ME3616 Missionaries, Assassins and State-builders:  militant Shi‘ism in the mediaeval Muslim world
Lecturer Professor Carole Hillenbrand
Credits 30
Availability Semester 2, 2018-19
Class Hour View Timetable
Description This course looks at the role of Shi’ism in a series of dynamic politico-religious movements which took place over several centuries in the mediaeval period in an area stretching from North Africa to India. The module will cover the breakaway group known as the Isma‘ilis, the Fatimid Isma‘ili caliphate in North Africa, and the famous Isma‘ili splinter group, the Nizaris (the “Assassins”) , their operations and their role in both Muslim and Crusader history. It will also look at the further spread of  the Isma‘ili movement to Yemen and the Indian sub-continent.
Basic Reading
  • F. Daftary, The Ismailis: their history and doctrines, New York, 2007.
  • B. Lewis, The Assassins: a radical sect in Islam, London, 2003.
  • H. Halm, Shi’ism, Edinburgh, 2004.  

Course Structure

1. An introduction to Shi’ism and the Isma‘ili Shi’ite mission.
2.The schism of 899:  Fatimids and Carmathians.
3. The emergence of the Fatimids in North Africa and their conquest of Egypt in 969.
4. The Fatimid caliphate: missionary state and Mediterranean empire, 969-1094.
5.The career of Hasan-i Sabbah and the Nizari schism of 1094.
6.The Fatimid caliphate: decline and fall, 1094-1171.
7.The Nizaris (Assassins) of Iran:  Hasan-i Sabbah and his programme of high-profile assassinations in  the Seljuq state, 1095-1124.
8. The successors of Hasan-i Sabbah in Iran – esoteric doctrines and political disengagement, 1124 - 1258.
9.The Nizaris (Assassins) of Syria – the beginnings of their mission in Syria and the career of Rashid al-Din Sinan  (the Old Man of the Mountain).
10.The relations of the Nizaris (Assassins) with the Crusaders
and the Mamluks in the thirteenth century.
11. The history of the Isma‘ilis in Yemen and India.

Assessment 40% Coursework
60% Exam
Learning Outcomes

•   study of a key theme of mediaeval society
•   appreciation of the main scholarly issues and debates
•   development of skills in reading and analysing primary sources
Restrictions None