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Al-Hakim Ali Al-Mansur

 

CHAPTER IV 

AL-HAKIM ABU ALI AL-MANSUR

 

Fatimid Egypt

 

For 270 years of the Fatimid rule, the period which became inscribed in the history of the Arab Muslim rulers as the most interesting was the period of the Caliphs of Egypt. After three failed military campaigns, the region was finally conquered by the Christian General Jawhara in 969 AD. The same general conquered Mecca and Medina for the Fatimid Caliphate, and then marched with his army to Syria, of which he managed to capture only the limits as far as Aleppo. The whole of Yemen and Sicily belonged to the Fatimid dynasty. The empire drew its economic power from a very fast-growing trade in the Nile valley, which began to replace Mesopotamia as a convenient trade route between oriental Africa and the coasts of Asia on one side, and the Mediterranean Sea, Byzantium and Europe on the other.

 

The treasury of the Egyptian Caliph was supplied with taxes from the land, farming, crafts from Middle and Upper Egypt, river trade, sea trade and caravans. Taxes in the provinces were spent on their maintenance, especially on the military and the governor’s expenses. The overdeveloped administration resulted in bureaucracy and corruption among officials who got rich quickly by trading with public money. The financial nature of the Egyptian reign can be proved by the fact that most of the ministries had the task of monitoring the revenues and expenditures of the state.

 

The reign of Cairo did not spread over the whole empire in terms of territory, but was limited to the urban areas complete with a military garrison and a governor. Interest was given to the agricultural areas only in the times of tax collection. For the rest of the year, they remained under the jurisdiction of the Bedouin tribes, who divided the sphere of influence among themselves. The rapid population growth, recorded since the year 989 AD, and the climactic changes causing a lack of rainfall, led to the impoverishment of the rural population. The impoverished people were easily influenced by leaders of anti-state movements and rebellions.

 

The Fatimid Empire covered a huge area. In consequence, there was a great diversity amongst the inhabitants in terms of ethnic and religious background as well as wealth. Governing such a society wasn’t easy. Each group usurped the right to exercise their political, economic and religious goals. Whether fighting or cooperating, the cohabiting groups included Maghrebians, Africans, Berbers, Turks, Iraqis and Syrians. They were followers of different religions: Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Jews and polytheists.

 

The state administration was run by Coptic and Iraqi officials, or Jews of Iraqi descent. The army, mainly consisting of warriors from Maghreb, Turkey and Africa, was weak and inefficient due to internal conflicts. This situation was successfully used by Caliph al-Hakim for his spectacular plots, such as burning the city of Fustat.

The Berbers formed a strong lobby, especially the Kutama tribe, associated with the dynasty since its origins. They demanded leadership over the other ethnic groups. 

 

Christians and Jews never rebelled. Their systematic work helped them earn high state positions and become land owners. The situation of these two groups changed greatly during the reign of al-Hakim, the first Arab-Muslim ruler, who severely persecuted these two religious minorities. Abbasids treated Christians and Jews in a similar way.

 

The Fatimid Empire throughout its duration had two main enemies: the Byzantines in the north and the Abbasids in the east. Al-Hakim’s father was killed while fighting against the Byzantines. Al-Hakim, in order to rule Aleppo, came into conflict with Basil II who, in consequence of this, as well as the destruction of the Church of the Resurrection in 1016, broke up trade relations with Egypt.

 

The Fatimids and the Abbasids, as two forces under the banner of Islam, counterbalanced each other. The Fatimids spared neither money nor propaganda to get rid of the caliphs of Baghdad. Bouron mentions 40 weeks in which Friday sermons in Baghdad were preached honoring the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mu’izz. Nonetheless, in the overall evaluation of Middle Eastern history, it cannot be said that the Fatimids were able to undermine the influence of the powerful Abbasid rulers.  

 

The Fatimids propagated Ismailism, which al-Hakim tried to raise to the rank of a state religion. Ismailism is a branch of Shia Islam which accepted subordination to Ismail whose right to acquire the Imamat was taken away by his father, as-Sadik Jaffar, the sixth Imam. The reason was Ismail’s immorality and insubordination. Subordination to the imam is characteristic of all the sects centred around Ali, Muhammad's son in law. The key issue here is the right to become the Prophet’s successor. Ismailism is a highly hierarchical group. The system, which was later borrowed by the Almohads, was led by four ministers gathered around the Imam and consisted of 12 districts, which were led by 12 “Days” or “Hodja”, specially dressed and surrounded by scholars. The main “Qadi” was a figure endowed with great religious and legal authority. Since the beginning of the Fatimid dynasty, these duties belonged to the al-Numan family until the sixth Caliph, in one of his controversial edicts, removed the family from this office and gave it to a different family.

The main Ismaili doctrines say that all which is external has internal sense, and the internal values which are hidden surpass those which are external. It is a spiritual and secret religion into which one must be initiated. In Fatimid Egypt, the Ismaili teachings were given during Majlis – the meetings of wisdom held on Thursdays and Fridays. In the year 407, al-Hakim banished them, thus facilitating the preachers of his divinity to promote the new faith.

 

Hakim Abu Ali al-Mansur

About the family

 

Al-Hakim, called Abu Ali al-Mansur, was born in a palace in Cairo on Thursday, 23rd Rabi 375 AH, 13th August 985, when, as the French orientalist De Sacy puts it, the 27th degree of Cancer came onto the horizon.

Abu Ali was the sixth caliph from the Fatimid dynasty, whose name derives from Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad. The Arabic historian al-Maqrizi (1364 - 1442) and De Sacy support the thesis posed by the advocates of the dynasty which says that its roots go back to Muhammad. The dynasty was started by Ubaid Allah, called Said al-Mahdi by the Druze, after he escaped from the as-Salamiyya to Africa chased by the Abbasids. His father was a Jew but, as we know, Judaism is inherited from the mother’s side. According to chronicles, in his youth Ubaid was a good student and had a noble soul. The former imam of as-Salamijja liked him very much and, not having his own children, made him his heir and passed the secrets of faith to him. Al-Mahdi became very rich, which gave him the freedom to promote the new faith in exile. He found shelter with the Berbers from the Kutama tribe and settled in Tunisia, where the views of the Kharijites were in strong opposition to the Abbasid dynasty.  There he founded the city of Mahdiyah, which became the capital of the Fatimid rulers in Africa and the Middle East for almost three centuries.

 

Al-Hakim’s father was called al-Aziz. All authors mention that he died in Bilbays, where he led a military campaign against the Byzantines. Bienquis quotes al-Maqrizi "Ittiaz al-Hunafaa from 386 AH", who notes that after his death, al-Hakim’s sister, Sitt al-Mulk came to this city in mourning in the company of the most important persons of the state, including the young al-Hakim. On page 112, Bienquis describes the corrupt bureaucracy in Egypt and the hypocrisy of the state notables, who conspired against al-Aziz only to humbly bow to him later while accepting gifts from him. Bianquis writes about the big influence which Sitt al-Mulk had on their father.

 

Al-Hakim's mother was a Christian. Her son showed her great affection and love. How then can one explain the confiscation of all his mother’s property in 399 AH and the lack of respect for her religion through the widespread persecution of Christians and the destruction of the symbol of Christianity, the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem?

 

Al-Hakim’a sister, Sitt al-Mulk was 18 years older. Historians often mention her beauty and rich social life. She wasn’t indifferent to the political life of the State. Some theses indicate her involvement in the murder of her brother.

Bouron of Nerval briefly describes al-Hakim’s grandfather, al-Mu’izz li-Din, who was the founder of Cairo. He was greatly interested in astrology. He created Cabalistic tables, which were later used by al-Hakim. Al-Hakim inherited his grandfather's spiritual approach to the world. It was said that al-Mu’izz hid for a few days and then told people that he had been taken to Heaven. Another time he hid underground and said he had vanished from the face of the earth but without dying like other people. When asked about the evidence linking him with the Prophet, al-Mu’izz apparently put his hand on his sword and said: "Here is the creator of my race." Then he threw a gold coin and said, "And here are my genealogical documents."

 

Unusual personality

 

The characteristic element in the description of al-Hakim is his clothing. The ruler who always managed the environment around him in a way which was absolute, took great care about the way he dressed.

 

During the ceremony to accept the leadership of the dynasty, his clothes were probably influenced by the government dignitaries, who dressed him in ceremonial robes. He sat on a white horse (83), he had a turban on his head inlaid with precious stones, and he held a staff in his hand. Never again was al-Hakim dressed so exquisitely. As his eccentric lifestyle developed, the clothing became more modest, to be finally reduced to a single robe, drenched in sweat and mud. Dupont mentions that al-Hakim also grew his beard and nails (86). As a ruler, he often went on solitary strolls around the city dressed up as a simple man to easily blend in with the crowd.

 

In one of the anonymous Druze books, a religious significance was attributed to al-Hakim’s clothes: "Our Lord wore black clothes, to manifest his disappearance and to inform his loyal followers and subjects that for seven years after his disappearance (87) they would live in suffering and darkness."

 

The importance which al-Hakim attached to clothing is also present in his edicts concerning Jews and Christians. In the year 395 AH/1004, he ordered Jews and Christians to wear belts and black turbans. Bouron mentions that particular year as the time when Jews had to wear yellow clothes with a wooden figure representing the head of a bull hanging on their chest. Christians wore blue clothes and an elbow-sized cross hanging (90) around their necks. In the year 399 AH, Christians entering the baths could not take off their crosses and Jews were forced to keep their bells.

 

All the authors who describe the life of al-Hakim emphasise the unconventional behaviour of this ruler. The frequent changes of temper, nocturnal lifestyle, the ease of giving death sentences are for some an indication of a mental illness, while for others a reason to give al-Hakim divine worship. The Druze guides always describe al-Hakim in a positive way, saying, "Our lord, being infinitely good and just, could not do injustice and cruelty." How then to explain the killing of all the prisoners held in Cairo in 395 AH, or the murder described by Yahja ibn Said from the year 407 AH. Apparently, while al-Hakim, was strolling around the town, he went into the butcher’s where he grabbed a cleaver and for no reason hit one of his squires. The man was mortally wounded while al-Hakim went on his way without a word. It was not until late in the evening that he sent a shroud to wrap and bury the poor man. Moreover, it is difficult to find an explanation for the verdicts which al-Hakim passed on his dedicated military commanders. Numerous examples of al-Hakim’s atrocities can be found in Canard’s work on page 81. Bienquis, on page 119, describing the revolt of the anti-caliph Abu Rakwa, also mentions a Fatimid commander, Abu al-Futuh al-Fadi, who, two years after his victory over Abu Rakwa, was sentenced to death by al-Hakim in 399 AH. Eleven years later, al-Hakim’s cynicism reaches its peaks. His response to the Turks and Berbers who dared to stand up for the residents of the Fustat district, which was plundered and burnt on the orders of al-Hakim, was impassive. He said, "And who ordered it to be done?"

The fact that al-Hakim travelled around the city on a donkey was against the generally accepted canon of behaviour for rulers in a public place. Although Druze literature gives this conduct a religious meaning, "al-Hakim rode on a donkey, as he didn’t respect and tolerate external laws and the prophets who imposed them", I believe it was simply al-Hakim’s eccentricity.

 

Al-Hakim often remained indifferent to the precepts of Islam, which he eventually abandoned in 1015 AD. Without prior warning, he would enter women's chambers in the palace, break a fast before its formal end, or banish charity and ridicule ritual celebrations in Mecca. In 395 AH, he cursed the first caliphs and the companions of the Prophet. This caused widespread outrage in the community. In his decree for the infidel, he allowed them to return to their original faith (having previously forced them to convert to Islam). This decree is also an indication of al-Hakim’s ignorance of the Islamic law which states that once a person becomes a Muslim, they can never renounce their faith.

 

Al-Hakim also interfered in what his Egyptian subjects ate. Under the pretext that one of the vegetables was a delicacy of the first caliphs, he forbade its consumption. Another time, he ordered people to abstain from eating any gelled food as this reminded him of dog droppings. He ordered honey, dates, raisins, any products that could be useful for the production of alcohol to be thrown into the Nile (105). Al-Hakim issued and suspended decrees on the consumption of beverages several times. In the year 396 AH, he canceled the prohibition because one of his doctors (106) prescribed drinking wine for medicinal purposes.

The main interest of al-Hakim was astrology. Observing the stars every night, he looked for answers to questions about the future. It sometimes happened that late at night, he convened secret meetings of his most important scholars and informed them about signs which he read in his observatory on Mokattam. The palace of the fourth Fatimid Caliph always hosted a lot of scholars. Al-Hakim was glad to consult his decisions with them - especially at the beginning of his reign. As a result of the fact that al-Hakim promoted science, Cairo attracted scholars from all over the Arab world. He created a great library, established the first Islamic university called Dar al-Ilm, or Dar al-Hakim. He built an astrological observatory on the Mokattam hills.

 

The reign of the sixth Fatimid Caliph

 

The end of the fourth century AH, which is often called the Renaissance of Islam, is the age in which a very distinctive ruler reigned in Egypt. Bienquis, while writing about al-Hakim, compares him to a character from "One Thousand and One Nights". With great wealth at his disposal, he manipulated the empire giving free rein to his fantasies. His father's death deprived al-Hakim of his childhood and forced him, at the age of 11 years, five months and six days, to take the throne of the Fatimid dynasty. The child was mentally immature to rule so he fell into deviation, which led to ordering the killing of the prime minister of Egypt, Barjawan in 389 AH. The young murderer was then only 14 or 15 years old. At the age of 20, he ordered a death sentence to all who dared to speak ill of Ali and Fatima. At that time, he also issued decrees against Christians and Jews. He prohibited alcohol consumption and travelled around Cairo on horseback. He changed the times of prayers which had been established for centuries. Al-Hakim's eccentric reign lasted intact for years. Around him, there was fear and terror. No one had the courage to oppose the decisions of the ruler. Any disobedience resulted in choleric attacks, which brought bloody repressions on the subjects.

 

In the year 405 AH, al-Hakim announced himself God and changed the phrase “Bismi Allah” into “Bi-Amr-al-Hakim”. The young ruler or rather "the Young God" was then 30 years old, the same age as Christ and Muhammad when they announced their revelations. Al-Hakim died or rather disappeared at the age of 36, leaving numerous emissaries proclaiming his divinity and a new religion in Egypt, North Africa and Syria.

 

Hakim’s rule can be divided into two phases. The first was indirect rule when al-Hakim ruled via his first ministers. The second phase was al-Hakim’s personal reign, which incidentally was the last rule of a caliph in the history of the Arabs.

 

The caliph appointed Ibn Ammar to be the head of state, a function which the man carried out for two years. He favoured Berbers in the military and government which led him into conflict with Barjawan, who was a tutor of the young al-Hakim. Barjawan urged the governor of Damascus, a Turk, to attack Egypt. Defeated by one of Ibn Ammar’s generals, he subsequently contacted the newly revoked governor of Tripoli, which led to an uprising. Ibn Ammar was defeated and killed. Barjawan, the second of al-Hakim’s leaders took charge of the state at the beginning of 387 AH. Al-Hakim did not like the man because in his youth Barjawan used to call him “a lizard”.

 

But this was not the only concern of the new governor. The Byzantine offensive in the north of Syria, the rebellion in Tyre and Damascus filled three years of his reign. Nerwal implies that Barjawan had a very close relationship with al-Hakim’s sister, Sitt al-Mulk. This is possible, although no other authors I cited support this thesis. The failed cooperation with the caliph finally led to Barjawan’s death in 389 AH. He was assassinated by one of the henchmen of al-Hakim. This event marked the beginning of a rule that had been unprecedented. A reign of moods, whims and infantile desires. A rule which evoked widespread terror and reached the point of absurdity.

 

Historians do not mention many examples of al-Hakim’s generosity, but... after the death of Barjawan, the caliph embarked on his solitary wanderings around Fustat. Walking through the dark alleys of the city, he became familiar with many problems which his subjects had to face. In 398 AH, seeing the poverty on the streets of Egypt, he commanded the inspection of houses in the rich district of Cairo in search of grain. He fixed the official price of bread. Canard, quoting Jahja, mentions that al-Hakim abolished onerous taxes connected with sharia: the transport and trade tax.

 

Al-Hakim also took care of the morale of his people. The dissolute life of Egyptians, which he observed during his walks, forced him to issue edicts on the consumption of alcohol for both Muslims and non-Muslims. A loin cloth was made obligatory in baths. Suspicious walks on the banks of the Nile were also prohibited. Christian women were banned from participating in celebrations held according to the Christian calendar and celebrations of the Nile and vegetation. To force women to stay at home, he forbade shoemakers to produce women's shoes.

 

Al-Hakim devoted a large part of his ruling time to creating special laws for Jews and Christians living in Egypt. He confiscated goods belonging to orders and churches. All those who would not convert to Islam were forced to emigrate to Byzantium. Finally, he went as far as profaning the most important Christian church in Jerusalem.

 

During the reign of al-Hakim, the Fatimid empire didn’t lose any of its territory, even though  numerous rebellions in Egypt and Syria could be observed from 390 to 411 AH. Al Hakim’s army stationed in Syria was the busiest, where it fought against the rebels in Tyre and Damascus, the Bedouins in Palestine and Hamdanids and the Byzantines in northern Syria. The unrest in Egypt posed the greatest immediate threat. The first riot broke out in the region of Buhayra, in the south-east of Alexandria. The second, also started by the Banu Kurram tribe, under the leadership of Abu Rakwa (an Umayyad prince who usurped the right to the title of Caliph) was much more threatening as it came to the gates of Cairo. Canard indicates that at that time, due to the very real threat, the caliph considered an escape to Syria.

 

During the two years of the rebellion, al-Hakim took measures to win over his people by emptying public stocks for poor families from the old port, regardless of their origin or faith, and by freeing hundreds of slaves. On page 119, Dupont mentions the sum of one million dinars which al-Hakim paid to bribe the Sunni to create a powerful army. The first battles with Abu Rakwa were lost by al-Hakim, even though his Hamdanid subjects from Syria and the Bedouins from the Ṭajjit tribe were his allies. Finally, in 396 AH/1006, al-Fadl ibn Salih defeated Rakwa in Fayyūm. The anti-caliph also promoted an uprising in Palestine in 403 AH. The Ṭajjit tribe and a few former notables of al-Hakim recognised the leader of Mecca as their ruler. Taught by the experience of the previous rebellions, Al-Hakim abandoned the argument of military force and decided to use the power of his treasury to plot schemes between the leaders of the rebellion, which soon resulted in its collapse.

 

An unexplained disappearance ended al-Hakim’s 22-year rule. The Druze books assess that the event took place in 412 AH. Historians point to 27th day of the shawwal month, 411 AH, as the date of the murder of the sixth Fatimid Caliph. The circumstances of his disappearance are described in various ways by the authors I quote in this work. The facts which are stated everywhere say that al-Hakim went for his usual evening stroll to the observatory on Mokattam. He was in the company of more than one squire, and of course he was travelling on a donkey. During the search for the lost caliph, the corpse of a slave was found, as well as his wandering donkey and al-Hakim’s clothes with the buttons still done up. The killer could have been an unknown fanatic or al-Hakim’s sister, Sitt al-Mulk. Bouron writes that many people in Cairo did not believe in al-Hakim’s death, and claimed that he had gone to the desert to finish his life in peace and formulate his eccentric thoughts. De Sacy quotes an anonymous Druze letter from the 9th year of Hamza, saying that al-Hakim had disappeared underground and entered into a rock called Sedd Escander to remain in it until he wishes to reveal himself.

 

A new religion

 

Kamal Jumblatt: "The Druze faith is a religion of the elementary unity of things and beings. There is a fundamental unity in the world between its spiritual and physical form. At the beginning, there was God, the world and the soul. In the end, a wholeness came into existence, one being."

 

From the Druze books: "Why, if you ask us, do we reject all the books except the Quran? Know that as we were forced to hide behind the veil of Mohammedanism, it was necessary to adopt the Book of Muhammad. "

 

Al-Hakim, who throughout his reign aroused strong mixed feelings in his people, in the end became the object of worship 11 years before his death. Four centuries after Muhammad’s revelations, a part of the Islamic world wanted to have a permanent incarnation of God who came to earth in the likeness of Christ, or the gods of the Far East. The emissaries of the new faith came from Persia, where Islam always had a more spiritual nature due to ancient Persian beliefs.

 

The first person who dared to speak of God residing in al-Hakim arrived in Egypt in 409 AH, His name was Hasan ibn al-Farhan Heydar, often referred to as al-Aghram. Al-Aghram objected to Muhammad's prophetic mission and urged people to do things which were forbidden by the laws of the Quran. Some sources report that al-Hakim was so pleased with al-Aghram’s message that he invited him to the palace, dressed him in fine clothes and made him a member of his cortege. His career, however, did not last very long. After 8 days, he was robbed and killed by the mob. One source claims that after al-Aghram had tried to read a letter in the mosque, beginning with the words "Bismil-Hakim al-rahman al-rahim ..." the crowd pounced on him and his companions, killing them all apart from al-Aghram who managed to escape.

 

In the year 410 AH, Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad al-Zawzani, from the town of Ruzun, appeared. In a mosque next to Bab al-Nasr, he invited people to worship al-Hakim and he announced himself the leader of those who believed. He appointed titles and assigned responsibilities in the new assembly. While creating his books, Hamza often reached for the forbidden works of Pythagoras and Plato.

 

Another emissary proclaiming the divinity of al-Hakim was Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi born of a Turk and an African mother. He was an adept and a missionary of the Ismaili sect. He was in charge of finances in al-Hakim’s palace. Ad-Darazi’s mystic genealogy proclaimed that the soul of Adam went to live in Ali and then passed into al-Hakim where it remained forever. Hamza and ad-Darazi competed with each other, which, as Perillier suggests, could have led to ad-Darazi being murdered by Hamza.

 

The name "Druze" referring to the religious community is probably derived from ad-Darazi, but all researchers agree that the theoretical background of the religion was created by Hamza. He was the author of "Acts Suspended", the content of which can be found in De Sacy’s work. The new community was called al-Muwahhidun (unifying, monotheists) or Duruz. The first of these names does not raise any objections and is commonly used by both followers of al-Hakim and researchers. While travelling around Syria, I was often corrected when I used the term Duruz. The explanations were different, but usually al-Darazi was mentioned and people didn’t want their faith to be associated only with this one preacher of their faith.