RĀŠED-AL-DIN SENĀN b. Salmān (or Solaymān) b. Moḥammad Abu’l-Ḥasan Baṣri (b. near Basra, 520s/1126-35; d. Kahf, Syria, 589/1193), the greatest of the chief dāʿis of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis in Syria and one of the most prominent figures in their entire history.  Rāšed-al-Din was born into an Imāmi Shiʿite family during the 520s/1126-35 in ʿAqr al-Sudan, a village near Baṣra in southern Iraq, where he converted to Nezāri Ismaʿilism in his youth.  Subsequently, he went to Alamut,  the central headquarters of the Nezāri Ismaʿili state (see ISMAʿILISM iii. ISMAʿILI HISTORY) and daʿwa, to further his Ismaʿili education.  In Alamut, Senān became a close companion, and possibly also a schoolfellow, of the then heir-apparent to the lord of Alamut, the future Ḥasan II, to whom the Nezāris referred with the expression ʿalā ḏekrehe’l-salām (on his mention be peace).  

Soon after his accession in 557/1162 to the leadership of the Nezāri state and daʿwa, Ḥasan II sent Senān to the Nezāri community in Syria, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.  Initially, Senān spent some time at Kahf, a major Nezāri fortress in the Jabal Bahrāʾ region of central Syria, making himself very popular as a schoolmaster with the local Nezāris.  The death of Shaikh Abu Moḥammad, who had led the Syrian Nezāris for some years, resulted in unprecedented succession disputes.  Soon Senān assumed the leadership of the Syrian daʿwa and community on the orders of Alamut (Daftary, 2007, pp. 367-68); he held on to this post without any challenges to his authority for some three decades until his death in 589/1193. 

Once established, Senān began to consolidate the deteriorating position of his community while adopting suitable policies towards the neighboring Sunni rulers and the Crusaders, both posing constant threats to the Syrian Nezāris.  He entered into an intricate web of shifting alliances with the major neighboring powers and rulers, especially the Crusaders, the Zangids, and Ṣalāḥ-al-Din Ayyubi (see AYYUBIDS), who uprooted the Fatimids and founded the Ayyubid state comprising Egypt and parts of Syria and Iraq.  Indeed, Senān played a prominent role in the regional politics of Syria and succeeded in maintaining the independence of his community under the most adverse circumstances. 

Initially Senān concentrated his efforts in reorganizing the Nezāri daʿwa and community in Syria, also fortifying the existing Nezāri strongholds and acquiring new ones in the Jabal Bahrāʾ. Senān also paid attention to creating a corps of fedāʾis, more commonly referred to in Syria as fedāwis, the self-sacrificing devotees who embarked on missions to remove prominent enemies of their community.  The absolute obedience of the fedāʾis and the much exaggerated reports about their missions provided the basis for a number of imaginative tales. These so-called Assassin legends, circulating in the Crusader circles of the Near East and Europe, related to the alleged secret practices of the Nezāris, known to medieval Europeans as the Assassins, and their awe-inspiring chief, Senān, who became famous in the occidental sources as the “Old Man of the Mountain” (see Daftary, 1994, pp. 88-127). 

When Ḥasan II proclaimed the qiāma (resurrection) at Alamut in 559/1164, it fell upon Senān to introduce the new dispensation in Syria.  Senān did ceremonially announce the spiritual resurrection for the Syrian Nezāris; and he evidently taught his own version of the qiāma (resurrection) doctrine, which never acquired any deep roots in the Syrian community (Ebn Fażl-Allāh, pp. 77-78; Lewis, 1966, pp. 230, 241, 261; Daftary, 2007, pp. 357-61). 

Senān enjoyed an unprecedented popularity within the Syrian Nezāri community, which enabled him to act somewhat independently of Alamut during the reign of Nur-al-Din Moḥammad II, the fifth lord of Alamut.  There are reports that, as a result of the growing rift between Senān and Nur-al-Din Moḥammad, the Nezāri imam attempted several times to remove Senān (Lewis, 1966, pp. 231, 248-49, 262).  However, Senān avoided a complete break with Alamut. 

An outstanding organizer, strategist, and statesman, Rāšed-al-Din Senān led the Syrian Nezāri Ismaʿilis to the peak of their power and fame.  It was indeed Senān who laid the foundations for the continued existence of the Nezāri Ismaʿili community and daʿwa in Syria.  He died in 589/1193, or less probably a year earlier, in the fortress of Kahf. 


Primary sources.  

The only Ismaʿili biography of Senān is a hagiographic work entitled Faṣl men al-lafẓ al-šarif, ed. and tr. Stanislas Guyard in his “Un grand maître des Assassins au temps de Saladin,” Journal Asiatique 7 série, 9, 1877, pp. 387-489; a new edition of its Arabic text is contained in Moṣṭafā Ḡāleb, Senān Rāšed-al-Din: šayḵ al-jabal al-ṯāleṯ, Beirut, 1967, pp. 163-214. This work is attributed to the Syrian Nezāri dāʿi and author, Abu Ferās Šehāb-al-Din Maynaqi (d. ca. 937/1530).  

Among the non-Ismaili primary sources, the most important biographical account of Senān was related by Kamāl-al-Din b. ʿAdim (d. 660/1262) in a still undiscovered volume of his Buḡyat al-ṭalab fi taʾriḵ Ḥalab, as preserved in later recensions, especially by Qoṭb-al-Din Yunini (d. 726/1326), ed. and tr. Bernard Lewis in his “Kamāl al-Dīn’s Biography of Rāšid al-Din Sinān,” Arabica 13, 1966, pp. 225-67; repr. in his Studies in Classical and Ottoman Islam (7th-16th Centuries), London, 1976, article X. 

 Ebn Fażl-Allāh ʿOmari, Masālek al-abṣār fi mamālek al-amṣār, ed. Ayman F. Sayyed, Cairo, 1985. 


Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends, London, 1994, pp. 67-74, 94 ff.  

Idem, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2007, pp. 367-73.  

Idem, “Sinān and the Nizārī Ismailis of Syria,” in Daniela Bredi et al., eds., Scritti in onore di Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti, Rome, 3 vols., 2008, II, pp. 489-500.  

Marshal G. S. Hodgson, The Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizârî Ismâ`îlîs against the Islamic World, The Hague, 1955, pp. 185-207.  

Bernard Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, London, 1967, pp. 110-18 (for Lewis, 1966, see primary sources, above).  

Nasseh Ahmad Mirza, Syrian Ismailism: The Ever Living Line of the Imamate, AD 1100-1260, Richmond, Surrey, 1997, pp. 22-39.  

Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature, Malibu, Calif., 1977, pp. 289-90.

(Farhad Daftary)

Originally Published: November 26, 2014

Last Updated: November 26, 2014

Cite this entry:

Farhad Daftary, "RĀŠED-AL-DIN SENĀN," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/rashed-senan (accessed on 26 November 2014).