The Fatimid Empire or Fatimid Caliphate ruled North Africa from A.D. 909 to 1171. The term "Fatimite" is sometimes used to refer to citizens of the Empire/Caliphate.
The name Fatimid is derived from the name of the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, Fatima az-Zahra. The dynasty and its followers belonged to the Shiite branch of Islam and to a sect called Isma'ili. The dynasty was founded in 909 when the Syrian Said ibn Husayn was released from house arrest in Sijilmasa by armies of his supporters, raised by his missionaries (da`is) among the Kutama Berbers of eastern Algeria. He declared himself the Mahdi ("divinely guided one") and the khalifa, taking the regnal name al-Mahdi bi-Allah. He legitimized his claim by his descent from the Prophet by way of the Prophet's daughter Fatima Zahra and her husband Ali ibn Abu Talib, who was a cousin of the Prophet. Soon his control extended over all of central Maghreb, an area consisting of the modern countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, which he ruled from a newly built capital in Tunisia, named Mahdia after himself.
The Fatimids entered Egypt in 972 where they founded a new capital at al-Qahira al-Mu'izziya (Cairo), meaning "Mu'izz's Victory". They continued to conquer the surrounding areas until they ruled from Tunisia to Syria, and even crossed over into Sicily and southern Italy.
Unlike other governments in the area, Fatimid advancement in state offices was based more on merit than on heredity, bribes, and devious machinations. Members of other branches of Islam, like the Sunnis, were just as likely to be appointed to government posts as Shiites. Tolerance was extended even to non-Muslims, like Christians and Jews who occupied high levels in government based solely on ability.
The empire continued to grow and flourish until Caliph Al-Hakim whose reign began auspiciously with the building of the great mosque between Bab Al-Futuh and Bab An-Nasr gates in Cairo (the Al-Hakim Mosque). Breaking with tradition, he mingled with his the people to feel the pulse of his subjects. Gradually, however, he grew more insane until he executed anyone he didn't like and promulgated arbitrary regulations, like outlawing the manufacture of women's shoes or prohibiting working during the day and sleeping at night. His death is shrouded in mystery but some declared that he was divine and had ascended to a spiritual realm. Believers in this tradition became known as the Druze who still exist in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine.
After about 1060 Fatimid territory shrunk until it consisted only of Egypt. On the death of the last Fatimid caliph in 1171, Saladin joined Egypt to the Abbasid Caliphate and Egypt returned to the Sunni branch of Islam, bringing the Fatimid dynasty to an end. Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty.
Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah (909-934; founded Fatimid dynasty)
- Muhammad al-Qaim Bi-Amrillah (934-946)
- Isma'il al-Mansur Bi-Nasrillah (946-952)
- Ma'ad al-Muizz Li-Deenillah (952-975; Egypt is conquered during his reign)
- Abu Mansoor Nizar al-Aziz Billah (975-996)
Husayn al-Hakim Bi-Amrillah (996-1021)
- Ali az-Zahir (1021-1035)
- Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah (1035-1094)
- al-Musta'li (1094-1101)
- al-Amir Bi-Ahkamillah (1101-1130)
- al-Hafiz (1130-1149)
- az-Zafir (1149-1154)
- al-Faiz (1154-1160)
- al-Adid (1160-1171)
See also: Rise of Islam in Algeria
- Halm, Heinz. The Empire of the Mahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids, trans. Michael Bonner. Leiden, New York: E.J. Brill, 1996.
- Daftary, Farhad. The Isma'ilis: Their history and doctrine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
- Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. s.v. "Fatimids."
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46