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The Fatimid Caliphate or al-Fātimiyyūn (Arabic الفاطميون) was an Arab Shi'a dynasty that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Egyptmarker, Sicily, Maltamarker and the Levant from 5 January 909 to 1171. The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the Egyptian city of Cairomarker as their capital. The term Fatimite is sometimes used to refer to the citizens of this caliphate. The ruling elite of the state belonged to the Ismaili branch of Shi'ism. The leaders of the dynasty were also Shia Ismaili Imams, hence, they had a religious significance to Ismaili Muslims. They are also part of the chain of holders of the office of Caliph, as recognized by most Muslims. Therefore, this constitutes a rare period in history in which some form of the Shia Imamate and the Caliphate were united to any degree, excepting the Caliphate of Ali himself. It should be noted here, however, that these Ismaili Imams are not considered rightful Imams (nor seen to possess any other spiritual or religious significance) by the overwhelming majority of Shias (the Twelvers). Thus, most Shias would not consider the Fatimid period of rule as a unification of Caliphate and Imamate.

With exceptions, the Fatimids were reputed to exercise a degree of religious tolerance towards non-Ismaili sects of Islam as well as towards Jews, Maltese Christians and Coptic Christians.

Rise of the Fatimids

Genealogical tree of the Fatimid caliphs (in yellow).
Their ancestry from the seven Ismaili imams (in grey) and Muhammad is also shown.

The Fatimids had their origins in Ifriqiya (modern-day Tunisiamarker and eastern Algeriamarker). The dynasty was founded in 909 by , who legitimised his claim through descent from Muhammad by way of his daughter Fātima as-Zahra and her husband , the first Imām, hence the name al-Fātimiyyūn "Fatimid".

Abdullāh al-Mahdi's control soon extended over all of central Maghreb, an area consisting of the modern countries of Moroccomarker, Algeriamarker, Tunisiamarker and Libyamarker, which he ruled from Mahdiamarker, his newly-built capital in Tunisia.

The Fatimids entered Egypt in the late 900s, conquering the Ikhshidid dynasty and founding a new capital at al-Qāhira (Cairomarker) in 969. The name was a reference to the planet Mars, "The Subduer", which was prominent in the sky at the moment that city construction started. Cairo was intended as a royal enclosure for the Fatimid caliph and his army, though the actual administrative and economic capital of Egypt was in cities such as Fustatmarker until 1169. After Egypt, the Fatimids continued to conquer the surrounding areas until they ruled from Tunisia to Syriamarker and even crossed over into Sicily and southern Italymarker.

Under the Fatimids, Egypt became the center of an empire that included at its peak North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Lebanonmarker, Syriamarker, the Red Seamarker coast of Africa, Yemenmarker and the Hejaz . Egypt flourished, and the Fatimids developed an extensive trade network in both the Mediterraneanmarker and the Indian Oceanmarker. Their trade and diplomatic ties extended all the way to Chinamarker and its Song Dynasty, which eventually determined the economic course of Egypt during the High Middle Ages.

Unlike other governments in the area, Fatimid advancement in state offices was based more on merit than on heredity. 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 such as Christians and Jews, who occupied high levels in government based on ability. There were, however, exceptions to this general attitude of tolerance, most notably Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.

The Fatimids were also known to some extent for their arts. A type of ceramic, lustreware, was prevalent during the Fatimid period. Glassware and metalworking was also popular. Many traces of Fatimid architecture exist in Cairo today, like the Al Azhair University and the Al Hakim mosque.

The Fatimid palace was two parts. it used to be in the Khan el-Khalilimarker area at Bin El-Quasryn street[8918].

Decay and fall

In the 1040s, the Zirids (governors of North Africa under the Fatimids) declared their independence from the Fatimids and their conversion to Sunni Islam, which led to the devastating Banū Hilal invasions. After about 1070, the Fatimid hold on the Levant coast and parts of Syria was challenged first by Turkish invasions, then the Crusades, so that Fatimid territory shrank until it consisted only of Egypt.

After the decay of the Fatimid political system in the 1160s, the Zengid ruler Nūr ad-Dīn had his general Shirkuh, seize Egypt from the vizier Shawar in 1169. Shirkuh died two months after taking power, and the rule went to his nephew, Saladin. This began the Ayyubid Dynasty.

Fatimid caliphs

Map of the Fatimid Caliphate also showing cities.
  1. (909-934) founder Fatimid dynasty
  2. (934-946)
  3. (946-953)
  4. (953-975) Egypt is conquered during his reign
  5. (975-996)
  6. (996-1021)
  7. (1021-1036)
  8. (1036-1094)
  9. (1094-1101) Quarrels over his succession led to the Nizari split.
  10. (1101-1130) The Fatimid rulers of Egypt after him are not recognized as Imams by Mustaali Taiyabi Ismailis.
  11. (1130-1149)
  12. (1149-1154)
  13. (1154-1160)
  14. (1160-1171).

See also


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