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

Iranian art and poetry in the works of European poets

by Farideh Motakef

No nation's language, literature and art can remain isolated ineffectual. Nations influence one another, yet these reciprocal effects become apparent when we compare the art and literature of one nation with another. For instance, a significant part of the French prose and verse has been inspired by the ancient Greek and latin literature, during and after the Renaissance period. English literature, was under the influence of French philosophers and writers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Greek mythology and its famous stories of myths like Prometheus, Oedipus, lphigenia, Antigone, etc, have been great sources of inspiration for the tragedians and have maintained their influence even on the modern literature of Europe so much so that contemporary European writere like Jean Anouilh, Jean Paul Sartre, Andre Gide; Jean Giraudoux, and others were deeply affected by the mythology and literature of the ancient Greece.

After proselyting to Islam, the Iranian thinkers and artists played a significant role in enriching and enhancing the Islamic civilization and culture. The expanse of Islamic territories caused the works of Iranian scholars such as Bu Ali Sina (Aviceinna), Razi and many other Iranian scientists to spread widely through Europe and Islamic lands. However, to ascertain the effect of the Iranian art and literature on European works, the periods of the Middle Ages and Renaissance must be left behind entering the seventeenth (17) century. The persian literaure and the thoughts of the prominent Iranian scholars started their influence in Europe in this century because part of the Persian literary works, like Gulistan of Saadi was translated into French.

The distribution of these translations and travel accounts like those of Chardin and Tavernier developed the interests of the Europeans to Iranian literature and culture and drew their attention to the rich treasures of the art and literature of Persia. This influence was so deep that among the highly valuable works of the individuals like: Corneille, Racine, Volaire, Madeleine Scudery, Montesquieu and others, the influence is clearly noticed in their works such as Sorena, Rodgun, Esther, Khusrow, Mehrdad, and Bayazid and etc. During the 18th and 19th centuries many of the great works of prominent Persian literary figures such as Saadi, Hafiz, Khayyam, Attar, Nezami, Ferdowsi, Jami, Manuchehri, Nasir-Khusrow, Anvari, Asadi-Tousi, Baba Tahir, Hatif, and others were translated into European languages, particulary English, French and German. In this regard, important and interesting works like Persian Letters by Montesquieu, Tulip-Face by Thomas Moore, Goethe's "West-Ostlichen Divan" and Mathew Arnold's Rustam and Suhrab let the people of Europe become, more than before, acquainted with the Persian art and literature.

The translation of the persian language masterpieces like the Divan of Hafiz, the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the Gulistan of Saadi the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam in countries like France, England, Germany, and other European countries astoumded the literary circles there Suddenly, the western literary forum faced extraordinary literary works, Saint - Beuve on seeing the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi said:

"If we could realize that great works such as the Shahnameh exists in the world, we would not become so much proud of our own works in such a silly manner.

Upon knowing Hafiz, Goethe wished to be one of his disciples. He said: "O Hafiz, your word is as great as eternity for it has no begining and no end. Your word, as the canopy of Heaven, solely depends on itself. It is all signs, beauty and excellence". After studying the lyric poems of Hafiz, Nitsche wrote: "O Hafiz, you have created a tavern of philosophy greater than any worldly palace. In it you provided a wine of grace and word beyond the capacity of the world to drink. The highest pinnacle of any mount is but a sign of your greatness and the unfathomable depth of any vortex is just a mark of your perfection, and the excellence of your word."

After studying the Bustan of Saadi, Ernest Renan worte: "Saadi is no stranger among us, he is, in fact, one of us." Barbier de Minaro, translator of Saadi's Bustan, wrote in his preface to the translation: " Saadi is a combination of the delicacy of Horace, the smile of Rabelais and simplicity of La Fontaine. Without any exaggeration, the Iranian poets have contributed to the richness of European literature. Similar to the Greek and Roman literary works, Persian poetry has been beneficial to the literature of Europe. The great German poet, Novalis writes in his ode "The Song of Night": "Wisdom and philosophic contemplation can be found only in the Orient". Schlegel, in the preface to his translation of a part of Ferdowsi's Shanameh into German, writs: "To reach the real fountainhead of romanticism and be satiated with it one must travel to the Orient".

French poetess Comtesse de Noaille writes in her book, "The Enchanting Garden": I read this point in fragrant, pleasent and sad book the reading of which imparted an enchanting intoxication to me and I now know that an enchanting garden realy exists and can be seen by the eyes. It is a garden that extends from the foot of mountainous area named Saadi to Shiraz. O my soul would it be possible for my body to accompany you and fly to this paradise, where the nightingale frenzied with love sings from spring to summer; the tulips blossom; the air becomes fragrant; the evening breeze entrusts the roses to the winds and from atop the aspens, during the fiery summer, the winds twist while panting with burning breath. The town which is all metal, porcelaine and plaster, shines as bright as silver and gold. Every vaulted dome is like a blue fruit and the intertwining arcs are high points that cast their shadows with their enamelled tiles and flowery turquoise design on waters below.

The translation of the ghazals of Hafiz by Hammer in Germany; translation of Gulistan in France and the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam in England by Fitzgerald, also the poems of Shahnameh by Vohl in France created a deep change in European literature. Other countries of Europe also became aware and cognizant of the precedence of the East and the inspiring breeze of the Persian gardens. They came to know extraordinary men whose literary genius equated and surpassed that of Homer, Racine and Achillus.

Influence of Iranian Literature on Turkish Literature

In 1037 Saljuq Turks invaded Iran and founded a dynasty which continued to reign in Iran till 1197 A.D. These Saljuq Turks, even prior to their invasion and conquest, were in touch with Iranian civilization and culture. When they came to power the Saljuqs accepted Farsi as their court language.

It was during their supremacy that great men of letters like Umar Khayyam, Khwajeh Nizam-al-Molk and Ghazali flourished. A branch of these Saljuqs went and occupied Turkey and they continued to reign in that country even after the conquest of Iran by the Mongols.

When Mowlana Jallaluddin, the great mystic poet of Iran left Balkh on the eve of Mongol invasion and went to reside in Quniyya in Antolia, he felt at home in his new place of residence because there, he could also converse in Farsi and could recite his mystic verses in Persian where everyone would understand and enjoy his verses.

Although various Turkish dialects as well as Persian were in use in the Saljukid domains, the court and literary language of the whole kingdom continued to be Farsi. As Mr. Rothfield (Davar, Iran and its culture, p. 331) points out, even here it was an Iranian poet who ushered the Turkish language into existence.

This Iranian poet, Baha’uddin, the son of the famous Mowlana Jallaluddin (1207 - 1272 A.D.), composed a poem entitled Rubab-Nameh in Farsi, in which he included 156 Turkish verses. This was the beginning of Turkish literature under Iranian inspiration. However, it needed another impetus. This time from an Iranian statesman Mir Ali Shir Nawai (+1561 A.D.) the Minister of State for Sultan Hussayn Bayqara, ruler of Herat.

He gathered round him a literary circle composing a new Turkish literature on the Persian model. This Turkish literary movement that was set in motion in Khorasan was artificial and ephemeral. It did not thrive in the ensuing political and religious upheavals to which Khorasan was exposed.

However, it had a permanent effect, in helping to stimulate the growth of the kindred Ottoman Turkish language in the Anatolian Peninsula. But, in the Turkish language that thus emerged in Anatolian Peninsula, Farsi and Arabic words were quite frequently used. Turkish poetry that was emerging was mainly based on Persian poetic forms and prosody and according to Mr. Gibb, even thoughts were absorbed from Persian literature.

They imitated the Iranian poets in their selection of notions and ideas along with the manner of their presentation. The influence of Iranian civilization and language was very pronounced in the Ottoman Empire.

As Professor Toynbee remarks:

From the remote domain which they had carved for themselves in the European provinces of Orthodox Christendom, the Ottoman "Ghazis of Rum," still looked to the heart of the "Iranic World" for intellectual light and leading. The Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II (1448- 1512), who was the father of Salim I and the son of Mehmet the conqueror, was in correspondence with the divines and the men of letters of Khorasan, including the poet Jami, and the Sunni doctor Farid-ad-Din Ahmad-i-Taftazani, the Shaykh-al-Islam of Herat who was put to death by Shah-Isma’il in A.D. 1510, for refusing to pay lip service to the Shia’ creed.

Toynbee shows that prior to the advent of Shah Isma’il the founder of Safavid dynasty, Iran was the real literary and cultural center through which the Saljuqs, Osmanlis, Transoxanians, and the Indian Muslims drew their inspiration and power.

In this vast area that Toynbee calls "Iranic World," the people had discarded Arabic in favor of Farsi as its secular literary vehicle.

The territories which were conquered from Orthodox Christendom by the Seljuqs and the Osmanlis were a kind of colonial extension of the Iranic World, and the representatives of the Iranic society in these partibus infidelim, like its representatives in Hindustan, depended for the maintenance of their culture upon a study flow of arts and ideas, and of immigrants to import them from the homelands of the Iranic civilization in Iran itself.

The last of these immigrant Kulture-Träger were the fugitive Timurid prince Badi-az-Zaman and the 700 families of indigenous skilled artisans whom the Ottoman Sultan Selim brought home with him from Tabriz in 1514.

At that point in time, there ensued a contest between Shah Ismai’l the Iranian King and the Ottoman Sultan Selim on the question of who should be the political and military leader of the Iranic society. Sultan Selim wanted to be the Caliph of Islam throughout the Islamic world. This was contrary to the wishes of Shah Isma’il who also had a similar plan in a different direction.

Shah Isma’il wished to reduce the religious dualism of the Islamic world to a unity by imposing the minority’s religion (i.e. Shi’ism) upon the majority of the Iranic Society by sheer military force; but this proved to be beyond his powers. As Toynbee puts it:

At the end of his career, as at the beginning both sects were still in being in the Iranic world side by side and although the Shi'ah had obtained a net numerical increase through the excess of Isma’il’s forcible conversions of Sunnis to Shi’ism over Selim’s forcible conversions of Shi’is to the Sunnah, the Shi’ah still remained in a minority on the whole.

The great change (a change for the worse) consisted first in the forcible sorting out and geographical segregation of the two sects by the violent means of massacre and deportation and compulsory conversion, while the second new feature was the fiery hatred between Sunnis and Shi’is which had flamed up on both sides owing to the introduction of these methods of barbarism.

This schism of the Iranic Society on the moral, religious as well as the political plane severed all the threads that had previously knit the Iranic Social fabric together and this sawing asunder took the life out of Iranic civilization and stopped its progress dead.

The Late Mirza Mohammed Khan Ghaznavi, the Iranian Scholar, in a letter addressed to Professor Edward Browne relates the main reason why the literature and poetry of Iran during the Safavid period sunk to a very low ebb:

The chief reason for this... seems to have been that these kings by reason of their political aims and strong antagonism to the Ottoman Empire, devoted the greater part of their energies to the propagation of the Shi’ah doctrine and the encouragement of divines learned in its principles and laws.

Now although these duties strove greatly to effect the religious unification of Persia (which resulted in its political unification), and laid the foundations of this present day Persia, whose inhabitants are, speaking generally, of one faith, one tongue and one race, yet on the other hand, from the point of view of literature, poetry and Sufi-ism and Mysticism and everything connected with the "Accomplishments" they not merely fell short in the promotion thereof but sought by every means to injure and annoy the representatives of these "Accomplishments" who were not too firmly established in the Religious Laws and its derivatives...

However, although this sudden impoverishment of culture in Iran played a part in dealing a deadly blow to the Iranic culture, the main reason for this sudden closure of the ancient channels of communication along which the vivifying streams of culture had been flowing into Anatolia from Iran, was due to the new frontiers that now were erected between the Shi’ah Iran and the Sunni Osmanlis whereby any exchange of ideas between the two parts of that society were completely stopped.

As nothing was there to replace the Iranian culture according to Professor Toynbee:

The Osmanlis lived a cultural life in death, until in our time, they have thrown off the remnants of their dead Iranic culture and have sought to adopt our Western culture, like a suit of ready-made clothes as a counsel of despair.

However, one should not forget that the Osmanlis did not completely broke their contact with Iranian literature. Jami’s works considerably influenced the Turkish literature for a century. In the 16th century the Indian Iranian poets Faizi or Urfi were recognized as ideals in Turkish poetry.

In the 17th century, Sa’eb Isfahani, influenced the Turkish poetry and later it was the turn of Shaukat to do the same. Of course, Sa’adi and Hafiz were also esteemed greatly. Then in 1879 Abdul Hag Hamid Bey and Shanasi Effendi made a break with the past and introduced the spirit and forms of Western literature into Turkey.

As Mr. Gibb observes:

there is found to be as profound a difference in form and spirit between a Turkish literary work of 1900 and that composed 50 years earlier as that between the works of Tennyson and Chaucer.

Sultan Salim used to compose Persian poetry and in his court Farsi (Persian) was used in profusion.

When Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, wished to touch the heart strings of Sultan Abdul-Hamid, the last Ottoman Emperor, he ordered the Diwan of Persian verses of Sultan Salim to be printed on the best paper in Berlin and offered it to him.

Up until the present Revolution in Turkey the study of Persian language was compulsory in all Turkish schools and most of the high dignitaries of Ottoman Court used to recite Persian verses of Hafiz and Sa’adi and other great poets of Iran and considered it as a sign of culture and refinement.

Most of the Ottoman Sultans including Sultan Abdul-Hamid used to consult Hafiz’s Divan prior to taking important decisions. Turks carried Iranian culture and literature to Europe. One notices many Farsi words in the vocabulary of many countries in Eastern Europe.

The Rumanians still today call an enemy dushman, curtain is pardeh, minced meat is Kufteh etc... We find the following slightly altered Persian words in Yugoslavian language, adigar, aferim, agush, aya, ayna, armagan, ashicare, avaz, bashca, bashowan, bazarjani, bazuvent, behar, behut.

In Egypt, Isma’il Pasha the father of Malik Fu’ad I, the King of Egypt, spoke Farsi and up to the advent of the last King Fu’ad of Egypt, Farsi was spoken by the kings and grandees who were of Turkish blood, because in order to speak Turkish well they had to study Farsi.

One can quite assuredly state that until the end of the 19th century Farsi was still a dominant language throughout Asia and, as we have already seen, until the middle of the last century Farsi was the official language of India.

Transoxania had depended almost as much as the Ottoman Empire upon the inflow of culture from Iran, and it suffered still more severely from the blocking of the channels and the drying-up of the springs; for at this moment Transoxania needed an additional cultural stimulus in order to leaven the barbarism of her Uzbeg conquerors who now sat on the thrones of the cultivated Timurids. When the stimulus, so far from being intensified, was removed altogether, the Iranic culture of Transoxania was doomed to decay.

History of Persian or Parsi Language

History of Persian or Parsi Language

Parsi or Persian was the language of the Parsa people who ruled Iran between 550 - 330 BCE. It belongs to what scholars call the Indo-Iranian group of languages. It became the language of the Persian Empire and was widely spoken in the ancient days ranging from the borders of India in the east, Russian in the north, the southern shores of the Persian Gulf to Egypt and the Mediterranean in the west.

Over the centuries Parsi has changed to its modern form and today Persian is spoken primarily in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and parts of Uzbekistan. It was the language of the court of many of the Indian kings till the British banned its use, after occupying India in the 18 century. The Mogul kings of India had made Persian their court language. Engraved and filled with gold on walls of Delhi's Red Fort is the sentence "Agar Ferdows dar jahan ast hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast"; - 'If there is a paradise on earth it is here it is here it is here.'

Although the name of the language has been maintained as Persian or Parsi or its Arabic form Farsi (because in Arabic they do not have the letter P) the language has undergone great changes and can be categorized into the following groups.

1. Old Persian
2. Middle Persian
3. Classical Persian
4. Modern Persian

Old Persian is what the original Parsa tribe of the Hakahmaneshinian (Achaemenid) era spoke and they have left for us samples carved on stone in cuneiform script.

Middle Persian is the language spoken during the Sasanian era also known as Pahlavi. We have plenty of writings from that era in the form of religious writings of the Zarathushti religion, namely the Bundahish, Arda Viraf nameh, Mainu Khared, Pandnameh Adorbad Mehresfand etc.

Classical Persian the origin of this language is not very clear. Words have their roots in different languages spoken in various parts of the country but the majority of the words have their roots in Old Persian, Pahlavi and Avesta. They are represented in classical writings and poems. Ferdowsi claims to have gone through great pains for a period of thirty years to preserve this language, which was under pressure from the Arab invaders, and was on the verge of being lost.

It is noteworthy that every country that the Arabs conquered lost its civilization, culture and language and adopted the Arabic language and way of life. For example Egypt whose people could build Pyramids, were good astronomers and possessed the art of mummification lost their culture and language to the Arabs and started living like them. It was only Iran that broke the trend and stood against the Arabs and preserved its culture and language and even adopted their own version of Islam by creating Shiaism.

Later when the Moguls invaded Iran the Iranians converted them into ambassadors of Iranian language, culture and art. The Moguls made Parsi their court language in India.

Modern Persian language or Farsi (Arabic pronunciation of Parsi) as spoken today consists of a lot of words of non-Iranian origin. Some modern technical terms, understandably, have been incorporated from English, French and German and are recognizable, but Arabic has corrupted a major part of the language by replacing original Parsi words. What Ferdowsi worked so hard to preserve is finally being lost.

The European words have usually come into use because there was no existing Persian word to describe the situation or product. Instead of coining a word the foreign word was imported with the product. For example with the imported car came the French form of its name 'Automobile'. It took some time and effort and support from the government to coin a Parsi word 'Khodrow' and replace the foreign word. Another example is the word 'Television', which has a less successful replacement 'Sadah va Seema', so also is the word 'Radio'. There are some non-technical words like 'Merci' (Thanks) that has settled into the Farsi language and many Iranians do not consider it as foreign, and the Parsi word 'Tashakor' is alternatively used in speaking but in writing it more often replaces 'Merci'.

Another example is the word "Salaam" which has been borrowed from the Arabs and is used by Iranians as a salute when two friends meet each other, instead of the Parsi salute "Rouz-e-gar Neek" and "Dorood". In Arabic "Salaam" means Peace but no Iranian is aware of its meaning or origin. The Arabs who lived as a tribe were always at war with each other; they always had their sword ready by their side. When they came close enough to each other they had to call out "Salaam" meaning I come in peace otherwise he was considered an enemy who had to be killed. Not replying to a Salaam, even among the Iranians who do not know that the word means peace, is considered as a sign of enmity.

These are example of some very common words. The corruption by Arabic words has done great damage to the Parsi language because it has not only replaced original Parsi words but also driven them out of the language, to the extend that reintroduction of these original Parsi words sound alien to many readers. The damage has been so extensive that Arabic words have even found their way into the latter editions of 'Khordeh Avesta' the prayer book of the Zarathushties, which one expects to be in Avesta language.

Parsi-e Tajik & Parsi-e Dari
The people of Tajikistan and Afghanistan have maintained a somewhat purer form of the Parsi language and call it Parsi-e Tajik in Tajikistan and Parsi-e Dari in Afghanistan.

The Dari language spoken by the Zarathushties of Yazd and Kerman has nothing in common with the Dari of Afghanistan. In fact the Zarathushti Dari is not understood by Farsi speaking people and is a language that has no script and has not been written. Children learn it as a mother tongue and it has been preserved in this fashion for centuries. The Zarathushties of Kerman born after 1940's do not speak Dari, because their parents, who thought that by speaking Dari their children would develop a Farsi accent unique to Dari speakers and thus be recognized as Zarathushti in school and thus be harassed by the Muslims, did not teach them Dari. Fortunately the Zarathushties of Yazd have maintained a strong link with this language and every child learns and speaks this language.

Other Iranian Languages
Other than Farsi there are many other Iranian languages spoken within Greater Iran, such as Sogdi, Kharazmi, Pashtu, Urdu, Baluchi, Kurdi and Dari to name a few.

Urdu means camp and Urdu language was the language of the camp. When Nader Shah invaded India he set up his camp in modern day Pakistan, here the Hindi speaking Indian and the Parsi speaking Iranians mingled together and a third language Urdu was born. It is bridge between the two branches of Indo Iranian languages. Today Urdu like Farsi has a lot of Arabic words in it.

The Iranian culture was based on the teachings of Zarathushtra, who preached the use of wisdom, as such the general population made use of their brain to a greater extend than may be done even today. For that very reason they had no need for a script. They made good use of their mind -Vohumana- and memorized information acquired through the ear and this was a handy method. They only had to refer to their memory and not to the voluminous scrolls.

'We revere the wisdom acquired through the ear'.
[Haptan Yasht 6. Yashts in Roman Script with Translations By T R Sethna]

[Even to this day the Zoroastrian Mobeds in India memorize the whole Avesta, which runs into volumes as part of their training to become Mobeds and as for a living example of a language without script, the Zarathushties of Iran have been speaking the Dari language for centuries without writing it.]

After the Persian came to power and with the expansion of the Empire and the inclusion within their realm, of various cultures that used writing to communicate, the need for communication by writing arose. The scribes of Elam and Babylon were recruited and for the first time the language of the Persians were written in the Cuneiform script. Had they had their own script we would have some proof of it by way of archeological evidence.

Using their mind and using it in a good way -VohuMana- was their principle in life. This fact has been recognized even in the Bible by always calling the Persian 'Wise'. Even the act of predicting the time and location of the birth of Jesus Christ is not considered a prophecy but an act of wisdom.

So when the Iranians entered the business of writing they used their wisdom and started improving on existing methods and forms of writing. Initially they used the clay tablets, as was the practice among the scribes, like the ones found at Sush (Susa), which contains the Old Persian text of the foundation charter of the palace of Dariush (Darius). Although the scribes were using cuneiform script for centuries it, never occurred to them before, and it was under the Iranians that it was developed into an alphabet denoting sound. Thus the second generation of Old Persian was written in forty-three signs or alphabet and writing became easy and less tedious.

The Assyrian scribes used the Aramaic script. An Assyrian bas-relief shows two scribes, one of whom holds a tablet and stylus for writing in cuneiform and the other a papyrus for writing Aramaic in Ink.

The Aramaic script written with ink on papyrus and skin was, gradually adopted by the Iranians. A few records in the Armanic script have been found to prove its use from Egypt to India. One of the versions, on the tomb of Dariush is drawn up in the Old Persian and written in the Armanic script.

The use of Papyrus, skin and ink made writing, storing and transportation of written material more practical, compared to the wet clay on which the cuneiform script was to be written and then dried. The extent of the Empire, the need for messages and records of trade and commerce to be taken from one place to another, all this weighed in favour of the Armanic script on papyrus or skin. At the same time this itself was the very cause of the loss of information, today the eclipse in information on the great Empire was caused by the destructibility of papyrus and skin.

We know from the Bible that records were well maintained by the Iranians in those days. (Ezra 6: 1-3)

1. 'Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasure were laid up in Babylon.
2. And there was found in Achmetha (Hamadan) in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written.
3. In the first year of Cyrus the king .........'

All this information and all the knowledge and science (Asha Vahista) of the Zarathushties, which was recorded, was destroyed by Alexander in his barbaric ways, but that which was saved found its way into Greece where some of it was misused, personified and attributed to the pagan gods. But most of it was translated and called Greek Medicine, Greek science, Greek philosophy, Greek mathematics, and overall it caused a growth of knowledge and progress among the Greeks.

During the Sassanian era, a very advanced form of alphabet was used, what is today known as the "Din Dabereh". It has 48 alphabets consisting of 14 vowels and 34 consonants. This alphabet is capable of recording all types of sound and therefore every language.

After the Arab conquest, they forced their inferior script on the people of Iran, in fact it was the Iranians who for the first time organized and wrote the grammar for the Arabic language and made it useable. Although the Arabic script was not capable of recording the sounds of Parsi language even after addition of additional alphabets not found in Arabic such as PH - CHA - JAH - GH; it became the official script for writing Parsi. Today the Arabic script is used by the Iranians to write Persian and even Avesta. The Din Dabereh script has been forgotten but exists.

The Tajik use the Russian script and by adding a couple of additional alphabets they are able to create Parsi sounds much better than what is done with the Arabic script. Hopefully one day Greater Iran will unite and revive its ancient script, culture and way of life.

Deserts in Persian Literature

By Mahin Tajadod

The Persian mystic tradition compares the spiritual quest to the crossing of desert valleys. Sufism enumerates seven of these valleys: quest, love, knowledge, detachment, unity, amazement and annihilation. The path is perilous. Asceticism to purify the soul; the disavowal of carnal passions; the renunciation of earthly desires--all these thorns wait on the mystic's path.

Gold, the possession of goods that flatter the eye and the heart and stir envy and desire--all the world's vanities--appear as mirages in the path of the thirsty voyager.

Every caravan needs a guide to cross the desert; no-one would be so foolish as to venture across the sandy wastes without someone to lead them. Similarly, the Iranian mystic tradition requires seekers after truth to seek the help of pirs, masters who can show them the way. No disciple would risk setting out on the path of devotion without the help of an initiator to instruct him and pass on the necessary knowledge. Like a caravan-leader who holds a camel by the reins to steer the beast and its rider through dangerous passages, the spiritual master takes in hand the chain of the proselyte's instruction.

Attar, the great twelfth-century Persian poet, describes in The Conference of the Birds a journey these creatures make when they decide one day to set off in search of their king. Guided by the hoopoe, a bird rich in mythological associations that was Solomon's companion and that knows how to avoid mirages and espy waterholes from afar, they set off for the mountain called Qaf, home of the Simurgh, ruler of the birds. Many of the travellers cannot stand the heat, the hunger and thirst and, fearing the unknown, prefer to return to pleasanter lands. Others have the courage to endure the journey and its perils. For want of food, water and shade many die en route. Only thirty birds--in Persian, si-murgh--reach their goal, flying over Qaf and meeting the object of their quest in a mystic communion.

"And so those thirty birds contemplated the face of Simurgh in the reflection of their own faces.... They saw that it was truly the Simurgh, and if they turned their regard on themselves, they saw that they were the Simurgh too. Finally, looking one way then the other, they realized that they and the Simurgh were in reality one."

Ogres and fairies
In Persian legends and poetic epics, the desert is also the land of ogres, genies and fairies. In his Incantation of the Simurgh, the twelfth-century Iranian philosopher Suhravardi explains how to avoid the ogres known as doual-pa that leaped onto travellers' shoulders and would not come down until they had strangled them with their legs. "As the traveller passes, the doual-pa suddenly throws out its legs and grips him around the throat, so hindering his progress that he can no longer find the Water of Life. But I have heard it said that a man can be delivered if he goes aboard Noah's Ark and takes in his hand the staff of Moses."

The genies known as djinn also inhabit the desert: they can be recognized by the clogs they wear, and they are less dangerous than ogres or demons. Peris, fairylike creatures who are the personification of beauty and grace, only appear after nightfall. The story goes that Nasir ad-Din Shah, who ruled Persia from 1848 to 1896, used to dress carefully every evening, then set off on his favourite horse to the desert to meet the most beautiful of these fairies.

Whether the flesh is forgotten or the mind becomes doubly sensitive to its prickings, whether the spirit grows drowsy or gains in lucidity, the desert is first and foremost a mirror in which one can see the world and maybe also glimpse the face of God. The only certainty is that sooner or later you will see yourself.