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A Brief History of Ismailism
By Abualy A.Aziz
Part 1
Ancestors of Prophet Muhammad
Advent of Islam
Battle of Badar
Battle of Uhud
The Conquest of Mecca
The Prophet's Successor
Death of the Holy Prophet
Caliph Abu Bakr
Caliph Omar
Caliph Osman

Part 2



It is difficult for an average person, particularly the Isma'ili youth, to read voluminous Noorum Mobi'n in Gujrati or Urdu to know about the history of Isma'ilism.

There are, of course, some books in English such as "History of the Ismai'ilis" by A.S. Picklay and "The Aga Khan and his Ancestors" by Naorji M. Dumasia but these useful though they are, do not serve the purpose of the Isma'ili youth. Busy people have little time for long and monotonous reading. I, therefore, have tried to give in this book, as briefly as possible, the details without omitting the necessary and important facts of Isma'ili history.

In the first part of this small book you will read how Isla'm spread in the beginning. The archenemies of Isla'm were Beni Omayya who later became Muslims out of expediency. They hated Beni Ha'shem particularly Beni Fa'tima, the Holy Family of the Prophet of IsLa'm. You will also read that the close relatives of Beni Fa'tima the Abbasids, who were the children of Abba's, an uncle of the Holy Prophet, became enemies for the sake of material power. Both, the Omayyads and the Abbasids, killed thousands of Beni Fa'tima, including many Holy Ima'ms and their followers.

The Omyyads used all sorts of crime and propaganda to destroy and to lower the prestige of Beni Fa'tima. Self-appointed Caliph Mua'wiya started abusing Hazrat Ali from the pulpit. While he presented himself as the close relative of the Holy Prophet, and his legitimate successor, Mua'wiya depicted Hazrat Ali as the enemy of Isla'm in the eyes of his Syrian subjects. Through propaganda and bribes he raised himself to the status of a prophet. Tabari, the famous Sunni historian, has related a story as to how the members of a deputation of the Egyptian Muslims behaved in front of Mua'wiya and addressed him as "Ya Rasoolallah" meaning: O Messenger of Allah.1

Working against the Omayyads the Abbasids presented themselves as Beni Fa'tima to win the public support; but after the seizure of power they too turned enemies. Like their predecessors they claimed to be the successors of the Holy Prophet. They showed their malice towards Beni Fa'tima by publishing false ancestry of our Holy Ima'ms during the time of Ima'm Wafi, Ima'm Mehdi, Ima'm Hadi, Ima'm Hakem and Ima'm Hasan Ala'Zikrihis Salaam, to strenghthen their own claim to Caliphate. When they failed to lay thier hands openly on the Isma'ili Ima'ms, the Abbasids diverted their attention to the Ithna'sheri line of
Beni Fa'tima to establish relationship for their sinister designs. Abbasid Caliph Ma'moon declared the eighth Ithna'sheri Ima'm Ali Reza bin Mu'sa to be his Vali-Ahed, heir to the throne of Caliphate, but later killed him.

In these circumstances, the multitude of Muslims succumbed to the false propaganda and intrigues. Many historians and reporters, who were already prejudiced towards the Isma'ilis, treated them unfairly.

Another entertaining and famous traveller, Marco Polo, who passed through Iran in A.D. 1273 created sensation in Europe about the Isma'ilis as the Assissins. He did not visit the Valley of Alamut, which was destroyed seventeen years before his arrival. He heard the stories about Alamut and its Paradise from the wandering shepherds and nomads. On his report the historians and novelists, all alike the world over, wrote about the Paradise and the Old Man. "In speaking of the Ismailis of Persia as Assassin", writes Professor Bernard Lewis, "and of their leader as the Old Man, Marco Polo -- or his transcriber -- was using terms already familiar in Europe. They had, however, come from Syria, not from Persia. The Arab and Persian sources make it quite clear that "Assassin" was a local name, applied only to the Ismailis of Syria, and never to those of Persia or any other country. The title 'Old Man of the Mountain' was also Syrian. It would be natural for the Ismailis to speak of their chief as Old Man or Elder, Arabic Shaykh or Pesian Pir, a common term of respect among Muslims. The specific designation 'Old Man of Mountain', however, seems to have been used only in Syria, and perhaps only among the Crusaders, since it has not yet come to light in any Arabic text of the period."2

The Druze are a branch of Isma'ilis who seceded after the death of Ima'm Ha'kem. They established their Centre in the mountains of Lebanon which was a part of Syria in those days. 'Old Man of the Mountain' is a common reference to their Shaikh-ul-Aql. The explanation by the Professor about the Assassins, applied to the Isma'ilis of Syria, is meant perhaps for the Druze and not for the Niza'ri Isma'ilis.

There is a brief history of the Isma'ili Pi'rs in chapter two. This has taken most of my time. By the Grace of Allah I have been able to collect bit by bit information about the Pi'rs from various sources including the Gina'ns and some unpublished material. But more research work is still to be done.

History of the Isma'ilis is full of sacrifice and hardship. Although they had their own empires which lasted over three and a half centuries -- 190 years in Africa and 170 years in Iran -- yet they did not force anyone to become an Isma'ili. But those who turned to Isma'ilism on their own accord served it with the greatest devotion. Men like Hasan bin Sabbah, Na'ser Khusrao, Ali bin Mohammed Salihi, Gha'zi Jawhar, Abu Abdulla al-Shii and Ibn Haushab were all converts to Isma'ilism.

Isma'ilis have always kept their love for their Ima'm e Zama'n above everything.

Part two contains a brief survey of Isma'ili Tariqah, propagation of Isma'ilism and the organization of the jama'ts in old and present times. Both, the propagation and the organization, are very important. Propagation does not mean only the conversion of the outsiders but also teaching the followers the sprititual aspect and protection of the faith. Organization is a part of propagation. It creates discipline and obedience.

The entire book is a brief history of Isma'ilism. I have separated the history of the Pi'rs from the history of the Ima'ms so that one can go through it at a glance. Similarly, to facilitate reading, I have written special chapters explaining how the Isma'ili ba'tini creed had developed, the difference between Isma'ili mysticism and other mystical Orders, the history of Isma'ili da'wat and the da'is, the orgaization of the jama'ts in the past and the present and finally the Isma'ili way of life.

Dar es Salaam, June, 1974

History of the Ismaili Imams
Ancestors of Prophet Muhammad

To understand thoroughly the background of the history of the Isma'ilis we must go back a few generations from the Holy Prophet.

The fourth ancestor of Prophet Mohammed was Abd Mona'f. He had a son Ha'shem who had a son Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of Prophet Mohammed and Ima'm Mowla Ali. Abd Mona'f had another son Abd Shams who had a son Ommaya. Mua'wiya was Omayya's great-grandson. According to Alla'ma Ja'hez,3 Abd Mona'f was the head of the tribe of Quraish and the commander of the fighting men. He was also responsible for the care of the prilgrims, the buildings and property of the sacred Ka'ba and welfare of the 'state' and its people. He appointed his son Ha'shem and Uncles Abdul Daar and Abdul U'zza to assist him in his duties. But no position of any kind was given to his son Abd Shams because of his irresponsible behaviour. This made Abd Shams hate Ha'shem because of jealousy.

Ha'shem succeeded his father. Abd Shams became more jealous and hostile towards Beni Ha'shem, the family of Ha'shem. He had neither position and  respect in society nor had he any worthy son. Ha'shem's son Abdul Muttalib was highly respected throughout Arabia. He was called 'Sayyidul Batteha' meaning: the Chief of the Valley of Mecca. The Holy Qura'n contains praise for Beni Ha'shem. On the other side Omayya, the son of Abd Shams, was a vagrant, wicked and unscrupulous man. No Arab would even think of doing what he did. He married one of his wives to his son Omru and the result of this marriage was the birth of Abu Mo'eet.4

With the advent of Isla'm Beni Ha'shem rose further in honour and influence. Day by day the jealousy and hatred of Beni Omayya for Beni Ha'shem increased. Beni Omayya lost all chances to compete with their rivals in respect, nobility, influence and honour. So they became bitter enemies of Beni Ha'shem. This jealousy and hatred became hereditary in Beni Omayya generation after generation. Abd Shams and Omayya stood against Ha'shem; Harab bin Omayya against Abdul Muttalib; Abu Sufya'n bin Harab against Prophet Mohammed and Abu Ta'lib and his son Hasan; Yezi'd bin Mua'wiya against Husain bin Ali; Marwa'n bin Hukam (cousin of Yezi'd and the fourth Omayyad caliph) against Zainul A'bedi'n bin Husain and so on.

Ha'shem died in A.D. 510. His brother Muttalib, the Generous, looked after the family and the 'state' for ten years till Abdul Muttalib bin Ha'shem took over his father's position in A.D. 520. He had several children. Among the sons Abu Ta'lib, Abdullah, Hamza and Abba's were famous. The youngest, Abdullah, was the father of Prophet Mohammed. Abdullah married A'mena. Mohammed was born posthumously on the twentieth of April, 570, fifty-two years before Hijra. He also lost his mother when he was six years old. Abdullah died in A.D. 579 confiding Mohammed in the care of Abu Ta'lib who succeeded him as the Head of the Quraish. Abu Ta'lib was the father of Ali.

Advent of Islam

From early childhood Prophet Mohammed took a great interest in thinking and meditating about the universe and its Creator.5 At the age of twenty-five he married Khadi'ja binti Khuwailad who was a forty-year-old wealthy widow and famous for her nobility. The marriage gave him security and freedom from work, thus he could spend more time in meditation in a cave in mount Hira, near Mecca. Loving Khadi'ja looked after her husband with devotion. At the age of forty he received his first revelation form God:

"Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth;
"Createth man from a clot.
"Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
"Who teacheth by the pen,
"Teacheth man that which he knew not."6

The declaration of Mohammed as the Prophet of Allah infuriated Beni Omayya extremely. They said: "Beni Ha'shem have been leading the Arabs in all walks of life but now they want us to worship them." They used all sorts of direct and indirect methods and tactics to destroy Isla'm, the Beni Ha'shem and particularly the family of Abu Ta'lib. But Isla'm kept on growing. As time passed on the violence of Beni Omayya grew.

Bibi Khadi'ja was the first to accept him as the Messenger of Allah. "When Mohammed first began to preach," writes Ameer Ali, "the Koraish laughed at him, but when they found him earnest in his work their animosty grew into persecution. They began to ill-treat him and his followers, some of whom they tortured to death. Many of his disciples took refuge with a good Christian king in Abyssinia, while others remained to suffer ill-treatment and persecution by the side of their Teacher. On the death of Abu Talib and Khadi'ja, which happended shortly after, the Koraish redoubled their persecutions. Hopeless now of success among the Meccans, Mohammed bethought himself of some other field for the exercise of his ministry. He accordingly proceeded to Tayef, but the people there drove him from their city pelting him with stones. Mohammed returned to his native town sorely striken in heart. He lived there for some time retiring from his people, preaching occasionally and confining his efforts mainly to the strangers who came to Mecca during the season of pilgrimage, hoping that some among them might listen to his word and give up their evil and inhuman ways."7

In this way the Holy Prophet succeeded in converting some people from Yathrib, a city about two hundred miles to the north of Mecca. Yarthrib afterwards became Medina-tun Nabi, the city of the Prophet briefly Medina. Isla'm rapidly gained a foothold in Medina, which later became the capital of the Isla'mic state.


When life became difficult in Mecca the Holy Prophet emigrated to Medina. On Thursday the eighth of Rabi-el-Awwal in the thirteenth year of his prophethood (24th of September, 622) he entered Qu'ba,8 a village in the outskirts of Medina, where he built a mosque -- Isla'm's first mosque. After fourteen days he entered Medina.9 This is known as Hijratun Nabi, migration of the Prophet.

The Isla'mic calendar takes its origin from this great event. In pre-Islamic days the Arabs celebrated their New Year on the first of Moharram. Respecting this national practice the Muslims, on Mowla Ali's suggestion, started their Era of Hijra on the same day back dated two months and eight days, during the time of Caliph Omar.10 The Muslims of Medina were known as Ansa'r, the helpers; and those who came from Mecca were known as Muha'jireen, the refugees. Their co-operation strengthened Isla'm greatly.

Battle of Badar

When the enemy, the idolaters in Mecca, found that their intended victims had escaped they prepared an army to attack Medina. Consequently a battle at Badar, a place near Medina, was fought on the nineteenth of Ramaza'n, 2 A.H. (March, 624), with more than one thousand strongmen led by Abu Sufiya'n, defeated, fled back home with his remaining army leaving behind about seventy prisoners and an equal number of dead. The triumph was an important landmark for the Muslims. This greatly raised the spirit of the faithful while the morale of the enemy was shaken badly.

Battle of Ohod

To wipe out the disgraceful blemish of defeat in the battle of Badar, Abu Sufiya'n, the archenemy of Beni Ha'shem, brought a large army of Meccans and their allies to attack Medina in the third year of Hijra (A.D. 625). On the way to Medina the Meccans arrived at a village Abwa where the Holy Prophet's mother was buried. Abu Sufiya'n proposed to dig out her grave to take away the bones to show them to the Holy Prophet in vengeance, but some of the elders scolded him and rejected the idea.11

The Muslims led by their Prophet met the enemy at Ohod to prevent him from entering Medina. The Muslim force was much smaller in number than the attackers. After a fierce battle on the eighth of Shawwal, 3 A.H. the enemy retreated leaving behind dead bodies and material. Immediately the Muslims started looting the enemy camp which gave Abu Sufiya'n a second thought. He attacked from behind and turned the victory into defeat for the Muslims who now lost some of their best soldiers including Hazrat Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet. The Holy Prophet himself was wounded. Hinda, the wife of Abu Sufiya'n and mother of Mua'wiya, ripped open the chest of Hazrat Hamza and removed his liver and ate it in vengeance. The loss of attackers was too great to allow them to attack Medina and they returned home.

The enemy, however, was not satisfied and many battles were fought to avenge Beni Ha'shem and to annihilate Isla'm. In these wars Beni Omayya lost most of their best fighters and notable personalities at the hands of Mowla Ali. For this reason their hatred for Ali and his progeny never abated.Conquest of Mecca 
On the tenth of Ramaza'n in the year 8 A.H. (January, 630) the Prophet of Isla'm truimphantly entered Mecca without any resistance and planted his standard as a sign of complete victory and control. Abu Sufiya'n and his henchmen lost the struggle in utter disgrace and humiliation. They became Muslims as there was no other choice, but their hearts remained unchanged. The history of Isla'm has enough evidence that Beni Omayya, who could not succeed in fighting against the Holy Prophet and Beni Ha'shem, achieved their goal by embracing Isla'm. With the help of Caliphs Omar and Osma'n they later rose to power and established their Omayyad kingdom.The Prophet's Successor 
The Prophet's mission was over. He went to Mecca to perforn his last hajj in the last month of 10 A.H. Over a hundred thousand Muslims, from all over Arabia, joined him for the hajj ceremonies. During his return jouney he arrived at Ghdir-e-Khom,12 a junction of roads leading to the north and to the south, on the eighteenth of Zil-Hijja, 10 A.H. (15th of March, 632). He was commanded by Allah to deliver an important message to the faithful. The Holy Prophet ordered Bila'l bin Riyah to announce for an urgent gathering of all men and women. Those who went ahead were called back.

The Holy Prophet addressed this huge assembly of Muslims. He declared that that was perhaps his last hajj. He reminded them about their duty towards Isla'm and his teaching during his twenty-three years' of prophethood. He said, "I am leaving behind me the two most important things for you: The Book of Allah and my Progeny. The two will never depart from each other. If you will follow them you will not go astray." He called Ali near him and declared: "For those who consider me as their Master, Ali too is their Master" At the end he raised his hands in prayer and said: "O Allah love them who love Ali and hate them who hate Ali and help them who help Ali."

The first person who congratulated and declared his allegiance to Ali was Omar followed by Abu Bakr and all the men and women.Death of the Holy Prophet 
About two and a half months later the Holy Prophet died in Medina on Monday the first of Rabi-el-Awwal, 11 A.H. (May, 632). He was sixty-three years old.

As soon as the Prophet passed away in the house of his wife A'ysha, his closest companions including Abu Bakr and Omar left the house of the Holy Prophet without waiting for his burial, to capture the most cherished opportunity of appointing the Caliph of their own choice.13 Ali bathed the body of the Holy Prophet and wrapped him in the same clothes he had died in, and buried him in the grave dug out in the room.Caliph Abu Bakr 
When the burial ceremony of the Holy Prophet was taking place on one side, about three hundred Ansa'r and Quraish were meeting in a public hall on the other side. With a display of diplomatic skill by Omar they elected Abu Bakr as the Caliph. They did not attend the burial ceremony of the Holy Prophet. Beni Ha'shem were not consulted at all; and it was not proper for them, at that critical time soon after the death of the Holy Prophet, to draw the sword for their legitimate claim when the city was full of enemies of Isla'm14 looking for an opportunity to destroy it. They protested in vain. Though Abu Bakr was elected as the Caliph, the true believers turned to Ali for spiritual guidance. These are known as the Shi'as.

The Holy Prophet had enjoyed both the temporal and the spiritual authority over the Muslims. But soon after his death, his trusted companions usurped power for which they had no right. The true believers, though small in number and weak, remained loyal to the House of Nabi and Ali (The Ahl e Bayt). They were tortured and persecuted but they did not falter. The spiritual guidance continued after the Holy Prophet through Mowla Ali and his descendants. The Prophet was the founder of the Republic of Isla'm and became its Head. In this capacity he was succeeded by Abu Bakr as the Caliph, meaning the one who came after. The divine authority bestowed upon the Holy Prophet by God was handed over to Ali and Ghadir-e-Khom and therefore succeeded him as the Ima'm e' Zama'n. The unity of the temporal and the spiritual authority in the Prophet was the most important need of the time and that was the basic reason for the surge of Isla'm. But greed and selfishness of some of his companions, not realizing what harm they were inflicting upon the Umma15 and the future generations, divided the two authorities of their leader.

Another blunder was committed. The Caliph, who was in fact like the president or the king of a country and not as the head of the church or religion, guided the Muslims in their religious affairs too. The proof that the Caliphate was not the religous institution is that the Arabs refused to pay zaka't to Abu Bakr who later had to kill thousands of Muslims to impose his authority. He wanted to act, like the Holy Prophet, as the temporal ruler as well as the religious chief. But the Holy Prophet was appointed by God; no one elected him. Abu Bakr was not appointed by the Holy Prophet. Had he been appointed by the Prophet then his election would not have taken place. On the other side Ali was declared, by the Holy Prophet, to succeed him and while he was busy in the burial ceremony of the Prophet the companions, ignoring the burial and their duty, went away to announce the Caliphate of Abu Bakr. Beni Ha'shem under the leadership of Ali kept calm and did not give their allegiance to Hazrat Abu Bakr until after the death of Sayyidah Bibi Fa'tima on the third of Jamadi-el Tha'ni, 11 A.H. (August, 632).

Caliph Omar

After a brief rule of about two years and three months Abu Bakr died on the twenty-second of Jamadi'-el Tha'ni, 13 A.H. (August, 632). He appointed Omar to succeed him. There was no election this time. He consulted only two persons. Osma'n bin Affa'n and Osma'n's brother-in-law Abdur Rehma'n bin Auf.16

Omar ruled sternly but extended the boundaries of the Isla'mic state. He made many changes and improvements in religious and state affairs. He supported Beni Omayya to rise. He appointed Mua'wiya as the governor of the newly conquered country, Syria. Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Armenia etc were all conquered by the Muslim armies during his ten years of Caliphate but nowhere in civil or military service was any Hashemite appointed.

After ten and a half years' rule, he died at the hands of an assassin on the twenty-sixth of Zil-Hijja, 23 A.H. (A.D. 644). Before his death he appointed a committee of six notables of Medina to elect one of them as the Caliph. They were: Ali bin Abi Ta'lib, Abdur Rehma'n bin Auf, Osma'n bin Affa'n, Zubair bin Awwa'm, Saad bin Abi Waka's and Talha bin Abdulla17. The power of veto was vested in Abdur Rehma'n, the brother-in-law of Osma'n. Saad was a cousin and Zubair was the son-in-law of Osma'n. Hazrat Omar knew very well what the outcome would be of this committee's choice.

Abdur Rehma'n asked Mowla Ali first to promise, if he were elected as the Caliph, to follow the Holy Qura'n, the tradition of the Holy Prophet and the policy of Abu Bakr and Omar. Ali replied that he would follow the Holy Qura'n and the tradition of the Holy Prophet and his own judgement. Abdur Rehma'n turned to Osma'n and repeated the question. Osma'n instantly agreed. He was declared as the Caliph. He was a great-grandson of Omayya and a cousin of Mua'wiya. Beni Omayya became stronger.

About the appointment of the election committee, Ameer Ali writes that Omar "made a mistake which paved the way to Ommayade intrigue. The Ommayades now formed a strong party in Medina; they had long been the rivals of the Hashimides, the family of the Prophet, and hated them fiercely; they had pursued Mohammed with bitter ferocity; and it was only after the fall of Mecca that they had adopted Islam from motives of self-interest."18

But Hazrat Omar did not make a mistake; he knew what he was doing. He had earlier told Abdullah bin Abba's that it was not proper for Beni Ha'shem to have both the honours of Prophethood and Caliphate among them; therefore the Quraish decided to grab one.19 Thus Omar did not make a mistake. It was a deliberate plan to keep the Caliphate out of Beni Ha'shem's reach.

Caliph Osman

Osma'n's election proved in the end to be the ruin of Isla'm. He was old and weak and fell at once under the infulence of his family. He appointed incompetent and worthless relatives in all major and responsible positions. Dr. Ta'h Husain of Egypt writes that Osma'n was guilty of nepotism and blind favours.20 He writes in his famous book Al Fitina'tul Kubra: "Omar and Abu Bakr were not elected by all the Muslims' (p. 46); "within hours of the death of the Prophet, the Muslims divided, (p. 51); "the Quraish usurped the Caliphate selfishly," (p. 57); "the companions of the Prophet were enemies of each other," (p. 60); "Abdur Rehma'n bin Auf repented for helping Osma'n to Caliphate," (p. 70); "Osma'n broke his promise to follow Omar's justice and discipline," (p. 103); "Osma'n's incompetence created animosity among the Ansa'r and the Quraish," (p. 114); "Osma'n's step-brother Waleed bin Okba led the morning prayer while he was drunk but Osma'n rejected any compaint against him," (p. 127); "Osma'n strengthened Mua'wiya," (p.155); "Osma'n spent public money for his own family without right," (p. 238) and "he proved as a traitor", (p. 249).

Hazrat Osma'n became the Caliph. He was soft and kind to his relatives but harsh towards his critics. Many close companions of the Holy Prophet and the lovers of Ali such as Abdullah bin Masoud, Amma'r bin Ya'ser, Ma'lik Oshtar, Zaid bin Soha'n Abdi, Adi bin Ha'tim, Ka'ab bin Abdullah, Abu Zar Ghifa'ri and others who criticized Osma'n for his behaviour were not only tortured but exiled and punished by him.21

Oppressed for a long time, the people eventually rose against him and murdered the Caliph, on the eighteenth of Zil-Hi'jja, 35 A.H. (A.D. 656), in his own house. He was house-arrested for nearly forty days before his death. For three days his corpse was lying in his blood before burial. During the siege Mowla Ali used to supply food and water to the Caliph. Dr. Ta'h Husain writes that the bitterest opponent of Osma'n was A'ysha,22 the youngest wife of the Holy Prophet and Talha and Zubair were among the assassins23.1. Ta'rikhe' Tabari, vol--IV, p. 1672. The Assassins, p.83. Rasa'ile' Ja'hez, p. 67-734. Beni Omayya aur Isla'm, p. 45. SN, vol-I p. 2016. Hq, ch. 96 v. 1-57. SHS. p. 98. SN. vol-I, p. 2779. According to Ameer Ali, it was 2nd of July, 622.
10. Al-Fa'rooq, p. 33911. Beni Omayya aur Isla'm, p. 1512. Wakiya-e-Ghadir13. Al-Fa'rooq, p. 6514. Ibid, p. 6915. Meaning: the community16. Ta'rikhe' Tabari vol-I, p. 27417. Al-Fa'rooq, p. 204
18. SHS, p. 45
19. Al-Fa'rooq, p. 205
20. Al-Fitina'tul Kubra, p. 241
21. Ommawi Daure' Khila'fat, p. 13222. Al-Fitina'tul Kubra, p. 32123. Ibid.

Part 2


History of the Imams

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