Around the first millennium of the Christian era, a small group of Ismaili Shi’i Muslims established a dynasty that rapidly conquered North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. At the height of their power they conquered Egypt, where they founded the city of Cairo, and their Imam-Caliphs had their names read out in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, rivaling the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. And yet, despite three centuries of rule by a powerful Shi’i empire, North Africa remained—and remains—Sunni with nary a trace of its Shi’ite past.
In this episode, guest Shainool Jiwa, from the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, illuminates an often overlooked chapter in the history of Islamic sectarianism, one in which religious differences were used to unify diverse populations under the rule of a minority government, rather than to divide and alienate them.
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