THE SPREAD OF ISLAM IN PERSIA
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
The Zoroastrian priests had acquired an enormous influence in the state of Persia; they were well-nigh all-powerful in the councils of the king and arrogated to themselves a very large share in the civil administration.
They took advantage of their position to persecute all those religious bodies, (and they were many) that dissented from them. Besides the numerous adherents of older forms of the Persian religion, there were Christians, Jews, Sabæans and numerous sects in which the speculations of Gnostics, Manichæans and Buddhists found expression.
In all of these, persecution had stirred up feelings of bitter hatred against the established religion in Persia and the dynasty that supported its oppressions, and so caused the Arab conquest to appear in the light of a deliverance.
It was said that the Prophet himself had distinctly given directions that the Zoroastrians were to be treated exactly like "the people of the book," i. e. the Jews and Christians, and that jizyah might also be taken from them in return for protection, —a tradition that probably arose in the second century of the Hijrah, when apostolic sanction was sought for the toleration that had been extended to all the followers of the various faiths that Arabs had found in the countries they had conquered, whether such non-Muslims came under the category Ahlul Kitab or not.
To the distracted Christian Church in Persia the change of government brought relief from the oppression of the Sasani kings, who had fomented the bitter struggles of Jacobites and Nestorians and added to the confusion of warring sects.
Some reference has already been made to earlier persecutions, and even during the expiring agony of the Sasani dynasty, Khusrau II, exasperated at the defeat he had suffered at the hands of the Christian emperor, Heracleus, ordered a fresh persecution of the Christians within his dominions, a persecution from which all the various Christian sects alike had to suffer.
These terrible conditions may well have prepared men's minds for that revulsion of feeling that facilitates a change of faith. "Side by side with the political chaos in the state was the moral confusion that filled the minds of the Christians; distracted by such an accumulation of disasters and by the moral agony wrought by the furious conflict of so many warring doctrines among them, they tended towards that peculiar frame of mind in which a new doctrine finds it easy to take root, making a clean sweep of such a bewildering babel and striving to reconstruct faith and society on a new basis.
But the Muslim creed was most eagerly welcomed by the townsfolk, the industrial classes and the artisans, whose occupations made them impure according to the Zoroastrian creed, (because in the pursuance of their trade or occupations they defiled fire, earth or water). Accordingly, they were outcasts in the eyes of the Persian law of the time, and were treated with scant consideration. In consequence, they embraced with eagerness a creed that made them at once free men, and equal in a brotherhood of faith.
Nor were the conversions to Islam from Zoroastrianism itself less striking: the fabric of the National Church had fallen with a crash in the general ruin of the dynasty that had before upheld it; having no other center round which to rally, the followers of the Zoroastrianism creed would find the transition to Islam a simple and easy one, owing to the numerous points of similarity in the old creed and the new.
For the Persian could find in the Quran many of the fundamental doctrines of his old faith, though in a rather different form:
Those tribes in the north of Persia that had stubbornly resisted the ecclesiastical organization of the state religion, on the ground that each man was a priest in his own household and had no need of any other, and believing in a supreme being and the immortality of the soul, taught that a man should love his neighbor, conquer his passions, and strive patiently after a better life—such men could have needed very little persuasion to induce them to accept the faith of the Prophet. Islam had still more points of contact with some of the heretical sects of Persia, that had come under the influence of Christianity.
In addition to the causes above enumerated of the rapid spread of Islam in Persia, it should be remembered that the political and national sympathies of the conquered race were also enlisted on behalf of the new religion through the marriage of Husain, the son of Ali with Shahr Banu, one of the daughters of Yazdajird, the last monarch of the Sasani dynasty. In the descendants of Shahr banu and Husain the Persians saw the heirs of their ancient kings and the inheritors of their national traditions, and in this patriotic feeling may be found the explanation of the intense devotion of the Persians to the Alawi faction.
That this widespread conversion was not due to force or violence is evidenced by the toleration extended to those who still clung to their ancient faith. Even to the present day there are some small communities of fire-worshippers to be found in certain districts of Persia, and though these have in later years often had to suffer persecution, their ancestors in the early centuries of the Hijrah enjoyed a remarkable degree of toleration, their fire-temples were respected, and we even read of a Muslim general (in the reign of al-Mu’tasim , A.D. 833-842), who ordered an imam and a mu'adhdhin to be flogged because they had destroyed a fire-temple in Sughd and built a mosque in its place.
In the tenth century, three centuries after the conquest of the country, fire-temples were to be found in Iraq, Fars, Kirman, Sijistan, Khurasan, Jibal, Adharbayjan and Arran, i. e. in almost every province of Persia. In Fars itself there were hardly any cities or districts in which fire-temples and Magians were not to be found. Al-Sharastani also (writing as late as the twelfth century) , makes mention of a fire-temple at Isfiniya, in the neighbourhood of Baghdad itself.
About the close of the eighth century, Saman, a noble of Balkh, having received assistance from Asad b. Abd-Allah, the governor of Khurasan, renounced Zoroastrianism, embraced Islam and named his son Asad after his protector: it is from this convert that dynasty of the Samanids (A.D. 874-999) took its name.
In the middle of the eighth century, a movement that is of interest in the missionary history of Islam, viz. the sect of the Ismaili. This is not the place to enter into a history of this sect or of the theological position taken up by its followers, or of the social and political factors that lent it strength, but it demands attention here on account of the marvelous missionary organisation whereby it was propagated.
The founder of this organization—which rivals that of the Jesuits for the keen insight into human nature it displays and the consummate skill with which the doctrines of the sect were accommodated to varying capacities and prejudices—was a certain Abd Allah b. Maymun, who early in the ninth century infused new life into the Ismailians.
He sent out his missionaries in all directions under various guises, very frequently as Sufis but also as merchants and traders and the like; they were instructed to be all things to all men and to win over different classes of men to allegiance to the grandmaster of their sect, by speaking to each man, as it were, in his own language, and accommodating their teaching to the varying capacities and opinions of their hearers.
They captivated the ignorant multitude by the performance of marvels that were taken for miracles and by mysterious utterances that excited their curiosity. To the devout they appeared as models of virtue and religious zeal; to the mystics they revealed the hidden meaning of popular teachings and initiated them into various grades of occultism according to their capacity.
Taking advantage of the eager looking-forward to a deliverer that was common to so many faiths of the time, they declared to the Muslims the approaching advent of the Imam Mahdi, to the Jews that of the Messiah, and to the Christians that of the Comforter, but taught that the aspirations of each could alone be realized in the coming of the great deliverer.
By such means as these an enormous number of persons of different faiths were united together to push forward an enterprise, the real aim of which was known to very few. The aspirations of Abd Allah b. Maymun seem to have been entirely political, but as the means he adopted were religious and the one common bond—if any—that bound his followers together was the devout expectation of the coming of the Imam Mahdi, the missionary activity connected with the history of this sect deserves this brief mention in these pages.
 Caetani, vol. ii. pp. 910-11. A. de Gobineau (1), pp. 55-6.
 Abū Yūsuf: Kitāb al-Kharāj, p. 73.
 Id. p. 74 and Balādhurī, pp. 71 (fin.), 79, 80.
 Caetani, vol. v. pp. 361 (§ 611 n. 1), 394-5, 457.
 pp. 68-9.
 Caetani, vol. ii. p. 910.
 A de Gobineau (2), pp. 306-10.
 Dozy (1), p. 157.
 Haneberg, p. 5.
 Dozy (1), p. 191. A. de Gobineau (1), p. 55.
 Les croyances Mazdéennes dans la religion Chiite, par Ahmed-Bey Agaeff. (Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists, vol. ii. pp. 509-11. London, 1893.) For other points of contact, see Goldziher: Islamisme et Parsisme. (Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, xliii. p. i. sqq.)
 Dosabhai Framji Karaka: History of the Parsis, vol. i. pp. 56-9, 62-7. (London, 1884.) Nicolas de Khanikoff says that there were 12,000 families of fire-worshippers in Kirmān at the end of the 18th century. (Mémoire sur la partie méridionale de l'Asie centrale, p. 193. Paris, 1861.)
 Chwolsohn, vol. i. pi 287.
 Mas'ūdī, vol. iv. p. 86.
 Iṣtakhrī , pp. 100, 118. Ibn Ḥawqal, pp. 189-190.
 Kitāb al-milal wa'1-niḥal, edited by Cureton, part i. p. 198.
 Mas'ūdī, vol. viii. p. 279; vol. ix. pp. 4-5.
 Ibn Khallikān, vol. iii. p. 517.
 Kitāb al-Fihrist, ed. Flügel, p. 149 (1. 2).
 For a comprehensive sketch of their condition under Muslim rule, see D. Menant: Les Zoroastriens de Perse. (R. du M. M. iii. pp. 193 sqq., p. 421 sqq.)
 Khojā Vrittānt, pp. 141-8. For a further account of Ismā'īlian missionaries in India, see chap. ix.
 Le Bon Silvestre De Sacy: Exposé de la Religion des Druzes, tome i. pp. lxvii-lxxvi, cxlviii-clxii.