Fatimid Caliphate - Medieval Islamic Historys
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The Fatimids

Bab Zuweila
Bab Zuweila (Cairo, 1092 AD)

May 2016 - In 908 AD, a new family rose up in Egypt and took control of Egypt from the Abbasids. This family was called the Fatimids, after Mohammed's daughter Fatima, because they claimed to be descended from her. The family began as leaders of a heretical Shiite Islamic sect, the Ismailis (ish-my-EEL-ees), in Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. They sent people from Yemen to Egypt to take over as the Abbasid caliphs began to weaken, and soon succeeded in taking over not only Egypt but much of North Africa from the Abbasids. They built the city of Cairo to be their capital, near the old capital of Alexandria but a new, Islamic city.

Al Azhar
Al Azhar Mosque, Cairo, 970 AD

The Fatimids quickly conquered the old Egyptian territories in West Asia as well: Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and also Arabia. They were most powerful in the eleventh century (the 1000s). By the 1100s the Fatimids were clearly going downhill, having lost Syria and Arabia, and the Fatimid caliphs had lost most of their power to their generals, the Amirs.

In 1098, the Fatimids lost Israel and parts of Lebanon and Syria to the French and English soldiers of the First Crusade, who were taking advantage of Fatimid weakness. Finally in 1187 one of the Fatimid generals, Saladin (Sulah ad-Din), got rid of the last Fatimid ruler, and Egypt became Sunni once again, and part of the Ayyubid Islamic state ruled by Saladin and his sons.

Learn by doing: paint a tile in an Islamic pattern
Go on to the Ayyubids

Bibliography and further reading about the Fatimid Caliphate:

Fatimid architecture
Ayyubids
More about North Africa
More about the Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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