Term Paper: Arab Invasion of the Persian Empire

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¶ … Arab invasion of the Persian empire. The writer illustrates that the conversion to Islam by the Zorastrians was by choice not by force. The writer also demonstrates an understanding of the Arab invasion of Persia, and the impact it had on the Persian culture and religion.

Religious beliefs are supposed to be carried out peacefully and without anger or violence. Turn the other cheek, Love thy neighbor and shalom all carry connotations of peace, harmony and acceptance. While this sounds good in theory, the reality of the examination of religion is that there has been much violence and unrest during the evolvement of various faiths. One such conversion has been the subject of debate for many years. The conversion from the Zorastrians to Islam has been examined with the question of force or choice regarding the conversion. By researching the Arab invasion of Persia, one can better understand the impact of the Arabs on the development of the Persian culture and religion.

Following the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century, conversion to Islam was forced or highly encouraged, and Zoroastrianism sharply declined (Boyce, 147). As a result of the foreign invasion, an important split in the Zoroastrian world occurred. While some Zoroastrians chose to stay in Persia, others chose to leave for the western shores of India. Here, they became known as the Parsis, or Parsees, and formed tight-knit communities; they were largely tolerated as a distinct ethnic minority in India. Furthermore, history repeated itself in 1979, when after the Iranian Revolution many more Zoroastrians left Iran (Ramazani, 23). "

Among the many stories of encounters between different cultures the meeting of Zoroastrianism and Islam may be one of the most dramatic. After many centuries in which it was the dominant religion of the ancient Iranian states and after having achieved the status of official religion in the Sassanid empire (224-651), Zoroastrian teaching was practically driven from its homeland and replaced by the religion of Muhammad."

Historic Information

Before one can begin to analyze the Arabian invasion of Persia one must have a grasp of the historic and chronological order of things.

Many historians have recorded the events that led to the conversion of Zoroastrians to Islam. While there has always been debate about whether the conversion was by force or by choice, one only has to see that paying a poll tax would have allowed them to continue. It may not have been fair to charge a special tax for the practice of a faith, but it was not an ultimatum to convert or die.

There were several factors in the amount that was charged for the tax, including the health and the wealth of the payee as well as the general lifestyle of the person who would be paying the tax. The conversion might be seen as a slow forceful act because of the elements that were involved, but one always had the choice to stand up, take the conditions and remain true to their faith. Many believed that the Zorostrian faith would eventually be restored as the correct faith to follow and they gave in to conversion until that happened. It never did and the conversion became very large.

There were many reasons that people changed to Islam that did not have anything to do with accepting it as the new and true faith that they were supposed to follow.

REASONS for CONVERSION

The push to covert the Zoroastrian to Islam many things were done. While there was no forcible conversion, the boundaries and life elements were altered for those who would not convert so that they would feel pressured to do so.

As has happened throughout history, power struggles and desires helped play a part in some people converting to Islam. Those who were thirsty for power or that wanted to get into important positions in society and politics converted to Islam. Had they not done so, their hopes, dreams and aspirations would be dashed simply because they were not of Islam faith. If one wanted to rise to power, one only had to convert to get the religious bias out of their way. As long as they were willing to convert and lead the life of Islam they were automatically forgiven for having not been Islamic in the past.

This created a bit of a snowball effect on the conversion to Islam, as more people in power became Islamic which in turn impressed and coerced more conversions.

The need for power has always been a powerful element of choice.

Another method that was used to extract conversion to Islam was in marriage. The law was changed so that a woman who married a non-Islamic man had to agree to raise her children as Muslims. In addition, if a woman was not Islamic and refused to covert when she married an Islamic man, she gave up all rights and title to her children. She no longer had the right to make their life decisions, and if the marriage did not work out she lost custody automatically by law to insure that they would continue to be raised as Muslims.

The law was so strict about this element of family life, that a woman who was married to a non-Muslim, then he decided to convert, she had to do so as well. Even if when thy initially married he and she agreed not to covert, if her husband changed his mind at any time during the marriage, the wife had no choice but to convert as well or lose the ability to raise her children.

Many times in history the husband has had the right to choose the family faith, but in this situation the clout was given to any man in the family. For example, of the woman's brother or father converted to the Islam faith, the woman had to follow suit or lose her children to them.

To stop Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men, laws were passed so that a Muslim woman could not marry a Zoroastrian man. If she did then her marriage was declared void and her children would be declared still Muslim. This is one of the rare instances in history where the man did not choose the faith, he had to be Islamic or the marriage was void.

Another interesting push that encouraged the conversion to Islam was the law about murder. If a murder of a Muslim was committed by a Zoroastrian the family of the deceased received a larger payment than if it happened by a fellow Muslim.

Zoroastrians were made to feel different and singled out as well. They were not allowed to wear Persian style jackets, or silk garments. Silk garments at the time represented wealth and prosperity and the government wanted those who insisted on remaining true to their faith to suffer and not be able to display success. There was a psychological component to the push as well. Others would see Muslims dressed in beautiful silks and other wealth indicating clothing items, while they watched Zoroastrians dress shabbily and in poor fabrics. Psychologically there was an automatic association with the mind being conditioned to associate Muslims with wealth and success, and Zoroastrians with poverty and poorness.

Transportation was also touched by the legal push to convert Zoroastrians to the faith of Islam. The law mandated that Zoroastrians were not allowed to ride horses. They were relegated to unsaddled donkeys and mules.

These were all attempts to psychologically associate Islam with good and Zoroastrians with bad so that people would be more tempted to convert.

One of the strongest measures taken to try and convert everyone to Islam was laws were passed that forbid certain types of trade or partnerships between Zoroastrians and Muslims. The Zoroastrians were prevented from conducting business in certain products, services or trades.

Zoroaster and Zoroastrians in Iran by: Massoume Price, December 2001 (http://www.iranchamber.com/religions/zoroaster_zoroastrians_in_iran.php)

For one to understand the push to convert Zoroastrains to Muslim one needs to understand the differences in the faiths and their beliefs and doctrines.

The doctrine of holy immortals is central to understanding Zoroastrianism. The six manifest the qualities and attributes of Ahura Mazda and can bestow these qualities upon righteous humans. Vohu Manah (Bahman) represents 'Good Purpose', Asha Vahishta (Ordibehesht) means 'Best Righteousness' and Spenta Armaiti (Espand) personifies 'Holy Devotion'. Khshathra Vairya (Shahrevar) is 'Desirable Dominion' and represents the power each person needs to exert righteousness in life. The final pair are Haurvatat and Ameretat, heath and long life (Khordad and Amordad). The six are the names of six of the months in modern Persian calendar. Not only they represent different aspects of the Wise God but each one is also responsible for protecting one of the creations. Shahrevar is lord of the sky, and Espand protects mother earth. Khordad protects water and health and plants belong to Amordad. Bahman guarded all animals and was a powerful symbol of creative goodness while Ordibehesht became guardian of fire. Finally man himself, with… [END OF PREVIEW]

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