al-Hakim bi Amr Allah: Fatimid Caliph of Egypt الحاكم بأمر الله

One of history's most controversial characters is Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah. Seen as God incarnate by some, as an eccentric "mad" ruler by others, and vilianised by yet others.

Al Hakim was a Caliph of the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt, North Africa, Palestine and Syria. Contrary to the majority of their subjects, who were Sunni, the Fatimids were Shia of the Ismaili branch. They engaged in missionary work to spread their sect's belief as wide as possible.

Al Hakim reigned from 996 C.E. to 1021 C.E, having acceded to the throne at the young age of 11, he lived to be only 36 and ruled for 25.

Some pro-Fatimid sources are too lenient on him, and do not elaborate on his character and eccentricities, such as Wikipedia's entry, or the Institute of Ismaili Studies in the UK, or the quasi official Ismaili.Net web site.

On the contrary, most Sunni sources take a very hostile attitude to him, saying that he claimed divinity for himself.

The truth is somewhere in between. Balanced and objective historians have wrote extensive accounts on him. One such source is the Egyptian Historian, al-Maqrizi المقريزي, himself being a descendent of the Fatimids. Al-Maqrizi dedicated one of his work to the Fatimid dynasty, it is called إتعاظ الحنفاء Iti'az al-Hunufa in it, he chronicles the origin of this dynasty, detailed biographies of its rulers, and events during their reign. The section on al-Hakim is quite comprehensive.

He sums up the bias of sources on Fatimids at the end of his book as: "you will find that the worst histories of them are found only in the Mashreqi books, the Iraqis and Levantines", and then lists examples of those, then continues: "But you will not find any of that in books authored by Egyptians on the Fatimid dynasty".

ومما يدلك على كثرة الحمل عليهم أن الأخبار الشنيعة لا سيما التي فيها إخراجهم من ملة الإسلام لا تكاد تجدها إلا في كتب المشارقة من البغداديين والشاميين
كالمنتظم لابن الجوزي والكامل لابن الأثير وتاريخ حلب لابن أبي طي وتاريخ العماد لابن كثير وكتاب ابن واصل الحموي وكتاب ابن شداد وكتاب العماد الأصفهاني ونحو هؤلاء‏.‏
أما كتب المصريين الذين اعتنوا بتدوين أخبارها فلا تكاد تجد في شيء منها ذلك ألبتة‏.‏

What is certain is that al-Hakim was very generous, giving away money to people who asked. He was also pious, and fought consumption of alcoholic drinks. But he was also erratic, unpredictable, and very cruel.

Al Maqrizi sums him up as: "he did not stick to one thing. If he inclines to something, he would show it and then force people on it. Then he would abandon it, and then force people to abandon it to whatever he is now inclined to".

وكان قليل الثبات سريع الاستمالة إذا مال إلى اعتقاد شيء أظهره وحمل الناس عليه
ثم لا يلبث أن يرجع عنه إلى غيره فيريد من الناس ترك ما كان قد أهم به والمصير إلى ما استحدثه ومال إليه‏.‏

I will include here excerpts about al-Hakim's deeds, trying to draw conclusions from there acts as appropriate. They are in Arabic, with a summary in English.

See the links below for details:




I like much of your blog and will probably return to it, especially for the recipes and the connection between the Arab and Maltese cultures and language.

But I found your information on Hakim bi amri'llah a bit far fetched because the children of Imams are generally quite aware of their heritage and are well versed in their religion which does not allow antinomial activity by people who have been given power.

I am however not well-informed in this area and would like to do more research.

Do you have any strong evidence of the activities you mention (like killing without the evidence taken to court and forbidding eating of certain things and so on), many of which seem to me to be either quite mad or reprehensible or both?

I have also heard (though have not verified) that Hakim disappeared in the end, and never returned, and his sister Sitt ul Mulk took over the caliphate for a few years before she invested Zahir to the imamate. I am researching slowly but surely. I would love to get more sources on Hakim and the more reliable the better.

The Fatimid period was generally very intellectually and culturally driven with respect for differences in religion.

Mohamed Jiwa

All quotes are provided

I have provided quotes for everything I mentioned. They are from reputed scholars, like Al Maqrizi of Cairo. He is well known for a full history of Fatimids that is well researched and neutral, unlike many other non-Ismaili historical sources, which are biased against them.

Al Hakim was eccentric. I am sure that doctors nowadays can look at his actions and conclude that he was probably suffering from an undiagnosed condition. This would have caused mood swings and arbitrary decisions. A similar example is King George III of the United Kingdom, and his suffering from porphyria.

The set of articles I have written on Al Hakim are not complete yet. I plan to work on them more as time permits.

"Do you have any strong

"Do you have any strong evidence of the activities you mention (like killing without the evidence taken to court and forbidding eating of certain things and so on), many of which seem to me to be either quite mad or reprehensible or both?"

Very good question! No one has any evidence. This is all Sunni propaganda.
What our friend here has is a collection from the internet or some hostile literatures.

Dismiss it as you like

You can dismiss this since it goes against your ingrained belief, but fact of the matter is that his acts are well documented in many sources, and no, these are not from the internet nor hostile literature. These are from Al Maqrizi who is very impartial and objective. He is among the few Sunni historians who acknowledged the Fatimid Dynasty's descent from the Prophet.

Al-Hakim's acts continue to be known historically until today: examples: the excuse for the First Crusades was because Al-Hakim destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre earlier in the 1th century, then rebuilt it again paying the expenses! The Egyptian slang expression "Blue bone" which is used as derogatory term for Egyptian Copts, was because of him ordering the Copts to wear heavy crosses that used to bruise their collar bones!

There is a lot more, but it is all as factual as history can be. You can dimiss, ignore it, or accept it as it is: there has been lot of eccentric rulers in all ages and of all religion. Al-Hakim is just one of those.

You say, "the quasi official

You say, "the quasi official Ismaili.Net web site" as if your site is very authentic in itself.

Sunnis like present day jihadis were a murderous bunch of thugs out to get Shias and Ahlul Bayt. There's not doubt that they tried to denigrate Imam Hakim just like they did to Ali-Ibn Abi Talib and his father. Umar, Usman, Abu Bakr, may they be cursed. It was them that propagated the lies that Ali's father was a mushriq.
Its because of enemies of Ahlul Bayt that the whole of Islam is being humiliated now.

Imam al-Hakim Bi AmrAllah(SWS)

Al-Maqrizi was a chronicler under the Mamluk rulers, who were not only very zealous Sunnis,but also anti-Fatimid.

al-Maqrizi lived hundreds of years after Al-Hakim Bi amrAllah(SWS).

Scholars fro Dollarsd are not authoritative for balanced researchers.

Also he did order the Jews and Christians to wear these things because they were causing economic hardship and after these regulations the economy went up again and he withdrew these Rules.

The Church of the Sepulcher was a spy base for the Byzantines so he ordered it to be destroyed. The prophet Muhammad also ordered the Masjid al-Daraar to be Destroyed.

Al-Hakim Bi AmrAllah faced a lot of Abbassid propaganda,and he gave the women the right to choose hijab or not, and he was maligned by Sunni scholars later on.

It is to be noted al-Hakim was very pious.

He only gave women this freedom as the Prophet Muhammad did not force anyone.

References needed

If you were talking about other Sunni historians, e.g. Ibn Kathir, then I would agree with you they have a tone of bias against the Ismaili Shia Fatimid dynasty.

However, Al-Maqrizi is the most objective scholar when it comes to Fatimids.

He has a book dedicated to the history of the Fatimid Caliphs اتعاظ الحنفا. Moreover, he is one of only a few Sunni scholars to assert that they indeed were from the progeny of the Prophet, rather than just say they were false claimants to such descent.

It is said that he himself descended from them, and that is one reason why he was partial towards them.

The Mamlukes did not bother with anti-Fatimid propaganda, since the Fatimids were long gone. Saladin ended their dynasty in 1160s or 1170s, and the Mamluks did not come into power until around 1250s. There were no Fatimids then to contend with.

Moreover, there is a difference between regular Fatimid Caliphs, and Al-Hakim in particular. Like most dynasties, the Fatimids had some rulers who were reasonable, some who were weak, some who were unjust, ...etc.

Al-Hakim stands out from all the others because of his erratic and eccentric behavior.

This can only be properly explained by a physical or mental condition, like King George III of England and his "madness", most often diagnosed as porphyria.

Please cite credible sources for your assertions rather than say they are just propaganda.


Documented in many sources!!!!!!!!!!!! You make me laugh when you to about Al-Hakim behavior.... How do you know all this?

It's been mentioned by

It's been mentioned by notable historians including Professor Farhad daftary and Paul Walker in their works, who are probably two of the leading Academics on Ismaili History.

Al Hakim's return

Daftary and Walker are they still around, if not who has replaced them in the field? You could say, I'm a big fan of Al Hakim's work, 1000 years ago.