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KASSIM ALI (1106-1143/1694-1730), 43RD IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Imam Kassim Ali was born most probably in 1086/1675. He was also known as Syed Aga Jafar, or Syed Jafar. His mother related to a Safavid amir of Kirman. According to the later sources, Imam had married to one of the daughters of Shah Tahmasp II (d. 1145/1732).

His period of Imamate witnessed several vital cataclysm in Iranian kingdom, therefore, the Ismaili mission exercised great care. Imam Kassim Ali also took part in the politics like his father, and was also the governor of Kirman. He however came to reside in Mahallat during the ending period of his Imamate.

In 1115/1703, the Nusairis tribe of Raslan, known as al-Rasalina fiercely attacked on the Ismaili villages in Syria, and took hold of Masiyaf for about eight years. The Ottoman authorities at Latakia, finally assisted the Ismailis to recover their castle. Thus, one Syrian Ismaili caravan is however reported to have repaired to Kirman between 1117/1705 and 1120/1708. During the occupation of Masiyaf, some Ismaili families moved towards the northern Syria and began to live in the mantles of the Druzes at Jabal al-A'la, the mountain of Keftin, where their number increased considerably after few decades. Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815), the famous German traveller was invited in 1760 to join the Arabian expedition being sent out by Frederick V of Denmark. He writes in Voyage en Arabie et en d' austres pays circonvoisins (tr. from German, Amsterdam, 1870, 2:348) that he was not certain whether the inhabitants of this district were indeed the Druzes. He was reportedly told that there were more than forty villages populated by Druzes; however, he suspected their veracity because, he said, the people looked like the Ismailis.

Later, the Ismailis began to reside in peace in the town of Masiyaf. Abdul Ghani al-Nabulusi, a famous mystic and traveller had passed through Masiyaf in 1106/1693-4, and describes in his al-Hakika wa'l majaz fi rihlat al-Sham wa Misr wa'l Hijaz about a certain Ismaili, called Suleman Tanukhi as a chief of the town.

The Safavid Shah Suleman died in 1105/1693, and was succeeded by his son Shah Hussain, who ruled till 1135/1722. Shah Hussain soon abandoned his austere way of life and, like his father took to drink. He became so luxurious that the size and magnificence of his harem was a serious drain of the exchequer. Like his father, he had no interest in state affairs, which was distressing and ultimately disastrous aspect of the empire. Within the empire, this lack of interest signalled increasing corruption and inefficiency in provincial government. Insecurity on the highways was widespread. Often travellers were robbed by the very officials who were supposed to protect them.

According to Rida Quli Khan in Raudat al-Safa'i Nasiri (Tehran, 1853) that, "After the accession of Shah Hussain in 1105/1693, the signs of decline (inhitat), nay, rather, of extinction (inqirad) of the life of the dynasty became from day to day manifest." By the time of Shah Hussain, the bureaucratic centralization of the state structure was weakened through incompetence, and cloven by bigoted in high places. The military weakness of the state was thrown into sharp relief in 1110/1698 when a band of Baluchi tribesmen raided Kirman, almost reached Yazd and threatened Port Abbas. Shah Hussain turned to the Georgian prince Giorgi XI, who happened to be at the Safavid court, for help in repelling the Baluchis. Giorgi was made governor of Kirman in 1111/1699 and defeated the invaders. Ten years after the Baluchis incursion, the military feebleness of the Safavid empire and, in particular, the defenseless state of the eastern frontier, was demonstrated again, and this time with more serious consequences for the state. In 1121/1709, the Gilzay Afghans under their leader, Mir Vays, seized Kandhar and killed Giorgi. After Mir Vays's death in 1127/1715, his brother Abul Aziz succeeded him as chief of the Gilzay Afghans. In 1128/1716, Mehmud, the eldest son of Mir Vays, became the chief of Gilzay Afghans and attacked Kirman. Shah Hussain had to leave Ispahan for Qazwin, therefore, Mehmud took chance to march ahead, and subdued a small military unit and occupied Ispahan in 1134/1722.

In 1127/1715, the Tzar Peter the Great, sent Artemii Petrovich Volynsky as an ambassador to Shah Hussain; he was to conclude a commercial treaty with Iran. He also collected secrecy of Iranian resources and important communication. Volynsky reported that the general situation in Iran was so disturbed, and the army so demoralized and inefficient, that the country could easily be conquered by a small Russian army. By 1133/1721, if not before, the Tzar had decided to invade Iran. He showing of the flag in the Caspian coastal provinces in 1134/1722 had occasioned great alarm in Istanbul, and there was a flurry of diplomatic activity as the possibility of war between Russia and Turkey became stronger or receded. The outcome was the Russo-Ottoman Treaty for the partition of Iran's north-west provinces, dated June 24, 1724. The dismemberment of Iran was short-lived. Six Russian battalions landed in Gilan in 1135/1723, and another Russian forces captured Baku. Hence, Iran's Caspian provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Astrabad had gone in the Russian pocket. On the other side, the European merchants started their dominion on the principal sea-ports of the Muslim countries.

Imam Kassim Ali was made the governor of Kirman in 1106/1694, but when the Baluchi tribesmen had raided Kirman in 1110/1698, the military control was assigned to the Georgian prince Giorgi XI by making him the governor of those parts of Kirman which had been affected by the invaders.

In Kirman, the village land was divided into six shares (dang), each of which comprised one-sixth of the village water supply together with the land watered thereby. Imam Kassim Ali was the governor of the three villages, viz. Shahr-i Babak, Kahek and Mahallat. The Safavid authority accorded him due permission to create an Ataullahi regiment in the Safavid military for security against the Baluchi invaders.

In 1134/1722, an appalling drought reduced the inhabitants of Kirman and Ispahan to the last extremity. It was so severe that hundreds of rotting corpses clogged the streets. At least 80,000 people are said to have perished from starvation and disease. It is learnt that a bulk of the Ismailis from Fars with the governor started from Ispahan to help the affected persons, but Mehmud, the chief of Gilzay Afghans had occupied Ispahan on December 25, 1722 and was proclaimed as a ruler, therefore, the Ismailis could not enter the city.

Shah Tahmasp II, the son of Shah Hussain ascended in 1134/1722 at Qazwin. He fled to Tabriz when Qazwin was shakened by the Afghans. The people of Qazwin repelled the Afghans. Mahmud however put to death many high officials and nobles, notably 3000 Kizilbash guards; cracking down the very backbone of the Safavid military. Thus suddenly was the whole fabric of the Safavid kingdom, bringing to an inglorious end. Mehmud was overthrown by his 26 years old cousin, called Ashraf in 1137/1725. At the time of his accession, Ashraf found himself in possession of Ispahan, Persian Irak, Fars, Kirman, Sistan, Qummis and western Khorasan. Shah Tahmasp II was the ruler of Qazwin and Mazandaran. In 1141/1729, Ashraf attacked the Safavids, but was defeated by Nadir Quli Beg, or Nadir Shah of Khorasan, the Safavid commander. He took possession of Ispahan and reinstated the Safavid monarchy by placing Shah Tahmasp II on the throne. Nadir then also drove away the Abdalis of Khorasan, and at last, he was made the chief commander of the Safavid military. These were the first outward signs that the tide had at last turned in Tahmasp favour, but a great deal had yet to be done.

In 1144/1732, just over two and a half years after Shah Tahmasp II had mounted the throne as a result of the restoration of the Safavid monarchy, he was forced by Nadir to abdicate in favour of his infant son Abbas III. Hence, Shah Tahmasp II spent the remainder of his unhappy and frustrated life in captivity. In 1148/1736, Shah Tahmasp II was joined by his son Shah Abbas III in prison when Nadir deposed him and captured the throne himself. Four years later, Shah Tahmasp II and his two sons Shah Abbas III and Ismail were put to death. Thus, Nadir Shah proclaimed the foundation of the Afsharid dynasty in 1148/1736.

Shah Ismail (1500-1524) had established the Safavid empire in Iran in 905/1500, which came to an end in 1148/1736 after a rule of about 236 years, from the time of Imam Abuzar Ali (d. 915/1509) to Imam Abul Hasan Ali (d. 1206/1792).

Imam Kassim Ali remained as a governor of Kirman for some times, and he came to Mahallat in 1204/1790. In Mahallat, he purchased many estates for his family, where he was very popular. It is related that the Imam frequently arranged convivial parties at his residence. He used to invite the nobles and officials on every year during the celebrations of Eid al-Ghadir and Navroz. He died in Mahallat in 1143/1730, where he was buried. He had many sons, but the prominent among them were Abul Hasan Ali, the successor and Mirza Muhammad Bakir.

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