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Assassins

Assassins

The contemporary term "assassin," referring to someone murdering a political or religious leader, derives from the use of the term to describe a mystical Islamic sect that arose in the twelfth century following the destruction of the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt. Following the emergence of Islam, it had split into factions due to differences over the leadership of the community. One group saw the leadership passing to the descendents of Muhammad. Today these Muslims are known as Shi'ites and constitute about 20 percent of Islam. They are concentrated in Iran and Iraq, but there are large Shia minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For several centuries after Muhammad's death, the Shia community was headed by an Imam. The 12th such leader, Muhammad ibn al-'Askari, took office in 873 C.E., after his father died. He was only four years of age. Within days he disappeared, never to be seen again. As he had no brothers, the lineage ceased to exist. The Shia community was in crisis. Refusing to believe that they had been left leaderless, the community came to believe that the 12th Imam was still alive and that at some point in the future would reappear as the chosen one mentioned in the Quran, as the Madhi. Because of their belief in the 12th, Shia Muslims are often referred to as Twelvers. In the meantime, leadership passed to a council of leaders, the Ayatollahs.

In the century before the crisis of the 12th Imam, Isma'il, the eldest son of the sixth Imam, died before his father. While most Shias supported the younger son as the new Imam, a minority refused to recognize him and declared the lineage extinct with the passing of Isma'il in 762. They became known as Ismailis, or Seveners, as Isma'il would have been the seventh Imam.

The Ismailis developed an esoteric doctrine built around the number seven. Allah (God), for example, was seen as the seventh dimension who held the other six in balance. The world would last for seven millennia. More importantly, they took one of Isma'il's descendents as their new Imam, suggesting that a new line of seven Imams was beginning. Their belief was finally put together in a book, Rasa'il ikhwan al-safa (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). As a minority, in order to survive, the Ismailis created a secret underground culture, and would pose as Christians and Jews in some countries. The Imam remained in seclusion. Only in the tenth century were they able to rise up and establish a homeland in Egypt. Their rulers were known as the Fatimids, after Fatima the daughter of Muhammad. The Fatimids, who turned Cairo into a major city and created their famous university, ruled until 1173, when they were driven out by Sunni Muslims (the majority party in the world of Islam).

In the wake of the fall of the Fatimid dynasty, two parties arose, each attempting to regain the throne. The first supported the Fatimid prince, al-Tayyib. The other supported al-Tayyib's brother Nizir. Unable to regain the throne, the Niziriyah moved their headquarters to Syria and resumed the under-ground existence that had been standard in the Ismaili community prior to the dynasty in Egypt. In expectation of the imminent arrival of the Madhi, they also introduced the doctrine of repudiation of the law which the Madhi would restore. The effect of this doctrine was to introduce alcohol, and more significantly, hashish use into the community. The word "assassin" means, literally, hashish user.

The Niziriyah again moved their headquarters, to the Alamut Valley in northern Persia, and here built a mountain fortress. The men who resided in the fortress smoked hashish and learned the fine art of killing. They were masters of the sword and proficient with poisons. They became the terror of Muslim lands for the next two centuries. Alamat was designed as an earthly representation of Paradise and those sent out on killing missions were assured that if they died during their mission they would go straight to the heavenly Paradise. Alamut was finally captured in 1256, but assassin fortresses in Syria survived until the sixteenth century. The assassins gradually dropped their distinctive ways, including murder and hashish, reconciled with the other Ismaili factions, and continue to the present under their present Imam, still a descendent of Nizir, the Aga Khan.

Sources:

What Is Islam?: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Virgin, 1998.

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Assassin

Assassin (əsăs´Ĭn), European name for the member of a secret order of the Ismaili sect of Islam. They are known as Nizaris after Nizar ibn al-Mustansir, whom they supported as caliph; the European term Assassin is derived from the Arabic for "users of hashish." The members of the order were distinguished by their blind obedience to their spiritual leader (known in the West as the Old Man of the Mountain) and by their use of murder to eliminate foes.

The order was founded by Hasan ibn al-Sabbah when he gained control (c.1090) of the mountain fortress of Alamut, located S of the Caspian Sea. The order spread over Persia and Syria, gaining control of many strongholds, and it soon inspired terror throughout the Muslim world. Members were organized into strict classes, according to degree of initiation into the secrets of the order. The most important of the classes were the devotees, who sought martyrdom and were the instruments of assassination.

Hasan and the grand masters who ruled the order after him wielded great political power until the coming of the Mongols. Hulagu Khan attacked and destroyed (1256) their fortresses and massacred most of the Persian branch of the sect. The Syrian branch, with which the Crusaders came in contact, suffered a similar fate at the hands of Baybars, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. Only scattered groups of the order survived; they are said to persist today, particularly in N Syria. Tales of the Crusaders and the writings of Marco Polo brought the Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountain into European folklore. The term assassin came into English and is used today to mean murderer, particularly one who kills for political motives.

See B. Lewis, The Assassins (1967); E. Franzius, History of the Order of Assassins (1969).

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"Assassin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Assassins

Assassins (Fr., from Arab., ḥashīshī, ‘one who consumes hashish’). An Ismāʿīlī (Nizārī) sect at the time of the crusades, founded by al-Ḥasan b. al-Sabbah, who resorted to assassination supposedly under the influence of the drug (though the name ḥashīshī is not often used outside Syrian texts). Taking advantage of the confused conditions, the sect gained considerable strength, but was driven out of its mountain strongholds in the 13th cent. CE. The ruler of the Syrian assassins was known as shaikh al-jabal, ‘the Old Man of the Mountain’.

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"Assassins." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Assassins." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/assassins

assassin

as·sas·sin / əˈsasin/ • n. a murderer of an important person in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons. ∎  (Assassin) hist. a member of a sect of Muslims at the time of the Crusades. Renowned as militant fanatics, they were reputed to use hashish before going on murder missions.

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"assassin." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"assassin." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/assassin-0

Assassins

Assassins the Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims at the time of the Crusades, renowned as militant fanatics and popularly supposed to use hashish before going on murder missions. The name comes (in the mid 16th century, from French or medieval Latin) from Arabic ḥašīšī ‘hashish-eater’.

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"Assassins." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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assassin

assassin (hist., in pl.) Muslim fanatic engaged to murder Christians; one who kills treacherously. XVII. — F. assassin or medL. assassīnus — Arab. ḥaššīšī HASHISH-eater.
Hence assassinate (see -ATE3), assassination XVII.

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assassin

assassin (Arabic, users of hashish) Name given to a Muslim sect of Ismailis, founded in c.1090 by Hasan ibn al-Sabbah. They fought against orthodox Muslims and Christian Crusaders and committed many political murders, until their eventual defeat in the 13th century.

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