Sunday, November 29, 2009

Egypt vs. Algeria, The Soccer Row: An Artistic Response by Jihadis

Algerian soccer fans

Protests by Egyptian and Algerian soccer fans following Algeria's defeat of Egypt in a World Cup qualifying match on November 18 have lead to ridiculous sabre-rattling, particularly by the Egyptian government's chief autocrat, president-pharaoh Hosni Mubarak, and offers from Libya's ruling eccentric Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi and the government of Sudan to mediate the dispute. Egyptian-owned businesses in Algeria were damaged and Egyptian pro-regime protesters gathered at the Algerian embassy in Cairo where they rioted and burned Algerian flags. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is investigating the violence.

Egyptians react to their team's loss to the Algerian team on November 18.

The pharaoh has "warned" against attacks on Egyptians abroad and warned melodramatically that he would not tolerate the "humiliation" of Egyptians or Egypt abroad, after his government made allegations that Algerians had targeted Egyptians in third countries. News outlets controlled by the Mubarak government have fueled the fire by spreading "the leader's" threat and allegations.

Egyptian soccer fans clash with anti-riot police during a demonstration near the Algerian embassy in Cairo, Nov. 20, following tension between fans of both countries during the 2010 World Cup in a make-or-break World Cup qualification play-off that Algeria won 1-0, to advance to the 2010 World Cup. Ahmed Gomaa/AP

Many Egypt experts and Middle East analysts see something more than national "pride" in the recent riots and conflict mongering by the pharaoh and his stooges. At the heart of the vitriolic reaction, they say, is a clever attempt by Mubarak & Co. to divert the Egyptian public's attention away from its (the regime's) continued unpopularity at home as well as to try and stall Egypt's growing marginalization in the affairs of the region (it has been eclipsed by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even Qatar

Hosni Mubarak

While doing my daily trolling of jihadi-Salafi web sites for my current research project on the visual media produced by Muslim political (Islamist) groups, both jihadi and non-jihadi, I found an interesting graphic:

Watch for about 35 seconds to see animation

The animated graphic's text begins with the statement, "We are all Muslims," and then procedes to call for Algerians and Egyptians to support the "banner of truth" and the "victory of truth" over false "idols," such as nationalism. "Truth" in these statements refers to the interpretation of religion and politics as seen by jihadi-Salafi groups. This call is illustrated by showing "paths" from both the Algerian and Egyptian flags leading to the black flag emblazoned with the shahada, the Muslim testament of faith, used (in several variations) by jihadi-Salafis across the globe.

The web banner then extols the "men of steadfastness" as photographs of the 'Abd al-Malik Droukdal (also transliterated "Drukdal," the leader of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, a regional jihadi-Salafi group operating in North Africa), al-Qa'ida Central chief Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the late Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb, and September 11, 2001 "lead hijacker" Muhammad Atta are shown.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bridging the Gap: Somalia's Harakat al-Shabab Cleverly Publicizes its Public Sector Social Service Work

The Somali insurgent-jihadi group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen ["Movement of the Warrior-Youth"] is publicizing its public sector social service work, such as distributing materials and monetary aid to those in need and building bridges, literally. This is a smart decision from a strategic point of view, since it allows the group to foster an image and reputation of being actively engaged in public social services. Its potential public relations/propaganda effect is increased considering that the country's current interim transitional government, led by President Shaykh (Sheikh) Sharif Ahmed, has been largely unable to deliver similar services to the general populace, in large part due to its lack of control of large parts of the country, in particular southern regions where Harakat al-Shabab is strong. Thus, the group is able to provide some of the public sector social services that the federal government is not.

In a country that has been torn apart by civil war and inter-clan conflict since the collapse of the regime of its last president, the autocrat Siad Barre in January 1991, the potential public relations and propaganda benefits from this should not be underestimated. By completing and publicizing social service projects, Harakat al-Shabab is able to wield yet another weapon against President Sharif Ahmed's government. "See, we can provide services and the government cannot," they can say.

Harakat al-Shabab is an interesting hybrid movement. Although it has publicly endorsed the ideology espoused by al-Qa'ida Central (AQC), it continues to focus mainly on its nation-stateproject in Somalia. Unlike transient movements such as AQC, Harakat al-Shabab is, at least to some degree, concerned about building a governing structure and base of support, since its future relies primarily on the continued support, or at least tolerance, of the local population. By publicizing its social services work, the group is able to potentially build up its local support base, while also meeting the expectations of its existing base. The Afghan Taliban have recently also shown a greater concern for its place within its own country, sometimes to the detriment of AQC's interests.

Successful social services programs and work have proven to be of great benefit to religious-nationalist groups in the Muslim world, such as the Palestinian HAMAS movement, Lebanese Shi'i party Hizbullah, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Somalia's president, Shaykh Sharif Ahmed is shown engulfed in flames, representing the fires of Hell, at the right.

Harakat al-Shabab's latest video production, "Breezes from the Winds of Victory," which was released on November 14, heavily emphasizes its social services role. Group members are shown distributing books, money, and other prizes to children who have won a competition. Gifts are also distributed before 'Eid al-Fitr prayers, in accordance with longstanding traditions associated, in many Muslim societies, with the annual 'Eids (celebrations or holidays) that end the month of Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage. The video uses the name of the group's current military campaign against the transitional federal government, "Winds of Victory," رياح النصر .

Screen stills from the video are below:

Harakat al-Shabab officials announcing the winners of the competition


Some of the winners and other children present

'Eid al-Fitr prayers

Harakat al-Shabab's paramilitary wing, the Jaysh al-'Usrah ["Army of Hardship"]

Watch "Breezes from the Winds of Victory"

The group released a statement, via the Global Islamic Media Front (a transnational jihadi media outlet) on November 21 that announced the opening of the "al-Quds" [Jerusalem] Bridge in the Shabila (Sha-bee-laa) region of the country between the cities of Marka and Shamboud a week before. The bridge's opening was, according to the statement, "greeted warmly by the people of the Islamic state." The inclusion of a description of the part of Somalia controlled by Harakat al-Shabab as an "Islamic state" is noteworthy. The remainder of the statement describes the physical characteristics and measurements of the bridge.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

افتتاح جسر القدس في ولاية شبيلى السفلى الإسلامية

الحمدُ لله ربّ العالمين والصّلاة والسّلام على نبيّنا محمّد و على آله وصحبه أجمعين أما بعد:

افتتحت ولاية شبيلى السفلى الإسلامية الأسبوع الماضي جسرا جديدا أنشأته قريبا في الطريق العام بين مدينة "مركا "عاصمة الولاية و مدينة "شلامبود" فوق واد كان يسبب إحراجا كبيرا للمسلمين في ذلك الطريق و سمي بـ ( جسر القدس) وسط ترحيب حار من أهالي الولاية الإسلامية . يصل طول الجسر الجديد ( جسر القدس ) 80 مترا و يصل عمقه حوالي 4 أمتار بينما تصل كثافته 2.5 مترا و يرتفع من فوق الوادي بحوالي 6 أمتار و استغرق بناؤه لمدة شهر وهو الأول من نوعه في تاريخ الولاية حيث أنه يسهل نقل السيول التي تأتي من الجبال التي تحد مدينة "مركا"من جهة الغرب إلى المحيط الهندي بينما يبقي الطريق سالما و صالحا للاستخدام طوال العام و لا يتأثر بالسيول أثناء هطول الأمطار في الولاية و الحمد لله رب العالمين.

والله أكبر
{وَلِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ وَلِرَسُولِهِ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلَكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لا يَعْلَمُونَ}

القسم الإعلامي لحَرَكَة الشَّبَابِ المُجَاهدِين (( جيشُ العُسْرَة فِي الصُّومَال )) السبت 04 ذو الحجة 1430 هـ 21/11/2009

المصدر : (مركز صدى الجهاد للإعلام) الجبهة الإعلامية الإسلامية العالمية

رَصدٌ لأخبَار
المُجَاهدِين وَ تَحرِيضٌ للمُؤمِنين

Pictures accompanied the statement, several of which are below:

The black flag used by Harakat al-Shabab can be seen to the right of the sign.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jundullah Leader 'Abdul Malik Rigi Writes Letters to Obama, U.N. Secretary General, & Turkish Prime Minister; Morgue Photo of IRGC General Published

'Abdul Malik Rigi, the leader of the Iranian Baluchi (Balochi) jihadi-insurgent group Jundullah ["God's soldiers"], has written letters to United States president Barack Obama, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. All three letters are dated November 15, and all three are masterful examples of clever politics. Rigi tailors each letter to its particular intended recipient and portrays Jundullah's insurgency in Iranian Baluchistan as a struggle for human rights against a repressive autocracy (a claim which has an element of truth, as I have noted previously). Jundullah is based primarily in Pakistani Baluchistan, where Rigi is believed to be hiding, a region which borders Iranian Baluchistan.

The group has carried out major attacks against Iranian police, military, Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and political targets, as well as civilians and "collaborators." Its most recent attack occurred on October 18 with two bombings, including a kamikaze (suicide) bombing inside a mosque, that killed 42 people, including senior officers in the IRGC and local Sunni and Shi'i communal leaders. This attack, which was both a political assassination and a terrorist strike that displayed wanton disregard for the safety of civilians, was praised by Iranian Sunni expatriates who follow the Salafi mode of thought within Sunni Islam (even more specifically, the violent jihadi-Salafi fringe within the larger Salafi movement). These radical activists are based in London and run the blog Sons of Sunnah-Iran. I highlighted their celebration of the October 18 attacks and also covered their substantial editing of their original post to (not so) subtly respond to my coverage HERE and HERE.

Shaykh 'Abd al-Rahim Mollazadeh, also known as Abu Muntasir al-Baluchi (Balushi), a virulently anti-Shi'i and anti-government Iranian Salafi Sunni leader connected to Sons of Sunnah.

In his letter to U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Rigi writes that Jundullah, which he has renamed "the People's Resistance Movement of Iran (PRMI)," is simply, "...struggling for democracy and human rights in Iran. Its main political strategy is to work with other Iranian opposition groups (inside or outside) for restoring the citizenry rights of all Iranian religious and ethnic groups, including the Sunnites [Sunni Muslims] and the Balouch who are the main victims of Iran’s suppressive regime." Among Rigi's list of grievances is what he says has been the systematic suppression of activists seeking autonomy for Iran's Baluchi minority and Sunni Muslims generally since the 1978-1979 revolution led to the establishment of a revolutionary Shi'i theocracy. He says that "over 2,000" Baluchis have been executed on "baseless charges" since the revolution.

Rigi states, "We are determined to stop the massacre of the Balouch people in the hands of the Iranian regime and we believe that self-defence is our basic right endorsed by universal human rights instruments, including the United Nations Conventions and Universal Declarations of Human Rights. Our long-term objective is to work for the establishment of a democratic Iran where all citizens, no matter to which ethnic group or religious sect they belong, enjoy justice and equal rights under a federal system and their right to self-determination is respected." Here he cleverly coaches Jundullah's goals in the language of human rights. He even promises to abide by the internationally-accepted code of human rights even when engaged in insurgency: "I assure you and the world community that my organization will abide by the international laws and human rights value as we ourselves are the victims of injustice." Jundullah's most recent attacks belie his claims.

The letter closes with Rigi urging Ki-moon to dispatch a "fact-finding mission" to Iranian Baluchistan and to raise the issue of Iranian "state terrorism" against the Baluchi minority at the U.N. Security Council. Rigi declares, "We are ready to lay down arms but only if the Iranian government provides guarantees to respect the rights of the Balouch people as mentioned in the Iranian constitution, In this regard, my organization will welcome your mediatory role. Your efforts in this regard will help in establishing global security, peace and stability that are your organization’s primary goals."

Although much of his letter to U.S. president Barack Obama matches verbatim large sections of his letter to Ki-moon, Rigi tailors his arguments to match more closely the allegations of successive U.S. presidential administrations, including Obama's, against the Iranian state. He raises the issue of "terrorism," writing, "The Iranian regime does not follow any rules or laws. It is sponsoring international terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iran and Palestine. The world is clearly seeing how this regime is suppressing its own people who are demanding their rights. A significant number of top Iranian officials have been involved in terrorist acts in the world and are wanted in various countries." Here he references Iran's alleged political and financial support of various groups across the Middle East and Southwest Asia, a popular topic among U.S. bureaucrats and talking heads.


Rigi closes by asking Obama to consider "the Baluchi people" when formulating his administration's policy toward the Iranian state: "I strongly request you as the president of the United States, which is defending democratic and human-friendly values, to consider the Balouch issue while formulating your government’s foreign policy towards Iran. Though foreign policy is always based on national interests, I hope this time human rights values will also be considered by your foreign office." The U.S. government condemned Jundullah's October 18 attacks, though successive U.S. administrations are believed to have supported the group, along with other anti-regime insurgent and terrorist organizations, including several Kurdish Marxist groups and the Islamist-Marxist eccentrics of the Mujahideen-i Khalq and its parent organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The Mujahideen-i Khalq maintained bases in Iraq during the 1980s and 1990s and received support from the regime of that country's dictator, Saddam Husayn, and his Iraqi Ba'th Party. The group has attempted, somewhat successfully, to utilize unrest following Iran's contested June presidential elections as propaganda tool. There are reportedly ties between Jundullah and the Mujahideen-i Khalq.

As with his letters to Ki-Moon and Obama, the bulk of Rigi's third letter, this one addressed to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, maintains a uniform structure and wording. However, in the closing, Rigi appeals to Turkey's rich Ottoman past: "I request you as the successor of Ottoman heritage to consider the Balouch issue whiormulating your country’s foreign policy towards Iran because I believe this is your religious and moral obligation. The Baloch and Turkish people have enjoyed brotherly relations in the past. The Ottoman Empire was the first to recognize the independent status of Balochistan in the 17th century and it gave the title of Begler Beigi to the Balouch ruler, Noori Naseer Khan."

Rigi also urges Erdoğan to publicly support Iranian Baluchis, as he did Turkic Uyghurs who are being violently suppressed by China's Communist regime and who have been since China occupied East Turkestan in 1949: "The Muslim world will remember your brave act at the Davos conference as well as your stand on the Chinese government’s assault on Oyghori Muslims. Your Balouch Muslim brothers expect the same stand by you on their issue. I hope that you will respond to your religious and moral call."

Click for enlarged view


A photograph of the body of General Nur (Noor) 'Ali Shushtari, the deputy commander of the IRGC's ground forces and one of the casualties from Jundullah's October 18 attacks, was also recently circulated by the group.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From Revolution to State: The Fatimids and the Shi'i Century

*The post topics here at Views from the Occident will, as they have in the past, be diversifying a bit. One of my closest friends, "M.G.", and I had a long conversation about two weeks ago about my blog. He strongly suggested that I diversify my writing, as I have done in the not-so-distant past. He was also critical of my heavy focus on jihadi groups over the past five months or so. Although I do not agree with all of his points of view, I must say that my posts have indeed been very heavily focused on
jihadi groups since May-ish of this year. Now, I will still be writing about these groups and their ideologies, as they are the basis of my current research project that focuses more broadly on Islamist (and not just jihadi) artwork, but I will try to write about a wider array of topics. This will include a return to my other main area of research, Shi'i Islam, particularly in the modern period.

The first "inaugural" post in this effort is a review essay on the intellectual and ideological foundations of the Fatimid caliphate (state), the first Shi'i Muslim dynasty in history, that ruled much of North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the Hijaz (western Arabia) from 909 to 1171 C.E. The post is centered on Between Revolution and State: The Path to Fatimid Statehood, Professor Sumaiya A. Hamdani's excellent study of the thought of al-Qadi al-Nu'man, the preeminent Fatimid jurist, and his role in the establishment of the dynasty's legitimacy. A valued professorial mentor of mine, she is one of a small group of Islamicists who specialize on Isma'ili Shi'ism and an even smaller group who specialize on medieval Isma'ili history. Her book, however, is also widely applicable to individuals in other sub-fields, including medieval Middle Eastern history and Shi'ism generally, as she discusses al-Qadi al-Nu'man comparatively with his contemporary, the Twelver Shi'i jurist and ahadith compiler Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Ya'qub al-Kulayni.

The Fatimid caliphs (rulers) claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter, Fatima, from whom they derive their dynastic name. She was also the wife of the first Shi'i Imam, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, who Sunni Muslims view as the fourth Rashidun ["Rightly-guided"] successor to Muhammad. In the pre-caliphate period, the Fatimid family, residing in Salamiyya, Syria, dispatched missionaries (singular: da'i , plural: du'aat) to North Africa, Iran, Central and South Asia, Yemen, and eastern Arabia and Bahrayn to propagate their cause. These missionaries won over converts across the Muslim world and were particularly successful in Yemen, Syria, Iran, South Asia, and eastern Arabia, as well as among the Kutama Berbers of North Africa near present-day Tunisia. The Kutama Berbers would form the bulk of the Fatimid army during the caliphate's early decades and allowed the Fatimid family to move from Salamiyya to Tunisia, where they were safer from their rivals, the 'Abbasid caliphs in Iraq. The Fatimids built the city of Mahdiyya in modern day Tunisia, which served as their first capital.

Before coming to power in 909 C.E., the Fatimids upheld the then-popular Isma'ili Shi'i belief that an occulted Imam would return as a messianic figure. The Fatimid caliphs initially claimed to only be deputies for this Imam. However, shortly after they established their state, the Fatimids claimed to be both caliphs (temporal rulers) and Imams (religious authorities), and dropped their advocacy of a belief in an occulted Imam. Similar to other Isma'ilis who retained this belief, such as their rivals the Qaramatiyyun in Bahrayn and eastern Arabia as well as Twelver Shi'is, the Fatimid Isma'ilis believed that their Imam-caliphs possessed special abilities to interpret and discern meanings from the Qur'an and other religious sources, abilities denied normal human beings. It was through the Imam-caliph that the revelation of the Qur'an was fully accessible.

Al-Azhar University and Mosque in Cairo

The belief in an occulted Imam, a Mahdi (roughly, "messiah"), appears in Isma'ili Shi'ism at least one century before it emerged among Twelver Shi'is, who today form the majority of the world's Shi'i Muslims. Twelver Shi'is also believe in an occulted Imam, who they believe to be the twelfth Imam in the line of Imams they view as temporal and religious successors to Muhammad beginning with 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. This belief began to develop during the lifetime of their eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari (846-874 C.E.) and it is the son Twelver Shi'is claim he had, Muhammad bin Hasan, who went into a mystical hiding to save him from the 'Abbasids and who will return as the promised Mahdi. Sunnis dispute the Twelver Shi'i claim that Hasan al-'Askari even had an heir when he died, though they also believe in a promised Mahdi. However, Sunnis believe the Mahdi will not be the son of Hasan al-'Askari.

Isma'ili Shi'is take their name from Isma'il, son of the sixth Shi'i Imam to both Isma'ilis and Twelvers, Ja'far al-Sadiq (702-765 C.E.). Ja'far named his son Isma'il to be his successor as Imam, fulfilling the requirement of nass, a Shi'i belief that the Imam had to designate his successor. However Isma'il died before his father. Twelvers believe that Ja'far then designated his other son, Musa al-Kadhim (Kazim), as his successor, with the line of the Imamate (line of Imams) continuing through him up to the twelfth Imam, Muhammad bin Hasan "al-Mahdi." A large group of Shi'is at the time however believed that because Isma'il had been designated by his father as successor, the line of Imams should continue through him. Of this group, some believed that Isma'il had not really died but had instead gone into occultation. Others believed that his son Muhammad was the rightful heir to the Imamate. When Muhammad bin Isma'il died, some Isma'ilis believed he had not died but had gone into occultation.

At the height of their power in the tenth century, the Fatimids were a formidable military, social, and architectural/artistic force. They ruled much of the central Muslim heartlands of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the Hijaz region in western Arabia, where the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located. They presented a very real alternative to the Sunni 'Abbasid caliphs in Iraq, who by the middle of the tenth century had begun to see their authority decline as the power of their Turkic slave soldiers (singular: ghulam , plural: ghilmaan) rose. The Fatimids are perhaps most famous for building the city of Cairo near the old Muslim riverside garrison town of al-Fustat on the Nile River, transforming it into their imperial capital. Many of Cairo's most famous landmarks, such as al-Azhar University and Mosque and the Zaynabiyya and Imam Husayn shrine-mosques were built during the Fatimid period. It is likely that the body of Zaynab, daughter of Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the head of the third Shi'i Imam (to all Shi'is: Isma'ilis, Twelvers, and Zaydis), Husayn bin 'Ali, are buried in the latter two shrines. The Fatimids were patrons of Syria's many Shi'i shrines and brought back relics when their control of Syria was threatened by the horde of European Crusaders who came to the Near East in the late eleventh century.

Al-Husayn Mosque-Shrine in Cairo, near the Khan al-Khalili outdoor market and al-Azhar University and Mosque. Special tiling marks the spot where Imam Husayn's head is reportedly interred. A small shrine once existed in the city of Ascalon near the modern day Gaza Strip where the head of the Imam supposedly lay on its way from Damascus to Cairo. Ascalon was once a Palestinian Arab city before most of its inhabitants were driven out or forced to flee during the 1948 war between the Zionists and the Palestinians and other Arab states (though all but Jordan and Egypt sent only token, if that, forces).

Zaynabiyya Shrine-Mosque in Cairo

The Fatimids even had their own school of Islamic jurisprudence and ahadith tradition, developed by their chief jurist, al-Qadi al-Nu'man, who is the focus of Professor Hamdani's book. Ahadith (singular: hadith) are reports of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings, habits, and deeds that are a key foundation of Islamic jurisprudence and law. Sunnis and Twelver Shi'is have their own authoritative ahadith collections, as do Zaydi Shi'is. During the Fatimid period, the Isma'ili Shi'is also had their own collections, though many of these have been lost.

Today, "Shi'i" generally refers to Twelvers, who form the majority of the world's Shi'i Muslims and are the largest single religious group in Iran, Bahrayn, Iraq, and Lebanon, with sizable minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, West Africa, and in Muslim communities in Europe and North and South America. However, in the medieval period, if you wished to be a politically active Shi'i, you would have undoubtedly been an Isma'ili. The Twelvers in this period were politically quiescent and would not emerge as a real political force until the early sixteenth century with the foundation of the Safavid dynasty in Azerbaijan and Iran. In many ways, the tenth century, stretching into the eleventh, was the "Shi'i century," with the Isma'ili Fatimids at the helm.

The Shi'i Buyids (Buwayhids), a military family from Rayy near the Caspian Sea in what is now northern Iran, ruled as regents for the 'Abbasid caliphs from 945-1055. The Buyids were originally Zaydi Shi'is but upon coming to power as de facto rulers-in-the-name of the caliphs in Baghdad became closer to Twelver Shi'ism, though they never attempted to impose their own religious views on their mostly Sunni subjects. The Buyids did patronize descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (sayyids) and allow Shi'i mourning rituals during the month of 'Ashura, when Shi'is of all groups commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn in 680 C.E. at the hands of the Umayyad general 'Umar bin Sa'd, who was acting on the orders of 'Ubaydullah bin Ziyad, the Umayyad governor of Iraq, who in turn was acting on the orders of the second Umayyad caliph, Yazid bin Mu'awiyah (Yazid I). It was the Isma'ili Fatimids, however, who developed a school of religious thought and jurisprudence, as well as political thought, that rivaled the dominant Sunni views epitomized by the 'Abbasid caliphs.

Al-Azhar University and Mosque in Cairo


The eighth century and ninth centuries were periods of great social, theological, and military upheaval in the Muslim Middle East, and particularly during the lifetimes of the sixth Shi‘ī Imam, Ja‘far al-Sadiq (702-765), and his father, the fifth Shi‘ī Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir (675-732). It was during the latter’s lifetime that the practice of designation (nass), whereby the current Imam would explicitly name his successor, became a standard in Shi‘ism. The Imam, Shi‘īs believed, would receive divine guidance when making his choice. Unfortunately, Ja‘far al-Sadiq’s first chosen heir, his son Isma‘īl (721-755), died before his father. What happened next is still the subject of debate between the different surviving Shi‘ī sects. Those that became Twelver Shi‘īs supported the claims of Ja‘far’s son and Isma‘īl’s half-brother, Musa al-Kazim, who would eventually become their seventh Imam. Other Shi‘īs supported one or the other of Isma‘īl’s full brothers, Muhammad and ‘Abd Allah. As Hamdani notes, the sources on this period of Isma‘īlī Shi‘ī history is limited and much of what survives are heresiographical works produced by one Shi‘ī faction or another.[1] Many early Isma‘ilis and other Shi‘īs during this period believed that their leader, either Ja‘far al-Sadiq or his son Isma‘il, had not really died, but instead had gone into occultation.[2]

The Fatimid Isma‘īlī da‘wa (“call” or “mission”) has its roots in this social and theological milieu. ‘Abd Allah bin Muhammad (909-934), one of the sons of Muhammad, a son of Ja‘far al-Sadiq’s son Isma‘īl, became the first Fatimid imam-caliph, taking the name al-Mahdi (hereafter referred to as al-Mahdi), and residing in the town of Salamiyya, Syria from where he secretly led the Fatimid da‘wa.[3] During this period, it is unclear how many Isma‘īlīs supported al-Mahdi alone and how many supported him because they believed that he was the deputy of his father, Muhammad bin Isma‘īl, who many believed was not dead, but in occultation. Nevertheless, Isma‘īlī missionaries (singular: da‘i) quickly spread their creed across the Middle East, from North Africa and Egypt to the west to Iraq, Iran, Sind, and Bahrayn in the east, and from Syria in the north to Yemen in the south. There was a formal split in 899 between the Fatimids, those who believed al-Mahdi was the living imam-caliph, and the Qaramatis, those who believed that al-Mahdi’s father, Muhammad bin Isma‘īl, was in occultation and who rejected the imamate of his son.[4

Eventually, al-Mahdi moved from Syria to Egypt, in part to escape threats emanating from both the ‘Abbasid Caliphate centered in Iraq and the Qaramatis, who developed a stronghold in eastern Arabia and Bahrayn. Yemen, once an attractive location for al-Mahdi’s relocation, at this time was becoming less and less stable, as a resurgent Zaydi imamate reduced Isma‘ili holdings in the region, and the main Isma‘īl ī da‘i, ‘Ali bin al-Fadl, publicly renounced his recognition of al-Mahdi by 911.[5] The imam-caliph did not remain in Egypt for long, and soon moved further into North Africa, taking refuge among the Kutama Berbers in what is now modern day Tunisia. The Kutama, many of whom had already been Shi‘ī, were won over to the Fatimid da‘wa by the da‘i Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Shi‘ī, who met a caravan of Kutama who were on pilgrimage in Mecca and with whom he traveled back to their homeland, at their request, in order to continue instructing them in Fatimid doctrine, which he did from 893 to 909.[6] The Kutama would be the backbone of al-Mahdi’s army.

Although the cities of North Africa and Egypt were strongholds of Sunnīsm, dissident creeds flourished in the hinterlands between them, among them a kind of unitarian Shi‘ism, or Shi‘ism that bore no sectarian Shi‘ī loyalty and was instead expressed as loyalty generally to the family of the Prophet through ‘Ali and Fatima (Ahl al-Bayt). Kharijism, a creed that rejected both Sunnīsm and Shi‘ism, also flourished outside of the large cities, winning many adherents among the Berber tribes.[7]

'Abbasid Caliphate and its fragmentation

The Fatimids, particularly during the lifetime of the imam-caliph al-Mansur (r. 946-953), developed a two-pronged policy: a public (zahiri) discourse aimed at satisfying the need to rule a mostly non-Shi‘ī population, and an esoteric (batini) discourse that allowed them to continue disseminating information and teachings to their Isma‘īlī subjects. Qadi al-Nu‘man was the architect of this system and is the main subject of Hamdani’s short, but in-depth study of the transformation of the Fatimid da‘wa into a dawla, a state.[8] It is perhaps no wonder that al-Nu‘man’s most famous work is entitled Iftitah al-Da‘wa wa Ibtida’ al-dawla (“The Opening of the Mission and the Advent of the State”).

al-Qadi al-Nu‘man: Kitab al-Urjuzah al-Muntakhabah fi Fiqh Ahl al-Bayt (“A Versified Selection on the Jurisprudence of the Ahl al-Bayt”)

The role of the Isma‘īlī Fatimid imam was to interpret the inner (batin) meanings of the Qur’an and religious sources, which were hidden from the view of ordinary Muslims behind the outer (zahir) meanings. The prophets brought revelation and the imams were believed to be the only ones who were able to reveal the batini meanings to the believers. Prior to the Day of Judgment at an appointed time, the mahdi or savior would come and would found a society based on absolute justice for those who followed him and his predecessors.[9] The Fatimid da‘is held debates with local Sunnī Maliki ‘ulama, arguing for the supremacy of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib over the other Companions of the Prophet and the three “Rashidun” caliphs recognized by the Sunnīs. The da‘is, using interpretations of Qur’anic verses and Ahadith, also argued in support of the imamate, since a living imam was always required to be present, though he may often be in hiding, in order to lead his community.[10]

The biographical details of al-Qadi Abu Hanifa al-Nu‘man bin Muhammad bin Mansur bin Ahmad bin Hayyun al-Tamimi (known hereafter as “Qadi al-Nu‘man”) are incomplete. He came from a Maliki Sunnī family that had converted, before he was born, to Isma‘īlī Shi‘ism and he entered into the service of the Fatimid imam-caliph al-Mahdi in 925. He first was appointed qadi of Tripoli and then the supreme qadi (qadi al-qudat) of the growing Fatimid caliphate. Qadi al-Nu‘man served four Fatimid imam-caliphs, the last being the fourth, al-Mu‘izz, who ascended the throne in 953. He died in Cairo, the new Fatimid capital city, in 974.

Fatimid cemetery at Minya, Egypt near Aswan on the Nile River

During his lifetime, he supervised Fatimid religious education, served as the imam-caliphs’ secretary, taught Fatimid doctrine, and wrote theological, juridical, and historical treatises on the founding of the Fatimid state and Fatimid law and jurisprudence. He also collected Ahadith, traditions from the Prophet and, for Shi‘īs, their Imams. One of the first works commissioned from him was Kitab al-Idah, a collection of Ahadith testifying to the authority of the Ahl al-Bayt and the Imams, which was useful in debates between Fatimid and Sunnī Maliki scholars. This work, and many others, of al-Nu‘man’s has not survived completely extant. Many of his works have been lost, and others are only available in part or through references. The sources we have on his life do not tell us how he was educated, so the nature of his education in Islamic religious sciences and the Fatimid da‘wa is unclear.[11]

Perhaps Qadi al-Nu‘man’s most important legacy was his three-pronged defense of the legitimacy of both the Shi‘ī and the Fatimid cause. In Da‘a’im al-Islam (“Pillars of Islam”), he describes the Shi‘ī concepts of imama (the regency of the Imams, in this case the Isma‘īlī Fatimid ones) and walaya, or the duty of Muslims to follow the teachings of the Imams because of their special position. He then presents evidence from the Qur’an, Ahadith, and historical accounts to support the Shi‘ī interpretation of how the succession to the Prophet should have been, namely that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib was the individual who had been named by Muhammad as his successor at Ghadir Khumm during his final pilgrimage, an event that is detailed in Sunni texts, such as the Musnad of the great Sunnī muhaddith Ibn Hanbal. Qadi al-Nu‘man then disputes Sunnī counterclaims about the succession and Ghadir Khumm, as well as Sunnsī fiqh practices.[12] In the realm of historiography, Qadi al-Nu‘man is best known for writing Iftitah al-Da‘wa wa Ibtida’ al-dawla (“The Beginning of the Mission and the Advent of the State”), his history of the beginnings of the Fatimid da‘wa to the establishment of the state in 909.[13] Third and finally, he wrote several treatises in support of obedience of Fatimid subjects to the imam-caliph, based on the concepts of imama and its necessity. He also wrote “wisdom” literature, advising Fatimid officials how to best govern a religiously diverse population.[14]

Map of the Fatimid palaces of Cairo

After periods of communal tension between Sunnīs and Shi‘īs during the early Fatimid period, which led to the outbreak of revolts, the third and fourth Fatimid imam-caliphs, al-Mansur (r. 946-953) and al-Mu‘izz (r. 953-975), pursued a policy of rapprochement with both their Sunnī subjects and rival Isma‘īlī trends in the Mashriq, the eastern Arab Islamic lands and Iran. Sunnī communities were permitted to follow their own ritual and legal traditions, though Fatimid Shi‘ī rituals, such as the call to prayer in the Shi‘ī manner, were paramount. Sunnī qadis were even appointed in towns with majority Sunnī populations. In the east, the two caliphs engaged in discussions and debates with Isma‘īlī groups that did recognize the legitimacy of the Fatimid project, winning over some new converts, most notably in northern Iran and in Sind. Despite these efforts, the Qaramatis of Bahrayn remained implacably hostile toward the Fatimids.[15]

The transformation of the Fatimid project from a covert revolutionary “mission” (da‘wa) into a state (dawla) required a thorough reconsideration and reworking of Fatimid doctrines. Whereas they emphasized the esoteric (batini) in their da‘wa period, the foundation of the Fatimid state, the majority of whose subjects were Maliki Sunnīs, many of whom were not well disposed toward the Fatimids, required the development of public (zahiri) discourse. Qadi al-Nu‘man, for example, in his work Da‘a’im al-Islam defends the legitimacy of the Shi‘ī view of the succession to the Prophet and the concepts of imama and walaya in historical terms, using Qur’anic verses, Ahadith, and historical accounts in a way that was intelligible to Sunnīs. Fatimid imam-caliphs, such as al-Mu‘izz, sought out ways to coexist with their predominantly Sunnī subjects, while still maintaining an official place for Fatimid Isma‘īlism in the state structure. Likewise, more radical tendencies among the Fatimid and Isma‘īlī da‘is were suppressed in the interest of maintaining a zahiri framework that allowed the Fatimids to establish, rule, and expand an empire in a predominantly Sunnī setting.

Da‘a’im al-Islam, The Pillars of Islam

[1] Sumaiya A. Hamdani, Between Revolution and State: The Path to Fatimid Statehood (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 1-3

[2] Ibid, 3

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 4-5.

[6] Ibid, 5-6

[7] Ibid, 6-7

[8] Ibid, 30-31

[9] Ibid, 34-35

[10] Ibid, 36-44

[11] Ibid, 46-53

[12] Ibid, 63-83

[13] Ibid, 93-96

[14] Ibid, 113-130

[15] Ibid, 60-63



Sumaiya A. Hamdani, "The Dialectic of Power: Sunni-Shi'i Debates in Tenth Century North Africa," in Studia Islamica, no. 90 (2000), pgs. 5-21

Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning (1997)

Farhad Daftary, The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines: 2nd Edition (2007)

Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis (1998)

Farhad Daftary, Ismailis in Medieval Muslim Societies (2006)

Paul Walker, Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources (2002)

Paula Sanders, Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo (1994)

Shainool Jiwa (ed.) Towards a Shi'i Mediterranean Empire: Fatimid Egypt and the Founding of Cairo (2009), a translation of a work by the medieval Sunni historian Taqi al-Din Ahmad bin 'Ali al-Maqrizi

Ismail Poonawala, The Pillars of Islam, 2 volumes (2004 & 2006), a translation of al-Qadi al-Nu'man's Da‘a’im al-Islam