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Ismaili History 535 - Al-Muizz in Egypt

Jawhar also conquered Syria, and then he invited his master, al-Muizz in Egypt. After making necessary appointments in Maghrib, al-Muizz departed from Mansuria on 21st Shawal, 361/August 15, 972 with his family and notable persons. His caravan reached Alexandria on 23rd Shaban, 362/May 29, 973. Abu Tahir Muhammad bin Ahmad, the qadi of Egypt, accompanied by the chief men, offered al-Muizz their salutations. Ibn Khallikan (3rd vol., p. 379) writes that, 'He (al-Muizz) held a sitting near the light-house, in order to receive them and, addressing to them a long speech, he said that he had come to Egypt, not for the purpose of augmenting his dominions and his wealth, but of maintaining the true faith, protecting pilgrims and making war against the infidels. He declared his resolution to close his life in the exercise of good works and to act in conformity with the orders he had received from his ancestor, the Prophet Muhammad. He then preached to them and made a long exhortation which drew tears from some of those who were present; after which, he arrayed the qadi and other persons of the assembly in robes of honour, made each of them a present of a horse, ready harnessed, and dismissed them.' Towards the end of the month of Shaban, al-Muizz left Alexandria and, on Saturday, the 2nd Ramdan, 363/June 6, 973, he stopped at Mina, the wharf of Egypt. He was warmly greeted by Jawhar in Jazira. Al-Muizz entered Qahira, or Cairo, henceforward, it became the capital of the Fatimids. Ibn Khallikan (3rd vol., p. 380) writes that, 'On arriving at Cairo, he went to the castle and entered a hall of audience where he fell prostrate in adoration of Almighty God. He then said a prayer of two rakats (i.e., the genuflections of prayer).'
Jawhar continued to govern Egypt with absolute power till the arrival of his master; he preserved his high rank, dignity and authority till 364/974. He however continued in the government of Egypt for 4 years and 20 days.

The capital was placarded with al-Muizz's name and the praises of Ali. He was acclaimed by the people, who crowded to his first public audience. He was presented precious gifts by the prominent noblemen, in which the present offered by Jawhar was splendid and eye- catching. Stanley Lane Poole writes in 'History of Egypt' (London, 1914, p. 98) that, 'It includes 500 horses with saddles and bridles encrusted with gold, amber and precious stones; tents of silk and cloth of gold, borne on Bactrian camels; dromedaries, mules, and camels of burden; filigree coffers full of gold and silver vessels; gold-mounted swords; caskets of chased silver containing precious stones; a turban set with jewels, and 900 boxes filled with samples of all the goods that Egypt produced.'

The reign of al-Muizz was one of the most glorious ever recorded in Egyptian history. He displayed judgement and justice in the management of his mixed subjects. He did not allow his troops to interfere with the people. He was well disposed towards the Copts. His land revenue reforms were highly admired, which he was ably assisted by his vizir Yaqub bin Killis. Al-Muizz divided the provinces into districts and were placed under capable officers. The army was organized with a standing force and a militia to be summoned in times of war. A naval fleet was also organized to protect the coastal trade and commerce from pirates. Makrizi writes in 'al-Khitat' (1st vol., p. 444) that, 'The Franks were employed as craftsmen, making weapons for the navy and other services in Cairo.' The Fatimids built a big dockyard (dar al-sina'a) at Alexandria and Damietta, inside the country on the Nile at Maks near Cairo and Aydhab near Sanga on the Red Sea opposite to Jeddah. The Arabic word dar al-sina'a for a dockyard is still current in the European languages as arzenale or arsenale in Italian and arsenal in Spanish, French and English. In the dockyard, more than 600 ships were built - the largest fleet that Egypt had ever seen since the Arab conquests. The commander of the naval force was called Amir al-Bahr (the chief of the sea), which came to be used in the European languages, such as Amiralh (Portuguese), Amiral (French) and Admiral (English).

One of the wonders of Alexandria was the erection of lighthouse in the shape of a towering minaret, near the shore at dangerous zone, measuring 175 hands. On the minaret were fire pans, in which a fire was kindled when the watchman saw the ships at a distance.

'Egypt under the Fatimids' writes H.U. Rahman in 'A Chronology of Islamic History' (London, 1989, p. 160), 'enjoyed an era of great prosperity; trade with India, Italy, the western Mediterranean and even, at times, with the Byzantine empire flourished. The tolerant attitude of the regime created great intellectual vitality in the country.'

It must be known on this juncture that Jawdhar (d. 363/974) was a very faithful servant of al-Muizz and never involved himself in any sort of achievement in Egypt. The Dar al-Tiraz (state textile factory), for instance, producing reed mats and inscribed prayer rugs as well as articles of clothing continued to flourish under al-Muizz. In 354/965, al-Muizz ordered Jawdhar to have a prayer rug made. The weavers included in it not only the text the Imam wished to have, but also the usual reference to Jawdhar: 'from among the works made under the supervision of Jawdhar, client of the Commander of the Believers.' When Jawdhar saw his name embroidered in gold thread, he was mortified, supposing that the Imam might think him guilty of self-aggrandizement. Al-Muizz, however, praised the rug as being of 'extreme beauty and perfect manufacture,' and paid no attention to the inscription.

One of the most interesting products of the Fatimid workshops of this period must have been a 'map of the world' woven in blue tustari qurqubi silk on which the climate, mountains, seas, cities, rivers and roads of the earth were shown. Included was a clear representation of Mecca and Medina. Every feature on it was identified in gold and silver, or silk writing. Across the bottom, the legend read: 'Among the things ordered by al-Muizz li-din Allah, longing for the Sanctuary of God (Mecca), and proclaiming the landmarks of His messenger, in the year 353/964.' It is reported to have cost twenty-two thousand dinars to make, vide Makrizi's 'al-Khitat' (1st vol., p. 417).

The Fatimid Caliphs combined both, the religious as well as secular powers in their persons, and were more respected than the Umayyad or Abbasid caliphs. The Caliphs wore a religious halo. Hussain Ibrahim Hasan and Taha Ahmad Sharf write in 'al-Muizz li-din'allah Maktaba al-Mahda al-Miriyya' (Cairo, 1947, p. 139) that, 'The personality of al-Muizz was clothed in the clean robes of holiness and majesty. The Fatimid Caliph was not, like his Umayyad and Abbasid rivals, a tyrant in running the affairs of the state. Neither was al-Muizz over-indulgent about pleasures. His subjects and helpers held him in high esteem as he belonged to the progeny of the Prophet.' According to Theodore Noldeke in 'Sketches from Eastern History' (Beirut, 1963, p. 90), 'After their conquest of Egypt, the Fatimids were the most powerful princes of Islam, and it seemed at times as if even the form of power had passed from the Abbasids. The Fatimids, moreover, governed excellently as a rule, and brought Egypt to a high peak of prosperity.'

One of the greatest figures in this period was the physician - therapist, called Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Sa'id al-Tamimi, who hailed from Palestine. He went down to Egypt in 360/970 and practised medicine at Cairo. Soon afterwards, his fame began to spread and was welcome at the Fatimid court. He compiled several medico-pharmaceutical books. His best extant work is 'al-Murshid ila Jawahir al- Aghdhiya wa quwa al-Mufradat min al-Adwiya' on drug origins and properties including mineral and botanical simples. He mentions the use of finely powdered white sulphur in the manufacture of safety maches - an interesting reference to its wide use at the time - made from sulphur found in abundance in the Dead Sea area. This is over five centuries before the German scientist, Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), known as the father of mineralogy, mentions sulphur matches (sufuratis ellyehniis) for use with flint and steel. Sami Hamarneh writes in 'Medicine and Pharmacy under the Fatimids' (cf. 'Ismaili Contribution to Islamic Culture' ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Tehran, 1977, p. 182) that, 'It seems therefore appropriate to state that the manufacture of safe sulphur matches was propagated and utilized early in the Islamic civilization centuries before it was used in Europe.'

Mention should also be made of the old Egyptian mummies. The Arabic word mumiyah (Persian, mumiya'i) means bitumen or a mineral tar, whose earliest indisputable evidence dates from about 2600 B.C. It is interesting to note that Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Sa'id al-Tamimi seems to be an earliest reporter about these mummies in detail in his above work. He thought that the origin of the North African mummywax (mum or mumia) is the sea which throws it to its shores. He recalls, 'Abul Hasan al-Basri (al-Haytham) informed me that a large piece of it was thrown on the sea-shore near Katama (Tunisia) during the reign of Caliph al-Muizz. At a first glance, it was thought to be an ambergris (a grey substance from sperm whale's intestines). This piece was presented to the Caliph's treasry. Upon testing it, it was found dry and brittle and of the same texture as the old mummies found in the graves of the ancient Egyptians.' Tamimi further adds, 'This suggested to me that during the time of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs and nobles, as a part of honouring their dead and preserving their corpses with normal bone structure against decay, they employed skilled people to do the embalming. They took the viscera from abdomen and bowls as well as the brain and their internal liquids and filled in their places with this already heated and melted mummia. Then they left it to solidify, joining the ribs and the spinal vertebra tightly together. In addition they anointed the outer skin for its preservation before laying the corpses in tombs dug in the rock with cover inscribed within and without with their full life histories. Thus they are well kept from deterioration in their burial places for good. The grave diggers in our time find great amounts of this mumia sticking to the bones and ribs of corpses. They removed it to sell. But I do not approve of its therapeutic use by our people.'

Another notable person of this period was Musa bin Ali'azar al-Israili, the author of a book on the culinary art, which he dedicted to Imam al-Muizz, entitled 'al-Kitab al-Muizzi.' He compiled another, on the therapy of coughing and chest ailments and a third, a formulary, all of which are not accessible.


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