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followers of a Muslim Shiite sect that arose in the caliphate in the mid-eighth century.
The sect was named for Ismail (the oldest son of the sixth Shiite imam, Jafar al-Sadig), whose son the Ismailians, in contrast to the other Shiites, regarded as the legitimate seventh imam. With the growth of class contradictions in the caliphate, the Ismailian sect expressed the attitudes of those Shiites who hoped for a social revolution that would meet the aspirations of the popular masses. In the ninth century the Ismailians divided into two subsects, one of which recognized “hidden imams” (descendants of Ismail’s son, who were hiding from persecution by the Abbasids; later given the name Fatimid Ismailians). The other (later called the Karmathians or Qarmatians) held that imams, like prophets, should number seven, and therefore after Muhammed ibn Ismail it remained only to await the Mahdi (“divinely guided one”).
The ideological system of the Ismailians consisted of two doctrines: an “outer” one izahir), a universally accessible doctrine for ordinary members of the sect, and an inner, “esoteric” one (batin; hence the other name of the Ismailians, the Batinites), which was revealed only to members of higher ranks. The former differed little from moderate Shiism. The latter incorporated an allegorical interpretation of the Koran and of the “outer” doctrine, as well as a general system of philosophy and knowledge (combined with theology), based mostly on Neoplatonism and the philosophy of Aristotle. In the first quarter of the 11th century, the Druze sect broke away from the Ismailians. After 1078 the Fatimid Ismailians split into the Nizaris and the Mustalis (named for Nizar and Mustali, the two sons of the Fatimid caliph Mustansir, who ruled from 1036 to 1094). The Mustalis were predominant in Egypt, the Nizaris in Iran, Syria, and India. In Iran, the Nizaris created their own state, with the center in Alamut (1090–1256).
The ideology of the Ismailians was expressed in medieval literature in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and other languages, as can be seen in the Ismailian treatises, verses, and poems of Nasir-i-Khusraw (born in 1004 and died sometime between 1072 and 1088) and the poetry of Nizari Quhistani (1247–1320) and Khaki Khurasani (17th century).
The majority of contemporary Ismailians are Nizaris. They live in Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, China, Burma, and other countries of Asia; in Egypt and a number of East African countries; and in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast in the USSR. From the 1840’ s to the 1940’s their center was Bombay, where the 46th imam of the Ismailians settled in the early 1840’s. In the mid-19th century the Ismailian imams began to bear the title Aga Khan. Under Aga Khan III (the Ismailian imam from 1885 to 1957) the big bourgeoisie assumed the Ismailian leadership. The 49th Ismailian imam (from 1957), Aga Khan IV Karim, is a multimillionaire. He has the title “royal highness,” which was conferred on him by the British queen and the shah of Iran, and he usually lives in Western Europe. All Nizaris are obligated to pay a tribute to him.
Between the 11th and 16th centuries a segment of the Mustalis emigrated from Yemen and Egypt to Western India. Mustalite missionaries converted to Ismailism many members of the Hindu merchant and money-lending caste. Thus there arose in Gujarat a community of Bohras, which in time turned into a merchant caste. At the turn of the 19th century the Bohras began to resettle throughout India and outside its boundaries, in East Africa, Arabia, and Southeast Asia. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the elite of the Bohra bourgeoisie became dominant among the Mustalis.
REFERENCESSemenov, A.A. K dogmatike pamirskogo ismailizma. Tashkent, 1926.
Bertel’s, A.E. Nasir-i Khosrov i ismailizm. Moscow, 1959.
Beliaev, E.A. Musul’manskoe sektantstvo. Moscow, 1957.
Levin, S.F. “Organizatsii ismailitskoi burzhuazii v Pakistane.” Kratkie soobshcheniia In-ta narodov Azii, 1964, no. 71.
Stroeva, L.V. “Ismaility Irana i Sirii XI-XII vv. v zarubezhnoi i sovetskoi literature.” In Istoriografiia i istochnikovedenie istorii stran Azii. [Leningrad] 1965.
Petrushevskii, I.P. Islam v Irane v VII-XV vekakh. [Leningrad] 1966. (With detailed bibliography.)
Ivanow, W. Brief Survey of the Evolution of Ismailism. Leiden, 1952.
Ivanow, W. A Guide to Ismaili literature. Teheran, 1963.
Hodgson, M. “The Ismā’ili State.” In Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5, 1968, pp. 422–82.
I. P. PETRUSHEVSKII