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Ismaili History 546 - End of Abul Futuh Barjawan

With his accession to power, Abul Futuh Barjawan had to face a number of problems. He however handled the situation, and endeavoured to get an end of it, or at least to lessen the rivalry between Maghriba and Mashriqa. In the appointment of key posts, he tried to create equality which would satisfy the average persons of both groups. He appointed Ismail bin Fahl al-Katami, a Maghriba chief as the governor of Tyre and Bushara al-Ikhshidi, a Mashriqa chief as the governor of Damascus. For the governor generalship of Syria and the supreme command of the Fatimid forces stationing there, he chose Jaysh ibn Samsama, a powerful Maghriba chief. He made an efficient Christian, Fahd bin Ibrahim al-Katib as his personal secretary and invested him the title of al-Rais (the master).

Barjawan now governed the state with unbounded authority. In 388/998, he gave his friends key posts: Khawad was made the head of the police in Egypt; Malik as the chief of navy, Maysur as the governor of Tripoli in Syria; Yamim, his own brother, as the governor of Askalan and Qayd as the chief of the police department in Cairo. He now began to take major decisions without Imam's consent. He wanted to make the Imam merely an ornamented figure in the palace, and bring him out to grace only in the state functions. He treated al-Hakim, even after his succession to the Caliphate, in the same manner in which he did previously, overlooking the fact that he was no longer a child. He treated al-Hakim as helpless child and did not allow him even to ride on horseback. Makrizi writes in 'Itti'az' (p. 390) that al-Hakim once said, 'Barjawan was extremely ill-mannered. I summoned him one day while we were riding on horseback. He came, putting his foot on the neck of his horse, and while I was speaking to him, the sole of his shoe was turned towards my face and he did not seem to think it was wrong. Incidents like this were so many that it would take a long time to mention them.' Ibn Muyassar in 'Akhbar al-Misr' (p. 56) and Makrizi in 'Khitat' (2nd vol., p. 4) consider such treatment as dictatorship (istibdad), causing al-Hakim's resentment which resulted his death.

Ibn Qalanisi (p. 51) writes that, 'Abul Fazal Raydan, the bearer of the royal parasol (mizalla), once said to al-Hakim, `Barjawan is planning to emulate the career of Malik Kafur (d. 357/968) and purposes to deal with you as Malik Kafur dealt with Ikhshidi's son by isolating you and eliminating yourn power. The right thing to do is his immediate murder and administer your state alone.' Al-Hakim replied, `If this is your opinion and advice, then I need your help.''

Barjawan was finally slain on 16th Rabi II, 390/March 25, 1000 by Abul Fazal Raydan, who carried out the murder with his associates in a place called Bustan Duwayrat al-Tin, a garden near the royal palace where Barjawan was walking with al-Hakim. Barjawan held his office for 2 years, 7 months and 29 days. In terms of wealth and power, Barjawan was typical of the top echclon of the ruling circles. Ibn Bassam (d. 542/1148) writes in 'al-Dhakhira fi Mahasin al-Jazira' (Cairo, 1945, p. 232) that after the death of Barjawan, an officer of central treasury found in his house: one hundred scarves (mandil) of different colours, one hundred another kind of scarves (sharabiya), one thousand pairs of trousers (sirwal), one Armenian silk (takka), an uncountable quantity of clothes, jewels, gold, perfumes and furniture, three hundred thousand dinars, one hundred and fifty horses and mules in his personal stable, three hundred pack horses and mules and a hundred and fifty saddles, twenty of which were pure gold.

Henceforward, Imam al-Hakim took over the power into hand at the age of fourteen years. Barjawan's execution provoked some apprehension among the people, but al-Hakim skillfully navigated the storm. He went out to the people and declared: 'I have been informed of an intrigue which Barjawan made against me, and for that I caused him to be executed.' Makrizi writes in 'Itti'az' (2nd vol., p. 27) that al-Hakim speaking before an assembly next day of state dignitaries (shuyukh ad-dawla), the leaders of Katama and Turks, said: 'Barjawan was my slave and I employed him. He acted in good faith and I treated him with favours. He then began to misbehave, so I killed him.' The death of Barjawan marks the beginning of the second period of al-Hakim's reign.

The period between 390/1000 and 396/1007 was critical because of famine and economical distress. There was also a general deterioration of economic and social life between 395/1004 and 411/1021 when most of the royal decrees (manshur) covering religious and social legislation were issued by al-Hakim. Vatikiotis writes in 'The Fatimid Theory of State' (Lahore, 1957, pp. 152-3) that, 'Although such legislation may have appeared maniacal to al-Hakim's contemporaries, it is astounding how modern historians, who could have conducted a more dispassionate investigation, have accepted such verdict. His forbidding extravagant spending in entertainments when the Nile was exceptionally low in 398/1008 and his fight against profiteering from high prices during the famine crisis are examples of sensible legislation for the public welfare. For example, his handling of thieves and vagrants was amazing and probably very effective at the time. A spy system to report thieves to the 'man' inside the 'sphinx' statue is commendable, if that were a way to stop hooliganism. In the evening, al-Hakim would hold open forum, where the merchants would report to the 'sphinx' the missing items from their stores. The latter would, through previous information, deliver the name of the robber. This seems an interesting and brilliant method of coping with vagrant thieves rampant in a period of depression. Al-Hakim no doubt understood the psychological power of miracles and their effect upon the masses.'

Hence, al-Hakim had to take drastic measures by pressure of circumstances. On account of his extreme measures to meet the challenges, he became a controversial figure. Historians have held different opinions for him. Abul Fida, Ibn Athir and Ibn Khallikan depict him as an heretic and wily tyrant. Prof. Hitti, on the other hand, defends him, and writes in 'The Origins of the Druze People and Religion' (New York, 1928, p. 27) that, 'The fact that al-Hakim introduced many reforms regulating weights and measures, fought immorality with police ordinances .... amidst a hostile milieu indicates that he was not the kind of maniac or fool whose biography these early writers have left us.'

It must be noted that Antaki and Ibn al-Sabi's records discrediting al-Hakim's personality should be treated with a degree of caution since both historians were aggressive to al-Hakim and lived in distant countries. Al-Hakim's so called cruelty may have been the result of the circumstances rather than the acts of a sadist, or were perhaps exaggerated according to the view of the hostile historians. He ascended when he was still a child and witnessed fierce struggle and rivalry for power among the high officials of his state. This may have created a sense of insecurity which led him to resort to so called cruelty as a tool of maintaining his power. Ibn al-Futi, who is quoted by Makrizi in 'Itti'az' (p. 411) suggests that, 'al-Hakim's cruelty was both part of his policy to abolish the corruption resulting from his father's great tolerance, and vengeance against those who oppose the Islamic law of the state.' In 'The Encyclopaedia of Islam' (Leiden, 1971, 3rd vol., p. 80), M. Canard writes that, 'It cannot, however, be said that his reign was particularly unfortunate for Egypt.'

Muhammad Abdullah al-Inan writes in his 'al-Hakim bi-Amrillah wa Asrar al-Dawa al-Fatimiya' (Cairo, 1937, p. 173) that, 'We are however unable to understand different political enigmas of al-Hakim, but it is beyond doubt that the ordinances and injunctions he imposed were not against the Islamic traditions to a little extent. These were also not the result of the whimsical thoughts, but based on the ordinary reformations of the state, therefore, the wisdom and strategy motivated behind them can never be ruled out.' Dozy also writes in the same vein in 'Essai sur l'historire de I'Islamism' (Leiden, 1879, p. 148) that, 'We fail to know the enigmatic personality of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, therefore, it is not plausible to draw a conclusion that these were the outcome of whimsical thoughts.'

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