The seventeenth colloquium on the history of Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras (10th -15th century) was held at the University of Ghent in Belgium from 14th to 16th May 2008. Dr Shainool Jiwa and Dr Arzina R. Lalani of IIS presented papers at this colloquium.

Dr Jiwa’s paper, entitled ‘The Aman Document: Instituting Fatimid authority in Egypt’, analysed this crucial document, which guaranteed the security and safe-conduct of the Egyptians by the victorious Fatimid general, Jawhar al-Siqqili. It delineated the principles upon which Fatimid policies in Egypt were instituted for their subsequent two hundred year reign. Among the particular features of interest were: the perceived sacredness of the Fatimid mission and, hence, the articulation of the duty of care and protection; the commitment to establish just governance for all their subjects, including the Ahl al-Kitab (referring to the Jews and the Christians); and their inclusive and tolerant attitude to all Muslim communities.

Dr Lalani’s paper, entitled ‘A Philosophical Response from Fatimid Egypt on Leadership in Islam’ examined a treatise on leadership by Ahmad al-Naysaburi, a distinguished scholar from Fatimid Egypt. Al-Naysaburi has several works to his credit, but it is the Kitab Ithbat al-Imama that is of decisive importance to the philosophical curriculum of medieval Muslim thought. According to Dr Lalani, in this work al-Naysaburi has applied rational tools to explain and expound his theology, allowing scholars today to understand not only the significance of his thoughts but also to situate them in the context of the beliefs of his age. The work not only provides an unparalleled insight into the intricacies of the imam-caliph al-Hakim’s rule (386-411 AH / 975-996 CE), but also adds considerably to our understanding of that period with respect to the ensuing debates between reason and revelation.

Dr. Lalani’s paper further explained that, in establishing the supreme leadership, the Imamat, as the pole and foundation of religion, al-Naysaburi used several approaches, foremost amongst which was the philosophical theory of ‘degrees of excellence’. Accordingly, God created each genera and species with a unique capacity and distinct advantage not existing in the other while at the same time providing paradigms of perfect examples in each variety. Based on this analogy, al-Naysaburi sought to demonstrate that the Imam, in a parallel manner, is the apex of humanity.

Both the presentations were well-received and generated a lively response. The colloquium was organised by University of Ghent’s Department of the Cultures and Languages of Near East and North Africa, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy.