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Price: $91.50

Hardback 322 pp.
1 map, 4 line illus., 239 mm x 155 mm



Publication date:
May 2007

Imprint: OUP US

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The Ismailis in the Middle Ages

A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation

Shafique N. Virani

"None of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle." With these chilling words, the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan declared his intention to destroy the Ismailis, one of the most intellectually and politically significant Muslim communities of medieval Islamdom. The massacres that followed convinced observers that this powerful voice of Shi'i Islam had been forever silenced. Little was heard of these people for centuries, until their recent and dramatic emergence from obscurity. Today they exist as a dynamic and thriving community established in over twenty-five countries. Yet the interval between what appeared to have been their total annihilation, and their modern, seemingly phoenix-like renaissance, has remained shrouded in mystery. Drawing on an astonishing array of sources gathered from many countries around the globe, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation is a richly nuanced and compelling study of the murkiest portion of this era. In probing the period from the dark days when the Ismaili fortresses in Iran fell before the marauding Mongol hordes, to the emergence at Anjudan of the Ismaili Imams who provided a spiritual centre to a scattered community, this work explores the motivations, passions and presumptions of historical actors. With penetrating insight, Shafique N. Virani examines the rich esoteric thought that animated the Ismailis and enabled them to persevere. A work of remarkable erudition, this landmark book is essential reading for scholars of Islamic history and spirituality, Shi'ism and Iran. Both specialists and informed lay readers will take pleasure not only in its scholarly perception, but in its lively anecdotes, quotations of delightful poetry, and gripping narrative style. This is an extraordinary book of historical beauty and spiritual vision.

This book has won The Farabi International Award, the Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association (runner up), the UNESCO Award, the ISESCO Award, and is co-winner of the Book Award of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies.


  • "The book offers a discerning and sensitive portrayal of the struggle for survival and the spiritual life of a religious community that endured severe persecution and extreme defamation during much of its history. The author in particular succeeds in bringing to light the esoteric spirituality and profound devotion to the living Imam prevalent in the centuries of concealment following the catastrophic Mongol attempt to annihilate Nizari Ismailism, relying on the evidence of fragmentary source material that has only recently been recovered." -- Wilferd Madelung, author of The Succession to Muhammad
  • "Drawing on an exhaustive array of Arabic, Persian and South Asian sources as well as the scattered results of modern scholarship on the Ismailis, Virani has produced a comprehensive and readable account of the complex, and often obscure, medieval history of the Nizari Ismailis. This book represents a major contribution to modern Ismaili studies." --Farhad Daftary, author of The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines
  • "In order to show how the Ismaili Shi'is survived the Mongol onslaught of the thirteenth century, Shafique Virani employs a wide variety of sources in many different South-and South west-Asian languages. Some of these sources provide historically useful information only in the most oblique ways, and Virani's great achievement is to tease out meaning from what appear to be intractable materials. The resulting reconstruction of medieval Ismaili history is both scholarly and tender, subtle as well as moving." --Robert Wisnovsky, Director, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University
  • "This is a masterful reconstruction of the history of the Ismailis of Iran, a minority Shi'i community that was forced underground in the thirteenth century by intense persecution. Reliable data on the Ismailis has been hard to come by-their libraries were destroyed and their reputations besmirched by hostile propaganda. Through painstaking archival research and careful readings of previously unknown sources, Shafique Virani has significantly revised the traditional accounts of this community's history." --Ali Asani, author of Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia

Chapter 1:. Recovering a Lost History
Chapter 2:. The Eagle Returns
Chapter 3:. Veiling the Sun
Chapter 4:. Summoning to the Truth
Chapter 5:. Possessors of the Command
Chapter 6:. Qibla of the World
Chapter 7:. The Way of the Seeker
Chapter 8:. Gnosis and Imamate

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Dr. Shafique N. Virani is an Assistant Professor of Historical Studies and the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto.

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