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FIDAI

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The Persian word fidai (or fidawi, pl. fidaiyan) means one who offers his life for a cause or sacrifices. Its synonymous Arabic word is fidaiyyun. It is a term for special Ismaili devotees of Iran and Syria, coined for the first time in Alamut period, who risked their lives. The term fidai is the symbol of loyalty and sacrifice - a highest form of virtue.

The enemies of the Ismailis had done their best to besmirch the name of the fidai, whose matchless devotion to their faith will ever remain a bright page in the history. The coloured accounts foisted on the loyal adherents of the Imams are but the outcome of the prejudice and hatred of the fanatical writers towards the enlightened but unfortunately misunderstood Ismailis. The fidais were not the cruel murderers of innocent victims, but they were inveterate enemies of ignorance and darkness which enveloped the Islamic faith during these dark periods. The Ismaili fidais made their names in history and their memories are ever green into this day on account of their loyalty to their faith.

The history of the Ismailis of Alamut is grossly misunderstood in a hideous form. Most unfortunately, it is exactly about this period that we possess almost no genuine Ismaili sources. Most of the extant sources have come down to us from the aggressive camps, based their informations from the illusive bits and shreds. They seem to take information on its face-value without trying to verify the truth thereof. But history, as distinct from fiction, proves otherwise. Juvaini, the earliest source, for instance, is the bitterly anti-Ismaili, who is responsible to distort the genuine Ismaili traditions, and the scholars follow the stories woven by Juvaini without realizing his inimical attitude. W. Ivanow (1886-1970) writes in Alamut and Lamasar (Tehran, 1960, p. 26) that, "There are scholars who are perfectly satisfied with what he (Juvaini) says, showing their utter ignorance."

One of the allegations is the character of the Ismaili fidais (the devotees), the self-sacrificing warriors; who had been spoken of spreading terrorism by daggers, and are termed Assassins by the Western authorities of Crusades period. When the Crusades spoke of the Assassins, they originally referred to the Syrian Ismailis. Later, the term was also affixed with the Iranian Ismailis. According to W. Ivanow, "This subject has been as much hackneyed and surrounded by legends or fairy tales, as almost everything in connection with Ismailism." (Ibid. p. 21)

Hasan bin Sabbah hated war and avoided commotion that would rob of him of peace and disturb his life of seclusion. He objected unnecessary shedding of blood, but his sworn enemies hurled in the fire of war, so that they might thereby obtain and retain their power and kingdom. Thus, he resorted to removing the root causes and killing the germs of mischief that infected the selfish rulers. He killed few of them and saved the Muslims from fighting, which was need of the time. The Ismaili fidais did not kill anyone out of hatred or rancour but out of desire to save a number of Muslims who would otherwise have been skinned alive. Bosworth writes in The Islamic Dynasties (cf. Islamic Survey, series no. 5, Edinburgh, 1967, p. 128) that, "The Ismailis played a significant role in three-cornered struggle with the Franks and the Sunni Muslims. Since the Ismailis were comparatively few in number, assassination of prominent people often served as a substitute for direct military action."

The enemies of the Ismailis did not like an independent Nizari Ismaili state and reacted violently to it. They launched attacks one after another with vast overwhelming forces, accompanied by destruction of crops, cutting of fruit trees and other wrecking tools to damage the economy of the Ismailis. The Ismailis were comparatively less to meet the danger hovering upon them, therefore, an armed unit of the fidai warriors seems to have been trained, who adopted an upheaval method of guerilla warfare for defensive purpose. Some scholars regard the Ismaili struggle a revolt, but it was a struggle for survival. It was a technique of the limited warriors to force the gigantic and colossal military machine to turn back by spreading awful milieu in their camps. In pre-Islamic Arabia the usual method of combat was the famous karr wa farr means hit and run, a technique admirably suited to tribal warfare. W. Ivanow writes, "In proper perspective, fidaism was a local form of guerilla warfare, ... it would be decidedly idiotic and dishonest to see in it something like the most prominent organic feature of the Nizari Ismaili doctrine, as is done by some ignorant but pretentious scholars." (Ibid. p. 21) W. Montgomery Watt in his Islam and the Integration of Society (London, 1961, p. 69) and Edward Mortimer in Faith and Power (London, 1982, p. 48) also admit that the method of the fidais was no other than that of the guerilla warfare. Bernard Lewis writes in The Assassins (London, 1967, p. 130) that, "Hasan found a new way, by which a small force, disciplined and devoted, could strike effectively against the overwhelmingly superior army." Guerilla warfare is an irregular unit of fighters, not so popular in those days, therefore, the misnomer, Assassins to the Ismailis in the Western sources was freely coined.


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