Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (II) Their Role in the Da’wah and Ismaili Doctrines



By Hatim Mahamid

Published earlier: Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (I) Their Role in the Army

Abstract: This paper deals with the role of Persians and their impact on the life of Fatimid State in Egypt. After the Fatimid conquest of Egypt and Syria in 358-359/969, and the seat of the Fatimid caliphate had transferred from al-Mansuriyya in Ifriqiya to Cairo (Egypt), the Fatimids began to organize their political and religious administration accordingly. Thus, Cairo became a new centre of the Isma‘ili caliphate and many Isma‘ilis turned to Egypt, not only for leadership concerning doctrine, but for leadership in other spheres as well.  Many Persians moved to Cairo and made a strong impact and left a significant legacy on the Fatimid state in general, and on Isma‘ili doctrine in particular. Therefore, this study aims to follow and examine the processes of the Persian role in the Fatimid areas, particularly in Egypt. In Part I, published earlier (see link above), we discussed the role of the Persians in the Fatimid military. This (second) part focuses on their important contribution to Fatimid da‘wah and doctrines. In Part III, forthcoming, we will describe their activities in the commercial and economic life of the Fatimids. 

II. Persians and the Isma’ili Doctrine

The Persian impact on Fatimid Egypt was much more effective concerning Isma’ili doctrine. Persian missionaries played an important role in disseminating the Isma’ili doctrine in the eastern parts of the Muslim world on behalf of the Fatimids or in support of other groups of Isma‘iliyyah such as the Qarmatians. Indeed, missionaries from Persia had preached and spread the word for the Isma‘iliyyah in Persia and lands to the East well before the Fatimid rule in Egypt.

The Isma’ili Qarmatians played an important role in disseminating the doctrine of the Isma‘iliyyah in Iran and the regions of the Persian Gulf. But the Qarmatians had developed a rival stream that operated against the Isma’ili Fatimids. Among the famous Persian da‘is of the Isma’ili Qarmatian movement were Abu Sa‘id al-Jannabi and Abu Hatim al-Razi. Famous Persian da‘is who worked for the Fatimid Ismailis were al-Nasafi, who was executed in Naysabur, and later Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani who supported the da‘wah until his death (d. between 386-393/996-1003). The roles of al-Nasafi and al-Sijistani were not restricted to preaching and disseminating the doctrine of the Fatimids; they were also famous for their writings on Isma’ili thoughts and doctrine. [17]

A 19th century Arabic manuscript of Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani's Kitab al-iftikhar. In seventeen chapters, this treatise includes a summary exposition of Ismaili doctrines. Photo: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

After Cairo was established as a Fatimid centre, it competed with Baghdad and other cities in the East. Cairo, as an Isma’ili, commercial, intellectual and Fatimid political centre, became a pull factor, attracting many renowned people from different places in the Muslim world, east and west. Once there, they found political and religious refuge, and had hopes of finding jobs and positions in the Fatimid administrative organisations or in the commercial life of the city. In Egypt the missionary institutions through the post of da‘i al-du‘at (the chief missionary), became more organised. As a result, the Isma’ili da‘wah was given new impetus and gained strength, even out of the Fatimid domain, particularly in Persia and the East. The Fatimid Caliph/Imams used to invite their da’is, within the domain of the state and outside, to participate in the da‘wah sessions (majalis al-da‘wah) or sessions of wisdom (majalis al-hikmah), that were held in different places in Cairo: in the palace, in the al-Azhar mosque and later in Dar al-‘Ilm. Therefore, the al-Azhar mosque had been established by Jawhar al-Siqilli as a representative of an Isma’ili institution and served different purposes. [18]

When the institution of Dar al-‘Ilm was established in 395/1005 by the Imam al-Hakim, it provided studies in the Isma’ili doctrine and in secular subjects and the sciences. Included were: Qur’an reading, philology (Arabic language studies) and grammar, astronomy, medicine, math, philosophy and other disciplines. Thus, the role of Dar al-‘Ilm, in spreading studies and knowledge of the Isma’ili doctrine, was manifest. [19] The Dar al-‘Ilm itself became another pull factor, a lodestone attracting many renowned Persians and Easterners, such as: Ahmad Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. after 411/1021), Nasir Khusraw (d. 481/1088), al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi (470/1078), Hasan ibn al-Sabbah (d. 518/1124) and others. Those Persians had participated in the sessions of da‘wah and some taught in Cairo’s institutions, and become renowned Isma’ili da‘is who played important roles in Persia and the East. [20]

A 13th/19th century Persian manuscript of Nasir-I Khusraw's work, Shish fasl. This treatise presents Fatimid Ismaili doctrines in a succinct and compact manner suitable for teaching purposes. Photo: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Many Persians came to Egypt or to other areas in the Fatimid domain, aiming to visit the holy places and various shrines (mashahid: singular mashhad), or to meet and see the Fatimid caliph (Imam) in Cairo. During the first Fatimid era, until the death of Imam al-Mustansir, Syria and the Hijaz were for the most part under Fatimid control. So, the Fatimids were responsible for the pilgrims’ security, and did their best to secure the roads. While pilgrims from Persia and the East suffered from the lack of such security under the ‘Abbasids, they enjoyed secure travel and staying at the holy places under the Fatimids. The sources inform us that in 415/1024, about 200,000 Persian pilgrims came to Hijaz from Khurasan, accompanied by an official representative with presents and gifts for the Fatimid caliph al-Zahir (r. 411-427/1021-1036) from the sultan of Khurasan, Mahmud bin Sabkutkin, the Ghaznawid. Al-Zahir ordered his governors and troops in Syria to secure the travels and lodging of the Persian pilgrims through Syria on their return trip, because of the dangers and insecurity they had faced on en route between Mecca and Baghdad. The Persian pilgrims were very pleased to have the opportunity to visit the holy places in Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis), and were very satisfied and grateful to Imam al-Zahir for his conduct and kind hospitality. [21]

The Fatimid Caliph’s good treatment of the Persian pilgrims made them feel comfortable and secure. Such consideration was used by the Fatimid Imam as an indirect means of propaganda and policy among Persians, especially since the Persians suffered from the poor administration and insecure situation prevailing under the ‘Abbasids.

According to Nasir Khusraw’s Safar-Nameh, some Persians evidently came to the Fatimid domain as pilgrims, to visit the graves of holy men and holy places, as Khusraw explains the reasons for his own peregrinations on the way to Mecca. Along the way he visited Jerusalem and other holy graves in Palestine. When Nasir Khusraw visited ‘Acca (Acre), he was confused because at first he could find no one to guide him. Fortunately, he was introduced to a Persian man there, who had come from Azerbaijan to be blessed with luck for visiting the holy places and shrines (al-mashahid al-muqaddasah) in the area. [22]

The good hospitality and considerate treatment also served as a pull factor for many of the emirs and notables from all over the Muslim world, among them the sons of the kings of the Daylamites. Those notables, for the most part, came from the East, and their object was to get an education in Isma’ili doctrine. [23] Generally, the contact between the Fatimid Imam in Cairo and his missionaries was strong. The da‘is of the outlying regions who operated secretly, tried to visit the centre of Isma’ili rule in Cairo disguised as traders or pilgrims. After staying in Cairo and meeting the Imam or the chief da’i (da’i al-du’at), they returned with renewed vigour and their morals high, with support, instructions, letters and sometimes with books and articles related to the Isma’ili doctrine. [24]

During the reign of Imam al-Hakim, Persians streamed to Cairo and left a strong influence on Fatimid politics and Isma’ili doctrine. Among those influential Persians were: Hamzah bin ‘Ali al-Zawzani (al-Hadi), Hasan bin Haydarah al-Firghani (al-Akhram), and Muhammad bin Isma’ili al-Darazi (Nashtukin), although it is not certain if the latter was Persian or Turkish. [25] Their impact on the Isma’ili dawah in Egypt was tremendous, and caused the first division within the Isma’ili doctrine there. They operated as religious agitators who proclaimed the divinity of the Imam al-Hakim and were known as ghulat (exaggerators or extremists). Apparently, their dawah had begun secretly in the year 400/1010, but their visible activities appeared during the last few years of al al-Hakim’s reign. For example, al-Zawzani appeared in 408/1018 preaching the divinity of al-Hakim. Information drawn from the sources leads to the conclusion at al-Hakim supported those da‘is. Hamzah al-Zawzani used the Tibr mosque outside of Cairo as his base, and there preached the divinity of the Imam. As a result, al-Zawzani was surrounded by a large community of Isma’ili exaggerators, who spread this dawah among others. Al-Zawzani’s followers even dared to present a petition to the Fatimid chief judge in Cairo, Ahmad bin Muhammad ibn al-‘Awwam, calling on him to recognise the divinity of al-Hakim. The first effect of this dawah was a turbulent rise of the people in Cairo against the Persian da‘is and their followers, and the second was that many of Al-Zawzani’s followers fled from Egypt to Syria. There, they founded a new Isma’ili branch known as Ahl al-Tawhid (Unitarians), or al-Daraziyyah (the Druze), related to their da‘i Anushtakin al-Darazi.[26]

An 19th century Arabic manuscript of Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani's work al-Masabih fi ithbat al-imamah. This treatise on the concept of the imamate includes quotations from Hebrew and Syriac writings. Photo: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

During this period, Hamid al-Din Al-Kirmani, another renowned Persian da‘i, appeared in Cairo in 406/1015. He writes (in his book Rahat al-‘Aql, the Peace of the Intellect) that he served as a Fatimid da‘i in Iraq and in Persia. Al-Kirmani had applied to be the headmaster of Dar al-‘Ilm in Cairo. His seeking such a post indicates his high position in the Fatimid state. In contrast to his Persian colleagues in the court of al-Hakim, al-Kirmani objected to the then-current beliefs about the divinity of the Imam. As gleaned from the letters and messages he exchanged with Hamzah bin ‘Ali al-Zawzani and his followers, al-Kirmani apparently maintained his loyalty to the Isma’ili doctrine. His books constituted an important contribution to Isma’ili thought, and he was considered to be one of the most important Isma’ili philosophers. [27]

After al-Hakim’s death, his son, the Imam al-Zahir, acted to restore stability within the Isma’ili doctrine in Egypt and beyond. Al-Musabbihi explains that in 415/1024, the Isma’ili da‘wah was spread in various places in Iraq and the East thanks to the Daylamite Persians, who supported the Fatimid caliph, al-Zahir. Their support was due to the actions of the Turks in Baghdad, who defeated the Daylamites and exiled them from the city along with their leader, Abu Kalijar the Buwayhid (d. 440/1048). [28] Nevertheless, this dawah did not last long, but it is indicative of the positive cooperation on behalf of the Isma’ili dawah and the collaboration between the Persian elements and the Fatimids.

The effect of the Persian da‘is reached its pinnacle during the reign of Imam al-Mustansir (427-487/1036-1094). Al-Mustansir had sent his da‘is secretly far in the East to disseminate the Isma’ili doctrine. In 436/1044, some of the Isma’ili da‘is operated in Transoxiana (Central Asia), after they had spread the dawah in Khurasan. As a result, many communities in those areas joined the Isma‘iliyyah. [29] Later, however, as the Seljuk king of Transoxiana, Baghrakhan, became aware of their increasing power in his domains, especially when they announced their loyalty to the Fatimid Imam al-Mustansir, his behaviour towards the Isma’ilis changed and he began persecuting and executing them. [30]

After suffering the above mentioned persecutions of the Isma’ilis in the East, renowned Persian da‘is began appearing in Egypt, and left a great impact on Fatimid Egypt and beyond. One can draw a link between these persecutions and the appearance of the Persian da‘is in Egypt. Evidently, Nasir Khusraw travelled to Egypt not only as a holy tour, but to strengthen contacts and relations between the Isma’ilis in the Eastern Muslim regions and the Isma‘ilis in Cairo (the locus of the imamate). It is important to mention here, that the Seljuks began occupying the Eastern regions around Baghdad in this period, leading the way to a great Sunni revival.

A portrait study of Nasir Khusraw

Nasir Khusraw started his travels from Merw in the East during Rabi‘ II 437/October 1045. He returned to Balkh in Khurasan after seven years of travel. At one stage in his travels, he stayed in Cairo for three years during which he visited the holy places in Hijaz more than once. [31]

In spite of the fact that there is no mention of his relations with the Fatimids in the Safar-Nameh, Nasir Khusraw describes it in his other works, such as his book of poetry, Diwan Shir.[32] When he returned to the East (Khurasan), he became a chief da‘i of the Isma’ili doctrine in Transoxiana. [33] Khusraw is considered to be a great Isma’ili philosopher, poet, traveller and intellectual, who left a rich heritage of works in different spheres. [34] But it is important to mention here that all of Khusraw’s works were written in Persian language. Some of his well-known works were: Safar-Nameh, Zad al-Musafirin, Kitab Jami al-Hikmatayn, Diwan Shir, Wajh-i Din, Gushayish wa-Rahayish, Khawan al-Ikhwan and others; some works have also been attributed to him, but this provenance is not certain. [35]

Another well-known Persian da‘i who served the Isma‘ili Fatimids was al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din Abu al-Nasr, Hibat Allah al-Shirazi (d. 470/1078). His father had also served the Fatimids as da‘i (hujja) in Persia, and Hibat Allah succeeded him in the post after his death, receiving the title al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din. From his centre in Shiraz, al-Mu’ayyad succeeded in strengthening the dissemination of the Isma’ili doctrine. It can be supposed that al-Mu’ayyad had influence on the Buwayhid sultan Abu Kalijar and his supporters from among the Daylams to follow the Isma’ili dawah for a while during the reign of the Fatimid Imam al-Zahir, as mentioned above.[36] When Abu Kalijar changed his behaviour towards the da‘i al-Mu’ayyad, similarly to what happened with Nasir  Khusraw and the Seljuk rulers, al-Mu’ayyad fled to Egypt in 439/1047, the same year in which Nasir  Khusraw went there. [37]

An 19th century Arabic manuscript al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi's Diwan. It contains a collection of poems in praise of the Fatimid Imams, as well as on the esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an and other religious themes. Photo: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din played an active role in Isma’ili dawah and in serving Fatimid politics. This is apparent from his accounts in his autobiography. [38] As a result of his dawah in Iraq and Persia, in addition to receiving financial and political support from the Fatimid vizier Abu al-Hasan al-Yazuri (d. 450/1058), al-Mu’ayyad succeeded in bribing the ‘Abbasid commander Abu al-Harith al-Basasiri. He operated for the Fatimids in Iraq for about a year, and the ‘Abbasid caliph was forced to leave Baghdad until the arrival of the Seljuks under the command of Tughrul-Bek, who restored the previous situation and got rid of the al-Basasiri’s uprising and Fatimid influence. [39]

After al-Yazuri’s death in 450/1058, al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din was appointed to the post of the chief da‘i in Egypt. He also held sessions of wisdom and knowledge (majalis al-hikmah/al-ilm) that were known by his name, al-majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah. [40] Apparently, because of al-Mu’ayyad’s prominent position, upon his death in 470/1078 he was buried in Dar al-‘Ilm in Cairo.[41] Worthy of note is that al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din left a rich heritage of Isma‘ili books and writings, as had al-Kirmani and Nasir Khusraw. He left an autobiographical account and poetry, but most importantly, most of his works were drawn from materials that he himself had taught in his sessions, particularly from the period when he became chief da‘i. [42]

The Persian da‘i Hasan al-Sabbah (d. 518/1124) exercised an important influence on the Fatimids and Isma’ili doctrine. He initiated a deep schism within the Isma‘iliyyah after the death of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir in 487/1094.[43] As had his Persian predecessors, Hasan al-Sabbah came to Egypt either fleeing from persecution by the Seljuks in Eastern Muslim regions, or went to Cairo, the Isma’ili centre, to get instructions and advice. Of course, he, too, was interested in strengthening his relationship with the Imam and the Isma’ili chief da‘i. Al-Sabbah went to Cairo in 479/1086 disguised as a merchant, and stayed there about a year and a half. [44] He had the honour of meeting Imam al-Mustansir, and received generous support for disseminating the Isma‘ili dawah in Persia and the East. During his stay in Cairo, Hasan al-Sabbah learned about the Isma’ili doctrine in depth. He then returned to Persia with great motivation to spread and strengthen the Isma’ili dawah, by sending his missionaries throughout the Eastern regions. [45]

Hasan-i Sabbah

What is especially significant about Hasan al-Sabbah is not only his far-ranging activities in spreading the dawah, but also his use of assassination against his enemies and opponents. This policy may have been a natural reaction to the persecution that the Isma’ilis had suffered at the hands of their enemies in the East. His success in these assassinations encouraged Hasan al-Sabbah to occupy the important fortresses in Persia and the East, such as Alamut, which he took in 483/1090 and made his seat.

A great schism within the Isma’ili doctrine resulted from the murder of Nizar, the successor of his father, the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir, in 487/1094. Hasan al-Sabbah became the leader of the Eastern branch of Isma’ilis in Persia, which is known as al-Nizariyyah, named for Nizar bin al-Mustansir. Hasan al-Sabbah claimed that when he was in Cairo, al-Mustansir had declared that Nizar was to be his successor. As a result of this schism, al-Sabbah maintained his loyalty to Nizar, and with his followers, al-Nizariyyah, subsequently produced their own thoughts and literature to serve the new branch of the Isma‘iliyyah. [46]

Starting in 483/1089-1090, Hasan al-Sabbah began providing his followers with arms and occupying strategic fortresses in Iran and the East. Historians refer to this Isma’ili movement by different nicknames: al-Isma‘iliyyah, al-Nizariyyah, al-Batiniyyah, al-Sabiyyah, al-Talimiyyah, al-Hashishiyyah and others. [47] By the time Hasan al-Sabbah died in 518/1124, the Nizari state had extended its domain to many places and fortresses in the East, from Azerbaijan, Tabaristan, Jurjan and in Khurasan. After his death, the al-Nizariyyah conquered many additional fortresses in Syria, until the beginning of the Mamluk era. These important fortresses were: al-Kahf, al-‘Ulayqa, al-Qadmus, al-Khawabi, al-Manna, Masyaf, al-Rasfa and al-Qulay‘a. [48]

After this schism of the Isma‘iliyyah, hostility and rivalry between the two branches: the Fatimid Isma‘iliyya and the Nizari Isma‘iliyyah, developed. Thus, another strong enemy (the al-Nizariyyah) was added to the Fatimids’ traditional enemies, the ‘Abbasids (with the Seljuks), in addition to the threat from the Crusaders during this period. This situation weakened the Fatimids in Egypt and caused inner conflicts and additional schisms in the 6th/12th century, until the Isma’ili Fatimid regime in Egypt was abolished in 567/1171, by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi.

Six lines of text, 11th/17th century or earlier. According to ‘Ata-Malik Juwayni, the court historian of Helagu Khan, Hasan-i Sabbah acquired the fortress of Alamut from a certain individual named Mahdi, and gave a draft of 3,000 gold dinars as the price of the castle. The vellum document is deemed to be a later copy of this draft. Photo: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

The medieval sources show that the Fatimids had gotten considerably weaker in Persia, as a result of the Nizari division and its independent organisation in Persia and the East. Even the influential da‘is there, such as Abu Hamzah al-Iskaf, who had visited Egypt and served the Fatimids, began to serve the Nizaris. This Persian da‘i from Arrujan had travelled to Egypt and served as a Fatimid da‘i after his return. In the year 492/1099, al-Iskaf participated with the Nizaris in occupying a number of fortresses in Persia, particularly after the death of the Seljuk sultan Malikshah. [49]

From the first application of the policy of assassination by Hasan al-Sabbah in the late 5th/11th century until the abolishment of the Fatimid regime in Egypt in 567/1171, the Nizaris assassinated many high-ranking people in different countries and positions, and from different backgrounds, such as, the Seljukid vizier Nizam al-Mulk al-Hasan bin ‘Ali in 485/1092 and his son Fakhr al-Mulk ‘Ali, in 500/1106. In 507/1113, the Nizaris succeeded in assassinating governor of Mosul, Emir Mawdud b. Altuntakin, in Damascus. They even succeeded in killing two of the Abbasid caliphs; Al-Mustarshid bi-Allah bin al-Mustazhir in 529/1135 and Al-Rashid bi-Allah in 532/1137.

Date article posted on Simerg: April 1, 2011

Copyright: Dr. Hatim Mahamid

Published earlier: Persians in Fatimid Egypt: Their Role in the Army

Forthcoming: Persians in Fatimid Egypt: Their Role in the Commercial and Economic Life.



[17] See regarding the Isma‘ili Da‘wa in the East in this period by those missionaries: Farhad Daftary, “A Major Schism in the Early Isma`ili Movement” Studia Islamica, 77 (1993), 123-139; W. Madelung, “The Fatimids and the Qarmatis of Bahrayn” in F. Daftary, ed. Medieval History and Thought, (Cambridge, 1996), 21-73; Paul E. Walker, Early Philosophical Shi‘ism: The Isma‘ili  Neo-Platonism of Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani, (Cambridge, 1993); P. E. Walker, Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary, (London, 1996); P. E. Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources, (London, 2002), 180-181; Heinz Halm, The Empire of the Mahdi, (Leiden, 1996), 378-381; H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 53.

[18] Regarding the role of al-Azhar in the Fatimid period, see: Muhammad ‘Abd-Allah ‘Anan, Tarikh al-Jami‘ al-Azhar, (Cairo, 1942).

[19] Regarding Dar al-‘Ilm, see: Al-Maqrizi, Al-Mawa‘iz…, 300-302; H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 71-78; Halm claims that the establishment of Dar al-‘Ilm by al-Hakim had been influenced by Persians, in imitation of Dar al-‘Ilm of Baghdad which had been established in 383/993 by the Persian vizier of the Buwayhids, Abu Nasr Sabur ibn Ardashir. See: Ibid, 73.

[20] Khattab ‘Atiyya ‘Ali, Al-Ta‘lim fi Misr fi al-‘Asr al-Fatimi al-Awwal, (Cairo, 1947), 165; H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 59; See more about the philosophical thoughts of those Persian philosophers, and the Isma‘iliyyah in general: Farhad Daftary, “Al-Hayat al-Fikriyya bayn al-Isma‘iliyyin: Nazra ‘Amma”, in F, Daftary ed., Al-Manahij wa’l-A‘raf al-‘Aqlaniyya fi al-Islam, (Nasseh Mirza, trans.), (Beirut, 2004), 141-174.

[21] Regarding this event, see: Al-Musabbihi, 22-23; Ibn al-Athir, 7: 318. See there also: p. 29, in which the Persian mission with the gifts from Khurasan was welcomed by the Fatimid Imam al-Zahir. When this representative returned to Khurasan, he carried many precious gifts from al-Zahir to the sultan Mahmud bin Sabkutkin of Khurasan, but the gifts were burned by the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Qadir. See: Ibid, 323-324.

[22] N. Khusraw, Safar-Nameh, 51.

[23] Ibid, 95.

[24] See: H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 57-60.

[25] On those missionaries during the reign of al-Hakim, see: Muhammad Ahmad al-Khatib, ‘Aqidat al-Duruz, (Amman, 1980), 103-116; Mustafa Ghalib, Tarikh al-Da‘wa al-Isma‘iliyyah, (Beirut, 1965), 224-225; Khattab ‘Atiyya ‘Ali, 212-213.

[26] See: Khattab ‘Atiyya ‘Ali, 210-213; Regarding to those missionaries and da‘wa for divinity of al-Hakim, see: Al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az…, 2: 113, 118; ‘Abd al-Munim al-Nimr, Al-Shi‘a, al-Mahdi, al-Duruz, (Cairo, 1988), 264-274; These missionaries had had a great impact, causing a division within the Isma‘iliyya. They left a lot of letters, especially many written by Hamzah al-Zawzani. For an example of those writings, see: Muhammad ‘Abd-Allah ‘Anan, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah wa-Asrar al-Da‘wah al-Fatimiyyah, (Cairo, 1959), 397; Ibn al-Athir mentions another Fatimid missionary in this period by the name of Abu Mansur Khatkin al-Dayf and sometimes called the da‘i Khatkin al-‘Adudi, which  means that he was related to ‘Adud al-Dawlah the Buwayhid in Baghdad. See: Ibn al-Athir, 7: 215, 249.

[27] H. Halms, The Fatimid…, 40, 53, 58-59, 73; P. E. Walker, Exploring…, 182-183; In details, see about Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: P. E. Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: Islamic Thought in the Age of al-Hakim, (London, 1999).  

[28] Al-Musabbihi, 84-85.

[29] Al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az…, 2: 191-193.

[30] Regarding this event, see: Ibn al-Athir, 8: 39-40.

[31] See: N. Khusraw’s account in his Safar-Nameh.

[32] See: Nasir Khusraw, Divan Shir, (Mujtaba Minuwi and Mahdi Muhaqqiq eds.), (Tehran, 1974).

[33] See: Yahya al-Khashshab’s introduction in N. Khusraw, Safar-Nameh, 5-32.

[34] In September 2003, a conference was held in Khorog and Dushanbe in Tajikistan organized by the Institute of Isma‘ili Studies (IIS), about the heritage of N. Khusraw: “Nasir-i Khusraw: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”. This conference celebrated the millennium of his birth. Papers and studies were presented about Khusraw’s heritage. A book has been published including most of those papers, edited by Sarfaroz Niyozov and Ramazon Nazariev Nasir Khusraw; Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, (Khujand, Tajikistan, Noshir Publishing House, 2005). See there: Hatim Mahamid, “Cairo in Light of Nasir Khusraw’s Safarnama”, pp. 355-366; For yet  more about Nasir Khusraw, see Alice C. Hansberger, Nasir Khusraw, the Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveler and Philosopher, (London, 2000).

[35] See: H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 54-55; See also the introduction in: N. Khusraw, Knowledge and Liberation (Gushayish wa-Rahayish), (Faqir M. Hunzai ed.), (London, 1998), 7-13; P. E. Walker, Exploring…, 183; Mustafa Ghalib, 235, 242.

[36] See al-Musabbihi, 84-85.

[37] About al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi, see the introduction in N. Khusraw, Safar-Nameh, 8-9; Mustafa Ghalib, 236-238.

[38] See: Al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi, Sirat al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din, Da‘i al-Du‘at, (Muhammad Kamil Husein ed.), (Cairo, 1949).

[39] Al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az…, 2: 233-234, 256-257; See more on these events: Ibn Muyassar, 15, 17-19, 21; On the activities of al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi in Iraq and Persia, See: H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 80-81.

[40] Ibid, 54; P. E. Walker, Exploring…, 173-174.

[41] H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 78.

[42] P. E. Walker, Exploring…, 183; See also: Al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi, Diwan al-Mu’ayyad fi al-Din, Da‘i al-Du‘at, (Muhammad Kamil Husein ed.), (Cairo, 1949); See more about al-Mu’ayyad: Verena Klemm, Memoirs of a Mission: The Isma‘ili Scholar, Statesman and Poet, al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi, (London, 2003).

[43] There are arguments about where and when Hasan al-Sabbah was born.  See: H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 59; Muhammad Kamil Husein, Ta’ifat al-Isma‘iliyyah, Tarikhuha, Nuzumuha wa-‘Aqa’iduha, (Cairo, 1959), 64. ‘Arif Tamir, Al-Musta‘li bi-Allah, (Acca, 1981), 63-68.

[44] Regarding Hasan al-Sabbah’s visit in Egypt, see: Ibn Muyassar, 47-49; Ibn al-Athir, 8: 11, 172-173; Muhammad al-Sa‘id Jamal al-Din, Dawlat al-Isma‘iliyyah fi Iran, (Cairo, 1975), 186-187; Muhammad Kamil Husein, Ta’ifat…, 67-69; M. G. S. Hodgson, The Order of the Assassins, (La Haye, 1955), 45-47.

[45] Regarding Hasan al-Sabbah and the organisation of the Isma‘ili da‘wa in Persia and the East, see: Ibn Muyassar, 47-48, 62; Al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az…, 2: 323-324, 326; Ibn al-Athir, 8: 201-202; Al-Qalqashandi, 13: 240; Muhammad Kamil Husein, Ta’ifat…, 69-80; Mustafa Ghalib, 235-236, 248-251; H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 59-60; See chapter 3 in B. Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, (London, 1967); H. Halm and B. Lewis and Muhammad Kamil Husein, (Ta’ifat…, p. 67) mention that Hasan al-Sabbah arrived in Egypt in 471/1078, while Ibn Muyassar (p. 47), Ibn al-Athir (vol. 8: p.11)  and al-Maqrizi (Itti‘az…, 2: p. 323) mention that he came to Egypt in 479/1086.  See regarding Alamut fortress: Shafique Virani, “The Eagle Returns: Evidence of Continued Isma‘ili Activity at Alamut and in the South Caspian Region following the Mongol Conquests”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 123.2 (2003), pp. 351-370.

[46] See: F. Daftary, “Hasan-i Sabbah and the Origin of the Nizari Isma‘ili  Movements” in F. Daftary ed. Medieval Isma‘ili History…, 181-204; P. E. Walker, Exploring…, 148; H. Halm, The Fatimid…, 59-60.

[47] Muhammad Kamil Husein, Ta’ifat…, 63.

[48] Ibn Muyassar, 102; Regarding the Isma‘ili fortresses in Persia, see: Ibn al-Athir, 8: 200-201; Peter Willey, The Castles of the Assassins, (London, 1965); On the Isma‘ilis in Syria, see: Nasseh Ahmad Mirza, Syrian Isma‘ilism, (Great Britain, 1997); B. Lewis, “The Sources of the History of the Syrian Assassins”, in Speculum 27 (1952), 475-489.

[49] Ibn al-Athir, 8: 202. 


Dr. Hatim Mahamid

About the author: Dr. Hatim Mahamid received his Ph.D from Tel Aviv University in 2001, where he specialized in the history of medieval Islam, from Fatimid to Late Mamluk Egypt and Syria. He has published numerous articles in journals such The Journal of Islamic Studies, Islamic Quarterly and Annales islamologiques, and contributed to three critical anthologies as well as presented papers at numerous conferences. His book Al-Tatawwurat fi Nizam al-Hukm wal-Idara fi Misr al-Fatimiyya was published in Jerusalem in 2001, and his book Dirasat fi Tarikh al-Quds al-Thaqafi fi al-‘Asr al-Wasit was published in Amman in 2009. He currently lectures in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Ben Gurion University and The Open University.

This reading, along with Parts I (previously published) and III (forthcoming), has been contributed by the author for It is an edited version of his original paper, Persians in Fatimid Egypt, published in the Journal of Middle Eastern and North African Intellectual and Cultural Studies, 4(2), 37 – 60, 2006.

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3 thoughts on “Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (II) Their Role in the Da’wah and Ismaili Doctrines

  1. Well done Dr Hatim Mahamid. I read Noor-e-Mubin (Ismaili history in Gujarati) in 1952 and only generally understood the Ismaili Dawa in Egypt. This paper explains it more clearly. Paticularly, I am now more clear on the division of Druze from the Ismailis at the time of the demise of Imam al-Hakim whose body was never found.

    Keep up the great work.

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