Abu'l-Qasim Ahmad ibn Ma‘ad al-Mustansir (Arabic: أبو القاسم أحمد بن معاد المستنصر, romanized: Abū'l-Qāsim Aḥmad ibn Ma‘ad al-Mustanṣir; 16 September 1074 – 12 December 1101), better known by his regnal name al-Mustaʽli Billah (Arabic: المستعلي بالله, romanized: al-Mustaʿlī bi'llāh), was the ninth Fatimid caliph and the 19th imam of Mustaʽli Ismailism.
|Caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty|
|Successor||al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah|
|Born||16 September 1074|
|Died||December 12, 1101(aged 27)|
|Issue||al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah|
His accession was engineered by his brother-in-law, the vizier al-Afdal Shahanshah, who was the de facto ruler of the state throughout his reign. Al-Musta'li's accession sidelined his oldest brother, Nizar, who in response rose in revolt, was defeated and executed. This caused a major split in the Isma'ili movement, with the Nizaris splitting off from the Fatimid-backed Musta'lis. During al-Musta'li's reign, the First Crusade arrived in the Levant, leading to the loss of Jerusalem and a major Fatimid defeat at the Battle of Ascalon.
Ahmad's oldest brother, Nizar ibn al-Mustansir, was apparently considered as the most likely successor to his father, as was the custom; indeed Nizar is often stated to have been the designated (naṣṣ) successor of his father.[a] However, no definite designation of Nizar as heir seems to have taken place by the time of al-Mustansir's death, and the powerful vizier, Badr al-Jamali, and his son and heir al-Afdal Shahanshah, favoured the accession of Ahmad. Shortly before his death, al-Mustansir consented to the wedding of Ahmad with Badr's daughter Sitt al-Mulk.
The later Musta'li tradition maintains that at the wedding banquet, Ahmad was designated as heir by al-Mustansir, while a medieval source claims that on his deathbed, al-Mustansir had chosen him as heir, and that a sister of al-Mustansir's is said to have been called to him privately and received Ahmad's nomination as a bequest. Modern historians, such as Farhad Daftary, believe that these stories are most likely attempts to justify and retroactively legitimize Ahmad's accession, which they view as a de facto coup d'etat by al-Afdal. According to this view, al-Afdal chose his brother-in-law because his own position was still insecure, as he had but recently succeeded his father Badr. Ahmad, who was tied to him by virtue of his marriage and completely dependent on him for his accession, would be a compliant figurehead who was unlikely to threaten al-Afdal's as yet fragile hold on power by attempting to appoint another to the vizierate.
According to al-Maqrizi, after al-Mustansir died on 29 December 1094, al-Afdal summoned three of al-Mustansir's sons—Nizar, Abdallah, and Isma'il, apparently the most prominent among the caliph's progeny—to the palace to do homage to al-Musta'li, who had been seated on the throne. All three refused, each claiming that he had been designated as successor by their father. This refusal apparently took al-Afdal completely by surprise, and the brothers were even allowed to leave the palace; but while Abdallah and Isma'il made for a nearby mosque, Nizar immediately fled Cairo. To add to the confusion, when learning of al-Mustansir's passing, Baraqat, the chief missionary (dāʿı̄) of Cairo (the head of the Isma'ili religious establishment) proclaimed Abdallah as caliph with the regnal name al-Muwaffaq. Soon, however, al-Afdal regained control: Baraqat was arrested (and later executed), Abdallah and Isma'il were placed under surveillance and eventually acknowledged al-Musta'li, and a grand assembly of officials held, which acclaimed al-Musta'li as imam and caliph.
Nizar's revolt and the Nizari schismEdit
Nizar, in the meantime, fled to Alexandria, where he gained the support of the local governor and populace, and proclaimed himself imam and caliph with the title of al-Mustafa li-Din Allah ("the Chosen One for God's Religion"). Nizar's partisans repulsed al-Afdal's first attempt to seize Alexandria, and Nizar's forces raided up to the outskirts of Cairo. Over the next months, however, al-Afdal managed to win back the allegiance of the Arab tribes with bribes and gifts. Weakened, Nizar's forces were pushed back to Alexandria, which was placed under siege, until Nizar and his remaining followers were forced to surrender. They were taken back to Cairo, where Nizar was immured.[b]
These events caused a bitter and permanent schism in the Isma'ili movement, that lasts to this day. While al-Musta'li was recognized by the Fatimid establishment and the official Isma'ili daʿwa, as well as the Isma'ili communities dependent on it in Syria and Yemen, most of the Isma'ili communities in the wider Middle East, and especially Persia and Iraq, rejected it. Under the leadership of Hassan-i Sabbah, whether out of conviction or as a convenient excuse, the Isma'ilis in Persia swiftly recognized Nizar's rights to the imamate, severed relations with Cairo, and set up their own independent daʿwa (the daʿwa jadīda, "new calling"). This marked the permanent split of the Isma'ili movement into the rival Musta'li and Nizari branches. At least one Nizar's sons, al-Husayn, fled in 1095 with other members of the dynasty (including three of al-Mustansir's other sons, Muhammad, Isma'il, and Tahir) from Egypt to the Maghreb, where they formed a sort of opposition in exile to the new regime in Cairo. As late as 1162, descendants, or purported descendants, of Nizar appeared to challenge the Fatimid caliphs, and were able to attract considerable followings based on lingering loyalist sentiments of the population.
By and large, throughout his reign al-Musta'li was subordinate to al-Afdal. Al-Afdal was a capable administrator, and his good governance ensured the continued prosperity of Egypt throughout the reign. Al-Musta'li himself is praised for his upright character by the Sunni contemporary historian Ibn al-Qalanisi, while other medieval historians stress his fanatical devotion to Shi'ism; it appears that the Isma'ili propaganda network (the daʿwa) was very active during his reign. The 15th-century Yemeni Musta'li leader and historian Idris Imad al-Din preserves much information about his dealings with the Isma'ili daʿwa in Yemen, particularly with the Sulayhid queen Arwa al-Sulayhi and the local dāʿı̄, Yahya ibn Lamak ibn Malik al-Hammadi.
In foreign affairs, the reign began well, with the voluntary submission of Apamea in northern Syria in 1096, followed by the recovery of Tyre in 1097. However, a proposal for an alliance with the Seljuk ruler of Aleppo, Fakhr al-Mulk Radwan, against Duqaq, the Seljuk ruler of Damascus, failed.
In the same year, 1097, the First Crusade entered Syria, and al-Afdal sent an embassy to make contact with them. The Fatimids used the distraction of the Crusade to recover control of Jerusalem from its Artuqid rulers in July/August 1098. Al-Afdal did not expect the Crusaders to march south, and was caught by surprise when they moved against Jerusalem in 1099. The city was captured after a siege, and the subsequent defeat of a Fatimid army at the Battle of Ascalon on 5 August 1099 confirmed the new status quo. As a result of the Crusader advance, many Syrians fled to Egypt, where a famine broke out in 1099 or 1100 as a result.
- The concept of naṣṣ is central to the early Shi'a, and particularly the Isma'ili, conception of the imamate, but it also presented complications: as the imam possessed God's infallibility (ʿiṣma), he could not possibly err, especially in the selection of his heir. Appointed heirs predeceasing their fathers was a source of considerable embarrassment, and therefore, while an heir might be clearly favoured during his father's reign, naṣṣ was often withheld until shortly before the ruling imam's death, proclaimed in the latter's testament, or left as a bequest with a third party.
- In a letter sent to the Yemeni queen Arwa al-Sulayhi announcing his accession, al-Musta'li gives the "official" version of events as follows: Like the other sons of al-Mustansir, Nizar had at first accepted his imamate and paid him homage, before being moved by greed and envy to revolt. The events up to the capitulation of Alexandria are reported in some detail, but nothing is mentioned of Nizar's fate.
- Walker 1995, p. 251.
- Gibb 1993, p. 725.
- Walker 1995, pp. 240–242.
- Brett 2017, p. 228.
- Daftary 2007, p. 241.
- Halm 2014, p. 90.
- Walker 1995, pp. 252, 257.
- Walker 1995, p. 252.
- Brett 2017, pp. 228–229.
- Halm 2014, p. 88.
- Walker 1995, p. 253.
- Walker 1995, pp. 253–254.
- Walker 1995, p. 254.
- Daftary 2007, p. 242.
- Walker 1995, p. 255.
- Halm 2014, p. 91.
- Walker 1995, p. 248.
- Daftary 2007, pp. 242–243.
- Daftary 2007, pp. 242–243, 324–325.
- Brett 2017, pp. 229–230.
- Walker 1995, p. 256.
- Halm 2014, pp. 182–183, 186–187, 221–222, 249.
- 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 Ismāʿı̄lı̄s: Their History and Doctrines (Second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-61636-2.
- Gibb, H. A. R. (1993). "al- Mustaʿlī bi'llāh". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. & Pellat, Ch. (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume VII: Mif–Naz. Leiden: E. J. Brill. p. 725. ISBN 978-90-04-09419-2.
- Halm, Heinz (2014). Kalifen und Assassinen: Ägypten und der vordere Orient zur Zeit der ersten Kreuzzüge, 1074–1171 [Caliphs and Assassins: Egypt and the Near East at the Time of the First Crusades, 1074–1171] (in German). Munich: C.H. Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-66163-1.
- Walker, Paul E. (1995). "Succession to Rule in the Shiite Caliphate". Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. 32: 239–264. doi:10.2307/40000841. JSTOR 40000841.