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Ismailis(ĭsmäēl`ēz), Muslim Shiite sect that holds Ismail, the son of Jafar as-Sadiq, as its imamimam
[Arab.,=leader], in Islam, a recognized leader or a religious teacher. Among the Sunni the term refers to the leader in the Friday prayer at the mosque; any pious Muslim may function as imam.
..... Click the link for more information. . On the death of the sixth imam of the Shiites, Jafar as-Sadiq (d. 765), the majority of ShiitesShiites
[Arab., shiat Ali,=the party of Ali], the second largest branch of Islam, Shiites currently account for 10%–15% of all Muslims. Shiite Islam originated as a political movement supporting Ali (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam) as the
..... Click the link for more information. accepted Musa al-Kazim, the younger son of Jafar, as seventh imam. Those who remained faithful to Ismail, the eldest son, soon evolved the belief that Ismail was endowed with an infallible gift for interpreting the inner meaning of the revelation.
Ismailism developed an understanding of Islam and promoted it through an active missionary system. Although the early history remains obscure, Ismailism incorporated elements of GnosticismGnosticism
, dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. , NeoplatonismNeoplatonism
, ancient mystical philosophy based on the doctrines of Plato. Plotinus and the Nature of Neoplatonism
Considered the last of the great pagan philosophies, it was developed by Plotinus (3d cent. A.D.).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Hindu thought to explain its concept of the imam. Over time it came to stress the importance of the esoteric aspects of the faith over the exoteric. The first success of the Ismaili movement was the establishment of the Qarmat state (see KarmathiansKarmathians
, a Muslim sect of the 9th and 10th cent., similar to the Assassin sect. They were part of a movement for social reform that spread widely through Islam from the 9th to the 12th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. ) in E Arabia. Ismaili missionaries and its political organization also mobilized a network of N African tribes to support the Fatimid claim to the caliphate in Egypt and several regions of the Mediterranean. An offshoot, the AssassinsAssassin
, 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.
..... Click the link for more information. , established a state in NE Iran, which survived until the 13th cent. In 1094 the Ismailis split into Nizaris and Mustalis. Today, though a minority community that is not politically active, the Ismailis are spread in small pockets in parts of the Middle East, central and S Asia, and increasingly North America and Europe. The family of the Aga KhanAga Khan
, the title of the religious leader and imam of the Ismaili Nizari sect of Islam, originally bestowed by the Persian shah Fath Ali on Hasan Ali Shah, 1800–1881, the 46th Ismaili imam, in 1818.
..... Click the link for more information. , the Nizari imam, traces its descent from Ismail.
See S. M. Stern, Studies in Early Ismailism (1983); F. Daftary, The Ismailis (1990).