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The Abbasid Dynasty

  • Abbasid, in Arabic, Al –Abbasiyun is the dynastic name generally given to the Caliphate of Baghdad, the second among the three great Dynasties of the Muslim empire.
  • The Abbasid Empire was built by Abul Abbas, one of the descendants of the Prophet (PBUH’s) uncle, Abbas Ibn Abdul-Muttalib.
  • It ruled the Islamic Empire from 750 to 1258 CE.
  • This period saw the golden age of Islamic culture, making it one of the longest and most influential Islamic dynasties ever witnessed.
  • It became the largest empire in the world having contacts with distant neighbours including the Chinese and Indians in the East, and the Byzantines in the West.
  • This allowed the empire to adopt and synthesize ideas from the cultures of these neighbours.

The rise of Abbasid

  • In form three, we highlighted the reasons for the decline of the Umayyad Dynasty.
  • Can you recall the reasons that made the Umayyad Empire become increasingly unpopular leading to its final decline?
  • We will soon realise that it is from these reasons that led to the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate.
  • The Abbasids revolted against the Umayyads because they considered themselves to have a direct family tie to the Prophet (PBUH).
  • Since they were descendants of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), they considered themselves as the rightful heir to the Prophet.
  • Their quest for power was aggravated by dissatisfaction of the other Muslims with the hereditary system of the Umayyad’s rule.
  • The Abbasid Dynasty seized power from the Umayyads in 750 CE after their conquest at the Battle of Zab, near the Tigris River.
  • The battle was led by a hersian aeneral, Abu Muslim.
  • Abu Muslim’s army, together with the one of Al-Saffah confronted the Umayyad army, led by Caliph Marwan II.
  • The Umayyads lost the battle and Caliph Marwan II was killed.
  • After this victory, the Abbasid leader, Al-Saffah captured Damascus and killed all members of the Umayyad family except Abd al- Rahman who fled to Spain (where he continued with the Umayyad Dynasty).
  • This victory allowed, Abul Abbas al Saffah, the Abbasid leader to enter the City of Kufa and declare himself the Caliph.
  • After seizing power, the Abbasids shifted their capital from Damascus to Baghdad.
  • This city was founded in 762 CE by the second Abbasid caliph, Al- Mansur (754 – 775 CE) and became the largest city in the world.
  • The Abbasid dynasty became the most powerful and prosperous state at that time.
  • Its vast empire had extended to various parts of the world, stretching from Spain to China.
  • The period of its reign between 710 and 1218 CE is considered as the “Golden Age of Islam” or “the classical age of Islamic civilization”.
  • During this period the whole world witnessed incredible achievements in cultural creativity.
  • Great innovations and development were made in Medicine, Education, Science, Philosophy, Mathematics, Literature, Art and Architecture among other disciplines.
  • We shall look at these achievements later on in this chapter.

Decline of the Abbasids

  • By the mid 9th century, the Abbasids started losing control of their administration.
  • The once powerful Islamic empire which had flourished for two centuries slowly weakened and became unpopular.
  • This was due to various reasons which were administrative, political, or economic. Some of the reasons are as follows:
    • Vast Muslim empire. Expansion of the Islamic Empire troubled efforts to move armies and control local administrators in far territories. Most subjects retained local loyalty other than the central government. There were also no effective means of communication from the Western region of the Caliphate and the administration centre, Baghdad. The communication would take too long and its feedback would delay. This led to rebellion and calls for cessation by some of the Provinces.
    • Decentralization. The relation between the province and the central government was not cordial. In several cases the provincial governors and their military defied the authority of the centre administration and declared their autonomy. This led to most of its administrators to make independent decisions and disregard the central government. As time passed by, they became permanently independent.
    • Lack of revenue to run the massive empire. Managing such a huge empire required steady sources of revenue. When the caliph saw that the taxes collected were less, he authorised the governors and military commanders to take responsibility of tax collection. This made the governors powerful, independent-minded and became disloyal.
    • Religious issues. The Abbasids came to the throne with the help of both the Shiite (who were Arabs) and the Mawalis (non- Muslim Arabs). The Abbasids increased the rights of Mawali than to the Shiite. For example, the Abbasids treated the Persians equal to or better than the Shiites and other Arabs. This led to the Shiite’s dissatisfaction since they expected more favours from their fellow Arab Abbasids. The Shiites felt betrayed by the Abbasid and withdrew their support.
    • The negligence of the military department. The success and stability of the caliphate depended on its military strength. The empire lacked revenues to sustain its armies which were spread all over throughout the vast empire. This resulted to low morale.
    • Corruption. The Abbasid became one of the wealthiest and most prosperous empires in the world at that period. This wealth led to greed and corruption. The Caliphs awarded positions to their favourites resulting to discontentment among the subjects.
    • Most of the later caliphs became more concerned with money. They led luxurious life and cared little for the state and conditions of their subjects. Most of the leaders devoted their valuable time to wine, women and music. This luxurious life enjoyed by the leaders undermined the strict moral code and the teachings of Islam. These un-Islamic practices angered the general Muslim population calling for it’s oust.
    • Natural catastrophes. The flood in Mesopotamia rendered the people homeless and hopeless. Besides this, famine and epidemic diseases destroyed the population in many provinces. This weakened the economy and also the defence of the state.
    • Turkish Armies. The armies like the Mamluks who were vested with the responsibility of defending the Caliphate became more strong and powerful. They began to realize that they had the capacity to create their own states, thus turning against Baghdad.
    • The Seljuk Turks. These were Muslim converts from a Nomadic group of Central Asia. They had come as Mercenaries for the Abbasid and later moved gradually to Persia (Iran) and Armenia. Their population gradually increased and by 1055C.E. they took over Baghdad with their leader appointing himself as Sultan, meaning “the holder of power”. They later exerted military pressure on Egypt and Byzantine. When the Byzantine were defeated, they called for assistance from Christians, resulting to the Crusade wars.
    • Rise of Mongols. These were pastoralists who emerged from the Gobi desert in the 13th Century. With the leadership of Genghis Khan, they conquered most of the regions. During the reign of Caliph al-Mu’tasim (1212 – 1258 C.E.), Hulagu Khan (grandson of Ghenghi Khan) invaded Baghdad. His army surrounded the city and captured it in 1258 CE Under his leadership, they destroyed the greatest centre of Islamic power and also weakened Damascus and a number of Persian cities. The army massacred hundreds of thousands of people, including the caliph, burnt down the House of Wisdom and all other libraries that had housed invaluable books and other literature. They also demolished all the great monuments of the city and left Baghdad in ruins. This final attack by Hulagu Khan marked the death of the Abbasid dynasty that had lasted for 500 years and put to the sudden end of the Islamic golden age, once cherished by the Muslim Ummah.

Achievement of Abbasid Dynasty

  • Even though the Abbasid dynasty was faced with several challenges that finally led to its decline, a lot of achievements were witnessed that made the period of their rule to be referred to as ‘the Golden Age of Islamic civilisation.’
  • These numerous achievements include the following:


  • Improved methods of irrigation which resulted to more land to be cultivated.
  • New types of turbines and mills were introduced. This reduced the need for manual labour and increased production.
  • New crops from far as well as neighbouring cultures were introduced. For example, sorghum from Africa, rice, cotton and sugar from India, citrus fruits from China among others.

Economy and Trade

  • During the Abbasid era, trade was more extensive. Businessmen were free and safe to trade with other countries since the Islamic rule abolished many boundaries and unified almost the whole of the Eastern world.
  • More trading centers were established. These included areas as far away as China, the East Indies, India, Malaya and Philippines.
  • There was importation and export of basic items. The Muslims imported necessities like wood, metal and grains. They exported cloth, livestock and pearls (from the Gulf).
  • There was a proper and efficient system of banking. This improved financial and economic performance.
  • There was development of highly skilled crafts. The large urban population of Baghdad brought all sorts of skilled craftsmen including, among others, weavers, leatherworkers, metal workers, bookbinders, bakers, jewellers and paper makers.
  • The rapid growth in trade attracted several developments. For example, the introduction of a Muhtasib (an inspector) whose role was to ascertain that proper weight and measures are given in order to avoid dishonesty in trade.


  • The state established many schools in Baghdad and in the provinces.
  • There was great emphasis on the preservation and translation of many key Greek, Persian, Egyptian and Indian works. These works were translated into Arabic.
  • Significant works were written in the fields of, Mathematics, Science, Medicine Literature, Art and Architecture and Philosophy.
  • There were well established universities and libraries in Baghdad, Cairo, Cordoba and Timbuktu.
  • Several works of Mathematics which was developed by the Indian civilization was improved upon.
  • Development of Literary works. There were several books of literature that were written and translated e.g. the famous Alif Lela Uleila (Tales from 1001 Nights or The Arabian Nights) and Rubaiyat, both written by Omar Khayyam, Rose Garden by Sadi, a great Persian writer while Al-Mas’udi wrote Meadows of Gold which provides vast knowledge on the Abbasid Empire.

Medical field

  • The state supported and patronised medical experts during their research.
  • Many books on a variety of medical disciplines were written and translated to several languages.
  • Medical experiments were conducted and documented.
  • Several hospitals were established in the dynasty. The major hospitals were al- Nuri hospital in Damascus and the Mansuri hospital in Cairo. At one time, Baghdad had more than sixty hospitals.
  • Quite a number of medical instruments were designed to handle various procedures.
  • Pharmacists introduced many drugs to be used in the curing several diseases and ailments. Some of these included camphor, sandalwood, cassia, tamarind, nutmeg, cloves, aconite, and mercury.

Development of town infrastructures.

  • The Abbasids built a number of towns and cities like Baghdad, Samarra, Syria
  • Improvement in communication and transport routes.

Art and Architecture.

  • Using Byzantine knowledge and art, the Abbasid designed domes (for example, Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem) and arches.
  • They developed the art of calligraphy which was used in writing and decorations.
  • Art of decorations mainly used to decorating buildings mosques, administrative blocks, palaces, libraries and museums.
  • The great Mosque of Samarra which was commissioned in 848 CE and constructed in 851C.E. with its freestanding minaret with a square base. Is the largest ever constructed standing on 10 acres of land with 464 pillars.
  • The construction of the Great Mosque at Cordoba, southern Spain (first part in the 8th C and its fourth and final part in the 10th C) which has 514 columns.
  • The Abbasid developed the distinct type and style of ceramic that can be distinguished technically as ‘Islamic’.

Selected Abbasid rulers

Abul Abbas Al- Saffah (750-754CE)

  • His full name is Abul Abbas Abdullah Ibn Mohammed Ibn Ali Ibn Abdullah Ibn Abbas.
  • He was born in 721 CE His Father was al-Mahdi (the 3rd caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty) and the mother was al-Khayzuran (Yemeni slave girl).
  • He proclaimed himself the first caliph of Abbasid dynasty in Kufa, a prominent Muslim City in southern Iraq.
  • Before his caliphate, a congregation of his supporters was called in a Mosque clad in black clothes symbolising the martyrdom of his brother Imam Ibrahim, in 750 CE.
  • In relation to this incident the new caliph announced in his first address his title “Al-Saffah”, meaning the blood- shedder and promised to get ruthless revenge of his brother.
  • He started his reign from a castle near Kufa.
  • After some period, both Damascus and Kufa were considered unsuitable to be made the capital of the new empire.
  • He later decided (in 753CE) to move his capital to Anbar, a town nearly 161 KM up the Euphrates.
  • Caliph Abu’l Abbass’s four-year period in power witnessed his efforts to consolidate and rebuild the caliphate.
  • Unfortunately, his reign was taken up in a series of revolts by various groups of discontented people.
  • Among those dissatisfied were the non-Arab groups, especially the Persians.
  • The first phase of his rule saw the gradual decline of his political authority as power was entrusted to military commanders.
  • The second phase (945-1258), of his rule maintained only insignificant and moral authority while the rest of his dynasty was led by governors who became materialistic.
  • As- Saffah himself became worldly minded though he portrayed himself as a pious person.
  • The increased hostility by the unfaithful and the Alids threatened Abul Abbas.
  • He felt insecure and feared for his life prompting him to build a courtly residence, al Hashimiyah in the town of Anbar.
  • This is where he died of smallpox at the age of 34.
  • Before his death he had nominated his elder half- brother Abu Jaffar as his successor.
  • Abu Jaffar moved the capital from Anbar to Baghdad.

Achievements of Abul Abbas

  • He established a firm legal and dynastic base for the later Abbasid caliphs.
  • He was able to consolidate the Abbasid Empire.
  • He was able to suppress revolts that were aimed at bringing down his empire.

Harun Ar- Rashid (786-809CE)

  • His full name was Harun ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn Abbas.
  • He was the second son of the third caliph Mahdi (775 – 785CE).
  • He became the fifth of the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad after succeeding his brother, al Hadi in 786CE both being sons of the same former slave mother, Khayzuran.
  • Harun ascended the throne at the age of 22 years and ruled for twenty three years, becoming the most prominent and celebrated caliph.
  • In his youthful ages, he was taught by a Persian known as Yahya, the Barmakid, who was a loyal supporter of his mother.
  • While in his youthful age, Harun Rashid was appointed the governor of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia but entrusted Yahya to administer for him.
  • As a young man, his father used to assign him military tasks.
  • For example, he successfully invaded and conquered Asia Minor and reached as far as the Bosporus.
  • He also led several expeditions against the Eastern Roman Empire and his victory (or the success of his army) earned him the title “al-Rashid,” which means “the one following the right path” or “upright” or “just.”
  • As a great military leader and commander, he suppressed several revolts and uprising staged by the Kharijites and the rulers of Byzantium during his caliphate.
  • Harun al Rashid owed his accession to power to Yahya bin Khalid, the Barmakids whom he appointed his secretary.
  • After being crowned as the caliph, he appointed him as his lieutenant and grand vizier.
  • Under his guidance the empire prospered.
  • Yahya became successful in managing the empire by installing a cadre of Barmakids as administrators.
  • Yahya's sons al-Fadhl, Ja'far, Musa and Muhammad occupied high positions under Harun’s caliphate.
  • Even when the mother passed on in 803 CE, the Barmakids effectively ran the empire for her son.
  • They assisted him to administer the vast empire which extended from the Mediterranean to India.
  • It included the northern part of Africa, but towards the end of his rule the empire lost much of its authority in Africa.
  • Internal conflicts within the empire were witnessed.
  • Two groups from the Alids demanded the leadership of the dynasty.
  • One of these groups was led by Yahya ibn Abdulla and had a big following.
  • Caliph Harun sent a strong army of 50,000 soldiers under the command of Fadhl ibn Abdulla Al-Barmaky and successfully crushed the faction.
  • The second faction was led by Yahya’s brother, Idris Ibn Abdullah.
  • He rebelled against Abbasid caliphate and found his own Kingdom in Morocco, called the Kingdom of Adarisah.
  • Idris was later captured, imprisoned and died.
  • Harun Al-Rashid sent Ibrahim Aghlab to succeed him as the governor.
  • Later, Ibrahim gradually pulled out from the Abbasid Empire and set up the Aghalibah government.
  • The later years of Harun's reign were faced with series of rebellions.
  • These grew more frequent after the fall of the Barmakids, the brilliant statesmen, on whom Harun had fully relied on in his administration.
  • Troubles started in the eastern parts of the empire.
  • The situation became so serious and uncontrollable that Harun himself decided to go to Khorasan.
  • However, he died at Tus, 809CE at the age of forty five after 23 yrs of rule before he could quell the skirmishes.
  • Before his death he divided his empire between his sons al-Amin and al-Ma’mun.

His Character

  • Harun was a disciplined soldier and commander. He led several war expeditions and emerged victorious.
  •  He was a great patron of art and learning. His splendid Baghdad court, welcomed various artists such as musicians, poets, and story tellers. Some of the stories from the greatest story narrator include the famous, The Thousand and One Nights.
  • He was humble and patient. He would sit for long hours discussing with quite a number of learned men, poets, jurists, grammarians, kadhis and scribes.
  • Harun himself was a scholar and poet, and was well versed in history, tradition and poetry.
  • He was a strict Muslim who observed swalat and had performed Hajj nine or ten times.
  • He was a generous leader who at times would walk in the streets and alleys of the city at night in disguise in order to discover for himself the plight of his citizens. In these night walks he used to distribute relief to the oppressed and destitute. He used to distribute about one thousand dirham daily to the needy and the poor in the society.

Achievement of Harun Ar-Rashid

  • Harun established learning institutions in the empire. Baghdad in the east and the Muslim cities of Spain in the west were famous for their schools and learned men.
  • He encouraged scientific innovations and attended most discussions called by scholars of various fields.
  • He introduced into Western Europe both algebra and the figures which we use in arithmetic. It is for this reason that we call these figures the “Arabic numerals.”
  • Baghdad became centre of trade. This attracted business transactions between his empire and other parts of the world.
  • He encouraged the development and preservation of culture such as poetry, music, art and architecture.
  • His reign saw the improvement in infrastructure. Several roads, bridges, canals and wells were constructed during his caliphate. He organised for an efficient postal services.
  • Several Islamic schools, hospitals, mosques, asylums and libraries were established in all the states of his empire.
  • He encouraged scholars to seek knowledge from various non-Arab people such as the Indians, Greeks, Hebrews, and Ethiopians among others.
  • Harun-al-Rashid gave great encouragement to learning. As a scholar and poet himself, he recognised and respected both the learned men in his kingdom and those in neighbouring countries.
  • He established the magnificent library Bayt Al Hikma (the House of Wisdom) where scholars had an access to all kind of works on medicine, literature and other disciplines.
  • Created a fabulous Baghdad court that was attended by hundreds of courtiers and slaves. It can be remembered as a venue for famous story like The Thousand and One Nights.

Al Ma’mun Ar-Rashid

  • His full name is Abu Ja’far Abdullah al-Ma’mun ibn Harun al Rashid.
  • He was an Abbasid caliph who reigned from 813 CE until his to 833 CE.
  • He succeeded his brother al Amin who was killed during the siege of Baghdad in 813 CE.
  • Al-Maʾmun was born in Baghdad, on 15 September 786 CE.
  • His father was the Abbasid caliph Harun Rashid and his mother, Marajil was of Persian origin.
  • In 802 CE Harun Rashid, father to both al-Maʾmun and al-Amin, ordered that al-Amin who was younger, should succeed him while al-Ma'mun should serve as governor of Khurasan.
  • Before he died Harun had also nominated al-Ma’mun to serve as a caliph after the death of al-Amin.
  • In the last days of Harun’s life, his health was deteriorating.
  • At one time, he saw in a dream Musa ibn Ja’far sitting in a hall praying and crying.
  • This dream made Harun remember how hard he had struggled to establish his own caliphate.
  • He did not take this dream lightly.
  • To him, it was a sign of disharmony within the family.
  • Harun knew the personalities of both his sons and decided to change his earlier succession plan.
  • He proposed to a group of his courtiers that for the good of the Abbasid dynasty, al-Maʾmun should be the caliph after his death.
  • One of the courtiers, Fadhil ibn Rabi' however did not abide by Harun’s last wishes.
  • He convinced many other Muslims that Harun’s wishes had not changed.
  • Later, the other three courtiers of Harun, who had sworn loyalty to him by supporting al-Maʾmun, found loopholes in Fadhil's arguments.
  • Fadhil then admitted that Harun had changed his immediate successor to al-Maʾmun.
  • However, he argued that since Harun was not in his right mind, his decision should not be acted upon.
  • Al-Maʾmun was the older of the two brothers, but his mother was a Persian woman while al-Amin's mother was a member of the ruling Abbasid family.
  • The relationship between the two brothers deteriorated just after al- Rashid's death in 809 CE.
  • Al-Amin ultimately succeeded his father.
  • To show discontentment in brother’s succession, al-Ma’mun declared independence of Khurasan, his province.
  • In response to al-Ma'mun's moves towards independence, al-Amin declared his own son Musa to be his successor.
  • This violation of Harun Rashid’s testament led to a succession struggles between the two brothers.
  • In 811 CE, Al-Amin gathered a huge army at Baghdad led by 'Isa ibn Mahan.
  • The army invaded Khurasan, but al-Maʾmun's general Tahir ibn Husayn, destroyed the army and invaded Iraq, laying a siege to Baghdad in 812 CE.
  • In 813 CE Baghdad fell, al-Amin was beheaded, and al-Maʾmun became the Caliph.
  • Al-Ma’mun became caliph but continued to reside in the East, despite disturbances that troubled his administration in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.
  • Amidst the struggle among rival interest groups, al- Ma’mun, nominated Ali ar-Rida, the head of the descendants of Ali as his successor so as to gain wider support.
  • This nomination provoked a revolt in Baghdad resulting to Ibrahim, al-Ma’mun’s uncle, to be made the caliph.
  • Al-Ma’mun secretly advanced towards Iraq, entered Baghdad without difficulty, and ended the revolt in 819CE.
  • Ali ar-Rida had meanwhile died at Meshed.
  • The first several years of al-Maʾmun's caliphate were characterised by disturbances in Iraq and other areas.
  • Al-Ma’mun was in Merv (Central Asia) when, on 13th November 811 Aa, Muhammad ibn Jafar as-Sidiq claimed the Caliphate for himself in Makkah.
  • He was however defeated by the army of al-Ma’mun and he quickly renounced his claim asserting that he had only become caliph on news that al-Ma’mun had died.

Death of caliph Ma’mun

  • Al-Ma'mun’s death came after he and his friends ate some dates and water from a river.
  • On that day he was sitting on the river bank wondering how splendid the water was.
  • He humbly asked his colleagues what would go best with that cool water and they suggested some specific kind of fresh dates.
  • Within a short while, someone brought that particular kind of dates.
  • Caliph al- Ma’mun kindly invited all those who were with him to share the dates with the water.
  • Suddenly, all those who had enjoyed the water with the special kind of dates fell ill.
  • Some recovered but the Caliph passed on.
  • He died near Tarsus on 9 August 833 CE.
  • Before his death he had emphasised to al- Mu'tasim, his half-brother, and his nominated successor, to continue with his established policies and not to burden his subjects with more than they could handle.

Contributions of Ma’mun Ar-Rashid

  • He discovered an object used in measuring the length of a terrestrial degree. This object was to determine the size of the earth and its circumference on the assumption that the earth was round.
  • He established the Bayt al-Hikma, (House of Wisdom) which served as a center for translation of all Greek works into Arabic.
  • His administration supported the ulama (scholars) and all the scholarly works. During his reign, sciences like alchemy (a branch of chemistry) greatly developed.
  • Al-Ma'mun was a good administrator and is known for his efforts towards the centralization of power and the certainty of succession.
  • He invited many well-known scholars in the Bayt al-Hikma to share information, ideas and culture with his scholars.
  • Al-Ma'mun introduced the mihna in his administration. This was a loyalty oath consisting of a series of questions relating to Islamic theology and faith.
  • He consolidated the Abbasid Empire by thrashing all the rebellions. For example, the Hindu rebellions in Sindh and most of Afghanistan were absorbed. The Mountainous regions of Iran and Turkestan were brought under the grip of the central Abbasid government.

Fatimid Dynasty

List of Fatimid Caliphs

  • Abu Muḥammad ‘Abdul-Lah al-Mahdi bi’llah (909–934) founder Fatimid dynasty
  • Abu l-Qasim Muḥammad al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah (934–946)
  • Abu Ṭahir Isma’il al-Manṣur bi-llah (946–953)
  • Abu Tamim Ma’add al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah (953–975) Egypt was conquered during his reign
  • Abu Manṣur Nizar al-'Aziz bi-llah (975–996)
  • Abu 'Ali al-Manṣur al-Ḥakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021)
  • Abu'l-Ḥasan 'Ali al-Ẓahir li-I'zaz Din Allah (1021–1036)
  • Abu Tamim Ma'add al-Mustanṣir bi-llah (1036–1094)
  • Al-Musta'li bi-llah (1094–1101) Quarrels over his succession led to the Nizari split.
  • Al-Amir bi-Aḥkam Allah (1101–1130)
  • 'Abd al-Majid al-Ḥafiẓ (1130–1149) 12. al-Ẓafir (1149–1154)
  • al-Fa'iz (1154–1160)
  •  al-'Aḍid (1160–1171)

The Rise of the Fatimid Dynasty

  • Can you recall the conditions and life of the Alids during the later years of the Umayyad and the Abbasid Dynasties?
  • You will remember that the Alids were subjected to sufferings, torment and persecutions in the hands of the Abbasids.
  • This made them to flee to a distant land, far from the vicinity of the Abbasids in search of peace.
  • They settled in Tunisia, North Africa.
  • This was an ideal place for them since it was far from the control of the Abbasid’s administration centre, Baghdad.
  • The North Africans warmly welcomed the Alids because they also hated the Abbasid who had compelled them to pay heavy taxes.
  • The Fatimids are direct descendents of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through his daughter, Fatima (RAA) and his cousin, Ali (RA).
  • The Fatimid dynasty first established itself in Tunisia, North Africa, in December 909 CE.
  • In the same year they established their capital at the Tunisian city of al-Mahdiyya then, in 948CE shifted to Al-Mansuriya.
  • Later on they opted to expand their empire and looked for a suitable capital which was more central than Tunisia.
  • They had in mind Egypt.
  • This is because of its close link with Syria, Palestine, Arabia and the Mediterranean Islands.
  • After establishing a strong powerful base, they conquered Egypt in 969 CE and made it their capital, fulfilling their dream.
  • After this conquest, they built the city of al-Qahirah (Cairo) to serve as their new capital.

Decline of the Fatimid dynasty

  • Several reasons may be attributed for the decline of the Fatimid dynasty especially after the reign of al-Aziz.
  • Different conditions lead to the loss of political power in Baghdad and the nearby territories.
  • These events happened over a period of two centuries.
  • Among these reasons are as follows:
    • Discontentment of the majority Sunni to the Shiite religious doctrine.
    • There was increasing dissatisfaction in Egypt resulting to anarchy and tyranny. The caliphs lost control of the affairs of their government.
    • Difficulty in transport and communication within the vast empire made the Abbasids to lose control of most of its territories. The army could not move swiftly to suppress the revolts
    • Dissatisfaction of the non Muslim Provincial population with a political and economic system that was centered on Baghdad and neglected their views.
    • There were faction differences, quarrels and insubordination among the Berber, Turkish, Sudanese, and Nubian soldiers with each group aspiring for control.
    • Natural calamities such as recurring famine and plague resulted to several deaths. The subjects were dissatisfied with the way the rulers handled the catastrophes. This weakened the Fatimid administration.
    • Some caliphs were incompetent and left the management of the state affairs in the hands of their governors. This led to mismanagement of resources and injustice resulting to hatred from the subjects.
    • The Fatimids lost their supremacy to an expanding and powerful group of Kurdish-Turks from Syria, called the Ayyubids who established their own dynasty.
    • The invasion of the crusaders. Their purpose was to recapture Muslim inhabited lands which they regarded as their Holy lands from the Muslims.
      Achievements of the Fatimids
    • Development in scientific research and writing advanced especially in medicine, optic and chemistry
    • The administration gave financial assistance to both public and personal libraries. It also recognised and encouraged home tuition.
    • Agriculture, Trade and Industry greatly advanced as the government encouraged and motivated farmers, traders and industrialists.
    • There was great advancement in art and architecture. This is evident with the various mosques, palaces, castles, minarets and calligraphic inscriptions.
    • The emergence of great scholars and intellectuals in various fields. For example; Ibn Salma Al-Kindi (historian), Ahmad ibn Hashim al-Misri (the Imam of al-Qira'at), ibn-Babshad (the grammarian) among others.
    • There was great development in the fields of Literature and science. Several literary works were written and scientific discoveries made in various branches of science.
    • Infrastructure was improved for example ports which facilitated the movement and travelling.
    • The administration maintained the highest degree of tolerance among the different sects.
    • They established universities and encouraged learning. Al –Azhar University and Darul Hikma became the centres of instruction and knowledge. They were also the very important centres for reference material.
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