by Dr. Iman Noroozi
The author’s main purpose in writing the book "Role of Shia in Iranian and Islamic culture and civilization” is to revisit the history of thoughts and culture of the disciples of ahl al-bayt in the world of Islam as well as in Iran and also to clarify the part this group had in molding and perpetuation of the Islamic culture. In the introduction he says that: "Efforts in depicting the role of Shiite in Iranian and Islamic culture and civilization are not made to the detriment of turning a blind eye to the part others played in establishing the lofty Islamic civilization, but these attempts are made to explain some of the values that the followers of Imam Ali created in this field. These efforts are also considered as a response to the divisive doubts and an indirect contribution to the unity of Muslims.” Velayati goes on to add that "pondering on the history of Islam indicates that since the outset of Islamic civilization in the second century, Hegria calendar, until now, various spheres of culture and civilization have never been destitute of Shia great men. This is tangible evidence on the depth of history of Shia rationalism and civility which are as old as the history of Islam.” The author highlights the central role of Iranians in following the ahl al-bayt’s sublime thoughts and creating Shia thinking and culture. He has, through irrefutable documents, spoken of Iranians’ pioneering role in promoting Shia values. In the introduction to the book, he says: "Iranians contributed greatly in this respect as they had a strong role in the totality of Islamic civilization in comparison with other nations...the efforts in compiling this book include exploration into the history of Iranian culture in order to find the roots of people’s affection towards the ahl al-bayt and the Shiite.” In this work the writer seeks to demonstrate today’s Iranian identity as a homogeneous and inseparable combination of two national and religious elements. He writes: "Before the establishment of Safavid dynasty, Iran was a disintegrated country and nearly 15 rulers governed the parts without having the determination and the competence to restore integration to Iran despite the existence of cultural integration in the country. Reestablishment of a united Iran 900 years after the dissolution of Sassanid dynasty was not an easy task. Restoring integration to Iran required redefining national identity because during those nine centuries the components of Iranian national identity had undergone drastic changes. The first and the most significant element was religion and then came the sub-religion. Except for a few who opted for Zoroastrianism, the rest settled on Islam most of whom chose the sub-religion of the ahl al-bayt-Shiite.” The author also adds that "The Safavids redefined Iranian transformed identity and accepted stateless ethnic groups as Iranians. They promoted Ashura alongside New Year celebrations, reading Shāhnāmeh as much as reading Ta’zieh, and doing religious theatres alongside traditional Iranian sports.” The fact that the author considers the Safavids as the re-creators of the Iranian-Shia identity implies that the identity has basically been present in the hearts of Iranians and is historically older than the establishment of Safavid dynasty, and the Safavids only contributed to the revival of that precious identity. He writes: "The cruelties of Umayyad Caliphates prompted Iranians to revolt against the caliphs in favor of the guardianship of the ahl al-bayt but afterwards they were deceived by the Abbasids and it took them a while to become aware again and set up independent rules in Baghdad. After the Monghol’s attacks subsided, Abbasids rule was overthrown with the help of tact and wits of several Iranian great men such as Khaje Nasir Toosi. Eventually, Iranians managed to go back to their real identity. In the heck of situation between the downfall of Abbasid Caliphate and the coronation of Shah Abbas Safavi, people’s historical stance in support of ahl al-bayt was reinforced in the face of developments and rebellions and the countenance for the ahl al-bayt stood out everywhere in Iran’s cultural geography. A large number of poets, mystics, fair and great men abandoned their conservative ideas and began to speak out about their beliefs which were either in support of Shiite or showed devotion to the ahl al-bayt. There is strong evidence indicating Iranians’ loyalty to Shiite even before the Safavids came to the throne.” Dr. Velayati deems the richness of Shia Iranian culture as the main reason behind the perpetuation of this sub-religion in the ups and downs of historical events and writes: "The strength of Iranian culture precluded the annihilation of the Iranian identity. However, this culture is flexible and void of the rigidness of other cultures and has the capacity to easily attract and digest positive and spiritual elements of other cultures...Iranians converted to Islam wholeheartedly but continued to celebrate New Year. The insistence and efforts of the people of this land in preserving their culture and language had led to the fact Farsi was the written and official language of a major part of the Ottoman government, the Uzbeks in the Great Iran in central Asia and the Gūrkānīs in India even ten centuries after the advent of Islam in Iran and the neighboring region.” He adds that: "Muslims are proud of their religion and Iranians pride themselves on their nationality and are in the quest for their historical missing link, which are the Islamic grandeur and Iranian honor, both ignored by foreigners and oblivious Iranians over the past two centuries.”
Introducing the book
The author believes that the scientific explanation of the role of Shiite in Iranian culture and civilization is carried out in two ways: first by introducing the determining role of Shia religious and scientific schools, during centuries, in developing and deepening Islamic culture and civilization and second by introducing outstanding works and contributions by leading Shia scientists and great men in various fields of science and culture. Accordingly, he divides his book into two chapters: "A history of Shia religious and scientific schools” and "methods, materials and subjects of Shia schools.”
The book opens with a discussion about the history of Shia religious and scientific schools. In the first chapter, the author focuses on the activities of Shia schools and their role in producing and promoting different sciences. The schools examined by the author based on various documents include:
Mecca religious school where the teachers were mostly pupils of the thinking school of Imam Ali, Imam Hassan, Imam Hussein and Ibn Abbass (Prophet Mohammad’s cousin), Medina religious school which was one of the first centers of education in the history of Islam, Karbala religious school which began with the passions and victory of Ashura in the year of 61 AH, and continued working with the efforts of his worshippers and Shia intellectuals, Kufa religious school that was founded by Imam Ali, after his return from Jamal war in the year of 63 AH, who also was the first teacher at the center and taught Quran, Hadith, and trained his pupils and followers, Basra religious school, established at the same time as Kufa school, by Ibn Abbass who was the then ruler of the city, along with the judge who was a loyal disciple of the Imam, Baghdad Shia school which accounted for a large portion of the activities in rhetoric and jurisprudence in Shia schools and can be considered as one of the old Shia Kalām (dialectical theology) schools in the real sense of the word, Najaf-e Ashraf religious school that was founded by celebrated Sheikh Toosi. In this chapter, the author has also paid attention to some religious schools in Yemen, Andalucía in Spain, Hillah (the capital of the Iraqi province of Babylon), Jabal Amel (an area in southern Lebanon), Jaba in Palestine, and Karak Nuh. The author has also heeded Shia religious schools in Iran including Ray school that was founded with the seizure of Qazvin by Ahmad ibn Hassan Māvāranī in 275 AH, and soon turned into one of the most important centers of intellectual and religious activities in Iran; Qazvin religious school which had for years been the cradle of scientists, theologians and knowledgeable people in Hadith; Qom religious school which became prosperous with the immigration of a large number of Imami Shia scholars from Isfahan to Qom and gradually transformed into the biggest center for Shia scholars in the world of Islam and also the headquarters for Shiite scientific leadership; Mashhad religious school which was founded by Imam Reza in the second century and attracted numerous jurisprudents and scholars of Hadith; and finally Isfahan religious school which was set up by King Abbass I after the city was named the capital of the country under Safavids and soon became an important base for Shia scholars.
In the second chapter, the writer focuses on methods, materials and subjects of Shia schools and examines subjects taught in these centers including: educational sciences, literature, hadith and studying its scholars, jurisprudence, interpretation, logic, philosophy, Kalām, mysticism, mathematics, astrology and medicine. He also studies means and educational centers, methods of education such as distance learning or attending classes, ways of becoming a scholar, and finally scientific ethics in Shia schools.
The author goes on to focus on those sciences in which Shia scholars either were pioneers or made great contributions to promote them and then presents the biographies and valuable contributions of each and every scientist in every field through the documents and evidence that he provides and then discusses their ideas and works. The segmentation of this chapter is done according to topic but the name and biography of each scholar is presented in each part based on the historical order of their lives. Each part begins with an introduction describing that field and Shia’s contribution to that field. Scientific fields examined by the author are as the following:
Natural sciences: The author focuses on the biographies and contributions of great Shia scientists in this field such as Al-Khwarizmi, Al-Birouni, Avecina, and Ismail Gorgānī.
Geography: The author aims at directing readers’ attention to the beliefs of Shia geographers to demonstrate the fact that the first scholars in geography in the world of Islam in the second and third AH centuries, Abu Abdullah Barqi Qomi and Hassan ibn Sahl, were both Shia.
History: It appears that the most difficult issue in writing the book has been to unravel who among the historians before the Safavids rule was Shia, and the hardship lies in the fact that most of the historians put pen to paper with the backing of rulers. Because of this, conservatism has been the outstanding characteristic of these historians. Therefore, in most of the articles the author has sought to find evidence in the content of the books published by these historians which can prove they were Shia. For example, in the description that Abul-fazl Bayhaqī gives about the life and execution of Hassan ibn Mohammad Mīkāl, alias Hassanak, who served as a top advisor under Mahmud of Ghazni, the author provides strong evidence that Bayhaqī was a Shia.
Literature: In this part, the author tries to present the biographies of poets and men of letters such as Bondār Rāzī and Sanāī Ghaznavi who obviously lauded Imam Ali and ahl al-bayt and denounced their enemies. The author comes to this important conclusion that Persian poets of the India peninsula like Saeb Tabrizi and Bidel (bedil) Dehlavī had both Shia beliefs and this can imply that Persian language has been the medium of expressing Shia beliefs. Shia epics like Ali-nāmeh and Khavaran-nāmeh are also introduced in this part.
Art: It is hard to discover some artists’ religious tendencies due to the scarcity of information about their viewpoints. Therefore, the author is prompted in this part to set the criterion of their presence in Shia rules as wells as bringing quotations from Imams in their artistic works or the paintings of Imams and important historical events as proof about their religion.
Mysticism: Mysticism is the smallest part of the book. The most prominent figure of this part is Sayyed Ali Hamedānī who took the religion of Shiite with him in his trips to Kashmir and central Asia. The author has also talked about the life of Jalaledin Mohammad Balkhi who is believed by some scientists like Jalaledin Homāee to have been a Shia. It is clearly true that few Shias are among mystics but the author wants the readers to pay attention to several points which should be considered in judging were the mystics were Shia or not: the first is that the nature of mysticism is mixed with admiring Imam Ali. The author says: "all mystics consider Imam Ali as a perfect man and they all wish to get their practice robe from the great Imam even if it is in their dreams.” The second reason is that some Imams have been mentioned in books written by mystics not as Imams but as mystics. For example, Attār of Nishāpur begins his Tazkirat al-Awliyā with an explanation about the life of Imam Jafar Sadegh, the sixth Imam.
Philosophy and Kalām: It is easy to distinguish who among the philosophers and scholars of Kalām were Shia because the Shias in this field have different ideas from the Sunnis. The most prominent figures of this field are al-Fārābī, Avecina, Kendi, Khaje Nasir al-Din al-Tusī, Mullā Sadrā and among the recent ones Imam Khomeini. In addition, in the Kalām section of the book, the author has discussed a group of Iranian Shias called Ikhwān al-Safā.
Soon after its publication, the book became one of the bestsellers of recent years about the scientific explanation of the role of Shiite in Iranian and Islamic culture in Iran and was translated to Arabic, Turkish, English, French and Russian. Nonetheless, the book, which provides researchers with a lot of priceless scientific material, has failed to consider several important issues. At the beginning of the book, the author should have given his definition of Shiite and clarified who, in his viewpoint, is considered as a Shia and who as a non-Shia. He should have also provided a history of the trend of Shia thinking and thoughts. This would have enriched the work and given a better chance to researchers. Secondly, the book has not discussed jurisprudents, Osulian, and interpreters. Third is that it would have been better if the author had included the topics and expression in the index at the back of the book. Fourth, in presenting the biographies of scholars and great men, sometimes prominent figures, such as Kamal Molk in art, have been excluded. Fifth, we can not definitely say whether some of the historical figures and great men in the history of Islam were Shia or not. For instance, the author considers al-Tabari as a Shia while there have been many opinions contradicting the author’s opinion. While he has insisted on his viewpoint, the author should have mentioned contradictory opinions at least in the footnotes. Sixth, there are some inconsistencies in the writing style on the book. For instance, at the beginning of biographic articles, Qamari and Hejria calendar are sometimes written as AH, to stand for After Hejrat and sometimes in the complete form of the word "Hejria.” In the references in the text, sometimes the names of books are given in the Persian form and sometimes in the usual way of the name.
Nonetheless, these small deficiencies do not belittle the work because for the preparing this book in the present form some points have been taken into considerations that are given in few similar works. For example, contrary to the common tradition, the author does not only refer to books written by Ghazi Nur allah and Sayed Mohsen Amin and but instead regards all the available sources, whether they are in favor or against his beliefs. In addition, in giving the names of references, he has with great care provided the number of the issue and page and in choosing the excerpts, he has used the most credible sources.
Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati has in his book attempted to give, through a documented and scientific explanation, an exact reply to those who either intentionally or unintentionally have tried to ignore the role of Shias in producing and promoting sciences. Writing books such as his will give a torch to researchers of the world of Islam so that from now on they will continue their efforts with more pondering and avoid falling in the traps enemies have laid for them. I hope that other researchers will also pay attention to this issue and thus satisfy the increasing passions and eagerness of young students and researchers.
For further information see Jalaledin Homaee, Molavai-nameh, Tehran, Homa publishing institute, Volume One, 2010, pages 52-56.
معرفی کتاب «نقش تشیع در فرهنگ و تمدن اسلام و ایران اثر دکتر علیاکبر ولایتی»، نوشته دکتر ایمان نوروزی
این مقاله با مشخصات زیر منتشر شده است:
Noroozi, Iman, "The Role of Shia in the Islamic and Iranian Culture and Civilization: Book Review”, Discourse, Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies, vol. 10, Nos. 1-2, Winter-Spring 2012.