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twelver quietism contrasts sharply with the tendency to militancy in the other main branch of shii islam, the isma'ilis. on the surface the split between the two groups was over succession. where the twelvers contend that the imamate passed from ja'far al-sadiq to his younger son musa, the isma'ilis argue that ja'far's elder son isma'il was his designated successor. at a deeper level the isma'ilis came to differ radically from the twelvers over the political role of the imamate and over political strategy and organization. in particular the isma'ilis engaged in energetic and highly organized missionary activity on behalf of the imam. their missionary da'is traveled from india to north africa, establishing clandestine groups of ismail! loyalists under the direction of a well-organized central leadership.
for about a century isma'ili activity remained underground and obscure, but in the late ninth and early tenth centuries the movement came dramatically into the open. first, a branch of isma'ilis called qarmatls (carmathians) established states in southern syria and in parts of arabia. by 905 most of yemen was under isma'ili control. then, in 909, the imam made his move. by this time the movement had grown strong enough in north africa for the imam to emerge from hiding and to take power there. the new rulers called themselves fatimids, reflecting their claim to descent from the prophet's daughter, and the state grew into one of the great islamic empires, encompassing at its height north africa, sicily, egypt, syria, and much of arabia, including mecca and medina. the fatimids ruled from egypt for two centuries until salah al-din al-ayyubi, the saladin of crusader lore, formally abolished the dynasty in 1171.
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about eighty years before the final demise of the fatimid state, isma'ili rule spread in another spectacular form in persia and syria. beginning in 1090, a formidable isma'ili leader named hasan-i sabbah began to build a state made up of a widely dispersed network of mountain fortresses in syria and persia. the most important of these strongholds, hasan-i sabbah's headquarters, was alamut, a virtually impregnable castle perched atop a huge rock deep in the elburz mountains on the southern end of the caspian sea. although hasan-i sabbah's state began as a nominal extension of the fatimid empire, it soon broke away. in 1094 a division over the succession to the fatimid imamate split the isma'ilis, and hasan-i sabbah and his followers put their support behind nizar, the losing candidate for imam. the breakaway nizari state, based at alamut, continued until 1256, when it was finally vanquished by invading mongols.
from alamut, which he allegedly never left after he conquered it in 1090, hasan-i sabbah became the terror of the mediterranean. he and his successors dispatched isma'ili da'is throughout the near east to win new devotees for their imam and to expand the territory under isma'ili control. they were a secret society, often acting clandestinely and infiltrating the major centers of power. when opposed, the followers of hasan responded by terrorizing their political enemies by means of targeted assassinations. their first major victim was nizam al-mulk, the powerful wazir of the saljuq rulers, who was stabbed to death in 1092 by an isma'ili assassin disguised as a sufi. other victims included the ruler of horns in 1103, the saljuq governor of mosul in 1113, the wazir of aleppo in 1177, and the crusader king of jerusalem in 1192.
terrifying legends about the nizaris spread to europe through the crusaders, leading to a long-standing, sometimes inordinate fascination in the west. the syrian leader of the nizaris, the "old man of the mountain," became the subject of european legend. the nizaris were so closely identified with a strategy of terror, in fact, that a local syrian designation for the group, hashishiyyin, made its way into european languages and became the origin of the english "assassin."
kaynak: brown, daniel w. 2009. a new introduction to islam, 2nd edition
. west sussex, united kingdom: wiley-blackwell. 135-138.
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