“Even after the Ismaili Imams began to rule as Fatimid caliphs in Cairo, Syria continued to be an important region for their da‘wa activities, also comprising one of the dominions of the Fatimid state.
Syrian Ismailis have therefore constituted an important part of the Ismaili community throughout its history.”
– Farhad Daftary and Azim Nanji, The Ismailis and their Role in the History of Medieval Syria and the Near East
Imam Muhammad b. Ismail immigrated from Medina to the east, seeming to have spent the latter part of his life in south-western Persia from where he dispatched da’is to adjoining areas. When Abbasid persecution increased, his descendants migrated to Salamiyya, in central Syrai, from where they organized and led the da’wa. Salamiyya was the residence of the next four Imams and the headquarters of the Ismaili da’wa for several decades.
Imam al-Mahdi is said to have left Salamiyya in 902, eventually settling Sijilmasa in North Africa where he lived for four years, maintaining contact with da’i Abd Allah, who did the ground work for the establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171) in North Africa.
“Even after the Ismaili Imams began to rule as Fatimid caliphs in Cairo, Syria continued to be an important region for their da‘wa activities, also comprising one of the dominions of the Fatimid state. Syrian Ismailis have therefore constituted an important part of the Ismaili community throughout its history.”*
During the Alamut period (1090-1256), the Nizari Ismailis had their state in Persia with a subsidiary in Syria, where they succeeded in establishing a network of mountain fortresses, and were led by the most prominent leader, Rashid al-Din Sinan (d. 1193). After the collapse of the state of Alamut, the Syrian Nizari Ismalis lived in scattered communities under various dynastic rulers. By the early decades of the 19th century, Salamiyya was deserted and in ruins.
Subsequently, Syria came under Ottoman rule. In 1849, the amir of Qadmus (an Ismaili settlement in Syria), Amir Isma’il b. Amir Muhammad, obtained permission from the Ottomans to restore Salamiyya, then in ruins, for the permanent settlement of the Syrian Ismailis. The Ottomans allowed him to gather the Syrian Nizaris from different localities and settle them in Salamiyya and nearby villages.
Over time, Salamiyya became an important agricultural centre in Syria. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah established an agriculture institution as well as several schools when he visited Salamiyya in 1951.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s father, Late Prince ‘Ali Khan, was buried in Salamiyya in a mausoleum adjacent to the Jamatkhana. Mawlana Hazar Imam visited Salamiyya for the first time as Imam on July 27, 1959. During his Golden Jubilee visit, Mawlana Hazar Imam witnessed the signing of agreements between the Aga Khan Development Network and the Government of Syria for social and cultural developments, as well as agreements between Aga Khan University and the ministries of Health and Higher Education. Visit TheIsmaili.org for details of these agreements.
*Farhad Daftary and Azim Nanji, The Ismailis and their Role in the History of Medieval Syria and the Near East, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Nasseh Ahmad Mirza, Syrian Ismailism: The Ever Living Line of Imamate. Cornwall. Curzon Press. 1997
Research by Nimira Dewji
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