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AZIZ (365-386/975-996), 15TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"He was born on 14th Muharram, 344/May 10, 955 in Mahdiya. His name was Nizar Abu Mansur, surnamed al-Aziz bi-llah (August by the grace of God). He assumed the Imamate and Caliphate on 14th Rabi II, 365/December 21, 975. He was tall, broad shouldered, with reddish hair and large eyes having a dark blue colour.

Imam al-Aziz was also known for his paternal care of the people and introduced many financial reforms in the country. He introduced the system of paying a fixed stipends for services to the official and household servants and also used to give them robes and mules to ride on. Among his outstanding reforms, the most significant was that he put down bribery and corruption with a firm hand in Egypt.

Writing in the year 372/982, the anonymous writer of Hudud al-Alam (tr. by V. Minorsky, London, 1937, p. 151) describes that, "Egypt is the wealthiest country of Islam, and in it lies numerous towns, all prosperous, flourishing, wealthy, and extremely favoured by nature in many respects. It produces textiles, handkerchiefs, and robes of various kinds, than which there are none more precious in the whole world - such as Egyptian woolen goods and textiles, and handkerchiefs made of dabiqi (silk brocade or linen drapes) and khazz (tissue of silk and wool). And in this country, good asses are found of great price. Fustat is the capital of Egypt. It is the wealthiest city in the world, extremely prosperous and very pleasant. It lies to the east of the river Nile."

Jawhar conquered Syria in 359/969, making Jafar bin Falah as a governor. When Imam al-Muizz was in Cairo, a Turkish commander Iftagin, under the Buwahids defeated the Fatimid governor of Damascus, and started the Abbasid khutba. Imam al-Muizz had offered him to come in Cairo, but Iftagin declined it, and as a result, Imam al-Muizz took field against him, but died at Balbis. Iftagin sacked Syria, thus Imam al-Aziz sent his general, Jawhar. He besieged Damascus on 22nd Zilkada, 365/July 22, 976 for two months. Meanwhile, the Qarmatians led by Hasan al-A'sam came to the help of Iftagin. Jawhar lifted the siege, because his supplies were running short, and went to Ramla, then returned to Cairo and reported to Imam al-Aziz. This time the Imam himself commanded his forces and attacked enemies with all his might at Ramla, and forced them to retreat. Iftagin and Hasan al-A'sam took their heels. Imam al-Aziz announced a reward for one lac dinar for capturing Iftagin. Ironically, Iftagin was caught by one of his friends and brought before the Imam. He, keeping with his nature, behaved very politely with Iftagin, and returned to him all his personal belongings and included him among his door-keepers (hajib), a high grade in the hierarchy of the Fatimid court. His behaviour with Iftagin was so remarkable that Iftagin himself admitted: "I blush to mount my horse in the presence of our Lord al-Aziz. I did everything to oppose him, but he did not seek revenge, and I dare not to look at him because of the gifts and favours with which he overwhelms me." The Qarmatian leader, Hasan al-A'sam was forced to flee from Ramla, and lost his influence in Damascus.

When Iftagin fought with the Fatimid at Ramla, he had left behind Kassam Sharrab in Damascus. When Imam al-Aziz defeated Iftagin, he sent Fazal bin Saleh and Suleman bin Jafar Falah, one after another, but none could capture Damascus. Fazal bin Saleh retreated to Palestine and held a series of talks with the Hamdanid Abu Taghlib, who had been expelled from Mosul by the Buwahid Adud ad-Dawla (367-372/978-983). Abu Taghlib had also failed to occupy Damascus; therefore, he aspired to obtain at least its governorship from the Fatimid Imam al-Aziz. Abu Taghlib gave his words to Fazal bin Saleh in the campaign to conquer Damascus, but the latter had already allied himself with the Jarrahid leader, Mufraj bin Dagfal bin Jarrah of Palestine. In sum, Mufraj defeated Abu Taghlib in 369/979 and took possession of the whole territory of Palestine. His cooperation with Fazal bin Saleh was however short-lived, as he had shaken his hand with Kassam Sharrab, the chief of Damascus.

In 373/983, Imam al-Aziz sent Balaktagin, a Turkish commander of the Fatimid forces against these two rebels. He defeated Mufraj bin Dagfal in Palestine, who managed to flee to Antioch, where he took refuge with the Byzantines. Thence, Balaktagin proceeded to Damascus and defeated Kassam, and appointed Akhlaj as a governor, who was followed by Bekjur in 373/983.

Bekjur was a slave of Sa'd ad-Dawla (356-381/967-991), the Hamdanid chief of Aleppo. When Balaktagin had taken field against Kassam Sharrab in Damascus, Bekjur had provided necessary provisions to the Fatimid forces from Aleppo, and therefore, he was made the governor of Damascus after Akhlaj in appreciation of his aids. In the meantime, Bekjur sought permission from Imam al-Aziz to conquer Aleppo, and soon afterwards, he besieged Aleppo. Sa'd ad-Dawla, the chief of Aleppo sought reinforcement from the Byzantine, forcing Bekjur to lift the siege and retreat to Damascus.

Imam al-Aziz however retained Bekjur's governorship in Damascus, but was expelled later in 378/988. He persuaded the Imam to assign him with the command of a new expedition against Aleppo. He however acquired little help from the local Fatimid forces, but was defeated and killed in 381/991 by Sa'd ad-Dawla, who was aided as usual by the Byzantines.

Few years later, Imam al-Aziz once again turned his attention to conquer Aleppo. This time the Fatimid forces besieged Aleppo in 385/995 for several months at the command of Manjutagin. Meanwhile, the Byzantine emperor Basil II (975-1025) himself came with a large force to help Sa'd ad-Dawla's son, Sa'id ad-Dawla (381-392/992-1002) and saved Aleppo from going into Fatimid hands.

Inspite of political differences between the Fatimids and the Umayyad of Spain, there had been cultural and commercial transactions between the two Muslim empires. During Imam al-Aziz's period, the relations between him and Umayyad caliph al-Hakam II (350-366/961-976) were improved and there had been diplomatic correspondence between them as is learnt from a letter of Imam al-Aziz, vide Nihayat al-Arab (p. 58) by Nuwayri (d. 732/1332). Their relations can also be ascertained from the fact that the Umayyad Prince Muhammad bin Abdul Malik bin Abdur Rehman al-Nasir composed few verses in praise of Imam al-Aziz.

In Egypt, the new elements were enlisted in the Fatimid army as professional soldiers and given special accommodation areas in Cairo, known as harat al-Atrak (barrack of the Turks), and harat al-Daylam (barrack of the Iranians). This new fighting element sponsored by Imam al-Aziz, grew rapidly and before long its chiefs were appointed as commanders. In 381/991, the command of the Fatimid army was given to one of these men, called Manjutagin, with the title amir al-juyush al-mansura (commander of the victorious armies). He was charged to put down the disturbances in Syria, strike at the Byzantines in the north and bring Aleppo under the direct control of the Fatimids.

It must also be known that the Katama Berbers enjoyed special privileges in the Fatimid army since beginning and were exempted from taxation. In Egypt, they began to dominate almost in all state affairs and wielded political influences. They were known in Egypt as Maghriba (the westerners). In contrast, the Turks and Iranians were called as Mashriqa (the easterners), who were also a counterpoise against the growing influence of the Berbers. In 380/990, Imam al-Aziz also erected an army corps named al-Azizia. In 385/995, al-Azizia together with other corps was dispatched to reinforce the Fatimid contingents in Syria.

The period of Imam al-Aziz on the whole was one of peace and prosperity. He also patronized scholars and encouraged learning. His generosity became so popular that the common people were comparatively happier in his regime. The trade flourished to such extent that the industry of Cairo produced such a fine cloth that a whole robe could be passed through a finger ring. In 365/976, Imam al-Aziz built the first market in Cairo along with the first bathhouses.

One of the famous persons during Imam al-Aziz's period was Abul Hussain Ali bin Qadi Noman, who attained a high rank of chief justice (qadi al-qudat) after the death of Qadi Abu Tahir in 367/977. His appointment was proclaimed at the summit of the mosque of al-Azhar and Jam-i'l Atiq in Cairo. He was also assigned with the supervision of cases of inheritance, the mint and the quality of gold and silver coins. He appointed his brother, Muhammad bin Noman as his deputy and the qadi of Mediterranean towns of Farama, Tunnis and Damietta. Qadi Abdul Hussain Ali was a prolific writer, upright as a judge, talented in Arabic literature and well steeped in poetry. He died on 6th Rajab, 374/December 3, 984 in Cairo, and the Imam offered his funeral prayer.

After the death of Qadi Abul Hussain Ali bin Noman, Imam al-Aziz wrote to his brother, Abu Abdullah Muhammad to take over the charge of the office of qadi al-qudat to fill the gap of his brother. In 382/992, Qadi Abdullah Muhammad had established a juridical office in the old mosque to give legal opinion according to the Fatimid law. He was also a man of great talent, skilled in the system of jurisprudence and diligent as a scholar. He died on 4th Safar, 389/January 25, 998 in Cairo. Imam al-Hakim led his funeral prayer.

In 375/985, one Muhallabi drew up an itinerary for the Fatimid Imam al-Aziz, which, for the first time, gave accurate information about the Sudan of which the other geographers of that century knew very little. His book was named, al-Aziz, which he dedicated to the Imam, and had become the main source of Yaqut (d. 626/1229) for the Sudan.

Ibn Taghri Birdi (4:152) writes that Imam al-Aziz had signed a truce for seven years with the Byzantine emperor in 377/987, stipulating three terms:- the release of 5000 Muslim prisoners captured by the Byzantines, the recitation of the Fatimid khutba in the grand mosque of Constantinople and the supply of the merchandise needed for the Egyptians.

Yaqub bin Killis was followed in rapid succession by six vizirs. In 380/991, Imam al-Aziz appointed a Copic Christian, Isa bin Nestorius (d.387/397) as his vizir, and the latter appointed a Jew, Manasseh bin Ibrahim al-Kazzaz as his deputy in Syria and Palestine. The vizir began to favour the Christians in Egypt and his deputy to the Jews in Syria and Palestine. When the Muslims made the complaints, Imam al-Aziz at once dismissed them in 385/995 and seized 300,000 dinars from Isa bin Nestorious and a large sum from Manesseh bin Ibrahim.

In 382/992, Abul Darda Muhammad bin al-Musayyib Uqayti (d. 386/996), the governor of Mosul, declared his loyalty to Imam al-Aziz and recited the Fatimid khutba in Mosul.

In 386/996, Imam al-Aziz had personally set out to command the Fatimid armies against the joint forces of the Hamdanids of Aleppo and the Byzantines, but he at once fell ill at Bilbis, the first junction on his route to Syria. When the Imam felt that the shadows of his death were closing upon him, he summoned Ibn Ammar and Qadi Muhammad bin Noman and declared to them his son, al-Hakim as his successor. Both are said to have sworn loyalty and obedience to the Imam's command. On 28th Ramzan, 386/October 14, 996, Imam al-Aziz met sudden death, from a stone in the kidney in the town of Bilbis.

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