Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.

Ismaili History 553 - Reforms of al-Hakim

After suppression of revolts, al-Hakim's administration became very liberal. The rebellions and the risings during his period had badly shaken the commercial life in Egypt by the fluctuation of the dhiram. In 395/1004, the market value of one dinar became equal to 26 dhirams. In 397/1006, the same problem occurred and one dinar valued equal to 34 dhirams. To cope with the monetary problem, new dhiramshad been minted for circulation and the old ones withdrawn. The official value of a new dhiram was fixed at the rate 18 pieces to the dinar. The people were given three days to exchange the coins. This method controlled the monetary system to great extent.

In Egypt, the prices of merchandise, like units of measures and weight were not under direct control of the rule. This resulted price inflation and the people were at the mercy of the shopkeepers and merchants, profiteering high prices, therefore, al-Hakim stabilized the units of weight and measure and fixed the price under government control. In 395/1004, an ordinance was issued to this effect, commanding the stabilization of the units and threatening those who delibrately mishandled them. In 397/1006, the prices of certain commodities were fixed. Severe punishment was inflicted upon the shopkeepers and merchants, who infringed these rules and also paraded in the streets who disobeyed these ordinances.

The relaxation in tax appears to have been an important feature in al-Hakim's reformations. During the years of low Nile which affected agriculture, the land-owners were exempted from paying imposts and taxes. Sometimes, certain areas were declared tax-free zones and at other times it covered the whole country. All the important commodities were relaxed from taxation along with local industries, such as silk, soap and refreshments.

The agriculture in Egypt used to be a target of the scanty of water during bad Nile and the loss of cattle from epidemics, therefore, al-Hakim had taken important measures to reduce the problem as much as possible. He ordered water courses and troughs to be cleaned regularly. In 403/1013, he expended 15,000 dinars for the cleaning of the canal of Alexandria. He also employed Ibn al-Haytham, a famous engineer from Basra to solve the problem of low Nile. To ensure the supply of cattle for agriculture purpose, al-Hakim ordered that cows should not be slaughtered except on occasions of religious festivals or if they were unfit to pull the plough. Ibn Taghri Birdi (d. 874/1470) writes in 'al-Nujum al-Zahira fi Muluk Misr wa al-Qahira' (Cairo, 1929, 4th vol., p. 252) that, 'His food laws like the slaughtering of safe and healthy cows, which was limited to perpetuate the cattle breed, and the killing of all dogs in the country were promulgated for sanitary purposes.'

Al-Hakim also granted most of the state land to his subjects and it was not only officials and friends who benefited the facility, but any person who petitioned for his aids. He also curtailed the expenses of the palaces and confiscated most of the properties of his family members, notably of his mother and sisters and added them to the state treasury in 399/1009.

Al-Hakim's forbidding extravagant spending in entertainments when the Nile was exceptionally low and his fight against profiteering from high prices during the famine crisis are examples of sensible legislation for the public welfare. Ibn Taghri Birdi also discusses at some length al-Hakim's charitable and university endowments; his leniency with taxation, depending on the ability of people and commensurate with the prosperity of Egypt over a particular year (op. cit., 4th vol., p. 180).

There are also other notworthy reforms of al-Hakim in Egypt. 'Nudity in public baths' says Makrizi in his 'Itti'az al-Hunafa' (Cairo, 1948, p. 391), 'was prohibited and people were ordered to wear towel around the waist.' In 397/1006, Makrizi adds, a decree (manshur) was read, commanding the fixation of prices of bread, meat and other commodities. According to 'The Renaissance of Islam' (Patna, 1937, p. 399), 'The Caliph al-Hakim, who sought to restore the original Islam, enacted stringent measures against wine-drinking. When his Christian physician, Ibn Anastas prescribed wine and music for his melancholy, the people reverted with joy to the old vice. But the physician soon died and the Caliph became a yet greater opponent of alcohol. He even forbade the sale of raisins and honey and destroyed the casks wherein wine was kept.'

Makrizi further writes in his 'al-Khitat' (Cairo, 1911, 2nd vol., p. 285) that, 'He enforced an Islamic law forbidding the making, selling and drinking of wine. A total and complete enforcement of this law never exercised by any Muslim caliph but al-Hakim was determined to enforce it.' In 402/1012, al-Hakim had forbidden the use of beer under a decree (manshur), and according to Ibn Khallikan (3rd vol., p. 450), 'The usual law against wine was strictly enforced. Now he forbade the sale of dried raisins because they were used by some for making wine. He forbade their importation into the country, and ordered all found in stores to be destroyed, in consequence of which some 2340 boxes of dried raisins were burned, the value being put at 500 pieces of gold. He next forbade the sale of fresh grapes, exceeding four pounds at a time; in any markets, and strict prohibition was made against squeezing out the juice. The grapes found on sale were confiscated, and either trodden in the street or thrown into the Nile. The vine at Gizeh were cut down and oxen employed to tread the fruit into the mire. Orders were issued that the same was to be done throughout the provinces. But honey as well as grapes can be used in preparing fermented liquor, so the Caliph's seal was affixed to the stores of honey at Gizeh, and some 5051 jars of honey were broken and their contents poured into the Nile, as well as 51 cruises of date honey.'

De Lacy O'Leary quotes an example to this effect in 'A Short History of the Fatimid Khilafat' (London, 1923, pp. 165-6) that a certain merchant had all his money invested in the prohibited fruit, and lost everything by the seizure and destruction of his goods. He appeared before the qadi and summoned al-Hakim to appear and make good the destruction caused by his officials. The Caliph appeared to answer the charge preferred against him, the qadi treating him like any other citizen against whom complaint had been lodged. The merchant asked for compensation to the amount of 1000 pieces of gold. Al-Hakim in his defence said that the fruits destroyed were intended to be used in the preparation of drinks forbidden by the law of Holy Koran, but that if the merchant will answer that they were not intended for this purpose, but only to be eaten he was willing to pay their price. The merchant swore that the fruit was intended only for eating. He then received the money and gave the Caliph a formal receipt. When the case was concluded, the qadi, who had upto this point treated both parties as ordinary suitors, rose from his seat and gave the Caliph the salute customary at court. Al-Hakim admired the qadi's conduct, and made him valuable presents in recognition of his treatment of the case.

The historians concur that the life of frivolity in Egypt seems to have been against the principles of al-Hakim, and according to Antaki (p. 202), 'He banned the profession of singers and dancers in Egypt.' He also forbade unveiled women to follow a funeral, prohibiting the weeping and howling and procession of mourning women with drums and pipes. Thus, the tearing of clothes, the blackening of faces and clipping of hair were forbidden and women, employed for lamenting the dead, were imprisoned. O'Leary writes that, 'No doubt the nocturnal festivities of Cairo, well suited to the pleasure loving character of the Egyptians, led to many abuses, and so in 391/1001 a strict order was issued, forbidding women to go out of doors by night, and a little later this was followed by a general order prohibiting the opening of the shops by night.' (op. cit., p. 133)

In sum, al-Hakim always protected the Islamic interest like his ancestors. Ibn al-Muqaffa in 'Tarikh Batarikat al-Kanisa al-Misriyya'(2nd vol., p. 125) and Bar Hebraeus in 'Chronographia' (London, 1923, p. 184) state that al-Hakim threatened those who did not follow Islam and honoured those who did. Ibn Khallikan (3rd vol., p. 451) writes that, 'In 408/1017, al-Hakim forbade the kissing of the ground in his presence and annulled the prayer made for him in the khutba and in the writings addressed to him. Instead of that prayer, they were ordered to employ these words: Salutation to the Commander of the Faithful.'

Back to top