Ismaili History 641 - RUKNUDDIN KHURSHAH (653-655/1255-1257)

Ruknuddin Hasan, surnamed Khurshah was born in 627/1230. He is also known as Kahirshah. When he was still a child, his father had declared him as his successor. Juvaini tried to adulterate the Nizarid line of Imamate, but at one place he curiously writes (p. 663), 'And today, the leader (Ruknuddin Khurshah) of the heretics (the misnomer used for the Ismailis) of Alamut traces his descent from this son (of Nizar).
His father, Imam Alauddin Muhammad had taken due care of rudiments of his formal education at home under personal care. When he grew young, his father designated him his deputy to investigate few cases of disorders in some castles, with an instruction to obey his orders as his own. In 653/1255, before his father's death, he is reported to have visited Syria with a letter of his father. Strict protection had been given to Ruknuddin, and wherever he went, a small unit of armed men accompanied him as security guards. It is related that he stayed more than a year in the castles of Rudhbar and Kohistan for making fresh administrative fabric, and thus the enemies of the Ismailis smacked of exaggerations that his relation had been deteriorated with his father.

Three days later, having assumed the Imamate, Ruknuddin sent an army which his father had ordered against Shal-Rud in the district of Khalkhal. The Ismaili forces occupied the castle after a small fighting.

Ismaili History 642 - Decline of the Khwarazmshahis

The Ismailis continued to retain good relation with the Abbasids and Khwarazamshah. Alauddin Khwarazmshah (d. 617/1220) and Jalaluddin Khwarazamshah (d. 628/1231) were very proud of their wealth and grandeur and their relations with the Abbasids and the Ismailis became deteriorated and fell into a swift decline. The Mongol routed the empire of Khwarazmshah in 628/1231 with no difficulty, because no Muslim power came to help them. It must be noted that the kingdom of Khwarazmshahis was founded by Anushtagin (1077-1097). This dynasty ruled for 153 years from 471/1079 to 628/1231 and produced 8 rulers belonging to seven generations.

Hence, only two big powers remained in existence in Islamic world, i.e., the Abbasids and the Alamut.

Ismaili History 643 - Negotiations with the Mongols

One of the first acts of Ruknuddin's reign was to send an envoy to Yasa'ur Noyan, the Mongol commander camping at Hamdan (the ancient Ecbatana, the Arabs Hamadhan). Yasa'ur replied in this context that Ruknuddin should present himself in person before Halagu, whose arrival was now imminent. This was the first of a long series of messages exchanged in 654/1256 between the Ismailis and the Mongols.
In Zilhaja, 653/January, 1256, Halagu crossed the Oxus and passed the winter in the meadow's of Shafurqan to the west of Balkh. The Russian orientalist Wilhelm Barthold has computed the army of Halagu at about 129,000 men and a thousand Chinese artificers, who were skilled in the construction of military machines and in preparing and using every species of inflamable substances for attacking walled towns and fortified strongholds. Halagu entered Iran through Khorasan in Rabi I, 654/April, 1256 and conquered Tun and proceeded towards Tus. During the Mongol operations, the Ismailis are said to have occupied about 360 mountain castles and strongholds.

In Jamada I, 654/May, 1256, Ruknuddin Khurshah had sent his brother, Shahanshah with a delegation to announce his submission to the Mongols. They met Yasa'ur near Qazwin, and Ruknuddin delegated his own son to accompany the Ismaili mission thence to Halagu. Nine days later, Yasa'ur not only detained Shahanshah, but also invaded the Rudhbar without any reason to demonstrate Mongol's power and attacked the Ismaili forces on a mountain top behind Alamut, but he was forced to withdraw after a short while. He then vacated the whole region upon instructions from Halagu, who had now received Ruknuddin's embassy at Quchan. Halagu professed his satisfaction with Alamut's embassy and his own ambassadors reached Ruknuddin at the end of Jamada II/July and delivered a decree, full of encouragement and benevolence, insisting to demolish his castle and come in person. Ruknuddin did in fact destroy some castles. He also demolished the gates coated with lead and removed the battlements and turrets of Alamut, Lamasar and Maimundiz. The Mongol ambassadors, accompanied by Ruknuddin's envoy Sadruddin returned to report the situation to Halagu. Ruknuddin is said to have asked a year's grace before presenting himself. In the beginning of Shaban/September, the Mongol envoy came with a new proposal that the Ismaili Imam should immediately present before Halagu, and in his absence a Mongol, named Tukel Bahadur would act as a caretaker governor in Rudhbar. Ruknuddin sent his reply through an embassy led by his vizir, Shamsuddin Gilaki and Saifuddin Sultan Malik, who accompanied the Mongol ambassador and reached Halagu on 17th Shaban/September 9, asking for a year's grace and exemption of Alamut and Lamasar from the demolition order, but the Mongol demonstrated their impatience.

Halagu now set out from his encampment near Bastam to launch his assault on the Ismaili strongholds in Rudhbar. The main Mongol force proceeded from different directions. The right wing of Halagu forces led by Buqa Taymur and Koke-Ilgei advanced by way of Mazandaran. The left wing under the Chaghatai prince Teguder and Ket-Buqa proceeded through Simnan and Khuvar. While Halagu himself with the principal army, followed parallel route leading through Firozkuh, Damavand and Ray. He alighted at Damavand for a while and sent yet another message to Ruknuddin. The Imam was asked to come at once to Damavand, and were he to be delayed upto five days by his preparations, he was to send his son in advance. Ruknuddin dispatched his son on 17th Ramdan/October 8. Halagu returned the boy and suggested that if Ruknuddin could not come till later, he should send another brother to relieve Shahanshah. On 5th Shawal/October 26, Ruknuddin sent out his brother Shiranshah with 300 men, who arrived at Halagu's camp two days later.

Meanwhile, the vizir Shamsuddin Gilaki had returned from Girdkuh and brought its governor, the Qadi Tajuddin Mardanshah, before Halagu, while Girdkuh still held out. Shahanshah was relieved and sent back to Rudhbar with the message that if Ruknuddin demolished the castle of Maimundiz and presented himself in a person before Halagu, he would be received with honour and and given immunity. By this time, the Mongol armies entered Rudhbar from all sides. Halagu set out from his base at Piskildara on 10th Shawal/October 31 and advanced towards Rudhbar through Taliqan.

Ismaili History 644 - Reduction of Maimundiz

On 18th Shawal/November 8, Halagu encamped on the hilltop opposite Maimundiz. The Mongol armies began to prepare for a siege. The Ismaili forces gained initial victories and rained down stones from their own mangonels upon the besiegers. The Ismaili warriors using the mangonels, were made with a pole of hard wood raised in a slanting position, supported by a strut at a point a quarter of its height from the top, and fixed in the ground at some distance from the main pole so as to support it. At the top of the pole was the emplacement for the axle to which the shaft was attached.
On the second day of fighting, the Mongols brought into a play a Chinese ballista with a range of 2,500 paces. The garrisons of Maimundiz now ceased fighting and asked for truce, which was granted. Meanwhile, on 25th Shawal/November 15, the Mongols resumed their bombardment on Maimundiz on large scale. The Ismailis strained every nerve to meet the situation and the danger hovering on their door, but they found themselves utterly helpless in the face of these nomadic hordes that poured down into the Ismaili territories like ants and locusts. At length, Ruknuddin asked for a yarligh, granting him self-conduct. He first sent down his son and another brother Iranshah with a delegation of nobles and on Sunday, the 29th Shawal, 654/November 19, 1256, he himself dismounted from the castle, embosomed with a group of dignitaries including Nasiruddin Tusi, Khwaja Asiluddin Zuzani and the vizir Muayyaduddin. He was however well received by Halagu.

Ismaili History 645 - Reduction of Alamut

At Halagu's request, Ruknuddin sent his representatives with the Mongol envoys to all the castles in Rudhbar, instructing for their destruction. Some forty castles were thus demolished. Halagu proceeded to the foot of Alamut, whose Ismaili commander was Muqadinuddin. Leaving Balaghai behind to besiege Alamut with a large force, Halagu then set out for Lamasar. After a few days, the garrison of Alamut dismounted. Berthold Spuler writes in 'The Muslim World' (London, 1969, 2nd vol., p. 18) that, 'The fortress Alamut offered a desperate resistance to the onslaughts of the Central Asian hordes and only succumbed after a prolong siege.' Towards the end of Zilkada, 654/December, 1256, all the persons in Alamut came down with all their goods and belongings and after three days, the Mongols climbed up to the castle and seized whatever those people had been unable to carry off. They also plundered freely whatever they found in the castle, and then set fire to its building and its library. Meanwhile, Ata Malik Juvaini, who had accompanied Halagu to the foot of Lamasar, had been granted permission to inspect the library. He saved a number of choice books, including some Ismaili works, as well as certain astronomical instruments, before consigning the library to flames. Thus, the accumulated literary treasure of about two centuries was consumed to ashes. Juvaini himself writes, 'I burnt them all' (basukh tam). Edward G. Browne termed it, 'world's renowned library.' Arif Tamir writes in 'Khams Rasail Ismailiyya' (Beirut, 1956, p. 195) that, 'The Mongol destroyed the Ismaili library containing one and one half million volumes.'
As for the Alamut, Juvaini writes, 'It was a castle whereof the entries and exits, the ascents and approaches had been so strengthened by plastered walls and lead-covered ramparts that when it was being demolished, it was as though the iron struck its head on a stone, and it had nothing in its hand and yet resisted. And in the cavities of these rocks they had constructed several long, wide and tall gallaries and deep tanks, dispensing with the use of stone and mortar....And from the river, they had brought a conduit to the foot of the castle and from thence a conduit was cut in the rock half way round the castle and ocean-like tanks, also of rock, constructed beneath so that the water would be stored in them by its own impetus and was continually flowing on. Most of these stores of liquids and solids, which they had been laying down from the time of Hasan-i Sabbah, that is over a period of more than 170 years, showed no sign of destruction, and this they regarded as a result of Hasan's sanctity. (2nd vol., pp. 720-1) Juvaini goes on to tell how a large body of Mongol soldiers were employed in demolishing the castle: 'Picks were of no use: they set fire to the buildings and then broke them up, and this occupied them for a long time.' (Ibid.)

Meanwhile, at Lamasar, Halagu had failed to induce the surrender despite the services of Ruknuddin as intercessor. He left Dayir Buqa to beleaguer it with an army, but it did not surrender until 1258. He quitted Rudhbar on 13th Zilhaja, 655/January 4, 1257 and reached his encampment at Hamdan. On 22nd Zilhaja/January 13, Ruknuddin's family and servants were billeted in Qazwin, but he himself accompanied Halagu. From here, on Halagu's request, Ruknuddin sent his emissaries to the Ismaili castles in Syria, instructing them to guard the castels as subjects of Halagu until such time as he himself should arrive there.

Ismaili History 646 - Imam in Mongol's camp

Ruknuddin Khurshah is reported to have married a Mongolian woman at the encampment of Halagu in Hamdan. He remained with Halagu for about 3 months and 23 days after the fall of Maimundiz. In the beginning of March, 1257, Halagu sent an embassy to the Abbasid caliph Mustasim, asking for submission. It seems probable that Ruknuddin must have conceived the forthcoming terrible onslaught of the Mongols against the Abbasids, and therefore, he intended to quit the company of Halagu before the operations. Since Lamasar and Girdkuh had not been surrendered, therefore, Ruknuddin was continued to be treated with honour. Ruknuddin sought permission from Halagu to see Mongke in Karakorum. He must have been taken to their operations against the Abbasids, had he not quitted the company of Halagu at Hamdan, and it would have led the enemies of the Ismailis to cultivate another story that the operations against Baghdad had been launched on the directions of the Ismaili Imam. Ruknuddin however succeeded to leave Hamdan for Karakorum.

Ismaili History 647 - Imam on way to Karakorum

On 1st Rabi I, 655/March 9, 1257, Ruknuddin Khurshah set out from Hamdan with nine companions and a group of Mongols led by Bujrai. On the way, when they arrived at the foot of Girdkuh, which was not yet surrendered, Ruknuddin tried once again to bring down the castle's garrisons. He was however suspected that he had told them secretly not to surrender, and as a result, he was not treated well henceforward by his escorts. Our sources do not give the route leading to Karakorum, but it seems that they alighted at Bukhara and proceeded about 150 miles to the east for Samarkand, and thence reached to Karakorum.
It is worthy of note from the accounts of 'The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World' (tr. William W. Rockhill, London, 1900, p. 222) that King Louis IX (d. 1270) of France had tried to secure an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. In pursuit, he had sent William of Rubruck (1215-1295), a Flemish Franciscan on a diplomatic mission under the garb of church, at the court of Mongke (d. 1257) in the year 1253. William of Rubruck reached Karakorum on December 25, and visited the court of Mongke on January 4, 1254. He noticed strict security measures in the court, because it had been informed to Mongke, possibly a rumour that was going about that forty Ismaili fidais had entered the city to kill him. It is, however, much nearer to reasonable possibility that the detention of Ruknuddin in Karakorum would have proved a good hand to Mongke, to force the so called forty hiding fidais to surrender. Why Mongke did not detain Ruknuddin and also refuse to see him? It is most likelihood that Mongke was yet unaware of his arrival. It is, of course, possible to draw some inferences that the so called messenger from Mongke was forged by Bujrai according to a pre- arranged policy, informing Ruknuddin that Mongke did not wish to see him, which sounds in 'Jamiut Tawarikh' (p. 37) that, 'When the news reached Mongke that Ruknuddin was coming, he said, 'why is he being brought and why are post horses being tired unnecessarily?' He sent a messenger with instructions that he should be made away.' In contrast, it is very dissimiliar with Juvaini's account that Ruknuddin actually reached Karakorum, and Mongke remarked, 'It is unnecessary to bring him on so long a journey.' He refused to accept his present and dismissed with the charge: 'Seeing that you claim to be il (friend), why have you not destroyed certain castles such as Girdkuh and Lamasar? You must go back and when you have dismounted those castles, you shall again have the honour of tikishmishi' i.e., an audience with a ruler at which one hands over presents (2nd vol., p. 724). Juvaini was in Baghdad at that time, therefore, he seems to have derived his informations from oral channel, and with this the description of 'Jamiut Tawarikh' (p. 37) cannot be convincing. Under any circumstances, it is difficult to determine with any exactitude that Mongke was aware of Ruknuddin's arrival in Karakorum. The resistance of the garrisons of Girdkuh, including Bujrai's suspicion on Ruknuddin seem to have been reported secretly back to Halagu at Hamdan. It is therefore, possible that Halagu had changed his mind later when Ruknuddin had passed through Girdkuh for Karakorum, and had routed his immediate instructions to Bujrai not to arrange Ruknuddin's meeting with Mongke. Since Ruknuddin had been granted a self- conduct which was operative within the territories of Iran only, therefore, his murder out of Iran became validated for Halagu.

Ismaili History 648 - Massacre of the Ismailis

When Ruknuddin had left Iran for Karakorum, there had taken place a wild massacre of the Iranian Ismailis, who were in Mongol's custody. His family and dependents detained at Qazwin were also put to the sword by Qaraqai Bitikchi. Another cruel Mongol commander, called Otegu summoned the Ismailis of Kohistan to throng at one place, and butchered some 12,000 of them. W. Montgomery Watt however writes in his 'Islamic Philosophy and Theology' (Edinburgh, 1985, pp. 153-4) that, 'The fall of Alamut to the Mongols in 1256 was followed by massacres, but many Ismailites survived and the son of the last Imam was preserved safely in hiding.' When Halagu had finished his merciless operations, he decided to kill Ruknuddin out of Iran, through his envoy Bujrai.

Ismaili History 649 - Murder of Ruknuddin Khurshah

Ruknuddin Khurshah started his homeland journey from Karakorum after failing to see Mongke. His party, after travelling for about 400 kilometers, reached at the Khangai mountain, one of the three major mountain belts in the north of Mongolia, called also as Hangayn or Changai. On the edge of Khangai, where the route for Samarkand radiated, Ruknuddin and his companions were dismounted and led away from the road, on the pretext of going to a Mongolian feast, and were killed in brutality.
Ruknuddin had also taken his Mongolian wife with him as it was not possible to leave her alone in Hamdan, or send at Qazwin, where his family members were detained. Moreover, the presence of a Mongolian wife would have procured an impression upon Mongke as a token of friendship. The isolated chains of later traditions may have been embellished by narrators, but in essence it seems to be true that she had been spared and left alone. The Mongol party fled to Samarkand after killing Ruknuddin and his companions. They also pillaged the treasures of Ruknuddin and took a wild flight after leaving her alone. She had a small caravan of few horses and with them, she wandered and loitered all alone. It was yet danger to follow the tract leading to Samarkand, therefore, she proceeded south-east region, and finally landed at the mountaineous regions of Pamir inside the Gorno-Badakhshan, and nothing else is known about her. It seems fairly certain that her caravan must have been loaded with important documents or literary materials that most possibly remained with Ruknuddin Khurshah. It is more likely that the important historical documents and the manuscripts retained with Ruknuddin Khurshah unscathed, would have been in the Pamirs in Tajikistan. This however cannot be accepted as conclusively proven, but it does appear to be at least a likelihood. We do not pursue the matter any further here, but it deserves close examination.

Ruknuddin Khurshah remained as a ruler of Alamut for one year, and lived for another year, means the period of his Imamate was for two years. Thus, the Nizari Ismaili rule lasted for about 170 years in Alamut. Ruknuddin Khurshah was succeeded by his son, Shamsuddin Muhammad, who had been privily sent away in Azerbaijan.

Summing up the accounts of the Ismaili state, Dr. Farhad Daftary remarks in his 'The Ismailis: their History and Doctrines' (London, 1990, p. 382) that: 'The Nizari community of the Alamut period, comprised of highlanders and mountain dwellers, villagers and urban groups living in small towns, maintained a sophisticated outlook and placed a high value on intellectual activities, encouraged by the local sense of initiative in the main Nizari territories. In Alamut, Quhistan, and Syria, the Nizaris established impressive libraries, containing not only religious literature of all sorts, including Ismaili works, but also scientific tracts and equipments. The Nizaris seems to have been interested in different branches of learning, and the vitality of their community was reinforced by the continuing arrival of a certain number of outsiders into their centres.'