Senin, 15 Oktober 2007

Farid o-Din Attar

Farid o-Din Attar was born in Nishapour and lived about 1119-1220 CE (another source mentions he lived about 1136-1230 CE). He lived close to 100 years and was killed by the Mongol invaders. His tomb is in Nishapour.

Different stories are told about the death of Attar. One common story is as follow: He was captured by a Mongol. One day someone came along and offered a thousand pieces of silver for him. Attar told the Mongol not to sell him for that price since the price was not right. The Mongol accepted Attar's words and did not sell him. Later someone else comes along and offers a sack of straw for him. Attar counsels the Mongol to sell him because that is how much he is worth. The Mongol soldier becomes very angry and cuts off Attar's head so he dies to teach a lesson.

Attar is one of the most mystic poets of Iran. His work has been the inspiration of Rumi and many other mystic poets of Iran. Molavi Rumi considered Attar the spirit and Sanai the eyesight, both of whom his poetic masters.

Attar took his name from his occupation. He was a druggist, perfumist and a doctor in addition to being a poet. Attar saw many patients a day in his shop where he prescribed herbal extractions and medicine which he made himself.

Attar wrote 114 pieces, the same number of suras in the holy book of Koran. About thirty of his works survived. To name a few of his works are love stories, biographies of saints, "Asrarnameh" (The Book of Secrets), a collection of quatrains, "Illahinameh" (The Book of God) and the last not the least, his most well known masterpiece of "Mantiq at-Tayr" (The Bird of the Sky) known as "The Conference of the Birds"

In "Illahinameh", he describes six human capacities and abilities: ego, imagination, intellect, thirst for knowledge, thirst for detachment, and thirst for unity. In The book of Secrets, he uses a collection of small stories to elevate the spiritual state of the reader.

In "Mantiq at-Tayr", Attar explains seven valleys which the "Bird of the Sky" goes through and passes to meet Simurgh (Legendary Bird or God). This is a process that each of us goes through. What we make of ourselves and what we become, good or bad, happy or unhappy, satisfied or dissatisfied, we do ourselves.


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Edward FitzGerald (Fifth Edition)


Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
T'he Sultans Turret with a Shaft of Light.


Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
"When all the Temple is prepared within,
"Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?"


And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted-"Open then the Door!
"You know how little while we have to stay,
"And, once departed, may return no more."


Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.


Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.


And David's Lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
"Red Wine!"-the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers to incarnadine.


Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter-and the Bird is on the Wing.


Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

Next Poem, click here

Rabu, 15 Agustus 2007

Mystical philosophy in Islam

Mystical philosophy has an intimate connection with the mainstream of Islamic philosophy. It consists of several main strands, ranging from Isma'ili thought to the metaphysics of al-Ghazali and Ibn al-'Arabi, and with a continuing powerful presence in the contemporary Islamic world. Although mystical thinkers were aware that they were advocating an approach to thinking and knowledge which differed from much of the Peripatetic tradition, they constructed a systematic approach which was often continuous with that tradition. On the whole they emphasized the role of intellectual intuition in our approach to understanding reality, and sought to show how such an understanding might be put on a solid conceptual basis. The ideas that they created were designed to throw light on the nature of the inner sense of Islam.

1. Mystical philosophy as Islamic philosophy
2. Isma'ili and Hermetic philosophy
3. Illuminationist philosophy
4. Philosophy in the Maghrib and Spain
5. Illuminationist thought in the East
6. Sufism and the Akbarian tradition

1. Mystical philosophy as Islamic philosophy

It is important at the outset to ask what is meant by mystical philosophy in the context of the Islamic philosophical tradition. The term in Arabic closest to the phrase 'mystical philosophy' would perhaps be al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya, literally 'tasted philosophy or wisdom', which etymologically corresponds exactly to sapience from the Latin root sapere, meaning to taste. As understood in English, however, the term 'mystical philosophy' would include other types of thought in the Islamic context, although al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya was at its heart. Al-hikmat al-dhawqiyya is usually contrasted with discursive philosophy, or al-hikmat al-bahthiyya. Mystical philosophy in Islam would have to include all intellectual perspectives, which consider not only reason but also the heart-intellect, in fact primarily the latter as the main instrument for the gaining of knowledge. If this definition is accepted, then most schools of Islamic philosophy had a mystical element, for there was rarely a rationalistic philosophy developed in Islam which remained impervious to the distinction between reason and the intellect (as nous or intellectus) and the primacy of the latter while rejecting altogether the role of the heart-intellect in gaining knowledge.

This entry concentrates on those schools which not only include but emphasize noesis and the role of the heart-intellect or illumination in the attainment of knowledge. We shall therefore leave aside the Peripatetic school, despite the mystical elements in certain works of al-Farabi, the 'oriental philosophy' of Ibn Sina (Nasr 1996b) and the doctrine of the intellect adopted by the Muslim Peripatetics (mashsha'un) in general. Instead, the discussion will concentrate primarily upon the Isma'ili philosophy so closely connected with Hermetic, Pythagorean and Neoplatonic teachings, the school of Illumination (ishraq) of al-Suhrawardi and his followers, certain strands of Islamic philosophy in Spain and later Islamic philosophy in Persia and India. However, it would also have to include the doctrinal formulations of Sufism and its metaphysics from al-Ghazali and Ibn al-'Arabi to the present.
2. Isma'ili and Hermetic philosophy

Isma'ili philosophy was among the earliest to be formulated in Islam going back to the Umm al-kitab (The Mother of Books) composed in the second century ah (eighth century ad). It expanded in the fourth century ah (tenth century ad) with Abu Hatim al-Razi and Hamid al-Din Kirmani and culminated with Nasir-i Khusraw (Corbin 1993, 1994). By nature this whole philosophical tradition was esoteric in character and identified philosophy itself with the inner, esoteric and therefore mystical dimension of religion. It was concerned with the hermeneutic interpretation (ta'wil) of sacred scripture and saw authentic philosophy as a wisdom which issues from the instructions of the Imam (who is identified on a certain level with the heart-intellect), the figure who is able to actualize the potentialities of the human intellect and enable it to gain divine knowledge. The cosmology, psychology and eschatology of Isma'ilism are inextricably connected with its Imamology and the role of the Imam in initiation into the divine mysteries. All the different schools of Isma'ili philosophy, therefore, must be considered as mystical philosophy despite notable distinctions between them, especially, following the downfall of the Fatimids, between the interpretations of those who followed the Yemeni school of Isma'ilism and those who accepted Hasan al-Sabbah and 'The Resurrection of Alamut' in the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad).

Two of the notable philosophical elements associated with Shi'ism in general and Isma'ilism in particular during the early centuries of Islamic history are Hermetism and Pythagoreanism, the presence of which is already evident in that vast corpus of writings associated with Jabir ibn Hayyan, who was at once alchemist and philosopher. The philosophical dimension of the Jabirian corpus is certainly of a mystical nature, having incorporated much of Hermeticism into itself, as are later works of Islamic alchemy which in fact acted as channels for the transmission of Hermetic philosophy to the medieval West. When one thinks of the central role of Hermeticism in Western mystical philosophy, one must not forget the immediate Islamic origin of such fundamental texts as the Emerald Tablet and the Turba Philosophorum, and therefore the significance of such works as texts of Islamic mystical philosophy. Obviously, therefore, one could not speak of Islamic mystical philosophy without mentioning at least the Hermetical texts integrated into Islamic thought by alchemists as well as philosophers and Sufis, and also Hermetic texts written by Muslim authors themselves. It should be recalled in this context in fact that the philosopher Ibn Sina had knowledge of certain Hermetic texts such as Poimandres and the Sufi Ibn al-'Arabi displays vast knowledge of Hermeticism in his al-Futuhat al-makkiyya (The Meccan Illuminations) and many other works (Sezgin 1971).

As for Pythagoreanism, although elements of it are seen in the Jabirian corpus, it was primarily in the Rasa'il (Epistles) of the Ikhwan al-Safa' in the fourth century ah (tenth century ad), who came from a Shi'ite background and whose work was wholly adopted by later Isma'ilism, that one sees the full development of an Islamic Pythagoreanism based upon the symbolic and mystical understanding of numbers and geometric forms (Netton 1982) (see Ikhwan al-Safa'). What is called Pythagorean number mysticism in the West had a full development in the Islamic world, and was in fact more easily integrated into the general Islamic intellectual framework than into that of Western Christianity (see Pythagoreanism).
3. Illuminationist philosophy

Perhaps the most enduring and influential school of mystical philosophy in Islam came into being in the sixth century ah (twelfth century ad) with Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, who founded the school of ishraq or Illumination. Al-Suhrawardi's basic premise was that knowledge is available to man not through ratiocination alone but also, and above all, through illumination resulting from the purification of one's inner being. He founded a school of philosophy which some have called theosophy in its original sense, that is, mystical philosophy through and through but without being against logic or the use of reason. In fact, al-Suhrawardi criticized Aristotle and the Muslim Peripatetics on logical grounds before setting about expounding the doctrine of ishraq. This doctrine is based not on the refutation of logic, but of transcending its categories through an illuminationist knowledge based on immediacy and presence, or what al-Suhrawardi himself called 'knowledge by presence' (al-'ilm al-huduri), in contrast to conceptual knowledge (al-'ilm al-husuli) which is our ordinary method of knowing based on concepts (Ha'iri Yazdi 1992).

In his masterpiece Hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), translated by the foremost Western student of al-Suhrawardi, Henry Corbin, as Le Livre de la Sagesse Orientale (The Book of Oriental Wisdom), the Master of Illumination presents an exposition of a form of mystical philosophy which has had a following up to the present day. Based upon the primacy of illumination by the angelic lights as the primary means of attaining authentic knowledge, the school of ishraq in fact was instrumental in bestowing a mystical character upon nearly all later Islamic philosophy, which drew even closer to Islamic esotericism or Sufism than in the earlier centuries of Islamic history without ever ceasing to be philosophy. Although the wedding between philosophy and mysticism in Islam is due most of all to the gnostic and sapiential nature of Islamic spirituality itself, on the formal level it is most of all the school of Illumination or ishraq which was instrumental in actualizing this wedding, as eight centuries of later Islamic philosophy bears witness (see Illuminationist philosophy).
4. Philosophy in the Maghrib and Spain

The rise of intellectual activity in the Maghrib and, especially, Andalusia was associated from the beginning with an intellectual form of Sufism in which Ibn Masarra was to play a central role. Most of the later Islamic philosophers of this region possessed a mystical dimension, including even the Peripatetics Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufayl. The former's Tadbir al-mutawahhid (Regimen of the Solitary), far from being a political treatise, deals in reality with man's inner being. Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Living Son of the Awake), interpreted by many in the West in naturalistic and rationalistic terms, is a symbolic account of the wedding between the partial and universal intellect within the human being, a wedding which results consequently in the confirmation of revelation that is also received through the archangel of revelation, who is none other than the objective embodiment of the universal intellect. Moreover, this mystical tendency is to be seen in its fullness in less well-known figures such as Ibn al-Sid of Badajoz who, like the Ikhwan al-Safa', was devoted to mathematical mysticism, and especially the Sufi Ibn Sab'in, the last of the Andalusian philosophers of the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad), who developed one of the most extreme forms of mystical philosophy in Islam based upon the doctrine of the transcendent unity of being (wahdat al-wujud) (Taftazani and Leaman 1996). Andalusia was also the home of the greatest expositor of Sufi metaphysics, Ibn al-'Arabi (see §6).
5. Illuminationist thought in the East

In eastern lands of the Islamic world and especially Persia, which was the main theatre for the flourishing of Islamic philosophy from the seventh century ah (thirteenth century ad) onward, primarily mystical philosophy was dominant during later centuries despite the revival of the discursive philosophy of the mashsha'is, such as Ibn Sina, by Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and others. It was in the East in the seventh and eighth centuries ah (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ad) that the doctrines of ishraq with its emphasis on inner vision and illumination were revived by al-Suhrawardi's major commentators, Shams al-Din al-Shahrazuri and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi, who was also a master of Ibn Sinan philosophy. The next three centuries saw mystical ideas and doctrines become ever more combined with the philosophical theses of the earlier schools, and figures such as Ibn Turkah Isfahani sought consciously to combine the teachings of Ibn Sina, al-Suhrawardi and Ibn al-'Arabi.

This tendency culminated in the tenth century ah (sixteenth century ad) with the establishment of the School of Isfahan by Mir Damad and the foremost metaphysician of later Islamic thought, Mulla Sadra, in whom the blending of ratiocination, inner illumination and revelation became complete (Corbin 1972). In this school the most rigorous logical discourse is combined with illumination and direct experience of ultimate reality, as seen so amply in Mulla Sadra's masterpiece al-Asfar al-arba'ah (The Four Journeys). This later Islamic philosophy is certainly mystical philosophy, relying as it does on 'experiential' knowledge and direct vision of ultimate reality and the angelic worlds, a vision that is associated with the eye of the heart ('ayn al-qalb orchism-i dil). However, it is also a philosophy in which the categories of logic are themselves seen as ladders for ascent to the world of numinous reality in accordance with the Islamic perspective, in which what would be called Islamic mysticism from a Christian perspective is of a gnostic ('irfani) and sapiental nature, Islamic mysticism being essentially a path of knowledge of which love is the consort, rather than a way of love exclusive of knowledge.

In any case it was this type of philosophy, associated especially with the name of Mulla Sadra, that has dominated the philosophical scene in Persia during the past few centuries and produced major figures such as Hajji Mulla Hadi al-Sabzawari and Mulla 'Ali Zunuzi in the thirteenth century ah (nineteenth century ad), both of whom were philosophers as well as mystics. It is also this type of philosophy that continues to this day and has in fact been revived during the past few decades. Nearly all philosophers in Persia associated with the school of Mulla Sadra, which is also known as al-hikmat al-muta'aliya (literally the 'transcendent theosophy'), have been and remain at once philosophers and mystics.

In India likewise, Islamic philosophy began to spread only after al-Suhrawardi and during the past seven centuries most Islamic philosophers in that land have been also what in the West would be called mystics. It is not accidental that the school of Mulla Sadra spread rapidly after him in India and has had expositors there to this day. Perhaps the most famous of Muslim intellectual figures in India, Shah Waliullah of Delhi, exemplifies this reality (see Shah Wali Allah). He was a philosopher and Sufi as well as a theologian, and his many writings attest to the blending of philosophy and mysticism. It can in fact be said that Islamic philosophy in India is essentially mystical philosophy, despite the attention paid by the Islamic philosophers there to logic and in some cases to natural philosophy and medicine.
6. Sufism and the Akbarian tradition

No treatment of mystical philosophy in Islam would be complete without a discussion of doctrinal Sufism and Sufi metaphysics, although technically speaking in Islamic civilization a clear distinction has always been made between philosophy (al-falsafa or al-hikma) and Sufi metaphysics and gnosis (al-ma'rifah, 'irfan). However, as the term 'mystical philosophy' is understood in English, it would certainly include Sufi metaphysical and cosmological doctrines which were not explicitly formulated until the sixth and seventh centuries ah (twelfth and thirteenth centuries ad) although their roots are to be found in the Qur'an and hadith and the sayings and writings of the early Sufis. The first Sufi authors who turned to an explicit formulation of Sufi metaphysical doctrines were Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali in his later esoteric treatise such as Mishkat al-anwar (The Niche of Lights) and al-Risalat al-laduniyya (Treatise on Divine Knowledge), and 'Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani who followed a generation after him.

The writings of these great masters were, however, a prelude for the vast expositions of the master of Islamic gnosis Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi, perhaps the most influential Islamic intellectual figure of the past seven hundred years. Not only did he profoundly influence many currents of Sufism and establish an 'Akbarian tradition' identified with such later masters as Sadr al-Din Qunawi, 'Abd al-Rahman Jami and, in the last century, Amir 'Abd al-Qadir and Shaykh Ahmad al-'Alawi. He and his school also influenced formal philosophy to such an extent that a figure such as Mulla Sadra would not be conceivable without him. The Ibn al-'Arabian doctrines of the transcendent unity of being, the universal man, the imaginal world and eschatological realities are not only esoteric and mystical doctrines of the greatest significance in themselves for the understanding of the inner teachings of Islam, but are also sources of philosophical meditation for generations of Islamic philosophers to the present day, who have cultivated diverse and rich schools of mystical philosophy during the past eight centuries and brought into being currents of philosophical thought that are still alive in the Islamic world. One need only think of such fourteenth century ah (twentieth century ad) figures as 'Alalamah Tabataba'i in Persia and 'Abd al-Halim Mahmud in Egypt to realize the significance of the wedding between philosophy and mysticism in the Islamic intellectual tradition, not only over the ages, but as part of the contemporary Islamic intellectual scene (see Islamic philosophy, modern).

See also: Gnosticism; Ibn al-'Arabi; Illuminationist philosophy; Mysticism, history of; Mysticism, nature and assessment of; al-Suhrawardi
Copyright © 1998, Routledge.
References and further reading
Chittick, W. (1989) The Sufi Path of Knowledge, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (The standard account of the nature of mystical knowledge.)

Chittick, W. (1994) Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-'Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (An analysis of the concept of the mundus imaginalis.)

Chodkiewicz, M. (1993) Seal of the Saints - Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn 'Arabi, trans. L. Sherrard, Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society. (Close account of the key concepts of prophecy and sainthood.)

* Corbin, H. (1972) En Islam iranien (On Persian Islam) Paris: Gallimard. (The most important collection of sources of Persian philosophy.)

Corbin, H. (1980) Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, trans. W. Trask, Houston, TX: Spring Publications. (Ibn Sina's account of mystical perception.)

* Corbin, H. (1993) The History of Islamic Philosophy, in collaboration with S.H. Nasr and O. Yahya, trans. P. Sherrard, London: Kegan Paul International. (The first history to lay proper emphasis on Persian philosophy.)

* Corbin, H. (1994) Trilogie ismaélienne (Isma'ili Trilogy), Paris: Verdier. (Discussion of some of the most important Isma'ili texts.)

Cruz Hernández, M. (1981) Historia del pensamiento en el mundo islámico (History of Thought in the Islamic World), Madrid: Alianza Editorial. (Excellent general account of Islamic philosophy.)

* Ha'iri Yazdi, M. (1992) The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy - Knowledge by Presence, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (The best account of 'ilm al-huduri, knowledge by presence.)

Knysh, A. (1993) 'The Diffusion of Ibn 'Arabi's Doctrine', in S. Hirtenstein and M. Tiernan (eds) Muhyiddin ibn 'Arabi - A Commemorative Volume, Shaftesbury: Element, 307-27. (Discussion of the influence of Ibn al-'Arabi.)

Nanji, A. (1996) 'Isma'ili Philosophy', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, ch. 9, 144-54. (Examination of Isma'ili philosophy including the influence of Neoplatonism.)

Nasr, S.H. (1975) Three Muslim Sages, New York: Delmar. (Excellent introductions to Ibn Sina, al-Suhrawardi and Ibn al-'Arabi.)

Nasr, S.H. (1978) Islamic Life and Thought, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. (General introduction to the role of mysticism in Islamic culture.)

Nasr, S.H. (1996a) 'Ibn Sina's Oriental Philosophy', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 247-51. (Argument for the existence and importance of the 'oriental philosophy'.)

* Nasr, S.H. (1996b) The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, Richmond: Curzon Press. (Deals with the Persian contribution to philosophy and mysticism.)

* Netton, I. (1982) Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity, London: Allen & Unwin. (The standard account of the Ikhwan al-Safa'.)

* Sezgin, F. (1971) Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (History of Arabic Literature), vol. 4, Leiden: Brill. (Sources on Hermetism in Islamic literature.)

* al-Suhrawardi (1154-91) Hikmat al-ishraq (The Philosophy of Illumination), trans H. Corbin, Le livre de la sagesse orientale, Paris: Verdier, 1986. (Very important illuminationist text.)

* Taftazani, A. and Leaman, O. (1996) 'Ibn Sab'in', in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge, 346-9. (Discussion of the significance of the thought of Ibn Sab'in.)

Ziai, H. (1990) Knowledge and Illumination, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. (Very clear account of the links between illuminationist philosophy and epistemology.)

Language of the armies, Urdu: A Derivative of Persian and Avestan

Most Iranians are aware of the fact that Pashto and Tajik are members of the Iranian family of languages. Few, however, are aware of the likelihood of Urdu also being a member of the Iranic branch of tongues.

The purpose of this article is to prove that Urdu is derived from Ghaznavid Persian, which is in turn derived from Avestan via Sassanid Pahlavi. It shall thence be evident that the ultimate ancestor of Urdu is Avestan, making it a member of the Iranian family of languages.

The first and most basic evidence which strikes an observer is the Persian-Islamic script of Urdu, as well as the extremely high percentage of Persian words in Urdu vocabulary. In fact, even in Musalmani (Muslim Bengali) an eastern dialect of Urdu spoken mainly Bangladesh and influenced by Bengali, one finds a significant proportion of Persian words. At least 60% of the vocabulary of Punjabi, a rustic western dialect of Urdu, is of also Persian origin:

"If more than 60% of the words are common in Punjabi and Urdu (Shriram 1928:67) it is due to the influence of Persian."[1]

More detailed investigations only confirm the precurosry impressions. Indeed, several researchers have traced the origin of Urdu to the camps of Mahmud-e-Ghazni. Thus, K.K.Khullar notes:

"The birth of Urdu language was the direct result of the synthesis between the invading armies of Mahmud of Ghazni with the civilian population of the Indian cities. The word Urdu itself means Lashkar, derived from the Turkish language meaning armies."[2]

Indeed, the Ghaznavid origin of Urdu follows from the very name of the language - Zaban-e-Urdu, or "Language of the Armies". The word "Urdu" is derived from the Turkic "Oordou", meaning "camps" or, as Khullar notes above, "armies".

Urdu was thus self-evidently the language of the soldiers of the armies of Mahmud-e-Ghazni, the only militarist sovereign of the era who maintained a large enough army for a considerable period to provide sufficient time for a new language to develop. It is for this same reason that the earliest surviving Urdu literature is that of Sufi saints who accompanied the Ghaznavids during their expeditions.

Noted Iranologist Dr.E.C.Sachau, translator of al-Beruni's India, further elucidates the Ghaznavid origin of Urdu:

"Tilak, the son of Jai Sen ... studied in Kashmir, [then worked as an] interpreter first to Kadi Shirazi Bulhasan Ali, a high civil officer under Mahumd and Masud (Elliott ii.117,123), then to Ahmad Ibn Hasan of Maimand, who was grand vizier, 1007 AD-25 ... and then 1030-1033 under Mahmud and Masud, and rose afterwards to be a commanding officer in the army (Elliott ii.125-127). This class of men spoke and wrote Hindi (of course with Arabic characters) and Persian (perhaps also Turkish, as this language prevailed in the army), and it is probably in these circles that we must look for the origin of Urdu or Hindustani."[3]

Dr.E.C.Sachau also notes the existence in the 1850s of remarkable Urdu manuscripts surviving from the Ghaznavid era:

"The first author who wrote in this language, the Dante of Muhammedan India, is one Masud, who died a little more than a century after the death of King Mahmud (525AH=1131 AD), cf A.Springer, Catalogue of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustany manuscripts of the libraries of the King of Oudh, Calcutta, 1854 pp.407,485. If we had any of the Hindi writings of those times, they would probably exhibit the same kind of Indian speech as found in Alberuni's book."[4]

Having traced the origin of Urdu to the camps of Mahmud-e-Ghazni, the identification of the "mother language" becomes the next necessity. The question of the origin of Urdu thus becomes linked to the language spoken by the soldiers of Mahmud. It is proposed that this source language for Urdu was Ghaznavid Dari.

Several facts support this view:

1. Ghazni is geographically located within the traditional Dari-speaking area of Afghanistan. Hence Dari was likely to have been spoken by many of Mahmud's soldiers.
2. The "Ghaznavi" dialect of Dari is still spoken.[5]
3. Mahmud-e-Ghazni was a patron of Dari literature, hence he would have encouraged its usage amongst his soldiers.
4. Most soldiers in the Ghaznavid armies were of East Iranic stock, consisting of the local population of eastern Eranshahr, along with a substantial Turkic contribution.
5. Mahmud traced his descent to the Sassanids and Achaemenids:

"Subooktugeen [Ameer Nasir-Ood-Deen Subooktugeen Ghiznivy] is said to be lineally descended from Yezdijerd (the last of the Persian monarchs) who, when flying from his enemies during the Caliphate of Uthman, was murdered at a water-mill near the town of Merv. His family being left in Toorkistan formed connections among the people, and his decsndants became Toorks.

His genealogy is as follows: Subooktugeen, the son of Jookan, the son of Kuzil Hukum, the son of Kuzil Arslan, the son of Ferooz, the son of Yezdejird, the King of Persia."[6]

Mahmud was thus proud of his Iranian heritage - the blood of Cyrus the Great which flowed in his veins - and deliberately fashioned his empire in the mould of his Achaemenid and Sassanid ancestors. The Later Timurid Mughal Empire of Akbar and Aurangzeb was in turn the direct successor state of the Ghaznavid Empire, implying a direct historical parallel for the derivation of Urdu from Dari. For the lay Urdu speaker of today, the traditional descent of the Mughal Empire from the Ghaznavid Dynasty and thence from the Achaemenid Empire is the simplest historical proof of the Iranic origin of his language.

According to Ibn al-Muqaffa (translator of the Book of Kalila and Dimna) towards the end of the Sassanian Empire, three Iranic languages had developed in Eranshahr: "Parsi" (Avestan), "Pahlavi" and "Dari".[7]

Dari is generally viewed as "Vulgar Pahlavi", the vernacular spoken by the masses which developed as an offshoot of Sassanid Pahlavi. Dari is thus analogous to the "Vulgar Latin" stage in the development of Romance languages. Old East Iranic languages such as Bactrian (Bahlika of the Prakrit grammarians), Sogdian, Sakan (the Sacara of the Prakrit writers) and Tokharian (perhaps the ancestor of the Takki Apabhramsa of the Punjab) provided a substratum for Dari (a West Iranic language), while Turkic and Altaic provided a later superstratum.

Urdu, like all Iranic languages, is thus linguistically and historically derived from Avestan, which is for Iranian languages what Latin is for Romance languages. It should be considered a member of the Iranian branch of languages. A short language tree would be:

Avestan -> Pahlavi -> Dari -> Urdu.

This article should remove all doubts about the real origin of Urdu.


1. Studies in Urdu Linguistics by S.Zaidi, Bahri Publishers New Delhi 1989, pp.103,116.
2. The Essentials of Indian Culture by K.K.Khullar, Employment News,
New Delhi, 21-27 Jan. 1995, p.1
3. Alberuni's India, ed Dr. E.C.Sachau, vol.II, p.258, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. London 1888.
4. Dr. E.C.Sachau, ibid., vol.II, p.258.
5. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, ed. Barbara F. Grimes, Summer Institute of Linguistics,
14th Edition 2002.
6. History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, M.K.Ferishta, transl. Col. John Briggs,
first pub. 1829, R.Cambray and Co, Calcutta 1908, reprrt. 1997 Low Price Publications,
Delhi Vol. I. p.8.
7. The Origins of Literary Persian, by Gilbert Lazard, Noruz Lecture by a Distinguished Scholar of Iranian Studies, Foundation for Iranian Studies, 1993, Bethesda (; cf. G.Lazard, "Pahlavi, parsi, dari: les langues de l'Iran d'apres Ibn al-Muqaffa", in Iran and Islam, ed. C. E. Bosworth, Edinburg, 1971, pp. 361-391.

Islam and poetry in Iran

By Asad Seif

The Sasanian state (227-635 AD) finally disintegrated at the hands of the armies of Islam. Extending their conquest beyond the Oxus river [1] they were to rule the country for many years. Years of war had enfeebled the country. Iran was unable to resist the Arab attacks with an exhausted army, a people in dire straits, an enfeebled religion, years of savagery and slaughter, the massacre and persecution of the Manichaeism and Mazdaism [2] at the instigation of the Zoroastrian priesthood, an increasingly gloomy and angry people, and a dearth of new thinking in their politics and beliefs.

Finally with two battles at Qadysiyya (635) and Nahavand (642) which the Arabs designated the victory of victories the Sasanian empire collapsed. Thereafter there was no governmental resistance against the Arabs. And in 652 with the fall of Gilan and Tabaristan [3] the last resistance of the people against the Arabs collapsed and they were in control of the entire country. But Iranian civilisation and culture, being more advanced than that of the conquerors, not only survived, but was passed on to the Arabs.

The official language of Iran during the Sasanian dynasty, and in the Zoroastrian religious establishment, was Pahlavi-Parsi. After the Arab conquest the Pahlavi language could not survive more than another three centuries. Yet "for some time in all the official writings [divan] of the Arab rulers in Iraq, Iran and the Transoxania the Pahlavi script and dialect was used" [4]. The Pahlavi script, like many other practices and traditions could not ultimately compete against Arab culture. Because of the difficulty in reading and writing Pahlavi gradually gave way to the Arabic script, which was also the script for the Dari-Farsi language. It was only in the Zoroastrian temples that the Pahlavi script and language survived for a few more centuries.

The Arab conquest was followed by almost "two centuries of silence" over Iran. During this period nothing was seen from the new conquerors, bearers of a new culture and religion, but military and social violence. It took two centuries for the Iranians slowly, as a people with an independent identity, to come to themselves. Some accepted Islam, and seriously worked for it, translating remaining Pahlavi texts into Arabic and occupied important positions in the administrative and cultural system of the Arabs. Some of the same people tried to bring together Islam (the Qur'an) and ancient Iranian myths. Various histories relate that Zoroastra was the same as Abraham, or that Jamshid is another name for Solomon.

Arabic gradually replaced Pahlavi as the language of politics and religion. With decline of Pahlavi, other Iranian languages began to blossom. The Iranians did not bow to Islam easily. Such movements as Sho'ubieh, Shi'ism, mysticism and others, signify the cultural resistance. We also see military resistance and revolts right up to the fourth Islamic century such as the uprisings of Babak Khorramdin and Al-Moqanneh. It was through these encounters that the Iranians finally preserved their individual Iranian identity through, and under the cover, of the Farsi language. This was a great victory after the colossal defeat that had been inflicted on them.

With military resistance made impossible and with a foreign culture dominating the very being of the country, other ways were experimented with. Language became a sanctuary where the past history of Iran was celebrated so as to maintain national identity. The writing of many shahnameh (book of kings) came into vogue. And it was in these times that another group, the non-Muslims who had preferred paying tax and levy to accepting Islam [5], attempted to marshal their heritage. We find the efforts of the first group in such works as Khodainamak Garshaspnameh and ultimately in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by the epic poet Ferdowsi. The second group gathered and edited such works as Bandehash and Bahman Posht. In this way language and verse took on the most delicate role in expressing national feeling and Iranian identity. Language became a tool giving meaning to the very existence of Iranians. Farsi became the common sensibility of all Iranians.

Overwriting history
The majority of historians of this era writing in Arabic were in fact Iranian. In compiling their histories, these people "in part modelled themselves on, and researched in, such books as the Pahlavi Khodainamak" [6]. We could later see this influence in the works of Arab historians. For example such famous historians as Tabari and Yaqubi reproduced some of what was written in Khodainamak. Many modelled their style on Iranian works [7].

The more Islam took roots in Iran and spread, the more Arabic words entered the Iranian languages including the Farsi language and literature. Dari-Farsi came into more general use during the reign of Ya'qub Leith Saffari (dynasty began 867c), although it had already been the language of court and courtly letters. Its interaction with other local languages, as well as Arabic, allowed it to prosper, develop and spread. Poets began writing in this tongue. In a few decades Farsi literature - verse - found itself on par with Arabic poetry.

The history of Arabic literature prior to Islam was mostly oral and the Arabs on he whole saw no need to research or record their language. Pre-Islamic Arabic had little use for books though poetry had such a broad base that the best poems was hung on the walls of Ka'ba - the holiest shrine - a place of pilgrimage and worship. The pre-Islamic Arabs were electrified by poetry. They paid special heed to its pronunciation and diction. They paid even greater attention to the conjugation, syntax, vocabulary, and grammar of Arabic once Islam came to rule and relations with other languages widened.

The main themes of Arabic poetry were love, and physical pleasure which were described without any moralistic concerns or limitations. If the praise of war functioned to boost the combative spirit, women and wine were of the world of peace and of a life that could be pleasurable without any fear of the afterlife. The poet was held in high esteem and popularity. The poet was the pride of the tribe. Poetry was the most important pastime of the bedouin and a source of pride and honour. "The tribal poet had the task of spreading the glories of the tribe and supporting its designs. And because of the impact poetry had on these situations, the sheikh, the high born, the tribesmen and the people feared the poet's satire and were thrilled by his praise."

Scorned muse
With the coming of Islam, the life Mohammad promised the believer was incompatible with the content of Arab poetry of the time. The Qur'an therefore presents poetry as worthless and absolves the prophet from it. A further consideration for Islam's hostility to poetry was beyond doubt the popularity of the poets. Poets held an exalted position in the tribe and their words could be decisive. The poet had the power to turn a conflict into peace or to incite tribal anger. Not unreasonably the Prophet saw them as rivals.

The poets saw that Islamic strictures inhibited their creation of poetry. In return Mohammad, in the name of God, called poets liars and Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law, refers to Amro al-Queiss, known as the "king of Arabic poets" as "king of the lost" [9]. The Qur'an had little time for poets. From the beginning Islam was suspicious of them. The mystery and enigmas poetry has no place in the framework of Islamic laws. So we see that the Qur'an repudiates poetry and absolves the Prophet from being tainted by it. It calls on the learned men of its religion to distance themselves from it. Poetry is contemptible and the poet is a liar; "The Qur'an is in truth the revelation of God, and the utterance of a noble messenger. It is no poet's speech: scant is your faith! It is no soothsayer's divination: how little you reflect!" [10].

In the chapter Al-Shua'ra (the poets) the poet is equated with the unbeliever, the enemy of Islam: "poets (…) are followed by none save erring men. Behold how aimlessly they roam in every valley, preaching what they never practice. " [11]. In the chapter Ya Sin the Qur'an emphasises the worthlessness of poetry "We have taught Mohammad no poetry, nor does it become to him to be a poet. This is but a warning: an eloquent Qur'an, to admonish the living and pass judgement on unbelievers" [12].

When the Prophet was told the Qur'an is like poetry he is reported to have become angry. There are many hadith (authenticated sayings) in which enmity with poetry is prominent. All the commentators of the Qur'an are insistent on this point. For example Abolfath Razi rejects the notion that the Qur'an is poetry and quotes Ayesheh, one of Mohammad's wives, that the prophet "has no greater enemy than poetry and it is in the news that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his offspring) if the stomach of one of you is filled with pus I would be happier than if were filled with poetry" [13].

Mohammad "reminded his followers of the pleasures that were being set aside for the saved" and promised them paradise "while his rival in Mecca, Nasr bin-Harath, recounted stories on such Iranian heroes as Rustam and Esfandyar and attracted the the Prophet's listeners to himself" [14]. The Qur'an is the word of God, a revelation and its word is absolute. It is comprehensive and contains all the information and whatever is necessary for human life. "There is nothing, wet or dry, that has not appeared in the clear book [Qur'an]". Allah begins the chapter The Cow: "This Book is not to be doubted. [Q 2:1]

The Qur'an is a book on how to live. Its goal is the guidance of humankind. Whatever it bans is harmful for the "umma" (community of believers) and whatever it commands are for deliverance and well-being. The same chapter - The Cow - describes the grievous punishment unbelievers face.

And the poet is an unbeliever. The poverty of the bedouin Arab had made them into a materialist, one that is sceptical and pays little attention to life after death. The poet of the tribe is certainly someone who is sceptical. Eulogizing the dead after the battle of Badr, the poet laments "the Prophet promises us a resurrection, but how can such a new life come about?" [15]

Five hundred of the 6,000 verses in the Qur'an tell mankind what to do, known as the ahkam verses, or the Qur'anic jurisdiction (feqh al-Qur'an). The Qur'an is a collection of ethical and religious commandments which serve the function of the "constitution" of Islam. [16]. Islam is built on the Qur'an. Allah in this book, in order to place Mohammad in a status above everyone else, a special being, absolves him from the accusation of being a poet. The Qur'anic chapter al-Anbiya' (The Prophets) addressed this: In private the unbelievers say to each other: 'is this man not a mortal like yourselves? …Some say: it [the Qur'an] is but a medley of dreams. Others: 'He has invented it himself' And yet others [say]: 'He is a poet: let him show us some sign, as did the apostles in days gone bye.' [17].

Whenever poetry appears in the Qur'an it is in a negative light. The chapter called The Pen (al-Qalam - Q 68) starts: 'By the pen, and what they [angels] write'. For years it was argued in Iran that it is to value and respect the pen that God swears by it. Yet a closer look at this chapter shows that God was talking of those who deny religion, belief and the Qur'an, and of the torments that await them. The pen in this chapter is the means whereby the angels record the deeds of the sinful umma for judgement day. This issue becomes more significant if we consider that the Arab at the inception of Islam was alien to the pen. Mohammad here uses the pen to strike fear into his umma, fear that is so essential to the survival of any religion.

Reason and unreason
Yet although Islam did not accept poetry, it could not remain unaffected by it. Poetry entered Islamic countries through lamentations and passion plays, although it was never able to attain an exalted literary position.

In many of the Qur'anic verses God invites humans to reason, to think and to find the path of righteousness. But "reason" is here limited to what is given or known in the Qur'an. Qur'anic rationality cannot go beyond the Qur'an, where it becomes kufr [unbelief]. The Qur'anic reason is a tool for arriving at belief and serving God. Qur'anic rationality is the affirmation of "there is no other God but Allah, and Mohammad is his Prophet". The whole of the book is written to prove this thesis. Under such rationality the proof of a subject or a phenomenon is not in what is provided by science but in the sayings of Muhammad and Allah.

Anything but what Islam and the holy book allow were banned. Religious bigotry grew and Muslims came to the conclusion that all branches of learning can be found within the Qur'an. Nothing else it is needed or permissible. This was the start of limitations to science and knowledge and book burnings.

In Islam a scholar and scientist [18] is one who has mastery of the Qur'anic scholarship. That is why a cleric in the Islamic religion is known as a religious scholar. The science of religion is the scholarship [elm] of religious jurisdiction (feqh) and a religious jurisprudence (faqih) is one who has mastery of Islamic commandments. The faqihs recognise the science of religion as the sole authentic science in the world, because the real salvation of humans, both in this and the afterlife, lies within it.

In Islam science, like history, is something that is "given", unchanging. Linked to the will of Allah. There is no place there for the humans and human intelligence. Everything revolves round destiny. Religious science in Islam is divided into various branches: the science of hadith [sayings], science of interpretation, the word, feqh, osul etc… Pre-Islamic Arab poetry was outside this stockade and could not continue to live within its framework. Poetry and poets were travelling a road against Islamic wisdom and rationality: "as the bedouin said, the story of life, death, and a return again to life is nothing but a fable". [19]

The Arabs considered poetry (butiqa) as part of the nine realms of knowledge which were the precursors of all the rational (aghlieh) and intellectual (zehnieh) sciences. But the Arab of "the early Islam and a large part of the period of the Umayyad caliphs (661-750 AD) showed absolutely no interest in the 'rational' sciences and considered the book of Allah and the traditions (sunnah) of the Prophet sufficient for happiness". Muslim Arabs in the early Islamic period paid no attention to anything other than the laws of Islam - the Qur'an, destroying whole libraries in the wake of their conquests. [20]

Pre-Islamic Arab literature was mainly oral consisting of the reciting and compilation of poetry. Narration was more important than writing. There were the rawi, who memorised and recited poems. Poetry reading sessions had a special importance. With the establishment of Arab rule Arab poetry, and alongside it Parsi poetry, was transformed. Arab poetry and literature came into contact with the rich Pahlavi, Greek, Indian and Syriac literature. With the spread of Islam many of these works were translated into Arabic, and enriched that language. The Arabs became familiar with other cultures and Islamic culture blossomed. Arabic slowly became the scientific language of its era and this influenced Farsi. The Iranians, therefore, owe the developments of the Farsi language to Arabic.

The Arabic tongue, simply by being the language of the Qur'an, became the holy language of Muslims. This sanctity persists today despite the numerous translations of the Qur'an into Farsi. Although many Iranians do not know Arabic they still consider the reading of the Qur'an in Arabic as a pious deed. The reciting of the Qur'an is indeed one of the arts and sciences of Islam. Through this Arabic jeopardised any national or cultural independence of the countries under Arab rule. The language of religion was that of government and the language of government was alien to the language of the people of Iran. Thus the Iranians had to make their position clear.

The Muslims divided worldly knowledge and information into rational and traditional (historical) sciences. The latter was subdivided into religious and literature.

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD) in his Introduction divides human sciences into two: "philosophical, or wisdom sciences which accrue to mankind qua thinking being, and which are accessible to the intelligence and native to the nature of human thought. Distinct from this group is that which assembled the sciences based upon the absolute truth of certain narrative texts (akhbar and usul). These are the traditional positive sciences which unlike the universally uniform wisdom sciences, are specific to each religious community. The positivity of these sciences resides in their fundamental procedure which is the employment of scared text as the repository of truth and the validity of situations subsequent to it on the basis of the text … made up of the Qur'an and tradition" [20]. Further down Ibn Khaldun refutes marginal sciences (magic, letters and alchemy) and philosophy thoroughly as "they [philosophy] are very common and extremely harmful to religion and civilisation" [21]

Thus what Islam calls the science of "adabyeh" (literature) cannot exist outside the Qur'an. Whatever is considered science (knowledge) for Muslims must in one way or another be in harmony with the Qur'an.

Poetry, alongside other non-Qur'anic knowledge, is superfluous. There is a hadith from the Seventh Imam [22] "when the Prophet of Allah entered a mosque, he saw people gathered around an individual. He asked: what is happening? They replied he is a learned man. He asked what is a learned man? They replied one who wisest to the ancestors of Arabs, their happenings, the jahelyya (pre-Islamic) times, and Arabic poetry. The Prophet said: these are sciences that not knowing them will do not harm and of no value to the scholar. He then added, scholarship is three things: Qur'anic verse, religious duty [farizeh adeleh], and established sunna (tradition). And in addition is learning." [23]

Thinking in Islam is confined to the Qur'anic verses, and the aim of reason (aql) is to understand the word of God for the salvation of humanity. Therefore aql is a tool for religion and its protector [24]. Thus the science of reading, interpretation (tafsir), jurisprudence (feqh), traditions (hadith), the word (kalam) etc are all linked in one way or another to the Qur'an - hence the importance of reading the holy book. The reader of the Qur'an also memorised it and passed this on to the next generation.

Iranian resistance
Even though the Iranians accepted Islam through the sword, whenever given the chance, they interfered and amended it. They even came to the idea to change the official language of worship form Arabic to Farsi. Abu Hanifeh [25] was one of those who advocated this route. Given the long history and strong base of poetry in the pre-Islamic Arabic as well as the Iranian languages Islam was unable to bury it.

From the 10th Century, the Arabic influence on Farsi spread, the two became intermingled and new words of Arabic roots entered Farsi. New expressions also appeared. Some were devoted to Islam such as quessas [an eye for an eye], khoms, zakat [forms of religious taxation]. Some such as adel (just), emir, hakim (ruler) etc had bureaucratic usage.

There was a reciprocal relationship with Farsi words, especially those relating to sciences and the running of the country, entered Arabic. Indeed the Qur'an contains many words taken from Farsi including "terms that relate to paradise and its pleasures. This included the very term ferdows (paradise) which is from Avesta" [26]. The Arabs knew of the splendours and glory of Iranian court life and, compared to Arabia, Iran was a developed and mystical dreamland that was truly paradisical.

With increasing influence and spread of Islam in Iran, the influence of Arabic on Farsi increased further. Arabic entered Iranian poetry and writing. But there were geographic factors which influenced this intermingling. During the Samanid dynasty (819-1005) whose capital in Khorasan was far from Baghdad, Mecca and Medina, the influence of Arabic on Farsi was less.

Mohamad bin-Vasif, writer of dissertations to Ya'qub Saffari (Saffarid dynasty 867c-1495) is said to be the first to write poetry in Farsi. The story goes that Ya'qub who was being eulogised in Arabic one day said to his poets: "why recite something that I cannot understand?" [27] The writer may have meant official court poetry since Farsi poetry had been written from times past. [28]

What is clear is that at this time Farsi poetry was written with Arabic meter, and provided it did not conflict with the spirit of Islamic teaching, it flourished. From now on the soul of religion was to dominate the body of the verse. Whenever, and to the extent that poets were able to free themselves from this spirit, they also distanced themselves from the influence of Arabic. Conversely whenever the poet was severely influenced by Islam and the shari'a, then Arabic words entered the verse in large amounts and the poem itself was caged by the limitations of Islamic philosophy. "Since Farsi poetry was created on the basis of Arabic poetry, it often modelled itself on Arabic poetry in it expressive moulds and the motives". [29]

In the tenth century attention turned to innovation, meter and rhyme and books were written on them. All the same "the Farsi poem even if it takes its prosodic meter totally from Arabic poetry, follows the musical taste and sound of its own language and realm, and thus retains its own peculiarities even in its prosodic meter" [30]. But in these years poetry takes second place to translation and history. With Islam standing over them poetry and poets for a time lost their lustre.

From the 11th and 12th Century the poet took a broader look at the world. Philosophy and ethics entered the world of verse, and no poet was seen to be great and important if they stayed away from the sciences of the time. Nezami Oruzi in his Four Articles wrote "…the poet does not reach this level and deserve the designation of a master unless in the prime of life and in their youth they learn twenty thousand stanzas of their predecessors, and have in front of their eyes ten thousand words from their contemporaries and continuously read the collections of masters and learn them….and under a renowned master study the analysis of meaning and words and translations and all such sciences…". In those years you could not claim to be a poet without the aid of other sciences. It is in this "progress" that poetry flourished. Couplet poems (mathnavi), elegy (qasideh), lyric poem (qazal), quatrain (rubayi) and strophe-poem (tarjih band) etc enter verse form.

In these years, and especially in the ninth century, a new development took place in Farsi poetry with the introduction of erfan (mysticism) and sufism. Poets slowly distanced themselves from the court and the caliphs.

Religion or verse
When one studies the era in the Farsi poem, we must not ignore the effects the negative views of Islam on poetry. Those Iranian thinkers who were close to Islam constantly shunned poetry, holding it in disdain. For years these thinkers preferred prose to verse. For example "As Molana [31] came from a family of piety, virtue, feqh and fatwa [32], in the beginning he did not write poetry and did not communicate in verse until his tumultuous fascination with the beauty Shams Tabrizi." [33]. Molana himself wrote: "Among our province and people there was nothing more degrading than being a poet. If we had remained in that province, we would have lived according to their likes and do what they desired like giving lessons, preaching and composing books …." [34].

From the beginning of the 10th century the Mongols invaded Iran. Baghdad lost its centrality as a nucleus of art, knowledge, religion, and politics. As Arab influence diminished, Iranian prose had revived. Many scientific books were translated into Farsi. And Farsi writing found a new market and numerous books, especially on history, were written.

With the coming of the Moguls, however, the situation changed drastically. Iranians had infiltrated the Arab bureaucracy, became proficient in the literature of that country and created many masterpieces in Arabic. The Mongols, on the other hand, did not value science and literature. They destroyed libraries as they did rural communities. Those writers who had survived with their lives turned to history writing. Ataalmolk Jovini wrote the three volumes Tarikh-e Jahangosha, a description of the conquests of Chengiz Khan, Shahabeddin Abdollah wrote the Tarikh Vasaf [History of Descriptions], Rashideddin Fazlollah finished Jame-al Tavarikh in seven volumes. Handollah Mostofi published Nezhat al-Qlub and …

Special attention was given to recording past and present histories in an effort to discover and record the Iranian identity. It is in these years (1449) that Mohammad Oufi attempted a great innovation and recorded the story of Farsi-writing poets in two volumes "labbab al bab". He survived the Mongol invasion and his book is his answer to the Mongol attack and the destruction of Farsi.

Shi'ism as government
During the preceding centuries the Farsi verse had slowly distanced itself from the narrow constraints of Islamic poetry. But with the coming to power of the Safavid kings (1501-1732), who had turned to Shi'ism, this peculiarity was once again diluted. The Safavid kings used poetry as an arm in their propaganda battle, encouraged eulogies and tributes to the holy saints (aemeh athar).Such Islamic "sciences" as Feqh, hadith and kalam flourished once more.

In a contemporary account Mohtashem Kashi wrote an ode in praise of Shah Tahmaseb and his wife Princess Parikhan Khanum and was rebuked for not composing an ode in on the Prophet and the immaculate Imams [35]. The same source laments that the Safavid kings exaggerated the issue of Amre be ma'ruf and nah az monker [36] that they "paid scant attention to poets and did not encourage pieces and odes".

The fact that the court was not courting poetry allowed the development of independent poets who turned increasingly from the court to the people. On the one hand this introduced modernisation and variety into poetry and on the other hand, the laws and rigours of language was ignored. Poetry acquired new content but with a weakened form. Experts consider the Farsi prose of these times to be at its weakest and worthless.

Iranian poetry in the Safavid period, although weak and worthless, was not elitist. Its subjects had become the life of the ordinary people. Since the Safavid were the most religious rulers of Iran, it is natural for religious eulogies to also thrive. Story telling also flourished in these times. And in this way literature entered the life of the people. Moreover, since the Safavid era was the time of Shi'ite ascendancy, religious authorities turned to Farsi, and wrote their treatise in that language. This was a major break with tradition.

Thus the Safavid period, and even more in the succeeding Qajar and in particular during the Constitutional periods [36] Farsi poetry's ties to religion was loosened. Yet "Islamic poetry" in praise of prophets, religious leaders, alongside eulogies and eulogic poetry managed to survive, and gain patronage, alongside independent and ascendant Farsi poetry. This is precisely the process we are witnessing in the era of the Islamic Republic, which tries to rekindle the dependence of poetry and literature on the state.

It is interesting that in Islamic texts, even praise of religious personages have at times been considered unseemly. Jame' Abbasi [37] says that reading poetry, even in praise of the holy is "disapprove of [makruh] to a fasting person". Khomeini also called reciting a poem which was not educational, as makruh [in a mosque]. [38] This has been echoed by Ayatollah Montazeri and other religious authorities [39]. In the hands of the Islamic rulers of Iran, poetry is no more than a weapon for propaganda of the ruling ideology [42].

With Khomeini's death and the publication of poems attributed to him Islamic poetry took on a new life. But as it was unable to rescue itself from the current clichés Nothing of any great worth had been created. And this process continues.

Even though after years of struggle and ups and downs, two centuries of silence - the era of the Qajar dynasty - was broken, but the traditions that were laid in these two dark and silent centuries are still, willingly or otherwise, operational in our poetry, story writing and general cultures.


1. Transoxania, now in Uzbekistan (trans)
2. Two religious movements which has gained broad support before being suppressed. Manichaeism, taught by Mani tried to bring together all prophets and teachers under one system. Mazda's religion was based on a strongly egalitarian philosophy. (trans)
3. Now Mazendaran. Provinces on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. (trans)
4. Zabiollah Safa. A Brief History of the Development of Farsi Verse and Prose, (in Farsi) Teheran 1989.
5. Jezieh - a religious tax imposed on non-Muslims belonging to religions "with a book" - Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
6. Abdol Hossein Zarrinkoub, Iranian History After Islam (Farsi) Teheran p 30.
7. See for example see Styles of Writing by Mohammad Taghi Bahar volume 1, p162; or Zarrinkoub ibid p20.
8. Zarrinkoub ibid p220.
9. Ali Ibn Abutaleb, Nhjolbalagheh, Farsi translation by Javad Fazel, Teheran 1345 page 750
10. Qur'an Al-Haqqa, 69:39-46. All translations are taken from The Koran. Translated by NJ Dawood. Penguin Books. London 1956.
11. Qur'an Al- Shua'ra' 26:223-226
12. Qur'an Ya Sin 36:68
13. The Commentary of Abolfotuh Razi (Farsi), volume 4, p 417.
14. Ibn Hesham, Sayerat al-Nabi (the story of the Prophet) quoted in History of Iran from the Seleucids to the fall of the Sasanid state. J A Boyl. The story of Rustam and Esafandyar, figures in ancient Iranian mythology, was later recounted in Ferdowsi's great epic, Shahnameh (Book of Kings)
15. Zarrinkub ibid p216. Badr was a decisive victory for Mohammad over the Qureysh notables ruling Mecca.
16. Bahaeddin Khorramshahi. Knowledge of the Qur'an (Farsi) Teheran, p30
17. Qur'an 21:4
18. Translators note: in Farsi (and Arabic) the same word - elm - is used for both scientific and religious knowledge, emphasising the points made by the author.
19. Zarrinkoub, ibid p 216
20. "When Amro Ibn Al-Ass conquered Egypt and laid hands on the knowledge sources of Alexandria, he put them to the torch on the orders of the Caliph Omar and in Iran too the Arab conquerors did not desist from similar acts. Sa'd Ibn Abi Vaqass on orders of the caliph destroyed the treasury of Iranian books" Zabiollah Safa Ibid p115.
21. Aziz Al-Azmeh. Ibn Khaldun. London Frank Cass 1982, p 102-3
22. Direct descendent of Mohammad through his only daughter Fatemeh.
23. Koleini - Principles of Kafi page 37 Farsi translation Javad Mostafavi.
24. See Maksoub, S "Source and meaning of AGHL in the thoughts of Naser Khosrow. In Some Words on Iranian Culture (in Farsi). Zendehrood Publications, Teheran 1992.
25. Islamic scholar (c 699 - 767) who stressed the importance of individual reasoning. See Albert Hourani The History of the Arab peoples. Faber and Faber London, 1991 p67. (trans)
26. See JA Boyl ibid volume 3. Avesta is the book of the Zoroastrians.
27. History of Sistan
28. Bahar, Mohammad-Taqi ibid volume I, p 165
29. Zarrinkoub Abdol-Hossein, On Iranian Literature in the Past (Farsi), p 525.
30. Ibid p 521.
31. Maulana Jalaledin Rumi - Sufi poet and philosopher (trans)
32. Islamic jurisprudence and judgement. (trans)
33. Foruzanfar, B-Z, the life of Molana Jalaleddin Mohammad quoting Movahhed, MA. same anti-poetry and anti-independence process can be followed. Page 173 Tarhe No, Teheran (Farsi)
34. Movahhed MA. Shams Tabrizi page 173.
35. Aemmeh ma'soomin. According to Shi'ite belief the prophet, his daughter, Ali his son in law and the other eleven imams - direct descendants of the couple are innocent of any sin (trans). Quoted from Alam Araye Abbasi
36. As part of the inviolate duties of Muslims is to encourage piety and warn off against sin.
37. Constitutional Revolution of 1905.
38. Jame Abbasi, same anti-poetry and anti-independence process can be followed Chapter 4, the laws of compulsory fasting,
39. Khomeini. Tozih al Masael. Question 914.
40. See for example Tozil al Masael by Montazeri, question 924
41. See Seif A, Arash no 16 1991