Literary Reading: The Greatness of Fatimid Cairo

In 969 CE, Imam al-Mu‘izz, “an excellent planner, an efficient organiser and a statesman amply talented in diplomacy,” with the help of his general Jawhar Siqilli, acquired Egypt peacefully.

During this time the building of the new city of Cairo began and in 970 CE the foundation for the al-Azhar mosque was laid. Around the same time the two holy cities of Makkah and Medina came under Fatimid control.

The Imam himself arrived in Cairo in 973 CE in a very touching ceremony.

All the delegations which had greeted him, as well as his sons, brothers and uncles, and the other descendants of al-Mahdi made their entrance with him;  he brought with him the coffins of his forebears Imam al-Mahdi, Imam al-Qa‘im and Imam al-Mansur.

Stanley Lane-Poole’s description of Imam al-Mu‘izz may aid one to understand his successful reign:

“He was a born statesman, able to grasp the conditions of success and to take advantage of every point in his favour. He was also highly educated, and not only wrote Arabic poetry and delighted in its literature, but studied Greek, mastered Berber and Sudani dialects, and is even said to have taught himself  Salvonic … His eloquence was such as to move his audience to tears. To prudent statesmanship he added a large generosity, and his love of justice was among his noble qualities.”

Cairo’s location between Africa and the Mediterranean ensured that it became a large, thriving commercial centre. 
 The greatness of the Fatimid Capital is described in the following words by Al-Muqaddassi, a notable medieval Arab geographer who lived in the tenth century.
“Know that Baghdad was great in the past, but is now falling in ruins. It is full of troubles, and its glory is gone. I neither approve it nor admire it, and if I praise it, it is a mere convention. Fustat (today, part of old Cairo) is today where Baghdad was in the past, and I do not know of any greater city in all of Islam.”

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