The Fatimid Empire flourished from the early 10th into the second half of the 12th century CE. Under the enlightened rule of this dynasty, Fatimid imam-caliphs governed, first from North Africa and later from Cairo—a city founded by them — a domain extending from Arabia in the east to present-day Morocco in the west. As living imams of the Isma‘ili branch of Shi‘a Islam, they exercised dual authority over both spiritual and secular realms.
The great majority of Fatimid documents were the product of the royal chancery; they were composed by those employed in it and thus not by the imam-caliphs, at least not directly. But, while voicing his sentiments and that of the tradition to which the Fatimids ascribed, few actually conveyed the imam’s own words. Except for a tiny few, the imam-caliph rarely wrote them himself. In general, however, the opposite was true of the sermons prepared for the two Muslim ‘id festivals, which were not only delivered by the imams in person whenever possible, but also composed by them. Therefore we have the possibility, in this case, of listening (more precisely of reading) to the very words of the imams themselves.
The sermon, in Arabic the khutba, was (and is) a standard feature of Friday congregational observance and was offered every week. The Fatimid caliphs naturally did not deliver such sermons that often. However, the duty to do so on the twice-yearly occasion of the festivals—the two Muslim ‘ids, the feasts of the breaking of the fast and of sacrifice—was taken quite seriously and seldom missed by the imams. In later Fatimid times, some Friday sermons were added for Ramadan. From all such opportunities, we have precious few examples. The text of most of these sermons, even those by the imams, simply did not survive. Still, those that have come down to us are more than enough to begin to appreciate the event and the words uttered on it. It is, therefore, the principal purpose of this book to provide access to them by presenting the Arabic original and a complete English translation of all those sermons now available.
To understand the context of these sermons, it is also necessary to learn as much about the practice and its history as possible. The first two chapters constitute, first, a history of the Fatimid khutbas, what was said, by whom and on what occasions, and second, an analysis of the themes and rhetorical strategies given expression in the surviving examples.
Chapter One, ‘A History of the Fatimid Khutba’ includes a discussion of the following topics: a unique example of a Fatimid khutba in Abbasid Iraq; khutbas and khatibs (the preachers who delivered them); festival khutbas by the Fatimid caliphs; Fatimid khutbas in North Africa; khutbas by imam-caliphs al-Mansur and al-Mu‘izz; the first Fatimid khutbas in Egypt; khutbas by imam-caliphs al-‘Aziz, al-Hakim and al-Zahir; the eyewitness testimony of al-Musabbihi; the khutba from caliph-imam al-Mustansir to al-Amir; khutbas from the reign of caliph al-Hafiz onward; the eyewitness testimony of Ibn al-Tuwayr; and the very last Fatimid khutba.
Chapter Two, ‘The Rhetoric of the Surviving Khutbas’ covers separately: the audience; double meanings for different audiences; Qur’anic references and language; praising God; Prophet Muhammad as grandfather; Imam ‘Ali as father; Fatima al-Zahra, Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn; the imams, before caliph-imam al-Mahdi and after; the terms fatimi and mahdiyin; Umayyad and ‘Abbasid dynasties; the Dajjal; advice for the occasion of the sermon; pilgrimage; death and loss; and miscellaneous themes.
Part Two comprises the translations of khutbas by caliph-imams al-Qa’im, al-Mansur and al-Mu‘izz, plus one by Qirwash and two by al-Amir, while Part Three contains the Arabic texts of the same khutbas.