Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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political advantages of the propaganda established by Abdullah
ibn Maimun, whose esoteric and Manichaean doctrines they
partially adopted for their own purposes, They established


colleges, public libraries, and scientific institutes {Day ul-
hikmat), richly furnished with books, mathematical instruments,
to which were attached numerous professors and attendants.
Access to, and the use of, these literary treasures were free to
all, and writing materials were afforded gratis. 1 The Caliphs
frequently held learned disputations, at which the professors at
these academies appeared, divided according to the different
faculties, — logicians, mathematicians, jurists, and physicians,
dressed in their Khala', or doctoral mantles. The gowns of the
English universities still retain the original form of the Arabic
Khala' or Kaftan.

Two hundred and fifty-seven thousand ducats, raised by a
carefully regulated taxation, was the amount of the annual
revenue of the institutes, for the salaries of the professors and
officials, for the provision of the requisites for teaching, and
other objects of public scientific instruction. In these institutes
they taught every branch of human knowledge. To the central
Ddr ul-hikmat was attached a grand Lodge, where the candi-
dates for initiation into the esoteric doctrines of Isma'ilism were
instructed in the articles of the faith. Twice a week, every
Monday and Wednesday, the Dd'i ud-du'dt, the Grand Prior
of the Lodge, convened meetings, which were frequented by
both men and women, dressed in white, occupying separate
seats. These assemblages were named Majdlis ul-hikmat, or
Conferences of Wisdom. Before the initiation the Dd'i ud-
du'dt waited on the Caliph, who was the Grand Master, and
read to him the discourse he proposed to deliver to the neo-
phytes, and received his sign-manual on the cover of the
manuscript. 2 After the lecture the pupils kissed the hands of
the Grand Prior, and touched the signature of the Master
reverently with their foreheads. Makrizi's account of the
different degrees of initiation adopted in this Lodge forms an
invaluable record of freemasonry. In fact, the Lodge at Cairo
became the model of all the Lodges created afterwards in
Christendom. Abdullah ibn Maimun had established seven
degrees of initiation. Seven was the sacred number : there
were seven planets, seven days in the week, and seven Imams.
At Cairo, where Egyptian hierophantism with the old mystic

1 Makrizi; Chrestomathie Arabe (De Sacy), vol. i. p. 158. 2 Makkari.


ceremonies became superimposed on the Manichaean founda-
tion, the number was increased to nine. 1 The first degree was
the most difficult of all, and required the longest time to mould
the mind of the neophyte, and incline him to take that most
solemn oath by which he bound himself to the secret doctrine
with blind faith and unconditional obedience. After this the
process was simple enough : the acolyte was led gradually to
recognise all the doctrines, and to become the instrument of
insatiable ambition.

The Grand Lodges of Mahdieh and afterwards of Cairo
became thus the centres of a vast and far-reaching political
propaganda. But the knowledge of the doctrines upon which
they worked was confined to a few. Like the mysteries of

1 A very good description of the different stages of initiation is given by
De Sacy in the Journal Asiatique, vol. iv. p. 298. In order to induce the
neophyte to take the oath of the first degree, his mind was perplexed by the
Da'i with doubts. The contradictions of positive religion and reason were
dwelt upon, but it was pointed out that behind the apparent literal significa-
tion there lay a deeper meaning, which was the kernel, as the words were
mere husks. The curiosity of the novice was, however, not satisfied until he
had taken an unrestricted oath ; on this he was admitted to the second degree.
This inculcated the recognition of divinely-appointed Imams, who were the
source of all knowledge. As soon as the faith in them was well established,
the third degree taught their number, which could not exceed the holy seven ;
for, as God had created seven heavens, seven earths, seven seas, seven planets,
seven colours, seven musical sounds, and seven metals, so had He appointed
seven of the most excellent of His creatures as revealed Imams : these were
Ali, Hasan, Husain, Ali II. (Zain ul-'Abidin), Mohammed al-Bakir, Ja'far
as-Sadik, and Isma'il his son, as the last and seventh. In the fourth degree
they taught that since the beginning of the world there have been seven
speaking apostles ( ijkL ), embodiments of the Logos, each of whom had
always, by the command of Heaven, altered the doctrine of his predecessor ;
each of these had seven coadjutors, who succeeded each other in the epoch
from one Natik to another, but who, as they did not manifest themselves,
were called Sdmit ( o.*Lo ) or Silent. The seven Ndtiks were Adam, Noah,
Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and Isma'il (the son of Ja'far as-Sadik)
or Imdm-i-zamdn (Lord or Imam of all times). Their seven colleagues were
Seth, Shem, Ishmael son of Abraham, Aaron, Simeon, Ali, and Mohammed
son of Isma'il. The object of having a Sdmit attached to a Ndtik was to allow
a free hand to the teachers and emissaries to put forward any one they liked
as the Sdmit apostle of the time. The fifth degree inculcated that each of
the seven Sdmits had twelve Nakibs or delegates for the extension of the true
faith, for the number twelve is the most excellent after seven ; hence the
twelve signs of the Zodiac, the twelve months, the twelve tribes of Israel, etc.
In the sixth degree, the principles of Manichaean philosophy were instilled
into the heart. of the neophyte, and only when he was fully impressed with the
wisdom of those doctrines was he admitted to the seventh, where he passed
from philosophy to mysticism. He then became one of the knowers ('drifin).
In the eighth he shook off the trammels of positive religion : The " veil " was
lifted, and henceforth " everything was pure to the pure." The tendency of
these doctrines can be better imagined than described.


Eleusis, or the secret principles of the Templars, the Illnminati,
and the Revolutionists of France, they were imparted only to
the adepts — in whole or in part ; wholly to those alone who
were intended to be used for the purpose of undermining the
power of their enemies. For the masses and the uninitiated,
the State-religion was Islam, and its moral precepts and
religious observances were enforced in all its austerity. Most
of the Caliphs, especially al-Muizz, were in their lives and
practice strict religionists and observers of the duties enjoined
by the moral law. 1 The doctors of law and the officers of State
were pious Moslems. Nevertheless the fact of the existence of
a secret body working on mysterious lines loosened the bonds
of society. The organisation of secret emissaries weakened the
control of the Abbasides without permanently strengthening
the hold of the Fatimides or extending their temporal power.

The Fatimides of Egypt have been called the Western
Isma'ilias, in contradistinction to the followers of Hasan ibn
Mohammed Sabbah Himyari, commonly known as Hasan
Sabbah, infamous in the history of the West as the founder of
the order of the Assassins, 2 but known to his followers as
" Syedna," " our lord." His disciples are sometimes designated

1 Mohsin Fani says : —

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Hakim bi-amr-illah, the sixth Fatimide Caliph of Cairo, who is regarded
even at the present day by the Druses (a branch of the Isma'ilias) as an
incarnation of the Divinity, has been represented as " a monster of iniquity."
His was a strangely contradictory character ; and, as Makrizi rightly thinks,
his mind was probably affected. He was at times atrociously cruel ; at other
times, a wise and humane sovereign. He abolished all distinction of race
and creed in his dominions ; he introduced the system of lighting up the streets
of Cairo for the protection of wayfarers ; he organised a system of police ; he
repressed violence. For an account of Hakim bi-amr-illah, see Short History
of the Saracens, p. 602. It may be noticed, as a remarkable coincidence, that
Ivan the Terrible, who has been termed just such another monster, was
regarded by the average Russian of his day as a monarch of singular force of
character and ability. The fact is that the cruelties practised by Galeazzo
Maria Sforza, by the Norman chief of Sicily who was in the habit of dis-
embowelling his victims, by the Popes Paul and Alexander VI., by the Kings
of England, Richard and John, and others, show only too clearly how little
difference creed or country is apt to make in the misdeeds of irresponsible
power joined to an innately cruel nature.

2 Sylvestre de Sacy derives the name from the word hashish (the Indian
bhang) with which Hasan Sabbah's followers drugged themselves, and
this derivation is now generally accepted. See Professor Browne's Literary
Hist, of Persia, vol. ii. pp. 204-5. Mohsin Fani describes this man's life and


as the Eastern Isma'ilias or Alamutias, or the Maldhida of
Kuhistan (" the impious atheists " of Kuhistan).

Hasan was the son of a learned Shiah doctor, an Arab by
descent, as his name betokens, residing in the city of Khoi in
Persia. He had been carefully trained in all the learning of his
time. It is said that at one time he was a fellow-student
of Nizam ul-Mulk (afterwards the renowned minister of Alp
Arslan and of Malik Shah, the two great Seljukian sove-
reigns of the East) and of the famous mystical poet Omar
Khayyam. But the story appears now to be discredited. 1
Baulked in his ambition at the court of Malik Shah, he
proceeded to the pontifical court at Cairo, and was there
initiated into the mysteries of the Cairene Lodge. Persia at
that time was in the most rigid bonds of Sunni orthodoxy,
the Seljukian Sultans having always been among the most
devoted upholders of the straitest traditions of Asha'rism.
Hasan returned from Egypt to Asia, and partly by force and
partly by fraud possessed himself of an almost impregnable
fortress called in the archaic Persian or Pahlavi Alamut, or
the Eagles' Nest, 2 seated on one of the most inaccessible
mountain-fastnesses of Upper Persia ; 3 and during the thirty-
five years that he held the dominion of that place, he organised
from there a system of terror throughout Asia and Africa 4 and
Eastern Europe, fighting the sword with the dagger, and aveng-
ing persecution with assassination. He himself was a strict
observer of all the precepts of religion, and would not allow
drunkenness or dancing or music within the circuit of his rule.
His esotericism appears to have been different from that of the

doctrines according to the Isma'ilias themselves, " as hitherto his life had been
written with the pen of prejudice."

1 Professor E. G. Browne's Lit. Hist, of Persia, vol. ii. pp. 190-193.

2 Wassaf, vi~j!ic AjL£| ^f ^^ju o^J, Aa JJ

3 Near Kazwin.

4 Wassaf says : —


Western Isma'ilias, and is explained in detail by Shahristani
and Moshin Fani, both of whom speak of him with some awe,
which induces the conviction that they were not quite un-
apprehensive of the dagger of his fid dis. 1 Leaving the mystical
portion of his doctrines aside, it may be said that he admitted
only four degrees of initiation. Those who had obtained the
first three degrees were named respectively Fidai, Rafik, and
Dd'i, — fellows, companions, and knights, — to use the terms of
a system to which Hasan's institution bears the closest resem-
blance, viz. that of the Templars. Hasan was the first Grand
Master of this institution, though he always paid a formal
homage to the Egyptian Caliphs. The fourth Grand Master,
Hasan bin Mohammed, of the Alamutia Lodge, who, in order
to further his ends, did not hesitate to claim descent from the
Caliph Mustansir billah of Cairo through his son Nizar, abolished
all the ordinances of religion. The Resurrection had arrived ;
the revelation of the Imam had taken place in his person ; and
the Kingdom of Heaven was ushered in with freedom and
licence from the ordinary trammels of the moral law. 2 This

1 That their apprehensions were not unjustified will be apparent from the
following anecdote concerning Imam Fakhr ud-din Razi. This learned Imam
used to lecture on jurisprudence in his native city of Rai (Rhages). Once he
had occasion to denounce the Isma'ilias from his professorial chair. The news
of this audacious conduct was carried to the Eagles' Nest, and a Fidai was
promptly deputed to bring the careless professor to reason. The Fidai on his
arrival at Rai entered himself as a student in the Imam's college. For seven
months he waited for an opportunity to carry his design into effect. At last
one day he found the Imam alone in his chamber ; he locked the door, and
throwing the Imam on the ground pointed the dagger at his throat. " Why
kill me ? " asked the frightened professor. " Because you have cursed the
Isma'ilias," answered the Fidai. The Imam offered to bind himself solemnly
never again to disparage the brotherhood. The Fidai refused to accept the
Imam's word unless he agreed to receive a pension from the Grand Master,
thus binding himself by the debt of " bread and salt."

2 Hasan died in 508 a.h. Wassaf, following Juwaini, the vizier of Flulaku
and the author of the Jahan-Kusha, gives an extremely bitter but not unjust
account of these Isma'ilias.

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mad revolutionist is known in the history of the Alamutias as
'ala-Zikrihi-as-Saldm, " may his name be blessed " — corrupted
into Zikr-as-Saldm. From this time, until the destruction of
Alamut, the disciples of the two Hasans maintained a remorse-
less fight with civil society, in which no quarter was shown on
either side. They were, in fact, the Nihilists of Islam. Under
their stilettoes fell both Christians and Moslems. They were
attacked by Hulaku, and after the destruction of their fortresses
in the mountains, they were hunted and killed like vermin. 1

From the Isma'ilias the Crusaders borrowed the conception
which led to the formation of all the secret societies, religious
and secular, of Europe. The institutions of Templars and
Hospitallers ; the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius
Loyola, composed of a body of men whose spirit of self-sacrifice
and devotion to their cause can hardly be surpassed in our
times ; the ferocious Dominicans, the milder Franciscans, —
may all be traced either to Cairo or to Alamut. The Knights
Templars especially, with their system of grand masters, grand
priors and religious devotees, and their degrees of initiation,
bear the strongest analogy to the Eastern Isma'ilias. Small
sections of the Western Isma'ilias are still to be found in Yemen,
in Egypt, and Barbary, where they cannot be distinguished
from the general body of Moslems. On the western coast of
India there exists, however, a large community called Khojahs,
who are the direct representatives of the original Eastern


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1 For a full account of the Alamutias and their crimes against humanity,
see Von Hammer's History of the Assassins, translated into English by Wood.
Even the Christian sovereigns frequently availed themselves of the services of
the Alamutia assassins to get rid of their enemies. Richard of England had
Conrad of Montferrat assassinated by a Fiddi of Alamut ; and one of the
Popes employed another, though unsuccessfully, to remove Frederick Barba-
rossa. After the destruction of Alamut, Rudbar, and the other castles of the
Assassins, the Alamutias were massacred without compunction by the Tartars.


Isma'ilias. Hindus by origin, they were converted to Isma'il-
ism, in the eleventh or twelfth century of the Christian era, by
one Pir Sadr ud-din, an Isma'ilian Dd'i. His teachings fitted
in with their own religious conceptions, for part of the old cult
was incorporated with the Isma'ilia doctrines. 1

The Kaisdnias and Hdskimias, both of them exclusively
political in their character, but tinted by Magianism, are now
completely extinct, and hardly require any mention.

The Ghdllias or the Ghuldt (Extravagantists), supposed by
Ibn Khaldun and Shahristani to be a sect of the Shiahs, are, in
reality, the descendants of the old Gnostics, whose Islam con-
sisted merely in the substitution of Mohammed or Ali, chiefly
the latter, for Christ. They are, in fact, the Docetes of Islam.
The Nusairis, who believe in the divinity of Ali, the Ishdkias,
the Numdnias, the Khitdbias, and others, anthropomorphists,
believers in incarnations and metempsychosis, — represent the
notions which were prevalent among the Marcionites, the
Valentinians, and the other docetic Christians. Some of these
have replaced the Christian triad by a pentad. These believe
that Mohammed, Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husain jointly
represent the Divinity. A form of Docetism is in vogue also
in Sunnism. In the mountains of Kurdistan a Sunni Saint 2
occupies almost a similar place in the popular faith to Jesus
among the Gnostics.

The Roushenias, as their name implies, were the exact
counterparts of the Illuminati of Christendom. This sect had
its origin in Afghanistan in that dark, turbulent, and san-
guinary period which preceded the accession of Akbar to the
throne of India. Their founder, Bayezid, 3 by birth an Afghan,
but of Arab extraction, appears to have been a man of great
natural abilities and extreme subtlety of genius. In his early
youth he acquired a taint of Manichaeism from the Isma'ilias

1 Numbers of Isma'ilias are also to be found in the mountains of Gilgat and

2 Sheikh Abdul Kadir Ghilani. There are Sunnis who pay an extravagant
veneration, verging on adoration, to this Saint. He has received the title
among them of Ghaus-i-'dzam, Mahbrib-i-SubJidni, Kutb-i-Rabbdni — " The
great Saint, the beloved of God, the Pole-star of holiness " (see the Guldastai-
Kevdmat). Sheikh Abdul Kadir was a mystic, and a Fatimide by descent.
He takes a high position in the hierarchy of the mystics and the dervishes ;
see chapter xi.

3 Afterwards called Mian Roushan Bayezid.


who still flourished in considerable numbers in some of the
mountainous districts of Khorasan. The doctrines which he
first propagated seem not to have differed essentially from those
of the Sufis ; but as he proceeded he diverged wider and
wider from the pale of dogmatic Islam. As his sect increased
in numbers and power, it assumed a political as well as a
religious aspect ; and soon made such formidable progress
that, at last, it embraced nearly the whole of Afghanistan.

The doctrines taught by Bayezid, when examined critically,
show a superstructure of mysticism and pantheism upon a basis
of Isma'ilism. The observant reader, however, will not fail to
perceive a strange and fantastic analogy between his teachings
and the practices and theories of the brotherhood of Fakirs.
He taught that God is all-pervading, and that all existing
objects are only forms of the Deity ; that the Pirs or religious
teachers were the great manifestations of the Divinity ; that
the sole test of right and wrong was to follow the path pointed
out by the Plr, who is the representative of the Divinity ; that
the ordinances of the law have therefore a mystical meaning,
and are ordained only as the means of acquiring religious perfec-
tion ; and that the mystic sense of the law is only attainable by
religious exercises and through the instructions of a Pir ; it
is the source of religious perfection, and this perfection being
attained, the exterior ordinances of the law cease to be binding,
and are virtually annulled.

The Bdtinis, the Isma'ilias, and all the cognate sects differ
from the general body of Moslems in making faith the keystone
of their doctrines. In this they closely approach most of the
Reformed Churches of Christendom. They " believe," like
Luther, in "justification by faith." Luther has strenuously
inculcated that " faith in Christ " would save all sinners. The
Batinis and the Isma'ilias with their offshoots made " faith "
or " imdn," which included a firm reliance on the divine Imam,
an essential factor in their creed. So long as an individual was
blessed with imdn, his outward acts were immaterial.

We now come to the Shiahs proper, the followers of the Imams
of the house of Mohammed, generally known as the Isnd-
'Asharias (the Duo decemians) , so named because they accept
the leadership of twelve Imams. The Isnd-'Asharias hold


that the Imamate descended by express appointment in the
following order : —

1. Ali, the Caliph, usually styled Murtaza Asad-idlah al-
Ghdlib, the Chosen, the Lion of God, the Victorious (d. A.H. 40,
A.c. 661).

2. Hasan, styled Mujtaba, the Approved (a.h. 44, a.c. 664).

3. Husain, Shahid-i-Kerbela, the Martyr of Kerbela (a.h. 60,
A.c. 679).

4. Ali II., surnamed for his piety Zain id-'Abidin, the Orna-
ment of the Pious (died a.h. 94, a.c. 713).

5. Mohammed al-Bdkir, the Explainer of Mysteries, or the
Profound, a man of great learning and ascetic austerity (born
a.h. 57, a.c. 676 ; died a.h. 113, a.c. 731).

6. Ja'far as-Sddik, the True, was the eldest son of Mohammed
al-Bdkir. Ja'far was born in Medina, in the year of the Hegira
a.h. 80 (a.c. 699). As a scholar, a litterateur, and a juris-
consult, his reputation stands high among all sects of Moslems.
His learning and his virtues, the transcendental purity and
truth of his character, won him the veneration even of the
enemies of his family. He died at an advanced age in his native
town, in the reign of Abu Ja'far al-Mansur, the second
Abbaside Caliph, in the year of the Hegira 148 (a.c. 765).

7. Abu' I Hasan Musa al-Kdzim, the son of Ja'far as-Sadik,
was also surnamed al-Abd us-Sdleh, the Holy Servant, on account
of his piety and " his efforts to please God." He was born at
Medina in the year 129 a.h. (a.c. 746-747). He died at Bagdad
on the 25th of Rajab 183 (1st September, 799 a.c.) in a prison
where he was confined for a number of years by Harun, who
was extremely jealous of the veneration in which the Imam was
held in Hijaz. De Sacy says Musa was put to death secretly in
his confinement by order of Harun. His sufferings and his pure
and exalted character endeared him greatly to all classes of
people, and gained for him the title of Kdzim, " the Patient."

8. Ali III., Abu'l Hasan Ali, surnamed ar-Riza, the Accept-
able, for the purity of his character. He was a scholar, a poet,
and a philosopher of the first rank. He was born in Medina in
the year 153 a.h. (a.c. 770), and died at Tus in Khorasan in
a.h. 202 (a.c. 817). He married a sister of Mamun, named
Umm ul-Fazl.


9. Abu Ja'far Mohammed, surnamed al-Jawwdd for his
munificence and generosity, and Taki for his piety. He was a
nephew of Mamun, and was also married to his daughter, named
Umm ul-Habib. He was held in the highest estimation by that
Caliph and his successor Mu'tasim (born a.h. 195, a.c. 811 ; and
died in a.h. 220, a.c. 835).

10. Ali IV., surnamed Naki, the Pure, died a.h. 260, A.c. 868.

11. Abu Mohammed al-Hasan ibn Ali al-'Askari, surnamed
al-Hddi, the Director, and called 'Askari from his long residence
under the surveillance of Mutawakkil at Surra man-Raa * which
also went by the name of al-'Askar, " the Encampment." He
was a man of eminent piety and great nobility of character, a
distinguished poet and litterateur. He was born at Medina
a.h. 231 (a.c. 845-6), and died at al-'Askar in a.h. 260 (a.c
874). He is said to have been poisoned by Mutawakkil.

12. Mohammed al-Mahdi (a.h. 265, A.c. 878-9). This last
Imam disappeared, according to the Shiah belief, in a grotto

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 38 of 55)