Al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi was an Ismaili scholar of Persian origin, excelling as a missionary, statesman, poet and theologian. Towards the end of his long and eventful life, al-Mu’ayyad became head of the Ismaili mission (da‘wa) in the time of the Fatimid caliph-imam al-Mustansir in Cairo.

Among al-Mu’ayyad’s writings, his Sira is of particular historical significance, enriching the incomplete and fragmentary information provided by the historiographers of later Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk times. Written in a masterful Arabic literary style and rhetoric, the memoirs describe in detail al-Mu’ayyad’s daring attempt to win over the Buyid rulers of western Iran to the Fatimid cause; his flight to Cairo where his ambitions to be near the imam are initially frustrated by powerful court officials; and finally, his expedition to Syria and Iraq as a Fatimid plenipotentiary to forge an alliance of local rulers against the Saljuq Turks invading the central Islamic lands from the East.

Through a close analysis of this work, Verena Klemm demonstrates that, in addition to being a personal account of a highly dedicated Fatimid da‘i, the Sira is a rich source for the organisation and function of the Ismaili da‘wa. It is also a valuable window to 5th/11th century Muslim world, providing an insight into the struggle of the Fatimids, ‘Abbasids, Buyids and Saljuqs for the leadership of the Muslim umma. In this way, al-Mu’ayyad’s writings serve as a unique magnifying glass concentrating the international political dynamics of the age in the narrative of one life and destiny.