Historical representations of a Fatimid Imam-caliph: Exploring al-Maqrizi’s and Idris’ writings on al-Mu‘izz Li Din Allah — Academic Articles on Institute of Ismaili Studies UK

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Alifba: Studi Arabo-Islamici e Mediterranei, Vol XXII – the published proceedings of the International Conference on the Fatimids and the Mediterranean held at the University of Palermo, Italy in December 2008. 
It is a happenstance of history that the two most comprehensive extant sources on the Fatimid era (909-1171 CE) were composed by two 15th Century scholars: Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. Ali al-Maqrizi (d.1449 CE) and ‘Imad al-Din ldris (d.1468 CE). Although they composed their works almost three centuries after the Fatimid dynasty had waned, their writings assume primary source significance as, in constructing their narrative, they draw upon a spectrum of earlier North African, Egyptian and Iraqi, Sunni and Ismaili sources, which have not survived the vagaries of time and circumstance.Though they were contemporaries and died within two decades of each other, both authors, the first an Egyptian Sunni Shafi‘i jurist, the second a Yemeni, Tayyibi Ismaili Chief Da‘i, have significantly different interests and motivations when writing about the Fatimid era. Their belief in the purpose of history, their methodology in using source material, the focus of their narratives as well as their target audience make their approaches to recording Fatimid history distinctive. This provides a relatively rare opportunity to study two discrete perspectives from which to understand and examine Fatimid historiography.The reign of the fourth Imam-caliph, al-Mu‘izz li Din Allah (953-975 CE), an exemplary sovereign in whose era Egypt is brought under Fatimid sway, thus transforming their North African state into a Mediterranean empire, has received focussed attention from both al-Maqrizi and Idris. Their respective works, the Itti‘az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al-a’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ (Lessons for the Seekers of Truth on the History of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs)[i] and the ‘Uyun al-akhbar wa Funun al-Athar (Sound Sources and Trustworthy Traditions)[ii]together provide comprehensive coverage of the life and times of al-Mu‘izz, with both writers drawing from sources available to them but which, unfortunately, are no longer extant. An examination of their notions, purposes and expressions of history consequently forms the focus of this paper.

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Table of Contents:

  • The Historians
  • Portrayal of the Fatimids
  • Teleological view of history
  • Khaldunian approach to history
  • Al-Mu‘izz: through the lens of the Itti‘az and the ‘Uyun
  • Concluding Remarks

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