ASSASSINS | MUSTA’LIANS | ALAWIS (NUSAIRIS) | DRUZES
In 1094, the Isma’ilis split, and the Nizari sect was formed, led by ‘the old man of the Mountain.’ This group conducted guerilla warfare and became known as the Assassins. Some like the scholar Bernard Lewis, for example, argue that the Assassins are the true predecessors of many of the so-called Islamic terrorists of today. The name ‘takers of hashish’ was given to the sect by their enemies. They called themselves fidayeen — those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause.
The Assassins were tamed by the passage of time and were revived in more peaceable form in the 19th century. Today the group has a worldwide following, mainly of business people from the Indian sub-continent who provide welfare services for less fortunate members. Their Imam is known as the Aga Khan.
A rival group, the Musta’lian branch of Isma’ilism is also found mainly in India as well as in Yemen.
Some offshoots of Isma’ilism took Shi’a doctrine to an extreme point, almost beyond the bounds of Islam. One such group is the Nusairis of Syria, also know as the Alawis or followers of Ali. There is a gread deal of confusion about their beliefs with some saying that they worship Ali as God. The Alawis themselves, however, claim that they are Muslims.
The Alawis are dominant in the ruling Ba’th party of Syria as a result of its over representation of army officers. The Syrian constitution says that the President of the Republic must be a Muslim. Some doubt that President al-Asad, an Alawi, fulfills this condition. However, others say that by pronouncing the shahada — the First Pillar of Islam — the president, in effect, renounced the Nusairi Creed.
The Alawis themselves claim that they are Muslims. In the 1970s their claim was endorsed by the leader of the Twelver Shi’ites in Lebanon, Imam Musa Sadr, who was anxious to secure Syrian protection for his community in the Lebanese civil war. Sunni hostility towards the Alawis in Syria isn’t directed at their religious beliefs as much as at their alleged corruption and nepotism.
Doubts similar to those surrounding the Alawis are in evidence regarding the Druzes.
In the 11th century, this group carried Isma’ili doctrine to an extreme by asserting that each of the attributes of God was made manifest to mankind in the personality of a prophet or imam. Specifically, one of the Fatimid caliphs, Hakim, was declared the manifestation of God. His followers (Druzes) address prayers to Hakim, call him ‘Our Lord,’ and look forward to his reappearance. These beliefs are generally considered to make them non Muslims.
Still, the Druzes observe some Muslim festivals and some Islamic laws. However, they don’t fast during the month of Ramadan, nor do they make the pilgrimage to Mecca. They stopped making converts soon after their foundation and, today, remain a closed sect with members in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.