Valuable Source books of Fatimi History

In the past few years, research scholars, delving into the history of the medieval ages, have been increasingly concentrating on the study of Fatimi literature. They have found in it a fundamental link in the chain of happenings in the Islamic world, having a profound influence on the development of Islamic thought and culture. As evidence of this may be cited the large number of books on Fatimi history written in recent years .

Whenever Egyptian writers have taken care to rely on original Fatimi sources, namely, the books and records of Fatimi scholars, the result has been commendable. Such writings have been found to succeed better, than previous attempts, in presenting genuine facts and avoiding prejudice.

So long as their study has followed scientific methods, eschewing bias, the range of research has been wide, revealing a far-reaching outlook on branches of Fatimi learning.

However, because of the lack of source materials, studies in Fatimi history have at times been subject to error. The source materials indeed consist of the books written by Fatimi authors at the court of the Fatimi Imams, recording what they have seen and remembered of their Imams. They also cover the volumes written by Fatimi authors on the basis of the original books and records that were preserved by them.

The first set of authors who wrote voluminous books, gave discourses and prepared compilations and handouts were eminent dignitaries of the Fatimi period like Syedna Abi Hatim Al-Razi, Syedna Qadhi-en-Numan, Syedna Moyyed Shirazi and such other illustrious scholars. To them should go the credit for leaving a rich treasure-house of literature.

The second set of authors were those who, inheriting the Fatimi wealth of literature and also a keen perception of its background on the culmination of Fatimi rule in Egypt, based their writings on the original documents. They chose Yemen as their new centre of activity; and observing the evolution of the Fatimi civilisation, they assimilated it in their very being and manner of thinking . They not only preserved the Fatimi books, but also guided others to them, and themselves wrote volumes on the basis of the documents or communications sent to them by their Imams. The communications, woven on silken cloth, were preserved by the Yemen scholars for centuries. These too deserve praise for their efforts.

So, it may truly be said that the immense treasure of Fatimi literature consists of both types of books, firstly, those of contemporary dignitaries like Al-Majalisval-Musayerat, Iftiahud Dawat and Daaemul-Islam, all written by Qadhi-en-Numan bin Mohammed at the instance and under the patronage of the Fatimi Imam al-Moiz, who was the founder of Cairo and of the Al-Azhar University. There are many more of such books.

Secondly, there are the books written by Dais of Yemen, throwing light on the original sources. These scholars, benefiting from the environment and atmosphere of the Fatimi civilization, in which they had been brought up, imparted clarity to details and also produced valuable commentaries. Their writings make up a very big collection indeed.

In the 10th century, Hijri (A.H.946), this valuable library was brought to India when the Fatimi dignitaries transferred their centre of activity from Yemen to this country. It is possible that in the process of shifting, a small portion of this priceless heritage was destroyed or lost on the way owing to the long distances of travel by sea and land between the two countries. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the bulk of the collection is today preserved in the library of His Holiness Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin who is the 51st in the line of Fatimi dignitaries, the Dai-el-Mutlaqs.

When his Holiness visited Egypt in the year 1356 A.H. soon after performing the Haj, the Egyptian Government gave him a memorable reception. This naturally flowed from the warm feelings that the Egyptian people have towards Fatimi rule, which was established about a thousand years ago and which continued for two centuries, representing a very benign influence in Egyptian history.

Moved by these sentiments, the Egyptian Government presented to his Holiness valuable pieces of cloth woven during the Fatimi period and treasured in the national museum. There are 39 such pieces, each of which is preserved in a glass frame, the oldest of them going back to the time of the Imam Al-Moiz-Le-dinillah. The Egyptian Government also presented to him gold coins of the Fatimi period. No wonder, then, if His Holiness has looked upon this as a reward of providence for the the services rendered by him to the Holy Ka’ba at Mecca the curtains of which he had got prepared . These deeply-cherished Egyptian presents have been carefully preserved by His Holiness at his residence in Bombay.

Stirred by the same sentiments and the sense of close affinity existing with Egypt since the Fatimi days, His Holiness was naturally very happy to welcome His Excellency Gamal Abdul Nasser on his historic visit to India and greet him with warm regards and affection, more so as His Excellency not only represents the people of the United Arab Republic, but also symbolises the renaissance of Arab Nationalism and the forces of peace and tranquillity.

The Aligarh Muslim University was highly honoured by His Excellency’s visit. His Holiness as Chancellor of the University welcomed him to the historic institution, and expressed the hope that it would be a prelude to the strengthening of educational ties between this University and the Universities of Egypt. To commemorate the happy occasion, His Holiness presented him with source materials of Egyptian history in the form of microfilm copies of the valuable manuscripts of Uyunul-Akhbar, which would constitute an important addition to the national library of Egypt.

Uyunul-Akhbar, comprising old Yemeni manuscripts preserved in the library of His Holiness, is considered to be the most authentic source book of Fatimi history. A portion of these manuscripts is in the hand-writing of the author himself, Syedna Idris Imaduddin (872 A.H). The text of the book , running into seven volumes, bears eloquent testimony to the care taken by him in presenting without any bias established historical events. The attractive style of the writings and their accuracy speak volumes for the attention given to calligraphy and collation.

The book presents Islamic history from its inception to the time of the Fatimi Imams. In dealing with the subject, the author has made the personalities of the Imams the pivot around which the story moves . Selecting the oldest and most authentic documents with care and objectivity, he has probed through them to the facts of the past, bringing out the impact of the hidden forces of history . By painstaking research and scientific criticism, he has salvaged from old documents much that had lain hidden under prejudice. Syedna Idris Imaduddin is thus the first Fatimi historian to compile a book with selective , accurate details, thus ensuring for it an unrivalled place among writings on the subject.

Of special significance is the fact that Uyunul-Akhbar throws valuable light on the history of Egyptian thought and culture and on the remarkable services rendered by Egypt in the sphere of religion and science under Fatimi inspiration.

The author, Syedna Idris Imaduddin , was the 19th Dai in the line of Fatimi dignitaries. He was born in the year 794 A.H. in a fortress of Shibam, a high mountain in the western region of Yemen near the Red sea. He passed away at the same place at the age of 78 in 872 A.H. His grave, high on the top of the mountain, is as well known today as the water-place beside which he used to carry on his literary activities. The manuscripts , presented in the microfilms, were copied in Yemen either at the time of the author or soon after his death, and collated with the original in the author’s own handwriting.

This gift from His Holiness indicates his appreciation of the literary services being rendered by scholars all over the world who strive to establish historical facts and carry on studies in Fatimi literature without bias. It also betokens His Holiness’s interest in helping research with manuscripts and other source materials available in his library.

compiled by Al-Jamea-tus-Saifiyah to serve as a note of information on the valuable presents offered to His Excellency the President of the United Arab Republic during his visit to India in 1960