ABU AL-FADL ‘ISA IBN NASTURUS
Nothing is known of the life of this Christian before he became financial secretary during the caliphate of the Fatimid al-‘Aziz, but he had probably been in the financial administration for some time and had risen gradually. Though he was a Christian, his name seems to indicate that ethnically he was not a Copt.
After the death of the vizier Ya‘qub ibn Killis (in A.H. 380/A.D. 991) we find him intervening in the Fatimid political scene in Syria. In fact, al-‘Aziz the caliph was trying to take Aleppo from the Hamdanids and for that reason he had bribed general Bakjur for his collaboration. But ‘Isa ibn Nasturus, who disliked him, managed to have him betrayed and delivered into the hands of Hamdanid Sa‘d al-Dawlah, who had him put to death (A.H. 381/A.D. 991).
In December 995, ‘Isa was given responsibility for the vizierate. Al-‘Aziz then prepared a vast offensive to finally take the longed-for northern Syria. He had decided to attack by land and sea simultaneously, and the vizier was ordered to build up a war fleet. The work was well underway when, during the night of May 996, almost all the boats were destroyed by fire in the naval docks of al-Maqs, Cairo. The blame fell on the Greeks living in the neighborhood, and the vizier had a certain number of them executed or beaten. A fresh fleet was hastily prepared and attacked the port city of Antartus unsuccessfully.
Muslim historians have certain reservations about ‘Isa. “He joined firmness to competence,” says one of them; but he was suspected of favoring his fellow Christians by naming them to important posts and leaving aside the Muslims. He also appointed a Jew, Manashsha ibn Ibrahim, as a delegate for the Syrian province. This caused a hardening of the Muslim opposition, which led to his destitution. His disgrace did not last long, however. The caliph’s daughter, the famous Sitt al-Mulk, pleaded his cause with her father so that ‘Isa was reinstated, on condition that he give into Muslim hands the administrative posts due to them.
The caliph’s sudden death on October 996 changed the vizier’s destiny. Al-HAKIM at first appointed him administrator of his personal possessions, but the Berber Kutamah chieftains brought pressure to bear on him to replace ‘Isa by one of their own men. The vizier was arrested either on 25 February 996, or more likely 14 January 997. He was tortured to get money from him, then on 9 February he was led to al-Maqs on a donkey and beheaded. He saw in his own execution God’s punishment for an unjust condemnation to death he had pronounced on a young man after the burning of the fleet.
A number of members of his family occupied important posts during al-Hakim’s reign, particularly two of his sons. Zur‘ah was wasitah (mediator) from August 1011 to September 1012, with the title of al-Shafi (healer). The caliph regretted not having been able to condemn him to death (he died from an illness). Sa‘id occupied the same post from November 1018 to 13 April 1019, on which day he was executed by the caliph.
- Ibn al-Sayrafi. “Al-Isharah ila man Nala al-Wizarah.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 25 (1925):19-26, 87-94.
- Ibn Zafir. “Akhbar al-Duwal al-Munqati‘ah,” ed. A. Ferré. Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale, h.s., 12 (1972):40- 41.
- Nuwayri, Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, al-Nihayat al-Arab fi Funun al-Adab. Photostat of Leiden manuscript, Dar al-Kutub. Cairo, no. 459, sect. 26, fol. 40a.
- Silvestre de Sacy, Antoine Isaac, baron. Chrestomathie arabe, Vol. 1, pp. 94, 185, 187. Paris, 1806; 2nd ed., Paris, 1826-1827.