This month in history: Hasan-i Sabbah arrived in Fatimid Cairo to pursue further education

Hasan-i Sabbah, founder of the Nizari Ismaili state of Alamut, arrived in Fatimid Cairo in August 10781 where he stayed for three years to train as da’i.

Hasan-i Sabbah was born at Qumm in Persia (modern-day Iran) into a Twelver Shi’i (Ithna Ashari) family in the mid-1050s. Early in his life, his family moved to the nearby city of Rayy, a major centre of Shi’i learning including Ismaili activities. At the age of about seventeen, Hasan was introduced to Ismaili doctrines by Amira Darrab, one of the teachers in the region.

After further studying the doctrines, Hasan embraced Ismailism, giving his oath of allegiance to Imam al-Mustansir bi’llah I (r.1036-1094). Shortly thereafter, Hasan was brought to the attention of Abd al-Malik b’Attash, the chief da’i of Persia. He encouraged Hasan to go to Cairo, the centre of the Fatimid Caliphate, in order to further his education in Ismaili doctrines, as Nasir-i Khusraw had done some three decades earlier. Upon returning home three years later, Hasan travelled extensively in the service of the da’wa (the cause of the Imamat).

Recognising the declining power of the Fatimid Caliphate, Hasan acquired the castle of Alamut in northern Persia in 1090, marking the foundation of what would become the independent Nizari Ismaili state.

The back of the fortress of Alamut which provided the only entrance to the castle. Hasan Sabbah constructed huge underground storage chambers to keep the garrison in food water during times of siege. The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Over the next 150 years, the Ismailis acquired more than 200 fortresses in Iran and Syria with settlements in surrounding towns and villages, thus establishing their own autonomous states in these regions. The fortresses were acquired or built in remote, mountainous regions for refuge by the Ismailis of Iran and Syria fleeing from persecution during the early middle ages. Their settlements were also a generous sanctuary for all refugees, irrespective of their creed, fleeing the Mongol invasions.

Nizari Ismaili castles of Persia and Syria. The Institute of Ismaili Studies

A learned theologian and writer, Hasan established an impressive library at Alamut soon after he set up his headquarters there. Later, other major Nizari fortresses in Persia and Syria were equipped with significant collections of books, documents, and scientific instruments.

1Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Zulfikar Hirji, Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: An Illustrated History 
Dr. Farhad Daftary, Dr. Omar Ali-de-Unzaga, Hasan Sabbah, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed August 2017)

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

One thought

  1. Thanks ever so much Nimira for your very well articulated article. Your research is indeed quite thorough and deep. Keep up the excellent work. BRAVO.
    Kamrudin A. Rashid


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