Ismaili History 563 - AZ-ZAHIR (411-427/1021-1036)

He was born on 20th Ramdan, 395/June 4, 1005. His name was Ali Abul Hasan, or Abu Ma'd, surnamed az-Zahir la-azaz dinallah (Assister in exalting the religion of God). His mother Amina was the daughter of Abdullah, the son of Imam al-Muizz. He acceded on the throne of Fatimid Caliphate and Imamate on 411/1021 at the age of 16 years. On the occasion of his coronation, a special payment in excess (fadl) of 20 dinars was granted to each soldier.
A black eunuch Midad began his career in the service of Sit al-Mulk, the aunt of az-Zahir. She employed him as a teacher of az-Zahir. On Friday, the 18th Safar, 415/May 1, 1024, az-Zahir invested Midad the honorific title and named him Abul Fawaris. Later on, Midad was assigned the administration of the affairs of the soldiers according to a long edict read publicly in the palace.

Ismaili History 564 - Sit al-Mulk

Az-Zahir began his career under the tutelage of his aunt, Sit al-Mulk (the lady of the state), also known as Sit al-Nasr, who was born in 359/980. During the first four years of az-Zahir's rule, the whole power was in the hands of his aunt. The personnel of Sit al-Mulk in the administration included both men and women. Abul Abbas Ahmad bin a-Maghribi, for example, served as her agent, who was a man of laudable character and had already served the mother of Sit al-Mulk in the same capacity. She also employed a slave girl of her mother, named Takarrub, was her confidante. She also served as her informant and handled the petitions submitted to her.
It is said that at the beginning of her regency, she managed to summon Abdul Rahman bin Ilyas bin Ahmad, the great-grandson of Imam al-Mahdi and the cousin of Imam al-Hakim, who had hatched rebellion against the Fatimids at Damascus, and is reported to have made his contact with the Jarrahids of Palestine to help him in his action. Sit al-Mulk made vizir Khatir al-Mulk, Ammar bin Muhammad write a letter to Abdul Rahman. He had been arrested in Cairo and imprisoned for some four years, then fell ill and died just three days before Sit al- Mulk herself died in 416/1026.

Thus, she is reported to have wielded great influence over the masses and directly participated in the state affairs, and remained quite influential until her death in 416/1026. Ibn Khallikan (8th vol., p. 130) writes that, 'She showed exceptional ability, especially in legal matters, and made herself loved by the people.'

During these four years, the chief ministers changed in quick succession and thus the administration could not acquire stability. After the death of Sit al-Mulk, the principle power passed into the hands of a trio from among the court nobles, who paid daily visit to the Imam for getting decision on all important matters.

Ismaili History 565 - Fatimid decree against the Druzes

It appears from several Druze writings that Hamza and his followers had contacted the chiefs of the Fatimid army and the tribal chiefs, asking them to depose az-Zahir and declare Hamza as the successor of al-Hakim, vide 'Risalat al-Arab' (p. 561) and 'Taqlid Bani al-Jarrah' (p. 484). Another Druze work, 'al-Ghaya wa al-Nasiha' (pp. 71-2) in this context makes az-Zahir as an imposter who usurped the rights of Hamza. On the other hand, Makrizi speaks of a Katami named, Ahmad bin Tatawa who arrived in Egypt in 415/1024 and claimed to have come from Kufa where he had been in the company of al-Hakim (vide 'Itti'az', p. 415). He also claimed that al-Hakim had sent him as a messenger to warn the people of their evils. Makrizi also mentions that a black servant named Anbar, who worked as a porter in al- Hakim's court, met az-Zahir and tried to convince him that his father was still alive and would return very soon. It is also known that a certain person, called Suleman whose resemblance to al-Hakim encouraged him to make an attempt to take power from az-Zahir. He entered the royal palace with his men, declaring himself as the returning Imam. His attempt was however foiled and was executed. In sum, the Druze propaganda of al-Hakim's divinity appears to be merely a mean leading to the abolition of the hereditary tradition of the Imamate, and open the door for non-Fatimids to become Imams. It also led the other individuals to mint groundless tales for al-Hakim.

Before the time, the propaganda became congenial for the growth of the ambitions of the extremists, az-Zahir immediately issued an official decree (manshur), calling for the extermination of the extremism with iron hands from Anioch to Alexandria and Egypt. Yaacov Lev writes in 'State and Society in Fatimid Egypt' (London, 1991, p. 36) that, 'He (az-Zahir) condemned (in the official decree) those who adopted extreme views regarding the position of the Imam, and those who went beyond the pale of Islam were cursed. The regime took action against those who adhered to the view of God being incarnated in al-Hakim; they were imprisoned and put to death.'

Accordingly, the amir of Antioch, aided by the amir of Aleppo, suppressed the group of the Druzes in the Jabal as-Summaq in 423/1032, which mostly included the peasants. In Alexandria, al-Mukana tried to maintain Hamza's authority and encouraged the extremists in the Jabal as-Summaq after their defeat. At length, al-Mukana himself also withdrew in 425/1034.

Ismaili History 566 - Reopening of Majalis al-Hikmah

It has been hitherto discussed the closure of the majalis al-hikmah during the period of Imam al-Hakim. But it was evidently reopened by his successor, az-Zahir. He conferred the office of the qadi and the mission in the royal palace (bab al-khalifa) to Qadi Kassim bin Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad bin an-Noman in 418/1027, ordering to take charge of the mission and the proper guidance of the readings of the majalis al-hikmah and the spread of the science of tawil among the followers. He also sent an edict in this context to all his followers and also ordered the dais to read it out explicitly to the faithful in their respective regions. According to 'Uyun'l-Akhbar' (6th vol., p. 315), the edict of az-Zahir of 5th Shaban, 417/September 21, 1026 reads:- 'The gate of wisdom was open until our Lord al-Hakim bi- Amrillah thought it right to close it because of the prevailing circumstances and on political grounds (bi-siyasti'l jumhur). But now, continues the edict, the conditions that Commander of the Faithful has ordered the chief dai, Kassim bin Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad bin an- Noman to open the gate of wisdom to those who long for it, and to read the majalis again in the palace of the Caliphs as has been customary there before.'
S.M. Stern has published a letter found in the Geniza of the synagogue in Fustat, in which a certain dai addresses congratulation to Kassim bin Abdul Aziz

Ismaili History 567 - Hasanak and the Fatimid khilat

Abu Ali Hasan bin Muhammad bin Abbas (d. 423/1032), known as Hasanak had been in service of Mehmud of Ghazna since his childhood. He had gradually risen to the position of a ra'is in Nishapur. In 414/1023, Hasanak went on pilgrimage and allowed himself to be persuaded to return via Cairo and there to accept a robe of honour (khil'a) from the Fatimid Imam az-Zahir. This so offended the Abbasid caliph Kadir that he denounced him as an Ismaili and demanded his execution. After his return to Ghazna, the Abbasid caliph insisted Mehmud that he should have been executed. Mehmud clearly regarded the accusation as unfounded, and went so far as to appoint Hasanak as his vizir in 416/1025 and appeased the Abbasid caliph by sending the robe of honour, and presents received by Hasanak from the Fatimids, which had been burnt in Baghdad. During the last six years of Mehmud's reign, Hasanak exerted a remarkable influence over him, but seems to have opposed his son Masud and supported the descendants of Masud's brother, called Muhammad. This brought about his downfall after Mehmud's death in 421/1030. Hasanak was thus immediately banished to Herat, accused of offending against Masud, and mainly as a result of efforts by the finance minister, Abu Sahl Sawsani, tried on the old charge of being an Ismaili. The Abbasid caliph Kadir also, evidently offended that his wishes in 415/1024 had not been complied with, again interfered. After a long trial, Hasanak was strangled in 423/1032 and his head given in derision to his chief opponent Sawsani; his corpse remained tied to a pillory for seven years.
Meanwhile, a terrible famine broke out in Egypt as a result of a series of bad Niles, and the resultant distress lasted all through 416/1026 and 417/1027. In many cases the starving villages took to brigandage. Even the pilgrims on their way through Egypt were attacked. Regulations were passed to prevent the slaughter of cattle. The camels were scarce as many were killed because it was impossible to provide them with food, and poultry could hardly be procured. The royal treasury was practically depleted, for it was impossible to collect taxes.

Imam az-Zahir once on that perilous time was passing through Fustat when going to one of his palaces. Everywhere he encountered starving, shouting people who cried out: 'Hunger, O' Amir al-mominin! hunger. Neither your father nor your grandfather did such things to us. In the name of God, to God we entrust our affair.' These cries reflected the feeling that the regime had mishandled the situation. The Imam took its serious notice on the spot, and arranged to distribute food for them, and assured the people to take actions. On the same day, Ibn Dawwas, the market inspector was summoned to the palace; he was accused of causing the famine and blamed for bringing the town to the verge of violent outburst. The people rebuked him and said: 'A document in your handwriting is evidence on your part, which serves against you that you undertook upon yourself to provide the town with bread and wheat until the time of the new harvest.' Following this conversation, the millers were permitted to buy wheat from granaries (makaazin) at a fixed price of one tillis (one tillis was equivalent to 67.5 kg.) for 2.5 dinars, and the price of a load of flour was determined at 4 dinars. The price of bread was fixed at two and half ratls for dhiram. The prices established by the market inspector were considerably lower than those of the free market. The same was applied to bread, following the sealing of the granaries, two ratls of black bread were sold for 1.5 dhiram. These swift measures brought great deal of relief. Further punitive actions were taken by the market inspectors against several flour merchants (qammahun), including a prominent member of the trade.

Later in a year, however, there was a good inundation, called ziyadat al-nil (the plentiude of the Nile) and this restored plenty, so that the country was once more under normal conditions and order was restored.

Ismaili History 568 - Fatimid decrees

During the period of az-Zahir, the Fatimid chancery (diwan al-insha) issued two decrees (manshur) dated 415/1024 to the monks and the Karaite Jewish community in Cairo, reflecting the Fatimid diplomatic and chancery practice. In the first decree, az-Zahir granted privileges to the fresh petition (ruqa) of the monks, confirming the former decrees of Imam al-Muizz, Imam al-Aziz and Imam al-Hakim, dated Muharram, 415/March-April, 1024. This decree was published by Richard J.H. Gottheil in the Festschrift for A. Harkavy in 1908., whose Arabic text and translation is published by S.M. Stern in 'Fatimid Decrees' (London, 1964, pp. 15-20), and it runs as under:-
'You, the Copt monks, have submitted to the Commander of the Faithful a petition in which you enumerated the privileges granted to you in the past, namely that your cultivation, and there should be exacted from you no...assistance in war, or going out...; that those of your monks, who go out to your estates in order to obtain there their livlihood and transact the business of those of you whom they have left behind, be dealt with honourably; that you should not be obliged to pay, in respect of supplies carried by Christians and other similar things, customs and fines, little or much; that you safely enjoy your fields, crops and working-beasts; that if a monk of yours dies outside your monasteries while he is travelling in the Rif or elsewhere on your business, all his property which he leaves be not interfered with but revert to his brethren in monachal life with the exclusion of relatives and blood-relations other than they; and that the Imam al-Muizz li-Din Allah and the Imam al-Aziz billah and the Imam al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah had ordered the writing of decrees confirming all this to you. You then asked for the writing of a decree to renew all that the Imams had granted to you, to confirm the protection which they had extended to all of you and to observe these bonds and engagements due to you. The Commander of the Faithful has therefore ordered that this open decree, to deal with you according to that text and in conformity with the explanation which you have penned, be written and that it remain in your hands as a proof thereof, lasting through the passing of days and periods, so that no one dare interfere with you by way of measures imparting the efficacy of this bounty or invent an interpreation for it to turn it away from its intention; and that there be kept away from you.

Let all-our friends, governors, financial and taxation officials and all the other servants and employees of the empire according to their different states and several ranks who read this, or to whom this is read, take cognizance of this order and command of the Commander of the Faithful and act accordingly and in conformity with it, if God wills. Written in Muharram, the year Four hundred and Fifteen. May God bless our ancestor Muhammad, the seal of the prophets and lord of the messengers, and his pure family, the right-guided Imams, and give them peace. God is sufficient for us; how excellent a Keeeper is He.'

Another like decree of az-Zahir concerning the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews, dated 415/1024 is also published by S.M. Stern, vide pp. 24-28.

In 418-9/1028-9, az-Zahir was able to make a treaty with the Greek emperor, Costantine III. It was agreed that the Fatimid Caliph should be prayed for in the khutba in every mosque in the Byzantine dominions, and permission was granted for the restoration of the mosque at Constantinopole, which had been ruined in retaliation for the destruction of the church of the Resurrection in Jerusalam. Az-Zahir on his part agreed to permit the rebuilding of the church at Jerusalam.

In the meantime, the attacks which the Sicilian launched on the Byzantine coasts were reinforced by the Fatimids. The Byzantine force commanded by the general George Maniaces was badly defeated. In his negotiations with the Fatimid Imam az-Zahir in 423/1032, the emperor Romanus III Argyrus (968-1034) however expressly demanded that the Fatimids should not aid the Sahib Sikilliyya in the campaign against Byzantine.

Sicily became virtually independent of the Fatimids. The Kalbid governors confined themselves to accepting retrospective investiture from Cairo. They have cemented their close ties with the Zirids, whose suzernaity the Sicilian recognized in 427/1036. Until the time of az- Zahir and even under his successor, the Sicilian coins however bore the name of the Fatimid Caliph.

The Fatimid power in Syria was seriously impugned at the time of az-Zahir's accession, but it was soon altered by the ability and enterprise of Anushtagin ad-Dizbiri. His first important action was against Saleh bin Mirdas, the Arab chiefain who had taken Aleppo from Murtada and had now established himself as an independent prince. In the interim, the Jarrahid Hassan bin Mufraj was once again on revolt in 415/1024 and executed a pact of new alliance with the Kalbid Sinan bin Suleman and the Kilabid Saleh bin Mirdas. According to this pact, Damascus was given to Sinan bin Suleman, Aleppo to Saleh bin Mirdas and Palestine to Hassan bin Mufraj. These allies at first defeated the Fatimid forces at Askalan. After the death of Sinan bin Suleman, the Kalbids rallied to the side of the Fatimids, enabling the Fatimid commander Anushtagin ad-Dizbiri to inflict defeat to the joint forces of Hassan bin Mufraj and Saleh bin Mirdas at Uqhuwana in Palestine in 420/1030. Saleh bin Mirdas had been killed in the encounter, and Hassan bin Mufraj took refuge amongst the Greeks. Due to an effectual effort of Anushtagin, the rebels were subdued and Aleppo had been captured from the Mirdasids in 429/1038, thus the Fatimid domination was restored in Syria.

Ismaili History 569 - Sulayhid dynasty in Yamen

Yamen was the original base of the Fatimid propaganda, where Ibn Hawshab had formed an Ismaili state in 268/882. Long after his death, the political power slipped away from the hands of the Ismailis, but their mission continued actively. During the period of az-Zahir, the headship of the Yamenite mission had come to be vested in a certain dai Suleman bin Abdullah al-Zawahi, a learned and influential person residing in the mountainous region of Haraz. He made a large conversion and wished to re-establish the political power of the Ismailis in Yamen. It is said that a certain Hamdani chieftain, named Ali bin Muhammad al-Sulayhi, the son of the qadi of Haraz, once came to lead the pilgrim caravans to Mecca, and had learnt much about Ismaili doctrines from Suleman and espoused Ismailism. Ali took a leading part in the mission works in Yamen and became the assistant of Suleman, who chose him as his successor. Ali bin Muhammad al-Sulayhi generated his close contact with az-Zahir and the mission headquarters in Cairo.

In 429/1038, during the period of Imam al-Mustansir billah, Ali bin Muhammad captured Mount Masar in Haraz to the north of Yamen, and fortified it, whom he made his centre. This marked the foundation of the Sulayhid dynasty, which ruled over Yamen as a vassal of the Fatimids for almost a century until 532/1138. He obtained support from the Hamdani, Humayri and other petty tribes of Yamen and instituted the Fatimid khutba everywhere. His further detail will run hereinafter.

We have discussed previously that Fatik, the governor of Aleppo had declared himself as an independent ruler on the eve of the death of Imam al-Hakim. Later on, Fatik admitted his mistakes and apologized from az-Zahir and Sit al-Mulk. In 413/1022, Badr, the commander of the stronghold of Aleppo had killed Fatik. In the following year, az-Zahir expelled Badr from Aleppo and appointed Abdullah bin Ali bin Jafar al-Katami as the governor of Aleppo and Safi ad-Dawla to administer the command of the stronghold.

During the later part of az-Zahir's rule, the Fatimid influence had become supreme in Palestine and Syria, save only in the few northern districts which remained subject to the Greek empire. It seemed indeed to be the triumph of the Fatimids.

Ali bin Suleman was a pioneer physician, philosopher, mathematician and an astronomer, who died during the early part of the Imamate of az- Zahir. Unfortunately, his works are lost; these included two important compendiums mentioned by their titles in the literature: a synopsis of 'Kitab al-Hawi fi'l Tibb' by Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Zakaria ar-Razi (d. 313/925) of Iran, and a book on professional aphorism, ethics, experiences, anecdotes and properties of natural products compiled from the writing of the ancient sages. Ibn Abi Usaibia (d. 668/1270) explains in 'Uyun al-Anba fi tabakat al-Attiba' (2nd vol., pp. 89-90) that he had seen a copy of this latter work in four volumes, wherein the author mentioned that he started this compilation at Cairo in 391/1000.

In Cairo, Abu Sa'ad Ibrahim (d. 440/1048) was a famous Jewish dealer in very rare and precious things and made long journey to acquire them. Imam az-Zahir used to be a frequent customer of Abu Sa'ad, from whom he bought antiques for his personal collections.

It should be remembered that the Fatimids made great contribution in the rock-crystal works in various forms, mostly developed during the time of Imam az-Zahir, such as ewers, bottles, cups, saucers, boxes, chessmen and flasks of different shapes. One of these interesting piece is preserved in crescent shape work in the Germanisches National Museum in Nurnberg. It was originally used as an ornament for one of the horses of az-Zahir, whose name is inscribed on it. There are also another rock-crystal mugs in the collections of Lourvre, Venice, Vienna and Prague; belonging to the period of Imam az-Zahir.

The period under review is also noted for an Ismaili scientist, Abu Ali Ibn Sina, whose biography has been given in Appendix II.

It must be remembered on that juncture that it was az-Zahir who, in 421/1030 and again in 424/1033 rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem which had collapsed following an earthquake. He was also responsible for rebuilding the Aqsa Mosque and the repair of its mosaics.

In 427/1036, az-Zahir was detained some time by sickness. He was taken to Maks, then the port of Cairo, where he died on the 15th of Shaban, 427/June 13, 1036, leaving the Caliphate and Imamate to his son, al-Mustansir, then a child of seven years of age.