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Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam

Delia Cortese, Simonetta Calderini

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This first full-length study of women and the Fatimids is a groundbreaking work investigating an unexplored area in the field of Islamic and medieval studies.

The authors have unearthed a wealth of references to women, thus re-inscribing their role in the history of one of the most fascinating Islamic dynasties, the only one to be named after a woman. At last some light is thrown on the erstwhile silent and shadowy figures of women under the Fatimids which gives them a presence in the history of women in medieval and pre-modern dynasties.

Basing their research on a variety of sources from historical works to chronicles, official correspondence, documentary sources and archaeological findings, the authors have provided a richly informative analysis of the status and influence of women in this period. Their contribution is explored first within the context of Isma'ili and Fatimid genealogical history, and then within the courts in their roles as mothers, courtesans, wives and daughters, and as workers and servants. Throughout the book comparison is drawn with the status and roles of women in earlier, contemporary and subsequent Islamic as well as non-Islamic courts.


List of Illustrations, Preface
Note on the Text
Chapter 1: Working the Propaganda Spindle
Chapter 2: Family Ties: Women and Genealogy in Fatimid Dynastic History
Chapter 3: Inside the Palace Walls: Life at Court
Chapter 4: Battleaxes and Formidable Aunties
Chapter 5: Women of Substance at the Fatimid Court
Chapter 6: Outside the Palace Walls: The Daily Life
Appendix 1: The Fatimid Imam-Caliphs and their Mothers
Appendix 2: Glossary

About the Author

Delia Cortese is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Middlesex University. Author of Arabic Ismaili Manuscripts (I. B. Tauris, 2002), Ismaili and Other Arabic Manuscripts (I. B. Tauris, 2000) and (with Simonetta Calderini) Mauritania (Clio Press, 1992).

Simonetta Calderini is Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Roehampton University, London, and is the author of several articles and chapters on medieval Ismaili and Islamic studies. She recently contributed to the volume by Petr Fiala, et al, Religious and political authority in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (CDK 2004) and to J. D. McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Qur'an (2003).


Highly informative on the Fatimid state and society and the position of women in it.
- Muhammad Abdul Jabbar Beg, Muslim World Book Review
To be welcomed as [a] very valuable contribution to the study of the period considered and, moreover, can be highly recommended to anyone interested in Middle Eastern or general history, be it social, religious or cultural.
- Bibliotheca Orientalis
It is the best and fullest treatment of women of any Muslim dynasty.
- Professor Yaacov Lev, Israel
This book reflects a major contribution to the field of Ismaili studies, dealing with a hitherto neglected area… [the authors] write in a highly accessible style without compromising academic standards.
- Dr Farhad Daftary, London

A gender historian’s dream come true. Its ambitiously wide scope, covering women’s active participation in the Ismaili mission and political life, their family ties to the Fatimids and their subsidiary states, and their daily life inside and outside the royal palace might explain the eleven years spent researching this book. The authors cover practically the entire historical and literary (and to a lesser extent religious) published output pertaining to the Fatimids … The authors continuously provide necessary historical and religious background, making their book accessible to readers unfamiliar with Fatimid history and doctrines … I strongly recommend Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam to scholars and students of the Middle East of all levels and to gender and medieval historians in general.

- Samer Traboulsi, University of North Carolina at Asheville, MESA Bulletin