The Fatimid State was formed in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) as a result of the victorious uprising of the Berber tribes against the Abbasid governors of the Aghlabids. This uprising, in turn, was the result of the secret propaganda of the Shiite-Ismaili emissaries with its slogans of justice and universal equality (Lumen 2019). The Arab Shiite dynasty of imams-caliphs that came to power traced its origin to Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, hence its name. However, the founder of the Abdallah dynasty (909-934) and his successors did not seek to implement the previously proclaimed social program and turned into ordinary feudal rulers (Chandio 190). With the ultimate goal of conquering the whole world, the Fatimids subjugated almost the entire Maghreb and Sicily by the middle of the tenth century.
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In 969, they conquered Egypt, where their commander Jauhar founded a new capital – Cairo in the same year; later, Caliph al-Muizz (953-975) arrived in Cairo with the coffins of his ancestors. Egypt became the main part of the Fatimid state (Cortese 26). After starting the conquest of Syria, the Fatimids faced Bahrain and Byzantium there but were able to resist them. The Fatimid power in Syria reached its greatest strength under the Caliph az-Zahir (1021-1036) (Cortese 27). Since the time of Caliph al-Aziz (975-996), the sovereignty of the Fatimids has been recognized in the holy cities of the Hejaz – Mecca and Medina, as well as in Yemen.
Al-Hakim’s successors turned out to be ineffective rulers who allowed the glory of the dynasty to decline. They faced problems that proved insurmountable. Firstly, the political climate outside Egypt was changing rapidly, and the Fatimid Empire had to adapt to the world around it. By 1048, the influence of the Fatimids in North Africa had significantly decreased, as many local rulers rejected Shiism and returned to Sunnism (Bennison 127). In Syria, the interests of the Fatimids were infringed by the Seljuk Turks, who represented a formidable force, especially after they captured Baghdad in 1055 and defeated the Byzantines at Mansikert (Armenia) in 1071 (Daud 30). In the same year, Sicily was lost, captured by the Normans; this was the first sign of a threat from Western Europe, which would trouble Egypt throughout the XII and early XIII centuries.
Other peoples were vanquished by the Umayyads, who established a new Muslim kingdom founded on Islam. The Abbasids took over from another Muslim caliphate, promising to enhance rather than expand the realm (Ringmar 86). The development of the Fatimids was determined by the uprising and the desire of the state in which justice and equality would flourish. The attitudes of the two dynasties toward Muslims and non-Muslims are a fundamental point of distinction. Sunni Muslims are those of the Umayyad dynasty, whereas Shiites are the Abbasid dynasty (Ringmar 76). The Abbasids were comfortable with their inherited empire, but the Umayyads were bold and advocated military expansion.
The collapse of the Abbasid caliphate is due to both internal and external factors. In the first century of the Abbasid caliphate, Persian bureaucrats gained increasing power within the caliphate until they declared independence. In 909 CE, the Fatimids revolted against the Abbasids in Egypt (Ringmar 91). Given Muhammad’s teaching about social justice, equality, and aiding the poor, many in the army viewed the aristocratic Umayyad Arabs’ lavish, affluent lifestyles to be beyond the beliefs of Islam. Thus, the fall of these caliphates is quite similar since each dynasty sought to replace the other based on inconsistency with the previous righteous way of life.
The Umayyad caliphate faced fierce political and theological resistance, culminating in its overthrow by rebel factions, notably the Abbasids, who assumed control of the empire. The Abbasids were unable to maintain comprehensive governmental authority over the vast Muslim kingdoms. The Fatimids, in turn, also faced insurmountable problems, which were expressed in the inability to maintain the stable development of the state and cope with internal problems. However, these caliphates played a significant role in the development of culture and social structure.
Bennison, Amira K. “The Trajectory of the High Caliphate: Expansion and Contraction.” The Wiley Blackwell History of Islam, Wiley, 2018, pp. 117–133.
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Chandio, Abdul Rahim. “The Rise and Fall of an Empire in the Islamic History: The Case of Fatimid Caliphate.” International Journal of Academic Multidisciplinary Research, vol. 5, no. 8, 2021, pp. 190–93. Web.
Cortese, Delia. “The Nile: Its Role in the Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Fatimid Dynasty During Its Rule of Egypt (969–1171).” History Compass, vol. 13, no. 1, 2018, pp. 20–29. Web.
Daud, Al Husaini M. “The Effect of Fatimid Dynasty Authority Toward the Development of Islamic Education in Egypt.” Jurnal Ilmiah Peuradeun, vol. 10, no. 1, 2022, pp. 13–32. Web.
Lumen. “The Umayyad and Abbasid Empires: Boundless World History.” Lumen, 2019. Web.
Ringmar, Erik. “The Muslim Caliphates.” History of International Relations: A Non-European Perspective, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2019, pp. 73–100. Web.