Overthrowing the Abbasids in Egypt
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 Fatimids were Shiites
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.
Fatimids conquer the Eastern Mediterranean
The Fatimids quickly conquered the old Egyptian territories in West Asia as well: Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and also Arabia. And they were powerful in the northern Mediterranean too. In 934 AD, a Fatimid fleet sacked and burned the city of Genoa, in northern Italy. They were most powerful in the 1000s AD.
Fatimid trade with Europe
During the 900s and 1000s AD, the Fatimids traded with Italian cities across the Mediterranean, under the control of Matilda of Canossa. This trade made both the Italians and the Fatimids very rich. Egypt sold silk, paper, steel, cotton, and sugar to the Italians. The Italian cities of Genoa, Florence, and Pisa sold it on to Northern Europe. In return, Egyptian traders brought back European wool cloth, perfume, wine, furs, silver, and gold to sell to people further East along the Silk Road.
Fatimid trade with East Africa
The decline of the Fatimids
But by the end of the 1000s, the Fatimids were not as powerful as they had been before. In 1098, Egypt 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.
In the 1100s, they lost control of Syria and Arabia, and the Fatimid caliphs had lost most of their power to their generals, the Amirs.
Saladin takes control of Egypt
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