A historical novel about al-Hakim, the controversial caliph and ruler of Egypt in the eleventh century, by the award-winning Moroccan novelist The Theocrat takes as its subject one of Arab and Islamic history’s most perplexing figures, al-Hakim bi-Amr Illah (“the ruler by order of God”), the Fatimid caliph who ruled Egypt during the tenth century and whose career was a direct reflection of both the tensions within the Islamic dominions as a whole and of the conflicts within his own mind. In this remarkable novel Bensalem Himmich explores these tensions and conflicts and their disastrous consequences on an individual ruler and on his people. Himmich does not spare his readers the full horror and tragedy of al-Hakim’s reign, but in employing a variety of textual styles—including quotations from some of the best known medieval Arab historians; vivid historical narratives; a series of extraordinary decrees issued by the caliph; and, most remarkably, the inspirational utterances of al-Hakim during his ecstatic visions, recorded by his devotees and subsequently a basis for the foundation of the Druze community—he succeeds brilliantly in painting a portrait of a character whose sheer unpredictability throws into relief the qualities of those who find themselves forced to cajole, confront, or oppose him.
Bensalem Himmich has written a number of philosophical works as well as several novels and collections of poems. The Theocrat received the al-Naqid Award and was chosen by the Authors’ Union in Egypt as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. His novel The Polymath received the Grand Atlas Award in Rabat and the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in Cairo. Bensalem Himmich is the vice-president of the Moroccan and Arab World Writers’ Union and is professor of philosophy at Mohamed V University in Rabat. He was awarded the Sharjah Prize in 2003.
Roger Allen is professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He has translated Bensalem Himmich’s The Polymath (AUC Press, 2000) and other works of Arabic literature.
“a very sophisticated novel that is not only a pleasure to read, but also immerses the reader into a vital part of Islamic history”—CSA, September 05