Book Review | Living In The Past: The Myth Of Hassan Bin Sabah's Paradise

Book Review | Living In The Past: The Myth Of Hassan Bin Sabah's Paradise
The story of fida’in or hashishiyyin has captured the attention of historians in particular and common Europeans in general for the last 1200 years. Their killing of the prominent people in twelfth century including an attempt on the life of Sala’din Ayubi is quite famous in the historical records. However, their fame or notoriety, is more due to the fable of paradise said to be created by one Hassan Bin Sabah. Hassan was a chief of Nazari Ismailis and the said paradise, according to some historical accounts, was created in a fortress called Alamut. Hassan, his paradise and his methods of training his young disciples to murder his opponents has influenced not only the history but also the literature and thought of the people during all this period. Fida’in, Hassan’s paradise and Alamut have become metaphors in many languages of the world. Hassan bin Saba and his paradise are the part of mythology.

Famous researcher and writer of Ismai’ili literature and history, Farhad Daftary has taken great pain in researching this myth and wrote a comprehensive book titled The Assassin Legends in that he has dug out the truth behind Hassan’s paradise. According to Farhad Daftary, the account of self- sacrificing behaviour of fida’is was first written by Burchard of Strassburg in his report to Frederick I Barbarossa who had sent him on a diplomatic mission to Sala’din. However, Burchard also included in his account many fables that he heard from the local people without verifying their authenticity.

The story got more popularity in Europe when Marco Polo included it in his travelogues. Marco Polo’s likely source of information was also Burchard’s account and the tales told by local people as he never visited the fortress of Alamut and in any case, he had traversed Persia through Kirman and Khurasan in 1273, about 17 years after the collapse of Nizari state there.  In the sub-continent, Hassan was introduced by Abdul Haleem Sharar.

Farhad Daftary’s entire research is of no use today. The careless account of Burchard and spicy stories of Marco Polo and Abdul Haleem Sharar are what people remember. These stories have formed an impression on the minds of the people that serious intellectual work of Farhad Daftary cannot erase. This fable has played a great role in forming West’s mind about the nature of ideology and faith presented by Islam. Even roots of misguided suicide attacks of today are traced to the fortress of Alamut and are considered part of Jihad by the West. The story had such an appeal for the Orientalists that many of them spent their entire life studying and writing about Ismaili doctrine and faith.

In our times, Justice Munir concocted a story and ascribed it to Quaid-I Azam, saying, in his book from Jinnah to Zia, that Mr Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan. Here I don’t want to discuss the vision of Mr. Jinnah about Pakistan. I rather want to discuss how history is distorted and how it affects minds of the decision makers and the general public. Saleena Karim, a British Asian writer, after carrying out extensive research exposed Munir’s lie in her book entitled ‘Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Big Hoax Exposed’. She established from the speeches of Jinnah and from the published records of interviews given by him that Munir had no historical record before him when he wrote that in his book.

But where has it been exposed? Since the publishing of her book in 2005, I have read many articles in our daily newspapers arguing the case of secular Pakistan quoting Munir’s book.  In her book she also countered many other statements that are falsely ascribed to Jinnah. Such distortions in history have been keeping us engaged, even after seventy-five years of creation of the country, in debates about the purpose of creation of a separate homeland. A state can always decide afresh about its relationship with its citizens, including minorities, and the fundamental principles of its constitution through the wishes of its people, if it wants to move forward. But, at least history should not be distorted to prove one’s case.

Our text books present all Afghan occupiers of sub-continent as our heroes as they happened to be Muslims although many of them were invaders who raided the region for plundering. Mahmood Ghaznavi invaded India 17 times, plundered and took away all the wealth he looted back to his country. In our history he is projected as a great Muslim warrior. Ahmad Shah Abdali was another of such warrior who plundered ruthlessly. By presenting such excursions as heroic tales we have created a false sense of grandeur in the minds of our youth and have diverted their focus from the fact that it is the age of knowledge and not conquests. Our society is therefore lured more towards martial-laws than to making a place for ourselves in the comity of nations through advancement in science and technology.

History of Muslim dynasties is rife with tales of heroics that never happened, grandeurs that never existed and piety that never was. Such larger-than-life images concocted by so-called historians have only created a false sense of grandiose in the minds of our present generation that only causes an increase in adrenaline and serves as an obstruction in their progress towards a developed society.

We have refused to learn any lesson from the effects of concoction of history on the psyche of a nation and the perception the world has about it. In the present day, we use social media to spread lies 24/7.  Many social media lies are presented as facts in newspaper columns and books. There is every likelihood that tomorrow’s historian will present these lies as historical facts like Burchard, Marco Polo, Munir and many others of their types and histories that will be written by them using social media information will become the source of future generations’ understanding of the past.

Murdering the history is no way forward for any nation. Educating the youth about the true position of their ancestors in their times provides a sound basis for their future progress. Glorifying the shallow and living in the past freezes the intellect in the time that is glorified falsely and in which we live.