Sitt al-Mulk

Photo of the al-Hakim Mosque, Cairo. Image Credit: WikiCommons

By Gabby Storey

Born to al-Aziz Billah, the fifth caliph of the Fatimid dynasty, and his concubine al-Sayyida al-Aziziyya in September/October 970, Sitt spent much of her childhood in Cairo after the successful conquest of Egypt by the Fatimids in 972-973.

Upon the death of her father, Sitt’s half-brother al-Mansur, later known by the regnal name al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, became caliph. Although relations between the pair were initially amicable, al-Hakim’s erratic governance caused the two to drift apart.

The final rupture came in 1013 when al-Hakim chose a cousin as his designated heir, overturning the direct line of succession and the precedent of excluding males from the wider family in state affairs.

Sitt was committed to the succession of her nephew, and took him and his mother under her protection. On 13 February 1021, al-Hakim disappeared and was declared dead after evidence of his murder was found.

There is debate as to the extent of Sitt’s involvement in her brother’s murder. She moved quickly upon his death to secure her power. Al-Hakim’s son, Ali, was crowned on 27 March, with Sitt acting as de facto ruler in the interim.

Sitt acted as a regent for several years: the extent and duration of her influence is contested, though it is apparent that she relaxed prohibitions and was an effective ruler of the empire, though her tolerance did not extend to followers of the Druze religion.

Sitt’s position as regent was unusual, and she would have faced opposition for further formalised power. She died of dysentery on 5 February 1023.

Although she was never crowned or held a formal title bar princess, Sitt’s rule over the empire makes her worthy of inclusion.

Recommended Reading

Delia Cortese and Simonetta Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006)

Fatima Mernissi, The Forgotten Queens of Islam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993)

Paul E. Walker, “The Fatimid Caliph al-Aziz and His Daughter Sitt al-Mulk: A Case of Delayed but Eventual Succession to Rule by a Woman,” Journal of Persinate Studies 4 (2011): 30-44

Wissam Halabi Halawi, “Les druzes dans les chroniques arabes médievales: Une narration éclatée,” Studia Islamica 104-105 (2007) : 103-132.

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