The Belief that a Cult’s Leader Held the Keys to Paradise
Initially, the Assassins targeted prominent Sunni opponents of their Fatimid patrons. Eventually, they went rogue and asserted their independence. They retained some Fatimid financial support, but killed to further their own agenda. The result was nearly two centuries of terror, in which fear of the Assassins was an ever-present concern for prominent Middle Easterners. Remarkably, the Assassins adopted one of the most innovative recruitment strategies known to history: they indoctrinated recruits with the belief that the cult’s leader, the Sheik known as The Old Man of the Mountain, held the keys to paradise. Recruits were summoned to Assassins fortresses, and housed in bare cells. They underwent daily religious lectures and education, and it was gradually hinted that Sheik Hassan al Sabah or his successors controlled entry to heaven.
The more promising young men were drugged with hashish – a practice that earned the group the Arabic name “Hashashin“, which Europeans might have transliterated into “Assassins”. A likelier origin is that the group referred to themselves as “Asasiyun“, from the Arabic word “Asas” or foundation, to denote their faithfulness to Islam’s foundations. When the recruit came to, high on hash, he found himself amidst beautifully landscaped gardens through which clear streams meandered between rows of vines heavy with grapes, and trees ripe with fruit. Cute animals such as lambs and tame deer frolicked about; peacocks wandered around, ruffling and spreading their magnificent tails; while brightly colored birds flitted through the branches above, trilling and filling the air with their song. Amid the breathtaking surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful women to seduce the recruit, cater to his physical desires, and satisfy his lust.