On the death of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq in 148/765 his followers from among the Imami Shiʿites split into six groups of which two may be identified as proto-Ismaʿilis or earliest Ismaʿilis. Imam al-Ṣādeq had originally designated his second son Esmāʿil (the eponym of the Es-māʿiliya) as his successor to the imamate, but as related in the majority of the sources, Esmāʿil had predeceased his father. The two proto-Ismaʿili groups, which were based in Kufa and supported the claims of Esmāʿil b. Jaʿfar (q.v.) and his son Moḥammad, had already appeared in the lifetime of Imam al-Ṣādeq but they separated from other Imamis only in 148/765. One of these groups denied the death of Esmāʿil and awaited his return as the Mahdi. The members of this group, designated as al-Esmāʿiliya al-ḵāleṣa, or the ‘pure Esmāʿiliya’ by the earliest Imami heresiographers, Nawbaḵòti and Qomi, who are our main sources for the initial phase of Ismaʿilism, held that Imam al-Ṣādeq had announced Esmāʿil’s death as a ruse to protect him against ʿAbbasid persecution as he had been politically active against them. The second group, designated as the Mobārakiya, affirming Esmāʿil’s death, now recognized his eldest son Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as their imam (Feraq al-šiʿa, pp. 57-58; Qomi, pp. 80-81, 83; Ašʿari, Maqālāt, pp. 26-27; Daftary, 1991, pp. 220 ff.). It seems likely that the Mobārakiya, derived from Esmāʿil’s epithet al-Mobārak, the Blessed One (Sejestāni, Etbāt, p. 190; Edris, Zahr, p. 199; Ḥ. F. al-Hamdāni, 1958, text p. 10; Ivanow, 1946, pp. 103-12), were originally supporters of Esmāʿil before acknowledging Moḥammad as their Imam. At any rate, Mobārakiya was thus one of the original names of the nascent Esmāʿiliya, a term coined by later heresiographers.

Nawbaḵti (pp. 58-59) and Qomi (p. 81), who are generally hostile towards the Ismaʿilis, identify al-Esmāʿiliya al-Ḵāleṣa with the early Ḵaṭṭābiya, the followers of Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb (q.v.), the most famous ḡāli (a term used pejoratively by heresiographers for those who attribute divine qualities to Imams; see ḠOLĀT) in the entourage of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, who was eventually repudiated by the Imam. They further hold that on the death of Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb in 138/755 a group of his ḡolāt followers joined the supporters of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil (Feraq al-šiʿa, pp. 60-61; Qomi, p. 83). Some later sources, too, refer to close relations between the earliest Ismaʿilis and the Ḵaṭṭābis (Lewis, 1940, pp. 33-35). On the other hand, Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb is condemned as a heretic by the Ismaʿilis of the Fatimid times (see, for example, Qāżi Noʿmān, Daʿāʾem, I, pp. 49-50; tr. Fyzee, I, pp. 65-66; idem, Ketāb al-majāles, pp. 84-85). Be that as it may, relations between al-Esmāʿiliya al-ḵāleṣa and the Mobārakiya, on the one hand, and between these groups and the Ḵaṭṭābis, on the other, remain rather obscure due to lack of reliable sources. It is certain, however, that all these groups were politically active against the ʿAbbasids and they originated within the radical milieus of Imami Shiʿism in Kufa.

Little is known about the life and career of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil, the seventh imam of the Ismaʿilis. The relevant biographical information contained in early Ismaʿili sources has been preserved by the dāʿi (q.v.; Ismāʿili missionary) Edris (ʿOyun, IV, pp. 351-56; idem, Zahr, pp. 204-8). Soon after al-Ṣādeq’s death, and after the recognition of the imamate of his uncle Musā al-Kāẓem by the majority of the Imamis, Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil left Medina, seat of the ʿAlids, and went into hiding. His decision marked the initiation of the dawr al-satr, or period of concealment, in early Ismaʿilism that lasted until the foundation of the Fatimid state when the Ismaʿili Imams emerged from their concealment. Henceforth, Moḥammad acquired the epithet of al-Maktum, the Hidden One, in addition to al-Maymun, the Fortunate One. Nonetheless, Moḥammad maintained his contacts with the Kufan-based Mobārakiya from different localities in southern Iraq and Persia. He seems to have spent the latter part of his life in Ḵuzestān, where he had some following. He died not long after 179/795 during the caliphate of the ʿAbbasid Hārun al-Rašid. On the death of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil, the Mobārakiya split into two groups (Feraq al-šiʿa, p. 61; Qomi, p. 83). A majority refused to accept his death; they recognized him as their seventh and last imam, and awaited his return as the Mahdi or qāʾem. A second, small and obscure group, acknowledging Moḥammad’s death, traced the imamate in his progeny. Almost nothing is known with certainty regarding the subsequent history of these earliest Ismaʿili groups until shortly after the middle of the 3rd/9th century, when a unified Ismaʿili movement appeared on the historical stage.

It is certain that for almost a century after Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil, a group of leaders who were well placed within Ismaʿilism worked secretly for the creation of a unified, revolutionary Shiʿite movement against the ʿAbbasids. These leaders did not openly claim the Ismaʿili imamate for three generations. They had, in fact, hidden their true identity in order to escape ʿAbbasid persecution. ʿAbd-Allāh al-Akbar, the first of these hidden leaders, had organized his campaign around the central doctrine of the majority of the earliest Ismaʿilis, namely, the Mahdism of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil. Organizing a revolutionary movement in the name of a concealed imam who could not be chased by ʿAbbasid agents represented an attractive strategy. At any rate, the existence of such a group of early Ismaʿili leaders is confirmed by both the official version of the Ismaʿilis of the Fatimid period regarding the pre-Fatimid phase of their history (Edris, ʿOyun, IV, pp. 357-67, 390-404) as well as the hostile account of the Sunni polemicists Ebn Rezām and Aḵu Moḥsen preserved in later sources (Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 44-156; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 151-201; idem, al-Ḵeṭaṭ, I, pp. 391-97; Nowayri, XXV, pp. 187-317). Indeed, with minor variations, the names of these leaders, viz., ʿAbd-Allāh, Aḥmad, Ḥosayn, or Moḥammad and ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi, who were members of the same family and succeeded one another on a hereditary basis, are almost identical in the accounts of the later Fatimid Ismaʿilis (Ḥ. F. al-Hamdāni, 1958, text pp. 10-12; Nisāburi, p. 95; see also Hamdani and de Blois, pp. 173-207) and in the lists traceable to Aḵu Moḥsen and his source Ebn Rezām (Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 238; tr. Dodge, I, pp. 462-64; Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 17-20; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 22-26; Nowayri, XXV, p. 189; Ḥammādi Yamāni, Kašf, pp. 16 ff.). However, in the Ismaʿili sources these leaders are presented as ʿAlids descending from Imam al-Ṣādeq while in anti-Ismaʿili accounts their ancestry is traced to a certain Maymun al-Qaddāḥ. Modern scholarship has shown that the Qaddāḥid ancestry of the early Ismaʿili leaders was constructed by hostile polemicists, soon after the establishment of the Fatimid caliphate, in order to refute the ʿAlid genealogy of the Fatimid caliph-imams. Maymun al-Qaddāḥ and his son ʿAbd-Allāh (see ʿABDALLĀH b. MAYMŪN) were, in fact, associated with Imams al-Bāqer and al-Ṣādeq and had nothing to do with the leaders or imams of early Ismaʿilism (see Ivanow, 1946, pp. 61-103; Daftary, 1990, pp. 105-16).

ʿAbd-Allāh al-Akbar, the first of the early Ismaʿili leaders after Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil, settled in ʿAskar Mokram, in Ḵuzestān, where he lived as a wealthy merchant. From there he began to organize a reinvigorated Ismaʿili daʿwa sending dāʿis to different districts around Ḵuzestān. At an unknown date, still in the first half of the 3rd/9th century, ʿAbd-Allāh found refuge in Syria, where he eventually re-established contact with some of his dāʿis, and settled in Salamiya, continuing to pose as a Hāšemid merchant. Henceforth, Salamiya, situated some 35 km southeast of Ḥamā, served as the secret headquarters of the Ismaʿili daʿwa. The efforts of ʿAbd-Allāh, and his successors, began to bear fruit in the 260s/870s, when numerous dāʿis appeared in Iraq and adjacent regions. It was around 261/874 that Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ (q.v.) was converted to Ismaʿilism by the dāʿi Ḥosayn Ahvāzi (Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 238; Masʿudi, Tanbih, p. 395). Ḥamdān, in turn, organized the daʿwa in the Sawād of Kufa, his native locality, and in other districts of southern Iraq. Ḥamdān’s chief assistant was his brother-in-law ʿAbdān (q.v.). A learned theologian, ʿAbdān enjoyed a certain degree of independence and was responsible for training and appointing numerous dāʿis, including Abu Saʿid Jannābi (q.v.), who later founded the Qarmaṭi state of Baḥrayn.

Centered on the expectation of the imminent return of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as the Mahdi who would establish justice in the world, the revolutionary and messianic Ismaʿili movement appealed to underprivileged groups of different social backgrounds. It achieved particular success among the Imami Shiʿites who were disillusioned with the quietist policies of their imams and were left without a manifest imam after the death of the eleventh Imam, Abu Moḥammad Ḥasan al-ʿAskari (q.v.; d. 260/874). It was under such circumstances that Ḥamdān won many supporters in southern Iraq and embarked on his anti-ʿAbbasid activities (Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 44 ff.; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 151 ff.; Nowayri, XXV, pp. 189 ff.; Ṭabari, III, pp. 2124, 2126-27; Ṭabari, tr. XXXVII, pp. 169, 171-73). The Ismaʿilis of southern Iraq became generally known as the Qarāmeṭa or Carmatians (q.v.), named after their first chief local leader. This term was soon applied to other Ismaʿili communities not organized by Ḥamdān and ʿAbdān. At the time, there was a single Ismaʿili movement directed from Salamiya in the name of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as the Mahdi (Stern, 1961, pp. 99-108; Madelung, 1961, pp. 43-65). In fact, in order to prepare the ground for the emergence of the Mahdi, in 277/890 Ḥamdān established a dār al-hejra, or abode of migration, near Kufa, where his followers gathered weapons and other provisions. This abode was to serve as the nucleus of a new society for the Ismaʿilis. Similar dār al-hejras were later established for the Ismaʿili communities of Yemen, Bahrain and North Africa. The Ismaʿilis (Qarmaṭis) now referred to their movement simply as al-daʿwa (the mission) or al-daʿwa al-hadia (the rightly guiding mission), in addition to using expressions such as daʿwat al-ḥaqq (summons to the truth) or ahl al-ḥaqq (people of the truth).

In the meantime, the Ismaʿili daʿwa had appeared in many other regions in the 260s/870s. ʿAbdān’s brother Maʾmun was active as a dāʿi in Fars, where the Ismaʿili converts became known as the Maʾmuniya (Daylami, p. 21). The daʿwa in Yaman was initiated by Ebn Ḥawšab (q.v.), later known as Manṣur al-Yaman. He arrived there in 268/881, accompanied by his collaborator ʿAli b. al-Fażl. By 293/905-6, when ʿAli occupied Ṣanʿāʾ, these dāʿis were in control of almost all of Yaman (Qāżi Noʿmān, Eftetāḥ, pp. 32-54; Janadi, Ketāb al-soluk, in Kay, 1892, text pp. 139-52, tr. pp. 191-212). Yaman also served as a base for the extension of the daʿwa to other regions. In 270/883, Ebn Ḥawšab sent his relative Haytam as a dāʿi to Sind, initiating the daʿwa on the Indian subcontinent (Qāżi Noʿmān, Eftetāḥ, pp. 45, 47; S. M. Stern, 1949, pp. 298 ff.; Hamdani, 1956). On Ebn Ḥawšab’s instructions, the dāʿi Abu ʿAbd-Allāh al-Šiʿi was active among the Kotāma Berbers of Lesser Kabylia in the Maghreb by 280/893. Ebn Ḥawšab sent other dāʿis to Yamāma, Egypt and Baḥrayn. After his initial activities in Fars, Abu Saʿid Jannābi was sent to Baḥrayn by Ḥam-dān and ʿAbdān in 273/886, or a few years later. He rapidly won converts there from among the bedouins and the Persian emigrants (Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 55-62, 91 ff.; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 159 ff.; Nowayri, XXV, pp. 233 ff.; Ṭabari, III, pp. 2188 ff., 2196-97, 2205, 2232; Ṭabari, tr. XXXVIII, pp. 77 ff., 86-89, 98, 128-29; Masʿudi, Moruj, VIII, pp. 191 ff.; de Goeje, pp. 33-47, 69 ff.)

In the early 260s/870s, the daʿwa was taken to the region of the Jebāl in Persia by Ḵalaf al-Ḥallāj, who established himself in Ray. There, the Ismaʿilis became known as the Ḵalafiya. Under Ḵalaf’s successors as chief dāʿis of the Jebāl, the daʿwa spread to Qom, Kāšān, Isfahan, Hamadān and other towns of that region. Ḡiāṯ, the third dāʿi of Ray, extended the daʿwa to Khorasan and Transoxania on his own initiative. But the daʿwa was officially established in Khorasan during the last decade of the 3rd century (the first decade of the 9th century) by Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Ḵādem who set up his secret headquarters at Nišābur. A later chief dāʿi of Khorasan, Ḥosayn b. ʿAli Marwazi was an eminent amir in the service of the Sāmānids and he succeeded in extending the daʿwa to Herat, Ḡur and other localities under his control, (Neẓām-al-Molk, pp. 282-95, 297-305; tr. Darke, pp. 208-18, 220-26; Ebn al-Nadim, ed. Tajaddod, p. 239; Baḡdādi, Farq, ed. Badr, p. 267; Stern, 1960, pp. 56-90; repr. in idem, 1983, pp. 189-233).

By the early 280s/890s, a unified Ismaʿili movement had replaced the earlier Ismaʿili groups. But in 286/899, soon after ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi, the future Fatimid caliph, had succeeded to leadership in Salamiya, Ismaʿilism was wrought by a major schism. Ḥamdān now noticed significant changes in the doctrinal instructions he received from Salamiya, and dispatched ʿAbdān there to investigate the matter. Ḥamdān found out that instead of advocating Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as Mahdi, the new leader now claimed the imamate for himself and his predecessors, the central leaders of the Ismaʿili daʿwa in the dawr al-satr. Ḥamdān and ʿAbdān refused to accept this doctrinal change, allowing for continuity in the imamate. They renounced their allegiance to the central leadership of Ismaʿilism and suspended all daʿwa activities in Iraq. Soon after, Ḥamdān disappeared while ʿAbdān was murdered at the instigation of a subordinate dāʿi, Zekrawayh b. Mehrawayh, who initially remained loyal to Salamiya (Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 65-68; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 167-68; Nowayri, XXV, pp. 227-32; Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 295; tr. Kramers and Wiet, II, p. 289; Madelung, 1961, pp. 59-65, 69 ff.; Daftary, 1993, pp. 123-39).

ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi’s reform is explained in a letter he later sent to the Ismaʿili community in Yaman (see Ḥ. F. al-Hamdani, 1958; also Hamdani and de Blois, 1983), in which an attempt is made to reconcile his reform with the actual course of events in pre-Fatimid Ismaʿili history. He explains that as a form of taqiya, the central leaders of the daʿwa had assumed different pseudonyms, such as al-Mobārak and al-Maymun, also assuming the rank of ḥojja, proof or full representative, of the absent Imam Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil. ʿAbd-Allāh, whose own pseudonym had been al-Saʿid, the Happy One, further explained that the earlier propagation of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as Mahdi was itself another dissimulating tactic and that this was in reality another collective pseudonym for every true imam in the progeny of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq. The statements of ʿAbd-Allāh are corroborated by the few surviving early Ismaʿili sources (see, for instance, Jaʿfar b. Manṣur al-Yaman, Ketāb al-kašf, pp. 97-99, 102 ff., 109-10, 135, 160; also Madelung, 1961, pp. 254-58).

The doctrinal reform of ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi split the Ismaʿili movement into two rival factions. One faction remained loyal to the central leadership and acknowledged continuity in the imamate, recognizing ʿAbd-Allāh and his ʿAlid ancestors as their imams, which was in due course incorporated into the Fatimid Ismaʿili doctrine of the imamate. These Ismaʿilis now allowed for three hidden imams (al-aʾemma al-masturin) between Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil and ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi. This loyalist faction came to include the bulk of the Ismaʿilis of Yaman and those communities in Egypt, North Africa and Sind, founded by dāʿis dispatched by Ebn Ḥawšab. On the other hand, a dissident faction, originally led by Ḥamdān, rejected ʿAbd-Allāh’s reform and maintained their original belief in the Mahdiship of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil. Henceforth, the term Qarmaṭi came to be applied more specifically to the dissidents, who did not acknowledge ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi, as well as his predecessors and successors in the Fatimid dynasty, as their imams. The dissident Qarmaṭi faction, which lacked central leadership, soon acquired its most important stronghold in the Qarmaṭi state of Baḥrayn, founded in the same eventful year 286/899 by Abu Saʿid Jannābi who sided with Ḥamdān and ʿAbdān (Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 295). There were also Qarmaṭi communities in Iraq, Yaman, Persia and Central Asia. The subsequent history of Qarmaṭism is not treated here (see F. Daftary, “Carmatians,” in EIr, IV, pp. 825-32; Madelung, “Ḳarmaṭī,” in EI ² IV, pp. 660-65; idem, 1959; idem, 1996).

Meanwhile, the dāʿi Zekrawayh b. Mehrawayh had gone into hiding following the events of the year 286/899, possibly fearing reprisals by ʿAbdān’s supporters in Iraq. From 288/901 he sent several of his sons as dāʿis to the Syrian desert where large numbers of bedouins were converted. Zekrawayh now aimed to establish a Fatimid state in Syria for ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi without his authorization. Soon Zekrawayh’s sons summoned their bedouin followers to proceed to Salamiya and declare their allegiance to the imam who was still guarding his identity. In the event, ʿAbd-Allāh, whose position had now been dangerously compromised, secretly left Salamiya in 289/902 to escape capture by the ʿAbbasid agents sent after him. He first went to Ramla, in Palestine, and then in 291/904, following the defeat of Zekrawayh’s movement in Syria by an ʿAbbasid army, he embarked on a historic journey which ended several years later in North Africa where he founded the Fatimid caliphate (see Yamāni, Sirat al-Ḥājeb, pp. 107-33; tr. in Ivanow, 1942, pp. 184-223; French tr. Canard, 1952, pp. 279-324). After their defeat in Syria in 291/904, Zekrawayh and his sons turned against ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi and joined the Qarmaṭi camp. Zekrawayh was finally defeated and killed in 294/907 by the ʿAbbasids while his Qarmaṭi movement lingered on for a while longer (Ṭabari, III, pp. 2218-46, 2255-75; tr. XXXVIII, 113-44, 157-79; ʿArib, pp. 9-18, 36, 137; Masʿudi, Tanbih, pp. 370-76, 391; Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 69-90; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, I, pp. 168-79; Nowayri, XXV, pp. 246-76; Halm, 1979, pp. 30-53; idem, Empire of the Mahdi, pp. 66-88, 183-90).

The early Ismaʿilis elaborated the basic framework of a system of religious thought, which was further developed or modified in the Fatimid period. Central to this system was a fundamental distinction between the exoteric (ẓāher) and the esoteric (bāṭen) aspects of the sacred scriptures and religious commandments and prohibitions. Accordingly, they held that the Qurʾān and other revealed scriptures, and their laws (šariʿas), had their apparent or literal meaning, the ẓāher, which had to be distinguished from their inner meaning hidden in the bāṭen. They further held that the ẓāher, or the religious laws, enunciated by prophets underwent periodical changes while the bāṭen, containing the spiritual truths (ḥaqāʾeq), remained immutable and eternal. These truths, representing the message common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, were explained through taʾwil or esoteric exegesis, which often relied on the mystical significance of letters and numbers. In every age, the esoteric truths would be accessible only to the elite (Ḵawāṣṣ) of humankind as distinct from the ordinary people (ʿawāmm) who were only capable of perceiving the apparent meaning of the revelations. Consequently, in the era of Islam, the eternal truths of religion could be explained only to those who had been initiated into the Ismaʿili daʿwa and as such recognized the teaching authority of the Prophet Moḥammad and, after him, that of his waṣi, ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, and the rightful imams who succeeded him; these authorities were the sole sources of taʾwil in the era of Islam. Initiation into Ismaʿilism, known as balāḡ, was gradual and took place after the novice had taken an oath of allegiance, ʿahd or mitāq. The initiates were also obliged to keep secret the bāṭen imparted to them by a hierarchy (ḥodud) of teachers (see Jaʿfar b. Manṣur al-Yaman, Ketāb al-ʿālem; Halm, “Ismaʿili Oath of Allegiance,” pp. 91-115). By believing in the bāṭen aspect of religion, the Ismaʿilis came to be regarded by the rest of the Muslim community as the most representative of the Shiʿites propounding esotericism in Islam and, hence, their common designation as the Bāṭeniya (q.v.). This designation was also used in a derogatory sense accusing the Ismaʿilis of generally ignoring the ẓāher, or the šariʿa.

The esoteric truths or ḥaqāʾeq formed a gnostic system of thought for the early Ismaʿilis, representing a distinct worldview. The two main components of this system, developed by the 280s/890s, were a cyclical history of revelations or prophetic eras and a gnostic cosmological doctrine. They applied their cyclical interpretation of time and the religious history of humankind to Judaeo-Christian revelations as well as a number of pre-Islamic religions such as Zoroastrianism with much appeal to non-Muslims. This conception of religious history, reflecting a variety of influences such as Hellenic, Judaeo-Christian, Gnostic as well as eschatological ideas of the earlier Shiʿites, was developed in terms of the eras of different prophets recognized in the Koran. This cyclical conception was also combined with the Ismaʿili doctrine of the imamate inherited from the earlier Imamis.

According to their cyclical view, the Ismaʿilis held that the religious history of humankind proceeded through seven prophetic eras (dawrs, q.v.) of various duration, each one inaugurated by a speaker or enunciator (nāṭeq) of a divinely revealed message which in its exoteric (ẓāher) aspect contained a religious law (šariʿa). Each nāṭeq was, in turn, succeeded by a spiritual legatee (waṣi), also called the silent one (ṣāmet) and later the foundation (asās), who revealed to the elite the esoteric truths (ḥaqāʾeq) contained in the bāṭen dimension of that era’s message. Each waṣi was succeeded by seven imams, who guarded the true meaning of the sacred scriptures and laws in their ẓāher and bāṭen aspects. The seventh imam, also called motemm, of every era would rise in rank to become the nāṭeq of the following era, abrogating the šariʿa of the previous era and enunciating a new one. This pattern would change only in the seventh, final era of history. As the seventh imam of the sixth era, the era of the Prophet Moḥammad and Islam, Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil was initially expected to return as the Mahdi (or qāʾem) as well as the nāṭeq of the seventh eschatological era when, instead of promulgating a new law, he would fully reveal the esoteric truths of all the preceding revelations. This original cyclical view of religious history was modified after ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi’s doctrinal reform. Recognizing continuity in the imamate, the seventh era now lost its earlier messianic appeal for the Fatimid Is-maʿilis, for whom the final eschatological era, whatever its nature, was postponed indefinitely into the future. On the other hand, the Qarmaṭis of Baḥrayn and elsewhere continued to consider Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil as their Mahdi who, on his reappearance as the seventh nāṭeq, was expected to initiate the final age of pure spirituality (see F. Daftary, “Dawr,” in EIr, VII, pp. 151-53; also Ebn Ḥawšab Manṣur al-Yaman, Ketāb al-rošd, pp. 185-213; tr. Ivanow, 1955, pp. 29-59; Jaʿfar b. Manṣur al-Yaman, Ketāb al-kašf, pp. 14 ff., 103-4, 109-10, 113-14, 132-33, 138, 143, 150, 169-70; Qāżi Noʿmān, Asās al-taʾwil; Sejestāni, Etbāt, pp. 181-93; Corbin, 1983, pp. 1-58; Madelung, 1961, pp. 51 ff., 82-90; Halm, 1978, pp. 18-37; Walker, 1978, 355-66).

The cosmological doctrine of the early Ismaʿilis may be reconstructed from the fragmentary evidence preserved in later Ismaʿili texts (see especially Stern, 1983, pp. 3-29; Halm, 1978, pp. 18-127, 206-27; idem, “The Cosmology of the Pre-Fatimid Ismāʿīliyya,” in Daftary, ed., 1996, pp. 75-83). This doctrine, representing a gnostic cosmological myth, was espoused by the entire Ismaʿili (Qarmaṭi) movement until it was superseded by a new cosmology of Neoplatonic provenance. According to this doctrine, through His intention (erāda) and will (mašiʾa), God first created a light (nur) and addressed it with the Qurʾānic creative imperative kon (be!). Through the duplication of its two letters, kāf and nun, the name acquired its feminine form Kuni. On God’s command, Kuni created from its light Qadar, its male assistant. Kuni and Qadar were thus the first two principles (aṣlān) of creation. It was out of the original heptad of consonantal letters of Kuni-Qadar, also called the higher letters (al-ḥoruf al-ʿolwiya), that all other letters and names emerged; and with the names there simultaneously appeared the very things they symbolized. This doctrine explained how God’s creative activity, through the intermediary of Kuni and Qadar, brought forth the beings of the spiritual world, also accounting for the creation of the lower physical world which culminated in the genesis of Man.


In this period, often referred to as the “golden age” of Ismaʿilism, the Ismaʿilis possessed an important state of their own and Ismaʿili thought and literature as well as daʿwa activities attained their summit. After his stay in Ramla, ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi arrived in Egypt in 291/904 where he spent a year. Subsequently, he was prevented from going to the Maghreb, where the dāʿi Abu ʿAbd-Allāh al-Šiʿi had been successfully active among the Kotāma Berbers from 280/893 (see Qāżi Noʿman, Eftetāḥ, pp. 71-222; Dachraoui, pp. 57-122; Halm, Empire of the Mahdi, pp. 9-128; M. Talbi, L’Émirat Aghlabide 184-296/800-909, Paris, 1966, pp. 579-672), because the Aḡlabid rulers of the region and their ʿAbbasid overlords had discovered the Imam’s plans and awaited to arrest him. ʿAbd-Allāh now headed for the remote town of Sejelmāsa, in southern Morocco, where he lived quietly for four years (292-96/905-9), maintaining his contacts with Abu ʿAbd-Allāh who had already commenced his conquest of Efriqia (the eastern part of the Maghreb) with the help of his Kotāma soldier-tribesmen. By 296/908, this Kotāma army had achieved much success signaling the fall of the Aḡlabids. On 1 Rajab 296/25 March 909, Abu ʿAbd-Allāh entered Raqqāda, the royal city outside of the Aḡlabid capital of Qayrawān, from where he governed Efriqia, as al-Mahdi’s deputy, for almost a whole year. In Ramażān 296/June 909, he set off at the head of his army for Sejalmāsa to hand over the reins of power to the Ismaʿili imam himself. ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi was acclaimed as caliph in a special ceremony in Sejelmāsa on 7 Du’l-Ḥejja 296/27 August 909. With these events the dawr al-satr in early Ismaʿilism had also ended. ʿAbd-Allāh al-Mahdi entered Raqqāda on 20 Rabiʿ II 297/4 January 910 and was immediately acclaimed as caliph (for a detailed eyewitness account of the establishment of Fatimid rule, see Ebn al-Haytam, Ketāb al-Monāẓarāt). The Ismaʿili Shiʿite caliphate of the Fatimids had now officially commenced in Efriqia. The new dynasty was named Fatimid (Fāṭemiya) after the Prophet’s daughter, Fāṭema, to whom al-Mahdi and his successors traced their ʿAlid ancestry.

The Fatimids did not abandon the Ismaʿili daʿwa on assuming power, as they entertained universal aspirations aiming to extend their rule over the entire Muslim community. However, the early Fatimid caliph-imams, ruling from Efriqia, encountered numerous difficulties while consolidating their power. In particular, they confronted the hostility of the Kharijite Berbers and the Sunni inhabitants of Qayrawān and other cities of Efriqia led by their Māleki jurists. Under the circumstances, the Ismaʿili daʿwa remained rather inactive in North Africa for some time (Madelung, 1999, pp. 97-104). Fatimid rule was established firmly in the Maghreb only under al-Moʿezz le-Din Allāh (341-365/953-975), who succeeded in transforming the Fatimid caliphate from a regional state into a great empire. He was also the first Fatimid caliph-imam to concern himself significantly with the propagation of the Ismaʿili daʿwa outside the Fatimid dominions, especially after the transference of the seat of the Fatimid state in 362/973 to Egypt, where he founded Cairo as his new capital city. The daʿwa policy of al-Moʿezz was based on a number of religio-political considerations. In particular, he was apprehensive of the success of the Qarmaṭi propaganda which not only undermined the efforts of the Fatimid Ismaʿili dāʿis operating in the same lands, notably Iraq, Persia and Transoxania, but also aroused the general anti-Ismaʿili sentiments of the Sunni Muslims who did not distinguish between the Ismaʿilis and the Qarmaṭis who had acquired a reputation for irreligiosity and lawlessness. Al-Moʿezz’s policies soon bore fruit as the Ismaʿili daʿwa and Fatimid cause were reinvigorated outside the Fatimid state. Most notably, Abu Yaʿqub Sejestāni (q.v.), the dāʿi of Sistān, Makrān and Khorasan, who had earlier belonged to the dissident Qarmaṭi faction, transferred his allegiance to the Fatimids; and, consequently, many of his followers in Persia and Central Asia acknowledged the Fatimid caliph-imam. Ismaʿilism also acquired a stronghold in Moltan, Sind, where an Ismaʿili principality was established.

The caliph-imam al-Moʿezz also permitted into the teachings of the Fatimid daʿwa the Neoplatonic cosmology elaborated by the dāʿis of the Iranian lands. Henceforth, this Neoplatonized cosmology was advocated by the Fatimid dāʿis in preference to the earlier mythological doctrine. In the course of the 9th/10th century, Moḥammad Nasafi, Abu Ḥātem Rāzi and Sejestāni had set about harmonizing their Ismaʿili Shiʿite theology with Neoplatonic philosophy. This led to the development of a unique intellectual tradition of philosophical theology in Ismaʿilism. These dāʿis wrote for the educated classes of society and aimed to attract them intellectually. This is why they expressed their theology, always revolving around the central Shiʿite doctrine of the imamate, in terms of the then most intellectually fashionable terminologies and themes. The Iranian dāʿis elaborated complex metaphysical systems of thought with a distinct Neoplatonized emanational cosmology. In this cosmology, fully elaborated in Sejestāni’s Ketāb al-yanābiʿ and other works, God is described as absolutely transcendent, beyond being and non-being, and thus unknowable (Sejestāni, Kašf al-maḥjub, pp. 4-15). Here, the Neoplatonic dyad of universal intellect (ʿaql) and universal soul (nafs) in the spiritual world replace Kuni and Qadar of the earlier cosmology; and the emanational chain of creation is traced finally to Man, while recognizing that God created everything in the spiritual and physical worlds all at once (Sejestāni, Etbāt, pp. 2-3, 28; Nāṣer-e Ḵosraw, Jāmeʿ al-ḥekmatayn, pp. 210-32). These dāʿis also expounded a doctrine of salvation as part of their cosmology. In their soteriology, the ultimate goal of salvation is the human soul’s progression towards his Creator in quest of a spiritual reward in an eternal afterlife. This depended on guidance provided by the authorized sources of wisdom in every era of history (see Daftary, 1990, pp. 234-45; Walker, 1993, pp. 67-142; idem, 1996, pp. 26-103). Neoplatonic philosophy also influenced the cosmology elaborated by the Isma ʿili-connected Eḵwān al-Ṣafāʾ (q.v.). It was also in al-Moʿezz’s time that Ismaʿili law was codified and its precepts began to be observed by the judiciary throughout the Fatimid state.

The Ismaʿilis had high esteem for learning and created distinctive traditions and institutions of learning under the Fatimids. The Fatimid daʿwa was particularly concerned with educating the converts in Ismaʿili esoteric doctrine, known as the ḥekma or “wisdom.” As a result, a variety of lectures or “teaching sessions,” generally designated as majāles (singular, majles), were organized. The private lectures on Ismaʿili esoteric doctrine, known as the majāles al-ḥekma or “sessions of wisdom,” were reserved exclusively for the Ismaʿili initiates who had already taken the oath of allegiance and secrecy. The lectures, delivered by the dāʿi al-doʿāt at the Fatimid palace, were approved beforehand by the imam. Only the imam was the source of the ḥekma; and the chief dāʿi, commonly called bāb (the Gate) in Ismaʿili sources, was merely the imam’s mouthpiece through whom the Is-maʿilis received their knowledge of Ismaʿili esoteric doctrines (see Kermāni, Rāḥat al-ʿaql, pp. 135, 138, 143, 205-8, 212-14). Many of these majāles were in due course collected and committed to writing. This Fatimid tradition of learning culminated in the Majāles al-Moʾayyadiya of the dāʿi al-Moʾayyad fi’l-Din Širāzi (see Maqrizi, al-Ḵeṭaṭ, I, pp. 390-91; Qalqašandi, X, pp. 434-39; Halm, “The Ismaʿili Oath of Allegiance,” pp. 98-112; idem, 1997, pp. 23-29, 41-55; Walker, 1997, pp. 182-86). Another main institution of learning founded by the Fatimids was the Dār al-ʿElm, the House of Knowledge, sometimes also called Dār al-Ḥekma. Established in 395/1005 by the caliph-imam al-Ḥākem (386-411/996-1021), a variety of religious and non-religious subjects were taught here and it was also equipped with a major library. Many Fatimid dāʿis received at least part of their training at the Dār al-ʿElm (Maqrizi, al-Ḵeṭaṭ, I, pp. 458-60; Halm, 1997, pp. 71-77; Walker, 1997, pp. 189-93).

Information on the structure and functioning of the Is-maʿili daʿwa organization was among the most guarded secrets of Ismaʿilism. The religio-political messages of the daʿwa were disseminated by networks of dāʿis within the Fatimid dominions as well as in other regions referred to as the jazāʾer (singular, jazira, “island”). Each jazira was placed under the charge of a high-ranking dāʿi referred to as ḥojja; and every ḥojja had a number of dāʿis of different ranks working under him. Organized in a strictly hierarchical manner, the Fatimid daʿwa was under the overall supervision of the imam and the dāʿi al-doʿāt, or bāb, who acted as its administrative head. The daʿwa organization developed over time and reached its full elaboration under the caliph-imam al-Mostanṣer (see Daftary, “Dāʿī,” in EIr, VI, pp. 590-92; idem, 1990, pp. 224-32; Stern, 1972, pp. 437-50; Hamdani, 1976, pp. 85-114). It was in non-Fatimid regions, in the jazāʾer, especially Yaman, Persia and Central Asia, that the Fatimid daʿwa achieved lasting success (Daftary, 1999, pp. 29-43; idem, “Medieval Ismaʿilis,” pp. 48-61). The daʿwa was intensified in Iraq and Persia under al-Ḥākem. Foremost among the dāʿis of this period was Ḥamid al-Din Kermāni (q.v.). A learned philosopher, he harmonized Ismaʿili theology with a variety of philosophical traditions in developing his own metaphysical system. In fact, Kermāni’s thought represents a unique tradition within the Iranian school of philosophical Ismaʿilism. He expounded a particular cosmology, replacing the Neoplatonic dyad of intellect and soul in the spiritual world by a system of ten separate intellects in partial adaptation of Fārābi’s Aristotelian cosmic system (Kermāni, Rāḥat al-ʿaql, pp. 134 ff.) Kermāni’s cosmology was not adopted by the Fatimid daʿwa; it later provided the basis for the fourth and final stage in the evolution of Ismaʿili cosmology at the hands of Ṭayyebi Mostaʿli dāʿis of Yaman (see W. Madelung, “Cosmogony and Cosmology. vi. In Ismaʿilism,” in EIr, VI, pp. 323-24; de Smet, 1995, pp. 16-377; Walker, 1999, pp. 80-117). Al-Ḥākem’s reign also coincided with the initial phase of what was to become known as the Druze religion, founded by a number of dāʿis who had come to Cairo from Persia and Central Asia, notably Aḵram, Ḥamza, and Darzi. These dāʿis proclaimed the end of the era of Islam and declared the divinity of al-Ḥākem. Kermāni was officially invited to Cairo around 405/1014 to refute the new extremist doctrines from a theological perspective (M. G. S. Hodgson, “Duruz,” in EI ² II, pp. 631-34; Bryer).

The Ismaʿili daʿwa activities outside the Fatimid dominions reached their peak in the long reign of al-Mostanṣer (427-487 /1036-1094), even after the Sunni Saljuqs had replaced the Shiʿite Buyids as overlords of the ʿAbbasids in 447/1055. The Fatimid dāʿis won many converts in Iraq and different parts of Persia and Central Asia. One of the most prominent dāʿis of this period was al-Moʾayyad fe’l-Din Širāzi who after his initial career in Fars settled in Cairo and played an active role in the affairs of the Fatimid dawla and Ismaʿili daʿwa. In 450/1058, al-Mostanṣer appointed him as dāʿi al-doʿāt, a post he held for twenty years, with the exception of a brief period, until his death in 470/1078 (see al-Moʾayyad fe’l-Din, Sirat; Klemm, pp. 2-63, 136-92). Al-Moʾayyad established closer relations between Cairo and several jaziras, especially Yaman where Ismaʿilism had persisted in a dormant form throughout the 4th/10th century. By the time of al-Mostanṣer, the leadership of the daʿwa in Yaman had fallen into the hands of the dāʿi ʿAli b. Moḥammad al-Ṣolayḥi, an important chieftain of the Banu Hamdān in the mountainous region of Ḥarāz. ʿAli al-Ṣolayḥi rose in Ḥarāz in 439/1047, marking the effective foundation of the Ṣolayḥid dynasty ruling over different parts of Yaman as vassals of the Fatimids until 532/1138. On ʿAli’s death in 459/1067, Lamak b. Mālek Ḥammādi was appointed as chief dāʿi of Yaman while ʿAli’s son Aḥmad al-Mokarram succeeded his father merely as head of the Ṣolayḥid state. The dāʿi Lamak had earlier spent five years in Cairo, studying with the chief dāʿi al-Moʾayyad. From the latter part of Aḥmad al-Mokarram’s reign, during which time the Ṣolayḥids lost much of Yaman to Zaydis there, effective authority in the Ṣolayḥid state was transferred to al-Mokarram’s consort, al-Maleka al-Sayyeda Ḥorra. She also played an increasingly important role in the affairs of the Yamani daʿwa culminating in her appointment as the ḥojja of Yaman by al-Mostanṣer. This represented the first application of a high rank in the daʿwa hierarchy to a woman (ʿOmāra b. ʿAli al-Ḥakami, Taʾriḵ al-Yaman, in Kay, 1892, text pp. 1-102, tr. pp. 1-137; Ḥ. F. al-Hamdāni, 1955, pp. 62-231). The Ṣolayḥids also played an active part in the renewed efforts of the Fatimids to spread the daʿwa on the Indian subcontinent (see al-Mostanṣer, al-Sejellāt, pp. 167-69, 203-6). The Ismaʿili community founded in Gojarāt by dāʿis sent from Yaman in the second half of the 5th/11th century evolved into the modern day Ṭayyebi Bohra community.

Meanwhile, the Ismaʿili daʿwa had continued to spread in many parts of the Iranian world, now incorporated into the Saljuq sultanate. By the early 460s/1070s, the Persian Ismaʿilis in the Saljuq dominions were under the leadership of ʿAbd al-Malek b. ʿAṭṭāš who had his secret headquarters in Isfahan. He was also responsible for launching the career of Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ (q.v.) who in due course led the Ismaʿili daʿwa in Persia. In Badaḵšān and other eastern parts of the Iranian world too the daʿwa had continued to spread after the downfall of the Sāmānids in 395/1005 (Ebn al-Atir, IX, pp. 211, 358, X, pp. 122 ff., 165-66; Barthold, pp. 251, 304-5, 316-18). One of the most eminent dāʿis of al-Mostanṣer’s time, Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow played an important part in propagating Is-maʿilism in Central Asia as the ḥojja of Khorasan; he also spread the daʿwa to Ṭabarestān and other Caspian provinces. It was mainly during his period of exile in Yomgān that Nāṣer extended the daʿwa throughout Badaḵšān while maintaining his contacts with the dāʿi al-Moʾayyad and the daʿwa headquarters in Cairo. In fact, the Ismaʿilis of Badaḵšān, now divided between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and their offshoot groups in the Hindu Kush region, now situated in Hunza and other northern areas of Pakistan, regard Šāh Nāṣer-e Ḵosraw as the founder of their communities (Ivanow, 1948; Berthels, Nasir-i Khosrov; Corbin, “Nāṣir-i Khusrau,” pp. 520-42; Daftary, 1990, pp. 215-18; Hunsberger, pp. 220-54). By the time the Qarmaṭi state of Baḥrayn was finally uprooted in 470/1077-78 by some local tribal chieftains, other Qarmaṭi groups in Persia, Iraq, and elsewhere too had either disintegrated or switched their allegiance to the Ismaʿili daʿwa of the Fatimids. There was now, once gain, only one unified Ismaʿili daʿwa under the supreme leadership of the Fatimid caliph-imam.

During the long reign of al-Mostanṣer the Fatimid caliphate had already embarked on its decline resulting from factional fighting in the Fatimid armies and other political and economic difficulties. The unruliness of the Turkish troops led to a complete breakdown of law and order, and drove al-Mostanṣer to appeal to Badr al-Jamāli, an Armenian general in the service of the Fatimids, for help. Badr arrived in Cairo in 466/1074 and soon assumed the leadership of civil, judicial and religious administration in addition to being “commander of the armies” (amir al-joyuš), his main source of power. He managed to restore peace and relative prosperity to Egypt in the course of his long vizierate of some twenty years, as the de facto ruler of the Fatimid state. Badr died in 487/1094, having arranged for his son Afżal to succeed him in the vizierate. Henceforth, real power in the Fatimid state remained in the hands of the Fatimid viziers who also commanded the troops, whence their title of “Vizier of the Sword” (wazir al-sayf). They were also in charge of the daʿw organization and activities.

Al-Mostanṣer, the eighth Fatimid caliph and eighteenth Ismaʿili imam, died in Du’l-Ḥejja 487/December 1094, a few months after Badr al-Jamāli. Thereupon, the unified Ismaʿili daʿwa split into two rival factions, as al-Mostanṣer’s son and original heir-designate, Nezār, was deprived of his succession rights by Afżal who quickly installed Nezār’s younger half-brother to the Fatimid throne with the title of al-Mostaʿli be’llāh (487-95/1094-1101). The two factions were later designated as the Nezāriya and Mostaʿliya. Afżal immediately obtained for al-Mostaʿli the allegiance of the notables of the Fatimid court and the leaders of the Ismaʿili daʿwa in Cairo who now also recognized al-Mostaʿli’s imamate. Nezār refused to pay homage to al-Mostaʿli and fled to Alexandria where he rose in revolt, but he was defeated and killed in 488/1095. The imamate of al-Mostaʿli was recognized by the Ismaʿili communities of Egypt, Yaman, and western India. These Ismaʿilis, who depended on the Fatimid regime, later traced the imamate in the progeny of al-Mostaʿli. The bulk of the Ismaʿilis of Syria, too, joined the Mostaʿli camp. On the other hand, the Ismaʿilis of Persia who were then already under the leadership of Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ supported the succession rights of Nezār. The Central Asian Ismaʿilis seem to have remained uninvolved in the Nezāri-Mostaʿli schism for quite some time (al-Mostanṣer, al-Sejellāt, pp. 109-18; Ebn al-Qalānesi, p. 128; Ebn Moyassar, pp. 59 ff., Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 443 ff.; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, III, pp. 11 ff.; idem, al-Ḵeṭaṭ, I, pp. 422-23; Ebn Taḡriberdi, V, pp. 142-45).


The Fatimid state survived for another 77 years after the Nezāri-Mostaʿli schism of 487/1094. These decades witnessed the rapid decline of the Fatimid caliphate which was beset by continuing crises. Al-Mostaʿli and his successors on the Fatimid throne, who were mostly minors and remained powerless in the hands of their viziers, continued to be recognized as imams by the Mostaʿli Is-maʿilis who themselves soon split into Ḥāfeẓi and Ṭayyebi branches. After al-Mostaʿli’s premature death in 495/1101, the all-powerful vizier Afżal placed his five-year-old son on the throne with the caliphal title of al-Āmer be-Aḥkām Allāh. Afżal was murdered in 515/1121; and when al-Āmer himself was assassinated in 524/1130, the Mostaʿli Ismaʿilis were confronted with a major crisis of succession. A son, named Ṭayyeb, had been born to al-Āmer a few months before his death; and he had been designated as the heir. But on al-Āmer’s death, power was assumed by his cousin, ʿAbd-al-Majid, the eldest member of the Fatimid family, and nothing more was heard of Ṭayyeb. After a brief confusing period in Fatimid history, when Twelver Shiʿism instead of Ismaʿilism was adopted as the official religion of the Fatimid state by Afżµal’s son Kotayfāt who had succeeded to the vizierate, ʿAbd al-Majid re-emerged on the scene in 526/1132, proclaiming himself as caliph and imam with the title of al-Ḥāfeż le-Din Allāh; and Ismaʿilism was reinstated as the state’s religion (Ebn al-Qalānesi, pp. 203, 229, 242 ff., 262, 270, 272-73, 295-96, 308; Ebn Ẓāfer, pp. 94-101; Ebn Moyassar, pp. 113-41; Ebn al-Dawādāri, VI, pp. 506-56; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ, III, pp. 135-92; Ebn Tāḡriberdi, V, pp. 237-87).

The irregular proclamation of al-Ḥāfeẓ as imam, whose father had not been imam previously, caused a major schism in Mostaʿli Ismaʿilism. As in the case of the Nezāri-Mostaʿli split, the Mostaʿli daʿwa headquarters in Cairo endorsed the imamate of al-Ḥāfeẓ, who claimed al-Āmer had personally designated him (see Qalqašandi, IX, pp. 291-97). Therefore, it was also acknowledged by the Mostaʿli Ismaʿilis of Egypt and Syria as well as a portion of the Mostaʿlis of Yaman. These Ismaʿilis, who recognized al-Ḥāfeẓ and the later Fatimid caliphs as their imams, became known as the Ḥāfeẓiya. On the other hand, the Ṣolayḥid queen of Yaman, al-Sayyeda, who had already drifted away from Cairo, upheld Ṭayyeb’s cause and recognized him as al-Āmer’s successor to the imamate. As a result, the Mostaʿli community of the Ṣolayḥid state, too, recognized Ṭayyeb’s imamate. These Mostaʿli Ismaʿilis of Yaman, with some minority groups in Egypt and Syria, initially known as the Āmeriya, became later designated as the Ṭayyebiya. Ḥāfeẓiya Is-maʿilism disappeared completely soon after the collapse of the Fatimid dynasty and caliphate. The Ayyubid Ṣalāḥ al-Din, the last Fatimid vizier, ended Fatimid rule in 567/1171 and thereafter persecuted the Ismaʿilis of Egypt. Henceforth, Mostaʿli Ismaʿilism survived only in its Ṭayyebi form (Casanova, pp. 415-45; Stern, 1951, pp. 193-255; Daftary, 1990, pp. 256-84).

Ṭayyebi Ismaʿilism found its permanent stronghold in Yaman, where it received the initial support of the Ṣolayḥid queen al-Sayyeda who had been looking after the affairs of the Mostaʿli daʿwa there with the help of the dāʿi Lamak b. Mālek Ḥammādi and then his son Yaḥyā (d. 520/1126). It was soon after 526/1132 that the Ṣolayḥid queen broke her relations with Cairo and declared Yaḥyā’s successor Doʾayb b. Musā as the dāʿi moṭlaq, or dāʿi with absolute authority, to lead the affairs of the Ṭayyebi Mostaʿli daʿwa on behalf of Ṭayyeb, who was thought to be in hiding. This marked the foundation of the Ṭayyebi daʿwa independently of the Ṣolayḥid state. On Doʾayb’s death in 546/1151, Ebrāhim Ḥāmedi succeeded to the headship of the Ṭayyebi daʿwa as the second dāʿi moṭlaq. The Ṭayyebi daʿwa spread successfully in the Ḥarāz region even though it did not receive the support of any Yamani rulers after the death of the Ṣolayḥid queen in 532/1138. After Ebrāhim Ḥāmedi (d. 557/1162), the position of dāʿi moṭlaq remained hereditary among his descendants until 605/1209 when it passed to ʿAli b. Moḥammad al-Walid of the Banu al-Walid al-Anf family of the Qorayš, and it then remained in this family, with minor interruptions, until 946/1539. The Ṭayyebi Ismaʿilis are of the opinion that in the current period of satr, initiated by Ṭayyeb’s own concealment, their imamate has been handed down among his descendants down to the present time. All these imams have remained in concealment, and in their absence the dāʿi moṭlaqs lead the affairs of the Ṭayyebi daʿwa and community (Hamdani, 1970, pp. 279 ff.; Daftary, 1990, pp. 285-91; idem, “Sayyida Ḥurra: The Ismāʿīlī Ṣulayḥid Queen of Yemen,” in G. R. G. Hambly, ed., Women in the Medieval Islamic World, New York, 1998, pp. 117-30).

In the doctrinal field, the Ṭayyebis maintained the Fatimid traditions, and preserved a good portion of the Ismaʿili texts of the Fatimid period. Similarly to the Fatimids, they emphasized the equal importance of the ẓāher and bāṭen aspects of religion, also retaining the earlier interest of the Ismaʿilis in cyclical history and cosmology which served as the basis of their gnostic, esoteric ḥaqāʾeq system of religious thought with its distinctive eschatological themes. This system was founded largely by Ebrāhim Hāmedi who drew extensively on Kermāni’s Rāḥat al-ʿaql and synthesized its cosmological doctrine of the ten separate intellects with gnostic mythical elements (see Hāmedi, Kanz al-walad). This represented the final modification of Neoplatonic cosmology in Ismaʿili thought (Corbin, 1983, pp. 37-58, 65 ff., 76 ff., 103 ff., 173-81; Daftary, 1990, pp. 291-97). The Ṭayyebi daʿwa organization has drawn on Fatimid antecedents with certain modifications. As in the case of imams, every dāʿi moṭlaq has appointed his successor by the rule of the naṣṣ. The dāʿi moṭlaq was normally assisted in the affairs of the Ṭayyebi daʿwa by several subordinate dāʿis designated as maʾdun and mokāser.

Meanwhile, the Ṭayyebi dāʿi moṭlaqs in Yaman maintained close relations with the Ṭayyebi community in western India. There, the Ismaʿili converts, mostly of Hindu descent, were known as Bohras, a name believed to have been derived from the Gojarāti term vohorvu meaning “to trade,” since the daʿwa originally spread among the trading community of Gojarāt. The Ismaʿili Bohras of Gojarāt were persecuted under the Sunni sultans of the region from 793/1391, forcing them to observe taqiya in the guise of Sunnism. With the establishment of Mongol rule in 980/1572, however, Bohras began to enjoy a certain degree of religious freedom and conversions to Sunni Islam ended.

On the death of the twenty-sixth dāʿi moṭlaq, Dāʾud b. ʿAjabšāh, in 997/1589, his succession was disputed, leading to the Dāʾudi-Solaymāni schism in the Ṭayyebi daʿwa and community. The great majority of Ṭayyebis, then located in India, acknowledged Dāʾud Borhān al-Din (d. 1021/1612) as their new dāʿi and became known as Dāʾudis. A small number of Yamani Ṭayyebis, too, supported the Dāʾudi cause. On the other hand, a minority of all Ṭayyebis, who accounted for the bulk of the community in Yaman, recognized Solaymān b. Ḥasan (d. 1005/1597) as their new, twenty-seventh dāʿi; they became known as Solaymānis. Henceforth, the Dāʾudi and Solay-māni Ṭayyebis followed separate lines of dāʿis. The Dāʾudi dāʿis continued to reside in India, while the headquarters of the Solaymāni daʿwa were established in Yaman (Moḥammad ʿAli, Mawsem-e bahār, III, pp. 169-259; Misra, pp. 27-31; Daftary, 1990, pp. 299-306). Subsequently, the Dāʾudi Bohras were further subdivided in India due to periodical challenges to the authority of their dāʿi moṭlaq.

In 1200/1785, the headquarters of the Dāʾudi daʿwa was transferred to Surat, where the forty-third dāʿi, ʿAbd ʿAli Sayf al-Din (1213-32/1798-1817), founded a seminary known as Sayfi Dars, also Jāmeʿa Sayfia, for the education of Dāʾudi scholars and the functionaries of the community. This seminary, with a major library, has continued to serve as an institution of traditional Islamic learning for the Dāʾudi Bohras. Since 1232/1817, the office of the dāʿi moṭlaq of the Dāʾudi Ṭayyebis has remained among the descendants of Šayḵ Jiwanji Awrangā-bādi, while the community has experienced intermittent strife and crisis rooted in opposition to the dāʿi’s authority. The present dāʿi moṭlaq of the Dāʾudi daʿwa, Sayyednā Borhān al-Din, succeeded to his position as the fifty-second in the series in 1385/1965. The total Dāʾudi population of the world is currently (2002) estimated at around 900,000, located mainly in South Asia. Since the 1920s, Bombay, with its largest single concentration of Dāʾudi Bohras, has served as the permanent administrative seat of the Dāʾudi dāʿi moṭlaq. The Ṭayyebi Bohras, together with the Nezāri Khojas, were also among the earliest Asian communities to settle, during the nineteenth century and subsequently, in East Africa (Amiji, 1969, pp. 141-81; idem, 1975, pp. 27-61).

In Yaman, the leadership of the Solaymāni Ṭayyebis has remained hereditary, since 1088/1677, with few exceptions, in the same Makrami family. Unlike the Dāʾudis, the Solaymānis have not experienced succession disputes and schisms. The Solaymāni dāʿis established their headquarters in Najrān, in northeastern Yaman, and ruled over that region with the military support of the local Banu Yām. In the twentieth century, the political prominence of the Solaymāni dāʿis, checked earlier by the Ottomans, was further curtailed by the Saʿudi family; Najran was, in fact, annexed to Saudi Arabia in 1353/1934. The present dāʿi moṭlaq of the Solaymānis, the forty-ninth in the series, Sayyednā Šarafi Ḥosayn Makrami who succeeded to office in 1396/1976, lives in Saudi Arabia. At present, the Solaymāni Ṭayyebi Ismaʿilis of Yaman number around 70,000 persons. The Solaymāni Bohras represent a very small community of a few thousands in India (Daftary, 1990, pp. 318-23).


By 487/1094, Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ (q.v.), who preached the Ismaʿili daʿwa on behalf of the Fatimids within the Saljuq dominions in Persia, had emerged as the leader of the Persian Ismaʿilis. He had already been following an independent policy, and his seizure of the mountain fortress of Alamut (q.v.) in 483/1090 signalled the commencement of an open revolt against the Saljuq Turks as well as the foundation of what was to become the Nezāri Ismaʿili state. As an Ismaʿili Shiʿite, Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ could not have tolerated the anti-Shiʿite policies of the Saljuqs, who as the new champions of Sunni Islam aimed to uproot the Fatimids. Ḥasan’s revolt was also an expression of Persian “national” sentiments, as the alien rule of the Saljuq Turks was intensely detested by the Persians of different social classes. This may explain why he substituted Persian for Arabic as the religious language of the Ismaʿilis of Persia (see Daftary, “Ḥasan-i Ṣabbāḥ and the Origins of the Nizārī Ismaʿili Movement,” in Daftary, ed., 1996, pp. 181-204). It was under such circumstances that in al-Mostanṣer’s succession dispute Ḥasan supported Nezār’s cause and severed his relations with the Fatimid regime and the daʿwa headquarters in Cairo which had supported al-Mostaʿli. By this decision, Ḥasan had founded the independent Nezāri Ismaʿili daʿwa on behalf of the Nezāri imam. As a result of this decision, the Nezāri daʿwa survived the downfall of the Fatimid dynasty, a pattern similar to the subsequent fate of the Ṭayyebi daʿwa in Yaman (Jovayni, III, pp. 186-216; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 666-83; Rašid al-Din, pp. 97-137; Kāšāni, pp. 133-72; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 41-98; Daftary, 1990, pp. 324-71).

The revolt of the Persian Ismaʿilis soon acquired a distinctive pattern and method of struggle, adapted to the decentralized power structure of the Saljuq sultanate and their much superior military power. Ḥasan devised a strategy to overwhelm the Saljuqs locality by locality and from a multitude of impregnable mountain strongholds. Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ did not divulge the name of Nezār’s successor to the imamate. In fact, numismatic evidence shows that Nezār’s own name appeared on coins minted at Alamut for about seventy years after his death in 488/1095, while his progeny were blessed anonymously (Miles, pp. 155-62). The early Nezāri Ismaʿilis were thus left without an accessible imam in another dawr al-satr; and, as in the pre-Fatimid period of concealment, the absent imam was represented in the community by a ḥojja, his chief representative. Ḥasan and his next two successors at Alamut as heads of the Nezāri daʿwa and state, were recognized as such ḥojjas (Haft bāb-e Bābā Sayyednā, pp. 21-22; Abu Esḥāq Qohestāni, text p. 23). It seems that already in Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ’s time many Nezāris believed that a son or grandson of Nezār had been secretly brought from Egypt to Persia, and he became the progenitor of the line of the Nezāri imams who later emerged at Alamut (Jovayni, III, pp. 180-81, 231-37; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 663, 691-95; Rašid al-Din, pp. 79, 166-68; Kāšāni, pp. 115, 202-4).

From early on in the Alamut period, the outsiders had the impression that the Persian Ismaʿilis had initiated a “new preaching” (al-daʿwa al-jadida) in contrast to the “old preaching” (al-daʿwa al-qadima) of the Fatimid times. The “new preaching” did not, however, represent any new doctrines; it was merely a reformulation of the old Shiʿite doctrine of taʿlim, or authoritative teaching by the imam. It was mainly Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ himself who restated this doctrine in a theological treatise entitled al-Foṣul al-arbaʿa, or The Four Chapters. This treatise, originally written in Persian, has been preserved only in parts (see Šahrastāni, pp. 150-52; tr. Gimaret and Monnot, I, pp. 560-65; Jovayni, III, pp. 195-99; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 671-73; Rašid-al-Din, pp. 105-7; Kāšāni, pp. 142-43; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 51-61, 325-28). The doctrine of taʿlim, emphasizing the autonomous teaching authority of each imam in his own time, became the central doctrine of the Nezāris who, henceforth, were designated also as the Taʿlimiya. The intellectual challenge posed to the Sunni establishment by the doctrine of taʿlim, which also refuted the legitimacy of the ʿAbbasid caliph as the spiritual spokesman of all Muslims, called forth the reaction of the Sunnis. Many Sunni scholars, led by Ḡazāli, attacked the Ismaʿili doctrine of taʿlim (see Ḡazāli, Fażāʾeḥ al-Bāṭeniya, ed. ʿA. Badawi, Cairo, 1964; Mitha, pp. 28-102).

By 489/1096, when the fortress of Lamasar was seized, Ḥasan had acquired or built numerous mountain strongholds in Rudbār, the center of Nezāri power. At the same time, the Ismaʿilis had come to possess a network of fortresses and several towns in Qohestān, in southeastern Khorasan, which remained the second most important territory of the Nezāri state. Later, the Nezāris acquired Gerdkuh (q.v.) and other fortresses in the regions of Qumes, Arrajān and Zagros. By the opening years of the 6th/12th century, Ḥasan had begun to extend his activities into Syria by sending Persian dāʿis from Alamut. By the final years of Ḥasan’s life, the anti-Saljuq revolt of the Persian Nezāris had lost its effectiveness, much in the same way that the Saljuqs under Barkiāroq and Moḥammad Tapar had failed in their prolonged military campaigns to uproot the Persian Ismaʿilis from their strongholds. The Ismaʿili-Saljuq relations had now entered a new phase of “stalemate” (Daftary, 1990, pp. 340-44, 361-65; Hillenbrand, pp. 205-20).

After Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ’s death in 518/1124, Kiā Bozorg-Omid (q.v.) followed as the head of the Nezāri daʿwa and state. A capable administrator like his predecessor, Bozorg-Omid (518-32/1124-38) maintained the policies of Ḥasan and further strengthened and extended the Nezāri state. The Ismaʿili-Saljuq stalemate essentially continued during the long reign of Bozorg-Omid’s son Mo-ḥammad (532-57/1138-62) as the third lord of Alamut (Jovayni, III, pp. 216-22; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 683-86; Rašid al-Din, pp. 137-61; Kāšāni, pp. 172-99; Daftary, 1990, pp. 371-86). By then, the Nezāri state had acquired its distinctive administrative structure. Each Nezāri territory was placed under the overall leadership of a chief dāʿi appointed from Alamut; the leader of the Qohestāni Nezāris was known as moḥtašam. These dāʿis, as well as the commanders of major strongholds, enjoyed a large degree of independence and local initiative, contributing to the dynamism and resilience of the Nezāri movement. Being preoccupied with their struggle and survival in an extremely hostile environment, the Nezāris produced military commanders rather than learned theologians of the types operating under the Fatimids. Consequently, the literary activities of the Nezāris were rather limited during the Alamut period. Nevertheless, the early Nezāris did maintain a sophisticated outlook and a literary tradition, elaborating their teachings in response to changed circumstances. Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ himself is credited with establishing an impressive library at Alamut. Other major fortresses in Persia and Syria, too, were later equipped with significant collections of manuscripts, documents and scientific instruments. Firmly united with a remarkable sense of mission, the Nezāris acknowledged the supreme leadership of Alamut and obeyed without any dissent the religious policies initiated at that fortress initially by the Nezāri imam’s ḥojjas and, subsequently, by the imams themselves. Meanwhile, the Nezāris had been eagerly expecting the appearance of their imam, who had remained inaccessible since Nezār’s murder in 488/1095.

The fourth lord of Alamut, Ḥasan II (q.v.), to whom the Nezāris referred with the expression ʿalā ḏekrehe’l-salām (on his mention be peace), succeeded to leadership in 557/1162 and, soon after, declared the qiāma or resurrection initiating a new phase in the religious history of the early Nezāris. On 17 Ramażān 559/8 August 1164, in the presence of the representatives of different Nezāri communities who had gathered at Alamut, he delivered a sermon in which he proclaimed the qiāma, the long awaited Last Day. About two months later, a similar ceremony was held at the fortress of Moʾmenābād, near Birjand, and the earlier ḵoṭba and message were read out by Raʾis Moẓaffar, the moḥtašam in Qohestān. There, Ḥasan II’s position was more clearly equated with that of al-Mostanṣer as God’s caliph (ḵalifa) on earth, implicitly claiming the status of imam for the lord of Alamut (Jovayni, III, pp. 222-39; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 686-97; Rašid-al-Din, pp. 162-70; Kāšāni, pp. 199-208; Abu Esḥāq Qohestāni, text pp. 19, 24, 38-39, 40-44, 46-47, 53, 58, tr. pp. 19, 23, 38, 40-44, 46-47, 53-54, 58; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 146-59; Lewis, 1967, pp. 70-75, Daftary, 1990, pp. 385-91).

Ḥasan II relied heavily on Ismaʿili taʾwil and earlier traditions, interpreting qiāma symbolically and spiritually for the Nezāris. Accordingly, qiāma meant nothing more than the manifestation of unveiled truth (ḥaqiqa) in the person of the Nezāri imam; it was a spiritual resurrection only for the Nezāris who acknowledged the rightful imam of the time and were now capable of understanding the truth, the esoteric essence of Islam. It was in this sense that Paradise was actualized for the Nezāris in this world. The Nezāris, like Sufis, were now to rise to a spiritual level of existence, from ẓāher to bāṭen, from šariʿa to ḥaqiqa, or from the literal interpretation of the law to an understanding of its spiritual essence and the eternal truths. On the other hand, the “outsiders,” the non-Nezāris who were incapable of recognizing the truth, were rendered spiritually non-existent. The imam proclaiming the qiāma would be the qāʾem al-qiāma, or the lord of resurrection, a rank which in Ismaʿili religious hierarchy was always higher than that of an ordinary imam.

Ḥasan II’s son and successor Nur-al-Din Moḥammad devoted his long reign (561-607/1166-1210) to a systematic doctrinal elaboration of the qiāma. The exaltation of the autonomous teaching authority of the present Nezāri imam now became the central feature of the Nezāri thought; and qiāma came to imply a complete personal transformation of the Nezāris who were expected to perceive the imam in his true spiritual reality. Nur-al-Din Moḥammad also made every Nezāri imam potentially a qāʾem, capable of inaugurating the era of qiāma. In the spiritual world of resurrection there would no longer be any need for ranks of the daʿwa intervening between the imam-qāʾem and his followers. There would now remain only three categories of persons, reflecting different levels of existence in terms of relationships to the Nezāri imam. There are the “people of opposition” (ahl-e tażādd), the non-Nezāris who exist only in the realm of appearances (ẓāher) and are spiritually non-existent. Secondly, there are the ordinary followers of the Nezāri imam, the “people of gradation” (ahl-e tarattob), who have penetrated the šariʿa to its inner meaning. However, they have access only to partial truth, as they still do not fully understand the bāṭen. Finally, there are the “people of union” (ahl-e vaḥdat), the Nezāri super-elite, or the aḵaṣṣ-e ḵāṣṣ, who perceived the imam in his true spiritual reality as the epiphany (maẓhar) of the word (kalema) of God (Ṭusi, Rawża, text pp. 104-5, 112, tr. pp. 119, 128-29; idem, Sayr, text pp. 17-18, tr. pp. 47-48); only they arrive at the realm of the ḥaqiqa, in a sense the bāṭen behind the bāṭen, where they find full truth and as such, they enjoy full salvation in the paradisal state actualized for them in this world. It seems that the privileged state of the ahl-e vaḥdat was attainable by only a few. Nur-al-Din Mo-ḥammad also explicitly affirmed the Nezārid Fatimid descent of his father and, therefore, himself, explaining that Ḥasan II was in fact imam and the son of a descendant of Nezār b. al-Mostanṣer who had earlier found refuge in Alamut. Henceforth, the Nezāris recognized the lords of Alamut, beginning with Ḥasan II, as their imams (Haft bāb-e Bābā Sayyednā, pp. 4-42; tr. Hodgson, in his Order of Assassins, pp. 279-324; Ṭusi, Rawża, text pp. 42, 44-45, 47-56, 98-99, 101-2, tr. pp. 46-47, 49-50, 52-63, 111-12, 115-16; Jovayni, III, 240-42; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 697-99; Rašid-al-Din, pp. 170-73; Kāšāni, pp. 208-14; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 160-84, 210-17).

Meanwhile, the Syrian Nezāris had entered into an important phase of their history under Rāšed-al-Din Senān, their most famous leader who had been appointed as chief dāʿi in Syria by Ḥasan II soon after his own accession in 557/1162. Senān reorganized and strengthened the Syrian Nezāri daʿwa, also consolidating their network of fortresses in the Jabal Bahrāʾ, in central Syria. Aiming to safeguard his community, he entered into intricate and shifting alliances with the major neighboring powers and rulers, notably the Crusaders, the Zangids and Ṣalāh-al-Din. Senān taught his own version of the doctrine of qiāma, which did not acquire deep roots in the Syrian Nezāri community. The only one of the Syrian dāʿis to act somewhat independently of Alamut, Senān led the Syrian Nezāris for almost three decades to the peak of their power and fame until his death in 589/1193 (Abu Ferās Šehāb al-Din Maynaqi, Faṣl, in Guyard, pp. 387-489; B. Lewis, “Kamāl al-Dīn’s Biography of Rāšid al-Dīn Sinān,” Arabica 13, 1966, pp. 225-67; idem, 1967, pp. 110-18; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 185-209; Mirza, pp. 22-39; Daftary, 1994, pp. 67-74, 94 ff.).

Nur-al-Din Moḥammad’s son and successor, Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan (607-18/1210-21), proclaimed his own daring religious policy, aimed at redressing the isolation of the Nezāris from the larger world of Sunni Islam. Consequently, he publicly repudiated the doctrine of qiāma and ordered his followers to observe the šariʿa in its Sunni form, inviting Sunni jurists to instruct his people. Indeed, Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan did his utmost to convince the outside world of his new policy. In 608/1211, the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Nāṣer acknowledged the Nezāri imam’s rapprochement with Sunni Islam and issued a decree to that effect. Henceforth, the rights of Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan to Nezāri territories were officially recognized by the ʿAbbasid caliph, as well as by the Ḵvārazm-Šāhs, who were then establishing their own empire in Persia as successors to the Saljuqs, and by other Sunni rulers. The Nezāris accepted their imam’s new instructions without any opposition. They evidently viewed Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan’s declarations as a reimposition of taqiya, which had been lifted in qiāma times; the observance of taqiya could, thus, imply any type of accommodation to the outside world as deemed necessary by the infallible imam. Be that as it may, the Nezāri imam had now successfully achieved peace and security for his community and state (Jovayni, III, pp. 243-49; tr. Boyle, II, pp. 699-704; Rašid-al-Din, pp. 174-78; Kāšāni, pp. 214-17; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 217-25; Daftary, 1990, pp. 404-7).

Under ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad (618-53/1221-55), Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan’s son and successor as the penultimate lord of Alamut, the Sunni šariʿa was gradually relaxed within the community and the Nezāri traditions associated with qiāma were revived, although the Nezāris continued to appear to outsiders in Sunni guise. The Nezāri leadership now also made a sustained effort to explain the different doctrinal declarations and religious policies of the lords of Alamut. All these teachings were interpreted comprehensively within a coherent theological framework, aiming to provide satisfactory explanations for the seemingly contradictory policies adopted at Alamut. Intellectual life indeed flourished in the long reign of ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad, receiving a special impetus from the influx of outside scholars, who fled the first waves of the Mongol invasions and took refuge in the Nezāri fortress communities. Foremost among such scholars, who availed themselves of the Nezāri libraries and patronage of learning, was Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi, who made major contributions to the Nezāri Ismaʿili thought of the late Alamut period during his three decades amongst them in Qohestān and Rudbār.

It is mainly through Ṭusi’s extant Ismaʿili writings, notably his Rowżat al-taslim, that we have an exposition of Nezāri thought of the Alamut period as it developed during qiāma and its aftermath. Qiāma, Ṭusi explained, was not necessarily a final eschatological event, but a transitory condition of life when the veil of taqiya would be lifted to make the unveiled truth accessible. In the current cycle of history, however, the full qiāma, or Great Resurrection (qiāmat-e qiāmāt) would still occur at the end of the era initiated by the Prophet Moḥammad. Be that as it may, the identification between šariʿa and taqiya, implied by the teachings of Ḥasan II, was now made explicit by Ṭusi who also identified qiāma with ḥaqiqa. Thus, the imposition of the Sunni šariʿa by Jalāl-al-Din Ḥasan was presented as a return to taqiya, and to a new period of satr or concealment, when the truth (ḥaqiqa) would be once again concealed in the bāṭen of religion. The condition of qiāma could, in principle, be granted by the current Nezāri imam at any time, because every imam was potentially also an imam-qāʾem. Thus, Ṭusi now expounded a new doctrine of satr. In his integrated theological presentation, human life could alternate between periods of qiāma, when reality is manifest, and satr, when it would be concealed, requiring the observance of taqiya. In this sense, the term satr was redefined to imply the concealment of the religious truths and the true spiritual reality of the imam, and not the physical inaccessibility of his person, as had been the cases in the pre-Fatimid and early Alamut periods (Ṭusi, Rawża, text pp. 61-63, 101-2, 110, 117-19, 132-33, 143, 145, 147, tr. pp. 67-69, 115-16, 126, 136-38, 154-55, 173, and elsewhere; Hodgson, 1955, pp. 225-38; Daftary, 1990, pp. 407-12). The teachings of the late Alamut period brought the Nezāris even closer to the esoteric traditions more commonly associated with Sufism.

Nezāri fortunes in Persia were rapidly reversed when the collapse of the Ḵvārazmian Empire brought them into direct confrontation with the invading Mongols. When the Great Khan Möngke decided to complete the Mongol conquests of western Asia, he assigned a priority to the destruction of the Nezāri Ismaʿili state, a task completed with some difficulty in 654/1256 by Hülegü who led the main Mongol expedition into Persia. Shortly before, in 653/1255, ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad had been succeeded by his eldest son Rokn-al-Din Ḵoršāh, who would rule for exactly one year as the last lord of Alamut (Jovayni, III, pp. 259-78; tr. Boyle, II, 712-25; Rašid-al-Din, pp. 185-95; Kāšāni, pp. 224-33; Daftary, 1990, pp. 416 ff., 421-30). The youthful imam engaged in a complex, and ultimately futile, series of negotiations with Hülegü. On 29 Šawwāl 654/19 November 1256, Ḵoršāh descended from the fortress of Maymundez in Rudbār in the company of Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi and Nezāri dignitaries, and surrendered to the Mongols. With the fall of Alamut a month later, the fate of the Nezāri state was sealed. Alamut and many other fortresses were demolished. In the spring of 655/1257, Ḵoršāh himself was killed by his Mongol guards in Mongolia, where he had gone to see the Great Khan. By then, the Mongols had massacred large numbers of Nezāris in their protective custody. Shortly afterwards, the Nezāri castles in Syria submitted to the Mamluks; Kahf was the last Nezāri outpost there to fall in 671/1273. However, the Syrian Nezāris were permitted to remain in their traditional abodes as loyal subjects of the Mamluks and their successors. Having lost their political prominence, the Nezāris henceforth lived secretly in numerous scattered communities.


In the wake of the Mongol debacle, the Persian Nezāri Ismaʿilis survived the downfall of their state and strongholds. Many migrated to Central Asia and Sind, where Ismaʿili communities already existed. Other isolated groups in Persia soon disintegrated or were assimilated into the religiously dominant communities of their locality. The centralized daʿwa organization and direct leadership of the Nezāri imams had also disappeared. Under these circumstances, Nezāri communities developed independently while resorting to the strict observance of taqiya and adopting different external guises. Many Nezāri groups in the Iranian world disguised themselves as Sunni Muslims. Meanwhile, a group of Nezāri dignitaries had managed to hide Rokn-al-Din Ḵoršāh’s minor son, Šams-al-Din Moḥammad, who had then succeeded to the Nezāri imamate. Subsequently, Šams-al-Din was taken to Azerbaijan, where he and his next few successors to the imamate lived secretly.

Šams-al-Din, who in certain legendary accounts has been confused with Mawlānā Jalāl-al-Din Rumi’s spiritual guide Šams-e Tabriz, died around 710/1310. An obscure dispute over his succession split the line of the Nezāri imams and their following into the Qāsem-šāhi and Moḥammad-šāhi (or Moʾmen-šāhi) branches (Ivanow, 1938, pp. 57-79; Daftary, 1990, pp. 446 ff., 451-52). The Moḥammad-šāhi imams, who initially had more followers in northern Persia and Central Asia, transferred their seat to India in the 10th/16th century and by the end of the 12th/18th century this line had become discontinued. The sole surviving Moḥammad-šāhi Nezāris, currently numbering about 15,000, are to be found in Syria where they are locally known as the Jaʿfariya (Daftary, 1990, pp. 532-34). The Qāsem-šāhi branch has persisted to the present time. The last four Qāsem-šāhi imams have enjoyed prominence under their hereditary title of Āqā Khan (also Āghā Khan and Aga Khan). It was also in the early post-Alamut times that Persian Nezāris, as part of their taqiya practices, disguised themselves under the cover of Sufism, without establishing formal affiliations with any of the Sufi ṭariqas. The practice soon gained wide currency among the Nezāris of Central Asia and Sind as well. The earliest manifestation of this phenomenon is found in the writings of the poet Ḥakim Saʿd al-Din Nezāri Qohestāni (d. 720/1320). He is the earliest known post-Alamut Nezāri author to use poetic expressions and Sufi idioms for concealing Ismaʿili ideas, a model adopted later by many Nezāri authors of Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

In early post-Alamut times, a most obscure phase in Is-maʿili history, the Nezāris had some success in regrouping in Daylam, where they remained active throughout the Ilkhānid and Timurid periods. A certain Ḵodāvand Mo-ḥammad (d. 807/1404), a Moḥammad-šāhi imam, even occupied Alamut for a while, before he was dislodged by Sayyed ʿAli, the powerful Zaydi ruler of Daylamān. The Nezāris did not survive in the Caspian region after the 10th/16th century (Ẓahir al-Din Marʿaši, Tāriḵ-e Gilān va Daylamestān, ed. M. Sotuda, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 52-68, 69-70, 76 ff., 81 ff., 89, 121, 123-30). Soltan Moḥammad b. Jahāngir (d. 998/1589) and his son Soltan Jahāngir (d. 1006/1597), belonging to Banu Eskandar rulers of Kojur, adhered to Nezāri Ismaʿilism and spread it in their dominions; they represent the last known references in the sources to Ismaʿilism in northern Persia (Šayḵ ʿAli Gilāni, Tāriḵ-e Māzandarān, ed. M. Sotuda, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 88-89, 100). Only a few isolated Nezāri groups survived a while longer in Daylam during the Safawid period when Alamut was used as a prison. In Badaḵšān and other parts of Central Asia, the Ismaʿilis evidently acknowledged the Nezāri imamate only during the late Alamut period as a result of the activities of dāʿis dispatched from Qohestān. These dāʿis founded local dynasties of pirs and mirs who ruled over Šoḡnān and other districts of Badaḵšān. Later, the Nezāris of Badaḵšān were severely persecuted by the region’s Timurid and Özbeg rulers.

By the middle of the 9th/15th century, Ismaʿili-Sufi relations had become well established in the Iranian world. Indeed, a type of coalescence had emerged between Persian Sufism and Nezāri Ismaʿilism, two independent esoteric traditions in Islam which shared close affinities and common doctrinal grounds. This explains why the Persian-speaking Nezāris have regarded several of the greatest mystic poets of Persia, such as Sanāʾi, ʿAṭṭār and Jalāl-al-Din Rumi, as their co-religionists (see, for instance, Fedāʾi Ḵorāsāni, pp. 113-16). The Nezāri Ismaʿilis of Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia have continued to use verses of the mystical poets of the Iranian world in their religious ceremonies. The dissimulating Persian Ismaʿilis also adopted visible aspects of the Sufi way of life. Thus, the imams appeared to outsiders as Sufi masters or pirs, while their followers adopted the typically Sufi guise of disciples or morids (see F. Daftary, “Ismāʿīlī-Sufi Relations in Early Post-Alamūt and Safavid Persia,” in L. Lewisohn and D. Morgan, ed., The Heritage of Sufism, Oxford, 1999, III, pp. 275-89).

By the middle of the 9th/15th century, the Nezāri imams of the Qāsem-šāhi line emerged in the village of Anjedān (q.v.), in central Persia, in the guise of Sufi pirs, initiating the so-called Anjedān revival in Nezāri Ismaʿilism that lasted some two centuries. With Mostanṣer be’llāh II (d. 885/1480), who adopted the Sufi name of Šāh Qa-landar, the Qāsem-šāhi imams became definitely established in the locality where their tombs are still preserved. Taking advantage of the changing religio-political climate of Persia, including the spread of ʿAlid loyalism and Shiʿite tendencies through Sunni Sufi orders, the imams successfully began to reorganize and reinvigorate their daʿwa to win new converts and reassert their authority over various Nezāri communities. These communities, notably those in Afghanistan, Central Asia and India, had been led for long periods by independent hereditary dynasties of pirs. The imams now gradually replaced these powerful autonomous figures with their own loyal dāʿis who would also regularly deliver the religious dues to them.

The Anjedān period also witnessed a revival in the literary activities of the Nezāris, especially in Persia where authors such as Abu Esḥāq Qohestāni and Ḵayrḵvāh Harāti produced the earliest doctrinal works of the post-Alamut period. In the context of Nezāri-Sufi relations during the early Anjedān period, valuable details are preserved in the Pandiāt-e javānmardi, containing the religious admonitions of Imam Mostanṣer be’llāh II. In this book, the Nezāris are referred to with Sufi expressions such as ahl-e ḥaqiqat, or the “people of the truth,” while the imam is designated as pir or moršed. The imam’s admonitions start with the šariʿat-ṭariqat-ḥaqiqat categorization of the Sufis, describing ḥaqiqat as the bāṭen of šariʿat which would be attained by the believers (moʾmens) through following the spiritual path or ṭariqat. The Pandiāt (text pp. 2-3, 11, 13, 14, 34-36, 54-58, 65-68 and elsewhere) further explains, in line with the earlier Nezāri teachings of qiāma times, that ḥaqiqat consists of recognizing the spiritual reality of the imam of the time. The Nezāris now essentially retained the teachings of the Alamut period, especially as elaborated after the declaration of qiāma. The current imam retained his central importance in Nezāri doctrine, and the recognition of his true spiritual reality remained the prime concern of his followers (Abu Esḥāq Qohestāni, text pp. 19-20, 37-38, 53-54, 58, 67-68, tr., pp. 19-20, 37-38, 53-54, 58, 67-68; Ḵayrḵvāh, Kalām-e pir, text pp. 46, 72-73, 86, 95-96, 100, 114-16; idem, Taṣnifāt, pp. 18 ff.).

The advent of the Safavids and the proclamation of Twelver Shiʿism as the state religion in 907/1501, promised a more favorable atmosphere for the activities of the Nezāris and other Shiʿite communities in Persia. The Nezāris did, in fact, initially reduce the intensity of their taqiya practices. However, this new optimism was short-lived as the Safavids and their šariʿat-minded ʿolamāʾ soon persecuted all popular forms of Sufism and those Shiʿite movements which fell outside the confines of Twelver Shiʿism. The Nezāris, too, received their share of persecutions. Šāh Ṭāher Ḥosayni (d. ca. 956/1549), a learned religious scholar and the most famous imam of the Moḥammad-šāhi line, was persecuted in Shah Es-māʿil’s reign (907-30 /1501-24). However, Šāh Ṭāher, whose religious following and popularity had proved unacceptable to the Safavid ruler and his Etnāʿašari scholars, fled to India in 926/1520 and permanently settled in the Deccan where he rendered valuable services to the Neẓām-šāhs of Aḥmadnagar. It is interesting to note that from early on in India, Šāh Ṭāher advocated Twelver Shiʿism, which he had obviously adopted as a form of disguise. He achieved his greatest success in the Deccan when Borhān Neẓām-šāh proclaimed Twelver Shiʿism as the official religion of the state in 944/1537. Šāh Ṭāher’s successors as Moḥammad-šāhi imams continued to observe taqiya in India mainly in the form of Twelver Shiʿism (see Ferešta, Tāriḵ-e Ferešta, ed. J. Briggs, Bombay, 1832, II, pp. 213-31; ʿAli b. ʿAziz Ṭabāṭabā, Borhān-e maʾāter, Hyderabad, 1936, pp. 251-70, 274 ff., 281 ff., 291, 308, 324-26, 338-39, 448-50, 452-53, 584; Daftary, 1990, pp. 487-91).

Meanwhile, Shah Ṭahmāsp persecuted the Qāsem-šāhi Nezāris of Anjedān and had their thirty-sixth imam, Morād Mirzā, executed in 981/1574. By the time of Shah ʿAbbās I (995-1038/1587-1629), the Persian Nezāris had successfully adopted Twelver Shiʿism as a second form of disguise. Šāh Ṭāher may have been the first Nezāri imam to have conceived of this new form of dissimulation, which was now adopted by the Qāsem-šāhi Nezāri imams and their followers (see Daftary, 1990, pp. 471-74). By the end of the 11th/17th century, the Qāsem-šāhi daʿwa had gained the allegiance of the bulk of the Nezāris at the expense of the Moḥammad-šāhis. The daʿwa had been particularly successful in Afghanistan, Central Asia and several regions of the Indian subcontinent. In South Asia, the Hindu converts became known as Khoja, derived from the Persian word ḵᵛāja (Nanji, 1978, pp. 50-83). The Nezāri Khojas developed an indigenous religious tradition, known as Satpanth or the “true path” (to salvation), as well as a devotional literature known as the gināns (q.v.). With the fortieth Qāsem-šāhi imam, Šāh Nezār (d. 1134/1722), the seat of this branch of the Nezāri daʿwa, then representing the only branch in Persia, was transferred from Anjedān to the nearby village of Kahak, near Qom and Maḥallāt, ending the Anjedān period in post-Alamut Nezāri Ismaʿilism.

By the middle of the 12th/18th century, in the unsettled conditions of Persia after the demise of the Safavids and the Afghan invasion, the Nezāri imams moved to Šahr-e Bābak in Kermān, a location closer to the pilgrimage route of the Khojas who regularly traveled from India to see their imam and deliver their religious dues. Soon, the imams acquired political prominence in the affairs of Kermān. The forty-fourth imam, Abu’l-Ḥasan, also known as Sayyed Abu’l-Ḥasan Kahaki, was appointed around 1170/1756 to the governorship of the Kermān province by Karim Khan Zand; earlier he had been the beglerbegi or governor of the city of Kermān (Vaziri, pp. 543-65). It was in his time that the Neʿmat-Allāhi Sufi order was revived in Persia. Imam Abu’l-Ḥasan had close relations with Nur-ʿAli-šāh and Moštāq-ʿAli-šāh among other Neʿmat-Allāhi Sufis in Kermān (Daftary, 1990, pp. 498-503). After Abu’l-Ḥasan’s death in 1206/1792, his son Šāh-Ḵalil-Allāh succeeded to the Nezāri imamate and eventually settled in Yazd. In 1232/1817, he was murdered in a mob attack on his house. Šāh-Ḵalil-Allāh was succeeded by his eldest son Ḥasan-ʿAli-šāh who was appointed to the governorship of Qom by Fath-ʿAli-Šāh and also given properties in Maḥallāt. In addition, the Qājār monarch gave one of his daughters in marriage to the young imam and bestowed upon him the honorific title of Āqā Khan (q.v.), meaning lord and master—this title has remained hereditary among Ḥasan-ʿAli-šāh’s successors.

Ḥasan-ʿAli-šāh was appointed to the governorship of Kermān in 1251/1835 by Moḥammad Shah Qājār. Subsequently, after some prolonged confrontations between the imam and the Qājār establishment, Āqā Khan I, also known as Āqā Khan Maḥallāti, left Persia in 1257/1841. After spending some years in Afghanistan, Sind, Gojarāt and Calcutta, he settled permanently in Bombay in 1265/1848, marking the advent of the modern period of Nezāri Ismaʿilism. As the spiritual head of a Muslim community, Āqā Khan I received the protection of the British in India. The Nezāri imam now engaged in a widespread campaign for defining and delineating the distinct religious identity of his Khoja following. The Nezāri Khojas, too, had dissimulated for long periods as Sunnis and Twelver Shiʿites while their religious traditions had been influenced by Hindu elements. With the help of the courts in India, Āqā Khan I’s followers were legally defined as Šiʿa Imami Ismaʿilis (see Ḥasan-ʿAli-šāh, Āqā Khan, ʿEbrat-afzā, Bombay, 1278/1862, pp. 8-49; Vaziri, pp. 60-64, 608-13; Algar, pp. 61-81; Daftary, 1990, pp. 504-13).

Āqā Khan I died in 1298/1881 and was succeeded by his son Āqā ʿAli Šāh, who led the Nezāris for only four years (1298-1302 /1881-85). The latter’s sole surviving son and successor, Solṭān Moḥammad Šāh, Āqā Khan III, led the Nezāris for seventy-two years, and also became well known as a Muslim reformer and statesman. Āqā Khan III, too, made systematic efforts to set his followers’ identity apart from other religious communities. The Nezāri identity was spelled out in numerous constitutions that the imam promulgated for his followers in different regions, especially in India, Pakistan and East Africa. Furthermore, the Nezāri imam became increasingly concerned with reform policies that would benefit not only his followers but other Muslims as well. He worked vigorously for consolidating and reorganizing the Nezāris into a modern Muslim community with high standards of both male and female education, health and social well-being, as well as developing a new network of councils for administering the affairs of his community. The participation of women in communal affairs also received a high priority in the imam’s reforms.

Āqā Khan III died in 1376/1957 and was succeeded by his grandson, Mawlānā Ḥāżer Imam Šāh Karim Ḥosayni, as he is addressed by his followers. The present imam of the Nezāris, the forty-ninth in the series, has continued and substantially expanded the modernization policies of his predecessor, also developing numerous new programs and institutions of his own which are of wider interest to the Muslims and the Third World countries (Daftary, 1990, pp. 518-32, 537-48). He has created a complex institutional network generally referred to as the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which implements projects in a variety of social, economic and cultural areas. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, as he is known internationally, has his secretariat near Paris. Numbering several millions, the Nezāri Ismaʿilis are scattered as Muslim minorities in more than twenty-five countries of Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.



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(Farhad Daftary)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

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Vol. XIV, Fasc. 2, pp. 178-195