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RUKNUDDIN KHURSHAH (653-655/1255-1257), 27TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Ruknuddin Hasan, surnamed Khurshah was born in 627/1230. He is also known as Kahirshah. When he was still a child, his father had declared him as his successor. Juvaini was not tired to adulterate the Nizarid line of Imamate, but at one place he curiously admits (p. 663), "And today, the leader (Ruknuddin Khurshah) of the heretics (the misnomer used for the Ismailis) of Alamut traces his descent from this son (of Nizar).

His father, Imam Alauddin Muhammad had taken due care of rudiments of his formal education at home under personal care. When he grew young, his father designated him his deputy to investigate few cases of disorders in some castles with instructions to obey his orders as his own. In 653/1255, before his father's death, he is reported to have visited Syria with a letter of his father. Strict protection had been given to Imam Ruknuddin, and wherever he went, a small unit of armed men accompanied him as security guards. It is related that he stayed more than a year in the castles of Rudhbar and Kohistan for making fresh administrative fabric, and thus the enemies of the Ismailis smacked of exaggerations that his relation had been deteriorated with his father.

Three days later, having assumed the Imamate, Imam Ruknuddin sent an army which his father had ordered against Shal-Rud in the district of Khalkhal. The Ismaili forces occupied the castle after a small fighting.

The Ismailis continued to retain good relation with the Abbasids and Khwarazamshah. Alauddin Khwarazmshah (d. 617/1220) and Jalaluddin Khwarazamshah (d. 628/1231) were very proud of their wealth and grandeur and their relations with the Abbasids and the Ismailis became deteriorated and fell into a swift decline. The Mongol routed the empire of Khwarazmshah in 628/1231 with no difficulty, because no Muslim power came to help them. The kingdom of Khwarazmshahis was founded by Anushtagin (1077-1097). This dynasty ruled for 153 years from 471/1079 to 628/1231 and produced 8 rulers belonging to seven generations.

Hence, only two big powers remained in existence in Islamic world, i.e., the Abbasids and the Alamut.

One of the first acts of Imam Ruknuddin's reign was to send an envoy to Yasa'ur Noyan, the Mongol commander camping at Hamdan. Yasa'ur replied in this context that Imam Ruknuddin should present himself in person before Halagu, whose arrival was now imminent. This was the first of a long series of messages exchanged in 654/1256 between the Ismailis and the Mongols.

In Zilhaja, 653/January, 1256, Halagu crossed the Oxus and passed the winter in the meadows of Shafurqan to the west of Balkh. The Russian orientalist Wilhelm Barthold has computed the army of Halagu at about 129,000 men and a thousand Chinese artificers, who were skilled in the construction of military machines and in preparing and using every species of inflammable substances for attacking walled towns and fortified strongholds. Halagu entered Iran through Khorasan in Rabi I, 654/April, 1256 and conquered Tun and proceeded towards Tus. During the Mongol operations, the Ismailis held about 360 mountain castles and strongholds.

In Jamada I, 654/May, 1256, Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah had sent his brother, Shahanshah with a delegation to announce his submission to the Mongols. They met Yasa'ur near Qazwin, and Imam Ruknuddin delegated his own son to accompany the Ismaili mission thence to Halagu. Nine days later, Yasa'ur not only detained Shahanshah, but also invaded the Rudhbar without any reason to demonstrate Mongol's power and attacked the Ismaili forces on a mountain top behind Alamut, but he was forced to withdraw after a short while. He then vacated the whole region upon instructions from Halagu, who had now received Imam Ruknuddin's embassy at Quchan. Halagu professed his satisfaction with Alamut's embassy and his own ambassadors reached Imam Ruknuddin at the end of Jamada II/July and delivered a decree, full of encouragement and benevolence, insisting to demolish his castle and come in person. Imam Ruknuddin did in fact destroy some castles. He also demolished the gates coated with lead and removed the battlements and turrets of Alamut, Lamasar and Maimundiz. The Mongol ambassadors, accompanied by Imam Ruknuddin's envoy Sadruddin returned to report the situation to Halagu. Imam Ruknuddin is said to have asked a year's grace before presenting himself. In the beginning of Shaban/September, the Mongol envoy came with a new proposal that the Ismaili Imam should immediately present before Halagu, and in his absence a Mongol, named Tukel Bahadur would act as a caretaker governor in Rudhbar. Imam Ruknuddin sent his reply through an embassy led by his vizir, Shamsuddin Gilaki and Saifuddin Sultan Malik, who accompanied the Mongol ambassador and reached Halagu on 17th Shaban/September 9, asking for a year's grace and exemption of Alamut and Lamasar from the demolition order, but the Mongol demonstrated their impatience.

Halagu now set out from his encampment near Bastam to launch his assault on the Ismaili strongholds in Rudhbar. The main Mongol force proceeded from different directions. The right wing of Halagu forces led by Buqa Taymur and Koke-Ilgei advanced by way of Mazandaran The left wing under the Chaghatai prince Teguder and Ket-Buqa proceeded through Simnan and Khuvar. While Halagu himself with the principal army, followed parallel route leading through Firozkuh, Damavand and Ray. He alighted at Damavand for a while and sent yet another message to Imam Ruknuddin. The Imam was asked to come at once to Damavand, and were he to be delayed upto five days by his preparations, he was to send his son in advance. Imam Ruknuddin dispatched his son on 17th Ramzan/October 8. Halagu returned the boy and suggested that if Imam Ruknuddin could not come till later, he should send another brother to relieve Shahanshah. On 5th Shawal/October 26, Imam Ruknuddin sent out his brother Shiranshah with 300 men, who arrived at Halagu's camp two days later.

Meanwhile, vizir Shamsuddin Gilaki had returned from Girdkuh and brought its governor, the Qadi Tajuddin Mardanshah, before Halagu, while Girdkuh still held out. Shahanshah was relieved and sent back to Rudhbar with the message that if Imam Ruknuddin demolished the castle of Maimundiz and presented himself in a person before Halagu, he would be received with honour and given immunity. By this time, the Mongol armies entered Rudhbar from all sides. Halagu set out from his base at Piskildara on 10th Shawal/October 31 and advanced towards Rudhbar through Taliqan.

On 18th Shawal/November 8, Halagu encamped on the hilltop opposite Maimundiz. The Mongol armies began to prepare for a siege. The Ismaili forces gained initial victories and rained down stones from their own mangonels upon the besiegers. The Ismaili warriors using the mangonels, were made with a pole of hard wood raised in a slanting position, supported by a strut at a point a quarter of its height from the top, and fixed in the ground at some distance from the main pole so as to support it. At the top of the pole was the emplacement for the axle to which the shaft was attached.

On the second day of fighting, the Mongols brought into a play a Chinese ballista with a range of 2,500 paces. The garrisons of Maimundiz now ceased fighting and asked for truce, which was granted. Meanwhile, on 25th Shawal/November 15, the Mongols resumed their bombardment on Maimundiz on large scale. The Ismailis strained every nerve to meet the situation and the danger hovering on their door, but they found themselves utterly helpless in the face of these nomadic hordes that poured down into the Ismaili territories like ants and locusts. At length, Imam Ruknuddin asked for a yarligh, granting him self-conduct. He first sent down his son and another brother Iranshah with a delegation of nobles and on Sunday, the 29th Shawal, 654/November 19, 1256, he himself dismounted from the castle, embosomed with a group of dignitaries including Nasiruddin Tusi, Khwaja Asiluddin Zuzani and the vizir Muayyaduddin. He was however well received by Halagu.

At Halagu's request, Imam Ruknuddin sent his representatives with the Mongol envoys to all the castles in Rudhbar, instructing for their destruction. Some forty castles were thus demolished. Halagu proceeded to the foot of Alamut, whose Ismaili commander was Muqadinuddin. Leaving Balaghai behind to besiege Alamut with a large force, Halagu then set out for Lamasar. After a few days, the garrison of Alamut dismounted. Berthold Spuler writes in The Muslim World (London, 1969, 2:18) that, "The fortress Alamut offered a desperate resistance to the onslaughts of the Central Asian hordes and only succumbed after a prolong siege." Towards the end of Zilkada, 654/December, 1256, all the persons in Alamut came down with all their goods and belongings and after three days, the Mongols climbed up to the castle and seized whatever those people had been unable to carry off. They also plundered freely whatever they found in the castle, and then set fire to its building and its library. Meanwhile, Ata Malik Juvaini, who had accompanied Halagu to the foot of Lamasar, had been granted permission to inspect the library. He saved a number of choice books, including some Ismaili works, as well as certain astronomical instruments, before consigning the library to flames. Thus, the accumulated literary treasure of about two centuries was consumed to ashes. Juvaini himself writes, "I burnt them all" (basukh tam). Edward G. Browne termed it, "world's renowned library." Arif Tamir writes in Khams Rasail Ismailiyya (Beirut, 1956, p. 195) that, "The Mongol destroyed the Ismaili library containing one and one half million volumes."

Meanwhile, at Lamasar, Halagu had failed to induce the surrender despite the services of Imam Ruknuddin as intercessor. He left Dayir Buqa to beleaguer it with an army, but it did not surrender until 1258. He quitted Rudhbar on 13th Zilhaja, 655/January 4, 1257 and reached his encampment at Hamdan. On 22nd Zilhaja/January 13, Imam Ruknuddin's family and servants were billeted in Qazwin, but he himself accompanied Halagu. From here, on Halagu's request, Imam Ruknuddin sent his emissaries to the Ismaili castles in Syria, instructing them to guard the castles as subjects of Halagu until such time as he himself should arrive there.

Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah is reported to have married a Mongolian woman at the encampment of Halagu in Hamdan. He remained with Halagu for about 3 months and 23 days after the fall of Maimundiz. In the beginning of March, 1257, Halagu sent an embassy to the Abbasid caliph Mustasim, asking for submission. It seems probable that Imam Ruknuddin must have conceived the forthcoming terrible onslaught of the Mongols against the Abbasids, and therefore, he intended to quit the company of Halagu before the operations. Since Lamasar and Girdkuh had not been surrendered, therefore, Imam Ruknuddin was continued to be treated with honour. Imam Ruknuddin sought permission from Halagu to see Mongke in Karakorum. He must have been taken to their operations against the Abbasids, had he not quitted the company of Halagu at Hamdan, and it would have led the enemies of the Ismailis to cultivate another story that the operations against Baghdad had been launched on the directions of the Ismaili Imam. Imam Ruknuddin however succeeded to leave Hamdan for Karakorum.

On 1st Rabi I, 655/March 9, 1257, Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah set out from Hamdan with nine companions and a group of Mongols led by Bujrai. On the way, when they arrived at the foot of Girdkuh, which was not yet surrendered, Imam Ruknuddin tried once again to bring down the castle's garrisons. He was however suspected that he had told them secretly not to surrender, and as a result, he was not treated well henceforward by his escorts. Our sources do not give the route leading to Karakorum, but it seems that they alighted at Bukhara and proceeded about 150 miles to the east for Samarkand, and thence reached to Karakorum.

It is worthy of note from the accounts of The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World (tr. William W. Rockhill, London, 1900, p. 222) that King Louis IX (d. 1270) of France had tried to secure an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. In pursuit, he had sent William of Rubruck (1215-1295), a Flemish Franciscan on a diplomatic mission under the garb of church, at the court of Mongke (d. 1257) in the year 1253. William of Rubruck reached Karakorum on December 25, and visited the court of Mongke on January 4, 1254. He noticed strict security measures in the court, because it had been informed to Mongke, possibly a rumour that was going about that forty Ismaili fidais had entered the city to kill him. It is, however, much nearer to reasonable possibility that the detention of Imam Ruknuddin in Karakorum would have proved a good hand to Mongke, to force the so called forty hiding fidais to surrender. Why Mongke did not detain Imam Ruknuddin and also refuse to see him? It is most likelihood that Mongke was yet unaware of his arrival. It is, of course, possible to draw some inferences that the so called messenger from Mongke was forged by Bujrai according to a pre-arranged policy, informing Imam Ruknuddin that Mongke did not wish to see him, which sounds in Jamiut Tawarikh (p. 37) that, "When the news reached Mongke that Ruknuddin was coming, he said,

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