The Ismailis are a shi'a sect of Islam. They split from the other shi'a sects around AD 765 after the death of the Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. A majority
of shi'a rejected his son Ismail, as having been disinherited by his father, and so claimed his younger son Musa to be the next Imam. The Ismailis,
however, held onto the belief that the title cannot be passed between brothers.
Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, an Ismaili hero: philosopher, scientist, alchemist, astrologer, military strategist, warrior, religious devotee, recluse. Much
has been written on this man and the infamous sect he founded, The Assassins. A lot of convoluted information floats around, so I'd like to take a
quick look at the history of this secret society.
"This sect, the most terrifying ever seen, had been founded in 1090 (C.E) by a man of immense culture, a devotee of poetry profoundly interested
in the latest advances of science. Hasan ibn al-Sabbâh was born around 1048 in the city of Rayy, close by the site where the town of Tehran would be
founded a dozen years later. Was he really, as legend claims, an inseparable companion of the young poet Omar Khayyam, himself a devotee of
mathematics and astronomy? It is not known with certainty. On the other hand, the circumstances that led this brilliant man to dedicate his life to
organising this sect are known in detail."
from "The Crusades through Arab Eyes"
by Amin Maalouf
"When Hasan bin Sabbah arrived in Iran from Egypt, the fortress of Alamut was in possession of an Alid, called Hussain Mahdi, who had it as a
fief from the Seljuq sultan Malikshah. Hasan Mahdi was a descendant of Hasan bin Ali al-Utrush (d. 304/916), one of the Alid rulers of Tabaristan,
also known as al-Nasir li'l-Haq, who had established a separate Zaidi community in the Caspian Sea....Sabbah moved to Ashkawar and then Anjirud,
adjacent to Alamut, and on Wednesday, the 6th Rajab, 483/September 4, 1090, he stealthily entered the castle of Alamut. He lodged there for a while in
disguise, calling himself Dihkhuda and did not reveal his identity to Hussain Mahdi, but as the days rolled away, the latter noticed that he was no
longer obeyed, that there was another master in Alamut. The bulk of Alamut's garrison and a large number of the inhabitants had embraced Ismailism,
making Hussain Mahdi powerless to defend himself or make their expulsion, but himself left the fortress. Thus, Alamut was occupied without any
massacre and taken to be known as daru'l hijra (place of refuge) for the Ismailis."
from F.I.E.L.D - First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database
"The bastion, the 'eagle's nest', was situated in a practically inaccessible region of the Albruz Mountains near the Caspian Sea. Once he
commanded this inviolable sanctuary, Hasan set about establishing a politico-religious organisation whose effectiveness and spirit of discipline would
be unequalled in all history.
All members, from novices to the grand master, were ranked to their level of knowledge, reliability and courage. They underwent intensive training
courses of indoctrination as well as physical training. Hasan's favourite technique for sowing terror among his enemies was murder. The members of
the sect were sent individually - or more rarely, in small groups of two or three - on assignments to kill some chosen personality. They generally
disguised themselves as merchants or ascetics and moved around in the city where the crime was to be perpetrated, familiarising themselves with the
habits of their victims. Then, once their plan was ready, they struck. Although the preparation was always conducted in the utmost secrecy, the
execution has to take place in the public, indeed before the largest crowd. That was why the preferred site was a mosque, the favourite day Friday,
generally at noon. For Hasan, murder was not merely a means of disposing an enemy, but was intended primarily as a twofold lesson for the public:
first, the punishment of the victim, and, second, the heroic sacrifice of the executioner, who was called fidâ'î (plural : fidâ'în, or
fedayeen), or 'suicide commando', because he was almost always cut down on the spot."
from "The Crusades through Arab Eyes"
by Amin Maalouf
But what were they taught, exactly? What made them so devoted, so intelligent?
Let's have a look at the origin of the name Assassins, which was not used until the 14th century.
"The medieval Arabic historians called them Hashishiyun or more usually Batinia."
from "Syrian Ismailism" by Nasseh Ahmad Mirza
Batinia, you say? What does that mean? The Batin is the esoteric meaning of a text. The Batinia are those who believe in the esoteric interpretations
of the sacred texts, as Ismailis believe there is both exoteric and esoteric meaning in all their sacred texts. Exactly what this esoteric meaning is,
is a closely guarded secret.
So, here we have a highly trained, highly educated, highly secretive, lethal warrior monk sect.
"The resulting picture of the Assassins differs radically both from the lurid rumors and fantasies brought back from the East by medieval
travelers, and from the hostile and distorted image extracted by nineteenth century orientalists from the manuscript writings of orthodox Muslim
theologians and historians, whose main concern was to refute and condemn, not to understand or explain. The Assassins no longer appear as a gang of
drugged dupes led by scheming impostors, as a conspiracy of nihilistic terrorists, or as a syndicate of professional murderers. They are no less
interesting for that."
from "The Assassins" by B. Lewis