Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt
The aim of our present discussion of the Shi'ite States is not to give a detailed history of these states nor is it, to trace out their growth. Such an objective cannot be achieved in these few pages we have at our disposal and shall be attempted at another occasion. For the present, we only wish to touch upon some salient features of these states which gave them a distinction over other Islamic States, and to draw attention of the readers to those characteristics by which these Shi'ite States were distinguished from others in every age and time.
Guaranteeing basic liberties, propagation of knowledge and advancement of literature, and encouragement of those engaged in such pursuits was the distinguishing character of the Shi'ite rule.
Whosoever may read the history of the Shi'ite rulers, like the Fatimids, the Hamdanids and the Buwaihids, objectively and without having any bias, will be astonished to find that those states were at such a level of thinking and that their rulers should help intellectual movements and literary efforts to flourish and should themselves take a leading role in the growth of activities. There came a time when the Shi'ites alone took up the cudgels for the Islamic world and defended it against wreckless foreign invasions which were threatening the whole existence of the Islamic State.
It was Saif-ud-Dawlah al-Hamadani who defended and saved the Muslims against the Byzantines when they mobilized their armies under the command of Nicophore Phocus in order to occupy Syria for having a further penetration into the Islamic territories. Saf-ud-Dawlah faced this menace all alone and fought against the Byzantines in more than forty battles till he pushed them back and saved the whole Islamic world from their evils.
Similarly, Banu Mardas who succeeded the Hamdanids, faced the Byzantines under the command of Nasr bin Saleh. The Byzantines had mobilized an army of 600,000 warriors under the command of Armanus. The Byzantines were ultimately defeated and the Muslims as well as Arabs were saved from that menace. In the same way, Banu 'Ammar who were the rulers of Tripoli, defended their country for five years against the repeated attacks of the Crusaders under the leadership of 'Ammar Bin Muhammad Bin 'Ammar.
To crown them all was the heroism and gallantry of the armies of Al-Mu'izz al-Din-illah, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt. In these heroic activities which the reader will find in detail somewhere. It is sufficient to say here that Al-Mu'izz had become the saviour of the Muslims everywhere. The Muslims of Crete who were under the Abbasid Rule did not find any one else to help them in their struggle against the Byzantines.
The Fatimid State
No state has ever been such a target of injustice as the Fatimid State. Firstly it was attempted to cast doubts about the genealogy of the Fatimid Caliphs. Then, either on account of ignorance or intentionally they have attempted to disfigure their creed.
This was the method employed to disfigure and deface the history of the Fatimids and to hide the glory of its heroes or to efface it altogether.
One of the Fatimid relics, from which people benefit even now, is the Al-Azhar University (Jami'ah Al-Azhar). It was founded by the Fatimid commander Jawhar at the orders of the Caliph Al-Muizz as he founded the city for Cairo. It was (probably on Saturday) in Jamadi al-Awwal in the year 359 A.H. Its building was completed on the 9th of Ramadan in the year 361 A.H. Both Al-'Aziz Billah and Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah added to its premises. It was further repaired, renovated and extended by Al-Mustansir Billah and Al-Hafiz Li-Din-illah. This mosque was the centre of the utmost favours of the Fatimid Caliphs. They never grudged their attention to its repairs, maintenance and extension, and created separate trusts to support its Mu'adhins, care-takers, its maintenance cleaning and lighting. All these details are found in the books of history. But the point with which we are concerned at present is that the Fatimid Caliphs always encouraged scholars and jurists to have their study-circles and gatherings in this mosque and thus it was turned into a university which has the claim to be considered as the oldest University still functioning.
There used to be a Da'i-ud-Du'at (Chief Preacher) in this mosque who held special meeting for the ladies in which he talked about the sciences and knowledge relating to Ahlul Bait (A.S.).
Al-Qalqashandi has said that the Minister Abul Faraj Ya'qub bin Kalas asked the Caliph Al-'Aziz Billah to support and maintain a group of scholars who lived in the Mosque in Cairo. He set aside a special amount of money to meet their expenses and built them a house to live by the side of the
Mosque of Al-Azhar.
It has also been reported in history that in the year 383 A.H., a Jafari Shi'ite scholar was appointed to give fatwa according to the Principles of Ja'fari jurisprudence. This made the other scholars (who were non-Shi'ites) protest and create trouble. This was reported to the Qadi who ordered arrest of some of them.
This incident can help us conclude that there were scholars in the Mosque who were against the Fatimid creed and used to give fatwa according to their own creed. When a Ja'fari scholar came to give fatwa according to the Principles of Ja'fari Jurisprudence, the non-Shi'ite scholars made such a strong protest that the Qadi was forced to arrest some of them, not for any reason other than that they did not show tolerance to the Ja'fari jurist like that which was showed to them by the State.
Furthermore, Egypt saw a number of Shafi'i and Maliki jurists during the Fatimid regime. Similarly, Abdus Salam bin Muhammad bin Bindar sent Abu Yusuf al-Qazwini, a Mutazilite leader who stayed in Egypt for forty years and preached what was against the beliefs of the Fatimids.
If we go through the pages of history and biography, we would find that a large number of Sunni scholars were living under the Fatimid regime and were imparting their teachings to the people with the obvious knowledge and sanction of the Fatimid government without being bothered.
One of the Shafi'i scholars living in this age was Al-Qadi Abul Fadl Muhammad bin Ahmad bin 'Isa who settled in Egypt, spread his ideas there and died in 441 A.H. Another scholar was Abul Qasim Nasr bin Bashar bin Ali who died in 447 A.H. Similarly, Abul Fateh Sultan bin Ibrahim was one of those who were sent from Palestine to Egypt. He died in 518 A.H. There were five other scholars who were give appointments as Qadi by the Fatimids despite the fact that they were Shafi'i. They were Abul Hajjaj Yusuf bin Abdul Aziz al-Mayyur (d. 523 A.H.), Majla bin Jami' al-Makhzumi (d. 550 A.H.), Qadi Abul Hasan Ali bin Husain al-Musali (d. 448 A.H.), Abu Muhammad Abdullah bin Rafa'ah bin Ghadir Sa'di (d. 561 A.H.) and Qadi al-Qada'i. There were many others in addition to those mentioned here.
Among the Maliki Jurists, we can mention the name of Muhammd bin Sulaiman, known as Abu Bakr Naal, who used to lead to the prayers for the Maliki. He had come to Egypt and used to hold his study circle in the mosque of Al-Azhar. The number of students attending his lectures was so great that his circle was extended to seventeen pillars of the Mosque. He died in 380 A.H.
Another Maliki Jurist living under the Fatimids was Abul Qasim al-Jawhari Abdur Rahman bin Abdullah al-Ghafiqui who died in 380 A.H. We all know the story of the Maliki jurist Abdul Wahhab bin Ali who was one of the top-ranking jurists of the Maliki creed and about whom Al-Khatib has said Tarikh-i-Baghdad that he never saw a Maliki jurist better and more accomplished than Abdul Wahhab. We also know how he came to the Fatimids after he was persecuted in Baghdad and how the Fatimids honoured him. He became well-to-do in Egypt but his health deteriorated and he used to say (There is no God but Allah. When we began to live, we died.) His death occurred in 422 A.H. Among other Maliki jurists living during the Fatimid regime were Abdul Jalil bin Makhluf Saqalli (d. 459 A.H.), Ali bin al-Hasan bin Muhammad al-Fahri, Abu Bakr Tartushi Muhammad bin Walid al-Andulasi domiciled in Alexandria (d. 525 A.H.) and others.
We can therefore safely say that the study of the Maliki juris-prudence continued under the Fatimid regime in Egypt, along with that of the Shafi'i and that the Fatimids gave full freedom of thought to the jurists belonging to these different schools and allowed them to hold their study-circles in Al-Azhar in order to teach according to the different Sunni schools to the students who were desirous of such knowledge.
When Al-Hakim bin Amrillah ordered Dar-ul-'Ilm to be built and books from his palace transferred to it, he appointed two of the Sunni Shaikhs one of them being Abu Bakr al-Antaki, gave them Khalats, honoured and asked them to attend his audience at their will and take part in discussions. Amarah al-Yamani has said that Tala'i bin Razik used to meet Sunni scholars and listen to them during his governorship despite the fact that he was very staunch in his own creed.
Al-Muhawal and Dar-ul-Ilm
The Fatimid laid the foundations of what was called Al-Mahwal and was very much like the modern lecture halls. This place was visited by the Khassah, prominent officials of the state, officers of the Palace, visitors to Egypt and general public. The Fatimid Caliph did not stop at making this place a part of their palace but took great care to build up the library of the Palace so much so that it was considered to be the pride of the Fatimid and was quite well-distinguished from all other libraries.
Al-Maqrizi has quoted Ibn Tayy after giving an account of Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi's conquest, who said, "Among other things which they sold was the library which was one of the wonders of the world. It is said that there was not a bigger library in all the Muslim countries which could be compared with that at Cairo. One of its distinctive features was that there were 1200 different copies of the History written by Tabari. It is also said that it contained 1,600,000 books."
Al-Maqrizi further says, "It is supported by the fact that Al-Qadi Abdur-Rahim bin Ali laid the foundation of Al-Madrasa al-Fadiliyyah and set up a library in that school comprising 100,000 books taken from the library of the Fatimids. It is also reported by As-Sabhi that there were 40 rooms for the books on different subjects. Some of these rooms were inside the palace and others outside. These rooms contained books on all the branches of knowledge. It is said that someone mentioned the name of Kitab-ul-'Ain written by Khalil bin Ahmad in the presence of the Caliph al-'Aziz Billah. He asked for it from the librarian, who brought more than thirty copies of the book and some of those copies were written in the hand of Khalil bin Ahmad himself. Aman brought to him a copy of Tarikh al-Tabari which he bought for one hundred dinars. Then, Al-'Aziz ordered his librarian to bring other copies of the book which he had complied and brought more then twenty copies including the one written by Ibn Jarir himself."
In this way the library of the Palace was built up. We may estimate from this brief account of the library as to how much attention the Fatimid Caliph paid to college books on various branches of knowledge and how much care they took in gathering the finest writing on various subjects and this in order to encourage scholars and to uphold the cause of knowledge.
But these treasures of knowledge containing the finest books available which the Fatimids protected and saved, met the same fate which was meted out to the Fatimids themselves.
After writing this, Dr, Muhammad Kamil Husain describes the beginning of the national calamity and tells how the leather covers of these books were taken away by the slaves to use them for their foot-wear, their pages were burnt and what was left of them was flown away by the wind, was covered with dust only to show that it was the left-over of the books. Dr. Muhammad Kamil Husain ends his statement by saying, "These were destroyed by Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi in the same manner in which he exterminated the Fatimids and thus these Fatimid treasure were lost for ever."
As to those libraries which Al-Masbahi describes as external was probably what we now call as public libraries. These libraries were probably founded by Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah in 395 A.H. He named them as Darul 'Ilm and made it a part of his palace. He transferred a large number of books from his palace to the Dar-ul-'Ilm. These books related to various branches of knowledge and such a collection was never made by any of other kings. He permitted all the classes of people to benefit from these books if they could read them and use them. Thus it became the centre of a large scholars belonging to different fields of study e.g. Recitation, Astronomy, Grammar and Linguistics, Medicine etc.
This place was a fine memorial which was till then unheard of in respect of expenditure on those who sat there or served it. All types of people visited Dar-ul-'Ilm despite their difference as to the classes they belonged, to their levels of education and nature of studies. There came to it those who wanted to read, those who wanted to copy down books and those who wanted to learn. Arrangements were made there to provide the people whatever they needed, for example, paper, ink, pens etc.
Dar-ul-Ilm was therefore run on the lines of what we call to-day as public Libraries. In addition to this, the Azhar Mosque was a great institute of learning as a university should. There used to be held discussions and debates between the scholars of different schools of thought. In this connection, As-Suyuti has reported that Junadah bin Muhammad bin al-Husain al-Azdi al-Harwi, known as Abu Usamah, was a renowned grammarian and linguist. He came to Egypt and joined the company of Hafiz Abdul Ghani bin Sa'id and Abu Ishaq Ali bin Sulaiman al-Mu'arri Nahwi. He used to meet in Dar-ul-'Ilm in Cairo and discussed and debated on various issues.
Similarly, Al-Maqrizi reports through Al-Masbahi that in 403 A.H., Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah ordered a group of scholars from Dar-ul-'Ilm to be presented to him. They were specialists in mathematics, logic and jurisprudence. He also called a group of physicians. This was in order to hold a debate in his presence. Every group of scholars presented itself to Al-Hakim separately. Then Al-Hakim gave them Khal'at (a robe as a reward) and bade them goodbye.
Among the most reputed scholars who taught at Dar-ul-Ilm was a blind man known as Abul Fadl Ja'far. He came to Egypt and received the attention of Al-Hakim who like him, gave a Khal'at and the title of 'Aalim-ul-'Ulama (Scholar of the scholars). He asked him to sit in Dar-ul-'Ilm and teach grammar and linguistics. Among such persons was a Maliki jurist Abu Bakr al-Antaki who along with another Maliki scholar was asked by Al-Hakim to stay at Dar-ul-'Ilm and give lectures on the Maliki Jurisprudence.
All these facts indicate to one thing which is that Dar-ul-'Ilm was in fact an equivalent of a university which had its teachers and professors as well as libraries, which resulted in intellectual activity, research and attainment of knowledge. Hence, the Fatimids were the foremost in establishing a university, in form of Al-Azhar and Dar-ul-'Ilm, which is a mark of distinction of civilization in our age.
The Most Glorious Period of Intellectual Activity in Islamic History.
The intellectual life in Egypt during the Fatimid period reached a great degree of progress and activity due to the number of scholars who either lived in Egypt or came from outside as well as the number of books available and written on various fields of study.
The Fatimid Caliphs gave prominent positions to the scholars in their courts and encouraged the students. They set aside funds to be spent on those who were engaged in pursuit of knowledge so as to give them a chance to devote themselves wholeheartedly to their intellectual accomplishment. In paying attention to the affairs of scholars as well as students, the Fatimid Caliph were foremost and had taken a lead over other rulers and states which did not recognize the value of scholars and did not give them their proper rights and positions. The most important of these steps was making arrangement for expenses, which affected the growth of intellectual activity in these states. We have already noticed how the Fatimids paid attention to establishing libraries in their palaces and in Dar-ul-Ilm so that the scholars might polish up their knowledge and get benefit of what their predecessors had done. The Fatimids' encouragement to the students reached such an extreme that Al-Qadi Nu'man heard the Caliph Al-Mu'izz saying, "We are pleased to find people from our friends seeking knowledge and wisdom and striving to attain goodness as we are pleased in our own children".
Thus under the patronage of such rulers and in the light of what Al-Mu'izz said, the scholars not only found themselves in possession of such means as might free them from needs and save them from hunger but also what encouraged them pursue their activities in connection with research, learning, study and authorship.
The historians have mentioned a number of scholars who came to Egypt during the Fatimid rule and found such an encouragement as made them remember Egypt and the Fatimids in good terms. Ibn Abi Usaiba'ah has reported that Al-Muhadhab bin Naqqash was an expert physician who came to Damascus from Baghdad and stayed there for some time but could not find there what would suffice his needs. He heard of Egypt and generosity of its Caliphs towards those who approached them, especially to those who were men of letters and scholars. He thus went to Egypt where he was treated generously and stayed there respectably. We again refer to what the historians have said Qadi Abdul Wahhab bin Ali who was one of the profoundest jurists of the Maliki School. The author of Tarikh-al-Baghdad has written about him,"I have never seen among the Maliki a better accomplished Jurist. When his conditions worsened in Baghdad, he went to Egypt where Fatimids honoured him despite the fact that he followed a creed which was against theirs. He became a well-to-do person there but became ill in which condition he used to say, there is no God but Allah. When we started living, we die."
There are many scholars in addition to those two, who were against the Fatimid creed but were honoured and generously treated by them.
Cairo of the Fatimids was the destination of the scholars and desired place of the students. During the Fatimid rule, Egypt was able to lead the Islamic world in intellectual life and propagate its opinions and ideas in other countries. We find some of the scholars who used to attack the Shi'ites in general and Fatimids in particular, themselves going to Egypt and being influenced by certain opinions and ideas which were at that time in vogue there.
The most appropriate example of such a scholar which we can present here is that Imam Ghazzali who attacked the Fatimid in books, like, Al-Qiatas, Al Munqidh Minad Dalal, Al-Mustazhir, etc, but went to Egypt in the latter period of his life and wrote his book "Mishkat-ul-Anwar". Dr Muhammad Kamil Husain comments here saying," It has occurred to me that the reason as to why the Fatimid Caliphs encouraged scholars and development of knowledge is that Shi'ism itself is based upon reason and knowledge before anything else. It should therefore not surprise us to see the Fatimid Caliph upholding the cause of knowledge which is one of the fundamental slogans of the Shi'ite belief."
The Fatimids gave attention to the philosophical studies at the time
when rulers in other countries declared those who were engaged in philosophical pursuits as apostates and heretics. The Greek thought found a warm reception with the Fatimids who expanded the boundries of such studies. They paid much attention to philosophy and gave support to every one who was known for being engaged in the study of any branch of philosophy. Al-'Aziz Billah wrote to Jibra'il bin Bakhtishu'a and invited him to come to Egypt but he excused himself. Similarly, Al-Hakim invited Ibn-al-Haitham who agreed. They also invited Abul 'Ula al-Mu'arri and gave out a promise to him that they would build a special Dar 'Ilm where he would have a prominent position and would allow him to receive the revenue of Al-Mu'arra but Abul 'Ula apologized. The Fatimids showed extreme tolerance to those who did not follow their creed. Not only this but they also extremely tolerant to non-Muslims.
Abul Fateh Mansur bin Muqashshir was private physician to Al-Aziz and Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah, and was very close to them. After his death, Ishaque Bin Nistas, became a physician to Al-Hakim. Both these were non-Muslims. But the Fatimids treated them as well as others like them very generously, giving them Khal'ats, money and titles. The history has kept a record of the names of a large number of such persons.
If we have a look on the intellectual life in the Islamic world during the fourth century and later, we would find that most of the scholars and thinkers were influenced by the Shi'ite ideas. We would also find that some of the philosophers who excelled in their respective fields of study during the fourth century and after were closely or distantly attached to the Shi'ite beliefs in general and Fatimids in particular. Ibn Hawqal was very much inclined towards them so much so that it is said that he was one of their propagandists.
Al-Farabi in his discussion of Al-Qalam Wal Lawh seems to speak the language of the Fatimid propagandists. He also seems to share their ideas about Tawhid.
Similar is the case of Ikhwan-us-Safa who most probably flourished under the Buwaihids who were inclined towards Shi'ism. Thus, Shi'ism has found expression in the Treatises of Ikhwan-us-Safa. Ibn-ul-Haitham was very close to the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah and lived under his patronage. Abul 'Ula al-Mu'arri was thoroughly influenced by the Shi'ite ideas which were found all around him as the Fatimid influences had extended to Syria and got circulation there as they did in other areas which surrendered to the Fatimids as well as those which did not. This is why the poetry as well as prose of Abul 'Ula al-Mu'arri is full of the Fatimid beliefs which were quite in vogue during that age. We are also reminded of Ahmad Hamid-ud-Din al-Kermani who was the chief of the Fatimid propaganda in Iraq and Kerman. He was the author of many books on Fatimid philosophy, Aqwal-udh-Dhahabiyyah etc. All these books indicate that Al-Kermani was a philosopher of mature thoughts.
We may also remind that he was also the supporter of religion and one of the leaders in publicity and in missionary-work. In this way, we can follow on and find that a large number of Muslim philosophers were influenced by the Greek philosophy which they colored with Islamic ideas. They had the credit of presenting such studies to the Muslims. All of them were influenced by the Shi'ite beliefs in general and the Fatimids in particular.
In this way, we find that the Fatimids did not forget or ignore philosophy. By philosophy here we mean all those studies which came under philosophy during the medieval ages and which are covered in the Treatises of Ikhwan-us-Safa i.e. mathematics, music, medicine, astrology, physics, metaphysics, logic and other such studies which the philosophers of that age mastered. A student could not deserve to be called a philosopher unless he had studied all these branches. We have also seen as to how the Fatimid beliefs depended upon reason and knowledge before anything else and as to how they distinguished between metaphysics and physics. We should therefore not be surprised to see all these different branches of philosophical studies flourishing during the Fatimid rule and the Fatimids gave them full patronage, nay but one of the Caliphs himself mastered these branches of study and came out to be an excellent scholar.
Probably the most famous mathematician which the Fatimid Egypt saw was Abu Ali Muhammad bin al-Hasan bin al-Haitham, about whom Professor Muhammad Reza has said, "If we wish to compare Ibn-al-Haitham with mathematicians of our own age, we would not be exaggerating in saying that his position equals to that of Einstein in our times."
Similarly, Professor Mustafa Nazif remarks about him "Undoubtedly, Ibn-ul-Haitham changed altogether all old notions and brought forward completely a new study. He disproved old Greek phenomenology and laid the foundations of modern optics exactly in the same meaning and with the same limits and principles which we know today".
But the fault of Ibn-al-Haitham was that he lived under the Fatimid rule in Egypt, and therefore, his teachings and his opinions met the same fate which the Fatimid Egypt was doomed to. Every scholar living in the Fatimid Egypt was not to be followed and his books burnt. This is what happened to Ibn-ul-Haitham and other scholars like him.
During this age in Egypt, there appeared a large number of physicians. The medicine, as we know, was treated at that time as a branch of philosophy. During the Fatimid rule, the discussions and debate of the scholars of medicine and physicians increased to a large extent. This was one factor responsible for the progress made by this branch of study which expanded itself. A large number of books were written on medicine. The Fatimid Caliphs honored physicians and showered upon them various rewards and gifts in addition to what was fixed as their monthly salaries. This made a large number of physicians come to Egypt from various places.
Among such incomers was Muhammad bin Ahmad Sa'id Tamimi who came from Jerusalem. Another such physician was Abul Faraj Jurjis bin Yuhanna alias Al-Yabrudi who had come from Damascus. Abul Hasan al-Mukhtar bin al-Hasan alias Ibn Butlan al-Baghdadi came from Iraq. There were many others. From among their philosophers who were not physicians and had come to Egypt from other places was Umayyah bin Abu Salat al-Andulusi who, in addition to being a philosopher, was a poet and writer of repute.
Thus we can safely repeat what we have already said that philosophical studies progressed in Egypt during the Fatimid rule in such a manner as may not found in other Islamic territories. Instead, we notice that the non-Fatimid rulers were inclined to treating philosophical studies as heresy and the scholars who engaged in such studies as apostates. But the Fatimids were broad-minded in their thinking.
Dr. Muhammad Kamil Husain ends his statement by saying, "Whatever the case may be this intellectual movement continued its progress in every respect and in every field of study. Its centers in Egypt increased in number. There were study circles or classes in mosque or Houses (of Knowledge) in Cairo, Al-Fustat, Alexandria and Tanis in the north and in Aswan, Qaws and other places in the south. Similarly, regional rulers or governors gathered round them poets and scholars. Many a scholar, both in the East as well as the West, learnt from the Fatimid Egypt."
After discussing the literary life during the Fatimid rule, Dr. Husain says, "But this artistic wave which covered the whole was soon crushed and destroyed by the Ayyubids when they destroyed the legacy of this golden period of Islamic Egypt. Hence, all the poetry was lost and what remained of it was very little and rather insipid. Nothing was left except the name of a poet, just by chance, if it was destined to remain. We do not reiterate our accusation of the Ayyubids for this crime of theirs against the literary history of Egypt and that they intentionally tried to wipe out any literary traces which could establish any link with the Fatimids. Thus they burnt all of their books including the works of poetry.
Fatimids in Defense of Islamic World
Perhaps the most significant feature of this rule was that freedom which was given out to the people and liberty was given to the minds and reasons. Man may believe in whatever he likes provided that he may not infringe other rights. We have seen as to how the Fatimids reserved separate pulpits for different Islamic sects, where the scholars expressed their ideas in whatever the manner they liked. We have also noticed as to how the Fatimids gave patronage to scholars and invited them from every place, spending money on them and neglecting what they believed in, even though it was against the beliefs of the Fatimids. The history of the Fatimids, from this point of view, is in fact the history of knowledge, literature and philosophy. It is the history of sacred freedom - freedom of expression. Can there be anything better than freedom of expression which the Fatimid State allowed and defended? Can there be anything more glorious than the fact that the State itself becomes a general school, spreading knowledge, giving patronage to literature, caring for the scholars and respecting and honoring the philosophers, irrespective of caste and creed?
This was the condition of Egypt during the Fatimid rule, which no country or state had ever witnessed. But those who succeeded the Fatimids were just their converse. They tried their utmost to efface and wipe out what was achieved.
We can appreciate the Fatimids better if we compare the freedom which they gave to those who did not belong to their sect and were against their beliefs with the freedom given out by other states.
We should be rather surprised if we may find half the mount of freedom given by other rulers. As an instance we may consider Mu'awiyah bin Abu Sufyan. He sent Sufyan bin Awf al-Ghamidi to Iraq and briefed him in these words, "Kill whomsoever you meet and he holds a different opinion."
The scholars who did not believe that the Holy Qur'an was created by God were subjected to such sufferings and tortures that even the most ill-informed persons are aware of. This was in addition to the charge of apostasy and heresy which was an easy method of getting rid of men of thinking and knowledge, wherever they were found.
Apart from this, there was the military standpoint which the enemies of the Fatimids tried to distort and attempted that the coming generations should not know the truth. But whatsoever has reached us is sufficient to conclude that the Fatimids put all their military glory and power at the service of the Islamic world and its defense whenever it was menaced with dangers and threats. The Fatimids were able to meet these threats and repel these attacks with their military power __ both the land forces and naval, especially during the rule of Al-Mu'izz Li Dinillah.
During his reign, Byzantine Empire was ruled by Nicophore who was very hard on Muslims. He conquered Tartus, Al-Masaisah, 'Ain Zarbah and other places, and, as Ibn-ul-Athir says, set upon conquering the whole Islamic territory. His desires were fulfilled by the fact that the Muslim rulers were fighting with one another and thus he ravaged the Islamic territories. His method was to attack small villages, plunder them and devastate them, and then capture them on account of their weakness. He got a complete control of the Iraq and Syrian borders. The Muslims were terrified and were quite convinced that the Byzantine would occupy whole of Syria, Egypt, Al-Jazirah (Northern Iraq), Diyar Bakr etc. But the armies and the navy of the Fatimids firmly stood against Byzantines, shattered the hopes of their king and defeated them.
It is unfortunate that while the Fatimids were facing a more powerful and better equipped enemy just in order to defend the Islamic world, their enemies (of course Muslims
were signing pacts and siding with that force (the Byzantine) out of their spite for the Fatimids. Here we quote from Tarikh Dawlat-il-Fatimmiyyah by Dr. Hasan Ibrahim Hasan. While discussing the book Al-Majalis Wal Musa'irat by An-Nu'man, Dr. Hasan writes:
"An-Nu'man has more than once dealt with the relations between Al-Mu'izz and the Byzantine Empire. He has also explained and clarified the trust which the Umayyad ruler of Andulus (Spain) Abdur-Rehman Nasir reposed in the Byzantine in his struggle what became of the Byzantine and their allies in their battle against the fleet of Al-Mu'izz. He has also referred to the letters which Byzantine chiefs wrote to Al-Mu'izz to arouse his mercy and to pacify him.
For the first time we hear that the Muslims Crete who was under the Abbasid rule sought help from Al-Mu'izz against the Byzantines.
Through our study of the correspondence which was exchanged between the Muslims of Crete and Al-Mu'izz, we can imagine what degree of influence and power the Fatimid state had achieved at that time.
It is unfortunate that the historians who came after the Fatimids treated indifferently or completely ignored the battle which the Fatimids led against the Byzantines in order to repel their attacks on Muslim territories and defend the Muslims and Arabs. Not only this, but they also repressed or destroyed what was already written and thus the details were completely lost. Had not there been poetry of Ibn Hani al-Andulusi in which he has referred to these battles, even the names and memory of these would have disappeared. But Ibn Hani has given a very brief account of some of them and has restricted himself to those which took place before the conquest of Egypt, because he was murdered before it. The Fatimid power after the conquest of Egypt and Al-Mu'izz's entry into this territory increased a lot and their battles against their enemies were more pitched and decisive.
This brief outline of the battles referred to here which Ibn Hani has passed over to us through his poetry is really a very dim picture of that great stand which the Fatimids, especially Al-Mu'izz took against the onslaught of the Byzantines over the Muslim territories.
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