“The Fatimides”. A dynasty of Khalifahs who reigned over Egypt and North Africa from A.D. 908 to A.D. 1171. They obtained the name from the pretensions of the founder of their dynasty Abu Muhammad ‘Ubaidu’llah, who asserted that he was a Saivid, and descended from Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet and ‘Ali. His opponents declared he was the grandson of a Jew of the Magian religion.
There were in all fourteen Khalifahs of this dynasty:
1. ‘Ubaidu’llah, the first Fatimide Khalifah, was born A.D. 882. Having incurred the displeasure of al-Muktafi, the reigning Abasside Khalifah, he was obliged to wander through various parts of Africe, till through fortunate circumstances he was raised in A.D. 910 from a dungeon in Segelmessa to sovereign power. He assumed the title fo al-Mahdi or “the Director of the Faithful.”
[MAHDI.] He subdued the Amirs in the north of Africa, who had become independent of the Abassides, and established his authority from the Atlantic to the borders of Egypt. He founded Mahadi on the site of the ancient Aphrodisium, a town on the coast of Africa, about a hundred miles wouth of Tunis, and made it his capital. He became the author of a great schism among the Muslims by disowning the authority of the Abassides, and assuming the titles of Khalifah and Amiru ‘l-Mu’minim, “Price of the Faithful.” His fleets ravaged the coasts of Italy and Sicily, and his armies frequently invaded Egypt, but without any permanent success.
(2) Al-Qa’im succeeded his father in A.D. 933. During his reign, an imposter, Abu Yazid, originally an Ethiopian slave, advanced certain peculiar doctrines in religion, which he was enabled to propagate over the whole of the north of Africa, and was so successful in his military expeditions as to deprive al-Qa’im of all his dominions, and confine him to his capital, Mahadi, which he was besieging when al-Qa’im died.
<3) Al-Mansur succeeded his father in A.D. 946, when the kingdom was in a state of the greatest confusion. By his valour and prudence he regained the greater part of the dominions of his grandfather ‘Ubaidu’llah, defeated the usurper Abu Yazid, and laid the foundation of that power which enabled his son al-Mu’izz to conquer Egypt.
(4) Al-Mu’izz (A.D. 955) was the most powerful of the Fatimide Khalifahs. He was successful in a naval war with Spain, and took the island of Sicily; but his most celebrated conquest was that of Egypt, which was subdued in A.D. 972. Two years afterwards he removed his court to Egypt, and founded Cairo. The name of the Abbaside Khalifah was omitted in the Friday prayers, and his own substituted in its place; from which time the great schism of the Fatimide and Abasside Khalifahs is more frequently dated than from the assumption of the title by ‘Ubaidu’llah. The armies of al-Mu’izz conquered the whole of Palestine and Syria as far as Damascus.
(5) Al-‘Aziz (A.D. 978). The dominions recently acquired by al-Mu’izz were secured to the Fatimide Khalifahs by the wise government of his son, al-‘Aziz, who took several towns in Syria. He married a Christian woman, whose brothers he made patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem.
(6) Al-Hakim was only eleven years of age when he succeeded his father in A.D. 996. He is distinguished even among Oriental despots by his cruelty and folly. His tyranny caused frequent insurrections in Cairo. He persecuted the Jews and the Christians, and burnt their places of worship. By his order the Church of the Resurrection at Jerusalem was destroyed (A.D. 1009). His persecutions of the Christians induced them to appeal to their brethren in the West, and was one of the causes that led to the crusades. He carried his folly so far as to seek to become the founder of a new religion, and to assert that he was the express image of God. He was assassinated in A.D. 1021, and was succeeded by his son.
(7) Az-Zahir (A.D. 1021) was not so cruel as his father, but was addicted to pleasure, and resigned all the cares of government to his Vizirs. In his reign the power of the Fatimide Khalifahs began to decline. They possessed nothing but the external show of royalty; secluded in the harem, they were the slaves of their viziers whom they could not remove, and dared not disobey. In addition to the evils of misgovernment, Egypt was afflicted in the reign of az-Zahir with one of the most dreadful famines that ever visited the country.
(8) Al-Mustansir (A.D. 1037) was only nine years old when he succeeded his father. The Turks invaded Syria and Palestine in his reign, took Damascus and Jerusalem (1076), where the princes of the house of Ortok, a Turkish family, established an independent kingdom. They advanced to the Nile with the intention of conquering Egypt, but were repulsed.
(9) Al-Musta’li (A.D. 1094), the second son of al-Mustansir, was seated on the throne by the all-powerful Vizir Afzal, in whose hands the entire power rested during the whole of al-Musta’li’s reign. The invasion of Asia Minor by the Crusaders in 1097 appeared to Afzal a favorable opportunity for the recovery of Jerusalem. Refusing to assist the Turks against the Crusaders, he marched against Jerusalem, took it (1098), and deprived the Ortok princes of the sovereignty which he had exercised for twenty years. His possession of Jerusalem was, however, of very short duration, for it was taken in the following year (1099) by the Crusaders. Anxious to recover his loss, he led an immense army in the same year against Jerusalem, but was entirely defeated by the Crusaders near Ascalon.
(10) Al-Amir (A.D. 1101).
(11) Al-Hafiz (A.D. 1129).
(12) Az-Zafir (A.D. 1149).
(13) Al-Fa’iz (A.D. 1154).
During these reigns the power of the Fatimides rapidly decayed.
(14) Al-‘Azid (A.D. 1160) was the last Khalifah of the Fatimide dynasty. At the commencement of his reign Egypt was divided into two factions, the respective chiefs of which, Dargham and Shawir, disputed for the dignity of the Vizir. Shawir implored the assistance of Nuru ‘d-din, who sent an army into Egypt under the command of Shirkuh, by means of which his rival was crushed. But becoming jealous of Nuru ‘d-din’s power in Egypt, he solicited the aid of into Egypt and expelled Shirkuh from the country. Nuru ‘d-din soon sent another army into Egypt under the same commander, who was accompanied by his nephew, the celebrated Salahu ‘d-din (Saladin). Shirkuh was again unsuccessful, and was obliged to retreat. The ambition of Amauri afforded shortly afterwards a more favorable opportunity for the reduction of Egypt. Amauri, after driving Shirkuh out of the country, mediated the design of reducing it to his own authority. Shawir, alarmed at the success of Amauri, entreated the assistence of Nuru d-din, who sent Shirkuh for the third time at the head of a numerous army. He repulsed the Christians, and afterwards put the treacherous Vizir to death. Shirkuh succeeded to his dignity, but dying shortly after, Saladin obtained the post of Vizir. As Nuru ‘d-din was attached to the interests of the Abassides, he gave oders for the proclamation of al-Mustahdi, the Abasside khalifah, and for depriving the Fatimides of the Khalifate. ‘Azid, who was then on a sick-bed, died a few days afterwards. [KHALIFAH.]
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam