Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

Book IV—Ishmaelites

"And he will be a wild man;

his hand will be against every man, and

every man's hand against him."

—Gen. xvi. 12.

I. The Lodge of Wisdom

136. Legend of the Mahdi.—The Arabs had rendered themselves masters of Persia, but that country did not willingly bear the foreign yoke. In the schism which, after the death of Mahomet, divided his followers, the Persians took the side of Ali, the husband of Mahomet's daughter, Fatima, and the successor of the Prophet. At the end of the eighth century the two great divisions of Mahometans were already split up into numerous sects; but all of them had one belief in common, namely, in the coming of a Messiah, or, in their language, a Mahdi or guide. The Ghoolat, an extravagant sect, had started the doctrine, adopted by other sects, that the last visible imam, or supreme ecclesiastical ruler, had been Ismael, reckoning Ali as the first, and those who thought so were called Ismaelites; whilst others said Askeree, the twelfth imam, to have been the last visible one, and that he had vanished in a cavern at Hilla, on the banks of the Euphrates, where he would remain invisible till the end of the world, when he would reappear as the Mahdi. On this belief a bold adventurer founded the plan of freeing Persia and raising himself to power. On this belief the power of the Mahdi of the present day is founded.

137. Abdallah, the first Pontiff.—The just-mentioned adventurer's name was Abdallah, the son of Mamoon, and grandson of the famous Haroon Er-Easheed. The Ishmaelites were numerous in Persia; he addressed himself to them, telling them that Ismael had indeed been the last imam, but that Mohammed, his son, was a prophet, and the founder of a new religion, which would confirm the doctrine of Ismael, and secure to its followers the empire of the world. Since the creation, he told his followers, there have been six religious periods, each distinguished by the incarnation of a prophet. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet were the prophets of those periods. Their mission was to lead men to ascending degrees of religious perfection.

The seven imams of All's posterity are the seven interpreters of the hidden sense of Mahomet's religion, and the forerunners of the most perfect doctrine, whose triumph is at hand: the doctrine of Mohammed, the son of Ismael. And as seven imams succeeded Mahomet, so there always were seven pontiffs after every previous prophet, and so there will be seven pontiffs after Mohammed. I am the first of these pontiffs. The pontiff's office is to explain to the initiated that every religion has two meanings, the one apparent, intended for the vulgar crowd, the other secret, and only true one, showing that all religions have but one aim.

138. Origin of Quarmatites.—Mohammad-ben-Hosain, surnamed Zaidan, a rich and patriotic Persian, was so captivated by the plan of Abdallah, that he made him a present of two millions of pieces of gold. But being persecuted by the governor of Susiana, Abdallah made his escape to Syria, where one of his missionaries converted, about 887, a certain Hamdan, famous under the name of Quarmat, who formed the sect known as the Quarmatites, whose power, rapidly developed during two centuries, caused the Khalifs to tremble on their thrones.

139. Origin of Fatimite Dynasty.—On Abdallah's death he was followed in the pontificate by one of his sons, Saidben-Hosain-ben-Abdallah, who asserted that he was the expected Fatimite Messiah, the Mahdi; and when he was informed that numerous partisans were anxiously expecting him in Africa. Said, adopting the name of Obaid Allah the Mahdi, passed into Africa, overthrew the dynasty of the Aghlabites, ruling in Tripoli and Tunis, and founded the famous dynasty of the Fatimites (a.d. 909). His great-grandson, Moizz li dinillah, drove the Khalifs of Bagdad from Egypt, and laid the foundations of Cairo, which he made his capital.

140. The Lodge of Cairo.—Here he founded the Lodge of Cairo, which might correctly be described as a university; it contained many books and scientific instruments; science was the professed object, but the real aim was very different. The course of instruction was divided into nine degrees. The first sought to inspire the pupil with doubts, and with confidence in his teacher who was to solve them. For this purpose captious questions were to show him the absurdity of the literal sense of the Koran, and obscure hints gave him to understand that under that shell was hidden a sweet and nutritious kernel; but the instruction went no further unless the pupil bound himself by dreadful oaths to blind faith in, and absolute obedience to, his instructor.

The second inculcated the recognition of the imams, or directors, appointed by God as the fountains of every kind of knowledge. The third informed him of the number of those blessed or holy imams, and that number was the mystical seven. The fourth informed him that God had sent into the world seven legislators, each of whom had seven coadjutors, and who were called mutes, whilst the legislators were called speakers. The fifth informed him that each of these coadjutors had twelve apostles. The sixth placed before the eyes of the adept, advanced so far, the precepts of the Koran, and he was taught that all the dogmas of religion ought to be subordinate to the rule of philosophy; he was also instructed in the systems of Plato and Aristotle. The seventh degree embraced mystical pantheism. The eighth again brought before him the dogmatic precepts of the Mohammedan law, estimating it at its just value. The ninth degree, finally, as the necessary result of all the former, taught that nothing was to be believed, and that everything was lawful.

141. Progress of Doctrines.—These were the ends aimed at—human responsibility and dignity were to be annihilated; the throne of the descendants of Fatima was to be surrounded with an army of assassins, a formidable body-guard; a mysterious militia was to be raised, that should spread far and wide the fame and terror of the caliphate of Cairo, and inflict fatal blows on the abhorred rule of Bagdad. The missionaries spread widely, and in Arabia and Syria partisans were won to whom the designs of the order were unknown, but who had with fearful solemnity sworn blind obedience. The nocturnal labours of the Lodge of Cairo lasted a century; and its doctrines, which ended with denying all truth, morality, and justice, necessarily produced something very extraordinary. So terrible a shock to the human conscience led to one of those phenomena that leave a sanguinary and indelible trace on the page of history.

It remains to be noticed that Hakem Biamrillah, the founder of the sect of the Druses (157), was originally a member of the Lodge of Cairo.

[Note: The Mahdists have come to the front again in the present troubles in the Sudan. But according to the Times correspondent (5th June 1896), their power is at an end. Abdullah el Taaisha, who called himself the Khalifa of the Mahdi, now styles himself the Sultan of the Sudan, but his followers seem decreasing, and as they no longer form a secret society, their doings do not enter into the scope of this work.]