Abū ʿAlī Manṣūr (13 August 985 – 13 February 1021), better known by his regnal title al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh (Arabic: الحاكم بأمر الله; literally "Ruler by God's Command"), was the sixth Fatimid caliph and 16th Ismaili imam (996–1021). Al-Hakim is an important figure in a number of Shia Ismaili religions, such as the world's 15 million Nizaris and in particular the 2 million Druze of the Levant whose eponymous founder ad-Darazi proclaimed him as the incarnation of God in 1018.
Histories of al-Hakim can prove controversial, as diverse views of his life and legacy exist. Historian Paul Walker writes: “Ultimately, both views of him, the mad and despotic tyrant irrationally given to killing those around him on a whim, and the ideal supreme ruler, divinely ordained and chosen, whose every action was just and righteous, were to persist, the one among his enemies and those who rebelled against him, and the other in the hearts of true believers, who, while perhaps perplexed by events, nonetheless remained avidly loyal to him to the end."
Born in 985 CE, Abu `Ali "Mansur" was the first Fatimid ruler to have been born in Egypt. Abu `Ali "Mansur" had been proclaimed as heir-apparent (wali al-‘ahd) in 993 CE and succeeded his father Abū Mansūr Nizār al-Azīz (975–996) at the age of eleven on 14 October 996 with the caliphal title of al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah. Al-Ḥākim had blue eyes flecked with reddish gold.
Al-Ḥākim was born on Thursday, 3 Rābi‘u l-Awwal in 985 (375 A.H.). His father, Caliph Abū Mansūr al-‘Azīz bil-Lāh, had two consorts. One was an umm al-walad who is only known by the title as-Sayyidah al-‘Azīziyyah or al-‘Azīzah (d. 385/995). She was a Melkite Christian whose two brothers were appointed patriarchs of the Melkite Church by Caliph al-‘Azīz. Different sources say either one of her brothers or her father was sent by al-‘Azīz as an ambassador to Sicily.
Al-‘Azīzah is considered to be the mother of Sitt al-Mulk, one of the most famous women in Islamic history, who had a stormy relationship with her half-brother al-Ḥākim and may have had him murdered. Some, such as the Crusader chronicler William of Tyre, claimed that al-‘Azīzah was also the mother of Caliph al-Ḥākim, though most historians dismiss this. William of Tyre went so far as to claim that al-Ḥākim's destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 was due to his eagerness to disprove taunts that he was a Christian born of a Christian woman. By contrast, the chronicler al-Musabbihi recounts that in 981, al-Ḥākim's Muslim mother sought the aid of an imprisoned Islamic sage named ibn al-Washa and asked him to pray for her son who had fallen ill. The sage wrote the entire Qur'an in the inner surface of a bowl and bade her wash her son out of it. When al-Ḥākim recovered, she demanded the release of the sage in gratitude. Her request was granted and the sage and his associates were freed from prison.
Druze sources claim that al-Ḥākim's mother was the daughter of ‘Abdu l-Lāh, one of al-Mu‘īzz li Dīn al-Lāh's sons and therefore al-‘Azīz's niece. Historians such as Delia Cortese are critical of this claim:
[I]t is more likely that this woman was in fact a wife of al-Hakim, rather than his mother. It could be argued that the Druzes' emphasis on al-Hakim's descent from an endogamic union served the doctrinal purpose of reinforcing the charisma genealogically transmitted with the "holy family", thereby enhancing the political and doctrinal status they bestow upon al-Hakim.
Rise to power
In 996, al-Ḥākim's father Caliph al-‘Azīz began a trip to visit Syria (which was held by the Fatimids only by force of arms and was under pressure from the Byzantines). The Caliph fell ill at the beginning of the trip at Bilbeis and lay in sickbed for several days. He suffered from "stone with pains in the bowels." When he felt that his end was nearing he charged Qadi Muhammad ibn an-Nu‘man and General Abū Muhammad al-Hasan ibn ‘Ammar to take care of al-Ḥākim, who was then only eleven. He then spoke to his son. Al-Ḥākim later recalled the event:
"I found him with nothing on his body but rags and bandages. I kissed him, and he pressed me to his bosom, exclaiming: "How I grieve for thee, beloved of my heart," and tears flowed from his eyes. He then said: "Go, my master, and play, for I am well." I obeyed and began to amuse myself with sports such as are usual with boys, and soon after God took him to himself. Barjawan [the treasurer] then hastened to me, and seeing me on the top of a sycamore tree, exclaimed: "Come down, my boy; may God protect you and us all." When I descended he placed on my head the turban adorned with jewels, kissed the ground before me, and said: "Hail to the Commander of the faithful, with the mercy of God and his blessing." He then led me out in that attire and showed me to all the people, who kissed the ground before me and saluted me with the title of Khalif."
On the following day, he and his new court proceeded from Bilbays to Cairo, behind the camel bearing his father's body, and with the dead Caliph’s feet protruding from the litter. They arrived shortly before evening prayer and his father was buried the next evening next to the tomb of his predecessor al-Mu‘īzz. Al-Ḥākim was sworn in by Barjawan, a "white eunuch whom al-‘Azīz had appointed as Ustad 'tutor'."
Because it had been unclear whether he would inherit his father's position, this successful transfer of power was a demonstration of the stability of the Fatimid dynasty.
Nevertheless, the Kutama Berbers seized the chance to recover their dominant position in the state, which had eroded under al-Aziz due to the influx of Turkish and Daylamite mercenaries from the Islamic East (the Mashāriqa, "Easterners"). They compelled the underage al-Hakim to dismiss the Christian vizier Ibn Nasturis (who was executed shortly after) and appoint their leader Ibn Ammar to head the government, with the title of wāsiṭa ("intermediary") rather than full vizier. Ibn Ammar's rule quickly descended into a Berber tyranny: he immediately began staffing the government with Berbers, who engaged in a virtual pillaging of the state coffers. The Berbers' attempts to exclude the other interest groups from power—not only the Turks and the other ethnic contingents of the army, but also the civilian bureaucracy, whose salary was cut—alienated not only the Mashāriqa, but alarmed Barjawan as well. Barjawan contacted the Fatimid governor of Damascus, the Turk Manjutakin, and invited him to march onto Egypt and depose Ibn Ammar. Manjutakin accepted, but was defeated by Ibn Ammar's troops under Sulayman ibn Ja'far ibn Falah at Ascalon and taken prisoner. Barjawan however soon found a new ally, in the person of the Kutama leader Jaysh ibn Samsam, governor of Tripoli, whom Ibn Falah dismissed and replaced with his own brother. Jaysh and Barjawan gathered a following of other dissatisfied Berber leaders, and launched an uprising in Cairo in October 997. Ibn Ammar was forced to flee, and Barjawan replaced him as wāsiṭa.
During his predominance, Barjawan managed to balance the two factions, fulfilling the demands of the Mashāriqa while taking care of the Kutama as well. In this vein, he pardoned Ibn Ammar and restored him his monthly salary of 500 gold dinars. After Bajarwan's murder on 26 March 1000, however, Caliph al-Hakim assumed the reins of government and launched a purge of the Fatimid elites, during which Ibn Ammar and many of the other Kutama leaders were executed. To ensure his own power, Hakim limited the authority and terms of office of his wasitas and viziers, of whom there were more than 15 during the remaining 20 years of his caliphate.
Al-Ḥākim's father had intended the eunuch Barjawan to act as regent until Al-Ḥākim was old enough to rule by himself. Ibn ‘Ammar and the Qadi Muhammad ibn Nu‘man were to assist in the guardianship of the new caliph. Instead, al-Hasan ibn 'Ammar (the leader of the Kutama) immediately seized the office of wasīta "chief minister" from ‘Īsa ibn Nestorius. At the time the office of sifāra "secretary of state" was also combined within that office. Ibn ‘Ammar then took the title of Amīn ad-Dawla "the one trusted in the empire". This was the first time that the term "empire" was associated with the Fatimid state.
Political rivalries and movements
Al-Ḥākim's most rigorous and consistent opponent was the Abbāsid Caliphate in Baghdad, which sought to halt the influence of Ismailism. This competition led to the Baghdad Manifesto of 1011, in which the Abbāsids claimed that the line al-Ḥākim represented did not legitimately descend from ‘Alī.
Al-Ḥākim also struggled with the Qarmatiyya rulers of Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf as well as territory in Eastern Arabia. His diplomatic and missionary vehicle was the Ismā'īlī da‘wah "Mission", with its organizational power center in Cairo.
Al-Ḥākim's reign was characterized by a general unrest. The Fatimid army was troubled by a rivalry between two opposing factions, the Turks and the Berbers. Tension grew between the Caliph and his viziers (called wasītas), and near the end of his reign the Druze movement, a religious sect centered around al-Ḥākim, began to form. Members of that sect were reported to address prayers to al-Ḥākim, whom they regarded as "a manifestation of God in His unity."
The Baghdad Manifesto
Alarmed by the expansion of the Fatimid dominion, the ‘Abbasid caliph Al-Qadir adopted retaliatory measures to halt the spread of Ismailism within the very seat of his realm. In particular, in 1011 he assembled a number of Sunni and Twelver Shiite scholars at his court and commanded them to declare in a written document that Hakim and his predecessors lacked genuine descent from Ali and Fatima. This so-called Baghdad Manifesto was read out in Friday mosques throughout the ‘Abbasid domains accusing the Fatimids of Jewish ancestry. In addition, because of Al-Hakim’s alleged Christian mother, he was accused of being over-sympathetic to non-Muslims, giving them more privileges than they should have been given under Islamic rule. Such accusations were manifested through poetry criticizing the Fatimids. Qadir also commissioned several refutations of Ismaili doctrines, including those written by the Mu‘tazili ‘Ali b. Sa‘id al-Istakri (1013).
Hakim confronted numerous difficulties and uprisings during his relatively long reign. While he did not lose any important territories in North Africa, the Ismaili communities there were attacked by Sunni fighters led by their influential Maliki jurists. Relations between the Fatimids and the Qarmatians of Bahrain also remained hostile. On the other hand, Hakim’s Syrian policy was successful as he managed to extend Fatimid hegemony to the emirate of Aleppo. Above all, the persistent rivalries between the various factions of the Fatimid armies, especially the Berbers and the Turks, overshadowed the other problems of Hakim’s caliphate.
Al-Ḥākim upheld diplomatic relations between the Fatimid Empire and many different countries. Skillful diplomacy was needed in establishing a friendly if not neutral basis of relations with the Byzantine Empire, which had expansionary goals in the early 11th century. Perhaps the farthest reaching diplomatic mission of al-Ḥākim's was to Song Dynasty era China. The Fatimid Egyptian sea captain known as Domiyat traveled to a Buddhist site of pilgrimage in Shandong in the year 1008 AD. It was on this mission that he sought to present to the Chinese Emperor Zhenzong of Song gifts from his ruling Caliph al-Ḥākim. This reestablished diplomatic relations between Egypt and China that had been lost during the collapse of the Tang Dynasty in 907.
In the final years of his reign, Hakim displayed a growing inclination toward asceticism and withdrew for meditation regularly. On the night of 12/13 February 1021 and at the age of 36, Hakim left for one of his night journeys to the al-Muqattam hills outside of Cairo, and never returned. A search found only his donkey and bloodstained garments. The disappearance has remained a mystery.
Al-Ḥākim was succeeded by his young son Ali az-Zahir under the regency of his sister Sitt al-Mulk.
Sobriquet in Western literature
In Western literature he has been referred to as the "Mad Caliph". This title is largely due to his erratic and oppressive behavior concerning religious minorities under his command, as historian Hunt Janin relates: al-Hakim "was known as the 'Mad Caliph' because of his many cruelties and eccentricities". Historian Michael Bonner points out that the term is also used due to the dramatic difference between al-Hakim and his predecessors and his successors while also pointing out such persecution is an extreme rarity in Islam during this era. "In his capital of Cairo, this unbalanced (and, in the view of most, mad) caliph raged against the Christians in particular...On the whole such episodes remained exceptional, like the episodes of forced conversion to Islam." Historian Michael Foss also notes this contrast "For more than three hundred and fifty years, from the time when the Caliph Omar made a treaty with the Patriarch Sophronius until 1009, when mad al-Hakim began attacks on Christians and Jews, the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land were open to the West, with an easy welcome and the way there was no more dangerous than a journey from Paris to Rome....Soon [after al-Hakim] the panic was over. In 1037 al-Mustansir came to an amicable agreement with Emperor Michael IV."
As one prominent journal has noted, al-Ḥākim has attracted the interest of modern historians more than any other member of the Fatimid dynasty because:
"His eccentric character, the inconsistencies and radical shifts in his conduct and policies, the extreme austerity of his personal life, the vindictive and sanguinary ruthlessness of his dealing with the highest officials of his government coupled with an obsession to suppress all signs of corruption and immorality in public life, his attempted annihilation of Christians and call for the systematic destruction of all Christian holy places in the middle east culminating in the destruction of the most holy Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, his deification by a group of extremist Isma'li missionaries who became the forerunners and founders of the Druze religion, [which] all combine to contrast his reign sharply with that of any of his predecessors and successors and indeed of any Muslim ruler.... The question is to what extent his conduct can be explained as rationally motivated and conditioned by the circumstances rather than as the inscrutable workings of an insane mind."
The claim that al-Hakim was mad and the version of events around him is disputed as mere propaganda by some scholars, such as Willi Frischaue, who states: "His enemies called him the 'Mad Caliph' but he enhanced Cairo's reputation as a centre of civilization." The writing of historian Heinz Halm attempts to dispel "those distorted and hostile accounts, stating that the anti-Fatimid tradition tried to make a real monster of this caliph."
Al Hakim and Shia Ismailism
Hakim maintained a keen interest in the organization and operation of the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa (preaching) centred in Cairo. Under his reign it was systematically intensified outside the Fatimid dominions especially in Iraq and Persia. In Iraq, the da‘is now concentrated their efforts on a number of local amirs and influential tribal chiefs with whose support they aimed to uproot the Abbasids. Foremost among the Fatimid da‘is of this period operating in the eastern provinces was Hamid al-Din Kirmani, the most accomplished Ismaili theologian-philosopher of the entire Fatimid period. The activities of Kirmani and other da‘is soon led to concrete results in Iraq: in 1010 the ruler of Mosul, Kufa and other towns acknowledged the suzerainty of Hakim.
House of Wisdom
In the area of education and learning, one of Hakim’s most important contributions was the founding in 1005 of the Dar al-hikma (House of Wisdom), sometimes also called Dar al-alem. A wide range of subjects ranging from the Qur'an and hadith to philosophy and astronomy were taught at the Dar al-alem, which was equipped with a vast library. Access to education was made available to the public and many Fatimid da‘is received at least part of their training in this major institution of learning which served the Ismaili da‘wa (mission) until the downfall of the Fatimid dynasty.
In 1013 he completed the mosque in Cairo begun by his father, the Masjid al-Hākim "Hākim's Mosque" whose official name is "Jame-ul-Anwar". The mosque fell to ruins and was rebuilt in the 1990s by Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, a project that was highly praised.
Sessions of Wisdom
Hakim made the education of the Ismailis and the Fatimid da‘is a priority; in his time various study sessions (majalis) were established in Cairo. Hakim provided financial support and endowments for these educational activities. The private ‘wisdom sessions’ (majalis al-hikma) devoted to esoteric Ismaili doctrines and reserved exclusively for initiates, now became organized so as to be accessible to different categories of participants. Hakim himself often attended these sessions which were held at the Fatimid palace. The name (majalis al-hikma) is still adopted by the Druze as the name of the building in which their religious assembly and worship is carried, it’s often abbreviated as Majlis (session).
Al-Hakim is a central figure in the history of the Druze religious sect.
According to the religious scholar Nissim Dana, al-Ḥākim's relationship with other monotheistic religions can be divided into three separate stages.
From 996 to 1006 when most of the executive functions of the Khalif were performed by his advisors, the Shiite al-Ḥākim "behaved like the Shiite khalifs, who he succeeded, exhibiting a hostile attitude with respect to Sunni Muslims, whereas the attitude toward 'People of the Book' – Jews and Christians – was one of relative tolerance, in exchange for the jizya tax."
In 1005, al-Ḥākim ordered a public posting of curses against the first three Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman) and against Aisha, wife of Muhammad, for denying the caliphate to Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī, who according to Shia beliefs, was the rightful prophetic successor.
According to historian Nissîm Dānā, al-Ḥākim ordered that "curses were registered against the warrior Muawiyah I, founder of the Umayyad Caliphate, and against others in the inner circle of Muhammad from the Sahabah - the compatriots of Muhammad in the way of Islam." This was in accordance with Shia practice, as laid out by Muslim scholar Ayatollah Haydari "the followers of Ahl al-Bayt [Shias] say 'O Allah curse all of the Banu Umayya'." The Shia maintain that out of hatred for ‘Alī, Mu‘awiyah ordered the Talbiyah not be said (as it was promoted by ‘Alī) and ordered people to curse him (Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas refused to do so). The Shia hold that Mu‘awiyah and all of the Umayyid caliphs (with the possible exception of Umar II) were Nasibi who "are the hypocrites for whom hatred of ‘Alī is their religion...They don't just hate ‘Alī, but they worship Allah and seek closeness to Him by hating ‘Alī."
After only two years of posting the curses, al-Ḥākim ended the practice. During this era, al-Ḥākim ordered that the inclusion of the phrase as-salāh khayr min an-nawm "prayer is preferable to sleep", which followed fajr prayer, be stopped – he saw it as a Sunni addition. In its place he ordered that ḥayyi ‘alā khayr al-‘amal "come to the best of deeds" should be said after the summons was made. He further forbade the use of two prayers – Salāt at-Tarāwih and Salāt ad-Duha as they were believed to have been formulated by Sunni sages.
Religious minorities and the law of differentiation
In 1004 Al-Hakim decreed that the Christians could no longer celebrate Epiphany or Easter. He also outlawed the use of wine (nabidh) and even other intoxicating drinks not made from grapes (fuqa) to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This produced a hardship for both Christians (who used wine in their religious rites) and Jews (who used it in their religious festivals).
In 1005, al-Ḥākim ordered that Jews and Christians follow ghiyār "the law of differentiation" – in this case, the mintaq or zunnar "belt" (Greek ζοναριον) and ‘imāmah "turban", both in black. In addition, Jews must wear a wooden calf necklace and Christians an iron cross. In the public baths, Jews must replace the calf with a bell. In addition, women of the People of the Book had to wear two different coloured shoes, one red and one black. These remained in place until 1014.
Following contemporary Shiite thinking, during this period al-Ḥākim also issued many other restrictive ordinances (sijillat). These sijill included outlawing entrance to a public bath with uncovered loins, forbidding women from appearing in public with their faces uncovered, and closing many clubs and places of entertainment.
From 1007 to 1012 "there was a notably tolerant attitude toward the Sunnis and less zeal for Shiite Islam, while the attitude with regard to the 'People of the Book' was hostile." On 18 October 1009, al- Hakim ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre and its associated buildings, apparently outraged by what he regarded as the fraud practiced by the monks in the "miraculous" Descent of the Holy Fire, celebrated annually at the church during the Easter Vigil. The chronicler Yahia noted that "only those things that were too difficult to demolish were spared." Processions were prohibited, and a few years later all of the convents and churches in Palestine were said to have been destroyed or confiscated. It was only in 1042 that the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX undertook to reconstruct the Holy Sepulchre with the permission of Al-Hakim's successor.
al-Ḥākim ultimately allowed the unwilling Christian and Jewish converts to Islam to return to their faith and rebuild their ruined houses of worship. Indeed, from 1012 to 1021 al-Ḥākim
became more tolerant toward the Jews and Christians and hostile toward the Sunnis. Ironically he developed a particularly hostile attitude with regard to the Muslim Shiites. It was during this period, in the year 1017, that the unique religion of the Druze began to develop as an independent religion based on the revelation (Kashf) of al-Ḥākim as divine.
While it is clear that Hamza ibn Ahmad was the Caliph's chief dāʿī; there are claims that al-Ḥākim believed in his own divinity. Other scholars disagree with this assertion of direct divinity, particularly the Druze themselves, noting that its proponent was ad-Darazi, who (according to some resources) al-Ḥākim executed for shirk. Letters show that ad-Darazi was trying to gain control of the Muwahhidun movement and this claim was an attempt to gain support from the Caliph, who instead found it heretical.
The Druze find this assertion offensive; they hold ad-Darazi as the first apostate of the sect and their beliefs regarding al-Ḥākim are complex. Following a typical Isma'ili pattern, they place a preeminent teacher at the innermost circle of divinely inspired persons. For the Druze, the exoteric is taught by the Prophet, the esoteric by his secret assistants, and the esoteric of the esoteric by Imām al-Ḥākim.
Confusion and slander by opponents of the Druze were generally left uncorrected as the teachings of the sect are secret and the Druze preferred taqiyya when independence was impossible.
Spouses and children
The mother of al-Ḥākim's heir ‘Alī az-Zāhir was the umm al-walad Amīna Ruqayya, daughter to the late prince ‘Abdu l-Lāh, son of al-Mu‘īzz. Some see her as the same as the woman in the prediction reported by al-Hamidi which held "that in 390/1000 al-Ḥākim would choose an orphan girl of good stock brought up his father al-Aziz and that she would become the mother of his successor." While the chronicler al-Maqrizi claims that al-Ḥākim's stepsister Sitt al-Mulk was hostile to Amīna, other sources say she gave her and her child refuge when they were fleeing al-Ḥākim's persecution. Some sources say al-Ḥākim married the jariya (young female servant) known by the title as-Sayyidah but historians are unsure if this is just another name for Amīna.
Besides his son, al-Ḥākim had a daughter named Sitt Misr (d. 455/1063) who was said to be a generous patroness and of noble and good character.
The story of Hakim's life inspired (presumably through Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy) the French author Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) who recounted his version of it (“Histoire du Calife Hakem”: History of the Caliph Hakem) as an appendix to his Voyage to the Orient (1851).