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Muslim Rule in Iran
Dr. Abdur Rauf


Iran is one of the most ancient civilisations and the most famous states of the world. Up to 1934, it was known as Fāris. The present name, Iran, is derived from ‘aryana’, which means the land of the Aryans. In olden times, the frontiers of Iran and Afghanistan were different from those of the present ones. The present division and boundaries of Iran, Afghanistan and the new Muslim states of Tajkistan, Kazakhistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan were quite different those days. These areas sometimes formed part of Iran and sometimes of Afghanistan.

Iran was conquered during the reign of the second caliph of Islam, ‘Umar (rta). After that the Iranians had accepted Islam gradually. In the beginning, governors used to be appointed to run the administration. When the Abbasid movement started against the Umayyid rule Iran’s talented leader, Abū Muslim Khurasānī, played quite a significant role for its success. The two famous Irani brothers. Ya‘qūb Saffārī and Umrū Saffārī also endeavoured hard for the success of Abbasid movement. On their victory, the Abbasids greatly appreciated the services of all the three Irani leaders. They extended them special favours and official patronage. Later on, however, the Abbasids developed differences with them. They then made some futile attempts at curtailing their power and prestige in Iran.

Saffarid and Samanid Rules

The Saffarid dynasty ruled in Iran from 867 to 903. This was a purely Iranian government which had been set up as a parallel to the government in Baghdad. This dynasty conquered Khurasan Seistan, Faris, Kirman, Herat and Balakh. They caused a lot of harm to the Baghdad caliphate. Seistan used to be the capital of the Saffarids. During this period, Persian arts and sciences flourished in Iran.

The Samanid period started immediately after the Saffarids. They ruled up to 999. The Samanid state was founded by Asadu’l-Dīn Samanī, a chief of Balakh. The Samanid sided the caliph Māmūn when he was trying for caliphhood. After assuming power, the caliph patronised Asad quite liberally. He appointed his four sons as governors of Samarqand, Farghana, Shish and Herat.

This measure enhanced power and prestige of the Samanid dynasty. Nasr and Ismā‘īl, the two grandsons of Asadu’l-Dīn Samani succeeded as rulers of the Samanid state one after the other. Ismā‘īl extended the state by conquering several territories of Khurasan and Mawara an-Nahr. The Abbasid caliph, Mustazid, had acknowledged him as a king.

Nasr I and Nasr II have been two famous rulers of the Samanid dynasty. Bukhara used to be the capital of the Samanid dynasty those days. Persian arts and sciences flourished in Bukhara and Samarqand. This period marks the origin of Persian poetry. Rudki was the most famous poet of the Samanid period.

Ghaznavid State of Iran

The fifth ruler of the Samanid dynasty, ‘Abdu’l-Malik, had appointed one of his servants, Alaptagin as governor of Khurasan. Alaptagin, however, set up his own independent state in Ghazni. Alaptagin was succeeded by his son-in-law, Sabuktagin and then in 997 by his own famed son, Mahmud.

Mahmud Ghaznavi defeated the Samanid king, Elig Khan and annexed his territory to his state. The Ghaznavid state at that time comprised Afghanistan, Khurasan, Seistan and eastern Iran. Sultan Mahmud was a talented youth, a staunch Muslim and a daring ruler. He conducted a series of seventeen successive raids on India. The first raid took place in 1001, during which some border areas were conquered. In 1002, he defeated the Indian Hindu Raja, Jai Pal, near Peshawar. He conquered Multan in 1005. In 1008 he penalised Anand Pal’s son, Jai Pal, for a breach of treaty. He captured Thanesar in 1012. The Sultan invaded Kashmir twice. In 1018, he reached as far as the river Jamna and invaded Qanuj. He raided Lahore in 1021 and defeated Raja Bhim Sen. Punjab was annexed to the Ghaznavid state and a governor appointed there. In 1021, he made the Hindu Raja of Gawaliar his tax-payer.

In 1026, Mahmud Ghaznavi invaded India for the sixteenth time. This invasion has a great historic significance. There used to be a big Hindu temple at Somnat in India’s city of Kathiawar. The temple housed a huge idol. When the Sultan was about to break the idol, the priests fell at his feet, imploring him not to break their idol. They offered him huge amounts only if he spared their idol. Not the least moved by greed of the luring offer, the Sultan told them that he had come to India to put an end to idolatry rather than amass wealth. However, when he smashed the idol to pieces he found that a huge stock of wealth and precious jewels had been stored inside it. The Sultan’s seventeenth and the last raid was against the unruly Indian Jats who had vexed his troops while returning from the Somnat expedition.

The entire life span of the great Sultan was devoted to jihāds. He died in 1030. By that time the Ghaznavid state had expanded from Khazar Sea and Iraq upto river Ganges and from Aral Sea and Mawara al-Nahr up to Abraian Sea, Sind and Rajputana.

Pehlavi Dynasty and ‘White Revolution

Besides the Samanids, different other states also come into being in Iran, e.g: Saffavids, Qacharids, Pehlavis, etc. All of these states came to their end one after the other. Of these the Pehlavi rule was the last surviving symbol of the Iranian monarchy.

In 1925, when Ahmad Qāchār was sacked a military chief, Rada Khan, adopted the title of Pehlavi and claimed himself to be the emperor of Iran. The country made a fair amount of progress during the reign of Rada Shāh Pehlavi. His rule heralded the era of modernisation. Commerce and industry flourished and a national bank was established. During the past, Russia and Britain had been launching repeated attacks on Iran with the intention of usurping its territories. As a preventive measure against this, a mutual defence pact was concluded in 1937 between three Muslim countries: Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey.

In 1941, Rada Shāh abdicated in favour of his son, Muhammad Rada Shāh Pehlavi. During World War II Russian, British and American troops entered into Iran in pursuance of their own interests. After the war, the British and the American troops withdrew. The Russian troops, however, lingered on. Eventually, even they had to quit Iran in compliance with UN Security Council resolution of May, 1946. During the post-war period, a gigantic revolution took place in Iran under the leadership of Muhammad Rada Shāh Pehlavi. This is known as ‘the White Revolution’.

From Monarchy to Democracy

Muhammad Rada Shāh Pehlavi was the last emperor of Iran. He did quite a lot for Iran’s development. However, being indifferent to Islam, he got entangled too deep into the traps of nationalism, patriotism, sectarianism, etc. He took more pride in being an Aryan rather than in being a Muslim. The Iranian masses, however, were zealous Muslims. Consequently, the emperor failed to command any genuine respect or regard from his people.

Meanwhile the popularity of the famous religious leader in exile, Imam Ayat Ullah Ruh Ullah Khomeni, went on increasing day by day. Eventually, Imam Khomeni returned home in 1979 and toppled emperor Pehlavi’s government. Iran was declared an Islamic Republic. The deposed emperor managed to escape from Iran. After remaining in exile for sometime, he eventually died of cancer in 1980 in a military hospital in Egypt.

Immediately after coming into power, Imam Khomeni and his political party initiated a series of revolutionary reforms in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite bitter opposition from the hostile west and anti-Islamic forces, Iran began to register spectacular progress. Unfortunately, however, the Iraq-Iran War broke out in 1982. This gave a severe set-back to life and economy of both the Muslim states. The war was brought to an end in 1989 after a great deal of effort by several friendly states. The war had cost about one hundred million dollars a day to both the sides. In addition to multifarious devastations, it killed 20,00,000 Muslims.

Imam Khomeni had no doubt succeeded in staging a revolutionary transition from hereditary monarchy to Islamic democracy. But the Iraq-Iran War dragged Iran, as also Iraq, into some really serious social and economic crises. The present Iranian government is now engaged in overcoming all such crises and emergencies.

(Extracted from ‘History of Islam’)

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