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Fatimid

Fatimid (fătˈĭmĭd) [key] or Fatimite –ĭmĪt, dynasty claiming to hold the caliphate on the basis of descent from Fatima, a daughter of Muhammad the Prophet. In doctrine the Fatimids were related to other Shiite sects. The dynasty's founder, Said ibn Husayn of NE Syria, was long engaged in religious activity. A follower went (c.893) to NW Africa and inspired the Berbers to rebel against their Sunni Aghlabid rulers. Said ibn Husayn attempted (c.903) to join Al-Shii in NE Algeria, but he was arrested at Tripoli by the Aghlabid governor. He was rescued (909) by Al-Shii who in the meantime had overthrown the Aghlabids and won Tunisia, Sicily, NE Algeria, and NW Libya for the Fatimids. Said ibn Husayn was then hailed as the Mahdi. He took the name Ubaidallah (Obaidallah) and set up a caliphate in opposition to the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad. His execution of Al-Shii caused (911) a short-lived rebellion among the tribes who had first supported the Fatimid claims. From their fortress capital of Mahdia, the Fatimids dominated most of NW Africa. Their fleets continually ravaged the W Mediterranean. After Ubaidallah's death in 934, Malta, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearics, and, for a time, Genoa were taken and held. In the reign (953–75) of the 4th caliph, Moizz, Fatimid fortunes reached their height. Moizz's great general, Jahr, easily took Egypt in 969. Subsequently, Jahr conquered Palestine, parts of Syria, and W Arabia. In 973, Moizz moved his capital to Egypt and the new city of Cairo. The policy of employing mercenary troops begun by the 5th caliph, Aziz, was to prove fatal to the dynasty. Hakim (996–1021), the 6th caliph, abandoned the religious toleration of his ancestors. He persecuted the Jews and Christians and destroyed (1010) the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. In 1020, Hakim proclaimed himself the reincarnation of God. This claim was accepted only in Syria, where it is still espoused by the Druze. After Hakim's assassination, Fatimid power rapidly declined. Factious mercenary soldiers thereafter constantly threatened to destroy the state. The caliphs lost power to a series of viziers who eventually even took the title of king. Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia fell away (1043–48). By 1071 the Normans had conquered Sicily. Palestine was taken (1099) by the Crusaders, and the Fatimids were left with little more than Egypt. When the Assassins killed (1130) Amir, the last caliph of any ability, the country lapsed into anarchy. In 1171 Adid, the 14th and last of the Fatimid rulers, died.

See D. L. O'Leary, Short History of the Fatimid Khalifate (1923).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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