• Until the middle of the 20th century, the Ismailis were studied and judged almost exclusively on the basis of evidence collected or fabricated by their detractors. As a result, a variety of myths and legends circulated widely, both in Muslim societies and in the West, regarding the teachings and practices of the Ismailis. The breakthrough in Ismaili studies came with the recovery and study of numerous genuine Ismaili texts that had been preserved in private collections in India, Central Asia, Syria, Yaman and other regions. Many of these texts have been edited, translated and published since the 1950s, thus contributing to the impressive progress in modern Ismaili scholarship.

    This book deals with aspects of Ismaili history and thought in medieval times. The opening chapter of the book focuses on the formative period of Islam in terms of communities of interpretation that later acquired Shi‘i and Sunni designations. It describes how different Muslim groups, in a fluid and dynamic setting, addressed the issues then confronting the nascent Islamic ummainfo-icon and formulated a diversity of views as well as interpretations of the Islamic message. The next three chapters relate to the early and Fatimid ps of Ismaili history. After dealing with the opening decades of Ismailism and the da‘wainfo-icon activities during the 9th century, the author explains the complex issues resulting in the cessation of the Qarmatisinfo-icon from the Ismaili community. Another chapter is devoted in this part to the organization and functioning of the Ismaili da‘wa under the Fatimidsinfo-icon. The interesting point that emerges from the author’s analysis here relates to the success of the Ismaili da‘wa outside the boundaries of the Fatimid state, especially in the Yemen, Iran and Central Asia, even though the Ismailis were often persecuted in those regions by contrast to the Fatimid domains where they enjoyed the protection of the state. The final chapter of this part takes up the life and career of Sayyida Arwa or Hurra, the Sulayhid queen of the Yemen who upheld the cause of the Fatimids in South Arabia. This remarkable queen, who rose to the highest rank of the hujjainfo-icon in the Ismaili da‘wa organisation, was responsible for ensuring the continuation of the Musta‘lian form of Ismailism in the Yemen and for securing the original success of that branch of Ismailism in Gujarat, in western India.

    The second part of the book concentrates on the Nizari branch of Ismailism. Hasan-i Sabbah established the independent Nizari state in Iran, centred at the mountainous fortress of Alamutinfo-icon in 1090 CE. This state survived until the Mongols destroyed it in 1256 CE. Hasan and his successors at Alamut struggled against the Saljuqinfo-icon Turks, whose alien rule was detested by Iranians of all social classes. Inspite of their much superior military power, the Saljuqs failed to dislodge the Nizarisinfo-icon from their fortresses. The Nizaris established a historiographical tradition recording the events of their state according to different reigns of lords of Alamut. This tradition is the subject of the first chapter of this second part. In the second chapter, the author investigates the motives of Hasan-i Sabbah as an Ismaili da‘iinfo-icon and a revolutionary leader and the circumstances under which, against all odds, he succeeded in establishing the Nizari Ismaili state of Persia with a branch in Syria. In the third chapter, Dr. Daftary looks at the situation of the Syrian Nizari Ismailis in the time of Rashid al-Dininfo-icon Sinan (d. 1193 CE), their most famous leader. It was also in his time that the Crusadersinfo-icon and their Western chroniclers began to fabricate a number of connected tales, the so-called Assassin legends, about the secret practices of the Nizaris. The author who has already investigated these tales in his Assassin Legends: Myths of the Ismailis (1994), shows how these fanciful stories rooted in the “imaginative ignorance” of the Crusader circles found their culmination in Marco Polo’s account. This account was treated as an accurate description of Nizari teachings and practices until modern times.

    The Nizari Ismailis were preoccupied, during the Alamut period of their history, with their survival in a very hostile environment. Nevertheless, they maintained a sophisticated outlook and a literary tradition, elaborating their teachings in response to changed circumstances of the Alamut period. Hasan-i Sabbah himself was a learned theologian and he is credited with establishing an impressive library of Alamut. The fortress communities of the Nizari Ismailis of the Alamut period also provided safe havens for numerous outside scholars, especially after the initiation of the Mongol invasions. Foremost among these scholars was Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274 CE) who spent some three decades partaking of their patronage of learning. Chapter 9 chronicles Tusi’s association with the Ismailis, also explaining his conversion to Ismailism as described in his own spiritual autobiography (sayr va suluk). Tusi also made important contributions to the Nizari Ismaili thought of the period as expressed in his Rawda-yi taslim, published recently by the IIS together with an English translation under the title of Paradise of Submission.

    The final chapter in the second part of this book investigates how after the collapse of their state under the onslaught of the Mongol hordes in 1225 CE, the Nizari Ismailis survived precariously in Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and later India, using different guises to escape persecution. In Iran and Central Asia, in particular, they dissimulated as Sufis without affiliating themselves to any of the Sufi orders. This chapter also explains the doctrinal affinities of these two independent esoteric traditions in Islam that enabled the Nizari Ismailis to adopt the mantle of Sufisminfo-icon as part of their dissimulating (taqiyyainfo-icon) practices. The chapter also surveys the highlights of the Anjudan revival in Nizari Ismailism during which the Imams successfully asserted their direct leadership over various Ismaili communities, especially in Central and South Asia. The final chapter the book presents an overview of the intellectual activities of the Ismailis during the medieval times. Amongst such activities, particular attention is paid to theology, not only as kalaminfo-icon, but also as a tradition influencing other intellectual activities of this Shi‘i Muslim community, as well as philosophy, law, historiography and certain distinctly Ismaili traditions and institutions of learning.

  • Contents

    Note on the Text
    1. Diversity in Islam
    2. The Ismailis and Ismaili Studies

    Part I. The Early and Fatimid Phases

    3. The Early Ismaili Movement and the Ismaili-Qarmati Schism
    4. The Ismaili Da‘wainfo-icon and the Fatimid Dawlainfo-icon
    5. Sayyida Hurra: The Ismaili Queen of Yaman

    Part II. The Nizari Phase

    6. Historiography of the Early Nizari Ismailis in Persia
    7. Hasan-i Sabbah and the Origins of the Nizari Ismaili Da‘wa and State
    8. The Syrian Ismailis and the Crusadersinfo-icon: History and Myth
    9. Nasir al-Dininfo-icon al-Tusi and the Ismailis
    10. Ismaili-Sufi Relations in Post-Alamutinfo-icon Persia

    Part III. Aspects of Ismaili Thought

    11. Intellectual Life among the Ismailis

    Select Bibliography
  • Select Bibliography


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  • Dr. Farhad Daftary

    Farhad Daftary completed his early and secondary education in Tehran, Rome, and London, before going to Washington, D.C., in 1958. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the American University there, and then continued his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, leading to a Ph.D. degree in 1971. Subsequently, Dr. Daftary held different teaching posts, and, since 1988, he has been affiliated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where he is currently Co-Director and Head (since 1992) of the Department of Academic Research and Publications. An authority in Shi...Read more


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