Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo

Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo

Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo

Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo

Synopsis

This book provides an understanding of the complexities of political legitimacy in Islamic dynasties by examining Fatimid political culture in Egypt reconstructed from court rituals. The author approaches ritual as a dynamic process through which claims to political and religious authority in Islamic societies was articulated, and in which complex negotiations of power have taken place.

Excerpt

The Fatimids came onto the scene in the Islamic world when both the political hegemony and the religious authority of the Abbasid caliphate were being challenged. Some of the most serious challenges to Abbasid religious authority came from various Shi'is, groups who insisted that 'Alī b. Abī Ṭālib should have succeeded the Prophet as head of the umma (community of believers). These partisans (shī'a, hence the term Shi'i) of 'Alī eventually argued as well that the headship of the Islamic community should rest with the descendants of 'Alī and his wife Fātima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad; the partisans believed these descendants had inherited spiritual authority. The disputes between different groups of Shi'is often centered around genealogy, and the Isma'ilis asserted that the line of the imamate should be traced to Ismā'īl, the son and designated successor of Ja'far al-Sādiq (d. 148/765). The Isma'ilis maintained that even though Ismā'īl had predeceased his father, the imamate remained in his line and was passed to his son Muḥammad. The founder of the Fatimid dynasty, 'Ubayd Allah, thus claimed direct descent from Muḥammad b. Ismā'īl and, ultimately, from the Prophet Muḥammad through 'Alī and Fāṭima.

Although 'Ubayd Allah's origins are obscure (and his lineage hotly contested by medieval polemicists), his history is known from the year 286/899, when he assumed leadership of the Isma'ili movement in Syria. At that time, the movement acknowledged Muhammad b. Ismā'īl as the hidden imam and believed that he had not died but gone into concealment and would reappear as a messianic figure called "the rising" (al-qā'im) or "the guide" (al-mahdī). According to early Isma'ili doctrine, this messianic figure would abrogate the external religious law (ẓāhir) and reveal instead the esoteric and inner truths of true religion (bāṭin). Some considered 'Ubayd Allah's claim to be the imam, and his assumption of the . . .

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