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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Contents

Abu Muslim

Abu Muslim - Zoroastrian Enigma

Was Abu Muslim a Closet Zoroastrian?

Muslimiyya

Abu Muslim (c 700-755)

Abu Muslim's Introduction to the Abbasids

Abbasid Revolt

Abu Muslim's Military Victories

Abu Muslim's Popularity & Power

Mansur Fears Abu Muslim

Abu Muslim's Murder / Assassination

Abu Muslim Puts Down Behafarid's Rebellion

Islamization of Iran Gathers Momentum

Zoroastrianism
in Post-Arab Iran

Conditions & Treatment 650 CE-1400s

Arab Attitudes Towards the Persians During Their Conquests

Islamic Rulers of Iran - Timelines

Conditions Under the Arab Caliphate

Dhimmi Status and Jizya Tax

Destruction of Fire Temples & Libraries. Murder of Priests

Humiliation as Untouchables

Under the Umayyads (661-750 CE)

Under the Abbasids (752 - 833 CE)

Zoroastrian Revolutionary Sects

Four Zoroastrian Sects in Post Arab Iran

Bihafarid / Behafarid - Zoroastrian Reformist Prophet?

China & Heavenly Garments

Bihafarid / Behafarid's Doctrine

Khurramism & Mobed Sunpadh

Khurramism Beliefs

Khurramism History

Ishaq / Eshaq Tork

Ustad Sis

Gorgan Revolts

Related reading:

» Zoroastrianism in Post Arab Iran 650-1400s CE

» Zoroastrian Revolutionary Sects

» Early Islamic History - Prelude to the Arab Invasion of Iran Shahr


Abu Muslim - Zoroastrian Enigma

Was Abu Muslim a Closet Zoroastrian?

Abu Muslim is a general who was responsible for overthrowing the Arab caliphate that overthrew the Zoroastrian Sassanian empire. He did this by supporting the Abbasids in their bid to overthrow the Umayyad Caliphate.

Some authors speculate that Abu Muslim Khorasani was a closet Zoroastrian all along and that once his position was strong enough, he would have eventually moved against the Abbasids. The suggestion is that he worked within the system rather than against it. This speculation is fuelled by Khorasani having had a Zoroastrian priest Sunpadh (Sonbad/Sinbad?) as an advisor.

Abu Muslim's true allegiances and his sympathies towards are difficult to decipher. One the one hand, he encouraged Zoroastrians including Sunpadh to convert to Islam. On the other hand, after his death, the converted Sunpadh, as well as others close to the general, quickly shed all pretence of being Muslims. According to Islamic writers, after the murder of Abu Muslim, Sunpadh declared that his goal was to destroy the Kaba in Mecca.


Muslimiyya

The words Muslimiyya or Khurramiyya are the Arabic equivalent to Muslimite or Khurramite. The word Muslim in this context does not refer to the Islamic community but followers of Abu Muslim.

Abu Muslim's assassination motivated the launch of several rebellions against the Arabs, some by new nationalistic Zoroastrian-based sects with syncretic doctrines designed to counter the popular appeal of an egalitarian Islam. These sects venerated the memory of Abu Muslim claiming that he would return as a saviour against Arab oppression. The sects that specifically thought of Abu Muslim as an imam, prophet, Mahdi or even an incarnation of the divine were called the Muslimiyya. According to Brill's Encyclopaedia of Islam, "many heresiographers fully identify the Khurramiyya with the Muslimiyya. ...Abu Hatim's statement that the Rizamiyya belonged to the Khurramiyya is to be understood in the same sense, for he and some other sources explain this name as meaning the radical, anti-Abbasid followers of Abu Muslim.

All this makes it a viable possibility that Abu Muslim exhorted others especially those around him to become nominal Muslims at best in order to work within the system until an opportune moment when they could assert their Iranian identity and religion which was so closely tied to Iranian soil. It stands to reason, that it would not have served his or their purpose if his loyalties to Islam were suspect, or if he surrounded himself with Zoroastrians. One of the groups Sunpadh worked with were the Khurramdins, a Zoroastrian-based sect. Abu Taher al-Maqdisi in his Kitab ul-bad wa-al-Tarikh (Book of Creation and of History) calls the Khurammite sect the sect that eventually that mounted the most serious challenge to Arab rule - "Mazdaeans (Zoroastrians) ... who cover themselves under the guise of Islam".


Abu Muslim (c 700-755)

Abu Muslim Khorasani may have been born in Merv or Isfahan either in 718-19 or 723-27. According to some sources Abu Muslim's original name was Behzadan (cf. Mojmal al-Tawarik at p. 315) and that his father's name prior to his conversion to Islam was Vandad Hormoz. [Other Arab history writers make him a descendant of Godarz and the vizier Bozorgmehr.] These names strongly suggest a Zoroastrian connection which is very likely given that Abu Muslim was born about 50 years after the Arab (Umayyad) invasion of Iran.

The story of Abu Muslim begins with the Muslim world's discontent with the Umayyad Caliphate, the Caliphate that consolidated the Arab conquest of Iran.


Abu Muslim's Introduction to the Abbasids

Whatever his name at birth, Abu Muslim (Moslem) received his pseudonym from the Abbasid imam Ebrahim when he joined the Abbasid cause and was made responsible for its propaganda in Khorasan. In the process, Abu Muslim, was befriended by al-Abbas, a member of the Abbasid family (Ebrahim's brother?) and soon-to-become first Abbasid caliph of the Arab empire. As-Saffah, or Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah (as-Saffah was a reign name meaning 'shedder of blood'), claimed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's uncle, an uncle who - Findlay Dunachie, a book critic claims - "never actually became a Muslim himself and was assumed to have gone to hell."

In becoming the supporter of an Arab faction, Abu Muslim became a mawali, a client of the Arabs, an herein lies the enigma. Was this a political ploy to work from within the Arab system and dismantle it from within or was Abu Muslim a true mawali (the term mawali is used by Indian Zoroastrians as a put down (of even other Zoroastrians) who they believe are behaving in an uncouth manner)? In Zoroastrian eyes simply naming Abu Muslim as a mawali is a pejorative.


Abbasid Revolt

While discontent against the autocratic, opulent and discriminatory rule of the Umayyad's was growing, as-Saffah sought Iranian Shia support for his claim to the caliphate and to this end, he declared himself a Shia (but later reverted to being a Sunni when he became caliph).

As-Saffah's redoubled his efforts to become a caliph of the Arab empire with the death of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 743. Upon al-Malik's death, at as-Saffah's behest Abu Muslim started an insurrection based out of Khorasan.

The Abbasid wore black clothing and carried black flags, perhaps as a claim to being the Mahdi's forces of justice and judgment.


Abu Muslim's Military Victories

Abu Muslim's military victories started with him seizing control of Merv between December 747 and January 748. In 749, Nehavand, the western Iranian city which had witnessed the 'fath al-fotuh', the Arab victory over the Persians a century earlier in 642, now became the site of the Arab's defeat at the hands of the Iranian Abu Moslem's generals and supporters. Abu's forces went on to defeat the Umayyads in Iraq, the land in which the Arabs had initially defeated the Sassanian Persian armies. They arrived at Kufa, Iraq, freed as-Saffah who was in 'protective' custody, took Baghdad, and then installed as-Saffah as caliph in 750 CE.


Abu Muslim's Popularity & Power

As-Saffah's success in coming to power and his ability to stay in power was because of Abu Muslim's able command and leadership of the Abbasid armies. Abu Muslim was popular with the people and had the ability to take the caliphate for himself. However, the Iranian was of the wrong pedigree, and had to content himself with remaining a general and the power behind the throne - at least for the time being.

Abu Muslim had achieved his military victories while he had stayed on in Khorasan as its absolute ruler. While based in Khorasan, his power extended to the entire empire as it came under the command of his forces. Such was his power, that his patron as-Saffah, the new installed Abbasid caliph, felt obliged to consult the general before executing Abu Salama, vizier. (There is a report that as-Saffah invited other remaining members of the Umayyad family to a dinner where he had them clubbed to death before the first course.) As-Saffah therefore despatched his brother Mansur to receive Abu Muslim's approval for Abu Salama's execution. Abu Muslim not only gave his approval, he also sent a confidant to carry out the murder.

Another example of Abu Muslim's power was when as-Saffah sent a relative to take over the governorship of Fars, the hapless appointee was almost executed because he had arrived without Abu Muslim's consent.


Mansur Fears Abu Muslim

The extraordinary power Abu Muslim yielded was inevitably his downfall. Mansur warned his brother as-Saffah that the latter would never truly be the caliph as long as the omnipresent and omnipotent Abu Moslem was alive. Mansur advocated Abu Muslim's arrest and execution. Perhaps Mansur was fearful of Abu Mansur's popularity and how he was perceived as a leader. Perhaps he had somehow divined Abu Muslim's ambitions or perhaps the potential for Abu Muslim to move against the Abbasids.


Abu Muslim's Murder / Assassination

The now ailing Al-Saffah did not, however, move against his general. Mansur would soon have the opportunity to take matters into his own hands, for in 754 as-Saffah succumbed to small-pox leaving the caliphate to his brother Mansur. In an act of deception, Mansur invited Abu Moslem to his palace ostensibly to receive honours, but upon Abu's arrival had him relieved of his sword, read out a litany of misdeeds, and had him assassinated in his presence. So died Abu Muslim Khorasani, the Iranian who was an ally of an Arab, 755 at the age of 37. Mansur ordered Khorasani's mutilated body to be thrown into the Tigris.


Abu Muslim Puts Down Behafarid's Rebellion

While Abu Muslim's forces were defeating the Umayyads, Khorasani put down a peasant rebellion led by Bihafarid (Behafarid) (see below) who some authors feel was a Zoroastrian heretic who had angered the Zoroastrian priestly establishment. Apparently, Abu Muslim received Zoroastrian support - as well as Sunpadh's support - in crushing the Behafarid movement. If the Behafarid story is true, then it is a very unfortunate incident in Zoroastrian history. Zoroastrians had learnt nothing from their dismal divisions during the closing years of the Sassanian regime. This was their darker hour yet, for Zoroastrians were now set against Zoroastrians.

This sad episode stands as an object lesson for Zoroastrians, about the great harm and divisions that charismatic self-styled prophets and so-called reformers can cause to the religion and community, for leadership struggles aside, it set ordinary Zoroastrians against each another.


Islamization of Iran Gathers Momentum

Another Zoroastrian-based sect leader who attracted Behafarid's followers was Ustadh Sis. He too launched an armed rebellion against the Islamic regime only be be captured and executed in 768. With Ustad Sis's execution, Zoroastrian Khorasani rebellion against the Arabs and their Islamist heirs lost it vigour and the Islamization of Eastern Iran gathered great momentum.


Related reading:

» Zoroastrian Revolutionary Sects 650-850

» Zoroastrianism in Post Arab Iran 650-1400s CE


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