Ismaili History 539 - Conditions of the Maghrib

It must be remembered that before embarking on his historic journey from Maghrib to Egypt in 361/972, Imam al-Muizz had appointed Buluggin bin Ziri, the amir of the Sanhaja tribe, as the governor of Maghrib, and invested him the honorific name, Abul Futuh Yousuf. He was vested with the governorship of all the Fatimid dominions in the west, except for Kalbid Sicily and for Tripoli. Later on, Buluggin moved from Ashir to Kairwan, where he founded the Zirid dynasty (361-543/972-1148). He was succeeded by his son, Mansur (373-386/984- 996), who fought with the Katama tribe and began to detach from the Fatimids. He also expelled the persons from different key posts being appointed by al-Aziz in Maghrib. It is related that al-Aziz deputed a dai Abul Fahm Hasan bin Nasr in Maghrib to collect the informations and report him back. Mansur arrested and put him to death. Al-Aziz however tried to cope with the situation of the Maghrib very politely. The Zirid ruler Mansur was succeeded by his son, Badis (386-406/996-1016), who had procured his close ties with Imam al- Hakim. The fourth Zirid ruler, al-Muizz bin Badis had however renounced the suzerainty of the Fatimids in 436/1044.

Jawhar conquered Syria in 359/969, making Jafar bin Falah as a governor. When al-Muizz was in Cairo, a Turkish commander Iftagin, under the Buwahids defeated the Fatimid governor of Damascus, and started the Abbasid khutba. Al-Muizz had offered him to come in Cairo, but Iftagin declined it, and as a result, al-Muizz took field against him, but died at Balbis. Iftagin sacked Syria, thus 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 seige, because his supplies were running short, and went to Ramla, then returned to Cairo and reported to al-Aziz. This time al-Aziz 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. Al-Aziz announced a reward for one lac dinar for capturing Iftagin. Ironically, Iftagin was caught by one of his friends and brought before al-Aziz. 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 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 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.

Al-Aziz however retained Bekjur's governorship in Damascus, but was expelled later in 378/988. He persuaded al-Aziz 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, 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 Umayyads of Spain, there had been cultural and commercial transactions between the two Muslim empires. During 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 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.