This month in history: Fatimid Caliph Imam Al-Mustansir bi’llah I passed away

The eighth Fatimid Caliph and eighteenth Ismaili Imam, Abu Tamim Ma’add al-Mustansir bi’llah I passed away in Cairo in December 1094, after a reign of almost 60 years. It was during the reign of  Imam al-Mustansir bi’llah that the Fatimid da’wa activities reached their peak, with many da’is operating outside the Fatimid state, including Transoxiana and western Indian subcontinent.

During their reign of almost two centuries, the Fatimids ‘created a prosperous state with a remarkable intellectual, economic and cultural vitality.’1

Fatimid Empire
Fatimid Empire. Image: Wikipedia

According to Ismaili sources, Imam al-Mustansir bi’llah had designated his eldest son, Nizar as his successor. Al-Mustansir’s vizier, al-Afdal, quickly placed Nizar’s younger brother al-Mustali on the Fatimid throne; this dispute split the unified Ismaili community. Those who gave their allegiance to al-Mustali came to be known as the Mustaliyya Ismaili while those who recognised the Imamat of Nizar and his progeny came to be known as Nizari Ismailis.

The Mustali Ismailis subdivided into the Hafizi and Tayyibi communities. The Hafizi Ismailis disappeared after 1171 CE while the Tayyibi Ismailis found a permanent stronghold in Yemen with large numbers subsequently migrating to the Indian subcontinent where they came to be known as Bohras.

The Nizari Ismaili Fatimid caliphate ended with the death of Imam Mustansir bi’llah. The Nizari Ismaili communities developed independently of one another scattered widely from Syria to Persia, Central Asia and India, each community elaborating separate religious and literary traditions.

1 Coinage of the Fatimids, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Farhad Daftaty, A Short History of Ismailis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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