Rise and fall of the Fatimids – Books – Culture
Is it true that the builder of Cairo was a confectioner-pastry chef, as legend has it? We don’t have a definitive answer, but history reports that Jawhar Al-Siqilli (Jawhar the Sicilian, 911-992 AH), was originally a confectioner, before leading the army of the Fatimids under Caliph Al-Mansour and to conquer Egypt. He built a new capital there, Al-Qahira (the victorious). Egyptian writer Reem Bassiouny revisits history from a new angle in her novel Al-Halawani … Solassiyet Al-Fatimiyin (the confectioner-pastry chef, Fatimid trilogy).
Recently published by Editions Nahdat Misr, it took place during the Fatimid period in Egypt, from 969 to 1171 of the Hegira, and until the arrival of the Ayyubid dynasty. Due to the weakness of the Abbasid state, the Fatimids were able to conquer Egypt in the year 969. The coming to power of Al-Moezz Li Din Allah marks a historical turning point for his peers, as the country witnessed the important changes, both cultural and political. During his reign Egypt experienced the famous molded doll, made of sugar, and the Qatayef (dough filled with cream or dried fruit).
According to the novel, the family Al-Halawani (literally confectioner-pastry chef) is related by marriage to the Al-Siqilli family.
Descendants of both families are the main characters in the new book, part of the author’s ambitious project to survey the various dynasties of Egypt’s Islamic history. He begins by sketching the trilogy of the Mamelukes and then he discusses the Tulunid period, then here he deals with the Fatimid period. Fatimid Egypt experienced a real commercial boom, which began under the Toulunids and the Ikhchidids. Abundant and diversified production, food and industrial, favors exports. Different sectors of the arts were developed, as well as a network of commercial relations that included Egypt with India, Sicily, Spain and the maritime cities of Italy. The city of Alexandria became one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean.
The Three Lovers of Egypt
The novel is divided into three stories about three great people who passed through different periods in Egyptian history. Although they were Egyptians neither by birth nor by origin, they had a powerful effect on the nation. People loved them very much, were loyal to them and gave them respect. The goal of the three men was to reform Egypt. They built without demolishing, renovated without destroying, and they were just in charge of the country.
The three stories discussed in the work are Sicilian, Armenian and Kurdish. The first is the grandson of Commander Jawhar Al-Siqilli, his name is Jawhar Hussein Jawhar Al-Siqilli and he tries to continue what his grandfather started. He saved the ancient city of Fustat against the will of the caliph who preferred to burn it down, regardless of the revolt of the inhabitants. Jawhar junior fled Cairo and sought refuge in Alexandria, where he worked as a confectioner-pastry chef, offering the common people the best dolls and sugar knights to celebrate the birth of the prophet. He married and had a daughter (Abeda) and a son (Mohamad). Abeda married the daughter of Abdallah Al-Halawani, a friend of Jawhar junior, and had several children including the youngest (Fouroune Al-Halawani). The latter is married to the novel’s second main character, the Armenian general Badr Al-Jamali. Hero of the second story, strong and vizier of Armenian origin, Al-Jamali brought relief to the economic crisis of the time of Al-Mustansir. He struck those who caused it with an iron hand. He repaired Cairo after it was destroyed and built the Al-Jiyouchi Mosque and the Attarine Mosque in Alexandria. He defeated various military factions, implemented a large number of Egyptian policies and restored peace and prosperity to the country.
With his wife, he had his son Jaafar Al-Mozaffar, who married Nafissa, daughter of his uncle Mohamad. Among their descendants are Ibrahim and Rachida, heroes of the third story about the Kurds, Salaheddine Al-Ayyoubi (Saladin for Westerners). The latter saved Egypt from the Crusades in 1169, the year in which Amaury (king of Jerusalem from 1163 to 1174) left Egypt, heralding the beginning of the Ayyubid era in 1171. In this year, the order not to mention. the Fatimids in prayers.
Al-Adhid, the last Fatimid caliph, died later without knowing the end of his dynasty. Saladin definitely dethroned the Fatimids and restored Abbasid legitimacy to Egypt. This third story is the resistance of Ibrahim Al-Halawani, Rachida and the people of Alexandria, against the army of the vizier Shawar. This is also the resistance of the people of Fustat and Cairo against the armies of the Franks. It tells how Fustat was burned, and how the Fatimid era ended, so the Ayyubid era began.
Harmony and tolerance
The novel shows the state of tolerance and good harmony that reigned between Sunnis and Shiites, without a hint of extremism, dislike or resentment during the Fatimid era. The Sunnis in Egypt love the Prophet’s family, and the Shiites have built mosques where the Sunnis pray. Bassiouny wrote: It is a nation that does not make sects of the kings of the land. This country is generous to Christians, Muslims and Jews. He allowed everyone to worship his Lord in his own way, and valued the righteous and those who resist prejudice “.
The history of Egypt is told in part in this novel, flying through three periods and three great men. It coincides with a book in Cairo, built in the past, but also protected, by a confectioner-pastry chef.
Al-Halawani … Solassiyet Al-Fatimiyine (the confectioner-pastry chef, trilogy of the Fatimids), by Reem Bassiouny, published by Nahdat Misr, 2022, 671 pages.