The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory, and Conversion
THE NEW MUSLIMS OF POST-CONQUEST IRAN – Book Sample
The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran
How do converts to a religion come to feel an attachment to it? The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran answers this important question for Iran by focusing on the role of memory and its revision and erasure in the ninth to eleventh centuries CE. During this period, the descendants of the Persian imperial, religious, and historiographical traditions not only wrote themselves into starkly different early Arabic and Islamic accounts of the past but also systematically suppressed much knowledge about pre-Islamic history.
The result was both a new “Per- sian” ethnic identity and the pairing of Islam with other loyalties and affiliations, including family, locale, and sect. This pioneering study examines revisions to memory in a wide range of cases, from Iran’s imperial and administrative heritage to the Prophet Muh. ammad’s stal-
wart Persian companion, Salma¯ n al-Fa¯ ris¯ı, and to memory of Iranian
scholars, soldiers, and rulers in the mid-seventh century. Through these renegotiations, Iranians developed a sense of Islam as an authentically Iranian religion, as they simultaneously shaped the broader histori- ographic tradition in Arabic and Persian.
Sarah Bowen Savant is a historian of religion and an Associate Professor at the Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisa- tions in London. Her publications include Genealogy and Knowledge in Muslim Societies: Understanding the Past (2013), co-edited with Helena de Felipe, as well as book chapters and journal articles treating early Islamic history and historiography.
TRADITIONS FOR FORGETTING
In Part II, we turn our attention to the strategies through which a variety of traditionists in the third/ninth to the fifth/eleventh centuries shaped memory of Iran’s past and the immediate concerns their efforts reflected. As modern scholars have often noted, there is much evidence that Muslims of this period sought to preserve a record of Iran’s royal heritage by translating Middle Persian works featuring Iran’s kings into Arabic or by including excerpts of such works in their own writings.
With the Sasanian dynasty gone, these Muslim traditionists became the most important custodians of its historical and ethico-didactic literature, while also taking some interest in the ruling house’s Zoroastrian faith and scriptures, including the Avesta.
ʿAbbasid courtly circles transmitted significant quantities of this material, which was developed still further in the following centuries in Baghdad for the benefit of Buyid and Seljuk rulers and ruling classes, and in centers of power to the east, such as Samanid Khura¯ sa¯ n and Transoxiana.1 But while much of the historiographic tra- dition reflects the success of a “Persian” humanities crystallized around the figure of the king and royal ethics2 as well as a variety of social, polit- ical, and linguistic revivalist sentiments, there is also substantial evidence of more complex stances toward Iran’s heritage, including a considerable degree of ambivalence and anxiety.
The Issue of Perspective
To set the tone for the chapters that follow, it will be useful to consider a couple of reports passed on late in our period by a man of Arabic letters and friend of eastern Iranian ruling elites, Abu¯ Mans.u¯ r al-Thaʿa¯ lib¯ı (d. 429/1038). The reports were transmitted in his lexicon of memorable
two-word phrases and cliche´s, the Thima¯ r al-qulu¯ b fı¯ al-mud. a¯ f wa-l- mansu¯ b (Fruits of the heart among nouns in construct form), a work dedicated to reminding readers, or more likely bringing them into the know, about a variety of topics.3 In an entry for the expression “the justice of Anu¯ shirva¯ n” (ʿadl Anu¯ shirwa¯ n), he reports that Muh. ammad was born during the reign of Khusraw Anu¯ shirva¯ n (r. 531–79 CE), and he quotes a Hadith in which the Prophet states: “I was born in the time of the Just King (al-malik al-ʿa¯ dil). As for the rest of the Kisra¯ s, they were unjust and wicked.”4 Al-Thaʿa¯ lib¯ı then explains with a sprinkling
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