Molana Mohammad Al Mahdi (268-322 AH / 881-934 AD) Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi was born on Monday, the 12th Shawal, 260/July 31, 873 in the town, called Askar-i Mukram (or Askar wa Makrum), situated between the rivers of Masrukan and Shushtar. His name was Abdullah al-Mahdi and assumed the Imamate at the age of 8 years. His father, Imam Radi Abdullah had assigned the control of organization to his uncle, Sa’id al-Khayr. By the time Imam al-Mahdi became young, and married a daughter of his uncle, who died after some time. The Ismaili mission had its roots since the era of Imam Jafar Sadik. As early as the year 145/762, the two da’is, called Halwani and Abu Sufiani had been dispatched to the Maghrib. They settled among the Berbers in the land of Katama and summoned the local populace to the cause of Ahl al- Bayt, and converted a bulk of people. Abu Sufiani died a few years later, but Halwani lived for a long time. Knowing the death of Halwani and Abu Sufiani, Ibn Athir (d. 630/1234) writes in Kamil fi’t Tarikh (Beirut, 1975, 8:31) that Ibn Hawshab told to Abu Abdullah: "Our missionaries have thoroughly ploughed the land of Maghrib, making it arable. None is capable except you after them. You prepare yourself now for Maghrib." Abu Abdullah set out from Yamen in 279/892, and arrived in Mecca during pilgrimage, where he contacted the Katama pilgrims of Maghrib at Mina, and impressed them with his vast knowledge about the merits of Ahl al-Bayt. The pilgrims were gladdened to know that Abu Abdullah was heading towards Egypt, which was on their route to the Maghrib. While travelling with them, Abu Abdullah inquired at great length about their country in order to judge the suitability of his mission. He, thus gained the admiration of his fellow-travellers. After a short stay in Egypt, he reached Maghrib in the Katama homeland on 14th Rabi I, 280/June 3, 893. On the other hand, Imam al-Mahdi left Salamia in 286/899. He relinquished his house at the time of the evening prayer, unnoticed by any one and travelled the whole night escorted by an Arab and thirty other horsemen. He made his junction in Egypt, where he met da’i Abu Ali al- Hussain bin Ahmad bin Daud bin Muhammad (d. 321/932). In Egypt, Imam al-Mahdi abandoned the likely choice to go to Yamen as expected by his entourage. This turned out to be a very wise decision, since in Yamen he would have risked the Abbasid confrontation and the menace of the rebellious Qarmatians. On the eve of his departure from Egypt, Imam al-Mahdi revealed his intention of going to Maghrib, and few persons who accompanied him had registered disappointment, notably da’i Firuz. While the caravan of the Imam was stirring between Egypt and Tahuna, they were attacked by the Berbers, who looted the caravan and took away some baggages of Imam’s books belonging to the Koran, interpretations, history etc. It grieved Imam al-Mahdi much more than other things. The caravan of the Imam went to Tripoli, whose governor made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest him. The Imam thus divided his caravan into two groups. He sent forward Abul Abbas towards the Katama tribe to gauge the situation as well as to make an advance tidings of his arrival. Abul Abbas reached Kairwan when the Aghlabid ruler, Ibrahim bin Ahmad had died in 291/903 and was succeeded by Zaidatullah. Abul Abbas was not able to escape suspicion, and was arrested. Imam al-Mahdi went to Kastilla province after knowing the arrest of Abul Abbas and made a junction for few days at Tuzar. When he made sure that there was no possibility of Abul Abbas getting free, he changed his route and went as a merchant to Sijilmasa, the capital of the Midrarite Berber, and stayed in a house hired from a certain Abul Habsha. In Sijilmasa, Imam al-Mahdi procured his friendship with the governor, al-Yasa bin Midrar (883-910). When the governor received a letter of Ziadatullah, he put the Imam under house arrest in his sister’s residence. Abu Abdullah, on the other hand, conquered almost whole Maghrib within 16 years in 296/909 and routed the Aghlabid rule of 112 years. He decisively subdued the Aghlabids near Laribus, and established supremacy over the Aghlabid empire and got an end of the Abbasid suzerainty over it in Maghrib. Six days later he entered the Aghlabid capital, Raqada which was about six miles south of Kairwan on 1st Rajab, 296/March 26, 909 and relieved Abul Abbas in Tripoli. After setting a new fabric of administration, Abu Abdullah marched to Sijilmasa with a large army. The situation at Sijilmasa was rather tricky, since Imam al-Mahdi had been imprisoned there and his any wrong move might endanger the life of Imam. Thus, he sent a peace mission to the governor, asking to release the Imam. The governor killed the messenger, therefore, Abu Abdullah had no choice but to engage in warfare. However, after a brief battle, the governor fled and his army dispersed. Abu Abdullah then triumphantly entered Sijilmasa and liberated Imam al-Mahdi, his son, entourages and pages. Abu Abdullah saw his Imam for the first time. As soon as Imam al- Mahdi made his appearance, Ibn al-Muttalibi said to Abu Abdullah that, "Lo, this is my master and yours and the master of all the people." There was immense rejoicing amongst the troops while beholding Imam al-Mahdi. The faithful followers crowded around the horses of the Imam and his son, al-Qaim and Abu Abdullah walked in front. Abu Abdullah dismounted, and so did Ibn al-Muttalibi and the troops. According to Iftitahu’d-Dawa (p. 245), Abu Abdullah was overjoyed and said to the people: "This is the Lord, mine and thine, and your Wali al-Amr, your Imam-i Zaman and your Mahdi, on whose behalf I preached you. God has fulfilled His promise about him, and assisted his supporters and troops. He is your Ulul Amr." Imam al-Mahdi remained for 40 days in Sijilmasa to restore peace and finally, he embarked for Raqada via Ikjan with his son and their whole entourage, along with Abu Abdullah and his companions. Imam al-Mahdi rode into Raqada in triumph wearing dark silk clothes with a matching turban. Riding behind him, his son wore a similar ensemble in orange silk. Abu Abdullah wore mulberry- coloured clothes, a linen tunic, a turban and a scarf. The caravan arrived in Raqada on 20th Rabi II, 297/January 6, 910 and laid the foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate. All the notables, both Arabs and non-Arabs without exception and many other people came out to receive him. He took oath of allegiance from them. He assumed power and ordered his name mentioned in the khutba and inscribed on coins. He began to develop the barren land of Maghrib. He imposed the Islamic laws, enforcing strictly in the prohibition of forbidden food and drink, and punishing severely those who tried to practice freedom in it. During the first few months of his rule, Imam al-Mahdi began to consolidate all powers to himself and made drastic changes, especially the financial cells. Previously, Abu Abdullah reserved the gains for the Katama soldiers, but the Imam stripped the fortunes they had gained in the battles. Abul Abbas, the brother of Abu Abdullah, however did not acquiesce but began to criticize Imam al-Mahdi’s actions and even did not like the whole power in the hands of the Imam. Qadi Noman states that when Abul Abbas had been made a deputy leader at Raqada,- he had acquired a taste for power and was therefore resentful of being compelled to surrender his authority to Imam al- Mahdi and to be merely his subordinate. He exploited the discontent of the Katama chiefs who were losing power under the new administration of the Imam. He also began to instigate his brother, Abu Abdullah and eventually convinced him to some extent. It is related that once Abu Abdullah dared to suggest Imam al-Mahdi to sit aside with all honours, while he would run the affairs of his state, for he had known the people, how they should be treated. This gesture warned the Imam of the change that had taken place in Abu Abdullah’s character. When Abu Abdullah wavered in his absolute loyalty, the Imam did not waste much time in eliminating him. Imam al-Mahdi had his spies planted where both brothers met, and ultimately, both of them were killed on 15th Jamada II, 298/February 18, 911. The Imam offered the funeral service of Abu Abdullah to glorify his outstanding services and said: "Abu Abdullah was caught in delusion. The real traitor was Abul Abbas." The executions of Abu Abdullah and Abul Abbas were soon followed by a riot of the Katama tribe, which took place the funeral. Imam al-Mahdi was not at all frightened and mounted his horse, boldly rode out among the excited crowds and with that personal courage and valour characterized him, told to the rioters, "O’people, you know the status of Abu Abdullah and Abul Abbas in Islam, but satan misguided them, resulting them being deserved for killing. I give you all the security of lives." After hearing this, the people dispersed (Iftitahu’d-Dawa, p. 267). Imam al-Mahdi had to deal with the Berber tribes who were enraged by the death of Abu Abdullah. He also invaded Morocco in 309/921 and got an end of the Idrisid dynasty. He also captured Sicly and extended his rule throughout North Africa. The Byzantines however continued to retain the occupation of Calabria in southern Italy. Sicily was thickly populated by Lombards, Greeks, Arabs and Berbers. The first reported Fatimid governor of Sicily was Ibn Abil Fawaris. Soon afterwards in 297/910, he was replaced by Hasan bin Ahmad, also known as Ibn Abi Khinzir. He raided the southern Italian coasts in 298/911 and also in the following year against the pirates and brought rich booty. In 299/912, the Arabs and the Berbers rebelled against him in Palermo and Girgenti due to his severity. It was Imam al-Mahdi to have suppressed the uprisings diplomatically and appointed Ali bin Umar al-Balawi. The Sicilians opposed the new appointment and chose Ibn Qurhub as their own governor. Ibn Qurhub was against the Fatimids and declared his support to the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir (295-320/908-932). Later, the Berbers of Girgenti, joined by the inhabitants of other parts of Sicily, revolted against Ibn Qurhub, who was taken prisoner and sent to Imam al-Mahdi, who had him executed. After this short interval of political cataclysm, Sicily again reverted to the Fatimid domain, though the political troubles continued to erupt on the island. The early Fatimid used Sicily as a base for launching raids against the coastal towns of Italy and France, including the islands of the western Mediterranean; and also continued to be engaged in war and diplomacy with the Byzantines. The first reported raid against the south of Italian peninsula took place in 306/918. The Fatimid troops captured Reggio. The second incursion was launched from Mahdiya in the summer of 310/922. With a fleet of 20 galleys, the Fatimid officer Masud bin Ghalib al-Wusuli took possession of the fortress of St. Agatha. Two years later, Jafar bin Ubaid, known as Suluk, led the third expedition, with Palermo as his starting point. He captured Bruzzano and Oria and returned to Mahdiya with vast riches. The resounding success of this campaign had the effect of inducing the Byzantines to conclude a treaty with the Fatimids. But the annual tribute agreed for Calabria was slow to reach Mahdiya and hostilities resumed in 315/927. Continuing until 318/930 under the command of Sabir, the Fatimid incursions proceeded victoriously against Tarento, Salerno, Naples and Termoli. Eventually the tribute was paid and the treaty resumed in force until the death of Imam al-Mahdi. According to The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1986, 5:1244), "Byzantium allowed the Fatimid sovereign to subjugate Apulia and Calabria and to reinforce the supremacy of Islam in Sicily." The period under our review is noted for the Ismaili da’is to have launched a brisk and pervasive mission in Egypt, where most of the officials and nobles had espoused Ismailism and entered into correspondence with Imam al-Mahdi in Maghrib. Hence, Egypt offered an easier prey and to invade it was indubitably a less perilous enterprise. In 301/913, a powerful force commanded by his son, al-Qaim had been dispatched by land, and a fleet of 200 ships under Hubasa bin Yousuf against Alexandria. The Egyptian governor could not resist and acquired reinforcement from the Abbasids. Initially, the course of the expedition proceeded in al-Qaim’s favour, but after capturing Alexandria, he failed before Fustat, and not being capable confronting the Egyptian army reinforced from Baghdad under the command of Munis, he retracted his steps towards Maghrib. In 307/919, Imam al-Mahdi returned to the attack with a second expedition commanded again by his son. This move at first progressed favourably as the preceding with the capture of Alexandria and the occupation of Fayyum. But when the Fatimid fleet encountered disaster at Rosetta due to the shortage of supplies, and the battles before Fustat turned to the advantage of the troops of Munis, al-Qaim was forced for the second time to retreat and returned to Maghrib. This time the Abbasid ships were manned by experienced Greek mariners. In sum, both invasions procured no result, but Barqa remained however in Fatimid’s occupation. Imam al-Mahdi seems to have organized, shortly before his death, a third expedition against Egypt. In fact, this third attempt took place in 323/935 at the beginning of the reign of his successor, al-Qaim. In 301/914, Imam al-Mahdi founded a new city on the coast near Kairwan and gave to it the name of al-Mahdiya that served as the Fatimid capital for some generations. The site selected on the Gulf of Gabes, between Susa and Sfax on a small peninsula with a narrow neck just into the sea for nearly a mile in length and less than 500 yards in breath, which terminates the cape of Africa. The landscape of the new city was like a hand stretching out onto the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There were only two entrances of castles, mosques, fortresses and warehouses and the fortification along the shore consisted of a thick wall barrier. The reflection of light and the imagery of waves on the rocks are unimaginable. There were 16 towers of which 8 belonged to the original foundation and another 8 were added in a later period. The official inauguration of the new capital was pushed forward to 8th Shawal, 308/February 20, 921. Imam al-Mahdi also built an impressive shipyard, which soon enabled the Fatimids to create a powerful fleet. The Fatimid set up ship-building factory, and yards were opened in Tunis. In 303/915, a big dock was constructed by digging out a hill on the coast of the Mediterranean, making a surface area of about 8250 square meters, so that 200 battle ships might be kept in reserve there. These ships were called shini and were so big that one of them required 143 oars to move it. It had a gate and a lock that could be closed. To maintain the stability of the empire, connecting with different parts by sea-routes, the Fatimid gave due attention in the nautical progress. Yaqut (d. 626/1229) writes in Mu’ajam al-Buldan (comp. 625/1228) that, "The most renowned port of Maghrib was Mahdiya. Its dock was cut out of solid rock. It was a capacious dock, and could harbour thirty ships at once. On both sides of the port there lay big chains, which were opened when a ship came in." Makrizi (1363-1442) writes in his al-Khitat (3:320) that the Fatimids were the first to start mock fights at sea in the world. The Fatimid admirals also developed the techniques of attacking ships with fire-throwers, which the English employed five centuries later when they routed the Spanish Armada. The Ismaili mission was carried on in Khorasan around the last decade of the 3rd century/903- 913 by Abu Abdullah al-Khadim, who stayed in Nishapur as the first chief da’i of Khorasan. He was executed during the governorship of Abu Bakr bin Muhtaj (321-327/933-939), and was succeeded around 307/919 by Abu Sa’id al-Sha’rani, who was sent by Imam al-Mahdi from Maghrib. He was followed by Hussain bin Ali al-Marwazi, who transferred his seat from Nishapur to Marw al-Rudh. Al-Marwazi is reputed in the annals of the Samanid dynasty, and during the rule of Ahmad bin Ismail (295-301/907-914), he commanded the Samanid forces in Sijistan in 298/910. In 300/913, al-Marwazi led the Samanid forces in Sijistan for the second time, and returned to Bukhara in the same year. Abu Zaid Balkhi (235-322/850-934) compiled his Suwar al-Aqalim in 308/920, and makes mention of Hussain bin Ali al-Marwazi and his brother Muhammed Suluk, when the author visited his birthplace, Balkh in 301/914. Abu Zaid Balkhi also writes his close relation with al-Marwazi and the regular material assistance he acquired from him. It is said that al-Marwazi hoped to be appointed governor of Sijistan due to his valuable services, but was disappointed. After the death of Ahmad bin Ismail and the accession of Nasr bin Ahmad in 301/914, al-Marwazi paid his allegiance to Mansur bin Ishaq, the cousin of Ahmad bin Ismail in Herat. Al-Marwazi extended his influence in Nishapur, but soon he had to return to Herat, and subsequently he again went to Nishapur and captured it. The Samanid commander, Ahmad bin Sahl (306-307/918-919) was sent against him, who took Herat and gave battle to al-Marwazi before Marw al-Rudh in 306/918. This time al-Marwazi was defeated due to shortage of supplies, and was taken prisoner to Bukhara, where he was imprisoned. He was released with the intervention of vizir al-Jayhani. After being pardoned and spending some time at Samanid court, he returned to Khorasan to organize the mission works, where he spent rest of his life. Yamen was a vital zone of the Fatimid mission under the able headship of Ibn Hawshab. In 291/904, however, his close associate, Ali bin Fazal al-Jadani had shown signs of disloyalty, and in 299/911, he publicly renounced his allegiance to Imam al-Mahdi. It must be noted that in Egypt, when Imam al-Mahdi decided to go to Maghrib instead of Yamen, da’i Firuz also gave up Ismaili faith and fled to Yamen, and instigated a revolt. He won the support of Ali bin Fazal. Subsequently, Firuz was killed and Ali bin Fazal endeavoured unsuccessfully to coerce the collaboration of Ibn Hawshab. The death of Ibn Hawshab took place in 303/914, and had made a will to his son Abul Hasan Mansur and his pupil Abdullah bin Abbas al-Shawiri to administer the mission in Yamen till an official appointment of a new chief da’i by Imam al-Mahdi. Upon his death, al-Shawiri had sent a letter to Imam al-Mahdi, reporting the death of Ibn Hawshab, and requesting for any chief da’i instead. In a reply, the Imam confirmed the post of al-Shawiri as a chief da’i. Jafar, the son of Ibn Hawshab was alone among his brothers to demonstrate his loyalty to the Fatimids, but his elder brother, Abul Hasan Mansur, who was expecting to succeed his father, had defected from the mission, and returned to his castles in Miswar, where he was joined by his brothers. Jafar, noticing the inimical intentions of his brothers towards al-Shawiri, tried to persuade that a quarrel would only lead to impair the Ismaili influence in Yamen. In spite of this warning, Abul Hasan Mansur waited for his opportunity, and killed al-Shawiri and took the dominions. Jafar immediately went to Maghrib, where he reached when Imam al-Mahdi had expired in 322/934. Imam al-Qaim charged him the mission work in Maghrib, where he also served Imam al-Mansur and Imam al-Muizz, and was commonly known as Jafar bin Mansur al- Yamen. Having laid a firm foundation for Fatimid rule in Maghrib, extending from Morocco to the borders of Egypt, Imam al-Mahdi died on 15th Rabi I, 322/February 22, 934 at the age of 61 years, 5 months and 3 days. F. Dachraoui writes in his article in Encyclopaedia of Islam (1985, 5:1244) that, "Mahdi had the skill and energy to conduct moderate but firm policies within his provinces, and to wage tireless warfare beyond his frontiers to affirm the right of the descendants of Fatima to lead the Muslim world. Thus, under his rule, the Fatimid empire embarked successfully on the first phase of its long history."
(C) Copyrights 2016-2018 The Bohras. All rights reserved.