[Dec 1]Today in history: Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah succeeded to the Imamat
The twenty-seventh Nizari Ismaili Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah succeeded to the Imamat on December 1, 1255 during the turbulent Mongol invasion of Persia. He entered into negotiations with the Mongols who were seizing and destroying Ismaili fortresses. After the last round of negotiations failed, Imam was forced to surrender his residence Maymundiz in 1256, and subsequently Alamut, marking the end of the state that had been founded by Hasan Sabbah in 1090.
Some of the major Ismaili fortresses in Persia and Syria. Source: The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Alamut Ismailis Lockhart
Photo of Alamut by Laurence Lockhart who trekked the area in 1928. Source: The Ismailis An Illustrated History
A group of da’is had safely concealed Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah’s son and successor Shams al-Din Muhammad (d. ca. 1310), who was taken to Adharbayjan where he lived discreetly as an embroiderer and merchant, succeeding his father in 1257.
The Mongols destroyed Alamut and its famous library, massacring large numbers of Ismailis in Persia. The first five centuries after the fall of Alamut represent the longest period of obscurity in Nizari Ismaili history due to lack of primary sources. Although the Imamat continued in the progeny of Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah, the Imams remained in hiding for almost two centuries; only a few trusted da’is knew of their whereabouts. The Ismaili community, deprived of a centralised leadership and direct contact with the Imams, scattered over a wide area from Syria, to Persia, Central Asian, and the Indian subcontinent, developing locally and in isolation from one another. The communities were forced to observe strict precautionary measures to safeguard against rampant persecution.
The Persian Nizaris concealed themselves under the mantle of Sufism spreading in Persia, without associating with any particular tariqa. In the fifteenth century, under the favourable Shi’i Safawids, Imam Islam Shah emerged in Anjundan, in central Persia, to revive the da’wa activities still under the guise of Sufism.
The Syrian Nizari Ismailis did not suffer the same fate as their Persian counterparts after the fall of Alamut. Although deprived of central leadership and experiencing internal dissensions, they collaborated with the Mamluks who had succeeded the Ayyubids in Egypt and Syria, to drive out the Mongols.
The Ismailis established friendly relations with Baybars I (r. 1260-1277), the ruler and founder of the Mamluk dynasty. With assistance from the Mamluks, the Ismailis recovered their fortresses in Syria that had been captured by the Mongols. However, Baybars “capitalised on the weaknesses and internal dissensions of the Nizaris and systematically adapted measures which ultimately led to the loss of political independence of the Syrian Nizari community” (Daftary, The Isma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, p 399). The Mamluks captured their fortresses, but unlike the Mongols in Persia, they did not massacre the Ismailis and allowed them to remain in their traditional abode, but under the watchful eyes of the Mamluk authorities. Syrian Ismailis remained loyal subjects of the Mamluks and their Ottoman successors, maintaining their identity, traditions, and practices.
The Syrian Ismailis experienced recurring conflicts with the neighbouring Nusayris (Shi’i community named after the founder) who repeatedly occupied their fortresses, destroying their religious literature. Furthermore, “intense rivalries between the two Nizari families centred at Masyaf and Qadmus further weakened the Nizari community of Syria” (Daftary, The sma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, p 489). The community received a devastating blow in the 1830s from an Ottoman expedition that caused much damage to their fortresses and villages.
Masyaf. Source: Archnet
By the 1840s, Isma’il b. Muhammad, the amir of Qadmus had established his authority over a large segment of the community, while forming a friendly relationship with the Ottoman ruler. In 1843, his request for permission from the Ottomans to allow the community to restore Salamiyya, which had served as the headquarters of the pre-Fatimid Ismaili da’wa in the 9th century and was now in ruins, was granted. Amir Isma’il gathered the Nizaris from various villages in Syria and settled them in Salamiyya.
The Nizari Ismailis of Syria were skilled farmers, enjoying a rising standard of living due to high crop yields in the plains of Salamiyya where the soil was fertile. In 1850, the Ottomans exempted the Ismailis of Salamiyya from military service in return for developing agriculture in the region.
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, who visited the community in Salamiyya in 1951, established several schools including an agriculture institution. Prince Aly Khan, Hazar Imam’s father, was buried in a mausoleum adjacent to the Jamatkhana in Salamiyya.
Restoration work on Masyaf and other citadels in Syria was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and inaugurated by Mawlana Hazar Imam during his Golden Jubilee visit to Syria.
Aga Khan Development Network Video – Revitalising Citadels of Syria
Farhad Daftary, J.H. Kramers, Salamiyya, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Farhad Daftary, The Isma’ilis Their History and Doctrines, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007
Nadia Eboo Jamal, Surviving the Mongols, I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2003
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