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Māni, the founder of Manichaeism, was born in the year 216 AD in northern Babylonia and Manichaeism was founded or rather formed in the first part of the 3rd Century AD in Mesopotamia.

Owing to its special geographical location, Mesopotamia was the most important center of economic and cultural interactions in the vast Parthian Empire and the existence of the Ganusi religions and the various philosophical schools as well as religions like Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Zurvānism, and Hellenistic views in this region had turned it into a suitable place for the exchange of views, thoughts, and beliefs. It was in such an environment that Māni professed and propagated Manichaeism as a new religion, the basic tenets of which were apparently a mixture of the teachings of the religions that prevailed in the region. It should, however, be noted that the Mazdayasnian views had influenced the formation of this Iranian religion more than any other of the existing faiths. This is particularly evident from the similarities that can be found between the basic Manichaean beliefs and ethical principles and those of the Zoroastrian religion which included principles like dualism, the three millenniums, choosing the Path, the victory of Light over darkness, and salvation and liberation in the Hereafter.

As regards his appointment as a prophet, Māni had said that it was at the age of twelve that he received revelation from God for the first time through an angel called “Toam”(in the Nabataean language, meaning “twin”; or “Narjmig” in the Middle Persian language) who carried the divine commands to him. It was at the age of twenty-four that Toam once again appeared to him and commanded him to propagate his religion. Therefore, Māni began inviting people to the new religion during the reign of the Sassanid king, Ardeshir, and in order to propagate his religion traveled to eastern India and when Shāpur I succeeded his father Ardeshir he returned to the Iranian capital and sought his permission to propagate his religion throughout the Iranian territories. In the beginning of his book, “Shāpurgān”, which Māni had written for Shāpur he wrote that “religious principles and practices are conveyed to people by different prophets at different times”. He added that “there was a time when Buddha emerged in India, at another time Zoroaster appeared in Iran, yet at some other time it was Jesus who spread the religion of God in the West, and now this religion has been revealed to me, Māni, in the land of Babylonia”. Māni had also referred to himself as “Fārqlit” (or the “Paraclete”) and the final prophet. In order to propagate Manichaeism throughout the world Māni had sent missionaries and preachers to different parts of the world and had, in a short span of time, attracted many followers far and wide and had, thus, turned it into a global religion. During the period between the 4th and the 12th Centuries AD Manichaeism had spread as far as France in the West and China in the East and had found many followers among the Iranians, the Romans, the Chinese, the Turks, and the people of northern Africa. The rapid expansion of Manichaeism provoked the hostility of the leaders and followers of other religions including the Muslims, the Christians, and the orthodox Zoroastrians, who declared the Manichaeans as apostates and issued various verdicts for their persecution. As long as Shāpur and his son Hormoz ruled in Iran, Māni was allowed to propagate this faith in their empire but when Bahram I (reigned 274-277 AD) succeeded to the throne, Māni came to be arrested as a heretic, following which he was executed and his followers were massacred. The prosecution of the Manichaeans prompted them to migrate to China as a result of which this Iranian religion spread further in China and Central Asia to such an extent that Manichaeism became the official religion of the Uygur dynasty in the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD. According to Al-Biruni, during his times the followers of Māni lived sporadically in Islamic cities and a particular Manichaean sect called the “Sābe’in” lived in Samarqand, and beyond the boundaries of the Islamic territories most of the people of Eastern Turkistan, the inhabitants of Tibet, and even some Indians followed Manichaeism. The archeological excavations of the Turfan region of Chinese Turkistan in the early 14th Century AH/20th Century AD, through which many Manichaean texts were discovered, confirm Al-Biruni’s reports. The Manichaean texts discovered in these excavations are very important from the viewpoint of providing for a deeper understanding of that faith. The contents of these texts confirm the validity of most of the reports of the Christian and Muslim historians, and Ibn Nadim and Al-Biruni in particular, and what they had written about Manichaeism and its followers.


* source: Bagheri , Mehdi " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.584- 585

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