Academic Article

The Mediaeval Ismailis of the Iranian Lands


da i, da wa, al-da wa al-hadiya, Al-da wa al Jadida, Al-da wa al Qadima, Nizari, Mustalis Qiyama, Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Nasafi, Al-Sijistani, Hamid al-Dininfo-icon al-Kirmani, Fatimidsinfo-icon, Nasir-i Khusraw, Hasan-i Sabbah, Alamutinfo-icon, Khurasaninfo-icon, Transoxaniainfo-icon, Qaramita, Samanidsinfo-icon, Buyidsinfo-icon, Seljuqs, al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Dininfo-icon al-Shirazi, Badakhshan, Rudbar, Quhistan, Anjudan, Hasan aladhikrihi’l-salaminfo-icon, Qiyama

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A major Shi‘i Muslim community, the Ismailis have had a long and eventful history dating to the middle of the 2nd/8th century. After obscure beginnings in southern Iraq, the Ismaili da‘wainfo-icon or mission spread rapidly to eastern Arabia, Yemen, Syria, and other Arab lands as well as North Africa where the Ismailis founded their own state, the Fatimid caliphateinfo-icon, in 297/909. Meanwhile, the Ismaili da‘wa had been extended to many regions of the Iranian lands, from Khuzistaninfo-icon in south-western Persia and Daylaminfo-icon in the southern shores of the Caspian Sea to Khurasan and Transoxania in Central Asia. Belonging to a variety of ethnic groupings and socio-cultural milieux, the Ismailis in time elaborated diverse intellectual and literary traditions in Arabic, Persian and Indic languages. At present, the Ismailis are scattered in more than 25 countries of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.

Of all the Ismaili communities which have survived to our own times, those of the Iranian lands and Yemen have had the longest continuous histories. This study, presented respectfully to Professor C. Edmund Bosworth, who has so meticulously studied over several decades the history and cultures of the peoples of the Iranian lands, aims to provide a historical overview of the mediaeval Ismaili communities of these lands and their prominent da‘is or missionaries, who were also their community’s scholars and authors. The Iranian Ismailis are primarily Persian-speaking and, since 487/1094 have belonged to the majoritarian Nizari community of Ismailism. The Iranian Ismailis, now situated mainly within the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well as in Hunza and other northern areas of Pakistan, along with the Khoja Ismailis of Indian origins and other Nizari Ismailis of the world, currently acknowledge H. H. Prince Karim Aga Khaninfo-icon IV as their 49th Imaminfo-icon or spiritual leader.

On the Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq's death in 148/765, the Imami Shi’is who had acquired their prominence in his Imamateinfo-icon, split into various groups. Later Imami heresiographers identify two of these Kufan-based splinter groups as the earliest Ismailis. One group, the so-called “pure Ismailiyya”, denied the death of Isma’il, Ja’far al-Sadiq’s eldest son and original heir-designate, and awaited his return as the Mahdiinfo-icon or qa’iminfo-icon. A second group, acknowledging Isma’il’s death in his father’s lifetime, now recognised Isma’il’s son Muhammad as their new Imam; this group became known as the Mubarakiyyainfo-icon, named after Isma’il’s epithet of al-Mubarak (the Blessed One). Few details are known about the subsequent history of the early Ismailis until the middle of the 3rd/9th century. Soon after 148/765, when the bulk of the Imamiyyainfo-icon recognised the Imamate of Isma’il’s half-brother Musa al-Kazim (d. 183/799, later counted as the 7th Imam of the Twelver Shi’is, Muhammad b. Isma’il left the permanent residence of the ‘Alidsinfo-icon in Medina and went into hiding to avoid ‘Abbasid persecution, initiating the dawr al-satrinfo-icon or period of concealment in early Ismaili history. It is certain that Muhammad b. Isma’il spent the latter part of his life in Khuzistan, where he had some following in addition to the bulk of the Mubarakiyya who lived clandestinely in Kufa. In fact, Khuzistan in southwestern Persia remained the scene of the activities of early Ismaili leadership for several decades.

On the death of Muhammad b. Isma’il, not long after 179/795, the Mubarakiyya themselves split into two groups. A majority, refusing to accept his death, now acknowledged him as the Mahdi, while an obscure group traced the Imamate in his progeny. Modern scholarship has revealed that for almost a century after Muhammad b. Isma’il, a group of his descendants worked secretly and systematically as the central leaders of the earliest Ismailis to create a unified and expanding Ismaili revolutionary movement. These leaders, whose Fatimid ‘Alid genealogy was in due course acknowledged by the Ismailis, did not for three generations claim the Ismaili Imamate openly in order to safeguard themselves against ‘Abbasid persecution. The first of these leaders, Muhammad b. Isma’il’s son ‘Abd Allah, had in fact organised a reinvigorated Ismaili da‘wa around the central doctrine of the bulk of the earliest Ismailis, viz., the Mahdiship of Muhammad b. Isma’il. Leading an anti-‘Abbasid revolutionary movement in the name of a hidden Imam who could not be tracked down by the ‘Abbasid agents did indeed hold obvious advantages for ‘Abd Allah and his next two successors, who took every precaution to hide their own true identities as the central leaders of the Ismailiyya. ‘Abd Allah, a capable organiser and strategist, spent his youth in the vicinity of Ahwazinfo-icon in Khuzistan. He eventually settled down in ‘Askar Mukram, then an economically flourishing town situated some 40 kilometres to the north of Ahwaz. Today the ruins of ‘Askar Mukram, to the south of Shushtar, are known as Band-i Qir. ‘Abd Allah lived as a wealthy merchant in ‘Askar Mukram, from where he decided to organise an expanding Ismaili movement with a network of da‘is operating in different regions. Thus, Khuzistan represented the original base of operations for what was to become the successful Ismaili da‘wa of the 3rd/9th century. Subsequently, ‘Abd Allah was forced to flee from ‘Askar Mukram due to the hostilities of his enemies; he eventually settled down in Salamiyyainfo-icon, in central Syria, where the secret headquarters of the early Ismaili da‘wa now came to be located for several decades.

Emergence of the Qaramita

The efforts of ‘Abd Allah to reorganise the Ismaili movement began to bear concrete results from around 260/873 when numerous da‘is appeared simultaneously in southern Iraq and in different parts of Persia. Al-Husayn al-Ahwazi, who converted Hamdan Qarmat in the Sawad of Kufa, was a Persian da‘iinfo-icon and a close associate of ‘Abd Allah. Hamdan Qarmat, then, organised the da‘wa in southern Iraq, where the Ismailis became known as the Qaramita, named after their first local leader. Hamdan's chief assistant, and one of the most learned da‘is of the early Ismailis, was his brother-in-law ‘Abdan who himself hailed from Khuzistan. ‘Abdan recruited and trained numerous da‘is, who were dispatched in due course to various regions around the Persian Gulf. Amongst such da‘is, who were of Persian origins and operated in different parts of Persia, particular mention may be made of Abu Sa’id Hasan b. Bahram al-Jannabi, a native of the port of Jannaba (Persian, Ganava) on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf. Abu Said was initially active with much success in southern Persia, before being dispatched to Bahrayn in eastern Arabia, where he spread the da‘wa successfully among the indigenous Bedouininfo-icon tribesmen and the Persians residing there. He eventually founded the independent Qarmati state of Bahrayn which lasted for almost two centuries. There was also ‘Abdan’s own brother al-Ma’mun, who was appointed as da‘i in Farsinfo-icon, where the Ismailis were evidently called the Ma’muniyy’a after him.

The initiation of the da‘wa in the west-central and north-western parts of Persia, the region designated as the Jibalinfo-icon by the Arabs, also dates to the early 260s /870s, or possibly earlier, as the Imami scholar al-Fadl b. Shadhan who died in 260/873 had already written a refutation of the Ismailiyya (Qaramita) in Persia. The da‘wa in the Jibal was initiated by a certain da'i called Khalaf al-Hallaj, who was sent there by the central leader of the Ismaili movement. Khalaf established himself in the village of Kulayn, in the district of Pashapuya near Rayy (to the south of modern-day Tehran), where an important Imami community already existed; and the area of Rayy continued to serve as the base of operations for the da‘wa in the Jibal. The earliest Ismailis of Rayy became known as the Khalafiyyainfo-icon, named after their first local leader. Khalaf was succeeded as the chief da‘i of Rayy by his son Ahmad and then by the latter’s chief disciple Ghiyath, a native of Kulayn. Ghiyath extended the da‘wa to Qumm, another important Imami centre in Persia, Kashan, Hamadan and other towns of the Jibal. Ghiyath also initiated the da‘wa in Khurasan. However, the efforts of these early da'is of Rayy to mobilise rural support for insurrectional purposes, as attempted by Hamdan and ‘Abdan in Iraq, proved futile. The Persian da‘is soon adopted a new policy, addressing their message to the ruling classes. After its initial success in the Jibal, this policy was also implemented in Khurasan and Transoxania. It was in accordance with this policy that Ghiyath converted al-Husayn b. ‘Ali al-Marwazi, a prominent amirinfo-icon in the service of the Samanids in Khurasan. As a result, large numbers in the districts of Taliqan, Maymana, Harat, Gharjistan and Ghur, under the influence of this amir who later became a da‘i himself, also converted to Ismailism. Ghiyath's chief deputy was the learned theologian Abu Hatim al-Razi, a native of Ryy, who in time became the fifth da‘i of the Jibal.

Al-Da‘wa al-Hadiyainfo-icon

As a result of the efforts of ‘Abd Allah, later designated in the Fatimid sources as al-Akbar (the Elder), and his successors, a unified and dynamic Ismaili movement had by the early 280s/890s completely replaced the earlier Kufan-based splinter groups. This movement was centrally and secretly directed from Salamiyya. The Ismailis now referred to their religio-political campaign and movement as a da‘wa al-hadiya (the rightly guidin g mission), or simply as the da‘wa (the mission), in addition to using expressions such as the da‘wat al-haqqinfo-icon (the summons to the truth). The Ismailis were then united around the doctrine of the Mahdiship of Muhammad b. Isma’il whose imminent return was expected. Centred on the advent of the Mahdi, the restorer of true Islam who would establish the rule of justice in the world, the Ismaili movement of the second half of the 3rd/9th century had much messianic appeal for different under-privileged groups. Indeed, Ismailism now appeared as a movement of social protest against the oppressive rule of the Abbasidsinfo-icon and their social order. The early Ismaili movement achieved particular success among the Imami Shi‘is of Iraq and Persia who were left without an Imam and in a state of disarray on the death of their 11th Imam, al-Hasan al-‘Askari, in 260/873-874. At the same time, the fragmentation of the ‘Abbasid state and the various peripheral challenges posed to the authority of the ‘Abbasid caliphinfo-icon by a number of new dynasties, such as the Saffavids of Sistaninfo-icon, had made it possible for the Ismailis and others to launch their own insurrectional activities.

‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi claims Imamate

The Ismaili movement was rent by a major schism in 286/899. In that year, the then central leader of the movement, the future founder of the Fatimid state ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi, claimed the Imamate openly for himself and his ancestors, the same individuals who had actually led the Ismaili movement after Muhammad b. Isma’il. ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi had now in effect introduced continuity in the Ismaili Imamate. He also explained that the same leaders had always regarded themselves as the true Imams, but as a form of taqiyyainfo-icon or dissimulation they had not divulged their true status in order to safeguard themselves against ‘Abbasid persecution. In other words, the propagation of the Mahdiship of Muhammad h. Isma’il had been, we are told, no more than a decoy adopted by the central leaders of early Ismailism, who evidently also used various pseudonyms and posed as the hujjas or chief representatives of the hidden Mahdi.

The reform of ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi split the unified Ismaili movement of the time into two rival factions in 286/899. The loyal Ismailis, later known as Fatimid Ismailis, accepted the reform and maintained continuity in the Imamate. This loyalist camp included the bulk of the Ismailis of Yemen, as well as those of North Africa and Egypt. On the other hand, a dissident camp rejected ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi’s declarations, and retained their original belief in the Mahdiship of Muhammad b. Isma’il. Henceforth, the term Qarmati came to be applied specifically to the dissident Ismailis, who did not acknowledge ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi and his predecessors, as well as his successors in the Fatimid dynasty, as their Imams. Centred in Bahrayn, the dissident Qarmati faction initially also comprised the communities of Iraq and most of those situated in the Jibal, Khurasan and Transoxania.

The Fatimid Period

The foundation of the Fatimid caliphate in 297/909 in North Africa marked the crowning success of the early Ismailis. The religio-political da‘wa of the Ismailiyya had finally led to the establishment of a state or dawlainfo-icon, which lasted for more than two centuries until 567/1171. The Fatimid victory, indeed, represented the long-awaited fulfilment of a Shi‘i ideal which had been frustrated by numerous defeats after the brief rule of Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 40/661), the first Shi‘i Imam. In line with their universal aspirations, the Fatimid caliph-Imams did not discontinue their da‘wa upon assuming power. But it was not until the second half of the 5th/11th century that the Fatimid da‘is working in the central and eastern lands of Islam succeeded in winning a growing number of converts within the dominions of the Abbasids, and their Buyid and Seljuq overlords, as well as in territories ruled by the Saffarids, Ghaznawidsinfo-icon and other dynasties emerging in the eastern Iranian lands. These converts acknowledged the Fatimid caliph as the rightful Shi'i Imam of the time. All the surviving Qarmati communities, outside of Bahrayn, too, had by then either disintegrated or switched their allegiance to the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa, whose central headquarters were located in the royal city of Cairo founded by the Fatimids themselves.

Educated as theologians at special institutions of learning in Cairo the Fatimid da‘is were at the same time the scholars and authors of their community. They produced the classical texts of the Isma’il literature on a multitude of exoteric (zahiri) and esoteric (batini) subjects, also developing the Ismaili ta’wilinfo-icon or esoteric exegesis to it fullest extent. The da‘is of the Fatimid period, especially those operating secretly in the Iranian lands, also elaborated distinctive intellectual traditions, and made important contributions to Islamic civilisation.

Consolidating the da‘wa

‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi (d. 322/930) and his next two successors in the Fatimid dynasty were preoccupied with establishing and consolidating the Fatimid state in North Africa. It was only with the fourth caliph-Imam al-Mu’izz, who conquered Egypt in 358/969 and transferred the seat of the Fatimid state there, that the Fatimids could begin to concern themselves effectively with their da‘wa activities. At any rate, before leaving Salamiyya permanently in 289/902, al-Mahdi had already dispatched a certain Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Khadim to Khurasan as the first chief da‘i there. The da‘i al-Khadim established his secret headquarters at Nishapur sometime during 290-300/903-913. He propagated the da‘wa on behalf of ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi, while Ghiyath had earlier introduced Ismailism to Khurasan on behalf of the hidden Mahdi Muhammad b. Isma’il. It was under such confusing circumstances that both factions of Ismailism came to be represented in Khurasan. Be that as it may, al-Khadim was succeeded, around 307/919, by the da‘i Abu Said al-Sha’rani who converted several notables of the province. The next chief da‘i of Khurasan was the already-noted al-Husayn b. ‘Aliinfo-icon al-Marwazi, who was a well-known amir in the annals of the Samanid dynasty. In his time, the provincial seat of the da‘wa was transferred from Nishapur to Marw al-Rudh (present-day Bala Murghab in northern Afghanistan).

The da‘i al-Marwazi appointed as his successor Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Nasafi, a learned theologian and philosopher who hailed from the vicinity of Nakhshab (Arabicised, Nasaf), a town in Central Asia. The da‘i al-Nasafi, who is generally credited with having introduced a form of Neoplatonic philosophy into Ismaili thought, transferred the seat of the da'wa to Transoxania, where he had been advised to go by his predecessor in order to convert the dignitaries of the Samanid court. After a brief period in Bukharainfo-icon, the Samanid capital (in present-day Uzbekistan), al-Nasafi retreated to his native Nakhshab, from where he was more successful in penetrating the inner circles of the Samanid regime. Subsequently, al-Nasafi settled down in Bukhara and, with the help of his influential converts at the court, including Ash‘ath, the private secretary, won over the young Samanid amir Nasr II b. Ahmad (301-331 /914-943). Encouraged by his successes, al-Nasafi now began to preach openly in Bukhara, while extending the da‘wa also to Sistan (Arabicised, Sijistan) through one of his subordinate da‘is. The da‘i al-Nasafi reaffirmed the Mahdiship of Muhammad b. Isma'il in his Kitab al-mahsul, which also contained a new emanational cosmological doctrine based on Neoplatonic philosophy. It seems that al-Nasafi’s al-Mahsul gained widespread acceptance within the various Qarmati circles and it played a major part in unifying the Qarmatisinfo-icon of the Iranian lands who, by contrast to the Qarmatis of Bahrayn, lacked central leadership.

Samanid jihadinfo-icon against the Qaramita

The fortunes of the da‘i al-Nasafi and the da‘wa in Khurasan and Transoxania were reversed in the aftermath of the revolt of the Turkish soldiers who were in alliance with the Sunniulamainfo-icon of the Samanid state. Under the amir Nasr II's son and successor, Nuh I b. Nasr (331-343/943-954), al-Nasafi and his close associates were executed in Bukhara in 332/943, and their co-religionists were severely persecuted. The Sunni ‘ulama’ of the Samanid state had now in fact declared a jihad or holy war against the Qarmati “heretics”. Despite these setbacks, however, the da‘wa survived in Khurasan and Transoxania under the leadership of al-Nasafi’s son Mas’ud, nicknamed Dihqaninfo-icon, and then other chief da‘is, notably Abu Ya’qub al-Sijistani.

In the meantime, Abu Hatim al-Razi had assumed office during 300-310/912-923 as the fifth da‘i of Rayy. He extended the da‘wa to Adharbayjan and daylam, which in mediaeval times referred to a number of Caspian provinces including daylaman, Gilan, Tabaristan (Mazandaran) and Gurgan. Abu Hatim was particularly successful in converting several local rulers, starting with Ahmad b. ‘Ali, the governor of Rayy during 307-311/919-924. In the aftermath of the conquest of Rayy by the Sunni Samanids, however, Abu Hatim went to Tabaristan where he sided with Asfar b. Shirawayh (d. 319/931) against the local Zaydi Imam al-da‘i al-Saghir. Abu Hatim converted Asfar and soon acquired many followers in Tabaristan and other regions of northern Persia which were then ruled by this daylami amir. Abu Hatim also converted Asfar's chief lieutenant Mardawij b. Ziyar (d. 323/930), who later rebelled against his master and founded the Ziyarid dynasty of Tabaristan and Gurgan. The famous disputations between the da‘i Abu Hatim and the physician-philosopher Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Zakariya' al-Razi reportedly took place in the presence of Mardawij.

Abu Hatim, like al-Nasafi, evidently belonged to the dissident Qarmati branch and did not recognise the Imamate of his contemporary - ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi. Indeed, he corresponded with Abu Tahir al Jannabi, the leader of the Qarmati state of Bahrayn, and like the latter was expecting the appearance of the Mahdi in the year 316/928. Abu Hatim may even have claimed to have been the lieutenant of the hidden Mahdi. At any rate, as Abu Hatim’s date for the emergence of the Mahdi proved wrong, Mardawij turned against the da‘i and his community. Subsequently, Abu Hatim sought refuge with Muflih, a local ruler, in Adharbayjan, and died in that north-western region of Persia in 322/934. On Abu Hatim's death, the Qarmatis (Ismailis) of the Jibal were thrown into disarray and their leadership eventually passed to ‘Abd al-Malik al-Kawkabi who resided in Girdkuh, near Damghan, the future Nizari Ismaili stronghold, and a certain Ishaq residing in Rayy. The latter da‘i may perhaps be identified with Abu Ya’qub Ishaq b. Ahmad al-Sijistani, the da‘i al-Nasafi’s disciple and successor in Khurasan.

da‘wa Spreads to the Rudbar of Alamut

It was due to Abu Hatim al-Razi’s successes in daylam that the da‘wa also spread to the Rudbar of Alamut or daylaman, the traditional seat of the obscure Justanidinfo-icon dynasty. One of the earlier Justanid rulers, Wahsudan b. Marzuban had built around the middle of the 3rd/9th century the fortress of Alamut, which was to become the central headquarters of the Nizari Ismaili da‘wa and state. The Justanids traditionally supported the Shi‘isminfo-icon of the Zayd i ‘Alid rulers of Tabaristan. Mahdi b. Khusraw Firuz, known as Siyahchashm, who succeeded his father at Alamut soon after 307/919, was the first Justanid to embrace Ismailism of the dissident Qarmati kind. After being defeated by Muhammad b. Musafir, the founder of the powerful Musafirid dynasty of daylam, Siyahchashm sought refuge in 316/928 with his co-religionist Asfar b. Shirawayh. But he was soon murdered by Asfar who aspired to add Rudbar to his own dominions. After Siyahchashm the Justanids came to be eclipsed by the vigorous dynasty of the Musafiridsinfo-icon or Sallarids, who ruled over parts of daylam as well as Adharbayjan and Arran.

In 330/941, the founder of the Musafirid dynasty, Muhammad b. Musafir who had held the castle of Shamiraninfo-icon in Taruminfo-icon, was deposed by his sons Wahsudan and Marzuban. Both of these Musafirids were converted by the da‘is of Rayy, and numismatic evidence from the year 343/954-955 confirms that they adhered to Qarmatism and acknowledged the Mahdiship of Muhammad b. Isma’il rather than the Imamate of their contemporary Fatimid caliph-Imam, al-Mu’izz. Wahsudan b. Muhammad (330-35/941-966) remained at Shamiran and governed Tarum, while his more influential brother Marzuban (330-346/941-957) soon conquered Adharbayjan and Arran, as well as Armenia and other parts of Transcaucasia as far as Darband, and began to rule over the expanding Musafirid dominions from his own seat at Ardabil in north-western Persia.

After the demise of the Sajidsinfo-icon in 317/929, who governed on behalf of the Abbasids, Adharbayjan had become the scene of rivalries among various independent local rulers, including Muflih, a former Sajid officer who gave refuge to Abu Hatim al-Razi and who may have been one of the da‘is converts. By 326/938, the Kihariji Daysam b. Ibrahim al-Kurdi had established his own control over Adharbayjan. In the aftermath of a rupture between Daysam and his vizierinfo-icon Abu’l-Qasim ’Ali b. Ja’far, the latter fled to Tarum in 330/941 and entered the service of the Musafirids. Originally serving the Sajids as a financial administrator, Abu'l-Qasim had also been active secretly as a batini (Qarmati) da‘i in north-western Persia. He was instrumental in encouraging his co-religionist Marzuban b. Muhammad's conquest of Adharbayjan, where he had earlier converted numerous daylami notables and army officers in the service of Daysam. It was also at Abu’l-Qasim’s instigation that the bulk of Daysam’s army, including many Qarmati converts, deserted him and switched their allegiance to Marzuban. Soon, Marzuban appointed the da‘i Abu’l-Qasim as his own vizier; and he was now permitted to preach the da‘wa openly with much success throughout the Musafirid dominions. The well-informed Ibn Hawqal, who may himself have been a secret Fatimid da‘i and who visited Adharbayjan around the year 344/955, reports on the existence of a large batini (Qarmati) community there. Qarmatism evidently survived under the later Musafirids, who were eventually obliged to withdraw to Tarum. After submitting to the Saljuqs, the Musafirid dynasty was finally overthrown by the Nizarisinfo-icon of Alamut who incorporated Shamiran and other fortresses of Tarum into their own network of mountain strongholds in Rudbar.

Qarmatism in Khurasan and Transoxania

In the meantime, Qarmatism had persisted in Khurasan and Transoxania in the dominions of the later Samanids. The sources have preserved some fragmentary information on the da‘i-authors operating secretly in the eastern Iranian lands after al-Nasafi and his son. There were the da‘is Abu’l-Fadl Zangurz and ‘Atiq, as well as Abu'l-Haytham Ahmad b. al-Hasan al Jurjani, an Ismaili philosopher and poet from Gurgan, and his disciple Muhammad b. Surkh al-Nisaburi. There was also Abu Tammam, an obscure da‘i from Khurasan who belonged to al-Nasafi’s dissident school. Paul Walker in his recent studies has shown that Abu Tammam, in fact, produced what may well be the only Ismaili heresiography on Muslim sects. Above all, mention should be made of Abu Ya'qub Ishaq b. Ahmad al-Sijistani who led the da‘wa in Khurasan, and Sistan, his original base of operations. He may also have headed the da‘wa in the Jibal, in succession to Abu Hatim al-Razi, as well as in Iraq. A contemporary of the Fatimid caliph-Imam al-Mu'izz, the da‘i al-Sijistani was executed as a heretic by the order of the Saffarid amir of Sistan, Khalaf b. Ahmad (352-393/963-1003), not long after 361 /971, the date of completion of one of his last books.


A learned theologian and philosopher, the da‘i al-Sijistani was also a prolific writer; and it is mainly on the basis of his numerous extant works that modern scholars have now begun to study an important tradition of philosophical theology developed by the da‘is of the Iranian lands, particularly in Khurasan, during the 4th/10th century. This tradition of learning, which in fact represented a distinctive “Iranian school” of philosophical Ismailism, was evidently initiated by al-Nasafi. The da‘i al-Nasafi, and his successors, wrote for the ruling elite and the educated strata of Muslim society in Khurasan, and this may explain why they attempted to express their theology in terms of the then most modern and intellectually fashionable philosophical terminologies and themes, without however compromising the Shi‘i essence of their religious message. Drawing on a type of Neoplatonism then current among the educated circles of Khurasan, these da‘is of the Iranian lands elaborated complex metaphysical systems of thought, amalgamating in an original manner their Shi‘i theology with a Hellenised system of emanational Neoplatonic philosophy. A Neoplatonic cosmology, with the universal intellect (aqlinfo-icon) and soul (nafsinfo-icon) as the first and the second originated beings created by the command of an unknowable God, was an important part of their systems; and this new cosmological doctrine gradually superseded the earlier mythological cosmogony of the pre-Fatimid Ismailis. Al-Sijistani was perhaps the foremost Shi‘i Neoplatonist of his time, and his writings are extremely valuable not only for understanding philosophical Ismailism but also for discovering how Neoplatonic themes came to be originally adopted by Muslim thinkers.

It is interesting to note that the leading Iranian da‘is of the early Fatimid times wrote on a multitude of theological issues; they also disagreed among themselves and engaged in a long-drawn disputation over certain aspects of their doctrines. Abu Hatim al-Razi, who himself adopted Neoplatonism, wrote his Kitab al-islah (Book of the Correction) to correct certain ideas found in al-Nasafi’s Kitab al-mahsul (Book of the Yield), while al-Sijistani wrote his kitab al-nusra (Book of the Defence) to defend al-Nasafi against Abu Hatim's criticisms. Subsequently, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, another learned da‘i belonging to the same “Iranian school” of philosophical Ismailism, acted as an arbiter in this disputation in his Kitab al-riyad (Book of the Meadows).

The Fatimid caliph-Imam al-Mu'izz (341-365/953-975), as noted, was the first member of his dynasty who found it possible to concern himself with the affairs of the Fatimid Ismaili da‘wa outside the Fatimid dominions, where Qarmati communities had continued to flourish with their own da‘is undermining the success of the Fatimid da‘is. In this connection, and in order to win the support of the eastern Qarmatis, al-Mu'izz also attempted a limited doctrinal rapprochement with the Qarmatis, including a partial endorsement of the Neoplatonic cosmological doctrine propounded by the Iranian da‘is. As a result of these efforts, al-Sijistani was won over to the side of the Fatimid da‘wa, which henceforth began to preserve his books. At the same time, the dissident communities under the leadership or influence of al-Sijistani also switched their allegiance to the Fatimid al-Mu’izz, recognising him as the rightful Imam of the time. These developments marked a turning point in the stagnating fortunes of the Fatimid da‘wa throughout Khurasan, Sistan, Makraninfo-icon and other eastern parts of the Iranian world.

Ismaili State of Sindinfo-icon 347/958

Al-Mu’izz won an important victory also in Sind, where through the conversion of a local ruler an Ismaili state was established around the year 347/958. The rulers of this state, centred at Multaninfo-icon, recognised the suzerainty of the Fatimid caliph and recited the khutbainfo-icon in his name rather than for the ‘Abbasid caliph. Large numbers of Hindus converted to Ismailism in this state which was effectively uprooted in 396/ 1005, when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna invaded Multan and made its Ismaili ruler a tributary. Soon afterwards, Sultan Mahmud began to massacre the Ismailis of Multan and other parts of his domains, also frustrating renewed Ismaili attempts to re-establish their local rule in Sind. However, Ismailism survived clandestinely the Ghaznawid persecutions in northern India, where the Ismailis later received the protection of the Sumrasinfo-icon, an Ismaili dynasty which ruled independently in Sind from Thattainfo-icon for almost three centuries. Despite the efforts of al-Mu'izz and the Fatimid da‘wa, Qarmatism persisted for a while longer in certain parts of the Iranian lands, notably daylam, Adharbayjan, and western Persia, as well as in Iraq. Above all, al-Mu'izz failed to win the support of the Qarmatis of Bahrayn, who were to pose a serious obstacle to the extension of Fatimid rule to the central and eastern lands of Islam, beyond Syria and Palestine.

The Fatimid da‘wa was systematically intensified in the Iranian lands under al-Mu'izz's next two successors in the Fatimid dynasty, al-Aziz (365-386/975-996) and al-Hakim (386-411/996-1021). By this time, the Fatimids had realised the difficulty of extending their rule over the eastern regions of the Muslim world, and in fact a stalemate had by then developed between them and the Buyids, who were still the real masters of the Abbasid state. Nevertheless, the Fatimids did not abandon their universal aspirations, aiming to be acknowledged as Imams by all Muslims. It was in the pursuit of this objective that the Fatimids retained and, indeed, intensified their da‘wa activities in the Iranian lands, especially under al-Hakim who also concerned himself with the organisation of the da‘wa as well as the training of the da‘is. The Fatimid da‘is, including many from Persia and other eastern lands, now received elaborate instructions at the “House of Knowledge” (dar al-‘ilminfo-icon), founded by al-Hakim in a section of the Fatimid palace in 395/1005, and other institutions of learning in Cairo. Among the lesser known Iranian da‘is of this period mention may be made of Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Nisaburi who wrote the only known Ismaili treatise of the genre of adabinfo-icon al-da‘i on the ideal da‘i and his attributes.


By far the most eminent Ismaili theologian and da‘i of this period was Hamid al-Din Ahmad b. ‘Abd Allah al-Kirmani, who was also the most accomplished Ismaili philosopher of the entire Fatimid period. As his nisbainfo-icon indicates, al-Kirmani was probably born in the Persian province of Kirmaninfo-icon. He later maintained his contacts with the Ismaili community of Kirman, addressing at least one of his treatises to a subordinate da‘i in Jiruft in that province. In time, al Kirmani became the chief da‘i in Iraq, in addition to heading the da‘wa in central and western parts of Persia, known as the ‘Iraq-i ‘Ajam; hence his honorific title of hujjatinfo-icon al-‘Iraqayn, the hujjainfo-icon or chief da‘i of both Iraqs. As the most learned theologian of the time, al-Kirmani was called to Cairo in 405/1014 to refute on behalf of the Fatimid da‘wa the extremist doctrines propounded by the founders of the Druzeinfo-icon movement and religion. Later, he returned to Iraq where he composed his principal work, the Rahat al-‘aql (Quietude of the Intellect), in 411/1020 and where he died soon afterwards. It was mainly due to al-Kirmani‘s efforts that several influential local amirs of Iraq were won over to the side of the Fatimids, preparing the ground for later successes of the Fatimid da‘wa in the East.

A prolific writer, al-Kirmani produced some forty treatises. He expounded the Ismaili Shi‘i doctrine of the Imamate in several of his works. He also defended the Fatimids against the polemical attacks of the Zaydisinfo-icon of Persia and other adversaries. As a philosopher, al-Kirmani was fully acquainted with Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophies as well as the metaphysical systems of the Muslim philosophers (falasifa), notably al-Farabi and his own contemporary Ibn Sina (Avicenna), whose father and brother had converted to Ismailism in their native Transoxania. It was in al-Kirmani's metaphysical system that philosophical Ismailism attained its summit, reflecting a distinctive synthesis of Shi‘i theology, Hellenistic traditions and gnostic doctrines. In his system, fully elaborated in the Rahat al-‘aql, al-Kirmani also propounded what may be regarded as the third stage in the development of Ismaili cosmology in mediaeval times. In his cosmogonic doctrine, al-Kirmani replaced the Neoplatonic dyad of the intellect and soul in the spiritual world, which had been adopted by his predecessors in the Iranian school of philosophical Ismailism, by a series of ten separate intellects in partial adoption of al-Farabi's Aristotelian cosmic system.

Seljuqs replace Buyids 447/1055

The Fatimid da‘wa continued to be propagated successfully in the eastern lands, even after the ardently Sunni Seljuqs had replaced the Shi'i Buyids in 447/1055 as the effective rulers of the ‘Abbasid state. Indeed, by the early decades of the reign of the Fatimid caliph-Imam al-Mustansir (427-487/1036-1094), Fatimid Ismailism had been established in many parts of the Iranian world, where Qarmati communities had almost completely ceased to exist. The Fatimid da‘is were now particularly active in Iraq and various parts of Persia, notably Fars, Isfahan, Rayy, and other areas of the Jibal. In Khurasan and Transoxania, too, the da‘wa had become more successful after the downfall of the Samanids in 395/1005, when the Turkish Qarakhanids and Ghaznawids divided the former Samanid dominions between themselves. This is attested by the fact that in 436/1044 Bughra Khan, the ruler of the eastern Qarakhanid kingdom established over the lands of the middle Syr Darya valley, ordered the massacre of a large number of Ismailis who had been converted by the Fatimid da‘is operating in his territories. The Fatimid da‘wa had been active also in the western territories of the Qarakhanids, in Bukhara, Samarqand, Farghana and elsewhere in Transoxania. There, Ahmad b. Khidr, the local Qarakhanid ruler, was executed in Samarqand in 488/1095 (or earlier in 482/1089) on the accusation of having converted to Ismailism.

Successes of al-Shiraz

The most prominent Fatimid da‘i of al-Mustansir’s time was al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi. He was born around 390/1000 in Shiraz, in the province of Fars, into a daylami Ismaili family. His father had acquired some influence in the Buyid circles of Fars where he eventually seems to have headed the da‘wa. Al-Mu'ayyad succeeded his father, and in 429/1037 entered the service of the Buyid Abu Kalijar Marzuban (415-440/1024-1048), who ruled over Fars and Khuzistan from his capital at Shiraz. The subsequent decades until 451/1059 in al-Mu’ayyad’s career are well-documented in his autobiography. At any rate, he soon converted Abu Kalijar himself and many of his courtiers as well as a large number of the daylami troops in the service of the Buyids. Al-Mu'ayyad's success in Fars brought about hostile reactions spurred on by the caliph at Baghdad, obliging the da‘i to emigrate permanently from Shiraz in 435/1043. He arrived in Cairo in 439/1047, and soon began to play an active part in the affairs of the Fatimid state and da‘wa. Later, al-Mu'ayyad played a key role as an intermediary between the Fatimids and Arslan al-Basasiri, the Turkish military commander who briefly led the Fatimid cause in Iraq against the Seljuqs. Al-Mu’ayyad delivered the crucial material and financial support of the Fatimids to al-Basasiri who, in 450/1058, succeeded to seize Baghdad, where he had the khutba read for one full year in the name of al-Mustansir while the ‘Abbasid caliph remained a captive in his own capital. In the same eventful year 450/1058, al-Mu’ayyad was appointed as the chief da‘i (da‘i al-du‘atinfo-icon), the administrative head of the Fatimid da‘wa organisation in Cairo, a post he held with the exception of one brief period until shortly before his death in 470/1078. Al-Mu’ayyad’s principal work, the Majalisinfo-icon al Mu’ayyadiyya, eight volumes containing a hundred “sessions” (majalis) each and representing the apogee of Ismaili thought, is based on the lectures he had delivered at the “sessions of wisdom” (majalis al-hikmainfo-icon) for the instruction of da‘is and other Ismailis.

Nasir-i Khusraw

Another prominent Iranian da‘i of al-Mustansir’s time was Nasir-i Khusraw. A learned theologian, a traveller, and a renowned poet of the Persian language, Nasir-i Khusraw was also the last major proponent of philosophical Ismailism in the Iranian lands. Nasir was born in 394/1004 near Balkh, which at the time was a part of the district of Marw in Khurasan. In his youth, Nasir held administrative posts at Marw (now in Turkmenistan) under the Ghaznawids and their Seljuq successors. At the age of 42, however, Nasir experienced a spiritual upheaval which may have been connected to his conversion to Ismailism. Soon afterwards in 437/1045, he resigned from his post and set off on a long journey for the apparent reason of making pilgrimage to Mecca. But this 7 year journey, described vividly in his Safar-nama (Travelogue), took Nasir to the Fatimid capital where he arrived in 439/1047, the same year in which the da‘i al-Mu’ayyad had arrived there. Nasir stayed in Cairo for three years and received intensive training as a da‘i. During this period, he saw al-Mustansir and also established close relations with al-Mu’ayyad, who was to remain his mentor at the central headquarters of the Fatimid da‘wa and to whom he later dedicated several of his poems. In 444/1052 Nasir-i Khusraw returned to Balkh (near today's Mazar-i Sharifinfo-icon in northern Afghanistan), and began his career as a Fatimid da‘i, or according to himself as the hujja or chief da‘i of Khurasan. At any rate, he established his secret headquarters at Balkh, from where he extended the da‘wa to Nishapur and other districts of Khurasan as well as to Tabaristan (Mazandaran) in northern Persia. By 452/1060, however, the hostility of the Sunni ‘ulama’ who denounced Nasir as a heretic (mulhidinfo-icon) and an irreligious person (Persian, bad-din) and destroyed his house had obliged the da‘i to flee to the valley of Yumgan, in the region of Badakhshan in the Pamirs. There, he sought refuge with his friend Abu’l-Ma’ali ‘Ali b. al-Asad, an autonomous Ismaili amir of Badakhshan. This obscure Yumgan period in Nasir’s life lasted until his death, sometime after 465/1072.

Extension of the da‘wa to Badakhshan by Nasir

Like other Fatimid da‘is of the Iranian lands and elsewhere, Nasir-i Khusraw maintained his contacts with the da‘wa headquarters in Cairo, receiving books and his general instructions from there. Even in the remote Yumgan, Nasir had ready access to earlier Ismaili literature; and he was particularly influenced by al-Sijistani, many of whose ideas are paraphrased in Nasir's writings. It was probably during this period of exile, if not earlier, that Nasir extended the da‘wa throughout Badakhshan (divided in modern times by the Oxus or Amu Darya between Afghanistan and Tajikistan). At any event, the Ismailis of Badakhshan, and their offshoot community in the Hindukush region (now situated in Hunza and other northern areas of Pakistan) regard Nasir as the founder of their communities, and they still revere him under the name of Pirinfo-icon or Shah Sayyidinfo-icon Nasir. It was also in Yumgan that Nasir produced the bulk of his poetry and philosophico-theological works, including the Zad al-musafirin written in 453/1061 and the Jami’ al-hikmatayn, his last known work completed in 462/1070 at the request of his Ismaili protector in Badakhshan. The Ismailis of Badakhshan have continued to preserve Nasir-i Khusraw's genuine and spurious works, all written in the Persian language. Nasir-i Khusraw’s mausoleum is still in existence on a hillock near the village of Jarm in the vicinity of Faydabad, the capital of Afghan Badakhshan.

By the early 460s/1070s, the Ismailis of Persia in the Seljuq dominions had come to own the authority of a single chief da‘i, ‘Abd al-Malik b. ‘Attash, who had his secret headquarters at Isfahan, the main Seljuq capital. A learned da‘i, Ibn ‘Attash seems to have been the first da‘i to have centrally organised the da‘wa and the various Ismaili communities of the Seljuq territories in Persia, from Kirman to Adharbayjan. He may have been responsible for the da‘wa activities in Iraq as well; but his central supervision does not seem to have been extended to northern Khurasan, Badakhshan and adjacent regions in Central Asia. Ibn ‘Attash, who received his own instructions from Cairo, was also responsible for launching the career of Hasan-i Sabbah, his successor and the future founder of the independent Nizari Ismaili da‘wa and state centred at Alamut.

Split between Nizaris and Musta’lis 487/1094

Al-Mustansir died after a long reign in 487/1094. The dispute over his succession split the then unified Ismaili da‘wa and community into the rival Nizari and Musta’li branches. By that time, Hasan-i Sabbah was already following an independent revolutionary policy as the leader of the Persian Ismailis; and he did not hesitate to support the cause of Nizar, al-Mustansir’s original heir-designate who had been deprived of his succession rights through the machinations of the all-powerful Fatimid vizier al-Afdal. The vizier had swiftly installed Nizar’s younger brother to the Fatimid caliphate with the title of al-Musta’li. However, Hasan recognised Nizar as al-Mustansir’s successor to the Ismaili Imamate and severed his relations with the Fatimid da‘wa headquarters in Cairo, which had transferred their own allegiance to al-Musta’li, recognising him and, later, some of his descendants as their Imams after al-Mustansir. Henceforth, the Ismailis of the Iranian lands, who recognised the Imamate of Nizar and his progeny and became known as the Nizaryya, developed independently of the Ismailis of Egypt and the communities in Yemen and Gujarat dependent on the Fatimid regime; the latter communities comprised the Musta’liyya branch of Ismailism.

The Alamut Period

During the Alamut period of their history (488-654/1090-1256), the Ismailis of Persia came to possess a state of their own, with a subsidiary in Syria. This state, with its central headquarters at the mountain fortress of Alamut, was founded in the midst of the Seljuq sultanateinfo-icon by Hasan-i Sabbah, and it lasted for some 166 years until it collapsed under the onslaught of the Mongol hordes in 654/1256. The Persian Ismailis themselves produced official chronicles recording the events of their state, starting with the Sargudhasht-i Sayyidna (Biography of our Master), which covered the life and career of Hasan-i Sabbah as the first lord of Alamut. These chronicles, as well as the bulk of the meagre religious literature produced by the Nizari Ismailis of the Alamut period, have not survived. However, the Nizari chronicles were seen and utilised by three Persian historians of the Ilkhanid period, namely, Juwayni (d. 681/1283), Rashid al-Din Fadl Allah (d. 718/1318) and Abu’l-Qasim Kashani (d. ca. 738/1337), who are our primary sources on the history of the Persian Ismailis during the period.

The mission of Hasan-i Sabbah

Hasan-i Sabbah was born in the mid-440s/1050s into a Twelver Shi'i Family in Qumm, a traditionally Shi‘i town in central Persia. Subsequently, the Sabbah family moved to the nearby town of Rayy, another important centre of Shi‘i learning and an area of Ismaili activity. Soon after the age of 17, Hasan was introduced to Ismaili doctrines and was converted through the efforts of some local da‘is. In 464/1072, the newly initiated Hasan was brought to the attention of Ibn ‘Attash, who was then staying in Rayy. Ibn ‘Attash recognised Hasan's talents and appointed him to a post in the da‘wa, also instructing him to go to Cairo to further his Ismaili education. Hasan finally arrived in Fatimid Egypt in 471/1078, and spent some three years in Cairo and Alexandria. In Egypt, Hasan seems to have come into conflict with Badr al-Jamali (d. 487/1094), the all-powerful Fatimid Vizier and “commander of the armies”, who had shortly earlier also succeeded al-Mu'ayyad al-Shirazi as the da‘i al-du‘at. At any rate, Hasan seems to have been banished under obscure circumstances from Egypt: he returned to the Persian da‘wa headquarters at Isfahan in 473/1081. He seems to have learned important lessons in Fatimid Egypt. Beset by numerous difficulties, the Fatimid regime was by then well embarked on its rapid decline. Hasan was now fully aware of the inability of the Fatimid state to support the Persian Ismailis, taking this reality into account in his own subsequent revolutionary strategy.

In Persia, Hasan travelled for nine years in the service of the da‘wa to different localities, in Kuman, Khuzistan, Qumis, as well as the Caspian provinces in daylam. It was during this period that Hasan formulated his revolutionary strategy against the Seljuqs, also evaluating Seljuq military strength in different parts of Persia. By 480/1087, he seems to have chosen the inaccessible mountain fortress of Alamut, in the region of Rudbar in daylam, as a suitable site to establish his headquarters. Hasan, who was later appointed da‘i of daylam, now began to reinvigorate the da‘wa activities throughout Rudbar. Hasan’s activities were soon brought to the attention of Nizam al-Mulk (d. 485/1092), who remained vizier for 30 years under the Great Seljuq Sultans Alp Arslan and Malik Shah. However, Nizam al-Mulk failed to capture Hasan, who in due time arrived in Rudbar. In 483/1090, with his supporters infiltrating Alamut and its surroundings, Hasan seized that impregnable fortress in the Alborz mountains according to a clever plan, signalling the open revolt of the Persian Ismailis against the Seljuqs. The seizure of Alamut also marked the foundation of what was to become the Nizari Ismaili state in Persia. It is certain that Cairo had played no part in the organisation or direction of this revolt, which was planned and carried out by Hasan on his own initiative.

Reaffirmation of Persian identity

Hasan-i Sabbah seems to have had a complex set of religio-political motives for his revolt against the Seljuq Turks. As an Ismaili, he could not have tolerated the anti-Shi‘i policies of the Seljuqs, who as the new champions of Sunni “orthodoxy” had sworn to uproot Fatimid Shi‘i rule from the Muslim world. Less conspicuously, Hasan's revolt was also an expression of Persian “national” sentiments, which accounts for its early popular appeal and success in Persia. By the opening decades of the 5th/11th century, a number of Turkish dynasties had established their rule over the Iranian lands, starting with the Ghaznawids and the Qarakhanids. A new alien age, with the Turks replacing the Arabs, in the Islamic history of the Iranian world was definitely initiated by the coming of the Seljuqs, who threatened the revival of Persian culture and national sentiments. This renaissance of a specifically Irano-Islamic culture had been based on the sentiments of the Islamicised Persians who had continued to be consciously aware of their Persian identity and cultural heritage during the centuries of Arab domination. This process, pioneered by the Saffarids and maintained under the Samanids and the Buyids, had become quite irreversible by the time of the Turkish domination of the region. At any rate, the Turkish Seljuqs were aliens in Persia and their rule was intensely detested by the Persians of different social classes. The anti-Turkish sentiments of the Persians were further aggravated due to the depredation caused in towns and villages by the Turks and their unruly soldiery, who were continuously attracted in new waves to Persia from the steppes of Central Asia by the successes of the Seljuqs. Hasan himself is reported to have expressed his resentment of the Turks and their rule over Persia. It was, indeed, to the ultimate goal of uprooting Seljuq rule in Persia that Hasan dedicated himself and organised the Persian Ismailis into a revolutionary force. In this connection, it is also significant to note that Hasan, as an expression of his Persian awareness and in spite of his uncompromising Islamic piety, substituted Persian for Arabic as the religious language of the Ismailis of Persia. This was the first time that a major Muslim community had adapted Persian as its religious language; it also explains why the Ismaili literature of all the Persian-speaking (Nizari) Ismaili communities of the Alamut period and subsequent times was produced entirely in the Persian language.

Extension of Alamut influence

After firmly establishing himself at Alamut, Hasan-i Sabbah extended his influence throughout Rudbar and adjacent areas in daylam, by winning converts and gaining possession of more strongholds which he fortified systematically for withstanding long sieges. There is evidence suggesting that Hasan also attracted at least some of the remnants of the Khurramiyyainfo-icon in Adharbayjan and elsewhere who, as an expression of their own Persian sentiments, referred to themselves as Parsiyan.

Seljuq-Ismaili clashes begin 484/1091

Soon, Alamut came to be raided by the forces of the nearest Seljuq amir, marking the initiation of an endless series of Seljuq-Ismaili military encounters in Persia. In 484/1091, Hasan sent the da‘i Husayn-i Qa'ini to his native Quhistan to mobilise support there. This capable da‘i met with immediate success in Quhistan, a barren region in south-eastern Khurasan, where the Ismailis soon rose in open revolt against the Seljuqs and seized numerous castles as well as several major towns, including Tun, Tabas, Qa’in and Zuzan. As a result, Quhistan became the second major territory, after Rudbar, for the activities of the Persian Ismailis.

By 485/1092, Hasan had founded an independent territorial state for the Persian Ismailis. Having become aware of the growing power of the Ismailis, Sultan Malik Shah had meanwhile sent major Seljuq expeditions against the Ismailis of both Rudbar and Quhistan. However, on Malik Shah’s death in 485/1092, the Seljuq forces dispersed, and the sultanate was thrown into civil war for more than a decade until 498/1105, when Muhammad Tapar emerged victorious as the undisputed sultan while his brother Sanjar remained at Balkh as his viceroy in the East. During this period of strife in the Seljuq camp, Hasan-i Sabbah readily consolidated and extended his power to other parts of Persia, including especially the mediaeval province of Qumis where the Ismailis seized Girdkuh and a number of other strongholds near Damghan. The Ismailis also captured several fortresses in Arrajan, in the border region between the provinces of Khuzistan and Fars. The Ismaili leader in Arrajan was the da‘i Abu Hamza, who like Hasan, had spent some time in Egypt to further his Ismaili education. In daylam itself the Ismailis had repelled intermittent Seljuq offensives; they had also acquired more strongholds in northern Persia, including the key fortress of Lamasar (or Lanbasar) to the west of Alamut. Kiya Buzurg-Ummid, who had seized Lamasar by assault, stayed there as commander for more than 20 years until he was called to Alamut to succeed Hasan-i Sabbah. In addition, the Ismailis were now spreading their activities to numerous towns throughout Persia, also directing their attention closer to the seat of Seljuq power, Isfahan. In this area, the Ismailis, under the leadership of Ibn ‘Attash’s son Ahmad, attained a major political success by seizing in 494/1100 the fortress of Shahdizinfo-icon, which guarded the main routes to the Seljuq capital. It is reported that the da‘i Ahmad succeeded in converting some 30,000 persons in the Isfahan area, where he also collected taxes in the districts around Shahdiz. There is no evidence suggesting that the activities of Hasan and his immediate successors at Alamut extended to Badakhshan and elsewhere in Transoxania. The remote and small Ismaili communities of these regions in Central Asia seem to have developed independently of Alamut until sometime in the 7th/13th century. By the early years of the 6th/12th century, Hasan-i Sabbah had also extended his activities into Syria by dispatching a number of Persian da‘is there. However, almost half a century of efforts were required before the Ismailis could finally acquire a network of strongholds in Syria. Other than Hasan himself, the leading Persian Ismaili personalities of the early Alamut period, such as Buzurg-Ummid, Husayn-i Qa'ini and Ra'is Muzaffar, the governor of Girdkuh, were all capable commanders and military strategists suited to the task at hand, rather than learned theologians and philosophers like the earlier Iranian da‘is of the Fatimid times.

Anti-Seljuq strategy of Hasan-i Sabbah

Soon, the anti-Seljuq revolt of the Persian Ismailis acquired its distinctive pattern and methods of struggle, which were appropriate to the times. Hasan-i Sabbah had recognised the decentralised nature of Seljuq rule as well as their vastly superior military power. As a result, he designed an appropriate vastly superior strategy aiming to subdue the Seljuqs locality by locality through acquiring a multiplicity of impregnable strongholds. He also resorted to the technique of assassinating prominent adversaries for attaining military and political objectives. In subsequent times, this policy became identified in a highly exaggerated manner with the Nizari Ismailis to the extent that almost any assassination of any significance in the central and eastern Islamic lands during the Alamut period was attributed to the daggers of the Ismaili fida‘is, the young self-sacrificing devotees who carried out the actual sectarian missions. And in time, a number of myths came to be fabricated and disseminated regarding the recruitment and training of these fida‘is. From early on, the assassinations led to the massacres of Ismailis, and the massacres in turn provoked further assassinations of their instigators.

Consequences of the Nizari-Musta’li split

In the meantime, the Nizari-Musta’li schism of 487/1094 had split the Ismailis into two rival factions. By that time, Hasan-i Sabbah had emerged as the undisputed leader of the Persian Ismailis, and perhaps of the Ismailis of the entire Seljuq realm. He had already been following an independent revolutionary policy for several years, and now he supported Nizar’s cause and broke off his relations with Cairo. Hasan had now in effect founded the independent Nizari da‘wa. In this decision, he was supported by the entire Ismaili community of Persia, while the Ismailis of Central Asia seem to have remained uninformed about this schism for quite some time. Nizar, who had led an abortive revolt in Egypt, was captured and executed by the Fatimid regime in 488/1095. Nizar did have male progeny and some of them revolted against the later Fatimids. But Hasan-i Sabbah did not divulge the name of Nizar's successor to the Imamate. Numismatic evidence shows that Nizar's own name had continued to be mentioned on the coins minted at Alamut for some 70 years after his death until the Nizari Ismaili Imams emerged at Alamut and took charge of the affairs of their community and State. In the absence of a manifest Imam, Hasan continued to be obeyed as the supreme leader of the Nizari Ismaili movement. Soon after 487/1094, Hasan was also acknowledged as the hujja or chief representative of the inaccessible Imam, in the same manner that the central leaders of the early Ismaili movement had been recognised as the hujjas of the hidden Imam.

It was under such circumstances that the outsiders from early on had acquired the impression that the movement of the (Nizari) Ismailis of Persia represented a “new preaching” (al-da‘wa al jadida), by contrast to the “old preaching” (al-da‘wa al-qadima) of the Fatimid Ismailis. Be that as it may, the “new preaching”, expressed in the Persian language, was essentially the reformulation of an old Shi'i doctrine of long standing among the Ismailis, viz., the doctrine of ta‘lim or authoritative teaching by the Imam. Hasan restated this doctrine rigorously in a treatise which has not survived, but it has been preserved fragmentarily by our Persian historians as well as the contemporary theologian al-Shahrastani (d. 548/1153) who may have been an Ismaili himself. The doctrine of ta'lim, emphasising the autonomous guiding authority of each Imam in his time, provided the foundation of the Nizari teachings of the Alamut period and subsequent times. The intellectual challenge posed by the doctrine of ta’lim, which also refuted the legitimacy of ‘Abbasid rule, called forth the official reaction of the Sunni establishment, led by al-Ghazali who attacked the Ismailis in several polemical works.

Nizari setback then consolidation

Alarmed by the Nizari successes, Sultan Barkiyaruq in western Persia and Sanjar in Khurasan agreed in 494/1101 to deal more effectively, in their respective territories, with the Nizari Ismailis who were then posing a general threat to the Seljuqs. Despite new Seljuq offensives and massacres, however, the Nizaris managed to retain all their strongholds. But the Nizari fortunes began to be reversed with the accession of Muhammad Tapar (498-511/1105-1118) to the sultanate, which marked the termination of dynastic disputes and factional rivalries among the Seljuqs. During his reign, the Persian Nizaris lost most of their fortresses in the Zagros mountains; with the loss of Shahdiz in 500/1107, the Nizaris also lost their influence in the Isfahan region. Despite their superior military power and a prolonged war of attrition, the Seljuqs did not succeed in seizing Alamut, where Hasan-i Sabbah had continued to stay; and, the Persian Ismailis by and large retained their regional positions in Rudbar, Qumis, and Quhistan. Nevertheless, by the time of Hasan's death in 518/1124, the armed revolt of the Persian Ismailis against the Seljuqs had lost its effectiveness, much in the same way that Muhammad Tapar's offensive against them had failed to realise its objectives. The Seljuq-Ismaili relations had now entered a new phase of “stalemate”.

Kiya Buzurg-Ummid (518-532/1124-1138), the second lord of Alamut, maintained the policies of his predecessor and further strengthened the Nizari state, despite renewed Seljuq offensives against Rudbar and Quhistan. Meanwhile, the Nizari da‘wa was revived in southern Syria through the efforts of Bahram (d. 522/1128) and other Persian da‘is sent from Alamut, and by 527/1132, they began to acquire their permanent strongholds in central Syria. The scattered territories of the Nizari state now stretched from Syria to eastern Persia, and possibly parts of adjacent areas in Afghanistan, and yet this state maintained a remarkable cohesion and sense of unity amidst extremely hostile surroundings and despite suffering uninterrupted persecution. Indeed, the stability of this state and the unwavering obedience of the Nizaris towards their leaders never ceased to amaze the Seljuqs and other Nizari adversaries, including the European Crusadersinfo-icon. Comprised of mountain dwellers, villagers, and inhabitants of small towns, the Persian Nizaris also maintained a sophisticated outlook and encouraged learning. They established impressive libraries at Alamut and their other major strongholds in Persia, as well as Syria. In later Alamut times, numerous Muslim scholars availed themselves of the Nizari libraries and patronage of learning.

Buzurg-Ummid was succeeded by his son Muhammad (532-557/1138-1162). In his time, the Persian Nizaris extended their activities to Georgia (Gurjistan). They also made a major effort through their da‘is to penetrate a new region, Ghur, to the east of Quhistan, in present-day central Afghanistan. The Nizari Ismaili da‘wa seems to have been established in that region around 550/1155 at the request of the Ghurid ruler ‘Ala‘ al-Din Husayn Jahansuz. In daylam, the Nizaris had continued to confront the enmity of the Zaydis as well as other local dynasties such as the Bawandids of Tabaristan and Gilan.

Proclamation of the Qiyama 559/1164

The fourth lord of Alamut, Hasan II ‘ala‘ dhikrihi‘l-salam (557-561/1162-1166), proclaimed the qiyama or the Great Resurrection, the long-awaited Last Day, in 559/1164 at special ceremonies held at Alamut and Quhistan. Relying heavily on Ismaili ta’wil or esoteric exegesis however, the qiyama was interpreted spiritually to mean the manifestation of unveiled truth in the person of the Nizari Ismaili Imam. Accordingly, for the Nizaris, who alone were capable of understanding the spiritual reality of the immutable religious truths (haqa’iqinfo-icon), hidden in the batininfo-icon of the positive laws, Paradise had now been actualised in this world. As a corollary, the outside world, comprised of non-Ismailis, was relegated to the realm of spiritual non-existence. The declaration of the qiyama was tantamount to the Nizari declaration of independence from the “other”. The Nizaris of the qiyama times did in fact practically ignore the outside world, refraining from any major campaign against their adversaries. As the person who had declared the qiyama. Hasan II was also acknowledged by the Nizari community as the qa'im and the rightful Imam from the progeny of Nizar b. al-Mustansir. Hasan II’s son and successor, Nurinfo-icon al-Din Muhammad II (561-607/1166-1210), devoted his own long reign to a systematic elaboration of the doctrine of the qiyama. This period also coincided with the career of Rashid al-Din Sinan, the original “Old Man of the Mountain” of the Crusaders. Sinan had spent his youth at Alamut, where he had furthered his Ismaili education before being sent by Hasan II to Syria soon after 557/1162. He led the Syrian Nizaris for 30 years to the peak of their power and glory, until his death in 589/1193.

Decline of the Seljuqs

Meanwhile, the Great Seljuq sultanate had been disintegrating in Persia and elsewhere after Sanjar's death in 552/1157. The Seljuqs were replaced by a number of Turkish dynasties in different regions. At the same time, a new power based on Khwarazm, the region on the lower Oxus, had emerged in the East. The hereditary rule of this region had passed earlier into the hands of a Turkish dynasty acting as vassals of the Seljuqs and carrying the region’s traditional regnal title of Khwarazm Shah. After Sanjar, the Khwarazm Shahs began to assert their independence and expanded their territories into Khurasan and other Iranian lands. Subsequently, the Khwarazm Shahs expanded their empire westward across Persia, clearing away the remnants of Seljuq rule. As the successors of the Seljuqs, the Khwarazm Shahs developed their own hostile relations with the Nizaris of Rudbar and elsewhere in Persia. In Quhistan, the Nizaris had continued to have military encounters with the Ghurids and the Maliks in the neighbouring Sistan or Nimruz. It was in the aftermath of the decline of the Seljuqs that the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Nasir (575-622/1180-1225) found the long-awaited opportunity to revive the power and prestige of his dynasty. During this period, the new ruler of Alamut, Jalal al-Din Hasan, III (607-618/1210-1221), attempted a daring rapprochement with the Sunni establishment, ordering his followers to observe the shari‘ainfo-icon in its Sunni form. Later, this policy was explained as having represented a form of taqiyya or dissimulation to safeguard the survival of the community and improve its relations with the rest of the Muslim society. At any rate, by contrast to the qiyama times, the Nizari Ismaili Imam had now boldly accommodated his community to the outside world. The new Nizari policy proved very successful; Jalal al-Din Hasan was acknowledged by the caliph al-Nasir and other leading Sunni rulers as an amir in the Muslim world, and his rights to the Nizari territories were officially recognised. Jalal al-Din Hasan also participated in the caliph al-Nasir's intricate alliances. As a result of these developments, the Ghurid attacks against the Nizaris of Quhistan ceased, while the Nizaris of Syria received timely help from the Ayyubidsinfo-icon in their conflicts with the Crusaders; and many Sunnisinfo-icon, including scholars, who were then fleeing from the first Mongol invasions of Khurasan, began to find refuge in the Nizari towns and strongholds of Quhistan. Later in the 7th/13th century, the Nizari da‘wa began to be actively propagated in Badakhshan where the Ismailis had survived in small Pamiri communities. At the same time, Nizari da‘is, later also called pirs, were dispatched from Alamut to spread the da‘wa in Multan and other areas of Sind.

Chingiz Khan and the impact of the Mongol invasions

The final decades of the Nizari state in Persia, under ‘Ala‘ al-Din Muhammad III (618-653/ 1221-125), coincided with a most turbulent period in the history of the Iranian, and indeed Islamic, lands. By 617/1220, Chingiz Khan, ruler of the new Mongol empire, had captured Bukhara and Samarqand. In the following year, he crossed the Oxus and seized Balkh. Then, the Mongols conquered Khurasan, destroying Marw and Nishapur. It was in the early years of ‘Ala‘ al-Din Muhammad's reign that an increasing number of Muslims, both Sunni and Shi‘i, found refuge among the Nizaris of Quhistan who were still enjoying their stability and prosperity. The enviable contemporary conditions of the Quhistani Nizaris are described vividly by Minhaj-i Siraj Juzjani, the Ghurid historian and ambassador who visited Quhistan several times during 621-623/ 1224-1226 and met with the muhtasham or chief of the Ismailis there.

The most prominent of the outside scholars who now availed themselves of the Nizaris’ patronage of learning was the Shi‘i philosopher, theologian and scientist Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, (597-672/1201-1274). It was around 624/1227 that al-Tusi entered the service of Nasir al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahim b. Abi Mansur (d. 655/1257), the learned muhtasham of the Nizaris of Quhistan. Al-Tusi developed a close friendship with Nasir al-Din, to whom he dedicated his great work on ethics, the Akhlaq-i Nasiri. The period of his Ismaili connection, lasting some 30 years until 654/1256, was particularly productive for al-Tusi, who also embraced Ismailism. During this period, spent first in the Nizari strongholds of Quhistan and later at Alamut and Maymundiz fortresses in Rudbar, al-Tusi also wrote a number of Ismaili works, including the Rawdat al-taslim (Meadow of Submission) which is the most comprehensive extant treatise on the Nizari Ismaili teachings of the Alamut period after the declaration of the qiyama.

With the demise of Jalal al-Din Mingubirti (617-628/1220-1231), the last of the Khwarazm Shahs who had also been engaged in war and diplomacy with Alamut, the Nizaris of Persia came to be confronted directly by the Mongols. The efforts of the Imam ‘Ala‘ al-Din Muhammad to forge an alliance with the kings of France and England, in collaboration with the ‘Abbasid caliph, against the Mongols proved futile; and all the Nizari attempts to reach a peaceful accord with the Mongols themselves proved equally ineffective. At any event, when the Great Khan Mongke (649-657/1251-1259) decided to complete the Mongol conquest of western Asia, he assigned first priority to the destruction of the Nizari state in Persia, entrusting the mission to his brother Hulegu.

The Fall of Alamut 654/1256

The Mongol hordes had already started to exert constant pressures on the Nizaris of Quhistan and Qumis when ‘Aid‘ al-Din Muhammad was succeeded by his youthful son, Rukn al-Din Khurshah, in Shawwalinfo-icon 653/December 1256; he would be the last lord of Alamut. A few months later, in the spring of 654/1257, the main Mongol expedition led by Hulegu himself entered Persia through Khurasan. In the final year of the Nizari state, Khurshah and Hulegu exchanged countless embassies and negotiated endlessly in vain. Vacillating between resistance and surrender, Khurshah seems to have hoped to save at least the major Nizari strongholds of Persia from Mongol destruction, while Hulegu demanded nothing less than total Nizari submission. Finally, Khurshah surrendered on 29 Shawwal 654/19 November 1256, after the main Mongol armies had converged on Maymundiz, where the Imam was then staying, and engaged the Nizaris in fierce fighting. This marked the end of the Alamut period in the Ismaili history of the Iranian lands. Alamut itself was surrendered to the Mongols a month later, while Lamasar held out for another year, and Girdkuh, as the last Nizari outpost in Persia, resisted its Mongol besiegers until 669/1270. Early in the following year, 655/1257, Mongke sanctioned a general massacre of the Nizaris of Persia. Rukn al-Din Khurshah’s own tragic end came in the spring of 655/1257 when he was murdered by his Mongol guards somewhere in central Mongolia, whither he had gone in vain to see the Great Khan.

The Early Post-Alamut Centuries

The collapse of the Nizari state in 654/1256 marked the initiation of a new phase in the mediaeval history of the Iranian Ismailis, who had now permanently lost their political prominence. Henceforth, the Ismailis of the Iranian lands, all belonging to the Nizari branch, survived as minority religious communities in Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The first two centuries in the post-Alamut history of these communities remain rather obscure. Only the major developments of this period have been recently clarified by modern scholarship on the basis of numerous regional histories and other primary sources as well as the oral traditions and the meagre writings of the Nizaris themselves.

In Persia, the Nizaris were left in an utterly confused and devastated state in the aftermath of the Mongol catastrophe. Large numbers were put to the Mongol swords in Rudbar and Quhistan; and in both regions the surviving groups were displaced from their traditional abodes, the mountain strongholds and their surrounding villages and a few towns. Many of the Nizaris who had survived the Mongol massacres migrated to adjacent regions in Afghanistan and Badakhshan as well as Sind, while numerous groups, isolated in remote places or towns, soon began to disintegrate or gradually assimilated themselves into the religiously dominant communities of their surroundings. The Nizaris were now also deprived of any form of central leadership, provided earlier from Alamut. It was under such circumstances that the highly disorganised and scattered Nizari communities were once again obliged to observe taqiyya very strictly. For about two centuries after the fall of Alamut, the Nizari communities of Persia, Afghanistan and Badakhshan, and elsewhere in Syria and India, developed on a local basis and independently of one another under the local leadership of their own da‘is.

Meanwhile, a group of Nizari dignitaries had managed to hide Rukn al-Din Khurshah's minor son Shams al-Din Muhammad, who had succeeded to the Nizari Imamate. He was evidently taken to Adharbayjan where he spent the rest of his life disguising himself as an embroiderer. These facts are attested by certain allusions in the unpublished versified Safar-nama of Sa’d al-Din b. Shams al-Din Nizari Quhistani (d. 720/1320). A native of Birjandinfo-icon in Quhistan, and the first post-Alamut Nizari poet, Nizari Quhistani served for a while at the court of the Kart rulers of Harat. Nizari Quhistani travelled widely, and he seems to have seen the Imam Shams al-Din Muhammad around 678/ 1280 in Adharbayjan, possibly at Tabriz. Practically nothing is known about the Imams who succeeded Shams al-Din Muhammad in Persia until the second half of the 9th /15th century.

Split between Muhammad-Shahi and Qasim-Shahi branches

Shams al-Din Muhammad, the 28th -Nizari Imam, died around 710/1310. An obscure dispute over his succession split the line of the Nizari Imams and their following into what became known as the Muhammad-Shahi and Qasim-Shahi branches. The Muhammad-Shahi line of Nizari Imams, who initially had numerous followers in daylam and Badakhshan, was discontinued soon after 1201/1786. On the other hand, the Qasim-Shahi line has persisted to our times, and since the early decades of the 13th/19th century, the Imams of this line have become better known under their hereditary title of Aga Khan. At any rate, this schism provided another serious blow to the already devastated Nizari da‘wa of the early post-Alamut period.

Meanwhile, the Nizaris had managed to regroup in daylam, where they remained active throughout the Ilkhanid and Timurid periods. At the time, daylam was ruled by different local dynasties, and the political fragmentation of the region permitted the Nizaris there to make periodic attempts to regain Alamut and Lamasar, which had not been completely demolished by the Mongols. They also succeeded in winning several local rulers of northern Persia to their side. For instance, some of the Kushayji amirs, including Kiya Sayf al-Din, who by 770/1368 controlled much of daylam, adhered to Nizari Ismailism. A certain Nizari leader known as Khudawand Muhammad, who may perhaps be identified with the Muhammad-Shahi Nizari Imam Muhammad b. Mu’min Shah (d. 807/1404), had also appeared in daylam, where he played an active part in local conflicts and alliances. Khudawand Muhammad established himself at Alamut for a while, but was eventually obliged to seek refuge with Timur who exiled him to Sultaniyya. Later, the banu Iskandar who ruled over parts of Mazandaran supported the Nizari cause in daylam. The Nizaris retained some importance in northern Persia until the end of the 10th/ 16th century, when the Caspian provinces were annexed to the Safawid dominions. It is interesting to note that the Safawidsinfo-icon themselves used Alamat as a royal prison for the rebellious members of their own household before the fortress was permanently abandoned.

Nizaris of Quhistan and Badakhshan

The Nizaris of Quhistan never really recovered from the Mongol onslaught, which left all of Khurasan with its great cities in ruins. Subsequently, they survived in scattered villages around some of their former towns in Khurasan, without acquiring any political prominence. The Nizaris of Badakhshan, who were particularly devoted to Nasir-i Khusraw, had essentially remained outside of the confines of the Nizari state. But, as noted, the Nizari da‘wa had been propagated actively there during the later Alamut period. According to the local tradition of the Nizaris of Badakhshan, the Nizari da‘wa was introduced to Shughnan by two da‘is sent from Alamut. These da‘is, Sayyid Shah Malang and Sayyid Shah Khamush, founded dynasties of mirs and pirs who ruled on a hereditary basis over Shughnan, Rushan and adjacent districts of Badakhshan in the upper Oxus region.

Subsequently, Badakhshan was fortunate to escape the Mongol debacle. The region was eventually annexed to the Timurid empire in the middle of the 9th/15th century. Early in the 10th/16th century, Badakhshan was briefly conquered by the Ozbegs, whose hegemony was persistently resisted by different local rulers. It was under such chaotic conditions that Shah Radi al-Din, a Muhammad-Shahi Nizari Imam, came from his original base of operations in Quhistan and Sistan to Badakhshan, where he established his own rule with the help of the local Nizaris. Shah Radi al-Din was, however, killed in battle in 915/1509, and, subsequently, Mirza Khan, a local Timurid amir severely persecuted the Nizaris of Badakhshan.

The Anjudan Revival

Meanwhile, the Nizari Imams of the Qasim-Shahi line had emerged at Anjudan, a large village in central Persia near Qumm and Mahallat, initiating the Anjudan revival in the post-Alamut history of the Nizari Ismailis. Imam Mustansir bi’llah, who died in 885/1480, is the first Imam of his line to have definitely established himself at Anjudan, where a Nizari community already existed. By that time, Nizari Ismailism had become infused in Persia with Sufi teachings and terminology, while Sufi pirs themselves had begun to use ideas which had been more widely attributed to the Ismailis. As a part of this coalescence between Nizari Ismailism and Sufisminfo-icon in Persia, the Nizaris had also adopted certain external features of the Sufi orders (tariqas), referring to their Imams and themselves as pirs (or murshids) and murids. This disguise was partly adopted for the purposes of taqiyya to ensure the safety of the Nizaris in predominantly Sunni surroundings. However, the esoteric nature of the teachings of both communities, too, had made its own important contribution to bringing about this coalescence which left permanent imprints on the Nizari, community. This also explains why the Nizaris of the Iranian lands, especially in Badakhshan, have continued to regard some of the great mystic poets of Persia, such as Farid al-Din ‘Attar and Jalal al-Din Rumi, as their co-religionists. Later in Safawid times, the Persian Nizaris also adopted the guise of Twelver Shi’ism, then the official religion of the Safawid realm, as another taqiyya practice.

Anjudan served as the residence of the Qasim-Shahi Nizari Imams and the headquarters of their da‘wa for some two centuries, coinciding with the period of Safawid rule over Persia. The tombs of the Imam Mustansir bi’llah, who carried the Sufi name of Shah Qalandar, and several of his successors are still preserved in Anjudan. The Anjudan period ushered a revival in the da‘wa activities of the Nizaris of the Iranian lands. This revival also resulted in the assertion of Anjudan's control over the various Nizari communities which had hitherto developed on a local basis. The ground for the Anjudan revival had already been prepared by the spread of Shi‘i tendencies in Persia mainly through the activities of a number of Sufi orders; and this process eventually culminated in the adoption of Twelver Shi‘ism as the religion of Safawid Persia in 907/1501. The Safawiyyainfo-icon themselves represented one of the most militant Sufi orders through which Shi‘i tendencies and ‘Alid loyalism had permeated Persia.

Reorganisation of the da‘wa of Qasim-Shahis

During the Anjudan period, the Qasim-Shahi Nizari da‘wa was reorganised and reinvigorated under the direct leadership of the Imams at Anjudan, not only to win new converts but also to gain the allegiance of those Iranian Nizaris, especially in Badakhshan, who had hitherto supported the Muhammad-Shahi line of Imams. By asserting their own leadership, the Imams also succeeded in undermining the position of the hereditary dynasties of da‘is, mirs, or pirs, which had emerged in different Iranian Ismaili communities. The Imams now began to appoint their own trusted representatives to administer the affairs of these communities, especially in Khurasan, Afghanistan and Badakhshan. These agents visited Anjudan on a regular basis, to report on the affairs of their community and to deliver the much needed religious dues they had collected.

By the second half of the 11th/17th century, the Anjudan revival had led to significant achievements. Rapidly expanding and reorganised Nizari communities had now emerged throughout the Iranian world, in central Persia, Kirman, Khurasan, Afghanistan, and Badakhshan. The Nizari da‘wa directed from Anjudan had been particularly successful also in Sind, Gujarat and other regions of the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, the bulk of the Muhammad-Shahi Nizaris had switched their allegiance to the Imams residing at Anjudan. The literary activities of the Iranian Nizaris, too, were revived during the Anjudan period, starting with the writings of Abu Ishaq Quhistani, and Khayrkhwah-i Harati who died after 960/1553. The Nizaris of the Iranian lands, especially in Badakhshan, also preserved a substantial portion of the literary heritage of their community, produced in the Persian language during the Alamut and post-Alamut centuries.

The Ismailis of the Iranian lands were not destined to regain the prominence they had acquired during the Alamut period of their history, a religio-political prominence that was abruptly ended by the all-conquering Mongols. Nevertheless, by the end of the Middle Ages the Anjudan revival had already started to compensate at least partially for the Mongol debacle, permitting the Nizari Ismailis to survive in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as in many other regions of the world, as peaceful and prosperous religious communities.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth Vol.II ...