General Information


The Fatimids were an Islamic dynasty that reigned in North Africa and later in Egypt from 909 until 1171. The Fatimid Caliphate was the political pinnacle of the Ismailis, a group of Shiites who expected the appearance of a messiah descended from the marriage of Ali, the fourth caliph, and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Fatimids initially established a North African empire centered in Tunisia, from which they planned to move eastward and supplant the Abbasids. Consequently, they conquered Egypt in 969 and created Cairo as their capital. They then extended their influence to Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. They reached the zenith of their power in the reign of al-Mustansir (1036-94). The dynasty enjoyed generally peaceful relations with the Byzantines and cooperated with the Turkish rulers of Syria against the Crusades.

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From the mid-12th century, the Fatimid kingdom began to crumble internally; the caliphs lost most of their power, and the viziers, at the head of a highly centralized government, assumed much of the executive and military leadership. Therefore, Saladin found it easy to end Fatimid rule in 1171. Despite the religious unorthodoxy of the dynasty, most of its subjects remained orthodox Muslims. In this period Egypt enjoyed extraordinary economic and cultural vitality.

Michael W. Dols

Lewis, Bernard, The Origin of Isma'ilism (1975); O'Leary, De Lacy, A Short History of the Fatimid Kaliphate (1923).


General Information

The Fatimids were a Muslim dynasty claiming the caliphate, successors of Muhammad through descent from Fatima, Muhammad's daughter.

In the 10th century, Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi, head of a sect of Syrian Shiites, traveled to northwest Africa to head a movement started among the Berbers, a non-Arabic North African tribe. Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi was proclaimed the Muslim messiah, Mahdi, and by 909 had secured control of a substantial portion of North Africa. He pushed eastward as far as Egypt and consolidated the empire under his son al-Qa'im and grandson al-Mansur. Egypt was conquered in 969.

In 972 al-Mansur's son Moizz was recognized as caliph in Egypt and made the new city of Cairo his capital. Morocco, Tripoli, and Sicily then became Muslim provinces, developing into semiautonomous dynasties of their own. In the 11th century Sicily fell to the Normans, and in the following century Roger II of Sicily completed the conquest of Morocco. Al-Hakim, the third Fatimid caliph, supported the university in Cairo and founded the fatimid library. He persecuted Christians, destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and in 1020 claimed personal divinity.

At its height, the Fatimid dynasty was recognized throughout much of Arabia, but it declined and was eventually crushed by the rising forces of Normans, Turks, and Venetians. After 1129 the Fatimid caliphs were merely puppets in the hands of the army and powerful viziers (Muslim government officials). Adid, last of the Fatimids, died in 1171. Upon his death, the vizier Saladin won the title of Sultan by recognizing the Abbasid caliph of Baghdd.


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Unfortunately, we are not aware of any scholarly texts on this subject which have yet been translated into English. We know that a number of Arabic scholars have written wonderful texts in Arabic, and look for the day when we will be able to add higher quality texts to this presentation.

Editor's Note:

The name Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi is sometimes presented as abdullah Al Mahdi. Different Muslim scholars use either spelling. At the time of this man, written records and equipment were still rare, and names were generally transmitted orally. These two spellings have essentially the same oral sound, and they represent the same man.

Also, see:
Islam, Muhammad
Koran, Qur'an
Pillars of Faith
Testament of Abraham
Revelation - Hadiths from Book 1 of al-Bukhari
Belief - Hadiths from Book 2 of al-Bukhari
Knowledge - Hadiths from Book 3 of al-Bukhari
Times of the Prayers - Hadiths from Book 10 of al-Bukhari
Shortening the Prayers (At-Taqseer) - Hadiths from Book 20 of al-Bukhari
Pilgrimmage (Hajj) - Hadiths from Book 26 of al-Bukhari
Fighting for the Cause of Allah (Jihad) - Hadiths of Book 52 of al-Bukhari
ONENESS, UNIQUENESS OF ALLAH (TAWHEED) - Hadiths of Book 93 of al-Bukhari
Hanafiyyah School Theology (Sunni)
Malikiyyah School Theology (Sunni)
Shafi'iyyah School Theology (Sunni)
Hanbaliyyah School Theology (Sunni)
Maturidiyyah Theology (Sunni)
Ash'ariyyah Theology (Sunni)
Mutazilah Theology
Ja'fari Theology (Shia)
Nusayriyyah Theology (Shia)
Zaydiyyah Theology (Shia)
Imams (Shia)
Qarmatiyyah (Shia)
Ishmael, Ismail
Early Islamic History Outline
Kaaba, Black Stone
Sunnites, Sunni
Shiites, Shia
Sahih, al-Bukhari
Abu Bakr
Fatimids (Shia)
Ismailis (Shia)
Islamic Calendar
Interactive Muslim Calendar

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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