Islamic conquest of Persia

Islamic conquest of Persia

Infobox Military Conflict

caption=Stages of Muslim conquests legend|#a1584e|Expansion under Mohammad, 622-632 legend|#ef9070|Expansion during the Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661 legend|#fad07d|Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750
conflict=Islamic conquest of Persia
partof=the Muslim conquests
place=Mesopotamia and Persia
result=Muslim Arab victory
territory=Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire annexed by Muslims
combatant1=Sassanid Persian Empire,
Arab Christians
combatant2=Arab Muslims
(Rashidun Caliphate)
commander1=Yazdgerd III
Rostam Farrokhzād
Huzail ibn Imran
Karinz ibn Karianz
Wahman Mardanshah
commander2=Khalid ibn al-Walid
Musanna ibn Haris
Abu Ubaid
Caliph Umar
Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas
Nouman ibn Muqarrin
Abdullah ibn Aamir
The Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656) led to the end of the Sassanid Empire and the eventual extirpation of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. However, the achievements of the previous Persian civilizations were not lost, but were to a great extent absorbed by the new Islamic polity.

Most Muslim historians have long offered the idea that Persia, on the verge of the Arab invasion, was a society in decline and decay and thus it embraced the invading Arab armies with open arms. This view is not widely accepted however. Some authors have for example used mostly Arab sources to illustrate that "contrary to the claims , Iranians in fact fought long and hard against the invading Arabs." [Milani A. "Lost Wisdom". 2004 ISBN 0934211906 p.15] This view further more holds that once politically conquered, the Persians began engaging in a culture war of resistance and succeeded in forcing their own ways on the victorious Arabs. [Mohammad Mohammadi Malayeri, "Tarikh-i Farhang-i Iran" (Iran's Cultural History). 4 volumes. Tehran. 1982.] [cite book|author=ʻAbd al-Ḥusayn Zarrīnʹkūb|authorlink=Abdolhossein Zarinkoob|title=Dū qarn-i sukūt : sarguz̲asht-i ḥavādis̲ va awz̤āʻ-i tārīkhī dar dū qarn-i avval-i Islām (Two Centuries of Silence)|location=Tihrān|publisher=Sukhan|year=1379 (2000)|id=OCLC|46632917, Listed Invalid ISBN|964-5983-33-6 ]

As Bernard Lewis has quotedcite web | url= | title=Iran in history | first=Bernard | last=Lewis | publisher=Tel Aviv University | accessdate=2007-04-03]

"These events have been variously seen in Iran: by some as a blessing, the advent of the true faith, the end of the age of ignorance and heathenism; by others as a humiliating national defeat, the conquest and subjugation of the country by foreign invaders. Both perceptions are of course valid, depending on one's angle of vision."

Persia Before the Conquest

Since the 1st century BC, the border between the Roman (later Byzantine) and Parthian (later Sassanid dynastic) empires had been the Euphrates river. The border was constantly contested. Most battles, and thus most fortifications, were concentrated in the hilly regions of the north, as the vast Arabian or Syrian Desert (Roman Arabia) separated the rival empires in the south. The only dangers expected from the south were occasional raids by nomadic Arab tribesmen. Both empires therefore allied themselves with small, semi-independent Arab principalities, which served as buffer states and protected Byzantium and Persia from Bedouin attacks. The Byzantine clients were the Ghassanids; the Persian clients were the Lakhmids. The Ghassanids and Lakhmids feuded constantly — which kept them occupied, but did not greatly affect the Byzantines or Persians.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, various factors destroyed the balance of power that had held for so many centuries.

Balance Between Persia and Byzantium Swings Wildly

"See also: Fall of Sassanid dynasty"

The Persian ruler Khusrau II (Parviz) defeated a dangerous rebellion within his own empire (the Bahram Chobin's rebellion). He afterwards turned his energies outwards, upon the traditional Byzantine enemies in the Roman-Persian Wars. For a few years, he succeeded gloriously. From 612 to 622, he extended the Persian borders almost to the same extent that they were under the Achaemenid dynasty(550–330 BC), capturing cities of Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The Byzantines regrouped and pushed back in 622 under Heraclius. Khusrau was defeated at the Battle of Nineveh in 627, and the Byzantines recaptured all of Syria and penetrated far into the Persian provinces of Mesopotamia. In 629, Khusrau's son agreed to peace, and the border between the two empires was once again the same as it was in 602.

Assassination of Khusrau II and a Succession of Weak Rulers

Khusrau II was assassinated in 628 and as a result, there were numerous claimants to the throne; from 628 to 632 there were ten kings and queens of Persia. The last, Yazdegerd III, was a grandson of Khusrau II and was said to be a mere child. However, no date of birth is known.

Revolt of the Arab Client States

The Byzantine clients, the Arab Ghassanids, converted to the Monophysite form of Christianity, which was regarded as heretical by the established Byzantine Orthodox Church. The Byzantines attempted to suppress the heresy, alienating the Ghassanids and sparking rebellions on their desert frontiers.

The Lakhmids also revolted against the Persian king Khusrau II. Al-Noman III (son of Al-Monder IV), the first Christian Lakhmid king, was deposed and killed by Khusrau II, because of his attempt to throw off the Persian tutelage. After Khusrau's assassination, the Persian Empire fractured and the Lakhmids were effectively semi-independent.

It is tenable that weakening the Lakhmids and the Ghassanids bulwark contributed to the consequent Arab-Muslim breakthrough into what is today known as Iraq and Jordan.

= During Prophet Muhammad's Life = After the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah in 628, the Prophet Muhammad sent many letters to the princes, kings and chiefs of the various tribes and kingdoms of the time inviting them to convert to Islam. These letters were carried by ambassadors to Iran, Byzantium, Ethiopia, Egypt, Yemen, and Hira (Jordan) on the same day. cite web | url= | title=The Events of the Seventh Year of Migration | publisher=Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project | accessdate=2007-04-03] This assertion has been cast into scrutiny by some modern historians of Islam--notably Grimme and Caetani. [Leone Caetani, Annali dell' Islam, vol. 4, p. 74] Particularly in dispute is the assertion that Khosrau II received a letter from Muhammad, as the Sassanid court ceremony was notoriously intricate, and it is unlikely that a letter from what at the time was a minor regional power would have reached the hands of the Shahanshah. [Leone Caetani, Annali dell' Islam, vol. 2, chapter 1, paragraph 45-46] Yet, the Islamic sources stemming from the Siraa (history) of the Prophet Muhammad provide intricate enough knowledge about the state of Persian politics to prove that the message of Allah's Messenger reached Khosrou II.Fact|date=August 2008 With regards to Iran, Muslim histories further re-count that at the beginning of the seventh year of migration, Muhammad appointed one of his officers, Abdullah Huzafah Sahmi Qarashi, to carry his letter to Khosrau II inviting him to Islam:

"In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Muhammad, the Messenger of God, to the great Kisra of Iran. Peace be upon him, who seeks truth and expresses belief in God and in His Prophet and testifies that there is no god but God and that He has no partner, and who believes that Muhammad is His servant and Prophet. Under the Command of God, I invite you to Him. He has sent me for the guidance of all people so that I may warn them all of His wrath and may present the unbelievers with an ultimatum. Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe. And if you refuse to accept Islam, you will be responsible for the sins of the Magi." ["Tabaqat-i Kubra, vol. I, page 360; Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, pp. 295, 296; Tarikh-i Kamil, vol. II, page 81 and Biharul Anwar, vol. XX, page 389"]

There are differing accounts of the reaction of Khosrau II. Nearly all assert that he destroyed the letter in anger; the variations concentrate on the extent and detail of his response.

Rise of the Islamic Empire

By the time of Muhammad's death in 632, most of what is now considered Arabia was united under the new religion of Islam. However, as Fred Donner argues in his 1981 book, "The Early Islamic Conquests", Arabic-speaking nomads or villagers roamed over or settled on the edge of the Syrian steppe as well. Any regime that aimed to unite all Arabs would have to conquer the Syrian steppe. Under Muhammad's successor Abu Bakr, the first caliph, the Muslims first re-established their control over Arabia (the Ridda Wars) and then launched campaigns against the remaining Arabs of Syria and Palestine.

However, this put the nascent Islamic empire on a collision course with the Byzantine and Sassanid empires, which had been disputing these territories for centuries. The wars soon became a matter of conquest, rather than mere consolidation of the Arab tribes.

Islamic Conquest of Persian Mesopotamia

The collapse of the Sassanid polity after the death of Khusrau II left the Persians in a weak position "vis-a-vis" Arab invaders. At first the Muslims merely attempted to consolidate their rule over the fringes of the desert and the Lakhmid Arabs. The border town of Hira fell to the Muslims in 633. The Sassanids had reorganized under a new king, Yazdegerd III.

The main military commander of the Muslims, Khalid ibn al-Walid, was able to conquer most of Mesopotamia (Iraq) from the Persians in a span of nine months, from April 633 until January 634, after a series of battles. The following are some of the most significant battles fought between the Muslim Arabs and the Persians in Mesopotamia.

Battle of Walaja

The Battle of Walaja was a battle fought in Mesopotamia (Iraq) on May 633 between the Muslim Arabs under Khalid ibn al-Walid against the Persian Empire and its Arab allies. The strength of the Persian army at the battle was approximately 40,000 compared to 15,000 for the Arabs.Fact|date=July 2008

Khalid decisively defeated the Persian forces using a variation of the double envelopment tactical maneuver, similar to the maneuver Hannibal used to defeat the Roman forces at the Battle of Cannae.

Battle of Firaz

Khalid defeated the combined forces of the Persian Empire, Byzantine Empire and Christian Arabs at the Battle of Firaz. The result of the battle was a decisive victory for Khalid, which led to most of Mesopotamia being annexed by the Muslims.

After this victory, Khalid left Mesopotamia to lead another campaign at Syria against the Roman Empire, after which Mithna ibn Haris took command in Mesopotamia.

Battle of the Bridge

The Sassanids mounted a counterattack under Bahman Jadu, who led 10,000 Persians against 9,000 Arabs. The Persians won a major victory at the Battle of the Bridge against the Muslims in October 634, in which Abu Ubaid Al-Thaqafi was killed in battle. The Persians lost 600 men, and the Arabs more than 4,000. Fact|date=July 2008

After a decisive Muslim victory against the Byzantines in Syria at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, the second caliph, Umar, was able to transfer forces to the east and resume the offensive against the Sassanids.

The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah

This was the decisive engagement that sealed the fate of the Sassanid empire. Around the year 636, Rostam Farrokhzād, advisor and general for Yazdegerd III ("r". 632–51) led an army of about 100,000 men across the Euphrates River to al-Qādisiyyah, near the present-day city of Hilla in Iraq. Some have criticised him for this decision to face the Arabs on their own ground — on the fringes of the desert — and surmised that the Persians could have held their own if they had stayed on the opposite bank of the Euphrates.

The Caliph Umar dispatched 30,000 men under the command of Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās against the Persian army. The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah followed, with the Persians prevailing at first, but on the third day of fighting, the Muslims gained the upper hand. The Persian general Rostam Farrokhzād was badly wounded, caught and beheaded. According to some sources, the Persian losses were 20,000, and the Arabs lost 8,500 men and one of the people who did good in the battle is Abo Mihjin al-Thaqafi. Fact|date=July 2008

Following the Battle, the Arab Muslim armies pushed forward toward the Persian capital of Ctesiphon (also called Al-Mada'in in Arabic), which was quickly evacuated by Yazdgird after a brief siege. After seizing the city, they continued their drive eastwards, following Yazdgird and his remaining troops. Within a short space of time, the Arab armies defeated a major Sāsānian counter-attack in the Battle of Jalūlā', as well as other engagements at Qasr-e Shirin, and Masabadhan. By the mid-7th Century, the Arabs controlled all of Mesopotamia, including the area that is now the Iranian province of Khuzestan.

Conquest of the Iranian Plateau

It is said that the caliph Umar did not wish to send his troops through the Zagros mountains and onto the Iranian plateau. One tradition has it that he wished for a "wall of fire" to keep the Arabs and Persians apart. Later commentators explain this as a common-sense precaution against over-extension of his forces. The Arabs had only recently conquered large territories that still had to be garrisoned and administered.

Battle of Nahawand

Umar's generals and warriors pushed for further action. They argued that Yazdegerd III could again become a threat if he were left undisturbed while raising more troops. The continued existence of the Persian government was an incitement to revolt in the conquered territories. Finally, those Arabs who felt slighted in the distribution of land and booty from the Mesopotamian conquests pushed for further raids.

Umar relented. Arab raiding parties passed over the Zagros mountains separating Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau.

Yazdegerd, the Sassanid king, made yet another effort to regroup and defeat the invaders. By 641 he had raised a new force, which took a stand at Nihavand, some forty miles south of Hamadan in modern Iran. Al-Nu'man ibn Muqarrin al-Muzani and his cavalry attacked and again defeated the Persian forces. Muslims recognized it as the Victory of victories (Fatih alfotuh).

End of the Sassanids

Yazdegerd was unable to raise another army and became a hunted fugitive. He fled from one district to another until a local miller killed him for his purse at Merv in 651. [cite web | url= | title=Iran | publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica] The Islamic forces established a garrison town at Merv. By 656, they had already conquered Greater Khorasan (which included the cities Merv and Balkh, with the center or capital being the city of Herat). For many decades to come, this was the easternmost limit of complete Muslim rule.


Under Umar and his immediate successors, the Arab conquerors attempted to maintain their political and cultural cohesion despite the attractions of the civilizations they had conquered. The Arabs were to settle in the garrison towns rather than on scattered estates. They were not to marry non-Arabs, or learn their language, or read their literature. The new non-Muslim subjects, or "dhimmi", were to pay a special tax, the "jizya" or poll tax, which was calculated per individual at varying rates for able bodied men of military age [cite book
author = Kennedy, Hugh
title = The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates
publisher = Longman
date = 2004
pages = 68
] . In addition, the protected People-of-the-Book were subject to various restrictions of occupation, worship, and dressBashear 1997, p. 117.] Mass conversions were neither desired nor allowed, at least in the first few centuries of Arab rule [cite book | authorlink=Richard Nelson Frye | last=Frye | first=R.N | title=The Golden Age of Persia | year=1975 | isbn=1-84212-011-5 | page=62] [Tabari. Series I. pp. 2778–9.] . Later such restrictions disappeared. The Islamic prophet Muhammad had made it clear that the "People of the Book", Jews and Christians, were to be tolerated so long as they submitted to Muslim rule. It was at first unclear as to whether or not the Sassanid state religion, Zoroastrianism, was entitled to the same tolerance and some Arab commanders destroyed Zoroastrian shrines and prohibited Zoroastrian worship while others were more accepting.

Before the conquest, the Persians had been mainly Zoroastrian; there were also large and thriving Christian and Jewish communities, along with smaller numbers of Buddhists and other groups. However, there was a slow but steady movement of the population toward Islam. The nobility and city-dwellers were the first to convert, Islam spread more slowly among the peasantry and the "dihqans", or landed gentry. By the late 10th century, the majority of Persians had become Muslim, at least nominally. Most Persian Muslims were Sunni Muslims. Though Iran is known today as a stronghold of the Shi'a Muslim faith, it did not become so until much later around the 15th century. The Iranian Muslims projected many of their own Persian moral and ethical values that predates Islam into the religion, while recognizing Islam as their religion and the prophet's son in law, Ali as an enduring symbol of justice.

According to Bernard Lewis:

" [Arab Muslims conquests] have been variously seen in Iran: by some as a blessing, the advent of the true faith, the end of the age of ignorance and heathenism; by others as a humiliating national defeat, the conquest and subjugation of the country by foreign invaders. Both perceptions are of course valid, depending on one's angle of vision… Iran was indeed Islamized, but it was not Arabized. Persians remained Persians. And after an interval of silence, Iran reemerged as a separate, different and distinctive element within Islam, eventually adding a new element even to Islam itself. Culturally, politically, and most remarkable of all even religiously, the Iranian contribution to this new Islamic civilization is of immense importance. The work of Iranians can be seen in every field of cultural endeavor, including Arabic poetry, to which poets of Iranian origin composing their poems in Arabic made a very significant contribution. In a sense, Iranian Islam is a second advent of Islam itself, a new Islam sometimes referred to as Islam-i Ajam. It was this Persian Islam, rather than the original Arab Islam, that was brought to new areas and new peoples: to the Turks, first in Central Asia and then in the Middle East in the country which came to be called Turkey, and of course to India. The Ottoman Turks brought a form of Iranian civilization to the walls of Vienna…"

According to Tarikh-i Bukhara "The residents of Bukhara became Muslims. But they renounced [Islam] each time the Arabs turned back. Qutayba b. Muslim made them Muslim three times, [but] they renounced [Islam] again and became nonbelievers. The fourth time, Qutayba waged war, seized the city, and established Islam after considerable strife….They espoused Islam overtly but practiced idolatry in secret."

During the reign of the Ummayad dynasty, the Arab conquerors imposed Arabic as the primary language of the subject peoples throughout their empire, displacing their indigenous languages. However, Middle Persian proved to be much more enduring. Most of the structure and vocabulary survived, evolving into the modern Persian language. However, Persian did incorporate a certain amount of Arabic vocabulary, especially as pertains to religion, as well as switching from the Pahlavi Aramaic alphabet to a modified version of the Arabic alphabet. [cite web | url= | title=What is Persian? | publisher = The center for Persian studies]

ee also

* Islamicization in post-conquest Iran
* History of Arabs in Afghanistan
* History of Iran
* Military history of Iran
* Fall of Sassanid dynasty
* Muslim conquests
* Spread of Islam

Notes & References


* Bashear, Suliman — "Arabs and Others in Early Islam", Darwin Press, 1997
* Daniel, Elton — "The History of Iran", Greenwood Press, 2001
* Donner, Fred — "The Early Islamic Conquests", Princeton, 1981
* M. Ismail Marcinkowski, "Persian Historiography and Geography: Bertold Spuler on Major Works Produced in Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, India and Early Ottoman Turkey, with a foreword by Professor Clifford Edmund Bosworth", member of the British Academy, Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 2003, ISBN 9971-77-488-7.
* Sicker, Martin — "The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna", Praeger, 2000
* Zarrin’kub, Abd al-Husayn — "Ruzgaran : tarikh-i Iran az aghz ta saqut saltnat Pahlvi", Sukhan, 1999. ISBN 964-6961-11-8
* [ Arab Conquest of Iran] , pp. 203–10, Encyclopaedia Iranica.

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