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How Did Iran Become Shiite? -The Sins of the Fathers

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2005 3:29 am    Post subject: How Did Iran Become Shiite? -The Sins of the Fathers Reply with quote


There is a great historical irony concerning Iran.

We all know that the current calamity in Iran has its roots in the 7th century Arabic invasion of our country. After all, Iran is currently at the mercy of “Islamists,” and Islam came to Iran with that conquest 13 centuries ago. This is true, but it is not the whole story.

That Arabic invasion was not the only reason for the way Iran evolved religiously and politically. Many other factors have played a role throughout the centuries. One such factor that is conveyed here is the way that in an ironic way, by trying to follow a nationalistic agenda, Iranians of long ago set the stage for the current circumstances.

In the aftermath of the Arabic conquest, although Persia was ruled by Arabs, and there were numerous conversions of Iranians to Islam, a large proportion of the people still held on to their traditional Zartoshtdi religion. A big part of this conversion to Islam came much later, under the Saffavid Dynasty.

The Saffavid Dynasty was the first one to unite Persia into a large and cohesive Persian Empire since the time of the Sassanids. Yes, there were many Persian and non-Persian Dynasties in between these big two, but they were never much more than relatively localized kingdoms; not empires. Some would say that the Saffavid era was the fourth and last time that Iran was an empire (after the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid Empires).

The Saffavids cultivated a unique and rich cultural empire, as their predecessors did before them. They made Iran into a powerful force in the global picture. They made great contributions to the advancement of the military, science, literature, and architecture. History has shown that they were a great dynasty, and their legacy is appreciated to this day. It is without doubt that Iran owes a lot to the Saffavids.

How did they achieve such an empire? Obviously, through sound policies and competent rule (at least by the early Saffavids), which are minimum requirements for any empire. But, they had an additional obstacle to overcome in order to achieve their goals. They had to be able to really unify the Iranian masses under a single banner. A feat that had not been accomplished since the time of the Sassanids. How could they do this? They used what many other empires had used before them – religion.

But which religion to use to accomplish this unity? The religion of Zartoshdt, although still populous in Iran, was isolated to the heartland of Iran. Additionally, it was a religion whose time had come and gone. No, it was too static. So what was the next available option? Islam, of course! The momentum of religious growth at the time was obviously with Islam. Also, Islam inherently has the benefit of providing zeal for the commoners to fight and die as they are commanded; an obvious delight to any commander. The only dilemma was that a lot of the enemies of Iran were also Moslems. No, the Saffavids needed Islam, but an Islam that was uniquely theirs; uniquely Iranian. Shiite Islam. An Islam they could call their own, and use to fight other infidels and heretics. Shiite Islam really took off under the Saffavids. Those kings very actively and vigorously promoted the practice of Shiite Islam, as well as a very aggressive conversion policy. This of course led to a renewed persecution of other religions, especially Zartoshdti, which was an obstacle to Iranian unity. This was the time that the Ashura was promoted by the state, and a lot of the fanaticism of Islam, and especially of Shiitism, took root. There is no doubt that the Saffavid rulers did in fact believe in Islam. But probably the reason why they so vigorously pursued the implementation of Shiitism was more political than personal conviction.

The Saffavids were not the first to use religion as a politically unifying tool. The Romans under Constantine used Christianity for exactly the same reason. To unite their empire under one religion. A religion which could be used to oppose their rival to the East, the Persians. The Sassanids also used religion politically. They implemented the Zartoshdti religion as the “state religion.” They justified their rule as the will of “God”, or “Ahura Mazda.” The concept of “divine rule” in Iran was born under the Sassanids. Though the Achaemenids had also toyed with this idea, it was not as strong a concept as it was under the Sassanids. The big difference between the Saffavids and the Sassanids was in the particular religion that each promoted. The Zartoshdti religion is relatively much more benign than Islam, devoid of fanaticism. The fundamentalism and warlike nature of Shiite Islam was at the time very beneficial to the state, but it obviously also proved to be very dangerous.

Undoubtedly, praise must be given to the Saffavids for all their accomplishments and their contributions to Iran. However, there must also be a cognizance of this tarnished role they played in turning Iran into the overwhelmingly Islamic country that it subsequently continued to remain. Perhaps they could not have turned Iran into the empire it became, and perhaps they could not have made all those contributions without using Islam as a glue that bound the country at the time. Perhaps, but the nation is now faced with the difficult task of undoing a lot of that damage.

So here it is, a great irony. What a monarchy did in the sixteenth century in the name of Iranian nationalism came back to haunt it in the twentieth century, and took down that later monarchy and the nationalism it tried to promote. Of course, the events are not just this simple, and other factors also played a role. But the connection is nonetheless very solid.

There is a maxim, that the sons sometimes pay for the sins of the fathers. This principle is clearly demonstrated by our history. The sons (the Pahlavis) ultimately paid for the sins of the fathers (the Saffavids).
I am Dariush the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage

Naqshe Rostam
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