The Fatimid Caliphate (Arabic: ٱلْخِلَاْفَة ٱلْفَاطِمِيَّة, romanized: al-Khilāfa al-Fāṭimīya) was an Ismaili Shia caliphate of the 10th to the 12th centuries CE. Spanning a large area of North Africa, it ranged from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The Fatimids, a dynasty of Arab origin, trace their ancestry to Muhammad's daughter Fatima and her husband ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, the first Shi‘ite imam. The Fatimids were acknowledged as the rightful imams by different Isma‘ili communities, but also in many other Muslim lands, including Persia and the adjacent regions. Originating during the Abbasid Caliphate, the Fatimids conquered Tunisia and established the city of "Al Mahdia" (Arabic: المهدية). The Shiʿite dynasty ruled territories across the Mediterranean coast of Africa and ultimately made Egypt the center of the caliphate. At its height, the caliphate included – in addition to Egypt – varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and the Hijaz.
|Religion||Shia (State religion)|
• 909–934 (first)
|Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah|
• 1160–1171 (last)
|Historical era||Early Middle Ages|
• Overthrow of the Aghlabids
|5 January 909|
• Fatimid conquest of Egypt and foundation of Cairo
|17 September 1171|
|969||4,100,000 km2 (1,600,000 sq mi)|
|Historical Arab states and dynasties|
|History of Egypt|
The Fatimids claimed descent from Fatimah Bint Muhammad, the daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The dynasty was founded in 909 by the caliph Abdullāh al-Mahdī Billa, who legitimized his claim through descent from Muhammad by way of his daughter Fātima as-Zahra and her husband ˤAlī ibn-Abī-Tālib, the first Shīˤa Imām, hence the name al-Fātimiyyūn "Fatimid". Between 902 to 909 the foundation of the Fatimid state had been realised by the Kutama Berbers whose conquest of Ifriqiya resulted in the establishment of the Caliphate. After the conquest of Ifriqiya the realm of the Rustamids had also been conquered on the way to Sijilmasa where Abdullāh al-Mahdī Billa who at the time was imprisoned was freed and then accepted as the Imam of the movement, becoming the first Caliph and founder of the ruling dynasty. In 921, the city of Al Mahdia was established as the capital. In 948, they shifted their capital to al-Mansuriyya, near Kairouan. In 969, they conquered Egypt, and in 973 they established Cairo as the capital of their caliphate. Egypt became the political, cultural, and religious centre of their empire, which developed a new and "indigenous Arabic" culture.
The Fatimid Caliphs belonged to the Ismai'li branch of Shi'a Islam, as did the leaders of the dynasty. The existence of the caliphate marked the only time the descendants of Ali and Fatimah were united to any degree (except for the final period of the Rashidun Caliphate under Ali himself from 656 to 661). The name "Fatimid" refers to Fatimah and orientalist authors sometimes use the separate term Fatimi (or "Fatimite") to refer to the caliphate's subjects.
After its initial conquests, the caliphate often allowed a degree of religious tolerance towards non-Shia sects of Islam, as well as to Jews and Christians. However, its leaders made little headway in persuading the Egyptian population to adopt its religious beliefs.[need quotation to verify]
During the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Fatimid caliphate declined rapidly, and in 1171, Saladin invaded its territory. He founded the Ayyubid dynasty and incorporated the Fatimid state into the nominal sphere of authority of the Abbasid Caliphate.[better source needed]