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5. Fatimid period

Imam Radi Abdullah (840-881) had sent his dais in all directions from Syria to propagate Ismailism. The most acclaimed among them was Ibn Hawshab (d. 914), who was sent to Yamen in 880. He made a large conversion and established an Ismaili rule. He took possession of a stronghold on a hillock and made it his headquarters. We have rich historical evidences that he hoisted the green banner at his headquarters, bearing the Koranic verse on it. The Ismaili mission reached the apex of its influence in Yamen from where Ibn Hawshab dispatched many dais to the farthest corners. Meanwhile, Abu Abdullah al-Shi'i (d. 911) had also embraced Ismailism, whom the Imam sent to Yamen for further training. Later on, he was sent to Maghrib in 892. He conquered almost whole Maghrib and routed the Aghlabid rule of 112 years. He captured Raqada and made it his headquarters on March 25, 909. He started the Fatimid khutba and struck coins. He hoisted most significantly the Fatimid banner. Ibn Hammad (d. 1230) writes in "Akhbar al-Muluk Bani Ubayd wa Siyaratihim" (Paris, 1927, pp. 7-8) that Abu Abdullah also got his slogans inscribed on banners, weapons, trapping and seals. The banner had an inscription of the Koranic verse: "Soon shall the hosts be routed, and they shall turn their backs." (54:45).

The Fatimids adopted green as the colour of their standard. According to "American Educator" (New York, 1973, 7th vol., p. 131), "Green is frequently found in Arab flags because this colour was taken by the Fatimite dynasty, which ruled most of north Africa." It is also mentioned in "The New Encyclopaedia Britannica" (15th ed., 4th vol., p. 812) that, "Green was the colour of the Fatimid dynasty and eventually it became the colour of Islam."

Makrizi (d. 1442) writes in "al-Khitat" (Cairo, 1959, 1st vol., p. 23) that, "During the Caliphate of the Fatimids, a separate department of making banners for different occasions had been erected, known as khazinat al-bunud (store of banners). The word bunud (pl. of band) was used for banner or flag. These banners were used during battles and festive occasions, wherein the Koranic verses were written. The total cost of the department was 80,000 dinars per year." The chief banner was known as "liwa'i hamd" which had been used by Ali bin Abu Talib in the battles, and was the favourite banner of the Fatimid Imams. One of the emblems of royal authority was the outfit (alah), the display of banners and flags.

The Fatimids divided their armies into smaller units. This arrangment was called "the battle order" (ta'biyah). In front of the Commander stood one army with its own battle lines, its own general and flag. It was called "the advance guard". Then, to the right of the place where the Commander was, stood another army, called "the right flank". The army on left side was called "the left flank". Then, there was another army behind the whole armies, called "the rear guard"(saqa). Separate from them and in front of the centre went the vanguard (jalishiya) with its own commander and flag.

Addressing to the people of Egypt, Hasan Husni Abd al-Wahhab writes in "Tarikh al-Adab al-Tunisi" (Tunis, 1968, p. 83) that Imam Qaim (934-946) said in his poem that:-


their banner is my grandfather's
their call my father's
and their belief is mine, near and far.

Ibn Hammad (d. 1230) writes in "Akhbar al-Muluk Bani Ubayd wa Siyaratihim" (Paris, 1927, p. 57) that Imam Mansur (946-952) returned to the capital in triumph soon after the final defeat of Abu Yazid in 948. He was met in Kairwan by the notables mounted on fine horses and carrying drums and green flags.

When the Fatimid general Jawhar made his successful footing on the soil of Egypt on July 4, 969 as a conqueror, he sent his representative ahead in the city with a white flag. Stanley Lane Poole writes in "History of Egypt" (London, 1914, p. 102) that, "Jawhar, like his master, always disposed to a politic leniency, renewed his former promises, and granted a complete amnesty to all who submitted. A herald bearing a white flag rode through the streets of Fustat, proclaiming the amnesty and forbiding pillage and on August 5, the Fatimid army, with full pomp of drums and banners, entered the capital."

Jawdhar al-Azizi (d. 974) writes in "Sirat al-Ustadh Jawdhar" (p. 83) that when Imam Muizz (952-975) ascended in 952, he delivered a sermon in his inaugural appearance that he and his people would be allowed to visit the tomb of the Prophet in Medina, to mount his minbar, to visit his house, to accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca, and to stand with banners unfurled at the illustrious sacred places.

In 977, when Imam al-Aziz (975-996) set out to conquer Syria, the outfit (alah) of the Fatimids was composed of 500 banners and 500 trumpets. It was a grand procession in front of the Fatimid army when marching towards the enemies. B.J. Beshir writes in "Fatimid Military Organisation" (Der Islam 55, 1978, pp. 51-2) that, "Spies and guerillas were to be sent in front of the army; when the army encamped, trenches were dug. Before marching, standards, flags and emblems were flown."

Jaylam bin Shayban founded a Fatimid vassal state in Sind with its base at Multan before 968. He is reported to have introduced the Fatimid coins, and recited the Fatimid khutba. He reported to Imam Muizz in Cairo, how he succeeded to establish the Fatimid vassal state. The Imam replied him in 968. The letter of the Imam is cited in "Uyun'l Akhbar" (6th vol., p. 219). In the concluding paragraph of the letter, the Imam said, "We have sent you some of our banners, which you can unfurl in case of need. Whenever they are unfurled over the heads of the believers, God increases their glory by the banners and hails them with His assistance; on the other hand, when they are unfurled over the heads of the unbelievers, the banners humiliate their pride and overwhelm them by the power of God, Who is our Benefactor." (The letter written on Sunday, the 19th of Ramzan, of the year 354/or 968).

Thus, the Fatimid green flag began to be flown in Sind. The Ismaili state however survived until 1005, when Mehmud of Ghazna invaded Multan. In 1010, Mehmud once again spurred his horses towards Multan and launched a terrible massacre and demolished the Ismaili rule. The surviving Ismailis fled to Mansurah, where they hoisted the Ismaili flag once again until 1025, when Mehmud destroyed their power. The Ismaili states in Multan and Mansurah were followed by the Sumra rule in lower Sind. The Sumra dynasty rose as an Ismaili power and proclaimed their rule in 1052 and continued to flutter the Ismaili flag till 1361.

In 1067, the Turkish mercenaries had drained the Fatimid treasury at the command of Nasir ad-Dawla in the period of Imam Mustansir billah (1036-1095). The works of art and valuables of all sorts in the palace were sold to satisfy their demands. Lane Poole writes in "History of Egypt" (London, 1914, pp. 148-9) that, "Yet all these exquisite and priceless works of art had been dissipated among the barbarous Turks during the tyranny of Nasir ad-Dawla. The costly collections of the "Treasury of Flags" were destroyed by a torch dropped by a follower of one of the Turkish goths, a collection which had been formed at a cost of 70,0000 dinars."

It is to be noted that three kinds of public holiday celebrations involved the participation of the Imam in Fatimid Egypt, such as the general Islamic holidays, Ismaili holidays and local Egyptian festivals of the agriculture calender. The Ismaili holidays included Navroz, birthday of Ali, Fatima, Hasan, Hussain and the Imam of the age; and Eid-i Ghadir. In all these occasions, the city of Cairo was decorated with green Fatimid flags and illuminations.

Makrizi (d. 1442), Ibn Taghribirdi (d. 1469) and Kalkashandi (d. 1418) had described the pomp of the Fatimid procession in which the Imam himself participated during the New Year's Day. From the descriptions, the procession was really imposing, and the sight was fascinating when it advanced through the streets of Cairo with houses covered with spectators, with noise and commotion which filled the city. The passage abounds in various expressions and names of different objects, varities of cloth, ornaments, banners, etc. The procession included the display of the Fatimid banners. The issuing of all these articles for the procession was usually finished by the 28th of the month of Zul-hijja, and on the morning of the 29th the Imam personally visited a special place at which his chargers were produced for his inspection. He rode across the palace ground to the gate called Bab al-Mulk, where the inspection ground was situated, where a reheral of the procession was demonstrated before the Imam.

When the procession was finally formed, the governor of Cairo, with his men, cleared the streets from the crowd, so that the procession could advance without hindrance.

While riding in the procession, the Imam had exclusive right to be accompanied by two "banners of glory" as they were called. They were small, made of white silk embroidered with gold. They were carried folded. There were also twenty one coloured banners, with inscriptions made in colours different from the banner itself. They measured two by one and a half yards, and were fixed on long spears.

But the most important were two special flags which were carried before all these flags, consisted of a hollow golden lion's head with opened mouth, fixed between two ends of a crescent the middle part of which formed the head of a spear. To the side which constituted the neck of the lion's head a long bag of yellow or red dibaj was affixed. While riding against the wind, the air would pass through the mouth of the lion's head and inflat the bag. These banners were carried by two riding officials.

On that occasion, special silver spears were issued to the suites of various Wazirs and high ranking military officers, in infantry and cavalry. The Treasury department next issued a hundred litters of excellent work covered with precious brocade, of red or yellow colour, called dibaj, kurbubi and siklatun. The straps with which the litters were fixed were richly ornamented with silver. Every Wazir received ten spears and ten litters of this kind. He also received two small flags (liwa) which were left folded. In the procession these were carried before the Wazir while similar flags were carried behind military officers.

After the Wazirs various officials received one, two, three or four spears and litters, depending on his rank. The Wazir, in addition, also received ten large flags made of a cloth called dabik. These flags were adjusted to spears headed with balls and crescents. The military officers had large flags of silk on spears with copper heads, gilded and hollow inside.

Behind the Imam a unit of guards was followed by ten executionirs who carried the swords used for decapitation. Then there were more guards, behind whom the Wazir was riding accompanied by a unit of soldiers in coats of mail, 500 strong. Then followed the musicians with their drums, flutes, etc. Then units of various regiments, over 4000 preceded by the two with the heads of the lions. Behind them again were troops, Turks, Daylamites, Kurds, Ghuzz, etc., archers, mariners, and others.


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