Women and Fatimids

The Fatimids were renowned for their policies regarding the education of women

The Fatimids, who established their Caliphate in North Africa(from 909) and later in Egypt (973–1171), were well known for their tolerance towards other religious communities, and employed meritorious non-Ismaili Muslims as well as non-Muslims in high offices of their state.

As part of their general concern with education, the Fatimids also adopted unprecedented policies for the education of women.

From early on in the reign of the founder of the dynasty Imam Abd Allah al-Mahdi (a.s.), the Fatimids organized formal instruction sessions called majalis al-hikma (sessions of wisdom) on Ismaili doctrines for women. These weekly sessions were delivered in various locations to men and women separately, under the direction of the chief dai, the administrative head of the Faitmid Ismaili dawa. The entire programme was closely scrutinized by the Fatimid Caliph-Imams.

Fatimid noble women received their lectures in a special hall at the Fatimid palace while other women generally received their instructions at the Al Azhar mosque. As a result of these education policies and the tolerant attitudes of the Fatimids, there were many educated women some acquiring political prominence such as Sayyida al-Hura (d. 1138), who was appointed by Imam Mustansir billah as his hujja in Yemen and subsequently in western India. She was the first woman to be appointed in the high rank in the Ismaili hierarchy.

Source: Farhad Daftary, Ismailis in Medieval Muslim Societies, (New York: IB Taurus & Co. Ltd, 2005) p 93-94


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