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“..In 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
“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
Two men in the year 1092 stood on the ramparts of a medieval castle ,
the Eagle’s Nest ,
perched high upon the crags of the Persian Mountains :
the personal representative of the Emperor and the veiled figure who claimed
to be the incarnation of the God on earth.
Hassan , son of Sabah ,
Sheikh of the Mountains and leader of the Assassins , spoke :
“You see that devotee standing guard on yonder turret-top? Watch!”
He made a signal.
Instantly the white-robed figure threw up his hands in salutation,
and cast himself two thousand feet
into the foaming torrent
which surrounded the fortress.
“I have seventy thousand men and women throughout Asia ,
each one of them ready to do my bidding .
Can your master, Malik Shah, say the same ?
And he asks me to surrender to his sovereignty!
This is your answer…Go!”
Such a scene may be worthy of epic movies
like Conan the Barbarian ,
but yet it took place in historical fact.
Sabah the man that came with his uncanny power
and his men whom struck terror from the Caspian to Egypt .
Today , the sect of the Hashishin still exists in the forms of the Ishmaelites ,
whose undisputed chief ,
endowed by them with divine attributes ,
is the Aga Khan.
In the seventh century A.D.
the followers of Islam split into two divisions :
the orthodox ,
who regard Mohammed as the bringer of divine inspiration ;
and the Shiahs ,
who consider that Ali , his successor,
the Fourth Imam was more important .
It is with the Shiahs that we are concerned here .
From the beginning of the split in the early days of Islam ,
the Shiahs relied for the survival upon secrecy ,
although the minority party in Islam ,
they believed that they could overcome the majority,
and eventually the whole world ,
by superior organization and power.
To this end they started a number of societies
which practised secret rites in which
personality of Ali was worshiped,
and whose rank and file
were trained to struggle above all
for the accomplishment of the world dominion.
One of the most powerful secret societies which the Shiahs
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 the Egypt at that time .
Ismail the Seventh Imam , He was the embodiment of divinity ,
far more than any Tibetan lama ever was .
They had universities , not much different from Oxford ,
but their purpose and task were
the complete transformation of the mind of the student .
Students had to pass through nine degrees of initiations.
In the first, the teachers threw their pupils into a state of doubt about all
conventional ideas , religious and political .
Nothing is true , everything is permissible .
The Lord of the Time
The seventh degree brought revelation of the Great Secret :
that all humanity and all creation were one
and every single thing was part of the whole ,
which included the creative and destructive power.
But , as an Ismaili , 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 .
Belief as action
The ninth and last degree brought the revelation of the secret that
there was no such thing as belief :
all that mattered was action.
The real success extended abroad only in 1058 to Baghdad,
where a member gained temporary control of Baghdad and coined the money
in the Egyptian Caliph’s name.
This sultan was slain by the Turks , who now entered the picture ,
and the Cairo headquarters was also threatened.
By 1123 , the society was closed down by the Vizier Afdal.
The rise of Turkish power seemed to have discouraged
the expansionist Cairo sect
so strongly that they have almost faded out ,
and little is heard of them after that date.
It was left to Hasan , son of Sabah , the Old Man of the Mountains ,
to perfect the system of the ailing secret society ,
and found an organization which has endured for nearly another thousand years.
Origins of Hasan
Who was Hasan ?
He was the son of a Shiah in Khorasan , a most bigoted man,
who claimed that his ancestors were Arabs , from Kufa .
this assumption was probably due to the fact that such a lineage bolstered
up claims to religious importance , then as now , among Moslems .
The people of the neighbourhood , many of them also Shiahs ,
stated very decisively that this Ali
was a Persian , and so were his forebears .
It is generally thought that this is the true version .
As the Governor of the Province was an orthodox Moslem,
Ali spared no efforts to assume the same guise.
This is considered to be completely permissible,
the Doctrine of Intelligent Dissimulation .
As there was some doubt as to his reliability
in the religious sense , he retired into a monastic retreat,
and sent his son Hasan to an orthodox school.
This school was so ordinary one.
It was here that Hasan met Omar Khayyam
, the tentmaker-poet and astronomer ,
later to be the poet laureate of Persia,
and Nizam-ul-Mulk ,
who rose from peasant hood to become prime minister.
These three made a pact ,according to Nizam’s autobiography ,
whereby whichever rose to high office first would help the others .
After Nizam became vizier to Alp-arslan the Turkish sultan of Persia ,
Hasan wandered through the Middle East , remaining in obscurity ,
waiting for his chance to attain the power of which he had dreamed .
Arslan the Lion died , and was succeeded by Malik Shah.
Suddenly , Hasan presented himself to Nizam ,
demanding to be given a place at court .
Delighted to fulfill his childhood vow ,
the vizier obtained for him a favored place , and relates
what transpired thus in his autobiography :
“I had him made a minister by my strong and extravagant recommendations .
Like his father , however , he proved to be a fraud ,
hypocrite and a self-seeking villain .
He was so clever at dissimulation that he appeared to be pious when he had not,
and before long he had somehow completely captured the mind of the Shah.”
Malik Shah was young ,
and Hasan was trained in the Shiah art of winning people
over by apparent honesty.
But Nizam was still the most important man in the realm ,
with an impressive record of honest dealing and achievements.
Hasan decided to eliminate him.
The task and the fraud
The King had asked in that year , 1078,
for a complete accounting of the revenue and expenditure of the empire ,
and Nizam told him that this would take over a year.
Hasan , on the other hand ,
claimed that the whole work could be done in forty days,
and offered to prove it.
The task was assigned to him.
But something went wrong and Nizam struck back at the last moment saying :
“By Allah , this man will destroy us all unless he is rendered harmless ,
though i cannot kill my playmate.”
Whatever the truth may be ,
it seems that Nizam managed to have such disparities
introduced into the final calligraphic version of the accounts
that when Hasan started to read them they appeared so absurd
that the Shah , in fury , ordered him to be exiled .
As he had claimed to have written the accounts in his own hand ,
Hassan could not justify their incredible deficiencies .
Hasan had friends in Isfahan , where he immediately fled .
There survives a record of what he said there ,
which sheds interesting light upon what was in his mind.
One of these friends , Abu-al-Fazal, notes that Hasan ,
after reciting the bitter tale of his downfall,
shouted these words , in a state of uncontrollable rage:
“If I had two , just two, devotees who would stand by me ,
then I would cause the downfall of that Turk and that peasant.”
Fazal concluded that Hasan had taken leave his senses ,
and tried to get him out of this ugly mood.
Hasan took umbrage,
and insisted that he was working on a plan ,
and that he would have his revenge .
He set off for Egypt, there to mature his plans.
Fazal was himself to become a devotee of the Assassin chief ,
and Hasan , two decades later ,
reminded him of that day in Isfahan:
“Here I am at Alamut , Master of all I survey : and more .
The Sultan and the peasant Vizier are dead. have i not kept my vow?
Was I the madman you thought me to be?
I found my two devotees, who were necessary to my plans.”
Hasan himself takes up the story of the how
his fortunes fared after the flight from Persia .
He had been brought up in the secret doctrines of Ismailism ,
and recognized the possibilities of power inherent in such a system.
He knew that in Cairo there was a powerful nucleus of the society.
And , if we are to believe the words of Fazal ,
he already had a plan whereby he could turn their followers
into disciplined , devoted fanatics , willing to die for a leader.
What was this plan ?
He had decided that it was not enough to promise paradise,
fulfillment, eternal joy to people.
He would actually show it to them ;
show it in the form of an artificial paradise,
where houris played
and fountains gushed sweet scented waters ,
where every sensual wish was granted
amid beautiful flowers and gilded pavilions.
And this is what he eventually did.
Hasan chose a hidden valley for the site of his paradise ,
described by Marco Polo , who passed this way in 1271.
This and other conjuring tricks like the deep,
narrow pit sunk into the floor of his audience-chamber ,
had effects that increased the enthusiasm for martyrdom to the required degree.
Everywhere he created a really devoted disciple (fidayi).
Birth of Alamut
His trusted lieutenant , Hussein Kahini , reported
that the Iraki district where the fortress of Alamut
was situated seemed to be an ideal place for proselytism .
The year was A.D. 1090 .
Hasan was now ready for the next part of his plan.
He attacked and murdered through his assassins
the Vizier Nizam-ul-Mulk (stabbed to the heart),
the Emperor Malik Shah (poisoned) .
Hasan’s revenge upon his class-fellow was to make him
the very first target of his reign of terror.
The Sheikh of the Mountain
With the King’s death ,
the whole realm was split up into warring factions.
For long the Assassins alone retained their cohesion.
In under a decade
they had made themselves masters of all Persian Irak ,
and of many forts throughout the empire.
By now the entire loyalty of the Ismaelis
under him had been transferred from the Caliph
to the personality of the Sheikh of the Mountain,
who became the terror of every prince in that part of Asia ,
the Crusaders chiefs included.
“Despite and despising fatigues , dangers and tortures
the Assassins joyfully gave their lives whenever it pleased the great master ,
who required them either to protect himself or to carry out ,
the faithful , clothed in a white tunic with a red sash ,
the colors of innocence and blood ,
went on their mission without being deterred by distance or danger.
Having found the person they sought ,
they awaited the favorable moment for slaying him ,
and their daggers seldom missed their aim .”
A Tale from the Mountain
Richard the Lionheart was at one time accused
of having asked the ‘Lord of the Mountain’
to have Conrad of Montferrat killed; a plot which was carried out thus:
“Two assassins allowed themselves to be baptized
and placing themselves beside him, seemed intent only on praying.
But the favorable opportunity presented itself;
they stabbed him and one took refuge in the church.
But hearing that the prince had been carried off still alive,
he again forced himself into Montferrat’s presence,
and stabbed him a second time; and then expired, without a complaint,
amidst refined tortures.”
The Order of the Assassins had perfected
their method of securing the loyalty of human beings
to an extent and on a scale which has seldom been paralleled.
The Assassins carried on the battle on two fronts.
They fought whichever side in the Crusades served their purposes.
At the same time they continued the struggle against the Persians .
The son and successor of Nizam-ul-Mulk was laid low by an Assassin dagger.
The Sultan , who had succeeded his father Malik Shah
and gained power over most of his territories was marching against them.
One morning , however, he awoke with an Assassin weapon stuck neatly
into the ground near his head.
Within it was a note, warning him to call off the proposed siege of Alamut .
He came to terms with Assassins , powerful ruler though he undoubtedly was.
They had what amounted to a free hand , in exchange for a pact
by which they promised to reduce their military power.
Hasan lived for thirty-four years after his acquisition of Alamut .
On only two occasions since then had he even left his room:
yet he ruled an invisible empire
as great and as fearsome as any man before or since.
He seemed to realize that death was almost upon him ,
and calmly began to make plans for the perpetual continuance of the Order of the Assassins .