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The Fatimids in North Africa: Innovations, Contributions, and Decline

The Fatimids were an Islamic religious movement of an Ismaili branch of the Shi’a sect, of the Hashemite clan in the Banu Quraysh tribe. The Fatimids claimed descent from Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammed and wife of Ali ibn Abu Talib. The Fatimids conquered many lands of the Berbers, dominating both east and west Egypt. The Fatimids were not the first religious movement, but they had stood out of all in terms of innovations and claimed contributions.

The supposed story about the upheaval in the Muslim world about the next caliph was a mere cold disagreement; it did not resort to firearms disputes or killings among the Muslims. As the discourse is a broad concept that can easily be known by studying Islamic history, this article does not seek to clarify whether there was a fight or not, but barely makes it clear that trade, not war, brought diverse religious movements to Africa. As it is widely known, the impacts of the Wangara traders from the Songhay Empire were felt across the desert. Paul Lovejoy has once made the natures of clericalism and commerce to be inseparable. Therefore, after the death of Prophet Muhammed in 632 A.D. some of the religious movements from the Middle East came down to North Africa and tremendously revolutionalized all systems, introducing the technology at diasporas, and also commercially integrating the North with the Middle East. However, it will be incomplete to dispute the disagreement between the Shi’a and other religious movements, but this has been exaggerated by non-Muslim historians, by adding odd prices to the misunderstanding.

The land of the Berbers was suitable for human habitation, because of the perfect and habitable ecological environment. Several religious movements entered the land, and with intense commercial integration, they knew understood not only the topographical features of the land but also the society itself. This later birthed an Islamic society when the indigenous Berbers abandoned idolatry for Islam. There came many religious movements with different ideologies. The Fatimids also had significant impacts in North Africa as they became the friendliest sect to the Berbers. Abu Abdullah, an agent of the Fatimids, was sent by the leader of the group, Ubaidallah to conquer the Kutama Berbers. Abu Abdullah impressed the Berbers so much that they could not reject his teachings and some of them, without being forced, accepted Islam and also went on preaching Islam to other Berbers in the land. Though far from the Almohads, most materials referred to them as this movement that conquered many territories dating back to the 12th century.

The Fatimid Caliphate during this period established universities and mosques to help out the Berbers who were ignorant of the religion. Al-Zahr University was built in Egypt. More interesting about the university was the provision for free education to the Berbers. Notable of the built mosques was the Al-Hakim Masjid (Mosque of Knowledge). Objectively, it is obvious that Islam hand-in-hand is an advocate of knowledge and commerce.

It was forbidden for members of the Fatimids to drink alcohol, or commit zina (fornication, adultery). Some of the Islamic doctrines are made used and the Berbers, with the presence of scholars explaining what was not clear to them, accepted Islam and they became dutiful to Allah.

The Fatimids actuated the act of allowing females to pray the Masjid. Before the coming of the Fatimids, women stayed at home cooking and producing children. Starting from then, the wives also followed their husbands to the Masjid and could also pray at home (women praying at the Masjid is not mandatory except on Jumu’ah and Eids). On Jumu’ah (Friday), legs gather from all angles of the region, and people gorgeously dressed to the Masjid, including slaves and travelers, all gathered to pray at the mosque and went back to their respective activities.

Scholars from the Middle East entered North Africa in order to foster the course of knowledge. Literacy in Arabic, mathematics, astrology, accounting, and others spread throughout North Africa and this provided the basis for the development and solidarity of this region. Arabic became the lingua franca and there was an influx of scholars from the Islamic world, especially from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and others. And notably, the political system was based on meritocracy. This buoyed the Berbers to embark on expansionist policy, in order to gain control of the land.

Furthermore, they brought different architectural designs and thrived in arts and craftwork. Arts thrived during this period; there was the circulation of more than 200,000 manuscripts among which were treasures as 2400 illuminated copies were the Holy Quran. The Berbers had access to the library and there were adequate personnel to guide them and do the ‘tefsir’ (explanation of the Holy Qur’an verses)1

In conclusion, it is evident that the Fatimids contributed a lot in all ramifications to the growth and development of North Africa until their decline with the death of Abu Abdullah and the eventual advent of the despotic Ubaidallah who later ran the empire to abysmal emptiness.

Citation: Faforiji Tadese. The Fatimids in North Africa: Innovations, Contributions, and Decline. (July 27, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved from

Read more:

The Fatimid Caliphate. Wikipedia.

The cited places are related by Paul Ilesanmi, Ph, D., a (former) lecturer of North and West African History, the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria.

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.