World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


The Age of Alamut: New Developments in the Study of Ismaili History in the Alamut Period (210) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Jalal Badakhchani

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The progress in the study of Ismaili history has proceeded with an astonishing speed during the last two decades. Numerous works have emerged which deal with the history, theology, philosophy and other aspects of Ismaili history. As a result, the study of Ismaili history has progressed quite well due mainly to the possibility of accessing newly available primary sources from various private collections. The establishment of the Institute of Ismaili studies in 1977, devoted to the study of Ismaili history and heritage has been another important factor in promoting the study of Ismailism. The aim of this panel is to present new findings and developments in modern scholarship on the history of the Nizari Ismailis during one of the most tantalizing periods of their history, namely the Alamut period, which has been shrouded in myths and legends up until now. The papers on the panel will highlight new sources, methodologies and tools in the study of this period, including new archaeological evidence, results of the excavations of the main fortresses of the former Alamut state in Iran and the discovery of new source materials.

With the establishment of the Institute of Ismaili studies in 1977, various aspects of Ismaili scholarship have been given a new lease of life. Scholarly researched works in the field of history, philosophy, theology and other interrelated subjects have been carried out. New source materials have been discovered and this has enabled the academic world to have a clearer picture of a much influential but hitherto obscure religious community. The new findings in the field of history and theology of the Ismailis in one of their most tantalizing period of history, that is, the Nizari Ismailis of Alamut which up till now has been shrouded in myths and legends has also been blessed with new findings and the discovery of new source materials. The panel entitled "Legends and Legacies: The Ismailis of Alamut" aims at updating the information available in the field through masterly presentations by the scholars of international repute who are recognized experts in the field. The presentations are highly recommended for the students of religious studies, Islamic and Ismaili studies and inquisitive minds in general who not only will find the presentations useful but also can participate in the question and answer sessions the follows each presentation.

Chair: Farhad Daftary (Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies, London)

Discussant: Jalal Badakhchani (The Institute of Ismaili Studies)

Paper presenter: Hamideh Choubak (Iran Heritage Foundation), “Excavation of the Alamut Castle”
The Archaeological Excavations at Alamut will shed light on the ongoing excavations at Alamut. In the year 1090 A.D Hasan-i Sabbah, the leader of the Nizari Ismailis in Iran chose the Alamut region as his headquarter for campaign, preaching and converting new followers. This selection and presence was a turning point for the destiny of the Alamut Valley. The result of over two centuries of Ismaili domination in the region is the construction of numerous castles and fortresses throughout the land, of which at least 20 “castles” dating back to this era have been identified. The most magnificent castle in the Alamut Valley is “Alamut”, known locally as “Hasan-i Sabbah Castle”. Currently only ruins of the fort and some towers are apparent and it is only through archaeological excavation that the main structure can be discovered. During the 8 seasons of excavation (2001- 2009) more than 5000 Sq. meters have been unearthed. The results of these excavations, especially various alterations executed by the successors of Hasan-i Sabbah, will be explained in the lecture.

Paper presenter: S. Jalal Badakhchani (Department of Graduate Studies and Publications, Institute of Ismaili Studies), “Hasan-i Mahmud-i Katib and his Poems of Resurrection (Divan-i Qa''imiyyat)”
A talented poet, Hasan-i Mahmud flourished towards the middle of the 7th-13th century. He joined the Ismaili Community at a young age and later on, in the company of Nasir al-Din Muhtasham, the Ismaili governor of Quhistan and the famous philosopher/scientist Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274), moved to Alamut the principle headquarter of the Nizari Ismailis of Iran. His newly discovered collection of poetry named Diwan-i Qa’imiyyat contains 157 odes of various lengths which apart from its poetic merit includes vital information on Ismaili religious thought after the proclamation of the Doctrine of Qiyamat by Imam Hasan ‘Ala Dhikrihi al-Salam (d. 1166).

Paper presenter: Nadia Jamal (Department of Graduate Studies and Publication, Institute of Ismaili Studies), “ Nizari Quhistani and his Travelogue”
The year 1256 marked a watershed moment in the historical calendar of the Nizari Ismailis of Iran. The incursions of the Mongol armies, surrender of numerous strongholds in Quhistan, Rudbar and Damghan, and finally the capture of the bastions of Ismaili power at Alamut initiated a new phase in life of the community. Tales of destruction, massacre and the total end of the Ismailis has prevailed in most source material up till the present day. What is known to us about the lives of the Nizari Ismailis during the years following the establishment of the Ilkhanids in Iran is through the work of the Persian poet and Ismaili preacher, Nizari Quhistani, born in 1247 in Birjand. In his early twenties working as a tax collector in the administration of Shams al-din Kart in Herat, he was expected to travel far and wide to fulfill his obligations. It is through his travels, in particular his two year journey from Quhistan, through Azerbaijan to Georgia, in the entourage of Sahib Diwan, Shams al-Din Juwayni, that he provides rare glimpses into the dynamic interaction of the Nizari Ismaili community. This paper will focus on his travels in an attempt to piece together an image of a community that continued to survive despite the adverse political and socio-economic conditions it had been subjected to.

Paper presenter: Daryoush. Muhammad Poor (Institute of Ismaili Studies: The famous Persian mystic-philosopher), “Ayn al-Qudat Hamadanai and the Ismailis”
Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (1098-1131) author of the Essence of Truth (Zubdat al-Ḥaqa’iq), Essays (Maktubat) and Complaint of the Exile (Shakwa al-Gharib) was executed at a young age under the pretext of blasphemy, and exhibiting Ismaili religious tendencies. Ayn al-Qudat’s religious affiliation has not been studied in details and the present paper aims at highlighting the subject for the first time. In his Maktubat, Ayn al-Qudat tries to reformulate and re-evaluate the doctrine of Talim which is the hallmark of the early Nizari Ismaili propaganda. The doctrine of Talim was fundamentally attacked and criticized by Ghazzali. The few scholarly works available about Ayn al-Qudat, including a small treatise by Nasrollah Pourjavdi and various notes in the edition of the third volume of his letters by Alinaqi Munzawi, do not go into much detail about the methodology of Ayn al-Qudat for addressing and explaining this Ismaili principle. This presentation aims at analyzing different literary, intellectual and theological approaches to this concept and to demonstrate how Ayn al-Qudat describes this principle in a coherent way. Additionally, the speaker will refer to some of the ideas common between him and the Ismailis of Alamut, particularly after the declaration of Qiyamat by Imam Hasan ‘Ala Dhikrihi al-Salam Salam.

Paper presenter: Farouk Mitta (Academic Director: Secondary Teacher Education Programme, Institute of Ismaili Studies), “The Politics of Western Scholarship on Ghazali''s Encounter with Ismailis”
Beginning with Goldzhier’s study of Ghazzali’s polemical writings against the Ismailis in 1916, there has been an ideologically charged tension that has marked subsequent non-Muslim scholarship on Ghazzali’s attitudes towards the Ismailis. This paper entitled “Approaches of Western Scholarship on Ghazzali’s Encounter with Ismailis: Continuation of Polemics by Other Means” seeks to examine the historical roots and conceptual assumptions of this tension which, in effect, continues the politics of Ghazzali‘s polemical project by either supporting Ghazzali’s arguments (Ignaz Goldziher and Bernard Lewis) or defending the Ismailis (Marshal Hodgson and Henri Corbin). This state of affairs brings to light ways in which even non-Muslim scholarship on Muslim theological history becomes embroiled in normative constructions of orthodoxy and heresy in Islam. The paper will also explore the challenges entailed in distinguishing between committed versus non-committed scholarship in Islamic Studies.