muslim world.




Part I: Al–Mu’ayyad’s Mission in Fars

  • The Rise and Fall of a da‘i
  • Al–Mu’ayyad’s Memoirs as a Source for History
  • The Self–portrayal of a da‘i

Part II: Al–Mu’ayyad in Egypt and Syria

  • Al–Mu’ayyad at the Fatimid Court in Cairo
  • Al–Mu’ayyad’s Political Mission in Northern Syria

Part III: Al–Mu’ayyad at the Pinnacle of his Career

  • Al–Mu’ayyad as Chief da‘i in Cairo
  • Epilogue

Appendix 1: The Works of al–Mu’ayyad fi’l–Din al–Shirazi

Appendix 2: The Hierarchy and Pedagogy of the Fatimid da‘wa





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Content Date: November 2003

The Institute of Ismaili Studies - Memoirs of a Mission: The Ismaili Scholar, Statesman and Poet, al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi
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