Ismaili History 501 - MUHAMMAD AL-MAHDI (268-322/881-934)

He was born on Monday, the 12th Shawal, 260/July 31, 873 in the town, called Askar-i Mukram (or Askar wa Makrum), situated between the rivers of Masrukan and Shushtar. It is to be noted that Askar-i Mukram took its name from the camp (askar) of Mukram, an Arab commander sent into the Khuzistan by Hajjaj bin Yousuf.
His name was Abdullah al-Mahdi and assumed the Imamate at the age of 8 years. His father, Radi Abdullah had assigned the control of organization to his uncle, Sa'id al-Khayr. By the time al-Mahdi became young, and married a daughter of his uncle, who died after some time. On that juncture, al-Mahdi was at the age of discernment to take over complete control of organization in his own hands.

The first thing that al-Mahdi did was to summon dai Abul Hussain bin al-Aswad and insisted him to stay in the town of Hammah, and said to him, 'I appoint you to be the head of all dais; whomsoever you make a headman, he shall be the headman, and whomsoever you make a subordinate, he shall be a subordinate. You shall reside on the road to Egypt.' With this new mandate, dai Abul Hussain reorganised the mission at his disposal.

Jafar bin Ali, the chamberian of the Imam's household, has left behind a memoirs, entitled 'Sirat-i Jafar' (comp. 346/957), and it can be seen from it that al-Mahdi was known in Salamia as a wealthy prince. He lived in the town in a huge building which had an underground passage dug underneath. This secret passage covered a distance of twelve miles and opened out at an unscathed distance from the gate of the town, its entrance at the other end being always kept covered with earth. The subterranean passage was intended for the dais and other followers in the confidence of al-Mahdi, and the entrance was opened to them at night only.

The backward Katama Berber land of the farther west of North Africa was the land of the lost cause of Islam, where Imam Jafar Sadik is reported to have sent his two missionaries, Halwani and Abu Sufiani, who laid the foundation of the Ismaili dawa in North Africa, and promulgated among the aboriginal Berbers in the territory covered by modern Tripoli and Tunisia. Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) writes in his 'Tarikh' (5th vol., p.89) that, 'Jafar Sadik sent his missionaries to Maghrib, saying that it was a barren soil and that it ought to be watered in expectation of the person who would come to sow the real seed.' We must not lose a sight of the fact that it was a prediction for al-Mahdi, who made an extensive journey and manifested in Maghrib, where he founded the Fatimid Caliphate.

Ismaili History 502 - Abu Abdullah al-Shi'i

Abu Abdullah al-Hussain bin Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Zakariya, commonly known as Abu Abdullah al-Shi'i was hailed from Kufa, where he had been an inspector of weights and measures, and was also an ascetic of Shiite inclinations, having been converted along with his brother, Abul Abbas bin Ahmad to Ismailism by dai Firuz. Realizing his potential, Imam Radi Abdullah had sent him to Ibn Hawshab in Yamen for further training in Ismaili esoteric doctrines as well as affairs of the state. Abu Abdullah stayed in Yamen with Ibn Hawshab for a year.
The Ismaili mission had its roots in the era of Imam Jafar Sadik. As early as the year 145/762, the two dais, called Halwani and Abu Sufiani had been dispatched to the Maghrib. They settled among the Berbers in the land of Katama and summoned the local populance to the cause of Ahl-al-Bait, and converted a bulk of people to their doctrines. Abu Sufiani died a few years later, but Halwani lived for a long time. Knowing the death of Halwani and Abu Sufiani in Maghrib, Ibn Athir (d. 630/1234) writes in 'Kamil fi't Tarikh' (Beirut, 1975, 8th vol., p 31) that Ibn Hawshab told to Abu Abdullah: 'Our missionaries have thoroughly ploughed the land of Maghrib, making it arable. None is capable except you after them. You prepare yourself now for Maghrib.'

Abu Abdullah set out from Yamen in 279/892, accompanied by another dai Abdullah bin Abul Malahif. He arrived in Mecca during pilgrimage, where he contacted the Katama pilgrims of Maghrib lodging at Mina, and impressed them with his vast knowledge about the merits of Ahl- al-Bait. The pilgrims were gladdened to know that Abu Abdullah was heading towards Egypt, which was on their route to the Maghrib. While travelling with them, Abu Abdullah inquired at great length about their country in order to judge the suitability of his mission. He, thus gained the admiration of his fellow-travellers. After a short stay in Egypt, he reached Maghrib in the Katama homeland on 14th Rabi I, 280/June 3, 893.

The name maghrib (the land of sunset) was given by the Arabs to that virgin part of Africa, which European have called Barbery or Africa Minor, (the French Afrique du Nord), and then North Africa. In north it is bordered by the Mediterranean, and in the south by the Sahara desert. In the west it is extended as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and in the east it extends as far as the borders of Egypt. The jazirat al-maghrib i.e., 'the island of the setting sun,' consists of that part of the North Africa, which includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Cyrenaica, and Tripolitania.

The word Berber is derived from Latin barbari, an appellation equivalent to the English 'barbarian', which the Romans used to call peoples who spoke neither Latin nor Greek. The social organisation of the Berbers or Katama Berbers had been tribal from the earliest known period of their history. Ibn Khaldun distinguished three major divisions among the Berbers, i.e., the Zanata, Sanhaja and Masmuda. The Zanata, whose original home was in Tripolitania and southern Tunisia, were predominately nomadic. The Sanhaja were as widely dispersed in the Maghrib as the Zanata. The Sanhaja were split into two main branches: the Kabylia Berbers, who were sedentary, and the nomadic Zanaga, whose traditional home had been the western Sahara desert. The Masmuda were the sedentary Berbers of Morocco. Hence, it must be known that the Katama Berbers had embraced Ismailism and took prominent part towards the foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate in Maghrib.

Abu Abdullah established his base in Ikjan (the Tzajjan of the Romans) near Satif, a mountain stronghold that dominated the pilgrimage route, where he spent seven years in propagating the cause of Ahl-al-Bait among the old people as well as the youths of the Berber tribes. Very soon the tribesmen in the vicinity began to trek to Ikjan. He completely swayed a large body of Berber tribesmen amongst whom the Katama tribe was very prominent and powerful. Abu Abdullah, however, had to face many vicissitudes, sometimes meeting with success and sometimes facing defeats, but he never wavered in his resolve.

In the interim, the report of the tremendous popularity of Abu Abdullah began to filter through to the Aghlabid ruler, Ibrahim bin Ahmad, who wrote to his governor of Meila to subdue Abu Abdullah, but of no avail. Meanwhile, Abu Abdullah, feeling full confident of his strength, began to wave of conquests. Ibrahim bin Ahmad dispatched a large army in 289/901 under his grandson, who made success to some extent. A number of Katama leaders, wary of Aghlabid inroads into their country, sought to banish Abu Abdullah and in the ensuing battle, he gained upper hand. Ibrahim bin Ahmad died in 291/903 and was succeeded by his son, Ziadatullah, a man indolent and entirely devoted to pleasure. Abu Abdullah captured Tahirt and his followers built living quarters around it. Immediately, he set on laying the foundations of administration for his principality and divided the Katama into seven units, each with its own army with wide powers. After consolidating his position in the Katama country, Abu Abdullahh embarked on his second phase of conquests. He advanced on Meila which surrendered after a brief resistance. He then marched on Satif. With the conquest of this city, Abu Abdullah openly declared the purpose of his mission that:- 'I am propagating for God, the Almighty, the Exalted, for His Book and for Imam al-Mahdi from the progeny of the Apostle of God.'

Abu Abdullah's success in overcoming the major internal opposition movements as well as conquering one territory after another at last awakened Ziadatullah from his slumber. He sent a large force to curb Abu Abdullah's power. The two armies met at Billizma. This new encounter resulted in two more cities, Billizma and Tubna, falling into the hands of Abu Abdullah.

Abu Abdullah was now feeling confident that the mission organisation as well as the basic framework of the state were clearly emerging with good result. He, therefore, deputed some prominent leaders of Katama tribe led by his brother, Abul Abbas in Salamia, and sent an invitation to al-Mahdi for Maghrib to take over the reigns of government.

Ismaili History 503 - Journey of al-Mahdi

Scanning the narrative of 'Istitaru'l-Imam' by Ahmad bin Ibrahim an-Naysaburi, who lived under Imam al-Aziz (d. 386/996), it appears that a certain dai Abu Muhammad died at Kufa in 285/898, had left three sons, viz. Abul Kassim, Abu Mahzul and Abul Abbas. Abul Kassim himself took over the charge of the mission in Kufa, but Abul Hussain bin al-Aswad, the chief dai had dismissed Abul Kassim from the post and the latter, together with his two brothers, was furious. They wrote to al-Mahdi, complaining that Abul Hussain deprived them without any serious reason, but al-Mahdi sent no reply to them. The three brothers then conspired, making a sworn pact between themselves, to make a sudden attack on Salamia, and to kill Ibn Basri, who empowered Abul Hussain to commit such an offence on them. They also wanted, if possible, to kill Abul Hussain; if impossible, they intended to report to the government of Syria. News about this transpired to the dai Hamid bin Abbas and Ibn Abd residing at Baghdad. Some Hashimites also wrote to al-Mahdi, informing him that the sons of Abu Muhammad had conspired to kill him with his family. 'If you are sitting' as they wrote, 'then get up. The three brothers have already started, intending to kill you. If they do not succeed, they will expose you to Ahmad bin Tulun. They say that you are the enemy of the religion, and they want to expose your affairs. Do everything to save yourself without wasting a moment.'
Apprehending lest the sons of dai Abu Muhammad and the Qarmatians would resort to the violent and stormy operations, al-Mahdi gave orders to prepare for a journey. He took with him only his son Abul Kassim, Jafar bin Ali, the Chamberian, Ibn Barka and Tayyib, the tutor of Abul Kassim. He abandoned his residence with all that it contained: precious carpets, clothing, property, servants and also the family of his uncle and brother, male and female. He entrusted all his wealth, with his house, wares and granaries, to

Hence, al-Mahdi quited Salamia in a thick of insecure milieu in 286/899. He relinquished his house at the time of the evening prayer, unnoticed by any one and travelled the whole night escorted by an Arab and thirty other horsemen. He arrived at Hims in the morning. Sending back the Arab escort from Hims, al-Mahdi's caravan first left for Damascus when Haroon bin Khamruya bin Ahmad bin Tulun (283- 292/896-904) was the then governor of Syria. They continued to travel whole of that day and the next and arrived in Tiberias on the third. The long journey from Syria was beset with great perils, therefore he continued without a halt in Tiberias and went to Palestine and alighted in Ramla, and putting up with the governor, who was his devout follower.

Ramla was a town, 25 miles from Jerusalem and on the road between Syria and Egypt, covering an area of a square mile. Its chief gates were Darb Bir al-Askar, Darb Masjid Annaba, Darb Bait al-Makdis, Darb Bila, Darb Ludd, Darb Yafa, Darb Misr and Darb Ajun. Ramla was rich in fruits, especially figs and palms. It was famous for comfortable baths, commodious dwellings and broad streets.

In Ramla, al-Mahdi received the news that the three sons of Abu Muhammad had reached Salamia and were vainly searching for him. The three brothers continued searching for al-Mahdi for a whole year. In the interim, one of the brothers, Abul Abbas had returned to Iraq but Abul Kassim and Abu Mahzul remained in Salamia. They often visited Hammah steathily, trying to find out from dai Abul Hussain the informations about al-Mahdi and returning again to Salamia. When they realized that it was futile to find out anything from Abul Hussain, and that they could not trace al-Mahdi, who was lost for them, Abul Kassim, a real cheat, left, while Abu Mahzul continued to stay in Salamia.

Abul Kassim went to the tribe of Qasiyyun, giving them preference over other tribes. He brought them to his favour, such as Banu Malik, Banu Murid, Banu Hujayna, Banu Balwa, Banu Fakhdash, Banu Hudhayl and Banu Ziyad. These tribes swore allegiance to Abul Kassim and rose in rebellion. They marched against Tughuch bin Juff (283-293/896-906), the new governor of Syria, whom they defeated near the village, called Mazzatul Abai. The insurgents inflicted heavy loss on his force and besieged Damascus.

In the meantime, Abu Mahzul quitted Salamia and betook himself to Ramla, while his brother Abul Kassim remained before Damascus, repelling the attacks every day. In Ramla, he incidentlly met Jafar bin Ali in the market, while he was purchasing provisions. A man accompanied Abu Mahzul identified Jafar bin Ali. He followed Jafar and entered the house with him, and sat in the entrance porch, biding Jafar to convey his greetings to the Imam and to tell him that he must have an interview with him. If not, he would at once cry out and reveal the identity of the Imam to the public. So Jafar entered before al-Mahdi and told him what had happened. To this al-Mahdi replied, 'Now that he has seen you and discovered us, better bring him in, as otherwise he may expose us.' Abu Mahzul was brought before al-Mahdi. He bowed before the Imam and the latter received him kindly. Then Abu Mahzul said, 'O my Lord, verily we left our houses, searching after you. Now praise be to God Who helped us to find you. My brother came with a force which besieges Damascus. I left him when he was on the point of taking it. Come back, because your position is so strong now. All purpose of our campaign was to satisfy you and to appease your anger, which was provoked by the machinations of Abul Hussain, who stirred up us against each other. And if you do not wish to come personally, write a letter to my brother, to appease him, as he is angery with me.'

Imam al-Mahdi wrote a letter to his brother, asking him to forgive Abu Mahzul, and not to punish him in any way. In short, the sons of Abu Muhammad were impostors and had assumed the girdle of the Ismailism, and there came soon their end. About all these events, al-Mahdi who was staying in Ramla, was well informed. Tayyib, the tutor, was travelling between Salamia and Ramla, carrying the news. So al-Mahdi could see from Ramla what was going on with Abu Mahzul, and what he did after his retreat from Damascus to Salamia.

Jafar narrates in 'Sirat-i Jafar' that, 'I was waiting on al-Mahdi, together with Tayyib and Abu Yaqub at the table, at which al-Mahdi, the governor, al-Qaim, and Firuz were taking their food, when there entered a messenger, the same who had been sent to Damascus, carrying orders from Baghdad about our arrest, accompanied by the name and description of the appearance of al-Mahdi. The governor read the orders, and handed the paper to him. When the Imam read it also, the governor knelt before him, crying and kissing his feet, and al- Mahdi said to him: `Keep quiet, do not cry. He, in whose hands my life is, will never permit them to catch us.'' So the governor of Ramla wrote to the governor of Damascus in reply to his above letter that no man answering the description had been seen, and it was not known whether he had already passed the town. In case he had not yet passed, a watch would be kept for him on all roads.

Al-Mahdi had to prolong his stay in Ramla for about 2 years on account of the intensive searching of the Abbasids. Ibn Hammad (d. 628/1230) writes in his 'Akhbar al-Muluk Bani Ubayd wa Siyaratihim' (Paris, 1927, p. 12) that, 'The Abbasids were looking for al-Mahdi, sending letters to all the provincial capitals with his name and description, ordering that he be arrested as soon as he was discovered.'

During one night in Ramla, according to 'Sirat-i Jafar,' there was a shower of shooting stars, so al-Mahdi and his son, the governor and many other people ascended the roof of the house to look at the phenomenon. The town was filled with the shouts of the people. Al-Mahdi pressed with his hand the hand of the governor, and said that the phenomenon was a testimony of his high mission, and one of the signs of his success.

Al-Mahdi resumed his journey and effected his junction in Egypt, where he met dai Abu Ali al-Hussain bin Ahmad bin Daud bin Muhammad (d. 321/932), who had been made the chief of the treasury (sahib bayt al-mal) after the foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate in Maghrib. Imam told him not to accommodate him in his own house, or in the house of any one who was known as being connected with the Ismaili mission, but to arrange for him a place with a trusted outsider. Abu Ali al-Hasan therefore, caused the Imam to lodge with a certain Ibn Ayyas. The governor, Abu Musa Isa bin Muhammad Nushari had received a letter from the Abbasids for the arrest of al-Mahdi. He therefore, summoned Ibn Ayyas, and inquired about the strange person living with him. Ibn Ayyas, according to 'Sirat-i Jafar' (p. 113) replied that the person staying with him, by God, was not suspicious in any way. He was a nobleman, a Hashimite, an important merchant, known by his learning, piety and wealth. And with regard to the man who was sought for, news had come that he had left for Yamen long before the arrival of Abbasid letter. The governor trusted what Ibn Ayyas said about his guest.

Ismaili History 504 - Journey towards Maghrib

In Egypt, al-Mahdi abandoned the likely choice to go to Yamen as expected by his entourage. This turned out to be a very wise decision, since in Yamen he would have risked the Abbasid confrontation and the menace of the rebellious Qarmatians. On the eve of his departure from Egypt, al-Mahdi revealed his intention of going to Maghrib, and few persons who accompanied him had registered disappointment, notably dai Firuz. W.Ivanow (1886-1970) writes in 'Brief Survey of the Evolution of Ismailism' (Holland, 1952, pp. 13-14) that, 'Before his move to the remote West, al-Mahdi, according to the Ismaili tradition, had the choice of going to the Yamen where Ibn Hawshab, his able dai, had great success. But al-Mahdi was a clever and talented politician who could realize that the Yamen was nothing but a backwater. He therefore preferred the more risky, yet more promising Maghrib, i.e., N.W. Africa. Here the diplomatic and political talent of the Fatimids was severely tested in their dealings with the Berber tribes. As with all nomads everywhere, these people had their own mentality, their own world of ideas.'
While the caravan of al-Mahdi was stirring between Egypt and Tahuna, they were attacked by the Berbers, who looted the caravan and took away some baggages of Imam's books belonging to the Holy Koran, interpretations, history etc. It grieved al-Mahdi much more than other things. When later on, al-Qaim marched in his first campaign against Egypt in 301/913, he brought the brigands and recovered the lost books. According to 'Iftitahu'd-Dawa' (comp. in 346/957), al-Mahdi said on that occasion: 'Even if this campaign had been undertaken merely to regain these books, this would have been worth while.'

The caravan of al-Mahdi went to Tripoli, whose governor made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest him. Al-Mahdi thus divided his caravan into two groups. He sent forward Abul Abbas towards the Katama tribe to gauge the situation as well as to make an advance tidings of his arrival. Abul Abbas reached Kairwan (old Kairouan, now in Tunisia) when the Aghlabid ruler, Ibrahim bin Ahmad had died in 291/903 and was succeeded by Zaidatullah. Abul Abbas was not able to escape suspicion, and was ultimately arrested and tried. He denied all connection with al-Mahdi, insisting that he was an ordinary merchant. He was, nevertheless, imprisoned and the news about this reached to al-Mahdi.

Al-Mahdi went to Kastilla province after knowing the arrest of Abul Abbas and made a junction for few days at Tuzar. When he made sure that there was no possibility of Abul Abbas getting free, he changed his route and went as a merchant to Sijilmasa, the capital of the Midrarite Berber, and stayed in a house hired from a certain Abul Habsha.

Sijilmasa (the old Silhmasa) was an ancient town of Morocco, the capital of Tafilalat. It was built about 200 miles of Fas, on the outskirts of the Sahara and on the left bank of the Wadi Ziz. It was founded in 140/758 and beginning with 155/771, the town and its territory were governed by the Miknas dynasty of the Midrarite. Sijilmasa was situated in the middle of a plain with fertility, because of well watered and was surrounded by gardens and orchards which stretched along the Wadi Ziz. It grew in abundance the most delicious varities of grapes and dates. Among the crops included cotton, cumin, carraway and henna which were exported into the whole Maghrib.

In Sijilmasa, al-Mahdi procured his friendship with the governor, al-Yasa bin Midrar (883-910). When the governor received a letter of Ziadatullah, he put al-Mahdi under house arrest in his sister's residence for about 5 years.

Ismaili History 505 - Conquest of Maghrib

Abu Abdullah, on the other hand, conquered almost whole Maghrib within 16 years in 296/909 and routed the Aghlabid rule of 112 years. He decisively subdued the Aghlabids near Laribus, and established supremacy over the Aghlabid empire and got an end of the Abbasid suzernaity over it in Maghrib. Six days later he entered the Aghlabid capital, Raqada which was about six miles south of Kairwan with a covered area of 6 square miles, on 1st Rajab, 296/March 26, 909 and relieved Abul Abbas in Tripoli. He started the Fatimid khutba and the Shiite formula was used in the call to prayer.

Makrizi writes in his 'al-Khitat' (Cairo, 1911, 1st vol., p. 350) that Abu Abdullah had coins struck bearing the legends 'the proof of God has arrived' on the obverse and 'the enemies of God are dispersed' on the reverse. Conserved in the Musee du Bardo in Tunis is a rare gold dinar minted in Kairwan in 297/910 that bears precisely the preceding legend, vide 'Monnaies fatimites du Musee du Bardo' (cf. Revue Tunisienne, 1936: 343-44, cat. no. 1 and pl. no. 1). It is a typical Aghlabid type of dinar, except that the legends occupy the space which would normally have held the ruler's name. Since the ruler (al-Mahdi) had not yet been revealed, these two appropriate phrases filled the void. Ibn Hammad (d. 628/1230) writes in 'Akhbar al-Muluk Bani Ubayd wa Siyaratihim' (Paris, 1927, pp. 7-8) that the slogans were also inscribed on banners, weapons, trapping and seals. On banner: 'Soon will their multitude be put to flight and they will show their backs' (Koran, 54:45); on weapons: 'Multitudes on God's path;' on trapping: 'Dominion is God's;' on Abu Abdullah's personal seal: 'Put your confidence in God and you are on the path of manifest truth' (Koran, 27:79); on his official seal: 'The orders of your Lord have been accomplished in truth and justice. His words are immutable. He is the Hearer and the Knower' (Koran, 6:116).

Abu Abdullah remained there for about 3 months to set the administrative machinery in motion.

Ismaili History 506 - March towards Sijilmasa

After setting a new fabric of administration, Abu Abdullah made preparations to finally march to Sijilmasa. He appointed his brother Abul Abbas and Abu Zaki Tammam bin Muarik as deputy leaders and marched with a large army, having been joined by innumerable tribes who had hitherto witheld their support. He reached Sijilmasa after an arduous and dangerous journey from the remotest route. The situation at Sijilmasa was rather tricky, since al-Mahdi had been imprisoned there and any wrong move by Abu Abdullah might have endangered the life of Imam. Thus, he sent a peace mission to the governor, asking to release al-Mahdi. The governor killed the messenger, therefore, Abu Abdullah had no choice but to engage in warfare. However, after a brief battle, the governor fled and his army dispersed. Abu Abdullah then triumphantly entered Sijilmasa and liberated al-Mahdi, his son, entourages and pages.

Abu Abdullah saw his Imam for the first time, whom he had never seen before. As soon as al-Mahdi made his appearance, Ibn al-Muttalibi said to Abu Abdullah that, 'Lo, this is my master and yours and the master of all the people.' There was immense rejoicing amongst the troops while beholding al-Mahdi. The faithful followers crowded around the horses of al-Mahdi and his son, al-Qaim and Abu Abdullah walked in front. Abu Abdullah dismounted, and so did Ibn al-Muttalibi and the troops. According to 'Iftitahu'd-Dawa' (p. 245), Abu Abdullah was overjoyed and said to the people: 'This is the Lord, mine and thine, and your Wali al-Amr, your Imam-i Zaman and your Mahdi, on whose behalf I preached you. God has fulfilled His promise about him, and assisted his supporters and troops. He is your Ulul Amr.'

Al-Mahdi remained for 40 days in Sijilmasa to restore peace and finally, he embarked for Raqada via Ikjan with his son and their whole entourage, along with Abu Abdullah and his companions. An interesting account is given in 'Sirat-i Jafar' that, 'Al-Mahdi marched at the head of a huge army, such as no king before him could ever muster, and ultimately reached the Katama country. I remember, said Jafar, that when we were passing through the Sanhaja country, and were marching near the place in which (later on) was founded the town of Ashir, al-Mahdi asked the name of the hills that appeared before him. He was told that the name of the range was Jabal Sanhaja. And he said that a treasure was buried in these mountains.'

Ashir (French, Achir) is an ancient fortified town in Algeria, and was founded by Ziri bin Manad, the chieftain of the Sanhaja in the mountains of Titeri about in 324/945. From Ashir, the ranges of Jabal Sanhaja, or Jabal Chelia, about 7638 feet high from sea-level are seen. Before over a thousand years, al-Mahdi had foretold that these mountains were rich with hidden treasures. In Jabal Chelia including Mount Aures and Mount Titeri in Algeria, the petroleum was discovered in 1956, and natural gas in 1980. It is estimated that the natural gas fields are among the world's largest known reserves at 35 trillion cubic feet, and estimate of oil reserves runs as high as 12 billion barrels.

Ismaili History 507 - Foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate

Al-Mahdi rode into Raqada in triumph wearing dark silk clothes with a matching turban. Riding behind him, his son wore a similar ensemble in organge silk. Abu Abdullah wore mulberry-coloured clothes, a linen tunic, a turban and a scarf. The caravan of al-Mahdi arrived in Raqada on 20th Rabi II, 297/January 6, 910 and laid the foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate. All the notables, both Arabs and non-Arabs without exception and many other people came out to receive him. He took oath of allegiance from them. He assumed power and ordered his name mentioned in the khutba and inscribed on coins. He began to develop the barren land of Maghrib he dominated. He imposed the Islamic laws, enforcing strictly in the prohibition of forbidden food and drink, and punishing severely those who tried to practice freedom in it. Rebelp

Ismaili History 508 - Rebellion of Abul Abbas

During the first few months of his rule, al-Mahdi began to consolidate all powers to himself and made drastic changes, especially the financial cells. Previously, Abu Abdullah reserved the gains for the Katama soldiers, but al-Mahdi stripped the fortunes they had gained in the battles. Abul Abbas, the brother of Abu Abdullah, however did not acquiesce but began to criticize al-Mahdi's actions and even did not like the whole power in the hands of al-Mahdi. Qadi Noman states that when Abul Abbas had been made a deputy leader at Raqada, he had acquired a taste for power and was therefore resentful of being compelled to surrender his authority to al-Mahdi and to be merely his subordinate. He exploited the discontent of the Katama chiefs who were losing power under the new administration of al-Mahdi. He also began to instigate his brother, Abu Abdullah and eventually convinced him to some extent to confront al-Mahdi.
It is recounted that once Abu Abdullah dared to suggest al-Mahdi to sit aside with all honours, while he would run the affairs of his state for him in a way that was suitable to the people, for he had known the people for a long time and was aware of their needs and how they should be treated. This gesture warned al-Mahdi of the change that had taken place in Abu Abdullah's character and stand. He however pretended to confess his advice and gave him a gentle answer. When Abu Abdullah wavered in his absolute loyalty, al-Mahdi did not waste much time in eliminating him. Al-Mahdi had his spies planted where both brothers met, and ultimately, both of them were killed on 15th Jamada II, 298/February 18, 911. Al-Mahdi offered the funeral service of Abu Abdullah to glorify his outstanding services and said: 'Abu Abdullah was caught in delusion. The real traitor was Abul Abbas.'

The executions of Abu Abdullah and Abul Abbas were soon followed by a riot of the Katama tribe which took place immediately after the funeral. Al-Mahdi was not at all frightened and mounted his horse, boldly rode out among the excited crowds and with that personal courage and valour characterized him, told to the rioters, according to 'Iftitahu'd-Dawa' (p. 267) by Qadi Noman that: 'O'people, you know the status of Abu Abdullah and Abul Abbas in Islam, but satan misguided them, resulting them being deserved for killing. I give you all the security of lives.' After hearing this, the people dispersed.

Dr. Zahid Ali (1888-1958), who is not favourably deposed towards the Fatimids, writes however, about al-Mahdi in his 'Tarikh-i Fatimiyyin Misr' (Karachi, 1963, 2nd ed., 1st. vol., p. 134) that, 'If al-Mahdi had not acted wisely and determinedly at that time to quell revolt of Abul Abbas and Abu Abdullah, the Fatimid state would have disappeared for ever. It was he who made the foundation of the Fatimid dynasty so strong that it could last for nearly two hundred and fifty years. He did not remain content with the territory he got, he expanded its frontiers upto the Black Sea by conquering other parts of Africa. He vanquished the Idrisids and also tried to conquer Egypt but did not succeed. He strengthened his naval fleet thereby increasing the Fatimid marine power so much that it could compete with Byzantine, the strongest naval power of that period. He devised proper administrative measures for every department which resulted in peace in every corner of his country.'

Ismaili History 509 - The origin of the Qarmatians

It has been observed that a group of Mubarakiyya in Kufa among the Ismaili orbit believed in the Mahdism of Imam Muhammad bin Ismail, anticipating his return, which had never been promulgated by the official dawa. Granted that it was the propaganda of the Ismaili dawa, there would hardly be a place left for the Imams for them in the line of Muhammad bin Ismail. This small Ismaili group was expecting the return of the Imam, and a dai Hussain al-Ahwazi had also a leaning towards them. He had gone to southern Iraq for propaganda and procured large converts.
Nuwayri (677-732/1279-1332) writes in 'Nihayat al-Arab' (ed. M. Jabir A. al-Hini, Cairo, 1984, p. 189) that, 'Hussain al-Ahwazi also converted Hamdan bin al-Ash'ath al-Qarmati to Ismailism in 261/874.' Hamdan al-Qarmat started to reveal Ismaili doctrines and the return of Muhammad bin Ismail to the villagers and brought them in the fold of Ismailism. When Hussain al-Ahwazi died, Hamdan al-Qarmat continued his mission with his brother-in-law Abdan bin al-Rabit as his deputy. He increased his influence among the Arab and Nibati tribes in Kufa and appointed Abdan bin al-Rabit and Zikrawayh bin Mihrawayh as his assistants.

The southern Iraqian term karmitha or karmutha, unknown to Arabic elsewhere, implied an agriculturist or a villager. Later on, it was arabicised into qarmat or qarmatuya which has different meanings. In Arabic the root qarmat means 'to walk' or 'make short steps' and thence 'to write closely' etc. Another view suggests that it was an Aramaic nickname, meaning 'short-legged' or 'red-eyed', since Hamdan possessed both peculiarities, therefore, he was widely known as Hamdan al-Qarmat. The converts of Hamdan al-Qarmat also became known as 'Qarmatians' - a regional identity of a group of the Ismailis in southern Iraq.

Hamdan al-Qarmat maintained correspondence with the Ismaili dais at the headquarters in Salamia, and was quite unknown about the hidden Imams of the era of concealment. In 286/899, Hamdan received a direct letter from Imam al-Mahdi from Salamia, suggesting certain changes. He became surprised to receive a letter from an Imam, and consequently, he sent his envoy Abdan to Salamia to investigate. It was only at Salamia that Abdan found that al-Mahdi had succeeded to the Imamate, following the death of Imam Radi Abdullah. Abdan interviewed with the Imam without procuring result. He returned back and reported to Hamdan al-Qarmat that instead of the Mahdiship of Muhammad bin Ismail, the new leader claimed the Imamate for himself in the line of Muhammad bin Ismail.

Hamdan, thus considered it as drastic deviations, and assembled his subordinate dais, and renounced his allegiance from the central leadership of Salamia and officially abjured Ismailism. He also ordered his dais to suspend the mission in their respective districts. Soon afterwards, Hamdan went to Kalwadha, near Baghdad and was never heard of again. Abdan was also murdered in 286/899 at the instigation of Zikrawayh. Soon, however, Isa bin Musa, a nephew of Abdan, rose to lead the Qarmatians, and they were subdued by the Abbasid commander, Harun bin Gharib.

Finally, the leadership came to the hands of Zikrawayh, who dispatched his three sons, viz. Yahya, Hussain and Ali to Syria. They seized Hams, Hammah etc., and marched towards Salamia, where Imam al-Mahdi resided. Tabari (d. 310/922) in his 'Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l Muluk'(ed. de Goeje, Leiden, 1879-1901, 3rd vol., p. 2226) simply writes the rise of Zikrawayh around 289/901 and their massacre in 290/902. They killed many relatives of the Imam and sacked the town, taking away treasures of the Imam. Al-Mahdi had left Salamia before the coming of the Qarmatians. Finally, the Abbasid forces reached Salamia and subdued their rising. Yahya and Ali had been killed in the encounter, and Hussain was taken prisoner and beheaded in Baghdad. When Zikrawayh knew the death of his sons, he proceeded towards Kufa and captured Basra, and threatened the Abbasids near Baghdad. He was also repulsed in 294/906, causing an end of the Qarmatian power in Iraq and Syria.

Ismaili History 510 - The Qarmatians in Bahrain

The Qarmatians also penetrated into Bahrain by the efforts of Abu Sa'id al-Hasan bin Bahram al-Jannabi, who was born in Jannaba on the coast of Fars. He was trained by Abdan in Kufa, and Hamdan al-Qarmat sent him to Bahrain in 281/894. By 286/899, with the support of the clan of Rabi of Abdul Qafs, Abu Sa'id had brought under submission a large part of Bahrain and also captured Qatif. According to Ibn Hawakal, the leader of the Qarmatians in Bahrain, Abu Sa'id al-Jannabi took the part of Hamdan al-Qarmat and Abdan. In 287/900, the Qarmatians acquired control of Hajar, the seat of the Abbasid governor. The Abbasid caliph Mutadid (d. 289/902) sent an army of 2000 men against them, but were defeated. In 290/903, Hajar was finally subdued after a long siege laid by Abu Sa'id. He established his headquarters at al-Ahsa (or al-Lahsa), which became the capital of the Jannabid rule of the Qarmatians of Bahrain in 314/926.
Bernard Lewis writes in 'The Origins of Ismailism' (London, 1940, p. 76) that, 'The Carmathians of Behrain seem, according to the accounts of most of our sources, to constitute a separate movement, differing in several important aspects from other sections of the Ismaili dawa. They had separate leaders of their own, a distinct local tradition and history.' Abu Sa'id was killed in 301/914 after ruling for fifteen years. He was succeeded by his son, Abul Kassim, who ruled for three years, and was killed by his younger brother Abu Tahir in a revolt in 304/916. Abu Tahir was a deadly enemy of the Abbasids, therefore, he started his political correspondence with the Fatimids in Maghrib. He executed a verbal undertaking with the Fatimids, which was absolutely a political pact. Accordingly, when al-Qaim, the son of Imam al-Mahdi launched a campaign of Egypt in 307/919 from Maghrib, the Qarmatians were to reach opposite direction of Egypt to put a pressure on the Egyptian army. Before the arrival of Abu Tahir at that location, al-Qaim had returned from his place to Maghrib after getting loss. Abu Tahir however reached late and returned to Bahrain. Henceforward, the above political pact between them practically became annulled.

In 317/929, the Qarmatians had spread down in Hijaz, and flooded Mecca and Kaba with the blood of pilgrims under the command of Abu Tahir. They made it a scene of fire, blood and repine for 17 days. It must be known that the Qarmatians had been severely and rigorously condemned by the Fatimids for not complying with the pact and reached late at the Egyptian border. In reprisal, the Qarmatians moved to discredit the Fatimids and recited the Fatimid khutba in place of the Abbasid in Hijaz during their horrible operations, so as to misguide the Muslims that their barbarian operations were directed by the Fatimids. The Qarmatians choked up the sacred spring of Zamzam, the door of the Kaba was broken open, the veil covering the Kaba was torn down, and the sacred Black Stone was removed from the Kaba and taken to their headquarters at Hajar. The Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi was highly shocked to hear this sacrilegious operation and wrote a reproachful letter to Abu Tahir, reprehending him severely for his evilish conduct. Reproaching Abu Tahir, al-Mahdi had written a letter to him. According to 'al-Nufudh al-Fatimid fi bilad al-Sham wa'l Iraq' (Cairo, 1950, p. 36), the letter reads: 'It is a contemptible matter that you have committed a grave sin under my name. Where did you commit? You have committed in the House of God and its neighbours. This is a sacred place, where the murder was unlawful even in the age of ignorance; and the defamation of the people living in Mecca is considered inhuman. You have violated that tradition, and even rooted out the Black Stone, and brought it to your land; and now you expect that I may express my gratitude? God curse you, and be again accursed and execrable. May peace be upon him (Prophet Muhammad), whose sayings and deeds are the source of the integrity of the Muslims, who may be ready to answer hereafter what they have committed today.' It must be pointed out that the letter of al-Mahdi as cited by Ibn Khallikan (1st vol., p. 427) is absolutely distorted and interpolated for the purpose of throwing the odium of sacrilege on al-Mahdi too.

In the meantime, Begkem (d. 326/941), the amir of Baghdad offered the Qarmatians a reward of 50,000 dinars to restore the sacred stone, which was refused. But the letter of al-Mahdi was more effectual than Begkem's proffered ransom. Abu Tahir apologized and promised to return the Black Stone to its original place in Kaba. It however remained in Hajar for 22 years, and was returned in 339/950 by the then Qarmatian chief, Ahmad bin Mansur. When they restored the Black Stone, they first carried it to Kufa and hung it up in the mosque for public inspection; and then they bore it to Mecca. Nasir Khusaro (d. 481/1088) had visited al-Ahsa in 443/1051 and relates the above event in his 'Safar-nama' (tr. by W.M. Thackston, New York, 1986, pp. 88-89) that, 'One of the rulers (of al-Ahsa) attacked Mecca and killed a number of people who were circumambulating the Kaba at the time. They removed the Black Stone from its corner and took it to Lahsa. They said that the Stone was a 'human magnet' that attracted people, not knowing that it was the nobility and magnificence of Muhammad (peace be on him) that drew people there, for the Stone had laid there for long ages without anyone paying any particular attention to it. In the end, the Black Stone was brought back and returned to its place.'

Abu Tahir died in 332/944 and had made a will of succession for his elder brother, Ahmad Abu Tahir. Some also supported Sabur, the son of Abu Tahir; therefore, it was mutually resolved that Ahmad Abu Tahir would rule with Sabur as his successor. Sabur however rebelled in vain against his uncle in 358/969; but himself was arrested and executed. Ahmad Abu Tahir was poisoned in 359/970, and his elder brother Abul Kassim Sa'id also died after ruling for two years. In 361/972, Abu Yaqub Yousuf, the brother of Ahmad Abu Tahir began to rule until 366/977. Henceforward, the Qarmatian state of Bahrain came to be ruled jointly by six grandsons of Abu Sa'id, known as al-sada al- ru'asa.

Ismaili History 511 - Decline of the Qarmatians

Meanwhile, Hasan al-A'sam, the son of Ahmad Abu Tahir and a nephew of Abu Tahir, had become the commander of the Qarmatian forces, who was usually selecting to lead the Qarmatians in their military campaigns outside Bahrain. In 357/968, Hasan al-A'sam had taken Damascus after defeating Hasan bin Ubaidullah bin Tughj, the Ikhshidid governor of Syria. The Qarmatians also sacked Ramla and took vast riches and returnced to Bahrain. About three months following the Fatimid conquest of Egypt, a Qarmatian force, commanded by al-A'sam's cousin, again came to Damascus and defeated Hasan bin Ubaidullah, the Ikhshidid governor of Syria. Finally, a peace treaty had been concluded between them, and according to which, the Ikhshidid agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Qarmatians. In 359/970, a large Fatimid force commanded by Jafar bin Falah was sent to conquer Syria. The Ikhshidid governor, Hasan bin Ubaidullah sought necessary help from the Qarmatians. Jafar bin Falah attacked at full gallop and defeated the joint forces of the Ikhshidid and the Qarmatians near Ramla. Hasan bin Ubaidullah was taken prisoner. The Fatimid conquered Syria, resulting the loss of the tribute to the Qarmatians being paid to them previously by the Ikhshidids. This is cited as the main cause for the invasion of the Qarmatians on Syria next year.

In 360/970, being helped by the Buwahid Izz ad-Dawla Bakhtiyar (356-367/967-978) and the Hamdanid Abu Taghlib of Mosul, the Qarmatian commander, Hasan al-A'sam captured Damascus and Ramla, having defeated the Fatimids and killed Jafar bin Falah in battle. Hasan al- A'sam, who had also allied himself with the Abbasids, proclaimed the suzerainty of the Abbasids in Syria and had Imam al-Muizz cursed in the mosques of Damascus.

In 361/971, Hasan al-A'sam marched towards Egypt and reached near the gates of Cairo, but he was turned back by the Fatimids, and was obliged to retreat to al-Ahsa, but Damascus remained in the hands of the Qarmatians. In 363/974, after coming to Cairo, Imam al-Muizz wrote a letter to Hasan al-A'sam, stating the dignity of Ahl-al-Bait and his own excellence. He also recalled the early relations of the Qarmatians with the Ismailis, and also warned him to refrain from his attacks. Hasan al-A'sam took no heed of al-Muizz's reproach, and made his letter public and denounced the Fatimids. He entered Egypt in 363/974 for the second time, and went as far as Ayn Shams and besieged Cairo, and took possession of the moat. The defeat of the Fatimid force on that occasion would have been inevitable had al-Muizz not won over to his side one of the allies of the Qarmatians, named Hasan bin Jarrah, who abandoned in the thick of the fight. Hasan al-A'sam was defeated and retreated, and died at Ramla in 366/977. His cousin Jafar took charge of the Qarmatians. In 368/978, Imam al-Aziz himself took field and subdued Iftagin and the Qarmatians near Ramla. The Qarmatians agreed to a peace. Henceforward, the Qarmatians of Bahrain were reduced to a local power. Most of the Qarmatians reverted to their original Ismaili faith, and left Bahrain and settled as isolated families in Oman, Muscat, Gwadar and Makran. The rest of the power of the Qarmatians declined when the Buwahids inflicted two heavy defeats in 375/985. In 378/988, the Qarmatians suffered another humiliating defeat at the hands of al-Asfar, the chief of the clan of Muntafiq, and after that, the Qarmatians almost disappeared from history. Silvestre de Sacy writes in his 'Memoir on the dynasty of the Assassins' (Paris, 1818, p. 5) that he had learnt from books of the Druze that the Qarmatians were still ruling in al-Ahsa in 422/1031. We also learn from the 'Safar-nama' (pp. 87-89) of Nasir Khusaro (d. 481/1088), who was at al-Ahsa in 443/1051 that the Qarmatians were ruling under a council of six descendants of Abu Sa'id, assisted by six vizirs, in the line of Ibn Sanbar. He also writes that the Friday prayers and other rites such as fasting were not observed at al-Ahsa, where all mosques had been closed. Around 450/1058, a certain Abul Bahlul al- Awwam of the tribe of Abdul Qays, aided by his brother Abul Walid Muslim, rebelled against the Qarmatian governor of Uwal. In the following year, the rebels defeated a Qarmatian fleet, and Qatif was snatched from them very soon. The Qarmatians were then threatened by Abdullah bin Ali al-Uyuni, the chief of the clan of Mura bin Amir of Abdul Qays, who rose against them in 462/1070 and defeated the Qarmatians and laid siege over al-Ahsa for seven years. Assisted by a force of Turkoman horsemen sent from the Abbasids, Abdullah bin Ali al-Uyuni seized al-Ahsa in 469/1076. He decisively subdued the Qarmatians in 470/1077, putting a definite end to the Qarmatian state of Bahrain, and founded a local rule of the Uyunids in eastern Arabia.

Ismaili History 512 - The Ismailis and the Qarmatians

It must be known that some historians have tried to establish as fact that the Qarmatians and the Ismailis constituted one and the same movement, and some have tried to prove the contrary. Ibn Rizam, an anti-Ismaili pamphleteer of the first half of the fourth/tenth century had wrongly woven stories of the Ismailis and Qarmatians, to which S.M. Stern writes in 'Studies in Early Ismailism' (Jerusalem, 1983, p. 295) that, 'One might regard this account which derives after all from a pamphleteer whose aim was to blacken the reputation of the Fatimid, with some suspicion.' Historian Nuwayri (d. 732/1332) also poured unbelievable stuff, whose primary purpose was to provide entertaining reading and cared less than anything for the truth. It is however curious to note a general tendency in the Sunnite and Shiite sources, when referring to the Ismailis, often erroneously call them Qarmatians without perception of the distinction between them. The Qarmatians have been discredited invariably as the extremist and opportunistically nihilist, and their extreme activities have been wrongly conflated with the Ismailis. Syed Abid Ali writes in 'Political Theory of the Shiites' (cf. 'A History of Muslim Philosophy', ed. by M.M. Sharif, Germany, 1963, 1st. vol., p. 738) that, 'The Carmathian sect is not confused with the Ismailites, as the latest research has established beyond any doubt: it is the term 'Ismailite' which is indicative of the true origin of the sect, other appellations being either misleading or based on hostility to this sect in general and to orthodox Shiites in particular.' He also writes, 'At this juncture, it is perhaps expedient to state in the most explicit terms that the Carmathians were not associated with the Ismailis, nor were they identical with them as it is sometimes wrongly supposed.' (Ibid., p. 741). S.M. Stern also writes in 'Studies in Early Ismailism' (Jerusalem, 1983, pp. 289-290) that, 'It is true that the movement to which both names (Ismailis and Qarmatians) are applied was at one moment in its history broken by a schism, and that the name 'Qarmatian' was predominantly used in respect of the Qarmatians of Bahrayn, who were at variance with the main body of the Ismaili movement; yet even then the term 'Qarmatian' was not exclusively reserved for them and was often used - usually in a derogatory sense - to denote any Ismaili.... The early Ismailis were seldom so denominated by their contemporaries, being called instead by such names as Qarmatians or Batinis. They themselves seem to have designated their movement simply by the name 'the mission', al-dawa, or more formally 'the right-guided mission', al-dawa al-hadiya; thus 'to be converted to Ismailism' would be rendered by them as 'to enter the mission', dakhala'l-dawa. (Ibid. pp. 289-90)
Returning the thread of our narrative, it is seen that al-Mahdi had to deal with the Berber tribes who were enraged by the death of Abu Abdullah. He also invaded Morocco in 309/921 and got an end of the Idrisid dynasty. He also captured Sicly and extended his rule throughout North Africa.

Ismaili History 513 - Fatimids influence in Sicily

Sicily (Italian Sicilia) is an island, covering an area of 9830 square miles. It is separated from Italy by the narrow strait of Messina, wherefrom it is about 2 miles from the toe of the Italian mainland. On the south-east it is about 90 miles from Cape Bon in Tunisia. Being a trangular in shape, it was given the name of Trinacria or Triquetra in ancient times. Following the fall of the Roman empire in 476 A.D., Sicily was occupied by the Ostrogoths. By the middle of the 6th century, it came under the rule of the Byzantine emperor. In 212/827, the Muslims captured the island, which became their cultural centre.
The Aghlabids had seized Sicily from the Byzantines in 264/878, which was inherited by the Fatimids. The Byzantines however had continued to retain the occupation of Calabria in southern Italy. Sicily was thickly populated by Lombards, Greeks, Arabs and Berbers. The first reported Fatimid governor of Sicily was Ibn Abil Fawaris. Soon afterwards in 297/910, he was replaced by Hasan bin Ahmad, also known as Ibn Abi Khinzir. He raided the southern Italian coasts in 298/911 and also in the following year against the pirates and brought rich booty. In 299/912, the Arabs and the Berbers rebelled against him in Palermo and Girgenti due to his severity. It was al- Mahdi to have suppressed the uprisings diplomatically and appointed Ali bin Umar al-Balawi. The Sicilians opposed the new appointment and chose Ibn Qurhub as their own governor. Ibn Qurhub was against the Fatimids and declared his support to the Abbasid caliph al- Muqtadir (295-320/908-932). Later, the Berbers of Girgenti, joined by the inhabitants of other parts of Sicily, revolted against Ibn Qurhub, who was taken prisoner and sent to al-Mahdi, who had him executed. After this short interval of political cataclysm, Sicily again reverted to the Fatimid domain, though the political troubles continued to erupt on the island.

Ismaili History 514 - Expedition against Italy

The early Fatimid used Sicily as a base for launching raids against the coastal towns of Italy and France, including the islands of the western Mediterranean; and also continued to be engaged in war and diplomacy with the Byzantines.
The first reported raid against the south of Italian peninsula took place in 306/918. The Fatimid troops captured Reggio. The second incursion was launched from Mahdiya in the summer of 310/922. With a fleet of 20 galleys, the Fatimid officer Masud bin Ghalib al-Wusuli took possession of the fortress of St. Agatha. Two years later, Jafar bin Ubaid, known as Suluk, led the third expedition, with Palermo as his starting point. He captured Bruzzano and Oria and returned to Mahdiya with vast riches. The resounding success of this campaign had the effect of inducing the Byzantines to conclude a treaty with the Fatimids. But the annual tribute agreed for Calabria was slow to reach Mahdiya and hostilities resumed in 315/927. Continuing until 318/930 under the command of Sabir, the Fatimid incursions proceeded victoriously against Tarento, Salerno, Naples and Termoli. Eventually the tribute was paid and the treaty resumed in force until the death of al-Mahdi. According to 'The Encyclopaedia of Islam' (Leiden, 1986, 5th vol., p. 1244), 'Byzantium allowed the Fatimid sovereign to subjugate Apulia and Calabria and to reinforce the supremacy of Islam in Sicily.'

Ismaili History 515 - Expeditions against Egypt

The period under our review is noted for the Ismaili dais to have launched a brisk and pervasive mission in Egypt, where most of the officials and nobles had espoused Ismailism and entered into correspondence with al-Mahdi in Maghrib. Hence, Egypt offered an easier prey and to invade it was indubitably a less perilous enterprise. In 301/913, a powerful force commanded by his son, al-Qaim had been dispatched by land, and a fleet of 200 ships under Hubasa bin Yousuf against Alexandria. The Egyptian governor could not resist and acquired reinforcement from the Abbasids. Initially, the course of the expedition proceeded in al-Qaim's favour, but after capturing Alexandria, he failed before Fustat, and not being capable confrounting the Egyptian army reinforced from Baghdad under the command of Munis, he retracted his steps towards Maghrib.
In 307/919, al-Mahdi returned to the attack with a second expedition commanded again by his son. This project at first progressed favourably as the preceding with the capture of Alexandria and the occupation of Fayyum. But when the Fatimid fleet encountered disater at Rosetta due to the shortage of supplies, and the battles before Fustat turned to the advantage of the troops of Munis, al-Qaim was forced for the second time to retreat and returned to Maghrib. This time the Abbasid ships were manned by experienced Greek mariners. In sum, both invasions procured no result, but Barqa remained however in Fatimid's occupation.

Al-Mahdi seems to have organised, shortly before his death, a third expedition against Egypt. In fact, this third attemp took place in 323/935 at the beginning of the reign of his successor, al-Qaim.

Ismaili History 516 - Foundation of al-Mahdiya

In 301/914, al-Mahdi founded a new city on the coast near Kairwan and gave to it the name of al-Mahdiya, that served as the Fatimid capital for some generations. The site selected on the Gulf of Gabes, between Susa and Sfax on a small peninsula with a narrow neck just into the sea for nearly a mile in length and less than 500 yards in breath, which terminates the cape of Africa. It was the 'town of Africa' of the European historians of the Middle Ages. The landscape of the new city was like a hand stretching out onto the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There were only two entrances of castles, mosques, fortresses and warehouses and the fortification along the shore consisted of a thick wall barrier. The reflection of light and the imagery of waves on the rocks are unimaginable. There were 16 towers of which 8 belonged to the original foundation and another 8 were added in a later period.
The official inauguration of the new capital was pushed forward to 8th Shawal, 308/February 20, 921. Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi composed a poem in 308/921 in 'Bayan al-Maghrib' (Leiden, 1948, 1st vol., p. 184) for al-Mahdi to celebrate his arrival in the new capital, whose few couplets are given as under:-

Congratulations, O magnanimous prince,
For your arrival on which time smiles.
It is al-Mahdiya, the sacred, the protected,
Just as the sacred places are in Tihama.
As if your footprints make it,
The Maqam Ibrahim when there is no maqam (station).
O Mahdi, Dominion is itself a servant to you,
Served by time itself.
The world is yours and your progeny's wherever you are.
In it all of you will always be Imam.

The population soon grew rapidly, therefore, a second city had to be built nearby, to which al-Mahdi gave the name of Zawila.
Mahdiya retained its originality with eye-catching architecture for over 600 years, but it had been decayed by the European ruler. The Spanish historian L. del Marmol Carajal, who was present when the entire fortifications were blown up by Charles V in 1553, vide 'Descripcion general de Affrica' (Granda, 1573, 2nd vol., p. 270).

Ismaili History 517 - Fatimids ship-building

Al-Mahdi also built an impressive shipyard which soon enabled the Fatimids to create a powerful fleet. The Fatimid set up ship-building factory, and yards were opened in Tunis. In 303/915, a big dock was constructed by digging out a hill on the coast of the Mediterranean, making a surface area of about 8250 square meters, so that 200 battle ships might be kept in reserve there. These ships were called shini and were so big that one of them required 143 oars to move it. It had a gate and a lock that could be closed.

To maintain the stability of the empire, connecting with different parts by sea-routes, the Fatimid gave due attention in the nautical progress. Yaqut (575-626/1179-1229) writes in 'Mu'ajam al-Buldan' (comp. 625/1228) that, 'The most renowned port of Maghrib was Mahdiya. Its dock was cut out of solid rock. It was a capacious dock, and could harbour thirty ships at once. On both sides of the port there lay big chains, which were opened when a ship came in.' Makrizi (1363-1442) writes in his 'al-Khitat' (3rd vol., p. 320) that the Fatimids were the first to start mock fights at sea in the world. The Fatimid admirals also developed the techniques of attacking ships with fire-throwers which the English employed five centuries later when they routed the Spanish Armada.

Ismaili History 518 - Mission in Khorasan

The Ismaili mission was carried on in Khorasan around the last decade of the 3rd century/903-913 by Abu Abdullah al-Khadim, who stayed in Nishapur as the first chief dai of Khorasan. He was executed during the governorship of Abu Bakr bin Muhtaj (321-327/933-939), and was succeeded around 307/919 by Abu Sa'id al-Sha'rani, who was sent by al-Mahdi from Maghrib. He was followed by Hussain bin Ali al-Marwazi, who transferred his seat from Nishapur to Marw al-Rudh.

The Ismaili dawa was so pervasive in Khorasan that Nizam al-Mulk, an anti-observer, in fact, noticed that there existed an identifiable Ahl Khorasan among the Ismailis. Al-Marwazi is reputed in the annals of the Samanid dynasty, and during the rule of Ahmad bin Ismail (295-301/907-914), he commanded the Samanid forces in Sijistan in 298/910. In 300/913, al-Marwazi led the Samanid forces in Sijistan for the second time, and returned to Bukhara in the same year. Abu Zaid Balkhi (235-322/850-934) compiled his 'Suwar al-Aqalim' in 308/920, and makes mention of Hussain bin Ali al-Marwazi and his brother Muhammed Suluk, when the author visited his birthplace, Balkh in 301/914. Abu Zaid Balkhi also writes his close relation with al-Marwazi and the regular material assistance he acquired from him.

It is said that al-Marwazi hoped to be appointed governor of Sijistan due to his valuable services, but was disappointed. After the death of Ahmad bin Ismail and the accession of Nasr bin Ahmad in 301/914, al-Marwazi paid his allegiance to Mansur bin Ishaq, the cousin of Ahmad bin Ismail in Herat. Al-Marwazi extended his influence in Nishapur, but soon he had to return to Herat, and subsequently he again went to Nishapur and captured it. The Samanid commander, Ahmad bin Sahl (306-307/918-919) was sent against him, who took Herat and gave battle to al-Marwazi before Marw al-Rudh in 306/918. This time al-Marwazi was defeated due to shortage of supplies, and was taken prisoner to Bukhara, where he was imprisoned. He was released with the intervention of vizir al-Jayhani. After being pardoned and spending some time at Samanid court, he returned to Khorasan to organize the mission works, where he spent rest of his life.

Ismaili History 519 - Turbulences in Yamen

Yamen was an original plant and a vital zone of the Fatimid mission under the able and loyal headship of Ibn Hawshab. In 291/904, however, his close associate, Ali bin Fazal al-Jadani had shown signs of disloyalty, and in 299/911, he publicly renounced his allegiance to al-Mahdi. It must be noted that in Egypt, when al-Mahdi decided to go to Maghrib instead of Yamen in 291/904, the daiFiruz also gave up Ismaili faith and fled to Yamen, and instigated a revolt. He won the support of Ali bin Fazal. Subsequently, Firuz was killed and Ali bin Fazal endeavoured unsuccessfully to coerce the collaboration of Ibn Hawshab. The death of Ibn Hawshab took place in 303/914, and had made a will to his son Abul Hasan Mansur and his pupil Abdullah bin Abbas al-Shawiri to administer the mission in Yamen till an official appointment of a new chief dai by al-Mahdi. Upon his death, al-Shawiri had sent a letter to al-Mahdi, reporting the death of Ibn Hawshab, and requesting for any chief dai instead. In a reply, al-Mahdi confirmed the post of al-Shawiri as a chief dai. Jafar, the son of Ibn Hawshab was alone among his brothers to demonstrate his loyalty to the Fatimids, but his elder brother, Abul Hasan Mansur, who was expecting to succeed his father, had defected from the mission, and returned to his castles in Miswar, where he was joined by his brothers. Jafar, noticing the inimical intentions of his brothers towards al-Shawiri, tried to persuade that a quarrel would only lead to impair the Ismaili influence in Yamen. In spite of this warning, Abul Hasan Mansur waited for his opportunity, and killed al-Shawiri and took the dominions. Jafar immediately went to Maghrib, where he reached when al-Mahdi had expired in 322/934. Imam al-Qaim charged him the mission work in Maghrib, where he also served Imam al-Mansur and Imam al-Muizz, and was commonly known as Jafar bin Mansur al-Yamen.
It must be known that Ishaq bin Imran, known as Summ Sa'a, a pioneer physician-philosopher had introduced high standard of medical education and practice at the beginning of the Fatimid period. In view of his great ability, intellegiance and independent spirit, he influenced professional development through out Maghrib. His widely known and eloquent student was Abu Yaqub bin Suleman, who managed to become the personal physician of Abu Abdullah and continued his service at the Fatimid court with al-Mahdi, and died in 320/932 at Kairwan. His medical works were among the first to be translated into Latin, the task being accomplished by Constantine the African about 1080. His works exercised much influence on western medieval medicine, and were still being read in the 17th century. Robert Burton (1577-1680) quotes them freely in his 'Anatomy of Melancholy.' Ibn Suleman's medical works included 'al-Hummayat' on fevers, which was translated into Latin and Hebrew in Europe. His another work 'Aqawil fi taba'i al-Aghdhiya wal Adwiya' deals on diet and drug. And above all, his treatise on urine dominated medicine for many centuries. Very remarkable is his small tract, extant in Hebrew translation only, called 'Guide for Physicians.' It shows a high ethical conception of the medical profession.

The medico-pharmaceutical contribution in Maghrib under al-Mahdi reached their highest expression in the works of Abu Jafar bin al- Jazzar (905-984) in Kairwan. He was the student of Ibn Suleman. He used to go to Manastir, a town in Tunisia, where, next to his regular clinic, he erected a cabin as an apothecary shop, wherein he kept his syrups, electuries etc. His chief work, 'Provision for the Traveller' was early translated into Latin as the 'Viaticum', Greek 'Ephodia' and Hebrew.

Ismaili History 520 - Death of al-Mahdi

Having laid a firm foundation for Fatimid rule in Maghrib, extending from Morocco to the borders of Egypt, al-Mahdi died on 15th Rabi I, 322/February 22, 934 at the age of 61 years, 5 months and 3 days. F. Dachraoui writes in his article in 'Encyclopaedia of Islam' (1985, 5th vol., p. 1244) that, 'Mahdi had the skill and energy to conduct moderate but firm policies within his provinces, and to wage tireless warfare beyond his frontiers to affirm the right of the descendants of Fatima to lead the Muslim world. Thus, under his rule, the Fatimid empire embarked successfully on the first phase of its long history.'