"Nothing is true; everything is permitted" - I find this phrase, popularized by the game Assassins' Creed, quite confusing even as historic fiction.

Historically, the Hassansins (a.k.a the Assassins) were devout Nizari Ismailis. From the little I know about their religion, like other Abrahamic faiths, it too obliges its followers to believe in divine judgement after death (concepts of hell and heaven) and clearly decrees what is/isn't permitted. How can a religious missionary like Hassan-i-Sabbah (leader of the Assassins) choose a motto that goes against the very religion he preached? What am I missing here?

Previously, this phrase appeared in the 1938 novel "Alamut" by Vladimir Bartol, who associated it to the Assassins order. Before that Friedrich Nietzsche (father of the existentialism philosophy) wrote the phrase in his 1859 book “The Geneology of Morals.” He too attributed the phrase’s origin to Hassan-i-Sabbah.

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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s) Is this question founded on comparing a video game summary of Islam to the reality with no supporting research?
    – MCW
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:04
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    I don't know how much is "real" about what we "know" about the "Assassins", but Nihilism is real.
    – DevSolar
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:30
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    @MCW thanks for the feedback! I have added more of my preliminary research on the original post. My question is simply on the historic validity of the phrase as Assassins' moto, despite its popularity today. Also, quite confused regarding how can someone like Nietzsche, and big franchises like the Assassins Creed, miss such an apparent contradiction (unless I am mistaken and missing something big here)?
    – Batool
    Dec 12, 2022 at 10:37
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    Does Wikipedia answer the question? Not directly, but it is impossible to reconcile even this brief summary with the videogame fiction. My hypothesis is that the videogame improvised from the ". . . Crusaders, who propagated the black legends of the so-called Assassins.". And that videogames are influenced more by reductive symbols of conflict than historical narrative. (Also very difficult to reconcile with nihilism)
    – MCW
    Dec 12, 2022 at 11:40
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    I'd want to know more before making an answer, but from what I can see it looks almost certain Bartol had no more detail about the historical Assassins than that related to him by his friend Josip Vidmar, who himself seems to have no real claim to any domain knowledge of the region or its peoples. So it seems a reasonable assumption, until someone digs up evidence to the contrary, that the "motto" was entirely invented by Bartol for the purposes of his fiction writing.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 12, 2022 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


AlexNGU1 responded to my question on another site and I think they explained it quite well:

As something the Ismailis said? Pretty well none. A version of it appeared in the works of Silvtre de Sacy; who is also largely responsible for the myth of the Assassins consuming hashish as a religious rite. The idea that de Sacy put forward was that an Ismaili initiate renounces all claims to anything other than pure materialism to become a true Ismaili. Additionally that the Ismaili doctrines even across competing sects were really a way to espouse atheism to their most entrenched followers.

As you point out this is very much at odds with the actual beliefs of the Assassins and seems to be based on taking polemical texts uncritically and at face value.

The actual origin of the quote is Flügel in his "Geschichte der Araberbis auf den Sturz des Chalifats von Bagdad." (History of the Arabs up to the fall of the Baghdad Caliphate) where he writes the ultimate truth of the Ismailis was "Nichts zu glauben und Alles thun zu dürfen" (Nothing is to be believed and all is permissable). Nietzsche then popularised the idea as philosophy in his "On the Genealogy of Morals" "When the Christian crusaders in the Orient came across that invincible order of Assassins – that order of free spirits par excellence whose lowest order received, through some channel or other, a hint about that symbol and spell reserved for the uppermost echelons alone, as their secret: "nothing is true, everything is permitted". Now that was freedom of the spirit, with that, belief in truth itself was renounced."

Probably most famously Bartol popularised the phrase in fiction in his book "Alamut". This then entered popular culture more broadly with the Assassins Creed games, themselves heavily drawing from Bartol for inspiration.

It is likely that this chain of errors started from polemical writers who Silvestre de Sacy translated. Or a more fundamental misunderstanding of the extreme apophatic belief system used by the Ismailis to discuss theology.

As you can see "Nothing is true, everything is permitted" was never used by the Ismailis but attributed to them by European chroniclers, and the spread in popular culture by other Europeans.


Komel, M. (2014): Orientalism in Assassin's Creed: Self-orientalizing the Assassins from forerunners of modern terrorism into occidentalized heroes. Teorija in Praska, No. 51.

Sacy, Silvestre (1838/2006): Exposé de la Religion des Druzes. Paris: Elibron Classics.

Sacy, Silvestre (1818): Mémoire sur la Dynastie des Assassins, et sur l’etymologie de leur nom. Paris: Institut Royal de France.

Flügel, Gustav L. (1864): Geschichte der Araberbis auf den Sturz des Chalifats von Bagdad. Dresden

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1887/1967): On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. New York, NY: Vintage."

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    You might want to format the long Nietzsche quote as a doubly-nested blockquote, even if AlexNGU1 simply put it in quotes.
    – Spencer
    Dec 18, 2022 at 13:34

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