Literary Reading: The Founding of al-Mahdiyya

In 910 CE, the  11th Ismaili Imam,  Muhammmad  din  Mahdi (also known as Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi) established and became the first Fatimid Caliph in Tunisia. His capital was called  Al-Mahdiyya.

A North African Poet composed the following poem to commemorate the Imam’s arrival in the capital:

“My congratulations, O generous prince,
for your arrival upon which our epoch smiles

You have established your camp in a noble land, prepared for
you by glorious angels

The sanctuary and its environs,
its lofty shrines are exalted

And in the West is an exalted residence
where prayer and fasting are accepted

It is Al-Mahdiyya, sacred and protected,
as the sacred city is in Tihama

Your footsteps make the ground
wherever you tread like the Maqam Ibrahim

Just as the pilgrims kissed the sacred corner,
so do we kiss the walls of your palace.

Through the course of time, an empire grows old,
its foundations crumble under the test of time 

But your empire, O Mahdi, will always be young,
Time itself will serve it

The world belongs to you and
your descendants wherever you may be; 

It will always find an Imam in you!”  

Note: Tihama refers to the Arabian Peninsula and the sacred city is Mecca. In the next line, Maqam Ibtrahim denotes the Kaba

Adapted from Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo, by Paula Sanders, State University of New York (SUNY), 1994. Pages 40-41

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