Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam

Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam

Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam

Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam


This first full-length study of women and the Fatimids is a groundbreaking work investigating an unexplored area in the field of Islamic and medieval studies.

The authors have unearthed a wealth of references to women, thus re-inscribing their role in the history of one of the most fascinating Islamic dynasties, the only one to be named after a woman. At last some light is thrown on the erstwhile silent and shadowy figures of women under the Fatimids which gives them a presence in the history of women in medieval and pre-modern dynasties.

Basing their research on a variety of sources from historical works to chronicles, official correspondence, documentary sources and archaeological findings, the authors have provided a richly informative analysis of the status and influence of women in this period. Their contribution is explored first within the context of Isma'ili and Fatimid genealogical history, and then within the courts in their roles as mothers, courtesans, wives and daughters, and as workers and servants. Throughout the book comparison is drawn with the status and roles of women in earlier, contemporary and subsequent Islamic as well as non-Islamic courts.


On the sunny day of 23 January 1958 a large crowd gathered in a colourful assembly in the National Stadium of Karachi. To the sound of music played by the tuxedoed musicians of the Prince Aly Khan Orchestra, women in gleaming and flowing attire, men wearing elaborate headgear and playful children awaited in trepidation on the stands. At last a controlled commotion in the middle of the pitch signalled the beginning of the extraordinary ceremony that the joyful crowd had come to witness. High dignitaries in their fineries carrying the Holy Qur'an, the ceremonial sword of justice and other insignia flanked and followed a handsome young man as he made his way towards the centre of the pitch where a pulpit had been built for the occasion.

Walking by the young man's left side was a statuesque woman, with her head uncovered, wearing a stunning white sari, which further enhanced her mature beauty. The young man climbed alone to the top of the pulpit and, with great composure, reached its centre. A high dignitary presented him with the copy of the Holy Qur'an, thus marking the formal beginning of the ceremony. As the Holy Book was handed over, all those present lowered their heads and covered their faces at once: the women concealed their gaze under the most ornate veils, the men shadowed their faces with garlands made of flowers and coloured paper. Then, the young man on the pulpit stood up, donned the robe that had been worn by his grandfather and finally sat on a throne-like chair, basking in the admiration of those tens of thousands of people around him. The formal ceremony over, the stadium resounded again to the music of a Scottish bagpipe band while the young man, followed by the dignitaries, made his way out of the stadium escorted by the same woman who had accompanied him at the start of the event.

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