“…we were touching the very foundations of my ancestors, the Fatimids, and the pluralistic history and intellectual profile of this city and this country to which they contributed so profoundly. I am very humbled by the opportunity to return to Cairo, founded over a thousand years ago by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz, to build on that history.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam Aga Khan IV
Inauguration of Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt, 25 March 2005
Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the Fatimids, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s ancestors, established their empire in 909 in North Africa when Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed Caliph. The Fatimid Caliphate remained in North Africa during the reigns of Imams al-Mahdi (r. 909-934), al-Qa‘im (r. 934-946), and al-Mansur (r. 946-953). Imam al-Mu’izz (r. 953-975) founded the city of Cairo which subsequently became the capital of the empire.
The city of Cairo, which remains the Egyptian capital today, was planned by Imam al-Mu’izz while he was still in al-Mansuriyya. Modelled after the cities of al-Mahdiyya and al-Mansuriyya founded by Imams al-Mahdi and al-Mansur respectively, the Egyptian city was originally named al-Mansuriyya, but later renamed to al-Qahira al-Mu’izziyya (‘The Victorious City of al-Mu’izz’), al-Qahira for short, today known as Cairo. Imam Mu’izz’s general, Jawhar, also carried out the construction of the mosque of al-Azhar as the city’s main congregational place of worship as per Imam’s plans.
In 973, Imam al-Mu’izz transferred the seat of Imamat to Cairo, taking with him the coffins of his predecessors. “These were buried within the palace precincts in an area that came to be known as Turbat al-Za’faran. The prolific Sunni, Egyptian scholar of the Mamluk period (1250-1517), Al-Maqrizi (d. 1442), reports that every time al-Mu’izz went out of the palace, on his return he would always go past this burial place and pay respect to his ancestors. He also did this every Friday and on Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha, and generously distributed alms (Jiwa, Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire p, 104, n. 297).
Al-Maqrizi wrote the most comprehensive account of the Fatimid era (909-1171), recording a number of official documents, letters, and sermons of the Fatimids in their entirety, making his works the only surviving source for this material. He wrote about Egyptian political history, topography, and economics, maintaining a distinctive interest in the Fatimids, perhaps due to the way they had reversed Egypt’s chronic political and economic decline.
Al-Maqrizi referenced a wide range of materials then available to him, many of which have not survived, including the works of historian Ibn Zulaq (d. 996), a Shafi’i scholar with Shi’i learnings, who wrote biographies of Imams al-Mu’izz and al-Aziz, and the Fatimid General, Jawhar. His Itti‘az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al a’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ (Lessons for the Seekers of Truth in the History of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs) focuses principally on the Fatimid age, and is therefore, a particularly valuable historical source on this dynasty.
A section of al-Maqrizi’s Ittiaz has been translated by Dr Shainool Jiwa, titled Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire.
In his Ittiaz, al-Maqrizi, quoting Ibn Zulaq, accounts Imam al-Mu’izz leading the prayer on the day of Id al-Fitr 362 AH/973 CE:
“On the day of ‘Id al-Fitr, al-Mu’izz rode out for the ‘id prayer to the musalla1 of Cairo that Jawhar had built…. Al-Mu’izz had arrived in regal attire, with his banners and litters. He led the complete, long id prayer… Ibn Zulaq said:
In every rak’a and prostration, I recited the tasbih after him [al-Mu’izz] more than thirty times. [In his Da’a’im… al-Qadi al-Nu’man quotes the Shi’i Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq that the tasbih be recited thirty-three times].2 Al-Qadi al-Nu’man b. Muhammad relayed the takbir after him. In the second rak’a, he recited Surat al-Fatiha and then Surat al-Duha [Suras 1 and 93]. After the recitation, he pronounced the takbir. This was the prayer of his forefather Ali b. Abi Talib. He remained in the position of the second bow and prostration for a long time. After every bow and prostration, I recited the tasbih more than thirty times after him….
When he had completed the prayer, he ascended the minbar (pulpit) and offered salutations to the people to the right and the left. Then he unfurled the two banners that had been placed on the minbar. He delivered the sermon with the banners hoisted in front of him. A heavy brocade cushion had been placed on the highest step of the minbar. He sat on it [during the time] between the two parts of the sermon. He commenced his sermon with ‘In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful’…
He began by pronouncing, ‘God is Great, God is Great’ and delivered the sermon with such eloquence that it brought tears to people’s eyes. The sermon was delivered with humility and submission” (Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire p107-108).
Source: Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire translated by Shainool Jiwa, I.B. Tauris in associated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies
1The musalla was built in Cairo by Jawhar in 358/969 and later renovated by [Imam] al-Aziz. It had a great dome beneath which stood a pulpit and was used specifically for the id prayers (Towards a Shi’i Mediterranean Empire p 107, n. 303)
2 Ibid. p 107, n. 305
Contributed by Nimira Dewji, who also has her own blog – Nimirasblog – where she writes short articles on Ismaili history and Muslim civilisations. When not researching and writing, Nimira volunteers at a shelter for the unhoused, and at a women’s shelter. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Walking along Sharia Al Muizz Li Din Allah, the closed off street to traffic in Old Cairo, was far more interesting than the pyramids. The beautiful stone Islamic architecture from the Fatimid period onwards was astounding.