Roj Dae-pa-Adar Mah Tir, 1385 Yz.
Ere had the Prophet breathed his last, and the divisions began. While his wife Aisha and his cousin and son-in-law Ali began making the preparations for Mohammad’s funeral, a group of prominent Muslims, some of whom had realized that his death was near and had hence postponed their going out of town, met at the house of a leading Ansari. Hearing of this meeting, some other close followers of Mohammad including Abu Bakr, Abu Ubaydah and Umar rushed to the meeting to ensure that the fragile unity between the Quraysh and the Ansari was not broken. At this meeting, Abu Bakr proposed the name of Umar or Abu Ubaydah to succeed the Prophet. But Umar immediately declared his fealty to Abu Bakr. Seeing this, the other leaders present also swore their fealty to Abu Bakr, who had already started leading the Friday prayers whenever the Prophet could not himself lead them.
But what about Ali, who was at the precise time washing the body of the Prophet and preparing for the funeral? At his address at Ghaddir Khumm near the end of his life, Prophet Mohammad had explicitly stated: ‘for whoever I am the Mawla (Lord, Master), Ali is his Mawla’.
The group of leaders now marched to the house of Fatima (Mohammad’s daughter and Ali’s wife, who was pregnant at that time) to see Ali and present him with this fait accompli. When Ali, who was involved in the funeral preparations and had no arms or any supporters around him at that time, saw what had happened, he kept his silence. According to the Shia version of events, Mohammad had foretold this occurrence to Ali and asked him to keep the peace. According to the Shia version, Umar threatened to burn down the house unless Ali and Fatima came out and swore allegiance to Mohammad. After some time, Umar kicked open the door, not realizing that Fatima had sat down behind it. The severe jolt of the kick caused her to miscarry her son, and also led to her death shortly.
Ali buried his wife and unborn child in private and did not swear his allegiance to Abu Bakr for six months, along with a group of his supporters who also refused their allegiance. These unfortunate turn of events, within a few hours of the passing away of Mohammad, laid the foundations for the sectarian strife in the religion. This group, called the ‘Shi’at Ali‘ or the Party of Ali, would become the genesis of Shia Islam, whereas those who swore allegiance to Abu Bakr would be known as the Ahl as-Sunna, or people of the tradition of Mohammad.
Abu Bakr succeeded the Prophet in the most difficult of times. With the personal attraction and magnetism of the Prophet no longer there, many of the Arabic tribes who had converted to Islam slowly began going back to their animistic roots. Many tribes entirely turned back on Islam, some withheld the Zakat, or Alms Tax on which the movement ran and other just became lax. The unity within the tribes for which the Prophet had worked so hard, seemed to be falling apart. Abu Bakr realized that something needed to be done to stop the religion from dying even before it could be properly established. The religion needed a common enemy, a common goal, which would unite the warring tribes and give them something worthwhile to fight about. Where go anywhere far, when the doddering Sassanian Empire, with its fabulous riches and vast granaries was but a few hundred miles away?
Abu Bakr set his sights on two goals – uniting the warring tribes and overturning the Sassanian Empire. In this objective he was fortunate to have by his side a most capable military strategist and leader called Khalid ibn al-Walid. The two first began by systematically defeating the warring tribes, one after the other, in a series of battles called the Campaign on Apostasy (Ridda Wars). The decisive Battle of Yamama in December 632 finally succeeded in getting the warring factions in control. Now the focus of the new religion shifted, from consolidation to expansion.
At the same time, Abu Bakr and his other colleagues came to the startling realization that most of the few people who had the Quran by heart had died, either of age or in battle. It was thought prudent to gather all such remaining persons and make a written copy of the book for the first time. A committee was formed under Zayd ibn Thabit and the various Sahaba (Associates) of Mohammad were called to prepare an authorized version. But here, some problems arose. Many of the individual Sahaba of the Prophet had been given verses which were specific to them, or to their clan, or to their region. In addition, the Prophet Mohammad had issued several Ahd Nameh – Covenants of Faith – statements of personal protection and the right to practice their individual faith to those who were called ‘Ahl-e-Kitab‘ ‘People of the Book’.
Of these, the most important from the Parsi perspective was the Ahd Nameh given to Dastur Dinyar, or Salman Farsi. Before his exile from Iran, Dastur Dinyar had been advised by Buzorgmehr to ensure that the safety of Iran and its religion was always maintained, whatever he might do. Keeping this request in mind, Dastur Dinyar had secured various concessions from Prophet Mohammad for the Sassanian Empire, for the Zoroastrian religion and its millions of practitioners. In a famous Hadith, Prophet Mohammad had praised the natural intelligence and scientific temper of the Zoroastrians of Iran, saying that even if the truth were hidden in the constellation of the Pleiades, the Iranians would still achieve this. (By some weird quirk of irony, this saying of the Prophet is printed on one of the currency notes of the Islamic Republic of Iran!).
This Ahd Nameh, along with those given to the Christians, the Jews and some other sects were always supposed to be enshrined in the Quran, so that the injunctions of the Prophet would always be remembered and followed. But, like many other things that happen in history which seem inexplicable, the Ahd Nameh were not made part of the authoritative Quran copy. Whether this was by accident or by design, given the future plan of Abu Bakr is arguable. But this single omission would be the reason for the torture, massacre and forced conversion of millions of Zoroastrians throughout the Sassanian Empire.
In 633, Abu Bakr directed Khalid al-Walid to invade Iraq, then the richest state of the Sassanian empire. He also sent another group to invade the Roman Empire. Abu Bakr had correctly calculated that both these giant super-powers had grown incredibly weak due to their internecine fights, their internal intrigues caused by inter-marriage and the great plague and famine which was sweeping through that part of the world, rendering millions dead. If he could give a string shake, the whole empire would collapse like a pack of cards. The question was, where and when to give that decisive shake…That would bring out the brilliance and cunning of Khalid bin-Walid.
In a series of 4 decisive battles, Khalid bin-Walid shook the foundations of the Sassanian Empire. The Battle of Chains (April 633), the Battle of River (April 633), the Battle of Walaja (May 633) and the Battle of Ulais (May 633) all went in favour of the Arabs. Then followed the crucial siege of Hira, in the last week of May 633, when this important city fell to the Arabs. This was followed by siege of the city of Al Anbar, which fell in July 633. By the end of July, following the fall of Ein ul Tamr, most of modern day Iraq was under Arab control. The slumbering giant was awakening to see someone chopping of his toes and moving steadily inward…
By some quirk of fate, Caliph Abu Bakr now asked Khalid bin-Walid to leave the Persian front and move to the Roman side, where efforts were not going so well. This decision gave the Persians some breathing space and with the best general gone, the Arabs could not hold on to their early successes. Within a short time, most of what had been lost was back in Persian control, but the situation remained incredibly dangerous and volatile. Meanwhile, Khalid bin-Walid spent the better part of 634 on the Roman front. In August 634, Abu Bakr fell seriously ill. Having seen the crisis at the time of the death of the Prophet and not wishing to repeat it, Abu Bakr had announced his successor – Umar. He requested Ali to perform his last bath (Ghusl) just as he had done for the Prophet. On 23rd August, 634, Abu Bakr died after a reign of 27 months and Umar ibn al-Khattab became the second of the Rashidun Caliphs.
In his last will and testament, Abu Bakr had asked his successor to continue with the conquests he had started. Accordingly, Caliph Umar restarted the conquest of the Sassanian Empire. An excellent military strategist as well as an intensely pious and simple man, Caliph Umar was clear as to what he wanted to do. His loyalty towards his Prophet and Islam clouded his vision. Despite his years of association with the Prophet, his mixing with the other Sahaba, including Dastur Dinyar, and his knowledge of the personal bond that Mohammad had given to Dastur Dinyar regarding the Sassanian Empire and Zoroastrians, Caliph Umar decided to go against the Will of the very Prophet he verily worshipped.
Caliph Umar knew that Prophet Mohammad had forbidden the conquest of Iran (unless Iran attacked, then the Arabs were free to retaliate) as well as any forced conversions to Islam. But in his simplicity and piety, Umar thought: ‘how will Islam ever flourish under the shadow of the giant Zoroastrian religion and its immense culture and riches?’ How will my religion spread if more than 60% of the civilized world answers to Ahura Mazda and the other to the Lord God and Jesus? Unless the backbone of these two great states is not broken, Islam will never grow.
He also knew that the military strategies of the Romans and the Persians were far superior to their own.
This zeal for Islam and its continual existence made Umar come to one startling conclusion – unless he broke the backbone of the Sassanian Empire – Zoroastrianism and its enlightened clergy, there would be no future for Islam. And so, despite being the Trustee of the Will of Mohammad, His chosen successor and a Rashidun (enlightened) Caliph, Umar began the invasion of Persia, but it would be different from the invasion thought of by Abu Bakr.
In addition to defeating the enemy, Umar commanded that all books, all books except the Quran had no reason for existence, since the Quran was the word of God. Hence whenever they went, the Islamic Army was commanded to plunder, destroy and burn all traces of Iranian culture and civilization, especially the Religious literature and scriptures.
In this manner, a pious but misguided Caliph began the invasion of Persia. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Sassanian Emperor Yazdezard and the Roman Emperor Heraclius had both come to their senses. Now in order to cement their growing friendship, which was based not on mutual respect of each other, but rather the fear of the new enemy, Heraclius offered his daughter in marriage to Yazdezard, who given the compelling circumstances of that time, accepted this deal.
Now joined by blood, both Emperors decided to group together and mount a combined attack on the rising enemy. By any standard, this would be an unequal fight – where the might and superior power of Rome and Iran combined, where the desert warriors? It would be soon over, they thought.
They were wrong. They were very wrong.
Heraclius mounted his offensive in May 636, but Yazdezard could not gather his troops in time to mount a joint offensive. This grave delay caused maximum damage. The Romans were routed in the battle of Yarmouk in August 636. Meanwhile another large Muslim army, under the command of Saad ibn Abi Waqqas marched to the Persian front and came to rest near the small town of Qadissiyah in July 636.
The Persian Army, numbering over 60,000 was commanded by the legendary general Rustam Farrokhzad.
Both sides saw each other. Saad sent an emissary to the Persian side asking them to take up Islam and surrender. The answer from the Persian side was dismissive. There was no option left. It was 15th November, 636, almost 1379 years to the day today. Something terrible was about to happen.
Readers of Frashogard, prepare to wet your eyes…
Ervad Marzban J. Hanthiram