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      (1) The Schism in Islam
      (2) Old Man of the Mountains
      (3) Fate of the Isma'ilis
      (1)Schools of Thought
      (2) Haqa'iq - The Esoteric Truths
      (3) The Nine Degrees
      (4) The Occult Tradition

Origins of the Nizari Isma'ilis

(1) The Schism in Islam

" the year the Christian calendar calls AD 632, a schism even greater than the
Reformation was to produce engulfed Islam. Its two great forces, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites,
became irrevocably divided. The Shi'ites insisted that the leadership of Islam should have
remained in the Prophet's family and, upon his death, they had pledged their support to
Mohammed's cousin, Ali, who became Caliph or successor to the Prophet."

       - Gordon Thomas, Journey into Madness

"...Legend has it that Mohammed's son-in-law Sidina 'Ali, the ideal warrior, once became so
caught up in the frenzy of killing that he began to kill his own people after finishing off the
enemy. His frenzy had to be cooled down before he could stop."

       - An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism

"Ali was murdered in AD 661. But, in the Shi'ite theology, Ali and his descendants were
Imams - divinely guided leaders and mediators between God and Man, Christ-like figures on
earth. There were twelve Imams before the last disappeared in AD 940. It is a fundamental
Shi'ite belief that he is hiding in one of the vast Arabian deserts, awaiting the right moment to
re-emerge and establish a purified Islamic government of justice...The Imam, on his return,
would launch a jihad, a holy war, more violent than any before fought over the centuries by
his Shi'ite disciples."

       - Gordon Thomas, Journey into Madness

"One of the most successful secret societies which the Shi'as founded was centered around
the Abode of Learning in Cairo, which was the training-ground for fanatics who were
conditioned by the most cunning methods to believe in a special divine mission. In order to
do this, the original democratic Islamic ideas had to be overcome by skilled teachers, acting
under the orders of the Caliph of the Fatimites, who ruled Egypt at that time."

       - Arkon Daraul, Secret Societies
"The fundamental doctrine of the Shi'a is based upon the ta'lim, or authorized teaching. The
imam was responsible for this teaching, from which no deviation at all was possible. This is
the basis of the authority of the Shi'ite imams, and informs their role as descendants of Ali..."
"The essential division between Shi'a and Sunni is based upon the dispute between the
mutually exclusive notions that authority may be explained by ta'lim or that it may be
explained by means of reason and analogy."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

"Much of the well-known mystical symbolism of Sufism, often best known through the
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, was taken over by the Isma'ilis. They joined Sufism and Shiism
in a peculiar and unique blend, often appearing as a particular group of Sufis with their own
Shaykh....It would surprising if the use of hashish and other drugs for achieving
mystical ecstasy was also carried over from the Sufis."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

(2) Old Man of the Mountains

In 1074 "the Armenian general Badr al-Jamali traveled with his army from Syria to Cairo and
took effective control. From that moment, the power of the caliph was extremely limited and
the real ruler of the state was the commander-in-chief of the army. the last caliphs were little
more than figureheads."

"On the death of the Caliph al-Mustansir in 1094, the new commander opposed the Caliph's
own designation of his son Nizar as caliph and placed Nizar's brother al-Musta'li on the
throne... The Isma'ilis in the East [Persia] refused to acknowledge al-Musta'li and broke off
relations with the dynasty in Cairo."

"The dissenting group proclaimed their allegiance to the by-passed Caliph Nizar, and it is for
this reason that members of the sect which became known to history as The Assassins were
first known as the Nizari Isma'ilis."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

"'Assasseen' in Arabic signifies 'guardians', and some commentators have considered this to
be the true origin of the word: 'guardians of the secrets'."

       - Arkon Daraul, Secret Societies

"Hasan-i Sabbah was a revolutionary of genius who devised and put into practice the 'new'
preaching or da'wa of the Nizari Isma'ilis, which was to replace the 'old' da'wa of the Fatimid
Isma'ilis at Cairo... It is likely that he was born around 1060 in Qom, one-hundred-and-fifty
kilometers south of modern Tehran."

"He had a fine mind, an excellent knowledge of theology, and evidently possessed the
phenomenal strength of will necessary to pursue his ideal for so many years... We can
imagine him converting the people of Daylam just as he had himself been converted, by
patiently digging away at a potential proselyte's religious doubts until they were strong
enough to admit the possibility of an alternative."
"Hasan-i Sabbah had managed through careful theological argument and relentless logic
applied to the Shi'a doctrines, to create a powerful sectarian sense of community based on
the traditional secrecy and conspiratorial nature of Isma'ilism."

"The Alborz Mountains, which rise to a maximum height of over six-thousand meters in the
volcanic Mount Damavand, constitute a natural barrier between the Caspian and the vast
gently tilting plateau which constitutes Central Iran. Although not distant as the crow field
from Tehran, this mountainous area has always been and still is remote. It was presumably
for this reason that many shi-ite sects and fleeing Isma'ilis and other Moslem heretics had...
for many centuries taken refuge in the mountain kingdom of ancient Daylam."

Within a high mountain valley stands "the castle of Alamut, the fortress retreat of Hasan-i
Sabbah, which became almost legendary after the supposed 1273 visit of Marco Polo and
his description of the 'Old Man of the mountains' and the 'Ashishin'..."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

"The Old Man kept at his court such boys of twelve years old as seemed to him destined to
become courageous men. When the Old Man sent them into the garden in groups of four,
ten or twenty, he gave them hashish to drink. They slept for three days, then they were
carried sleeping into the garden where he had them awakened."

"When these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous
things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise. And these damsels were always
with them in songs and great entertainments; they; received everything they asked for, so
that they would never have left that garden of their own will."

"And when the Old Man wished to kill someone, he would take him and say: 'Go and do this
thing. I do this because I want to make you return to paradise'. And the assassins go and
perform the deed willingly."

       - Marco Polo - on his visit to Alamut in 1273

"That Hasan-i Sabbah and other early Assassin Masters had gardens seems likely since the
garden is such an important part of Persian noble life and of mysticism. The water channels
and meticulous care to ensure regular water supplies at Assassin castles echo the care
which Persian and Arab villages and country houses today give to the presence of running
water. So the legend of the garden in which Assassins were taken probably has its origins in

"Many scholars have argued, and demonstrated convincingly, that the attribution of the
epithet 'hashish eaters' or 'hashish takers' is a misnomer derived from enemies the Isma'ilis
and was never used by Moslem chroniclers or sources. It was therefore used in a pejorative
sense of 'enemies' or 'disreputable people'. This sense of the term survived into modern
times with the common Egyptian usage of the term Hashasheen in the 1930s to mean
simply 'noisy or riotous'. It is unlikely that the austere Hasan-i Sabbah indulged personally in
drug taking."

"There is no mention of that drug [hashish] in connection with the Persian Assassins -
especially in the library of Alamut ('the secret archives')."

"Once established in a secure and permanent base, Hasan sent da'is [missionaries] out from
Alamut in all directions, At the same time he pursued a policy of territorial expansion, taking
castles either by means of propaganda or by force, and building others... Life at Alamut, and
we may suppose in the other fortresses at this time, was characterized by extreme
asceticism and severity."

"Political assassination was not unknown in Islam before Hasan-i Sabbah. Earlier sects had
used murder as a political technique, and there is evidence that Mohammed himself
disposed of his enemies by suggesting that they did not deserve to live - and hoping that
faithful followers would take the hint. There had even been an extremist Shi'ite group known
as the 'stranglers' after their preferred method of assassination."

The word assassin "definitely entered the literary vocabulary when it was used by Dante." In
The Divine Comedy: Hell, Book XIX, "Dante describes himself as 'like a friar who is
confessing the wicked assassin':

'Io stava come il frate che confessa
Lo perfido assassin...'

"Here the strongest possible noun is required since the criminal being confessed is being
buried alive head down, thus denoting a sin of particular horror. The connection of assassin
with wickedness reinforces the clarity and precision with which Dante used the word, and it
was in this sense that 'assassin' then passed into other European languages."

        - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

(3) Fate of the Isma'ilis

"After the destruction of Alamut by Hulegu in 1256, many members of the Nizari Isma'ili sect
are thought to have fled to Afghanistan, the Himalayas and above all Sind... Several of them
had traveled to India as early as the eleventh century, but the founder of the branch of the
sect known as the Bohras was probably a certain Abdullah who traveled from the Yemen
and arrived in Cambay in about 1067. He traveled and teached extensively in the province of
Gujerat, where still today the Bohras are a powerful and secretive presence."

"The other major branch of the Isma'ilis in the East today are known as the Khojas, who are
particularly strong in what was once the Punjab but is now part of Pakistan. Their tradition
relates that a missionary known as Nu(r) Satagut, which means literally 'teacher of true light',
was the first to arrive in India. He is thought to have traveled to north-western India some
time between 1160 and 1242. It was the Khoja sect which descended directly from the Nizari
Isma'ilis or Assassins, and on whose support the Aga Khan's leadership of the Isma'ilis
today is based."

"The present Aga Khan, correctly known as Prince Karim El Husseni, Aga Khan IV, is
recognized as the forty-ninth hereditary imam of the Isma'ilis and claims direct descent from
the Prophet Mohammed. He is recognized as head of the world-wide Isma'ili sect, today
estimated at between four and twenty million in number. His income from voluntary
contributions was estimated by Mihir Bose [The Agha Khans] in 1985 to be seventy-five
million pounds a year."

"The theology and politics of the revolutionary of genius Hasan-i Sabbah can in fact be seen
as the first original creation - both religious and political - of a specifically Persian ethos after
the conquest of the country of the Arabs and consequent conversion to Islam. In this wider
sense the thought and doctrines of the inventor of the 'Assassins' may be said to have an
enduring influence in the religious and political life of the Middle East. This legacy is shared
both the Aga Khans and by contemporary revolutionary groups in Lebanon and Persia."
       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam
                       The Secret Doctrines of the Assassins

(1) Schools of Thought

"The real problem of the Isma'ilis in general, and the Nizari Isma'ilis or Assassins in
particular, is that they were always considered heretical and persecuted by official Islam,
except for the period in which Isma'ilism was the official religion under the Fatimid caliphs of
Egypt. The consequence of this is that no comprehensive formula of the Assassins' creed
was ever generally recognized. Their doctrines were maintained in secrecy by the Assassins
themselves, while their enemies were content to dismiss them as heretical without studying
or reporting them."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

Hasan-i Sabbah "prevented ordinary persons from delving into knowledge; and likewise the
elite from investigating former books, except those who knew the circumstances of each
book and the rank of the authors in every field. With his partisans, in theology he did not go
beyond saying, our god is the god of Mohammed."

       - Shaharastani

"Islam is not a messianic religion and has no room for a saviour-messiah. Nevertheless,
there gradually developed--probably under Christian influence--the notion of an
eschatological restorer of the faith, identified as a descendant of the Prophet or as the
returning 'Isa (i.e., Jesus). He is usually referred to as the mahdi; i.e., the '[divinely] guided
one'. After the appearance of 'Isa, the last judgment will begin: the good will enter paradise;
the evil will fall into hell. Heaven and hell possess various goals and steps of recompense for
good and evil. The time before the end is viewed pessimistically: God himself will abandon
the godless world. Ka'bah (the great pilgrimage sanctuary of the Muslim world) will vanish,
the copies of the Qur'an will become empty paper, and its words will disappear from
memory. Then the end will draw near."

       - Encyclopaedia Britannica

"In the Koran Jesus is mentioned no less than thirty-five times, under a number of
impressive appellations - including 'Messenger of God' and 'Messiah'. At no point, however,
is he regarded as anything other than a mortal prophet, a forerunner of Mohammed and a
spokesman for the single supreme God. And like Basilides and Mani, the Koran maintains
that Jesus did not die on the cross, 'they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they
thought that did.' The Koran itself does not elaborate on this ambiguous statement, but
Islamic commentators do. According to most of them, there was a substitute - generally,
though not always, supposed to have been Simon of Cyrene. Certain Muslim writers speak
of Jesus hiding in a niche of a wall and watching the Crucifixion of a surrogate as is
described in the Nag Hammadi Scrolls."

       - Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail

The doctrine of rebirth, or more correctly transmigration was "widely accepted in Persia, and
evolved in the particular Moslem form of belief in the Mahdi, the 'one guided by God to the
truth'. The Isma'ili version of these ideas consisted of two schools of thought: first, a belief in
Ismail himself as immortal, and consequently that he is the Mahdi; second, some believed
that Mohammed, son of Ismail, was the Mahdi who would not die until he had conquered the
"The Druzes accept reincarnation as one of the chief distinguishing principles of their
religion: their founder and apostle Hakim is held to have possessed the soul of the twelfth
imam, and it is from this fact that his authority derives. Druzes, about whom we have more
information than the Assassins and whose doctrines are usually almost identical, believe that
all human souls were created together and that their number is fixed... Souls progress
though a series of transmigrations to a higher degree of excellence."

        - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

(2) Haqa'iq - The Esoteric Truths

"The religious revolution of man was considered to have taken place in seven years under
seven Messenger Prophets, the first six of whom were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses,
Jesus and Mohammed. Each of these messengers revealed a religious law in esoteric form,
which was readily interpreted even by the uninitiated: this is the zahir or external aspect. But
each of these messages also contained an inner, esoteric truth which required interpretation
by the small number of initiates capable of receiving them: this the batin, or esoteric truth."

"The esoteric truths themselves, haqa'iq, were explained by a successor of each of the
Messenger Prophets known as the wasi (Legates) or by the sami (Silent One) whose task
was to explain the batin of the Scriptures and Law. Each Legate was in turn followed by a
series of seven imams, the seventh of whom became the next messenger Prophet in the
series. The last era would be marked by the Mahdi, who would make the inner doctrine
public and inaugurate an era of pure spiritual knowledge."

"Isma'ili theology was thus revelationary in character. The haqa'iq transcended human
reason and ultimately derived from gnostic doctrines, considering the principles of spiritual
and physical worlds in Neoplatonic terms. The Gnostics held that the physical world had
been created by an inferior deity, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, who was allowed a
certain lassitude until God decided to send His son to inhabit the body of Jesus and free the
world from false teachings. Certain Gnostic notions passed into Islam when Mohammed
adopted the gnostic idea that the body which was crucified was only a phantom which the
Jews and Romans could not harm."

        - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

"The heart of the Isma'ili haqa'iq, which consists in their denial of rationalism and forms the
basis of their 'heresy', lies in the denial that God is the first cause. For them, the first cause is
the Order or Word of God, which became united with the Universal Intellect. Hence the idea
of the Order is at the heart of their esoteric doctrines, and achieves their synthesis of
Neoplatonic philosophy and Islam."

"The power of Hasan-i Sabbah himself, and the fanatical devotion of the fida'i, ultimately
derived from this categorical insistence on the transcendental nature of God. Such an
absolute God, and absolute imam, demands absolute faith and obedience."

Group A: descended from Ali and Nizar
1 Imam

Group B: fully initiated
2 Da'i 'd-Du'at (Chief Da'i)
3 Du'i 'l-Kabir (Superior Da'i)
4 Du'i (ordinary Da'i)
Group C: partly initiated
5 Rafiq (comrade)

Group D: uninitiated
6 Lasiq (adherent)
7 Fida'i (self-sacrificer, the destroying angels)

"Although the details of the stages of initiation... derive from a historian writing around 1332
about the Druzes... the major difference is that the degrees have... been increased from
seven to nine, perhaps to agree with the nine celestial spheres."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

(3) The Nine Degrees

"Members were enrolled, on the understanding that they were to receive hidden power and
timeless wisdom which would enable them to become as important in life as some of the

"Students had to pass through nine degrees of initiation."

First Degree

"In the first, the teachers threw their pupils into a state of doubt about all conventional ideas,
religious and political. They used false analogy and every other device of argument to make
the aspirant believe that what he had been taught by his previous mentors was prejudiced
and capable of being challenged. The effect of this, according to the Arab historian, Makrizi,
was to cause him to lean upon the personality of the teachers, as the only possible source of
the proper interpretation of facts. At the same time, the teachers hinted continually that
formal knowledge was merely the cloak for hidden, inner and powerful truth, whose secret
would be imparted when the youth was ready to receive it. This 'confusion technique' was
carried out until the student reached the stage where he was prepared to swear a vow of
blind allegiance to one or other of his teachers."

Second Degree

"The neophyte is taught to believe that God's approval cannot be won by observing the
prescriptions of Islam, unless the inner Doctrine, of which they are mere symbols, be
received from the Imam to whom its guardianship has been entrusted."

Third Degree

"The neophyte is instructed as to the nature and number of the Imams, and is taught to
recognize the significance in the spiritual and material worlds of the number Seven which
they also represent. He is thus definitely detached from the Imamiyya of the Sect of the
Twelve, and is taught to regard the last six of their imams as persons devoid of spiritual
knowledge and unworthy of reverence."

Fourth Degree

"The neophyte is now taught the doctrine of the Seven Prophetic Periods, of the nature of
the Natiq, the Sus or Asas and the remaining six Samits ('Silent' imams) who succeed the
latter, and of the abrogation by each Natiq of the religion of his predecessor. This teaching
involves the admission (which definitely places the proselyte outside the pale of Islam) that
Mohammed was not the last of the Prophets, and that the Qur'an is not God's final revelation
to man. With Mohammed b. Isma'ili, the Seventh and Last Natiq, the Qu'im ('He who
ariseth'), the Sahibu 'i-Amr ('Master of the Matter'), an end is put to the 'Sciences of the
Ancients' (Ulumu 'l-awwalin), and the Esoteric (Batini) Doctrine, the Science of Allegorical
Interpretation (Ta'wil), is inaugurated."

Fifth Degree

"Here the proselyte is further instructed in the Science of Numbers and in the application of
the ta'wil, so that he discards many of the traditions, learns to speak contemptuously of the
state of Religion, pays less and less heed to the letter of Scripture, and looks forward to the
abolition of all outward observances of Islam. He is also taught the significance of the
number Twelve, and the recognition of the twelve Hujjas or 'Proofs', who primarily conduct
the propaganda of each Imam. These are typified in man's body by the twelve dorsal
vertebrae, while the seven cervical vertebrae represent the Seven Prophets and the Seven
Imams of each."

Sixth Degree

"Here the proselyte is taught the allegorical meaning of the rites and obligations of Islam,
such as prayer, alms, pilgrimage, fasting, and the like, and is then persuaded that their
outward observance is a matter of no importance, and may be abandoned, since they were
only instituted by wise and philosophical lawgivers as a check to restrain the vulgar and
unenlightened herd."

Seventh Degree

"To this and the following degrees only the leading da'is, who fully comprehend the real
nature and aim of their doctrine, were initiated. At this point is introduced the dualistic
doctrine of the Pre-existent and the Subsequent, which is destined ultimately to undermine
the proselyte's belief in the Doctrine of the Divine Unity."

Eight Degree

"Here the doctrine last mentioned is developed and applied, and the proselyte is taught that
above the Pre-existent and the Subsequent is a Being who has neither name, nor attribute,
of whom nothing can be predicted, and to whom no worship can be rendered. This
Nameless Being seems to represent the Zerwan Akanana ('Boundless Time') of the
Zoroastrian system, but...some confusion exists here, and different teachings were current
amongst the Isma'ilis, which, however, agreed in this, that, to quote Nuwayri's expression,
'those who adopted them could no longer be reckoned otherwise than amongst the Dualists
and Materialists'. The proselyte is also taught that a Prophet is known as such not by
miracles, but by his ability to construct and impose in a kind of system at once political,
social, religious, and philosophical...He is further taught to understand allegorically the end
of the world, the Resurrection, Future Rewards and Punishments, and other eschatological

       - Arkon Daraul, Secret Societies

Ninth Degree
"In this, the last degree of initiation, every vestige of dogmatic religion has been practically
cast aside, and the initiate is become a philosopher pure and simple, free to adopt such
system or admixture as may be most to his taste."

       - Edward Granville Brown, in St Bart's Hospital Journal(March 1897)

"The seventh degree brought revelation of the Great secret: that all humanity and all creation
were one and every single thing was a part of the whole, which included the creative and
destructive power. But, as an Isma'ili, the individual could make use of the power which was
ready to be awakened within him, and overcome those who knew nothing of the immense
potential of the rest of humanity. This power came through the aid of the mysterious power
called the Lord of the Time."

"To qualify for the eighth degree, the aspirant had to believe that all religion, philosophy and
the like were fraudulent. All that mattered was the individual, who could attain fulfillment only
through servitude to the greatest developed power - the Imam. The ninth and last degree
brought the revelation of the secret that there was no such thing as belief: all that mattered
was action. And the only possessor of the reasons for carrying out any action was the chief
of the sect."

       - Arkon Daraul, Secret Societies

The basis of these steps of graded knowledge was derived from the "Brethren of Sincerity".

(4) The Occult Tradition

"Khadhulu is the Arabic word meaning 'abandoner' or 'forsaker'... Khadhulu is a type of
spiritual force that powers the practices of Tafrid and Tajrid. These are exercises that are
used to transcend (abandon) normal cultural programming. The idea is that by transcending
(abandoning) Dogma and fixed beliefs a person can see reality as it is. Khadhulu is
stimulated by the Nafs (breath or soul). The stimulated 'abandoner' then causes the Hal or
spiritual state. Khadhulu appears in the Quran (25:29)... The verse translates as 'Mankind,
Shaitan is al khadhulu'. They have explained two orthodox interpretations of this verse to me
the first is that Shaitan will abandon man. The other is that Shaitan causes men to forsake
Islam and its culture. You'll note that this second interpretation is fairly consistent with the
spiritual meaning the ancient Muqarribun give Khadhulu . (Obviously an orthodox Muslim
would think Muqarribun practices Sinful.) This verse in the Quran is important because it
links the 'abandoner' Khadhulu with Shaitan the Old Dragon, Lord of the Abyss."

       - Parker Ryan, The Necronomicon and Ancient Arab Magick

"At least part of the veneration of Sinan was based on his well-attested powers of telepathy
and clairvoyance, such as the cases reported by Abu Firas of him answering questions
thought outside his window. Hasan-i Sabbah himself was renowned in his own day as an
alchemist. That the Assassins engaged in what would now be described as occult practices
seems therefore to be beyond doubt. The 'sciences' of alchemy and astrology were then part
of philosophical studies."

       - Edward Burman, The Assassins - Holy Killers of Islam

"From the Isma'ilis the Crusaders borrowed the conception which led to the formation of all
the secret societies, religious and secular, of Europe. The institutions of Templars and
Hospitallers; the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola, composed by a body of men
whose devotion to their cause can hardly be surpassed in our time; the ferocious
Dominicans. the milder Franciscans - may all be traced either to Cairo or to Alamut. The
Knights Templar especially, with their system of grand masters, grand priors and religious
devotees, and their degrees of initiation, bear the strongest analogy to the Eastern Isma'ilis."

       - S. Ameer Ali

                                  Secrets of the Assassins

                                  by Peter Lamborn Wilson

"Fascinating material on the Ismaili sect and on Hassan i Sabbah... the only spiritual leader
who      has     anything      significant    to    say     in    the      Space        Age."

- William S. Burroughs, in a review of Peter Lamborn-Wilson's Scandal: Essays in Islamic

After the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the new Islamic community was ruled in
succession by four of his close Companions, chosen by the people and called the
Rightfully-guided Caliphs. The last of these was Ali ibn Abu Talib; the Prophet's son-

Ali had his own ardent followers among the faithful, who came to be called Shi'a or
"adherents". They believed that Ali should have succeeded Mohammad by right, and that
after him his sons (the Prophet's grandsons) Hasan and Husayn should have ruled; and
after them, their sons, and so on in quasi-monarchial succession.
In fact except for Ali none of them ever ruled all Islamdom. Instead they became a line of
pretenders, and in effect heads of a branch of Islam called Shiism. In opposition to the
orthodox (Sunni) Caliphs in Baghdad these descendants of the Prophet came to be known
as the Imams.

To the Shiites an Imam is far more, far higher in rank than a Caliph. Ali ruled by right
because of his spiritual greatness, which the Prophet recognized by appointing him his
successor (in fact Ali is also revered by the sufis as "founder" and prototype of the Moslem
saint). Shiites differ from orthodox or Sunni Moslems in believing that this spiritual pre-
eminence was transferred to Ali's descendants through Fatima, the Prophet's daughter.

The sixth Shiite Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq, had two sons. The elder, Ismail, was chosen as
successor. But he died before his father. Jafar then declared his own younger son Musa the
new successor instead.

But Ismail had already given birth to a son - Mohammad ibn Ismail - and proclaimed him the
next Imam. Ismail's followers split with Jafar over this question and followed Ismail's son
instead of Musa. Thus they came to be known as Ismailis.

Musa's descendants ruled "orthodox" Shiism. A few generations later, the Twelfth Imam of
this line vanished without trace from the material world. He still lives on the spiritual plane,
whence he will return at the end of this cycle of time. He is the "Hidden Imam", the Mahdi
foretold by the Prophet. "Twelver" Shiism is the religion of Iran today.

The Ismaili Imams languished in concealment, heads of an underground movement which
attracted the extreme mystics and revolutionaries of Shiism. Eventually they emerged as a
powerful force at the head of an army, conquered Egypt and established the Fatimid
dynasty, the so-called anti-Caliphate of Cairo.

The early Fatimids ruled in an enlightened manner, and Cairo became the most cultured and
open city of Islam. They never succeeded in converting the rest of the Islamic world
however; in fact, even most Egyptians failed to embrace Ismailism. The highly evolved
mysticism of the sect was at once its special attraction and its major limitation.

In 1074 a brilliant young Persian convert arrived in Cairo to be inducted into the higher
initiatic (and political) ranks of Ismailism. But Hasan-i Sabbah soon found himself embroiled
in a struggle for power. The Caliph Mustansir had appointed his eldest son Nizar as
successor. But a younger son, al-Mustali, was intriguing to supplant him. When Mustansir
died, Nizar - the rightful heir - was imprisoned and murdered.

Hasan-i Sabbah had intrigued for Nizar, and now was forced to flee Egypt. He eventually
turned up in Persia again, head of a revolutionary Nizari movement. By some clever ruse he
acquired command of the impregnable mountain fortress of Alamut ("Eagle's Nest") near
Qazvin in Northwest Iran.
Hasan-i Sabbah's daring vision, ruthless and romantic, has become a legend in the Islamic
world. With his followers he set out to recreate in miniature the glories of Cairo in this barren
multichrome forsaken rock landscape.

In order to protect Alamut and its tiny but intense civilization Hasan-i Sabbah relied on
assassination. Any ruler or politician or religious leader who threatened the Nizaris went in
danger of a fanatic's dagger. In fact Hasan's first major publicity coup was the murder of the
Prime Minister of Persia, perhaps the most powerful man of the era (and according to
legend, a childhood friend of Sabbah's).

Once their fearful reputation was secure, the mere threat of being on the eso-terrorist hit-list
was enough to deter most people from acting against the hated heretics. One theologian
was first threatened with a knife (left by his pillow as he slept), then bribed with gold. When
his disciples asked him why he had ceased to fulminate against Alamut from his pulpit he
answered that Ismaili arguments were "both pointed and weighty".

Since the great library of Alamut was eventually burned, little is known of Hasan-i Sabbah's
actual teachings. Apparently he formed an initiatic hierarchy of seven circles based on that in
Cairo, with assassins at the bottom and learned mystics at the top.

Ismaili mysticism is based on the concept of ta'wil, or "spiritual hermeneutics". Ta'wil actually
means "to take something back to its source or deepest significance". The Shiites had
always practised this exegesis on the Koran itself, reading certain verses as veiled or
symbolic allusions to Ali and the Imams. The Ismailis extended ta'wil much more radically.
The whole structure of Islam appeared to them as a shell; to get at its kernel of meaning the
shell must be penetrated by ta'wil, and in fact broken open completely.

The structure of Islam, even more than most religions, is based on a dichotomy between
exoteric and esoteric. On the one hand there is Divine Law (shariah), on the other hand the
Spiritual Path (tariqah). Usually the Path is seen as the esoteric kernel and the Law as the
exoteric shell. But to Ismailism the two together present a totality which in its turn becomes a
symbol to be penetrated by ta'wil. Behind Law and Path is ultimate Reality (haqiqah), God
Himself in theological terms - Absolute Being in metaphysical terms.

This Reality is not something outside human scope; in fact if it exists at all then it must
manifest itself completely on the level of consciousness. Thus it must appear as a man, the
Perfect Man - the Imam. Knowledge of the Imam is direct perception of Reality itself. For
Shiites the Family of Ali is the same as perfected consciousness.

Once the Imam is realized, the levels of Law and Path fall away naturally like split husks.
Knowledge of inner meaning frees one from adherence to outer form: the ultimate victory of
the esoteric over the exoteric.
The "abrogation of the Law" however was considered open heresy in Islam. For their own
protection Shiites had always been allowed to practise taqqiya, "permissable dissimulation"
or Concealment, and pretend to be orthodox to escape death or punishment. Ismailis could
pretend to be Shiite or Sunni, whichever was most advantageous.

For the Nizaris, to practise Concealment was to practise the Law; in other words, pretending
to be orthodox meant obeying the Islamic Law. Hasan-i Sabbah imposed Concealment on all
but the highest ranks at Alamut, because in the absence of the Imam the veil of illusion must
naturally conceal the esoteric truth of perfect freedom.

In fact, who was the Imam? As far as history was concerned, Nizar and his son died
imprisoned and intestate. Hasan-i Sabbah was therefore a legitimist supp-orting a non-
existent pret-ender! He never claimed to be the Imam himself, nor did his successor as "old
Man of the Mountain," nor did his successor. And yet they all preached "in the name of
Nizar". Presumably the answer to this mystery was revealed in the seventh circle of

Now the third Old Man of the Mountain had a son named Hasan, a youth who was learned,
generous, eloquent and loveable. Moreover he was a mystic, an enthusiast for the deepest
teachings of Ismailism and sufism. Even during his father's lifetime some Alamutis began to
whisper that young Hasan was the true Imam; the father heard of these rumors and denied
them. I am not the Imam, he said, so how could my son be the Imam?

In 1162 the father died and Hasan (call him Hasan II to distinguish him from Hasan-i
Sabbah) became ruler of Alamut. Two years later, on the seventeenth of Ramazan (August
8) in 1164, he proclaimed the Qiyamat, or Great Resurrection. In the middle of the month of
Fasting, Alamut broke its fast forever and proclaimed perpetual holiday.

The resurrection of the dead in their bodies at the "end of time" is one of the most difficult
doctrines of Islam (and Christianity as well). Taken literally it is absurd. Taken symbolically
however it encapsulates the experience of the mystic. He "dies before death" when he
comes to realize the separative and alienated aspects of the self, the ego-as-programmed-
illusion. He is "reborn" in consciousness but he is reborn in the body, as an individual, the

When Hasan II proclaimed the Great Resurrection which marks the end of Time, he lifted the
veil of concealment and abrogated the religious Law. He offered communal as well as
individual participation in the mystic's great adventure, perfect freedom.

He acted on behalf of the Imam, and did not claim to be the Imam himself. (In fact he took
the title of Caliph or "representative".) But if the family of Ali is the same as perfect
consciousness, then perfect consciousness is the same as the family of Ali. The realized
mystic "becomes" a descendant of Ali (like the Persian Salman whom Ali adopted by
covering him with his cloak, and who is much revered by sufis, Shiites and Ismailis alike).
In Reality, in haqiqah, Hasan II was the Imam because in the Ismaili phrase, he had realised
the "Imam-of-his-own-being." The Qiyamat was thus an invitation to each of his followers to
do the same, or at least to participate in the pleasures of paradise on earth.

The legend of the paradisal garden at Alamut where the houris, cupbearers, wine and
hashish of paradise were enjoyed by the Assassins in the flesh, may stem from a folk
memory of the Qiyamat. Or it may even be literally true. For the realized consciousness this
world is no other than paradise, and its bliss and pleasures are all permitted. The Koran
describes paradise as a garden. How logical then for wealthy Alamut to become outwardly
the reflection of the spiritual state of the Qiyamat.

In 1166 Hasan II was murdered after only four years of rule. His enemies were perhaps in
league with conservative elements at Alamut who resented the Qiyamat, the dissolving of
the old secret hierarchy (and thus their own power as hierarchs) and who feared to live thus
openly as heretics. Hasan II's son however succeeded him and established the Qiyamat
firmly as Nizari doctrine.

If the Qiyamat were accepted in its full implications however it would probably have brought
about the dissolution and end of Nizari Ismailism as a separate sect. Hasan II as Qa'im or
"Lord of the Resurrection" had released the Alamutis from all struggle and all sense of
legitimist urgency. Pure esotericism, after all, cannot be bound by any form.

Hasan II's son, therefore, compromised. Apparently he decided to "reveal" that his father
was in fact and in blood a direct descendant of Nizar. The story runs that after Hasan-i
Sabbah had established Alamut, a mysterious emissary delivered to him the infant grandson
of Imam Nizar. The child was raised secretly at Alamut. He grew up, had a son, died. The
son had a son. This baby was born on the same day as the son of the Old Man of the
Mountain, the outward ruler. The infants were surreptitiously exchanged in their cradles. Not
even the Old Man knew of the ruse. Another version has the hidden Imam committing
adultery with the Old Man's wife, and producing as love-child the infant Hasan II.

The Ismailis accepted these claims. Even after the fall of Alamut to the Mongol hordes the
line survived and the present leader of the sect, the Aga Khan, is known as the forty-ninth in
descent from Ali (and pretender to the throne of Egypt!). The emphasis on Alid legitimacy
has preserved the sect as a sect. Whether it is literally true or not, however, matters little to
an understanding of the Qiyamat.

With the proclamation of the Resurrection, the teachings of Ismailism were forever expanded
beyond the borders imposed on them by any historical event. The Qiyamat remains as a
state of consciousness which anyone can adhere to or enter, a garden without walls, a sect
without a church, a lost moment of Islamic history that refuses to be forgotten, standing
outside time, a reproach or challenge to all legalism and moralism, to all the cruelty of the
exoteric. An invitation to paradise.
Reprinted with from Peter Lamborn Wilson's Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy, published
by Autonomedia, PO Box 568, Williamsburg Station, Brooklyn, NY, USA.

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