The Catholic military order of the Knights Templar was actually founded in Jerusalem in 1118 as an equivalent to Hassan-i Sabbah’s Order of Assassins.
From their ranks to clothing and rituals, the Templars were inspired and influenced by this sect of the Nizari Ismailis After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic state grew rapidly during the reign of the first two caliphs. Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Iran were conquered. The power and spread of the state in such a short time brought major disruptions and instigations with it.
In the early days of Islam, a group of men brought from Egypt by a Yemenite Jew named Abdullah ibn Saba’, who posed as a Muslim, killed the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan. The unrest that broke out after the death of the caliph continued during the life of the prophet’s other son-in-law and the fourth caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. Among the friends of the prophet, namely his companions, the issue of punishing the murderers of Uthman caused stark differences of opinion. The problem grew and caused the companions to fight among themselves. Those who sided with Ali in the war were called Shia (supporters).
Abdullah ibn Saba’, who played a major role in the outbreak of the war, attributed divinity to Ali. Caliph Ali wanted to have this man executed, but he was afraid of the growing instigation and sent him into exile. However, Abdullah ibn Saba’ did not remain docile in his travels. He began saying that the three caliphs before Ali usurped his right to the caliphate. He fabricated hadiths in this direction and distanced the Shia people from the Sunni branch and laid the foundations of Shiism, which is similar to Catholicism in Christianity.
Shiism was divided itself into various sects over time. Those who accepted Ismail, one of the grandchildren of Ali, as imam, took the name Ismaili. The Ismailis established the Fatimid State, with its center in Cairo. Their states spread to North Africa, Sicily and Arabia. After the eighth caliph of the Fatimids, the Ismailis split into two branches. Some supported the caliph’s eldest son Nizar, and became known as Nizari.
Among the Ismailis, the Jewish ophthalmologist Maymun al-Qaddah, who followed the footsteps of Abdullah ibn Saba’, founded Batiniyya. Batiniyya was a Hermetic belief system that is similar to the Kabbalah of the Jews and was formed by blending the philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Plato with religions such as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.
Batinis said that the Quran has an apparent (zahir) and a hidden (batıni) meaning. The apparent meaning, namely prayer, fasting, zakat, etc., is not important, but rather symbolic. The main thing is the hidden meaning, which not everyone can understand. Those who spread this belief were called “Dai.”
One of the Ismailis who supported Nizar was Hassan-i Sabbah. Hassan, the son of a Shiite imam, was a Batini missionary, that is, a dai. He went to Egypt in 1076 and studied there. When he returned to Iran, he started his missionary work under the name of “ad-Da’watu’l-Jadidah,” that is, “New Propaganda.”
Hassan, together with the men he gathered as a result of his work, captured the Alamut fortress in Daylam, where Zoroastrianism was dominant in Iran, in 1090 and made it a base. He classified his men and established a new organization. He declared himself as “Sheikh-ul-Jebel” (“Old Man of the Mountain”). He called those who propagated their faith “dai,” like the Ismailis, and named his men, whom he would use as terrorists, as “fedai”, or also commonly known as the “fedayeen.”
Hassan-i Sabbah exploited his fedais, whom were later known as “Hashashins” in Europe as they used hashish, by promising paradise to them. According to the narration of the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, Hassan had a fake paradise built in a valley of beautiful gardens for this reason.
The Hashashins, who would later be called the Assassins, organized assassinations against the Sunni state leaders who opposed the Batiniyya propaganda. Especially the Seljuk Turks became their worst enemy, epitomized by their famous killings of Seljuk leaders such as vizier Nizam al-Mülk.
The assassination methods of the Assassins were similar to those of the Jewish Sicarii originating in Palestine in the first century B.C. (Sicarii is the plural of Latin “sicarius” and means “dagger-wielder.”) Just as the Sicarii covertly attacked the Romans – but mostly to their coreligionists who collaborated with the Romans – the Assassins hid a dagger under their cloaks and stabbed their targets by approaching them silently during the daytime. There was, however, one key difference between the Sicarii and Assassins: While the Sicarii surprised their targets by crying out loud as if they were a relative of the soon-to-be victim, the Assassins waited silently in the shadows, accepting and anticipating their imminent attack.
The assassinations of the Assassins continued around Iran and Syria during the time of other sheikhs who succeeded Hassan-i Sabbah after his death. But there were no Jews or Shiites among the order’s victims because there were many Jews affiliated with the order. For example, when Muslim leader Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, or better known in the West as Saladin, signed an agreement with the Crusaders in 1192, there were about 4,000 Jews among the Assassins.
The Fatimid State of the Ismailis lost Jerusalem to the Turks in 1073, but they managed to take it back in 1098. Meanwhile, the pope had begun gathering an army of Crusaders in Europe against the Turks to help the Eastern Roman Empire. As a result of this Crusade, the Fatimids lost Jerusalem, which they had taken from the Turks just a year ago, but to the Crusaders this time. Christian armies established the Kingdom of Jerusalem here, which would last for nearly 200 years.
The Crusaders and Nizari Ismailis, that is, the Assassins, had a common enemy and therefore they became closer in time. The honor and treats, wine, music, hashish and dancing girls presented to the Crusaders when they were guests of the Assassins blew their minds. The Crusaders wanted to establish a similar organization themselves. Thus, Hugues de Payens, King of Jerusalem Baldwin II’s chief counsel, founded the Order of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem in 1118.
The organizational structure of the Templars was arranged in accordance with the Assassins. The Templars were classified as knights, esquires and lay brethren as equivalent to the Assassins’ classification as refik, fedai and lasık. The titles of prior, grand prior and grand master of the Templars were also the equivalents of dai, daiül-kebir (great dai) and sheikh-ül-cebel of the Assassins.
Even the clothing of the Assassins and the Templars was almost identical: a red symbol on a white background. Most importantly, the esoteric beliefs and rituals of the Assassins influenced the Templars. Both groups performed a ceremony similar to today’s masonic initiation ceremonies when recruiting new members to the sect.
The end of the Batinis
Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, the sultan of the Ayyubid Dynasty who cleared Egypt from the Shiites and reestablished the unity of Islam, showed the Templars the mercy he showed to the Christians of the city when he conquered Jerusalem in 1187. The liberated Templars returned to Europe. When all of Syria and Palestine fell into the hands of Muslims in 1291, the rest of the Templars also left the Islamic lands, not to return for a long time.
The Mongols destroyed the Alamut Castle of the Assassins, which had been weakened over the years. Some of the Assassins continued to spread their esoteric beliefs by escaping to Azerbaijan and Anatolia. Some of them went to India with Hasan Ali Shah, who was a descendant of the Hashashi Dai-ül Kebir, years later. Hasan Ali Shah, who received the support of the British there, became the leader of the world’s Nizaris under the title of “Aga Khan I.”
Returning to Europe, the Knights Templar were oppressed by their wealth and sectarian sects that contradicted the Christian faith. Finally, the pope outlawed the order in 1312 and charged European kings with arresting all Templars. Most of the Templars were captured and accused by papal officials of insulting their Christian faith, worshiping idols and sexual perversion. Some of them, including their master Jacques de Molay, were burned at the stake in France.
Knights of Malta
Members of Venetian noble families, such as Dandolo, Dulce, Falieri, Contarini and Morosini, who were the liaisons between Europe and the Orient, settled in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was established after the Crusades. These nobles were in close contact with the Templars and were allies. When the sect was closed, the center of the Batinis in Europe became Venice.
The property and churches of the banned Templars passed to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John in Jerusalem, known as the Knights Hospitaller. The knights of the order, fleeing from the conquests of the Turks, fled to Cyprus, from there to Rhodes, and from there to Malta. Today, they are known as knights of the Order of Malta.