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The Fatimids: 1 - The Rise of a Muslim Empire

The Fatimids: 1 - The Rise of a Muslim Empire
Shainool Jiwa

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Emerging from a period of long seclusion, the leader of the burgeoning community of Ismaili Shi'i Muslims was declared the first Fatimid Imam-caliph in the year 909. Abd Allah al-Mahdi founded the only sustained Shi'i dynasty (909-1171) to rule over substantial parts of the medieval Muslim world, rivalling both the Umayyads of Spain and the Abbasids. At its peak, the Fatimid Empire extended from the Atlantic shores of North Africa, across the southern Mediterranean and down both sides of the Red Sea, covering also Mecca and Medina.

This accessible history, the first of two volumes, tells the story of the birth and expansion of the Fatimid Empire in the 10th century. Drawing upon eyewitness accounts, Shainool Jiwa introduces the first four generations of Fatimid Imam-caliphs -- al-Mahdi, al-Qa'im, al-Mansur, and al-Mu'izz -- as well as the people who served them and those they struggled against. Readers are taken on a journey through the Fatimid capitals of Qayrawan, Mahdiyya, and Mansuriyya and on to the founding of Cairo.

In this lively and comprehensive introduction, readers will discover various milestones in Fatimid history and the political and cultural achievements that continue to resonate today.

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Author Info

Shainool Jiwa is a senior faculty member at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. As a specialist on the Fatimids, she has written and lectured extensively on medieval Islamic history and has edited and translated key medieval Arabic texts relating to Fatimid history, including The Founder of Cairo (2013) and Towards a Shi'i Mediterranean Empire (2009). Dr. Jiwa is also the co-editor of The Shi'i World: Pathways in Tradition and Modernity (2015).


‘This book is the first volume in an exciting and most timely new series of short, clear, well-researched and beautifully illustrated introductions to Islamic faith, history and civilization. The themes chosen will be of interest to both Muslims and non- Muslims and will help towards a greater public understanding of Islam. This fascinating book brings alive the complex history of the Isma‘ili Fatimid dynasty in North Africa. Dr Jiwa draws on many years of profound thought and devoted research. This is not just a guide to key events; it is also an insightful meditation on the Fatimids’ role in Islamic history.’ - Professor Carole Hillenbrand, St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities

‘This lucid introduction to the Fatimids offers us a compelling account of their remarkable rise and achievements in the 10th century.’ - Professor Ali Asani, Harvard University

'Over recent years, the Institute of Ismaili Studies has hugely expanded our knowledge of the least known of the great Muslim civilisations of the Middle Ages, the Fatimid empire. Their publications, including translations of fundamental texts like those of Ibn al-Haytham and the Iftitah al-Da’wa, have opened our eyes to this fascinating age when the map of the Mediterranean world, and the contours of Islamic civilisation, were redrawn in ways which are still relevant to us today.

Now Shainool Jiwa has provided us with the first volume of a welcome and very timely grand-sweep narrative. With deep knowledge of the sources, but also a strong sense of geography and climate, she tells a thrilling story, giving us evocative descriptions of the key regions and places -- vivid sketches, for example, of the mountains of eastern Algeria, the villages of the Hijaz and the deserts of Sind, not to mention the teeming metropolis of Fatimid Cairo. It is all told with a feel for the intense drama of the events which gave birth to this new empire.

The result is fresh, exciting and eye opening; it is nothing less than a new way of looking at the Mediterranean in a crucial period of the history of the Western world. In Europe, we have long been taught to see this time in terms of the Byzantine and Ottonian worlds, and the Viking Age in Northern Europe, in which the Fatimids are merely a little-understood interregnum in the history of the Sunni Caliphate.  On the contrary, what Dr Jiwa shows us is the first phase in an extraordinarily creative period in the cultures of the Near East, Egypt and north Africa: a forgotten Mediterranean Empire, and a Shi‘i empire. For many readers, this will be a revelation.

The book is the first volume of the story, covering the rise of the empire between 909 and 969 when this Ismaili Shi‘i dynasty established its rule over a pluralist and diverse empire that would last for 250 years, at its height stretching from Morocco and Southern Spain, east to Syria and south to Mecca and Sudan. Although so much of the written legacy of the Fatimids was lost with the destruction of the libraries of Cairo in the 12th century, during the collapse of the dynasty - leaving the narrative to be shaped by powers ideologically opposed to the Shia - as Dr Jiwa demonstrates in this clear and penetrating book, enough remains to see the rich possibilities of another way of viewing Islamic history. This book will be essential reading for students of the history of Islam, but also a valuable source of reflection for anyone interested in the story of civilisation. It’s an amazing tale, presenting a new portrait of the Mediterranean world in one of the most creative periods in its history.' - Michael Wood

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Series: World of Islam

ISBN: 9781784539351
Publication Date: 18 Dec 2017
Number of Pages: 160
Height: 178
Width: 111
Illustrations: 24 black and white and colour illustrations

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