|The Appearance of Manichaeus|
As mentioned earlier, the rule of Ardshir, began with the recognition of the Zoroastrian faith. After his death, Shapoor the 1st, his son, became king who after further expanding the realm of his father, dominated the situation. He learnt that a man named Manichaeus had risen claiming to be a prophet. Shapoor 1 received Manichaeus in court and after a few sessions fell deeply under his influence.
Manichaeus was an Iranian who was bom in Iraq in a village by the Tigris. He was familiar with Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, and by mingling these three faiths created a special creed and declared himself its prophet. After meeting Shapoor in Khuzistan and influencing him in favor of his religion, he obtained from Shapoor a directive to all his governors to allow Manichaeus and his missionaries freedom to propagate their religion.
Manichaeus rose as a reformer of the Zoroastrian religion, but he offered a set of teachings which were a combination of the ideas of Zoroaster, Christ and Buddha.
For thirty years Manichaeus and his missionaries carried out their mission, winning numerous followers until in the time of Bahram II in the year 277 Manichaeus was arrested and in a court held by the Zoroastrian high priest he was charged with heresy in religion. He was thrown in prison and after 26 days he was killed there in an atrocious manner. His skin was then filled with straw and hung in front of Bahram's court as a warning to anyone who committed heresy in religion.
The question is what led Shapoor to favor Manichaeus' religion? Historians explain that Shapoor had realised that the Zoroastrian faith did not fulfill the needs and spiritual expectations of the people, and was inadequate in satisfying their religious spirit, and for this reason he gave Manichaeus a free hand as a religious reformer.
This shows that zoroastrianism, which some people wish to revive now and make it replace Islam in some parts of Islamic lands, was as early as so many centuries before the advent of Islam, as ineffective a creed that it could not satisfy the people, and thus the king allowed a religious reformer like Manichaeus to become active.
It should be remembered that at that time a religious vacuum existed in the realm of Iran. Manichaean faith has had a strange fate and has had many ups and downs, not as much as a religion, but as a philosophy it sent ripples as far as China on the one side, and as far as Europe including England and France in the other direction but that in itself is a long story.
The Rise of Mazdak
Another interesting development from that religious viewpoint in the Sassanid period is the rise of Mazdak. In the time of Qubad, father of Anushiravan, a man named Mazdak rose with a new religion. In Mazdak's faith a new aspect of faith is discernible that did not exist in the former religions.
In Zoroastrianism attention was paid to moral aspects such as truth and honesty and spiritual matters and worship of God, and sacrifice etc., but it did not deal with rights and social problems, and not only accepted class divisions but also supported it
Thhe Manichaean faith, too, despite proposing reforms in religious matters, introduced no social changes. But Mazdak dealt with both religious and social matters. On the one hand with its inclinations towards Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity, namely towards asceticism, abandonment of carnal desires, and isolation from worldly affairs by leading an ascetic life, and with such views about social matters, Mazdak threatened the social order of the time.
About his philosophy and religion, Mazdak used to say "True bliss for human beings lies in a peaceful environment free from rancour and enmity. But the disputes and wars which occur among people are either over wealth and enjoyment of affluence, property, water, trade, capital, luxuries or over women. In order to remove these disputes altogether, wealth and women should be commonly shared.
This creed threatened the system of social class structure and quite naturally, it found numerous followers among the deprived classes. Qubad, too, as a young ruler who was opposed to the influence of priests, nobles and upper classes, and felt that their influence would hinder the proper administration of the country, supported Mazdak faith, and patronised Mazdak very strongly. In this way about the year 484 A.D.
that is about 125 years before the advent of Islam, a revolutionary religious fervour governed under which the deprived masses tore up the former bonds of class life and formalities and adopted to an extreme extent the ideas of communal sharing of everything including women and abolition of family and marriage and proprietorship,
with the result that chaos and disorder reigned everywhere, since such ideas both from the viewpoint of religion and social rights and internal politics were not acceptable to the people of that time, even though Qubad supported Mazdak to diminish the deep influence of the ecclesiastical organisation.
However, the clergy's influence succeeded in rousing people to revolt. On the other hand Mazdak's ideas, too, about family and wealth sharing were so extremist that they shook the foundations of the existing system since they were contrary to human nature. Therefore they could not endure for long, and when Anushirvan assumed power in the year 531 A.D. Mazdak was executed. His followers were scattered or destroyed, and once more the Zoroastrian faith and its priests gained dominance over the situation.
P) Conditions Prevailing in Iran at the Time of the Rise of Islam
At the time of advent of Islam the government of Iran had become strangely weak, and after Khosrow Parviz within a few years he was succeeded by several male and female rulers until Yazdgerd the 3rd assumed power.
In brief, to the east of the region of the birth of Islam there existed a vast realm with an ancient civilisation spread over twelve centuries. In Iran the central government had existed a long time and several religions appearing during this period which had exerted profound influence and found many followers had not survived for long. Neither Zoroastrianism, nor the religions of Manichaeus nor Mazdak could stand against Islam.
In that environment there was a kind of readiness and thirst for destroying the existing order both socially and spiritually, and thus Islam entered Iran in an environment that was all set to accept the new faith. Those who attribute the rapid spread of Islam to the use of the sword are not sufficiently familiar with the history of that period.
The fact of the matter is as the historians write: In most cases before the soldiers of Islam reached the cities which they had conquered, the populace would throw open the gates for them from within and welcomed them. What is certain is that Iran had fallen into a state of deterioration in all respects whether political social or religious at the time of the rise of Islam.
2) Questions and Answers
You said in your discourse that in t he present world environment there are no societies based on classes, but classes exist in a modified form. Answer:
Not in that form. In the class system certain people are explicitly told that they have not the right to even think of entering a class of an upper status. The hardest and ugliest obstacles that could be imagined exist in such systems which to put limitations on the thinking of a group.
It is true that indirect pressure has considerable effect, but the very existence of indirect pressure shows that the worth of those placed under pressure has gone up to some extent. If they tell you that you cannot directly and openly strike a person, it means that the said person's personality has grown in relation to you so that you cannot directly strike him.
Of course even today there exist indirect restrictions in the world, though term, class could not be applied to them; they might be called communities. Communities under indirect pressure do exist although these could not be compared with their previous form. You could never think of what a class society actually meant.
Unfortunately among the aristocrats in Iran, sometimes you would see the son of a farmer or villager who, despite his education and worth, is not given the chance to raise his status, simply because of his lineage. This is a vestige of those old class divisions which is a system based on man's inherent selfishness.
Therefore you can never uproot it fully, even though it's effect might diminish. Now can you imagine if such a system found legal support, how comical it would be. The existence of such a law which would prevent a farmer or tradesman from rising up to the class of warriors and that he would be punished even for entertaining such a thought, would seem ridiculous and incredible to us. They say that in India there still exists a class system.
I cannot bring myself to believe it until I saw it for myself. For us, Muslims such a situation is unthinkable; for, since our birth and growing up we have been accustomed to the concept of Islamic brotherhood and equality. But there is no doubt that there exist groups that always seek to preserve their interests in one way or another.
How did the holy Prophet write his letters? The Qur'an says that Ancient Egypt
As regards the environment attending the birth of Islam we have already discussed brightly about the Arabian peninsula, making a survey of the particular conditions prevalent in the Hejaz and Najd region. Also discussed were the eastern neighbour of Arabia, Iran and the northern neighbour, Rome. It is now intended to deal with its western neighbours, one of them being Egypt which will be discussed in this chapter.
Egypt is an ancient land about which abundant scientific research has been carried out owing to its wealth of ancient monuments and archaeological treasures that have survived intact and much has been written about them. Among the many countries engaged in such studies, Egyptology has become a leading branch in archaeology.
The monuments existing in Egypt reveals to a considerable extent, the Egyptian history for about 6500 years, a condition which is hard to find in any other part of the world. Some of the relies which are found in the tombs and pyramids (which, too, are really tombs) belong to 2000 to 4000 B.C. For instance it would suffice to mention that the first calendar found in Egypt belongs to the years 4241 to 4238 B.C. Such a find elsewhere is unlikely.
The main point of this matter is related to the tombs and the pyramids and the belief and desire of those ancient people in Egypt for building massive tombs which should remain undisturbed. The original name of this land was not 'Egypt'. Likewise the name, Egypt, and 'Aegypten' used in Persian, Arabic and European languages are not the original names of this land. Its original name of this land in local language had been 'Kemt' or 'Kemte' which meant 'black land.
The name Egypt has a Hebrew origin, and the Hebrews, namely the Israelis, gave it a name which stuck and later on took the form of 'Egypt' in Arabic. The name given to it by Europeans has a Greek root from the word Aigyptos, given to it by the Greeks after the name of one of the local kings.
In the territory of Egypt, as far as history reveals, there had existed social units since ancient times, and this condition prevailed in Egypt even in pre-historic times since the beginning of history. Villages had existed in pre-historic times as a unit of civilisation in the Nile River valley.
What should be considered is the existence of higher levels of social communities in Egypt. The central government, according to available sources, had existed for about 6500 years in Egypt, and these sources are mainly the royal tombs. Thus 6500 ago Egypt was a state having kings, rulers and a central government. Obviously where ever a central government is formed, such thins as architecture, large buildings, communications, writings, script, industry, art etc. follow.
All these things existed in ancient Egypt, since ages ago so that even a kind of medical science of a type existed in Egypt comparable with the level of Greek medicine during the years 2600 to 2400 B.C.; this information has been discovered by historians from the scripts which have been found. Chemistry, embalming and mummifying of bodies around which the science of chemistry had developed, as well as armoury, glazed tiles, ship-building and evidence of arts' industry and technical trades have been the other aspects of life about four or five thousand year's ago in Egypt.
The central government of Egypt of that time possessed a regular army, so that king Ramses II who ruled about one thousand years B.C. had a regular army and legions that he dispatched to various parts, and even hired soldiers from such countries as Libya, Turkey and Syria. It is interesting that in that age ministers managed the affairs under a central government and the king.
The king was regarded as God, a god incarnated in human body who appeared amongst the people, who regarded themselves as his servants. The priests and ministers were intermediaries between that god, or god-king and his subjects. Accordingly the 'vizier' was the contact between man and god. Of course the king was not the only god, and there were numerous other gods in Egypt, such as the god of man, god of life etc. to the extent that the god-king himself was expected to repose his faith in those gods.
Some of these gods were human, and others were non-human, the king belonging to the first group. Non-human gods had idol-temples where a number of priests served them. The priests possessed special powers; they were regarded as the greatest power in Egypt, the power of god-king included. Usually some rivalry existed between these two power centers.
In the following discussions ('elated to the manner of spread of Islam in this region, we will examine how Islam succeeded in sweeping all these away, and replace them with entirely new concepts.
b. Laws, Traditions and
Religion Laws and traditions that existed in Egypt accorded the king a divine position, but no laws about justice and equity Courts did exist which were however held by the representatives of the minister and the feudal lords to see to the claim of the subject. According to Iranian writers at that time in Egypt no laws existed even to compare with the 'Code in Chaldea and Assyria.
Among the traditions existing in ancient Egypt which seem odd to us was the legitimacy of marriage with close relatives, and even marriage between a brother and sister. This was particularly in vogue in the royal houses.
The religion prevalent in Egypt was idolatry, and, like the present day India, there seems to have existed a predisposition to idolatry which gave no ground to any other beliefs to make headway. The deviational education of the Egyptians had prepared them for receiving the religion of idolatry. In the time of the pharaohs two of these rulers who belonged to priestly families and believed in the One God, wished to propagate this faith in Egypt. This God was called 'Aton. But they were not successful in this task, and when the second pharaoh died, the people and priests joined hands and revived idolatry, and burnt the body of the second pharaoh for heresy against their formal religion.
This idol worship persisted until the third century A.D. It is noteworthy that in the third century as Christianity found its way into Egypt, in the same century the concept of Christian trinity took shape in the school of Alexandria. Thus the best and the most comprehensive and scholarly analyses and definitions of trinity were formulated in the third century A.D. in the scholarly and philosophical seminary of Neo-Platonics of Alexandria. Thus it becomes apparent that even as Christianity spread into Egypt, it accepted the form of plurality and trinity already existent in that country.
C) Government in Ancient Egypt
Egypt had passed through various periods of government, most of which had been of local rulers. Certain points here merit attention: For about one century Egypt was ruled over by Iran and since Darius and Xerxes conquered Egypt, Egypt was administered by a governor appointed by Darius to represent the Iranian government. After a time local governments took control there. Next Egypt was conquered by the Greeks and Alexander of Macedonia who built the port of Alexandria. After Alexander's death, the Ptolemies who were his followers governed Egypt for several centuries.
Then once again local governments Greek ruler exchanged power, and this struggle continued for a long time. In the time of Anushirvan, Egypt was ruled for a period of ten years by Iran. During all these periods that the imperialist powers of the age, Iran, Greece and Rome conquered Egypt, none of them were able to assert any influence there to the extent that Islam and the Arab Muslims did.
In this historical survey, one of the essential aspects is to show the degree of influence that Islam succeeded in asserting in various regions including Egypt; for, firstly the natural conditions for the acceptance of the faith of monotheism were not favourable in Egypt,
and secondly in the different periods that Egypt had been under the Iranian, Greek and Roman rule Egypt had not accepted foreign domination and nor did those foreign rulers find much stability in that land, or influence it to any extent. How did it happen, then, that for the first time when Omar dispatched only four thousand soldiers Egypt succumbed readily in 641 A.D.
when the Muslims entered Egypt the prevalent religions was mainly Christianity in the north, and idolatry with a small mix of Christianity and Judaism in the south. Since Judaism was a nationalistic faith, it did not easily spread into non-Jewish regions. Thus at the time of the rise of Islam, Egypt did not have a single faith. This was the general state of affairs in Egypt, a neighbour of the birth place of Islam.
When the prophet of Islam began to propagate his faith in Arabia, governors were ruling in Egypt whose names are mentioned in our history books. One of them was Maquqas to whom the prophet addressed a letter in the sixth year of his migration; this point will be discussed later in connection with the Prophet's letters to various kings and rulers.
In brief, Egypt had an ancient civilisation and was far ahead of Arabia from the viewpoint of science and arts etc.
It should be borne in mind that, that part of Arabia, namely Hejaz, was then at a tribal stage prior to the birth of the prophet, and had not till then attained an organised form of government, whereas Egypt had had such a government for several centuries in addition to a regular army, science, industry and was familiar with different schools of philosophy It should be added that Alexandria had been a great center of learning for nine centuries before the rise of Islam, and how did a country with such a background fell so easily to the army of Islam will be discussed later.
d) Questions and Answers
It was stated that Judaism was a nationalistic faith. What does that imply?
You know that the Jews themselves claim that Judaism was a faith brought by Moses (a.s.) to save the Israelis and they don't normally say that he came to save the people of the world. But we, Muslims, never declare that Muhammad (a.s.) came to save the Arabs. We never think like that. The Jews consider themselves as one nation, and the word 'Jew' is a tribal word meaning the nation of Jews.
What was the social environment within Egypt from the viewpoint of class divisions before the birth of Islam and during the rise of Islam?
As it was explained briefly, the roots of idolatry still dominated the life of the people. It might appear that Idolatry had no effects on everyday life, but in reality it plays an important role in shaping social conditions. As one reads in history of Egypt the Pharaohs who were named god-kings and their high priests resisted so tenaciously against the concept of monotheism.
What was the motive behind this resistance? They resisted because their vital interests were threatened, since monotheism is not just a simple idea but a new concept leading the way of human life. Thus Egypt was typical idol-worshipping country in its social life in which the rulers enjoyed absolute power and besides them were the high priests and clergy, the military and the feudal lords who exercised a relative degree of power. Egypt was wholly feudal, and even till recent times some of the towns were governed by local lords.
Slavery that existed there had the most inhuman form which has even existed in the history of the world. For every one of the stone blacks placed in the pyramids, fifty slaves lost their lives. It has been narrated about ancient Egypt bow earth works and pathways were laid out and how huge blocks of stones were pulled by a thousand slaves altogether under command of an overseer by means of ropes and pulleys and beams.
Why was all this trouble taken? Only to build a tomb for the mummified corps of a god-king and his accompaniments for the life in the hereafter, so that the Pharaoh would face no problems in his eternal life, and also to protect the tombs intact from interference of times. So many lives were wasted for the sake of a futile wish, while those slaves did not even get enough food to perform such hard labour,
just enough to keep their bodies and souls together for the performance of the labour as if so many flies had been killed off Of course the social environment in Egypt was not so severe during the last few centuries before the rise of Islam, but anyhow these were the situations the like of which, in so far as history can show,
did not exist in ancient Iran, even though exploitation of deprived classes did exist there. Slavery had its most inhuman manifestation in Egypt, whereas in Greece or Rome it never reached such a cruel and violent degree.
At the time of the rise of Islam, the internal situation in Egypt was chaotic with political unrest. The social order was shaking, though this was not the first time that Egypt was seized by such turmoil and instability. Such periods in the history of the world are discernible. We see this in the case of Iran which fell under foreign domination several times. How far did Alexander penetrate Iran?
Was the influence of Greek civilisation similar to the spread of Islamic civilisation in Iran? Are they comparable at all? Is the comparison conceivable? In the periods when Iran come under the Turks and later the Mongols, it was weakened socially and politically. From one side came the Qur'an while from the other side came the code of Chengiz.
But has anything remained of the code of Chengiz? In this context a small book has been written entitled "The Rapid Spread of Islam" is a highly readable book by an Italian lady who is a university professor.
Though the subject has not been discussed at length in this short work, yet the writer is a researcher of history who has been impressed by the rapid expansion of Islam. This point will come up for discussing later, but no other factor but the universal nature of the teachings of Islam could be the cause for its rapid spread. Even the compilers of encyclopedia of Egypt have stated that the Christians of Egypt welcomed the soldiers of Islam with open arms.
Following the rise of Islam and its movement, Christianity organised centralized authority which had no precedence, and as Islam spread with such unparalleled rapidity, was Christianity's centralisation and mobilisation intended to be used as a check?
The system of centralisation of Christianity in the prevailing form dates back to the period before Islam and is related to Constantine. The councils held by the cardinals in our time are a reminder of the great conventions which were held at that time by religious leaders in order to propagate Christianity in the world.
They reached decisions and amended procedures and all these activities were related to the days of Emperor Constantine, several centuries before Islam.
Of course as you have observed, Christianity organised itself against the influence of Islam assuming a more aggressive form. In the history of Egypt it has been recorded about ancient Rome, that the Roman Emperors during their domination of Egypt for several centuries, used Egypt as the granary for the empire.
Of course Europe of that period was a different Europe altogether. Today Europe lives in very odd conditions: it is a continent which cannot provide subsistence for all its inhabitants at the level they are used to.
If the doors of Europe were to be closed so that its own inhabitants would have to provide for themselves by the strength of their own scientific and technological efforts, and could not estimate how far their standard of living would be lowered. They employ all means fair and foul, to maintain and raise their standards of living.
In my view, a realistic view about them is that they are an active and a determined people equipped with the weapons of science and technology for raising their standards of living and protecting their position in the world by using all fair or foul means. They employ their perseverance and initiative in the most profitable manner. This is my view of Europe, a picture that you can see reflected in the past history of Europe in different shapes.
For example, the Greek were a people equipped with science and technology who invaded other lands in order to secure what they could not find in their own country to suffice their needs. Rome had a different aspect, but there, too, a similar situation existed. I have not studied the east extensively to be able to express my views about aggressive tendencies from that quarter. On the face of it the Mongol invasions would appear to be of this type, but a superficial view is not enough, especially as historians have ascribed other causes for the Mongol invasions.