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The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran pdf

The New Muslims of Post-Conquest Iran: Tradition, Memory, and Conversion

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 The New Muslims Of Post Conquest Iran
  • Book Author:
Sarah Bowen Savant
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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.


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

rhymed prose:


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