The Ismaili fidais

The history of the Ismailis of Alamut has been always grossly misunderstood in a hideous form. Most unfortunately, it is exactly about this period that we possess almost no genuine Ismaili sources. Most of the extant sources have come down to us from the aggressive camps, who based their informations from the illusive bits and shreds. They seem to take informations on its face-value without trying to verify the truth thereof. But history, as distinct from fiction, proves otherwise. Our earliest source, for instance, is the bitterly anti-Ismaili text of Juvaini, who is responsible to distort the genuine Ismaili traditions. Unfortunately, the scholars follow the stories designed by Juvaini without closely realizing his inimical attitude towards the Ismailis. W.Ivanow (1886-1970) writes in "Alamut and Lamasar" (Tehran, 1960, p. 26) that, "There are scholars who are perfectly satisfied with what he (Juvaini) says, showing their utter ignorance."

One of the allegations on the Ismailis is the character of the fidais (the devotees), the self-sacrificing warriors; who had been spoken in spreading terrorism by daggers, and are termed Assassins by the Western authorities of Crusades period. When the Crusades spoke of the Assassins, they originally referred to the Syrian Ismailis. Later, the term was also commonly affixed with the Iranian Ismailis by European travellers and chroniclers. According to W.Ivanow, "This subject has been as much hackneyed and surrounded by legends or fairy tales, as almost everything in connection with Ismailism." (Ibid. p. 21)

Hasan bin Sabbah hated war and avoided commotion that would rob of him of peace and disturb his life of seclusion. He objected unnecessary sheding of blood, but his sworn enemies hurled in the fire of war, so that they might thereby obtain and retain their power and kingdom. Thus, Hasan bin Sabbah resorted to removing the root causes and killing the germs of mischief that infected the selfish rulers. He killed few of them and saved the Muslims from fighting, which was necessary and justifiable. The Ismaili fidais did not kill anyone out of hatred or rancour but out of desire to save a number of Muslims who would otherwise have been skinned alive. Bosworth writes in "The Islamic Dynasties" (cf. Islamic Survey, series no. 5, Edinburgh, 1967, p. 128) that, "The Ismailis played a significant role in three-cornered struggle with the Franks and the Sunni Muslims. Since the Ismailis were comparatively few in number, assassination of prominent people often served as a substitute for direct military action."

We must not lose sight of the fact that the enemies of the Ismailis did not like an independent Nizari Ismaili state and reacted violently to it. They launched attacks one after another with vast overwhelming forces, accompanied by destruction of crops, cutting of fruit trees and other wrecking tools to damage the economy of the Ismailis. The general picture emerging from it suggests that the Ismailis were comparatively less to meet the danger hovering upon them, therefore, an armed unit of the fidai warriors seems to have been trained, who adopted an upheaval method of guerilla warfare for defensive purpose. Some scholars regard the Ismaili struggle a revolt, but it was positively a struggle for survival. It was a technique of the limited warriors to force the gigantic and colossal military machine to turn back by spreading awful milieu in their camps, which has been woven inimically in fictions. W.Ivanow writes, "In proper perspective, fidaism was a local form of guerilla warfare, ... it would be decidedly idiotic and dishonest to see in it something like the most prominent organic feature of the Nizari Ismaili doctrine, as is done by some ignorant but pretentious scholars." (Ibid. p. 21) W.Montgomery Watt in his "Islam and the Integration of Society" (London, 1961, p. 69) and Edward Mortimer in "Faith and Power" (London, 1982, p. 48) also admit that the method of the fidais was no other than that of the guerilla warfare. Bernard Lewis writes in "The Assassins" (London, 1967, p. 130) that, "Hasan found a new way, by which a small force, disciplined and devoted, could strike effectively against the overwhelmingly superior army." Guerilla warfare is an irregular unit of fighters, not so popular in those days, therefore, the misnomer, Assassins to the Ismailis in the Western sources became an easy coinage. This method however is very common in modern age, which is also termed as terrorism by the westeners.

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