Monday, 11 January 2010

The Fatimids

Cairo was the city of the Fatimid dynasty, one of the most intriguing Islamic dynasties. Ubaydullah, claming to be a descendant of Ali and Fatima, arrived from Tunisia in 910 and proclaimed himself caliph. In the next half century, his family created a dynasty to be called Fatimid after the Prophet's daughter, Fatima. In 969, the Fatimids occupied Egypt, a rule that extended into western Arabia and Syria (Hourani 40-41). Despite being descendants of the Isma'ili sect, Fatimids believed in the line of Imams and maintained a line of caliphates set by the caliphate in Baghdad. Moreover, Egypt's population was predominantly Sunni Muslim (with large Christian and Jewish populations), however, the Fatimids did not impose Isma'ili doctrines on them.

Azhar mosque was built by the Fatimids for the teaching of Islam in its Isma'ili form

The Fatimids ruled Egypt until 1171 when Salah al-Din, a Kurdish military leader, replaced them with his dynasty, the Ayyubids, which ruled Egypt from 1169 to 1252, Syria, and part of Western Arabia. His dynasty, being Sunni Muslim, had the ability to mobilize and strengthen the religious fervour of Egyptian and Syrian Muslims to defeat the European crusaders who had established Christian states at the end of the 11th century in Palestine and on the Syrian coast (Hourani 84). When Fatimid power declined and replaced by the Ayyubid dynasty, Isma'ili communities shrank (Hourani 185).

Shrine of Hussein, popular belief is that Hussein's head had been brought here after he was killed at Karbala (Hourani124).

Floor plan of Al-Azhar mosque in The Muslim Architecture of Egypt by K.A.C. Creswell, Alexandria library

Sayyida Zeinab mosque*

*The patron saint of Cairo is Sayyida Zeinab, granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed (daughter of Ali). Sayyida Zeinab mosque houses her shrine. Originally built around the time of the Hussein Mosque, it was renovated in 1549, rebuilt again in 1761, and rebuilt completely in 1884 and 1942.

Source: Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1991.


  1. Keep up the good work!

  2. Nice post.The images are extremely good.You must be good tourist.