Fatimids and Women

The Fatimid period represents one of the greatest eras in Egyptian and Islamic histories, and a milestone in Islamic civilization. As part of their general concern with education, the Fatimids adopted unprecedented policies for the education of women. In Cairo, formal sessions on Ismaili doctrines were developed for women. These lectures, pre-approved by the Caliph-Imams, were delivered weekly under the direction of the Fatimid chief dai (missionary), in various locations including the Al-Azhar mosque and the Fatimid palace.

As a result of the educational policies and the tolerant attitudes of the Fatimids, there were many educated women in the Fatimid domain, who acquire political supremacy. For example, Sitt al-Mulk, the sister of the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Hakim ruled efficiently as the deputy head of the Fatimid state until her death 1024. Imam al-Mustansir’s mother became a powerful deputy during the first decade of her son’s caliphate. Sayyida Hurra, who rose in the ranks of the Fatimid dawa, was appointment as the hujja (senior dai) of Yemen by Imam al-Mustansir in 1084. Sayyida Hurra was the first woman in the history of Ismailism to gain a high rank in the Ismaili hierarchy.

Source: Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis Their history and doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1990)


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