Kahak, in Iran, was an epicentre of Imamat activities

Kahak served as the residence and headquarters of Nizari Imams in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Kahak served as the residence and headquarters of Nizari Imams in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

After the fall of the Fatimid Empire in 1171, the seat of the Nizari Imamat moved to Persia (modern day Iran) where Ismailis had succeeded in establishing a state in 1090 with its headquarters at Alamut. After the fall of Alamut to the Mongols in 1256, many Ismailis found refuge in Afghanistan, the Oxus basin in Central Asia, China, and the Indian subcontinent where Ismaili settlements had existed since the ninth century. The Nizari Imams went into hiding to avoid persecution and lost direct contact with the community. The scattered Nizari communities now developed independently under their local leaders designated as pirs, mirs and shaykhs.

But by the middle of the 15th century, the Nizari Imams had emerged in Anjudan in central Persia, initiating what has been called the Anjudan revival in Nizari daʿwa and literary activities. During the Anjudan period, which lasted about two centuries, the Imams reasserted their central authority over the various Nizari communities. By the end of this period, the Nizari imams had established deep roots in central Persia especially in Anjudan and Kahak, a village located about 35 km northeast of Anjudan and northwest of Mahallat in central Iran.

Imam Khalil-Allah II, the 39th Nizari Ismaili Imam, was the last Imam to reside in Anjudan; he died in 1680 and was buried there. His son and successor, Shah Nizar, for unknown reasons, transferred his residence and the headquarters of the Nizari da‘wa to Kahak during the earliest decades of his Imamat. Anjudan, separated from Kahak by a number of shallow ranges, was then abandoned permanently by the Nizari Imams. Shah Nizar died in September 1722; he was buried in one of the chambers of the building that served as his residence and is still preserved in Kahak. Shah Nizar’s son and successor, Sayyid ‘Ali (d. 1754), also lived and was buried in Kahak; his grave is located in Shah Nizar’s mausoleum.

In the compound and its adjacent garden there are several tombstones with inscriptions attesting to the pilgrimage of the Nizari Khojas who regularly embarked on the long and dangerous journey from the Indian subcontinent to see the  Imam in Kahak. By the middle of the 18th century, the Imams had transferred their residences and headquarters to the towns of Shahr-e Babak and Kerman, probably to be nearer to the route of the members of the community travelling from the Indian subcontinent to see the Imam, but they continued to maintain their roots in Kahak at least until the early decades of the 19th century. Shah Khalil-Allah III, who succeeded to the Nizari Imamat in 1792, re-established himself in Kahak soon after his accession and resided there until 1815 when he moved to Yazd, where he died. Shah Khalil-Allah III’s son and future successor as the 46th Nizari Imam, Hasan-‘Ali Shah Aga Khan I, was born in 1804 in Kahak.

Farhad Daftary, Kahak, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Research by Nimira Dewji

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