Tag Archives: Nizaris

Islam’s First Terrorists, Part 3

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 19, 2015

This is the third of a six-part series. Read parts one and two.

Masyaf fortress, eastern Hama, the headquarters of the Assassins (1141-1270)

Masyaf fortress, eastern Hama, the headquarters of the Assassins (1141-1270)

The death of Hassan-i Sabbah and The Resurrection

Rashid ad-Din Sinan

Rashid ad-Din Sinan

Hassan-i Sabbah, the Nizaris’ first and most successful leader, died in May 1124. Hassan-i Sabbah was a fanatic who sternly imposed the Holy Law—even executing one of his own sons for drinking wine and another son (mistakenly) for an unauthorized assassination. An extreme ascetic and recluse, Hassan-i Sabbah left his house twice in the thirty-five years after taking Alamut. Hassan-i Sabbah’s great skill was in weaponizing the discontents of the dispossessed and refining the doctrine of al-dawa jadida (the new preaching).

Hassan-i Sabbah never claimed to be the Imam, merely the only one who knew what the Imam wanted. Hassan-i Sabbah confirmed the Ismaili doctrine as essentially authoritarian, where the believer must follow an Imam, the only source of truth, who has been appointed by god (unlike the Sunni view where the believer can choose an Imam).

The Nizaris’ history divides into essentially four parts after this: Continue reading

Islam’s First Terrorists, Part 2

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 18, 2015

This is the second of a six-part series. For part one, see here

2. Alamut

Alamut fortress, northern Iran, the headquarters of the Nizaris

The Origins of the Nizaris in Persia

Hassan-i Sabbah would lead the Nizaris in Persia. Recruited in Rayy, near Tehran, by the chief dawa (missionary) of the Fatimids in 1072, Hassan-i Sabbah went to Egypt between 1078 and 1081, before returning to Iran to proselytize. In 1090, Hassan-i Sabbah won control of the fortress of Alamut in north-west Iran, which would become the headquarters of the Nizaris. Throughout the 1090s, the Nizaris gained control of further castles in Daylam, specifically the Rudbar area; in the southwest of Iran between Khuzestan and Fars; and in the east in Quhistan. Most impressive was the capture of the fortress at Shahdiz, near Isfahan, in 1096-7.

The Daylamis were a notoriously rebellious and hardy people; one of the last to convert to Islam, they were then among the first to assert their independence within it, first politically by forming a separate dynasty and then religiously by converting to Shi’ism. Continue reading

Islam’s First Terrorists, Part 1

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 17, 20151

Book Review: The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (1967) by Bernard Lewis

Abstract

The fourth Caliph, Ali, was assassinated during a civil war that his supporters, Shi’atu Ali (Followers of Ali), lost to the Umayyads, who thereafter moved the capital to Damascus. The Shi’a maintained that the Caliphate should have been kept in the Prophet’s family; over time this faction evolved into a sect unto themselves, which largely functioned as an official opposition, maintaining its claim to the Caliphate, but doing little about it. Several ghulat (extremist) Shi’a movements emerged that did challenge the Caliphate. One of them was the Ismailis. Calling themselves the Fatimids, the Ismailis managed to set up a rival Caliphate in Cairo from the mid-tenth century until the early twelfth century that covered most of North Africa and western Syria. A radical splinter of the Ismailis, the Nizaris, broke with the Fatimids in the late eleventh century and for the next century-and-a-half waged a campaign of terror against the Sunni order from bases in Persia and then Syria. In the late thirteenth century the Nizaris were overwhelmed by the Mongols in Persia and by the Egyptian Mameluke dynasty which halted the Mongol invasion in Syria. The Syrian-based branch of the Nizaris became known as the Assassins, and attained legendary status in the West after they murdered several Crusader officials in the Levant. Attention has often turned back to the Assassins in the West when terrorist groups from the Middle East are in the news, but in the contemporary case of the Islamic State (ISIS) the lessons the Nizaris can provide are limited. Continue reading

Who Are The Khawarij?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 17, 2014

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Since the Syrian rebellion went to war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in January, there has been a parallel campaign of political warfare by the rebels and al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat an-Nusra, to delegitimize ISIS. This has often taken the form of referring to ISIS as Kharijites or the Khawarij.

This Khawarij are an ancient sect who broke from the Rashidun (Rightly-Guided) Caliphate in the name of righteous revolt in 658, and continued their campaign against the caliphate—by then in the hands of the Umayyads—for a century and more. Regarded as perhaps the first terrorists in Islamdom (by another definition it would be the Nizaris, a.k.a. “The Assassins”), the connotations of the Khawarij label are extremism and deviance, particularly a tendency to excommunicate (make takfir against) Muslims not only for sins that do not merit excommunication, but simply for reasons of political exclusivism. Continue reading