Today in Middle Eastern history: Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim destroys the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1009)

It would be easy to read the title of this post and think, “See? Muslims persecuting Christians; it’s been going on for over a thousand years!” But that would be unfortunate, because it wasn’t “Muslims” who ordered the destruction of the church that supposedly stands on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb. It was, as the title says, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, whose overall behavior has led some historians to conclude he may have been mentally ill. Obviously that’s speculative, because 11th century mental health diagnosis just wasn’t all that great. Plus, we’re biased by the sources, many of which were written well after al-Hakim reigned (996-1021) and by people who were inclined for political and religious reasons to regard him unfavorably. There are, to be fair, other historical traditions that identify al-Hakim as an ideal ruler and even a divine or quasi-divine figure. But what we know of al-Hakim, most especially the decisions that led to today’s story, suggests a guy who was at the very least prone to some incredible mood swings.

Read the rest at my new home, Foreign Exchanges!

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