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Owing to various reasons including the existence of contradictions and myths in the historical records concerning the conditions of Iran during the period that immediately preceded the conquest of Iran – which had for the most part been written with the aim of catering to communal pride - the religious conditions of Iran at the time of the advent of Islam are shrouded in ambiguity. Since the conquest of Iran had taken place during different phases of the caliphate, apparently with the motive of extending the invitation to Islam, the available records should have included elements clearly depicting the assimilations activities. However, these records rarely make any worthwhile mention, leaving one to conclude that these elements had either been neglected or that they failed to find their way into the books of history. While historical records prove that the special approach adopted by the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in inviting others to Islam had made great impacts, his approach was eventually ignored and discarded following his demise; and as a matter of fact, it is unclear as to how well-versed the commanders who had conquered Iran - and who were the representatives of the caliphate - were with the true message and tenets of Islam.

On the other hand, the Sassanian government of Iran had been facing a severe crisis during this period and since the Zoroastrian religion played a significant role in the social and political foundations of the country, the emergence of any catastrophe in the political set-up would inevitably result in a crisis in the fabric of this religion and the powerful Zoroastrian priests. Thus, with the permeation of decadence and vulnerability in the Sassanian Dynasty, the foundation of the Zoroastrian religion, too, became shaky as a result of which religions like Christianity and Buddhism were provided with the opportunity to flourish.Nonetheless, during the time of the Arab onslaught on the Iranian lands, the powerful Zoroastrian priests who in many ways dominated the lives of the general masses and the other social classes and showed serious resistance to any kind of reforms or change did not enjoy the necessary acceptance and popularity to be able to defend the existing political and religious instructions. Moreover, the aristocrats as well the framers who were mainly concerned with protecting their own positions compromised with the invaders and began trading with them. Besides the two major battles of Nahāvand and Qādesiyah that resulted in the total collapse of the Sassanid rule in Iran, the resistance shown by the Iranians was of varying degrees in the various parts of Iran and in some regions and cities like Rey, the existing rivalry among the influential families for gaining power expedited the advancement of the Muslims. By going through all the available historical records it can be concluded that there was either the lack of a common element that could unite the Iranian masses to put up military and religious resistance against the Arabs or they lacked the necessary strength.The early Muslims gave the Iranians the option to either accept Islam or to continue with their Zoroastrian faith and to instead pay the “jaziyah” (a protection tax that the peoples of other faiths were required to pay to the Muslim governments since the non-Muslims were not obliged to serve in the army). While some non-Muslims may have considered this tax as discriminatory, the jaziyah was significantly lesser than the heavy taxes that had been exacted by the Sassanid kings of Iran as well as the Byzantine rulers of the West and, therefore, it did not seem particularly onerous to most of the non-Muslim citizens. However, the situation did not continue to remain the same and along with the alterations in the nature of the institution of the caliphate, the attitude of the Arabs towards their conquests began to change to a great extent. What can be inferred from the historical records is that even though the Iranians had been freed from the earlier class system of the Sassanid society, they were now faced with a community that imposed a new form of social class system upon them. It is a well-known fact that following the coming into power of Muawiyah, the caliphate had changed into some sort of an Arabian monarchy because by resorting to vague political and economic reasons and under his own particular interpretation of Islam, Muawiyah had aimed at expanding and strengthening the foundations of the Ummayid rule and to add to his lands. There were times during which the Iranians were forced to pay the jizyah taxes even after they had become Muslims in order to ensure that the treasuries of the caliphate were not depleted. The racial attitudes of the Ummayids provoked the Iranians to support all calls for opposition, and particularly the one raised in Iraq, which was the land of their forefathers and mainly due to the fact that the Iranians found a closer affinity to the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet of the Islam (s) and the views of the Shiites who were from among the strongest opponents of the oppressive Ummayid rule. The most prominent example of the participation of the Iranians in such opposition movements can be found in the movement of Mokhtār Thaqafi which had been inspired in order to avenge the blood of Imām Hosayn (‘a), the brutally slain grandson of the Prophet of Islam (s). Similarly, there are evidences to prove the inclination of the Iranians to gain freedom from Arab domination without actually abandoning Islam. A sentence mentioned by Bosr bin Artāh, the brutal commander of Muawiyah, to a mawāli alleging that “your language may be Arabic but you are Persian at heart”, highlights this sentiment.

Undoubtedly, there were some famous rebel leaders who held anti-Islamic feelings and who aimed at reviving the Persian Empire and gaining local independence in some parts of Iran or who made false claims to prophethood. However, it should not be forgotten that such movements never gained success in attracting the masses and the influential classes of society and even their political and cultural influences faded away in no time. This atmosphere prevailed at a time when towards the end of the first Hejira century Abu Muslim was busy organizing anti-Ummayid uprisings in Khorāsān and in Transoxiania by emphasizing on Islamic values, and especially on those which had been forgotten during the Ummayid rule, and by introducing him and his supporters as ardent Muslims.

The adoption of such a balanced approach from the belief point of view proved to be very effective in attracting elements from the various social classes. However, it should also be noted that the idea of overthrowing the Ummayids was in itself a crucial factor that prompted the Iranians to join the movement of Abu Muslim Khorāsāni, notwithstanding their particular religious beliefs. In any case, the assassination of Abu Muslim in the year 137 AH/754 AD led to the emergence of some radical inclinations among such elements, any action on the part of which had earlier been curtailed by the power of Abu Muslim, and who now found the conditions ripe for promoting their activities. The first century of the Abbasid rule witnessed successive uprisings by people who tended to legitimize their moves by either claming to avenge Abu Muslim’s blood or by making claims of prophethood only in order to gain power. What needs to be noted here, however, is that the sources that have reported these uprisings and the claims made by their leaders are not free from contradictions and baseless inputs. The Beh Āfarid movement that took place in the year 130 AH/748 AD during the lifetime of Abu Muslim Khorāsāni and a little while before the complete defeat of the Ummayids basically aimed at introducing certain reforms in the Zoroastrian religion under the influence of the Islamic teachings and in all probability the Astādesis movement, too, was a follow up of the Beh Āfarid movement and aimed at gaining the same objective.

The Moqanna’ Movement that took place in certain parts of greater Khorāsān and Transoxiania a little while after Abu Muslim’s assassination posed a serious challenge to the caliphate for a few years. The movement started by Yusof Baram in the regions of Herāt, Pushang, and Balkh, simultaneously with the Moqanna’ Movement, was in all probability a branch of the same movement or was at least very closely related to it. Similarly, the uprisings of Sanbād and Eshāq-e Tork that emerged following the assassination of Abu Muslim were apparently in order to avenge his blood.

Although these uprisings would start off in the memory of Abu Muslim, they would deviate from their path because of the ulterior motives of their leaders. Undoubtedly, the Manichaean and the Mazdakite elements that had survived from the Sassanid period played a significant role in these movements and aimed at reviving these faiths. However, the activities of these elements reached a zenith in the movement of Bābak Khorramdin, which emerged in northern Āzarbāyjān towards the end of the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD, and to some extent spread to the central regions of Iran. As per the historical records of Ibn Nadim, the Khorramdinān or Khorramiyān, who have been named as a branch of the Mazdakites by some scholars, lived in the hilly areas of Āzarbāyjān and by taking advantage of the geographical conditions of their region had managed to form a base for themselves and had launched certain military activities as and when the conditions were found suitable. However, when the power struggle between Amin and Ma’mun (the two sons of the Abbasid Caliph Hārun al-Rashid) had reached its zenith, in which a large number of Iranians, and particularly the people of Khorāsān, supported Ma’mun, Bābak managed to penetrate into the Khorramiyān and posed a serious threat to the caliphate, at least in his region, for about twenty years. A large number of expeditions failed to suppress this movement and it was due to this longstanding resistance that other antagonists could join Bābak’s movement. However, this movement was finally defeated by an Iranian commander from Transoxiania called “Afshin” in the year 222 AH/837 AD.Available sources attribute certain beliefs to the Khorramdinān that are almost similar to those attributed to the other cults of this period. In almost all these sources, some reference has been made to these cults revealing that the Muslims generally referred to them as the “zandiq” (lit.: heretics) because of their Manichaean and Mazdakite inclinations. The central beliefs of these cults, and particularly those of the Khorramites, revolved around reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul from one body to another. It was such beliefs that granted legitimacy to the transference of leadership from one person to another in order to ensure the survival of the movement and the same applied to the movement of Bābak Khorramdin.

A belief in the communal ownership of property and women, a feature commonly shared by the Mazdakites, has also been attributed to the followers of some of these cults and especially the Khorramites. This claim, however, is quite difficult to prove and can only fall under the category of an allegation taking into consideration the marriage of Bābak to the wife of the Khorramite chief, Jāvidān, that took place through a special ceremony, thereby granting no validation to the claim that a trend of communal ownership of women prevailed during that period. As rightly stated by some research scholars regarding Mazdak’s movement, it is quite likely that such efforts on the part of the followers of these cults were only in order to abolish certain undue privileges held by certain members of society and to eliminate the foundations of the class system. Moreover, beliefs regarding the origin of the universe as well as their views on creation were so complicated that they never succeeded in gaining popularity among the masses.

There is no doubt that such movements were initially triggered off by political motives and even if these cults did hold any particular belief structures, they never seemed to have passed on intact to the historians of the following centuries. It was, for instance, said that the Khorramites were not inclined towards conflict and bloodshed and that it was only Bābak Khorramdin who had introduced the alien trend of bloodshed and plunder into this faith whereas there are evidences that prove the presence of violence even before Bābak had joined the Khorramites.

Nevertheless, evidences indicate that an inclination towards political independence as well as the safeguarding of the Islamic faith, with stress upon the original principles of this Divine faith, was a powerful motive that had existed since the times of Abu Muslim Khorāsāni which continued during the various historical events throughout the following centuries. The peak of this trend can be found in the establishment of the Tāherid Dynasty of Khorāsān that had succeeded in gaining relative independence for itself by gaining recognition from the caliphate. From then onwards the Iranians found the opportunity to not only accept Islam but to even have a share in the acceptance of Islam by the other communities, also playing an important role in the growth and spread of Islamic sciences.


* source: Bahramian , Ali "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.589 – 591


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