NIHCR online webinar, around 1000 participants learn medieval history

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ISLAMABAD,  (Parliament Times) : The Fatimid history and historiography is a subject as vast and as varied as the geography and the peoples it included, observed Prof Emeritus Aslam Syed during a Webinar on Medieval Muslim History and Historiography during Fatimid period here on Sunday.

The guest speaker Prof Emeritus Aslam Syed has been serving at the Center for Religious Studies, Ruhr Universität, Bochum, Germany. He remained Chairman, Department of History, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and also served the NIHCR as its Director.

The writing of Fatimid history is likewise both as wide as the empire and as focused as the thousands of particular topics that help explain any portion of it, Prof Syed said.

The Webinar was arranged online by the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research (NIHCR), Centre of Excellence, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, attended by over 1000 participants ranging from students, teachers and researchers to have greater insights into the valuable views of the guest speaker.

Replying a question, Prof Syed recalled that the Fatimids rose to political domination in North Africa in 296/909 after a long period of struggle in various regions of the Muslim world. They formally proclaimed their caliphate soon after 297/910. The new caliph, al-Mahdi, was already the Imam of the Ismailis but, until then, he had not actually ruled a politically defined territory.

Thereafter al-Mahdi and his successors had spiritual authority as Imams and were also rulers of an empire that grew from its original base in what are now Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily. In 358/969, having by then subdued nearly all of North Africa and the lands of the southern Mediterranean, the Fatimids finally added Egypt, much of Syria and the holy cities of Arabia to their growing empire. In Egypt, they founded the city of Cairo as their new headquarters, Prof Syed replied to a questioner.

During the discourse, the NIHCR Director Dr Sajid Mahmood Awan was of the opinion that as Imams of the Ismailis, the Fatimids developed further a network of missions (da‘was) that extended over much of the Muslim world of the time.

Supplementing Dr Awan’s observation, Prof Syed said that for his religious followers, the Fatimid ruler, in his capacity as Ismaili Imam, was the absolute authority in all matters, including most especially any issue of religion and religious doctrine or interpretation.

Responding to a question, Prof Syed said for two centuries of rule over Egypt and North Africa, the Fatimids left remarkable historiographical records. Instead, it fell to Ayyubid and Mamluk historians to represent the dynasty to posterity. Mamluk historians engaged in a sophisticated archival practice within historiography, rather than uncritically reproducing earlier reports.

Dr Awan observed that modern historians routinely cast the Fatimid era in Egypt and Syria as a time when flourishing non-Muslim communities enjoyed an unusual degree of influence in the state.

Prof Syed viewed that the real and perceived influence of minority out-groups in medieval societies does not reflect pervasive hostility among historians of the time as they are quite diverse and not pervaded by sectarian antagonism. They are best understood within the contemporary ‘social logic’ of the works that contain them.

The NIHCR Director Dr Sajid Mahmood Awan conducted the Webinar by triggering a dialogue with Dr Syed for substantiating this discourse. This inclusive activity has been taken up every week for the benefit of students in general and capacity-building of the teachers and researchers in particular, he said.