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The Ismaili of Central Asia  

Daniel Beben

The Ismailis are one of the largest Muslim minority populations of Central Asia, and they make up the second largest Shiʿi Muslim community globally. First emerging in the second half of the 8th century, the Ismaili missionary movement spread into many areas of the Islamic world in the 10th century, under the leadership of the Ismaili Fatimids caliphs in Egypt. The movement achieved astounding success in Central Asia in the 10th century, when many of the political and cultural elites of the region were converted. However, a series of repressions over the following century led to its almost complete disappearance from the metropolitan centers of Central Asia. The movement later re-emerged in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Central Asia (which encompasses the territories of present-day eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan), where it was introduced by the renowned 11th-century Persian poet, philosopher, and Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw. Over the following centuries the Ismaili movement expanded among the populations of Badakhshan, reaching a population of over 200,000 in the 21st century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ismailis suffered a series of severe repressions, first under local Sunni Muslim rulers and later under the antireligious policies of the Soviet Union. However, in the decades since the end of the Soviet period, the Ismailis of the region have become increasingly connected with the global Ismaili community and its leadership. While many aspects of the history of Ismailism in the Badakhshan region remain obscure and unexplored, the discoveries of significant corpuses of manuscripts in private collections since the 1990s in the Badakhshan region have opened up wide possibilities for future research.

Article

The Ismaili Tradition in Iran: 13th Century to the Present  

Daniel Beben

The Ismailis are a minority community of Shiʿi Muslims that first emerged in the 8th century. Iran has hosted one of the largest Ismaili communities since the earliest years of the movement and from 1095 to 1841 it served as the home of the Nizārī Ismaili imams. In 1256 the Ismaili headquarters at the fortress of Alamūt in northern Iran was captured by the Mongols and the Imam Rukn al-Dīn Khūrshāh was arrested and executed, opening a perilous new chapter in the history of the Ismailis in Iran. Generations of observers believed that the Ismailis had perished entirely in the course of the Mongol conquests. Beginning in the 19th century, research on the Ismailis began to slowly reveal the myriad ways in which they survived and even flourished in Iran and elsewhere into the post-Mongol era. However, scholarship on the Iranian Ismailis down to the early 20th century remained almost entirely dependent on non-Ismaili sources that were generally quite hostile toward their subject. The discovery of many previously unknown Ismaili texts beginning in the early 20th century offered prospects for a richer and more complete understanding of the tradition’s historical development. Yet despite this, the Ismaili tradition in the post-Mongol era continues to receive only a fraction of the scholarly attention given to earlier periods, and a number of sources produced by Ismaili communities in this period remain unexplored, offering valuable opportunities for future research.