One of the most prosperous and influential dynasties of the Muslim world, the Fatimids (909–1171) were distinguished by their Imam-caliphs, who asserted religious as well as political authority in direct descent from the family of the Prophet. Their conquest of Egypt in 969 marked the inception of a burgeoning Mediterranean empire. From there, they refined their systems of administration, judiciary, and governance, instilling principles of inclusion which contributed to stability during their caliphate. Fatimid Cairo flourished as a vibrant cultural and intellectual centre through patronage of the arts, architecture, and scholarship. This book continues the story of the Fatimids from their newly founded capital of Cairo. Introducing the figures who moulded the empire, Shainool Jiwa charts the Fatimids’ expansion, the reasons behind their ultimate fall by the hand of Saladin, and the legacy that continues with the living Ismaili communities today. This lively and engaging work, including maps and colour images, draws on a broad range of primary sources to lead readers through two centuries that witnessed the triumphs and trials of the only sustained Shi’i caliphate to rule across the medieval Islamic world.
Emerging from a period of long seclusion, the leader of the burgeoning community of Ismaili Shi‘i Muslims was declared the first Fatimid Imam–caliph in the year 909. Abd Allah al-Mahdi founded the only sustained Shi‘i dynasty (909–1171) to rule over substantial parts of the medieval Muslim world, rivalling both the Umayyads of Spain and the Abbasids. At its peak, the Fatimid Empire extended from the Atlantic shores of North Africa, across the southern Mediterranean and down both sides of the Red Sea, covering also Mecca and Medina.
This accessible history, the first of two volumes, tells the story of the birth and expansion of the Fatimid Empire in the 10th century. Drawing upon eyewitness accounts, Shainool Jiwa introduces the first four generations of Fatimid Imam-caliphs – al-Mahdi, al-Qa’im, al-Mansur, and al-Mu‘izz – as well as the people who served them and those they struggled against. Readers are taken on a journey through the Fatimid capitals of Qayrawan, Mahdiyya, and Mansuriyya and on to the founding of Cairo. In this lively and comprehensive introduction, readers will discover various milestones in Fatimid history and the political and cultural achievements that continue to resonate today.