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Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (“Ruler by God’s Command”) was only 11 years old when he became the sixth Fatimid caliph in 996, and was 15 when he had his tutor murdered. His 25-year reign was characterized by the persecution of merchants, Jews and Christians (he had Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre burned down), and by rabid misogyny: he forbade women to leave their homes and once had a group of noisy females boiled alive in a public bath. Merchants found guilty of cheating during Al-Hakim’s inspections were summarily sodomized by his Nubian slave, Masoud, while the caliph stood upon their heads – comparatively restrained behaviour from a man who once dissected a butcher with his own cleaver.

In 1020, followers proclaimed Al-Hakim’s divinity in the Mosque of Amr, provoking riots which he answered by ordering Fustat’s destruction. Legend ascribes the conflagration to Al-Hakim’s revenge on the quarter where his beloved sister, Sitt al-Mulk (“Lady of Power”), allegedly took her lovers; only after half of Fustat-Masr was in ruins was she examined by midwives and pronounced a virgin. Allegedly, it was Al-Hakim’s desire for an incestuous marriage that impelled Sitt al-Mulk to arrange his “disappearance” during one of his nocturnal jaunts in the Muqattam Hills in 1021, though his body was never found.

Though Al-Hakim’s declaration of divinity was considered blasphemous by Muslims, his follower Hamza Ibn Ali and Ibn Ali’s disciple, Mohammed al-Durzi, persuaded some foreign Muslims that Al-Hakim was a manifestation of God similar to the Christian Messiah, thus giving rise to the Druze faith, whose tightly knit communities still exist in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. In Coptic legend, Al-Hakim experienced a vision of Jesus, repented, and became a monk.

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