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Abu'l-Maymūn ʿAbd al-Majīd ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Mustansir, better known with his regnal name as al-Ḥāfiz li-Dīn Allāh (Arabic: الحافظ لدين الله‎, lit. 'Keeper of God's Religion'), was the eleventh Caliph of the Fatimids from 1132 to his death in 1149, and the 21st Imam of Hafizi Isma'ilism.[1]

al-Hafiz li-Din Allah
Gold dinar of al-Hafiz li-Din Allah, AH 544.jpg
Gold dinar of al-Hafiz, minted at Alexandria in 1149
Caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty
Predecessoral-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah
Successoral-Zafir bi-Amr Allah
Born1075 or 1076
Died8 October 1149
IssueSulayman, Kaydara, Hasan, Isma'il
FatherAbu'l-Qasim Muhammad

He first rose to power as regent after the death of his cousin, al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah, in October 1130. Sidelining, and possibly killing, al-Amir's infant son, At-Tayyib Abu'l Qasim, al-Hafiz aimed to occupy the caliphate, but was overthrown by the army under Kutayfat. The latter moved to depose the Fatimids and replace Isma'ilism with Twelver Imamism, with himself as the Imam's all-powerful vicegerent. Kutayfat's regime was toppled when he was murdered in December 1131, and al-Hafiz was freed and restored as regent. Within three months, he proclaimed himself as the legitimate imam and caliph, leading to the HafiziTayyibi schism in Musta'li Isma'ilism. He tried to rein in his viziers, ordering the murder of two of them, including his own son, Hasan, but his reign was marked by internal instability and revolts.


The future al-Hafiz was born Abd al-Majid at Ascalon in 1074 or 1075. His father was Abu'l-Qasim Muhammad, a son of the reigning Fatimid caliph, al-Mustansir (r. 1036–1094).[2][3] His early life, before he was thrust to the forefront of politics, is almost unknown.[4] As an adult, he is reported to have shown a strong interest in astronomy, and to have kept several astronomers in his employ.[3]

Regency and imprisonmentEdit

In October 1130, Caliph al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah (r. 1101–1130) was assassinated. Leaving only a six-month-old son, Muhammad, to succeed him, with no designated regent or serving vizier, as al-Amir had resumed the personal direction of government affairs.[2][5] Al-Amir's murder not only undid his attempts to once again concentrate power in the Caliph's hands instead of over-mighty generals and ministers, but also, given the fragility of succession, endangered the very survival of the Fatimid dynasty.[5]

At this time, Abd al-Majid was the oldest surviving male of the dynasty.[2][3] Abd al-Majid allied himself with two of al-Amir's favourites, Hizar al-Mulk Hazarmard (or Jawarmard) and Barghash, who had influence over the army. Abd al-Majid became regent for the unborn child expected of al-Amir's pregnant wife Jiha, with Hazarmard as vizier and the Armenian Abu'l-Fath Yanis as commander-in-chief and chamberlain to the regent.[2][4][6] The very existence of the infant Tayyib was concealed, and he disappears completely from the record after that. As the historian Michael Brett remarks, he must be "presumed dead if not murdered" by the new regime.[2][7]

Abd al-Majid apparently harboured ambitions for the caliphal title, but these were cut short. Within a fortnight of al-Amir's death, the army rose in revolt under Kutayfat, the only surviving descendant of the all-powerful Armenian viziers al-Afdal Shahanshah and Badr al-Jamali,[2][8] who had held actual power in the caliphs' stead in what modern scholars have termed a de facto "military dictatorship".[9][10]

Aided by Barghash, who had also coveted the vizierate but come short, Kutayfat seized power.[4] Hazarmard was executed and Abd al-Majid was imprisoned in the palace. Formally Abd al-Majid retained his position of regent (walī ʿahd al-muslimīn, the formal title of the Fatimids' designated successor), and decrees were issued jointly in his name and that of Kutayfat, but soon—possibly after the expected birth of a male heir did not occur—Kutayfat proclaimed the dynasty deposed, abandoned Isma'ilism as the state religion and turned to Twelver Shi'ism. Proclaiming himself a vicegerent for the Expected Imam, he not only sidestepped the Fatimid claims to the Imamate, but ruled, in the words of Farhad Daftary, "as a dictator responsible to no one either in theory or practice".[11][12]

Rise to the throne and the Hafizi–Tayyibi schismEdit

The Fatimid elites were not prepared to accept these changes. The members of al-Amir's bodyguard assassinated Kutayfat in a counter-coup on 8 December 1131 and released Abd al-Majid from his prison.[3][13][14] This restoration of the dynasty was thereafter commemorated annually, up until the end of the Fatimid Caliphate, as the "Feast of Victory" (ʿĪd al-Naṣr).[3][13]

Initially, Abd al-Majid continued the pretence of ruling as a regent, and the first coins of his reign were struck with him still bearing the title of walī ʿahd al-muslimīn.[14] Already in January/February 1132, however, he declared himself imam and caliph with the title al-Ḥāfiz li-Dīn Allāh. The fact that, for the first time in the Fatimid dynasty, power was not passed from father to a son, created an iregularity that had to be addressed. This was done in a decree (sijill) which proclaimed al-Hafiz's right to the Imamate, likening it to "the sun, which had been briefly eclipsed, but had now reappeared in accordance with the divine purpose" (Brett). No reference to any son of al-Amir was made, and it was alleged that his posthumous child was a daughter. Al-Hafiz claimed that he had—secretly—been appointed as succesor by al-Amir, and that Caliph al-Mustansir had foreseen this event, and had called al-Hafiz's father as walī ʿahd al-muslimīn. Earlier examples of breaks in the direct succession of the Imamate, chiefly the designation by the Prophet Muhammad of his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib, were brought up to buttress his claim.[4][14][15]

Although largely accepted by the Isma'ili faithful in the Fatimid domains in Egypt, Nubia, and the Levant, al-Hafiz's accession and claims to the Imamate were rebuffed by some communities, chiefly in the only other major Isma'ili realm, Yemen: the hitherto pro-Fatimid ruling Sulayhid dynasty broke up, with the Sulayhid queen, Arwa, upholding the rights of Imam al-Tayyib, the vanished infant son of al-Amir whose birth had been announced in a letter by al-Amir, while the regional dynasties of the Hamdanids and the Zurayids recognized al-Hafiz's claims.[16][17]

This produced a major schism in the Musta'li branch of Isma'ilism, between the Tayyibi adherents of the Imamate of al-Tayyib and the Hafizi supporters of al-Hafiz and his successors.[17][18] Thus the once unified Isma'ili movement had split into three branches: the Hafizi, which now became the official doctrine of the Fatimid realm, the Tayyibi, which mostly survived in the mountains of Yemen, and the Nizari,[17] which had split from the Musta'li branch in 1094.[19] The Hafizi branch, inextricably bound to the Fatimid regime, survived in Egypt until the fall of the Fatimid Caliphate in 1171, but it disappeared quickly after, unlike its two rivals, that survive to the present day.[3][20] The last holdout of Hafizi Isma'ilism was Yemen, where significant communities survived into the 13th century.[21]


The accession of al-Hafiz signalled the restoration of the authority to the Fatimid dynasty and the caliph, but the preceding events had shaken the regime's foundations. The caliph enjoyed little authority over the army, and al-Hafiz's reign was marred by chronic instability, having to fend off rebellions and challenges to his legitimacy from ambitious warlords and even from within his own family.[22] To bolster his legitimacy, al-Hafiz resorted among other things to converting the Shi'a festival of Ghadir Khumm into a festival celebrating the Fatimids.[23] Despite his weak position, however, al-Hafiz succeeded in remaining on the throne for almost two decades.[24]

As with his predecessors, al-Hafiz appointed viziers to run the government in his name,[3] but the power concentrated into the office's hands since the days of Badr al-Jamali made it a danger even to the caliph, and al-Hafiz paid particular attention to his vizier's activities.[17] Indeed, for the last decade of his reign, he did not appoint any viziers, but instead relied on high-ranking clerks as ad hoc directors of government affairs.[3]

Vizierate of YanisEdit

His first vizier was the Armenian Yanis, a former military slave of al-Afdal and thus representative of the same army factions that had raised Kutayfat to power. To enforce his own authority, he executed half of al-Amir's bodyguard and formed a private army, the Yānisiyya. Although he had played a leading role in restoring al-Hafiz, his growing power alarmed the Caliph, who had him poisoned after nine months in office, in late 1132.[25][26][27]

First personal regime, resumption of war with the CrusadersEdit

After this, the position of vizier remained vacant for about a year, with al-Hafiz ruling in person.[25] He used the opportunity of Yanis' dismissal to enlist the support of the ashrāf families, by appointing the sharīf Mu'tamid al-Dawla as chief administrator, and his brother as naqīb al-ashrāf.[25]

At the same time, the Caliph sought to bolster the Fatimid credentials in the eyes of the Muslim world by once again taking up the mantle of champions of the jihād against the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: taking advantage of the revolt of Hugh II of Jaffa against King Fulk of Jerusalem (r. 1131–1143), after the long hiatus caused by the loss of Tyre in 1124, the Fatimids resumed their attacks on the Crusader territories from their stronghold at Ascalon. As a result, Fulk was forced to construct a series of new castles to protect the Jaffa–Jerusalem road over the next few years.[25]

Vizierates of al-Hafiz's sonsEdit

In 1134, al-Hafiz appointed his own son and designated heir, Sulayman, as vizier. A move designed to further strengthen the dynasty, it backfired disastrously when Sulayman died two months later.[25][1][28] Sulayman's brother Haydara succeeded him as heir and vizier, but this provoked the jealousy of another of al-Hafiz's sons, Hasan.[25][1][28]

Hasan won the backing of the Juyūshiyya, the regiment of Armenian origin established by Badr and al-Afdal that had been the pillar of their power and that had then supported Kutayfat. The Juyūshiyya defeated the Black African Rayḥaniyya, forcing al-Hafiz to appoint his son as vizier and heir in July 1134, effectively, as Brett comments, "in opposition to himself".[3][25][1] To secure his position, Hasan organized a private militia, the ṣibyān al-zarad, with which he terrorized the elites.[28] Although he managed to defeat an army from Upper Egypt that tried to depose him, the executions of prominent men and the confiscations of property cost him whatever support he may have had; following the murder of severla senior commanders, the army rose in revolt in March 1135. Hasan fled to the caliphal palace, where al-Hafiz placed him under arrest; but the troops assembled before the palace and demanded his execution. Al-Hafiz called for rescue to the governor of the Gharbiyya province, Bahram al-Armani, but befor ehe could arrive in the capital, the Caliph bowed to the soldiers' demands and had his son poisoned by his Jewish physician.[25][1][28]

Vizierate of BahramEdit

Hasan was succeeded by another Armenian general, Bahram. Al-Hafiz had called upon Bahram, then provicial governor of Gharbiyya, for aid against his son. Arriving in Cairo soon after the murder of Hasan, Bahram, although being a Christian, was named vizier and received the title of Sayf al-Islām ("Sword of Islam").[1][3] The favour he showed to Christians, and especially the encouragement of Armenian immigration, led to an anti-Christian backlash among the Muslim population, and he was forced out of office in February 1137 by the Sunni Ridwan ibn al-Walakhshi. Bahram's attempts to mount a resistance in Upper Egypt failed, and he was saved from death only through the intervention of King Roger II of Sicily.[1][3][28]

Regime of RidwanEdit

Ridwan had accrued popularity when, as governor of Ascalon, he prevented several thousand Armenians from entering Egypt at Bahram's call. As vizier, he launched an anti-Christian persecution. His power grew, and he even assumed the title of al-malik ("king"). Al-Hafiz, once more alarmed at the growing power of his vizier, dismissed him in June 1139.[1][3][28] Bahram was recalled to Cairo, and was appointed as de facto vizier, without holding the office, until his death in 1140.[1] Bahram was replaced by Ibn Masal, who likewise was not appointed as vizier.[1][3]

Final decadeEdit

After Ibn Masal's dismissal, al-Hafiz again ruled without a vizier, but the reign continued to suffer from internal troubles and uprisings.[3][28]

In 1147, Ridwan ibn al-Walakhshi rose up against al-Hafiz, but was assassinated.[3][28]

Death and legacyEdit

Al-Hafiz died in October 1149 of a severe intestinal colic.[28] He was succeeded by his 17-year-old son Abu Mansur Isma'il, with the regnal name al-Zafir bi-Amr Allah.[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Daftary 2007, p. 249.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Daftary 2007, p. 246.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Walker 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Magued 1971, p. 54.
  5. ^ a b Brett 2017, p. 261.
  6. ^ Brett 2017, p. 262.
  7. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 262–263.
  8. ^ Brett 2017, p. 263.
  9. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 194–195, 211, 241.
  10. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 207–208, 228ff..
  11. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 246–247.
  12. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 263–264.
  13. ^ a b Daftary 2007, p. 247.
  14. ^ a b c Brett 2017, p. 265.
  15. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 247–248.
  16. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 265–266.
  17. ^ a b c d Daftary 2007, p. 248.
  18. ^ Brett 2017, p. 266.
  19. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 241–243.
  20. ^ Daftary 2007, p. 253.
  21. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 255–260.
  22. ^ Brett 2017, pp. 267, 277.
  23. ^ Brett 2017, p. 277.
  24. ^ Dedoyan 1997, p. 143.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Brett 2017, p. 267.
  26. ^ Dedoyan 1997, pp. 143–144.
  27. ^ Daftary 2007, pp. 248–249.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i Magued 1971, p. 55.
  29. ^ Daftary 2007, p. 250.


  • Brett, Michael (2017). The Fatimid Empire. The Edinburgh History of the Islamic Empires. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-4076-8.
  • Daftary, Farhad (2007). The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines (Second ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-61636-2.
  • Dedoyan, Seta B. (1997). The Fatimid Armenians: Cultural and Political Interaction in the Near East. Leiden, New York, and Köln: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10816-5.
  • Magued, A. M. (1971). "al-Ḥāfiẓ". In Lewis, B.; Ménage, V. L.; Pellat, Ch. & Schacht, J. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume III: H–Iram. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 54–55. ISBN 90-04-08118-6.
  • Walker, Paul E. (2017). "al-Ḥāfiẓ li-Dīn Allāh". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830.

Further readingEdit

  • Halm, Heinz (2014). Kalifen und Assassinen: Ägypten und der vordere Orient zur Zeit der ersten Kreuzzüge 1074–1171 (in German). Munich: C.H. Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-66163-1.
  • Stern, S. M. (1951). "The Succession to the Fatimid Imam al-Āmir, the Claims of the Later Fatimids to the Imamate, and the Rise of Ṭayyibī Ismailism". Oriens. 4: 193–255. JSTOR 1579511.
  • Walker, Paul E. (1995). "Succession to Rule in the Shiite Caliphate". Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 32: 239–264. JSTOR 40000841.
Temporary abolition of the Fatimid regime by Kutayfat
Title last held by
al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah
Fatimid Caliph
Succeeded by
al-Zafir bi-Amr Allah
Preceded by
al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah
Imam of Hafizi Isma'ilism
Succeeded by
al-Zafir bi-Amr Allah