The founder of Hashishism. He reorganized the Ishmaelian religion in order to account for the small-minded adept's inability to progress beyond certain levels of enlightenment. Sabbah gave his initiates a certain magical chemical and released them into a garden of delights he had constructed in his stronghold to duplicate the heaven promised in the Koran, complete with beautiful women to serve their every need. The initiate emerged from the garden convinced of Sabbah's powers as a holy man and ready to serve him in any way so long as he promised readmittance to the garden of delights unpon death. Hassan dispatched these followers to infiltrate organizations throughout the known world. Since Hashishism allowed misrepresenting oneself even to the point of denying one's faith and professing another, no group was able to stand against their moles. As a result, whenever a leader opposed or tried to attack Sabbah he was soon found dead. Sabbah's sect was eventually overrun by the mongol invasion, an army they had not infiltrated due to its remote origin. Hassan is best remembered for allegededly crying on his death bed, "Nothing is true. All is permissable." The words hashish and assassin are both corruptions of Hassan's name.

By night Hassan-i Sabbah like a civilized wolf in a turban stretches out on a parapet above the garden & glares at the sky, conning the asterisms of heresy in the mindless cool desert air. True, in this myth some aspirant disciples may be ordered to fling themselves off the ramparts into the black--but also true that some of them will learn to fly like sorcerers.
-Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone

Founder of the Isma'ili Shi'i sect known to posterity as the Assasins or hashishim. His supporters claimed that he was a descendant of the Fatimid caliph in Cairo, and thus of the direct line of Ali, making his a legitimate shi'i imam, qualified to speak inerrantly on matters of Islam and Islamic law. This claim is dubious at best, but important for understanding the history of the assasins.

Hassan-i Sabbah reorganized the assasins, moving them to the Persian mountain fortress of Alamut (in English, The Eagle's Nest), where they were out of reach of most of the sectarian violence which was slowly dismembering the old Islamic Empire. He made liberal use of the Shi'i tradition called taqiyya, or permissible dissmulation, which meant that a believer could lie about their beliefs to preserve their lives or further the cause of the faith, an idea antithetical to Christian and Sunni thought of the time. This was the kernel of the famous assasin custom which gained their name its modern notoriety.

His (possibly step-)son, Hassan-i Sabbah II made a pronouncement that for his people "the chains of law have been broken", abandoning the sharia, or traditional Islamic law, entirely. This is symbolized in traditional literature by him "breaking his fast with wine", which is to say, drinking wine, forbidden to Muslims, during the Ramadan fast.

The assasins still exist to this day, as the Ishmaelians. They now live in the hills of Northern India, though in stark contrast to their myth, they practice total pacifism.

Update: I read in the paper today that the Agha Kahn, the spiritual leader of the Ishmaelian shi'i movement and direct-line successor to Hassan-I Sabbah, was the pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau's funderal. I have no idea what this means, but, as a wise man once said, "The theological implications are startling."

al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah, founder of the Ismailite Assassins

Hasan-e Sabbah (there are many spellings of his name) was the leader of an Islamic sect known as the Nizari Ismailiyah or Ismailites, in the 11th Century. He was a devout man, having studied theology in Rayy in Iran, and became a disciple of the Ismailite faith around the age of 17.

It is known that he went to Egypt in 1076 for a time, to continue his studies, before reurning home to boost Ismailite interests and numbers. In 1090 he and his followers seized the fortress at Alamut in the Elburz Mountains, and set up garrisons in impregnable mountain strongholds, which became known as the 'Castles of Assassins'. Following this, he proceeded to take over large amounts of territory in what is now Iran and Iraq, and it was said that his very name could strike fear into the hearts of the Caliphs.

He was responsible for creating the cult status of the devoted Ismailite shock troops known as the hashshashin (which entered the English language as "assassins"). It is likely that the word is drawn from his name (as opposed to the commonly-held view that he heightened their religious fervour with hashish). As a devout Muslim, he (along with others of the group) were opposed to the use of narcotics, and associations of hashish are drawn from the uncertain testimony of Marco Polo, and not likely to be historical fact.

As the leader of this widely-flung state, he settled down to a peaceful reign following the last seige at Alamut in 1118. As something of an aesthete, his regime was puritanical (even having his sons executed following their transgressions).

He died in 1124 at Daylam.
Encyclopædia Britannica


A Skeptic's Mythology of Hasan bin Sabbah (AKA Hassan i Sabbah, Hasan-e Sabah, al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah, The Old Man of the Mountains) and the Assassins.

Oiga amigos! Oiga amigos! Paco! Enrique!
Listen to the last words of Hassan Sabbah,
The Old man of the Mountain!
Listen to my last words, anywhere!
Listen all you boards, governments, syndicates, nations of the world,
And you, powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory,
To take what is not yours,
To sell out your sons forever! To sell out the ground from unborn feet for ever?
Listen to my last words any world! Listen if you value the bodies for which you would sell all souls forever!
What am I doing over here with the workers, the gooks, the apes, the dogs, the errand boys, the human animals?
Why don't I come over with the board, and drink Coca-Cola and make it?...

— from "The Last Words of Hassan Sabbah" By William S. Burroughs ("Nothing Here But The Recordings", Industrial Records).

Hassan i Sabbah (1034 - 1124) was the first great leader of the Assassins (AKA The Hashishin Order, AKA the Ismaili), a sect of Islamic monk-warriors which in 1090 seized the castle of Alamut in the mountains south of the Caspian Sea, in what we now call Iran. According to mythology, Hassan ruled over a vast empire with his cult of fanatical assassins. He would take them on epic hash-orgies in his garden of pleasure to ensure their loyalty before sending them off to infiltrate and assassinate.

In "The Travels of Marco Polo," Marco Polo claims to have heard the following story in prison while travelling through the region in 1273:

"The Old Man kept at his court such boys of twelve years old as seemed to him destined to become courageous men. When the Old Man sent them into the garden in groups of four, ten or twenty, he gave them hashish to drink. They slept for three days, then they were carried sleeping into the garden where he had them awakened. When these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise. And these damsels were always with them in songs and great entertainments; they received everything they asked for, so that they would never have left that garden of their own will. And when the Old Man wished to kill someone, he would take him and say: 'Go and do this thing. I do this because I want to make you return to paradise'. And the assassins go and perform the deed willingly."

Sadly, Marco Polo was 150 years too late, if he was ever anywhere near Alamut at all. His travel writing is always somewhat suspect, as it was at least partly intended to tittilate his wealthy french readers. (A more detailed description of Alamut and the spiritual life of the Assassins was written by Nasiroddin Tusi, present when the Mongols took the castle in 1256; "Alamut Summons - The Garden of True Fai" which exists in French at:

Farhad Daftary, (author of "The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma'ilis") uses Marco Polo as a source on the drug-orgy ritual, but notes that the Old Man was a prohibitionist, taking a hard-line on the Koran's ban on alcohol and interpreting it to mean a ban on all intoxicants (except presumably those given ritually to assassins). Strangely, the Old Man is rumored to ave left his room only twice during his rule at Alamut and banned music from being played altogether. He had his wife and daughters sent away to live a simpler life (weaving and spinning), and had both of his sons executed. (Their crimes were wine-drinking and complicity in a murder).

The disrepute of the Assassins in the western world has its genesis in their association with the Templars (AKA Knights Templar). Though the Assasins and the Templars were on opposing sides of the Crusades, they connected on a mystic level. An alliance was signed between Hassan and St Louis and the two groups began to share knowledge and fight the Mongols. The French king Philippe le Bel felt threatened that the Templars were learning Arabic numbers, astrology and algebra, had introduced hashish to Europe and engaged in sodomy as part of their initiation rituals ("which actually allows to open the lower chakra of kundalini" notes Izzy at — and so had passed a series of reforms designed specifically to persecute them.

Nearly a thousand years later, US drug czar Harry Anslinger cites Hassan and the Assassins as evidence to forbid hemp in the 1930's. Many in the west remember him as a hip, drug-friendly historical reference, quoted by writers such as "the godfather of punk" William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Hakim Bey. His famous last words: "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted." Assassin myths are occasionally used to discredit Islam and solidify the tenuous link between Hassan and Osama bin Laden. Though both made effective use of so-called "terror" tactics, in this regard they pale in comparison to Vlad Tepes IV (AKA Vlad the Impaler, "Dracula"), the Wallachian prince who found his homeland (now part of Romania) on the front lines of the Crusades in the fifteenth century.

Interestingly, both the Assassins and the less-sophistocated Manson Family engaged in the practice of simulated assassination. The Mansons refered to these as "creepy crawl" missions. They would enter a house with the victim sleeping, quietly rearrange the furniture, hang knives above the bed, beside the victim, etc. The victim would wake up and freak out.

Finally, the word "assassin" is not derived from the Arabic "haschishin" -- smokers of hashish -- primarily because Hassan's followers were Persians and not Arabs. It is more likely derived from "hassassin," followers of Hassan.

Sources / further reading:

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