|Leader of Nizārī Ismā'īlī state
|Title||Lord of Alamut|
|Died||12 June 1124(aged 74) (26 Rabi'o-Saani 518)|
|Main interest(s)||Islamic theology, Islamic jurisprudence, Islamic law|
|Notable idea(s)||Evolution, Oneness of God|
Hassan-i Sabbāh (Persian: حسن صباح; 1050s–1124) was a Nizārī missionary who converted a community in the late 11th century in the heart of the Alborz Mountains of northern Persia. The place was called Alamut and was attributed to an ancient king of Daylam. He founded a group whose members are sometimes referred to as the Hashshashin, or "Assassins".
Hassan is thought to have written an autobiography, which did not survive but seems to underlie the first part of an anonymous Isma'ili biography entitled Sargudhasht-i Sayyidnā (Persian: سرگذشت سیدنا). The latter is known only from quotations made by later Persian authors. Hassan also wrote a treatise, in Persian, on the doctrine of ta'līm, called, al-Fusul al-arba'a The text is no longer extant, but fragments are cited or paraphrased by al-Shahrastānī and several Persian historians. He is the original Grand Master creating many of its main principles and foundations.
Early life and conversion
Qom and Rayy
The possibly autobiographical information found in Sargudhasht-i Sayyidnā is the main source for Hassan's background and early life. According to this, Hassan-i Sabbāh was born in the city of Qom (modern Iran) in Persia in the 1050s to a family of Twelver Shī‘ah. Born and raised a Persian, his father was a Kufan Arab who claimed Yemenite origins, who left the Sawād of Kufa (modern Iraq) to settle in the (predominantly Shi'a) town of Qom.
Early in his life, his family moved to Rayy. Rayy (Modern Tehran) was a city that had seen a lot of radical thought since the 9th century and it had seen Hamdan Qarmaṭ as one of its voices. It had also seen a lot of missionary work by various sects, each as impassioned as the next.
It was in this centre of religious matrices that Hassan developed a keen interest in metaphysical matters and adhered to the Twelver code of instruction. From 7 to 17, he studied at home, and mastered perfectly palmistry, languages, philosophy, astronomy and mathematics (especially geometry).
Rayy was also home to the activities of Ismā‘īlī missionaries in the Jibal. At the time, Isma'ilism was a growing movement in Persia and other lands east of Egypt. The Persian Isma'ilis supported the da'wa ("mission") directed by the Fatimid caliphate of Cairo and recognised the authority of the Imam-Caliph al-Mustanṣir (d. 1094), though since some time, Isfahan rather than Cairo may have functioned as their principal headquarters. The Ismā'īlī mission worked on three layers: the lowest was the foot soldier or fidā'ī, followed by the rafīk or "comrade", and finally the Dā‘ī or "missionary". It has been suggested that its popularity in Persia owed something to dissatisfaction with their Seljuk rulers, who had recently removed local rulers.
In Rayy, young Hassan came in touch with Amira Darrab, a comrade, who introduced him to Ismā'īlī doctrine. Hassan was initially unimpressed. As he met Darrab, participating in many passionate debates that discussed the merits of Ismā‘īl over Mūsā, Hassan's respect grew. Impressed with the conviction of Darrab, Hassan decided to delve deeper into Ismā'īlī doctrines and beliefs. Hassan began to see merit in switching to Ismā‘īlī.
Conversion to Ismailism and training in Cairo
At the age of 17, Hassan converted and swore allegiance to the Fatimid Caliph in Cairo. Hassan's studies did not end with his crossing over. He further studied under two other dā‘iyyayn, and as he proceeded on his path, he was looked upon with eyes of respect.
Hassan's austere and devoted commitment to the da'wa brought him in audience with the chief missionary of the region: ‘Abdu l-Malik ibn Attash. Ibn Attash, suitably impressed with the young seventeen-year-old Hassan, made him Deputy Missionary and advised him to go to Cairo to further his studies.
However, Hassan did not go to Cairo. Some historians have postulated that Hassan, following his conversion, was playing host to some members of the Fatimid caliphate, and this was leaked to the anti-Fatimid and anti-Shī‘a Nizam al-Mulk. This prompted his abandoning Rayy and heading to Cairo in 1076.
Hassan took about 2 years to reach Cairo. Along the way he toured many other regions that did not fall in the general direction of Egypt. Isfahan was the first city that he visited. He was hosted by one of the Missionaries of his youth, a man who had taught the youthful Hassan in Rayy. His name was Resi Abufasl and he further instructed Hassan.
From here he went to Caucasian Albania (current Azerbaijan), hundreds of miles to the north, and from there through Armenia. Here he attracted the ire of priests following a heated discussion, and Hassan was thrown out of the town he was in.
He then turned south and traveled through Iraq, reached Damascus in Syria. He left for Egypt from Palestine. Records exist, some in the fragmentary remains of his autobiography, and from another biography written by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in 1310, to date his arrival in Egypt at 30 August 1078.
It is unclear how long Hassan stayed in Egypt: about 3 years is the usually accepted amount of time. He continued his studies here, and became a full missionary.
Return to Persia
Whilst he was in Cairo, studying and preaching, he upset the highly excitable Chief of the Army, Badr al-Jamalī. It is also said by later sources[who?] that the Ismaili Imam-Caliph al-Mustanṣir informed Hassan that his elder son Nizar would be the next Imam. Hassan was briefly imprisoned by Badr al-Jamali. The collapse of a minaret of the jail was taken to be an omen in the favor of Hassan and he was promptly released and deported. The ship that he was traveling on was wrecked. He was rescued and taken to Syria. Traveling via Aleppo and Baghdad, he terminated his journey at Isfahan in 1081.
Hassan's life now was totally devoted to the mission. Hassan toured extensively throughout Iran. To the north of Iran, and touching the south shore of the Caspian Sea, are the mountains of Alborz. These mountains were home to a people who had traditionally resisted all attempts at subjugation; this place was also of Shī‘a leaning. Of those people he met a strong willed man named Datyous who made the leap of faith into Christianity. Born in what is now Shiraz, Datyous became a key factor in Hassans mission. Within the mountains, in the region of Daylam, Hassan chose to pursue his missionary activities, after many experiences with Datyous of the Mahmoudian Clan. With Hassan's teachings Datyous became one of the Chief Missionary's of that area and sent his personally trained missionaries into the rest of the region.
The news of this Ismā'īlī's activities reached Nizam al-Mulk, who dispatched his soldiers with the orders for Hassan's capture. Hassan evaded them, and went deeper into the mountains.
Capture of Alamut
His search for a base from which to guide his mission ended when in 1088 he found the castle of Alamut in the Rudbar area (modern 'Qazvin, Iran'). It was a fort that stood guard over a valley that was about fifty kilometers long and five kilometers wide. This fortress had been built about the year 865; legend has it that it was built by a king who saw his eagle fly up to and perch upon a rock, a propitious omen, the importance of which this king, Wah Sudan ibn Marzuban, understood. Likening the perching of the eagle to a lesson given by it, he called the fort Aluh Amut: the "Eagles' Teaching".
Hassan’s takeover of the fort was one of silent surrender in the face of defeated odds. To effect this takeover Hassan employed an ingenious strategy, one which took the better part of two years to effect. First Hassan sent his Daʻiyyīn and Rafīks to win over the villages in the valley, and their inhabitants. Next, key people amongst this populace were converted, and finally, in 1090, Hassan took over the fort. It is said that Hassan offered 3000 gold dinars to the fort's owner for the amount of land that would fit a buffalo’s hide. The terms having been agreed upon, Hassan cut the hide into strips and linked them into a large ring around the perimeter of the fort, whose owner was thus undone by his own greed. (This story bears a striking resemblance to Virgil's account of Dido's founding of Carthage). Hassan gave the owner a draft drawn on the name of a wealthy landlord and told him to obtain the promised money from this man; legend has it further that when the landlord saw the draft with Hassan’s signature, he immediately paid the amount to the fort's owner, astonishing him.
With Alamut under his control, it is said[by whom?] that Hassan thereafter devoted himself so faithfully to study, that in all the years he was there – almost 35 - he never left his quarters, excepting only two times when he went up to the roof. He was studying, translating, praying, fasting, and directing the activities of the Daʻwa: the propagation of the Nizarī doctrine was headquartered at Alamut. He knew the Qur'ān by heart, could quote extensively from the texts of most Muslim sects, and apart from philosophy, he was well versed in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, medicine, architecture, and the major scientific disciplines of his time. Hassan was one who found solace in austerity and frugality.
From this point on his community and its branches spread throughout Iran and Syria and came to be called Hashshashin or Assassins, also known as the Fedayin (Meaning 'The Martyrs', or 'Men Who Accept Death').
- Persian: خداوند الموت Khudāwand-i Alamūt
- Daftary,Farhad, The Isma'ilis, p. 311.
- Farhad Daftary, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography of Sources and Studies, (I.B.Tauris, 2004), 115.
- Ḥasan-i-Ṣabbāh and the Assassins, Laurence Lockhart, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 5, No. 4 (1930), pp. 675-696.
- The Old Man of the Mountain, Charles E. Nowell, Speculum, Vol. 22, No. 4, Medieval Academy of America, (Oct., 1947), pp. 497-519.
- Lewis, Bernard (November 2002). "3. The New Preaching". The Assassins. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00498-0. "Hasan-i Sabbah was born in the city of Qumm, a stronghold of Twelver Shi'ism. His father, a Twelver Shi'ite, had come from Kufa in Iraq, and was said to be of Yemeni origin."
- Daftary, Farhad (September 2007). "Nizari Isma'ili history during the Alamut period". The Ismā'īlīs: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge University Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-521-61636-2. "His father, 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Ja'far b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad b. al-Sabbah al-Himyari, a Kufan Arab claiming Yamani origins, had migrated from the Sawad of Kufa to the traditionally Shi'i town of Qumm in Persia."
- Farhad Daftary, The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines, (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 311;"Hasan was born in the mid-1050s in Qumm into a Twelver Shi'i family. His father, 'Ali b. Muhammad b Ja'far b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad b al-Sabbah al-Himyari, a Kufan Arab claiming Yamani origins..."
- Nizam al-Mulk Tusi, pg. 420, foot note No. 3
- E. G. Brown Literary History of Persia, Vol. 1, pg. 201.
- Daftary, Farhad, The Isma'ilis, pp. 310-11.
- "Hassan Sabbah Dabbled in Astronomy: Experts". Chnpress.com. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
- Firdous-a-iblees by anayat ullah
- Daftary, Farhad, The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines. 2nd ed (1990). Cambridge et al., 2007.
- Irwin, Robert. "Islam and the Crusades, 1096–1699". In The Oxford History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan Riley Smith. Oxford, 2002. 211–57.
- Firdous-a-iblees by anayat ullah
- Hassan-i Sabbah, al-Fuṣūl al-arba'a ("The Four Chapters"), tr. Marshall G.S. Hodgson, in Ismaili Literature Anthology. A Shi'i Vision of Islam, ed. Hermann Landolt, Samira Sheikh and Kutub Kassam. London, 2008. pp. 149–52. Persian treatise on the doctrine of ta'līm. The text is no longer extant, but fragments are cited or paraphrased by al-Shahrastānī and several Persian historians.
- Sargudhasht-i Sayyidnā
- Nizam al-Mulk
- Daftary, Farhad, A Short History of the Ismā'īlīs. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.
- Daftary, Farhad, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Ismā'īlīs. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 1994. Reviewed by Babak Nahid at Ismaili.net
- Daftary, Farhad, "Hasan-i Sabbāh and the Origins of the Nizārī Ismā'īlī movement." In Mediaeval Ismā'īlī History and Thought, ed. Farhad Daftary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 181–204.
- Hodgson, Marshall, The Order of Assassins. The Struggle of the Early Nizārī Ismā'īlī Against the Islamic World. The Hague: Mouton, 1955.
- Hodgson, Marshall, "The Ismā'īlī State." In The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5: The Saljuq and Mongol Periods, ed. J.A. Boyle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968. 422–82.
- Lewis, Bernard, The Assassins. A Radical Sect in Islam. New York: Basic Books, 1968.
- Madelung, Wilferd, Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran. Albany: Bibliotheca Persica, 1988. 101–5.
- HASAN BIN SABBAH AND NIZARI ISMAILI STATE IN ALAMUT
- The life of Hassan-i-Sabah from an Ismaili point of view. Focuses on assassination as a tactic of asymmetrical warfare and has a small section on Hasan-i-Sabah's work as a scholar.
- Introduction to The Assassin Legends (From The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma‘ilis, London: I. B. Tauris, 1994; reprinted 2001.)
- The life of Hassan-i-Sabbah as part of an online book on the Assassins of Alamut.
- Arkon Daraul on Hassan-i-Sabbah.
- An illustrated article on the Order of Assassins.
- William S. Burrough's invocation of Hassan-i-Sabbah in Nova Express.
- Assassins entry in the Encyclopedia of the Orient.
- Review of the book, "The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma'ilis (I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd: London, 1994), 213 pp." by Babak Nahid, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Los Angeles
- Hasan bin Sabbah and the secret order of hashishins