Islamic Conquest

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Map of the Sasanian, Byzantine and Muslim borders

Map of the Sasanian, Byzantine and Muslim borders.

Islamic Conquest


The Bedouin Arabs who crashed the Sassanid empire were driven not only by the desire for conquest, but also by a new religion, Islam. Prophet Mohammad, a member of the Hashimite clan of the mighty tribe of Quraysh, proclaimed his prophetic mission in Arabia in 612, and finally won the city of his birth, Mecca, for the new faith. Within a year after Muhammad's death in 632, Arabia was self-assured enough to allow his secular successor, Abu Bakr, the first caliph, to fight the Byzantine and Sassan empires.
Abu Bakr defeated the Byzantine army in Damascus in 635 and then began his conquest of Iran. In 637, the Arab forces occupied the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (which they renamed Madain), and in 641-42 they defeated the Sassanian army in Nahavand. After that, Iran was open to the attackers. The Islamic conquest was supported by the material and social bankruptcy of the Sassanids; The indigenous peoples had little to lose by cooperating with the conquering power. In addition, the Muslims offered a relative religious tolerance and a fair treatment of the population, which accepted Islamic rule without resistance.
It was only around 650 that resistance in Iran was lifted. The transformation to Islam, which offers certain advantages, was fairly rapid in the urban population, but slower among the peasants and the Dihqans [farmers]. The majority of Iranians became Muslim only in the ninth century.
Although the conquerors, especially the Umayyads (the Muslim rulers who followed Mohammad from 661-750) tended to emphasize the primacy of Arabs among Muslims, the Iranians were gradually integrated into the new community. The Muslim conquistadors passed the Sassanid coin system and many Sassanid administrative practices, including the Office of the Vizier or Minister, and the Diwan, an office or register to control government revenues and expenses that were characteristic of the administration in all Muslim countries. The later caliphs adopted the Iranian ceremonies and the dress of the Sassanian monarchy. Men of Iranian origin served as administrators after the conquest, and Iranians contributed significantly to all branches of Islamic learning, including philology, literature, history, geography, jurisprudence, philosophy, medicine and sciences.

The Arabs, however, were under control. The new state religion, Islam, imposed its own system of beliefs, laws, and social morals. In regions that peacefully subjugated Muslim rule, the landowners retained their land. But Kronland, land abandoned by fleeing owners, and land taken by conquest, came into the hands of the new state. These included the rich countries of the Sawad, a rich, alluvial plain in central and southern Iraq. Arabic became the official language of the court in 696, although Persian continues to be widely used as the spoken language. The shuubiyya literary controversy of the ninth to the eleventh century, in which Arabs and Iranians each praise their own and denigrate the other cultural features, suggests the survival of a certain sense of their own Iranian identity. In the ninth century, the emergence of purely Iranian ruling dynasties showed the revival of the Persian language, enriched by Arabic loan words and the use of the Arabic script, as well as Persian literature.
Another legacy of the Arab conquest was Shia Islam, which, although closely identified with Iran, was not an Iranian religious movement at first. It came about with the Arab Muslims. In the great schism of Islam, a group among the community of believers claimed that the leadership of the community after the death of the Prophet Mohammad belonged to Muhammad's father-in-law, Ali, and his descendants. This group was known as the Shiat Ali, the partisans of Ali or the Shiites. Another group, Muawiya's supporters (a rival candidate for the Caliphate after the murder of Uthman), demanded Ali's election to the Caliphate 656. After Ali was murdered in a mosque in Kufa in 661, Muawiya was designated by the majority as the Caliph The Islamic community. He became the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, which had its capital in Damascus.
Ali's youngest son, Hossain, refused to pay the homage offered by Muawiyas son and successor Yazid I, and fled to Mecca where he was prayed to lead the Shiites - mostly living in today's Iraq - in a revolt In Karbala, in Iraq, Hossain's 200 men and women, who were not ready to surrender, were finally killed by about 4,000 Umayyads. The leader of the Umayyads received Hossain's head and Hossain's death in 680 on the tenth of Moharram is also observed as a day of grief for all Shiites.
The largest concentration of Shias in the first century of Islam was in southern Iraq. It was not until the sixteenth century, under the Safavids, that a majority of Iranians became Shias. Shia Islam became then, as it is now, the state religion.

Imam Reza shrine the holiest religious  site in Iran Mashhad.
mam Reza shrine the holiest religious

site in Iran Mashhad.

The Abbasids, who crashed the Umayyads in 750, while they were sympathetic with the Iranian Shiites, were clearly an Arabian dynasty. They were rebelled in the name of the descendants of Mohammed, Abbas, and Hashim. Hashim was an ancestor of the Shia and the Abbas or the Sunnite line, and the Abbasid movement enjoyed the support of both the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The Abkhazian army consisted mainly of Khorasan [Khorasan, a region in the north-east of Iran] and was led by an Iranian general Abu Moslim Khorasani. It contained both Iranian and Arabic elements, and the Abbasids enjoyed both Iranian and Arabic support.
The Abbasids, although sympathetic with the Shiites, whose support they wanted to keep, did not encourage the Abbasids, not the extremist Shia aspirations. The Abbasids founded their capital in Baghdad. Al Mamon, who took the power of his brother Amin and worked for the caliph in 811, had an Iranian mother and thus had a base in Khorasan. The Abbasids continued the centralization policy of their predecessors. Under her rule, the Islamic world experienced a cultural flourishing and expansion of trade and economic prosperity. These were developments in which Iran shared.
Iran's next ruling dynasties came from nomadic, Turkish-speaking warriors, who had moved from Central Asia to Transoxiana for more than a thousand years. The abbasidal caliphs began to win these people as slaves in the 9th century. Shortly thereafter the real power of the Abbasid caliphs began to fade; Finally, they became religious figures while the warriors ruled slaves. When the power of the Abbasid caliphs decreased, a number of independent and indigenous dynasties rose in different parts of Iran, some with considerable influence and power. Among the most important of these overlapping dynasties were the Tahirides in Khorasan (820-72); The Saffarids in Sistan (867-903); And the Samanids (875-1005), originally in Bokhara. The Samanids eventually dominated an area from central Iran to India. In 962, a Turkish slave governor of the Samanids, Alptigin, Ghasna (in today's Afghanistan), conquered the Ghaznavid dynasty, which lasted in 1186.

Mamluk glass lamp.
Mamluk glass lamp.

Several Samanid cities had been lost to another Turkish group, the Seljoks, a clan of the Oghoz (or Ghozz) Turks, who lived north of the Oxus River (today's Amu Darya). Their leader, Toghril Beg, turned his warriors against the Ghasnavids in Khorasan. He moved south and then west, but did not conquer the cities in his way. In 1055, the caliph in Baghdad gave Toghril Beg robes, gifts and the title King of the East. Under Toghril Beg's successor, Malik Shah (1072-92), Iran enjoyed a cultural and scientific renaissance, which was attributed above all to its brilliant Iranian Vizier Nezam al Molk. These leaders founded the Observatory, where Omar Khayyam has much of his experimenting for a new calendar, and they built religious schools in all major cities. They brought Abu Hamid Ghazali, one of the greatest Islamic theologians, and other distinguished scholars to the capital of Seljok in Baghdad and encouraged and supported their work.
A serious inner threat to the Seljoks, however, came from Ismailis, a secret sect headquartered in Alamot, between Rasht and Tehran. They controlled the immediate environment for more than 150 years and sporadically sent supporters to strengthen their rule by killing important officials. They were called Assassins and hashishiyya since people believed that they had smoked Hashish before their missions.





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