By Dr. Karl S. Kruszelnicki
For centuries the ‘Exotic East’ held a great allure for western travellers, but some of the tales that were told have turned out to be more than fanciful. Dr Karl has pulled back the silk curtain for a clearer view…
Way back in the last century, in the Era of Free Love and lava lamps, marijuana use increased enormously in Western society. One variety of marijuana, hashish, came with its own romantic legend, that the word hashish gave us the word assassin, from the Arab word haschishin, meaning a user of hashish. But even if it did, it’s all based on a lie…..
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1. Dr. Karl is a Science Commentator of ABC Science Australia. He is also Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney. The above excerpt has been reproduced with the kind permission of The Cameron Creswell Agency, New South Wales, Australia.
2. Related – please read book review of “Eagle’s Nest – Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria” at:
Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community
3. Other quotes on the Assassin Legends:
Jacques Boudet, in Les mots de l’histoire, Ed. Larousse-Bordas, Paris, 1998:
Nevertheless, the most acceptable etymology of the word assassin is the simple one: it comes from Hassan (Hassan ibn al-Sabbah) and his followers, and so had it been for centuries. The noise around the hashish version was invented in 1809, in Paris, by the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, whom on July the 7th of that year, presented a lecture at the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters (Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres) – part of the Institute of France – in which he retook the Marco Polo chronicle concerning drugs and this sect of murderers, and associated it with the word. Curiously his theory had great success and apparently still has.
Amin Maalouf, in Samarkand, Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 1998:
[…] their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some Orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin,” which in many European languages was more terrifying yet….the truth is different. According to texts Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to “hashish”
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This derivation of the word “assassin” is in contrast to the derivation of the word espoused by Farhad Daftary and the IIS. In his landmark publication the Assassin’s Legends, Daftary has argued that while deSacy took everything at face value including the legends of Marco Polo, the derivation of the term from hashishi corrupting itself to form the word Assassin is the most probable explanation. He also has shown how the Nizari Ismailis were referred by to by a similar term in a derogatory sense both by the Musta’alian Fatimids and the Zaydis of Caspian Region. Furthermore, Daftary has shown how the word was corrupted stage by stage in various crusader and post crusader european writings to form the word ‘assassin,’ while we find no such evidence for the derivation from Hassan or the al-asas legend(as this part of the legend claims that texts coming down from alamut reportedly use this term, something which Daftary would be bound to notice in the course of his other monumental work Ismaili Literature, a biography of sources – also published by IIS)
Thanks for clearing the meaning of Assassin…..