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The Arab conquest of Iran and the start of its process of Islamization – a major watershed in world history and the event which marked the end of the ancient period in the country’s history – was the upshot of a combination of political, social and economic factors, some of which are yet to be subjected to in-depth investigation, one that may prove impossible as regard all the various dimensions of the subject. The difficulty of this analysis is mainly owing to the fact that the information about the conquest of Iran and its Islamization is based on sources produced by Muslims, Arab as well as Iranian, sources that are authored from the tendentious perspective of conquerors.
The paucity of countervailing sources of information – those that are lost and those that were never produced to begin with – precludes the possibility of comparison between the Islamic sources and those authored on the conquest and Islamization of Iran by historians of other orientations. Thus, the determination of the veracity of the massive body of existing reports on the subject is contingent upon a comparison of the various sources of the Islamic period, minute analysis of their seemingly trivial details, close attention to the clear outcomes of the events about which the sources have exaggerated, glossed over, or provided contradictory accounts, and finally taking into account the overall historical conditions of the period. What is clear about the political and social conditions of Iran in the eve of the Muslim conquest is that the later years of the Sasanid period made the need for a fundamental change in the Iranian society inevitable, an eventuality which was no doubt a welcome development to the people of the country. The widening class division, the religious strife and the suppression of the adherents of creeds other than that of the country’s official religion, the avarice and corruption of the clerics and their interference in the affairs of the country, the deterioration of the 400-year-old Sasanid regime, with decades of futile military conflicts with its Roman rival, the erosion of the administrative system, to the point that after Khosrow II in a brief period the throne was occupied by ten different claimants, the infighting within the aristocracy and among the vassals, and the lightening force of enthusiastic Arabs who were prodded by the harsh conditions of daily life in Arabia as well as the promise of victory over the Khosrows and Caesars given them by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) were factors whose combined force paved the way for the domination of Iran by Arabs, who managed to conquer, within some three decades, the vast parts of the Sasanian Empire, from west to east and from south to north. The analysis of the penetration and spread of Islam in Iran calls for the drawing of a clear picture of the political map of the region in the 7th century AH as well as an elaboration of the developments of the period resulting from the Perso-Roman wars and the fall of the Mundhir dynasty, all of which led to the fall of the Sasanids and the victory of the Muslims. Likewise, to conjure up a true picture of the spread of Islam in Iran, which was initiated with the Arab invasion of the country, is impossible without a closer examination of the background of the invasion which would provide the mode of the penetration of the new religion and its acceptance by the population.
During the years of the Sasanid reign (3rd cen. AH) there began a gradual migration of Iranians and Persian garrisons, run by aristocratic Iranian families, into the regions of Mesopotamia, which resulted in the birth of a defensive line made up of a series of garrison cities including `Ayn al-Tamr, Qadisiyyah, Hirah, Anbar, Sanjar, Tikrit, Bih Ardashir and Kaskar, in addition to the oases known as `Uyun al-Taff. However, the strongest factor contributing to the domination of the region by the Sasanids and one which acted as the buffer against the invasions of the Bedouin Arabs and the forces of the Roman Empire into the western flanks of the Persian territory was the existence of the Arab Mundhir dynasty and its allied tribes, such as certain branches of Bani Taghlab, Rabi`ah, Tayy and Ayyad. In the south, apart from Bahrain which was under the direct administration of the Iranian officials and which was populated by the allied Arab tribes of `Abd al-Qays and Banu Bakr, Yemen was a major sphere of Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula, whose Persian population dated from the period of the region’s occupation by Ethiopian forces and continued into the Islamic era, when it played a major role in the events of the riddah and the conquest of Iran.
Toward the later part of the 6th and the early part of the 7th centuries, a number of events brought major transformations to the region. First was the series of rebellions against Khosrow Parviz orchestrated by Bahram-i Chubin, Bunduyah and Bastam, which were put down thanks to the assistance given to the Iranian emperor by his Roman rivals. However, his ambitious and ill-conceived attack against the latter, which resulted in his conquest of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Armenia and Asia Minor, led to a destabilization of the Sasanid government. This is borne out by the fact that in spite of his victory over the Christian Rome, following the defeat of the Arabs by the latter, he foresaw the change in circumstances – as reflected in the Qur`an (Rum, 30: 1 – 8) – and decided to pull back his army to Ctesiphon in the face of the advancing forces of Heracleitus. Another concomitant event of crucial import was the fall of the Mundhir dynasty of Hirah and the capture and subsequent murder of Nu`man b. Mundhir at the hands of Khosrow Parviz, which resulted in a battle between the Iranians and the Bani Shayban fought at Dhuqar, where the latter reduced the forces of Khosrow Parviz through the assistance they received from a number of Arab tribes, previously allied with Iran. The defeat of the mighty Persia, which must have occurred in 604 AH (610 AD), injected the Arabs with such sense of glory and pride which they wove many legends about it and composed a huge body of heroic poetry in which the event was dubbed as the “best of times”.
The victory broke the myth of invincibility of the Persians and prompted the Arabs to launch a series of excursions into the Iranian territory, a development made possible by the extinction of the buffer zone created by the former Mundhir dynasty. There exists a report from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to the effect that “the Arabs exacted a revenge on Iranians at Dhuqar”. Other events leading to the eventual demise of the Persians included the mounting wave of attacks on the eastern and northern parts of the Iranian territory by semi-barbarous nomads, the plague of 628 AD, and the flood resulting from the overflowing of the Tigris, which exacted a heavy toll on the Sasanid regime.
This period coincided with the consolidation of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) base in Medina and the gradual spread of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Following what came to be known as the Peace of Hudaybiyyah, Khosrow Parviz was among the sovereigns who were sent letters of invitation to Islam. Khosrow’s response was to order Badhan, his vassal in Yemen, to go to Hijaz and bring to him the person of the new prophet. However, when Badhan received the news of the death of Khosrow Parviz by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) he and his Yemeni subjects came to embrace the new religion, however, the Iranians of the region refused to relent and send their dues (jizyah). It is reported that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) retained Badhan in his position and that other Iranians came to assume the throne of Yemen, such as `Amir b. Shahr, Shahr b. Badhan, Firuz Daylami and Dadawayh.
In the aggregate, following the death of Khosrow Parviz Iran plunged headlong into chaos. The military defeats brought about by his ill-conceived designs, the popular discontent, and the religious persecutions carried out by the Magi, especially those against the Manichaeans, Mazdakites and Christians, had all come to show their deleterious effects on the life of the country. The wholesale massacre of the Sasanid princes by Shiruyah aggravated the situation and eliminated the only individuals who may have played a role in ameliorating the predicament. In the midst of this chaos the Arab tribes of the southwestern parts of the country and the cultivated areas of Iraq (Sawad) took advantage of these unsettling times and expanded their excursions into the Iranian territory, ravaging the rural areas. The riddah insurrections and the rebellion of the Musaylamah date from this period, whose significance is owing to the fact that in addition to marking the beginning of the interference of newly converted Iranian Muslims in Yemen, it is the first time that the Arabs are inspired with the idea of launching a war of conquest against the southern and southwestern parts of Iran. In the course of these conflicts and rebellions, the Iranian converts proved their loyalty to their newly adopted religion by taking an effective part in the suppression of the insurrections led by Aswad and the heretic supporters of Musaylamah. At the same time, Khalid put to rest the issue of the heretics of Yamamah and was ordered by Abu Bakr to head for Iraq. Other reports indicate his visit to Medina before being dispatched to Iraq by the caliph. However, the reason behind Khalid’s mission to engage in hostilities in that region is yet to be made clear. One such conjecture would be to assume the move as having been a preemptive action against Iran in the sense that the leaders of the nascent Muslim nation were intent on rallying their people under the single banner of Islam as well as to subdue the opponents and heretics, objectives which were inevitably to come into clash with the regional interests of the Persian Empire. On the other hand, the suppression of a number of pro-Iranian Arab tribes, such as Bani Hanifah, during the period of riddah provided a better opportunity for the Arabs of Bani Shayban and Bani `Ajal to launch attacks on the Iranian territory. In fact, the head of the former, Muthanna b. Harithah, managed to achieve considerable victories which earned him much fame and allowed him to secure Abu Bakr’s permission to organize attacks on the Iranian territory from his base in southern Iraq. Harith was later ordered by Abu Bakr to place his forces under the command of Khalid, upon the latter’s arrival in the area. Contradictory reports are legion with regard to these events as well as to the initial phases of the invasion of Iran by Khalid and other Arab commanders. This much may be gathered that the first cities in the Sawad region to come to terms with Khalid were those of Banqiya, Barsuma and Alis. Qabisah b. Ayas Ta’i and other well known leaders of Hirah also decided to conclude peace treaties with the Muslim commander and pay tribute (jizyah). Khalid proceeded to defeat the Iranian border commander (marzban), Haqir, in the battle of Dhat al-Salasil and capture Ablah. However, in order to conquer the entire territory of Hirah, he was finally compelled to engage in several military encounters against the Iranian forces and their Arab Christian allies. The fall of Hirah, the flight of its marzban, Azadbeh, and the defeat of the Iranians, headed by Farrukh Bundad, paved the way for the conquest of the northern and western municipalities of Hirah. The dihqans (the Iranian feudal nobility) of the region gradually came to strike agreements with Khalid and conceded to pay tribute, provided they get to retain their lands while surrendering to the Muslims those belonging to the Khosrow.
At this time, Khalid decided to call the Iranian governors and leaders of Mada’in to Islam. He also managed to conquer `Ayn al-Tamr. The Iranians captured and sent to Medina may be assumed to have been the first of their countrymen suffering captivity in Hijaz. Some of these same Iranians became the progenitors of great Muslim personages, such as Sirin, the father of Muhammd b. Sirin, Yasar, the grandfather of Muhammad b. Ishaq, and Nasir, the father of Musa b. Nasir. Khalid’s victories continued unabated until he was appointed to the governorship of Syria on the order of the caliph `Umar b. Khattab. In Medina, `Umar managed to barely put together an army to be sent on a march against Iran, headed by Abu `Ubayd b. Mas`ud. At the same time, Rustam Farrukhzad, who had taken over the reins of the Iranian administration on behalf of Puran, mustered a force and stirred the dihqans of the Sawad against the Arabs. The Iranian army and its insurgent supporters failed to halt the advance of the combined forces of Abu `Ubayd and Muthanna who continued their march up to the eastern shores of the Euphrates to a locality known as Qass al-Natif, where in an encounter which came to be known as the battle of Jasr, the Arabs suffered a crushing defeat, in which Abu `Ubayd was killed (Ramadhan 13 AH). The battle of Jasr resulted in a serious reversal for the Muslims who were forced to relinquish vast tracts of their newly conquered lands. None the less, the Iranians failed to break any fresh ground as a result of their victory. The defeat caused `Umar not to make any mention of Iraq for a long time to come. Finally, he dispatched an army, headed by Jurayd b. `Abd Allah b. Bijli and Muthanna, who managed to make good the defeats suffered by Muslim forces at Buwayb (Yawm al-Nadilah) and who captured the hitherto lost territories and gained new ground in the regions of Hirah and Kaskar. This coincided with the coming to the Iranian throne of Yazdegerd, who succeeded in bringing a semblance of order to the domestic affairs of the country. `Umar had decided to pay a personal visit to Iraq, but finally sent Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas in his stead. In the meantime, Muthanna passed away and Sa`d pitched camp at Qadisiyyah and sent emissaries to open negotiations with Yazdegerd or, according to some reports, with Rustam Farrukhzad, who had deployed his forces nearby. Sa`d offered three options to the Iranians: war, conversion to Islam, or payment of tribute. It is said that Rustam was reluctant to engage the Muslim army and that he was eager to achieve a negotiated settlement. To the contrary, Yazdegerd was bent on war and thus Rustam decided to set up camp in Sabat, while being pessimistic about the outcome of the events. There are widely divergent reports with regard to the number of Iranian forces and the chronology of the events. It, however, is clear that the Arabs dealt a crushing defeat to the Persians, during which Rustam was killed, and they marched toward Mada’in, while extending their control over the lands encompassed by the Tigris and Euphrates. According to a decree by `Umar, the inhabitants of the cultivated areas (Sawad) of the region were allowed to retain their properties and pay jizyah, a fact that was instrumental in their later desire to embrace Islam. In any event, following the conquest of Bahrsir, Muslims succeeded in entering Mada’in. Several factors contributed to the Iranian defeat at Qadisiyyah, including the domestic unrest in Iran, the reluctance of Rustam Farrukhzad to engage the Muslim army, the depth of fear that Arabs had struck in the hearts of their enemies, bolstered by the news of the Roman defeat in Barmuk, and the non-participation of the dihqans of the Sawad as a means of safeguarding their lands from being confiscated as spoils. The fall of Mada’in and the flight of Yazdegerd marked the advent of Islam in Iran proper, the vast tracts of which was conquered peacefully while others were subdued by force. The battle of Qadisiyyah was followed by those of Jawla and Halwan. The latter engagement was carried out with Iranian assistance since, following the conquest of Halwan, Qa`qa` b. `Umar appointed as its ruler a certain Khurasanian by the name of Qubad, about whom there exists no information.
In the aftermath of these events there came to reign a period of relative calm, owing to the fact that `Umar was satisfied with the conquest of the Sawad and considered further advances as unnecessary, until an unexpected development sparked another conflagration which resulted in the eventual fall of the Persian government. `Ala’ b. Hadrami, who was intent on outperforming Sa`d, in terms of achievement and fame, marched to Bahrain, without having secured the permission of the caliph, and dashed through Khuzistan in order to reach Istakhr, in Fars. There his forces were trapped by the Iranians, who deprived him of the opportunity to retreat. `Umar sent a contingent to his assistance, headed by `Aqabah b. Ghazwan. Hurmuzan, who in the aftermath of the battle of Qadisiyyah had been appointed as the governor of the Fars province and who had been engaged in gathering sufficient men and supplies, made several attempts at deflecting the Muslim attack which proved of no avail. The Muslims succeeded in capturing Ramhurmuz and Shushtar, in the course of which Hurmuzan was caught and sent to Medina (17 or 20 AH). Shush, Jundishapur and Tuj were also conquered by peaceful as well as by forceful means, until the fall of the small city of Marzban led to the Muslim control of large sections of Fars. The remnants of the Iranian army came together in Nihawand for another attempt to halt the Arab advance, which came to naught in spite of the death of the Muslim commander, Nu`man b. Maqran.
The battle of Nihawand, which came to be referred to by the Muslims as fath al-futuh (the victory of victories), was the swansong of the Iranian resistance, for henceforward Muslim forces embarked on a major offensive which witnessed the capture, peaceful and otherwise, of several provinces and cities including the remainder of Fars, Hamadan, Azerbaijan, Riyy, Isfahan and Khurasan. Some of these locales, such as Riyy, were captured with the assistance of the Iranian population or rulers in rivalry with one another.
Sources contain conflicting reports with regard to the precise chronology and details of these conquests, since many of them were compiled years after the actual event and several cities changed hands a number of times, a fact that resulted in confusion as regards the date of their initial capture.
Once the Arabs succeeded in subduing the province of Jibal (the land of Mad), they used it as a platform to take their arms into the eastern and northeastern areas of Iran, for which they also took advantage of their bases in Fars and other southern regions. Though, at times, their march was halted by various military encounters and acts of rebellion, they managed to bring under their sway the entire regions of Sistan, Kirman and Khurasan, and to make inroads into Transoxiana. Thus was completed the conquest of a major part of the Iranian territory, all the way to the Jayhun (Amu Darya, Oxus). However, a string of rebellions and insurrections, underpinned by various national and religious motivates, continued for a long time to come, especially in the southern and eastern provinces, and later in the north, which became a stronghold for the Kharijites, `Alawites and sundry Iranian national movements.
The thrust of the reports on the fall of the Sasanid Empire and the Islamization of Iran point to two major factors which contributed to this turn of events: the retreat of the officials, aristocrats, dihqans, and even Magi in the face of the torrent of invading Muslims, and their disaffection with the reigning regime. The anti-Arab rebellions which broke out throughout the course of the invasion did little to halt the advance of Islam, slow as it may have been in its initial phases. In fact, Iranian themselves soon took an active part in the propagation of the new creed, as well as in the expansion of various branches of its sciences. They even excelled in the development of caliphal system of administration, to which they were an integral part. The cooperation provided by the Iranian aristocrats to the Arabs not only allowed them to hang on to their life and property, it enabled them to enjoy the fruits of their conquests and secured them a high social and political status within the newly established community. Sources provide numerous instances of hatred harbored by the military, the officials and the religious leaders against Yazdegerd. These included the treasonous behavior of Jawidah in Jawla, as a means of saving his life and wealth; the assistance provided to Hadhifah b. Yaman by Hirbad Nihawand in the plunder of Khosrow’s treasury at Nakhjiran; the collaboration of a certain dihqan in Niyshabur, who intended to save himself the burden of tribute, with the Muslim forces engaged in the reduction of the city; the submissive behavior displayed by a number of Iranian emirs in the Sawad toward Muslims, including that of Hirad Darabgard; and the cooperation of the border governor of Tus in return for the retaining of his post.
Even in Qadisiyyah the king’s special guards threw in their lot with the Muslim forces and provided their assistance in the capture of Mada’in and the battle of Jawla, and, in all likelihood, in the conquest of several cities in Khuzestan and Fars.
In the last days of Yazdegerd’s reign, his allies broke with him and took possession of his royal treasury and handed it to the Arab commander, Ahnaf b. Qays, who gave them a share of the spoils. This event provides a vivid picture of the disarray and rivalry, among the rulers, which came to overcome many Iranian cities in the course of the Arab invasion and the Islamization of the country. Riyy was captured through the collaboration of Abu ’l-Farkhan, who was kept in power by the Arabs. The Iranian commanders of Isfahan also sided with the Muslim forces in the sack of the city. In the eastern areas as well, the cooperation provided to the Muslims by such high-ranking Sasanid officials as Bihmanah, Kinarang and Muhuyah, the governor of Marw, in return for keeping their positions and not having to pay tribute, facilitated the advance of Arab armies. The latter is reported to have had a meeting with Imam `Ali (PBUH). This accommodating attitude prompted `Umar to include Iranians in the list of those who were to receive gifts form his newly established Diwan al-`Ataya (the Gift Register), a fact that further endeared Iranians to the Muslim cause. Henceforward, any Iranian siding with the Muslims in conflicts and the conquest of territories became the subject of `Umar’s magnanimity. Even those who did not embrace the new creed were exempted from having to pay jizyah. It is reported that this policy was first initiated based on a recommendation by Shahrbaraz, the ruler of Bab, though it is reported that in the peace agreement concluded during the conquest of Azerbaijan – prior to the invasion of Bab – it was stipulated that in case of their cooperation Iranians were to be exempted from paying tribute.
A close examination of the peace treaties concluded between Muslims and Iranians who did not initially convert to Islam reveals a number of significant points regarding the tolerance displayed by the early Arab conquerors and the collaborative stance adopted by Persian populations. These agreements stipulate that the inhabitants of the cities may continue to practice their religions and retain their temples and properties, while conceding to pay jizyah, or choose to leave their place of residence, provided they did not rose in opposition to Muslims. The early peace treaties of Tabaristan, Damawand and Khwar are especially interesting, since their Iranian rulers, Ispahbad and Musmughan, agreed not to allow any anti-Arab forces in their territories, while Muslims also consented not to enter the said areas. Muslim forces engaged in military operations were prohibited from shedding the blood of women, children, and the elderly and the blind, and their commanders had the authority to enter into peace negotiations at any stage of the conflict. However, with regard to the prisoners of war attitudes were not uniform and depended on the circumstances. `Umar was especially adamant about refraining from inhumane conduct, such as mutilation of the enemy soldiers or the slaughtering of children.
Throughout the course of the conquests, prior to launching a military attack on a particular region or city, the Arab forces would provide the population, especially the ruling class, with two alternatives to war: conversion to Islam, or paying of jizyah. Once a territory was subdued, a group of Muslims was permanently settled there with the task of propagating Islam among the people of the area, such as was done by Walid b. `Aqabah following his conquest of Azerbaijan. Invitation to Islam was, at times, carried out by the caliphs, viziers, or government officials. A case in point was Ashras b. `Abd Allah Salmi who, in 110 AH, embarked on a mission to spread Islam in Khurasan and who managed to convert a large number of people. Another example was a group of rulers and royals of Tabaristan who were extended invitations to embrace Islam by the caliph and his vizier. Harun al-Rashid played a direct role in the conversion of a number of people from Tabaristan and Fadl b. Sahl embraced Islam through the efforts of Yahya Barmaki. Ma’mun held regular sessions of disputation among the adherents of various creeds, one of whose clear objectives must have been to prove the superiority of the Islamic religion. The new Iranian converts (mawali) also turned into fervid missionaries for the new religion, so much so that they criticized the conduct and policy of the caliphal government based on the Islamic tenets, which at times resulted in their sever censure owing to the government’s contravention of the standards set in the Qur`an.
With regard to the relationship between Islam and the existing religions of Iran during the period of the conquests, reference may be made to a report about the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in which he deals with the Zoroastrians on a par with the rest of the People of the Book, and orders others to do likewise. Therefore, from the early days of the conquests, the Zoroastrian population, apart from having the option to convert to Islam, pay jizyah, or fight, was also allowed to leave the area under Islamic administration, a point explicitly referred to in a number of peace treaties. Thus, in the early days of Arab invasion, some Zoroastrian groups opted for new places of residence, while others, who preferred the Arabs’ treatment to those of their Zoroastrian priesthood, embraced the new creed. There were others who chose to pay tribute, whose collection was based on an equitable system and which provided them with safety in terms of their lives and properties as well as the opportunity to freely practice their religion. The latter remained in their pre-invasion locales and provided the basis for the long-term survival of Zoroastrianism in many areas of the country. This mode of treatment of the Zoroastrian community remained intact during the era of the first four caliphs, however, with the advent of the Umayyads, there came a period of persecution of Zoroastrians, where their religious leaders were killed and their fire-temples were destroyed.
None the less, at the close of the above period, there were officials such as Khalid b. `Abd Allah Qasri who displayed such high degree of tolerance that they gave prominence to Zoroastrians over Muslims. On the other hand, there are reports about the harsh treatment of certain groups of Zoroastrians who opted for immigration as the only reasonable option. At the same time, the new Zoroastrian converts were persecuted by their erstwhile coreligionists. As regards fire temples, they remained standing in places which were conquered peacefully or where the old governor was left in place, otherwise their fate was one of destruction. For instance, in the peace treaty of Azerbaijan, it was explicitly stated that fire temples were to be left intact. Of course, in time, many of the surviving fire temples were also demolished. Zoroastrians, like the followers of other religions, took part in religious disputations. The book of Gunjishkak Abalish, in Pahlavi, contains accounts of such sessions in the presence of Ma’mun. In the 3rd century AH, there appeared a host of Zoroastrian polemical works, devoted to the rejection of other religions, such as Shkand Wimanik Wichar, written by one of the followers of Farrukh, which defends Zoroastrianism at the expense of other religions, while it lambastes the Arabs and nostalgically hopes for the return to the glorious days of the past. However, the relentless march of Islam dashed any dreams of such reversal, a fact that prompted the likes of Bih Afarin in Khurasan to attempt to strike a synthesis of Islam and Zoroastrianism. Interestingly, Bih Afarin was rebuffed by the members of his own sect, who pleaded to Abu Muslim to rise to his opposition. In time, there came a resurgence of ethnic sentiments and a drive to independence which compelled many Iranian rulers to return to the erstwhile religion and attempt to pave the way for its revival. A prominent example was Maziyar b. Qarin, the governor of Mazandaran, whose father, Qarin, had rejected the offer of conversion extended to him by the caliph.
At the time of the spread of Islam among the Arab tribes of Rabi`ah and Mudar in Iraq, there also thrived in the region the three religions of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Mazdakism. At the beginning of the Arab onslaught, the Christians, who were deeply disaffected with the Sasanid regime and who may have secretly hoped for the success of the invaders, chose to refrain from taking part in the hostilities and scrambled to save their lives and belongings. The Christian Arab tribes, who were the allies of the Sasanids, were also easily wooed by the invading Arabs, who resorted to the ethnic factor. For instance, upon Khalid b. Walid’s entrance into Hirah, among the first to conclude peace agreements with him were such Christian leaders as `Abd al-Masih b. `Umar and Azudi, who also consented to provide the Muslim forces with intelligence on Sasanid activities. Though, there is a paucity of sources with regard to the conversion of non-Zoroastrian Iranians, the scarce evidence points to the speedy rejection of Christianity by its followers in Fars and other regions. None the less, the conversion of the Christian population proved to be a protracted process. There are reports regarding the conversion of certain prominent Christian leaders in the 3rd and 4th centuries AH. Though, the Christian accounts of these conversions have come to be surrounded by much fiction, one should not gloss over the significance of social and economic factors in the making of such decisions.
At the same time, the Manichaeans and Mazdakites, who had been the subject of the worst persecution by the Sasanid priesthood, came to breathe a sigh of relief in the aftermath of the Muslim rule. Reports indicate the existence of Manichaean communities in Iraq and Khurasan throughout the first half the 1st century AH. The existence of a variety of sects among these Manichaeans is a clear indication of the religious freedom they enjoyed. However, in time, Manichaeism and its various sects were outlawed as heretical innovations. With regard to the Islamization of Iran – apart from the previously discussed case of Badhan, the Iranian governor of Yemen – it may be broadly noted that the process initiated with the conversion of the upper classes, including the military commanders, the governors, the aristocracy, and the dihqans, and later filtered through to the rest of the populace. The Islamization of the Iranian upper classes began in the early days of the conquests, which included those who had traveled to Fars province from Isfahan. In fact, the governor of Marw al-Rawd surrendered his rule to Ahnaf b. Qays at the behest of a number of Iranian aristocrats. In the region of the Caucasus, the ruler of the city of Buraz was the first in the area to surrender and convert to Islam. The people of Qazwin were among the first population to give in peacefully and to embrace the new religion. The reports indicate that the process of Islamization progressed at a faster pace in the western parts of the country. It is said that, during the caliphate of Imam `Ali (PBUH), when Ash`ath took over the governorship of Azerbaijan, he found a predominantly Muslim population. Many rulers and dihqans converted to Islam in return for retaining their positions and properties, however, there were other motives behind such acts. For instance, in 46 AH, the people of Sistan were prompted to embrace Islam owing to the justice exhibited by the Muslim ruler of the region, just as in Fars where the rule of its governor was likened to that of Khosrow Anushirwan. The good conduct of the governor of Khurasan, Asad b. `Abd Allah, who displayed a dignified demeanor toward the nobility of the province, caused a large portion of the population to convert to Islam. For instance, Saman Khudat was converted through the direct mediation of the governor. Undoubtedly, the conversion of dihqans prompted their subordinates to follow suit. Though, it has been reported that the dihqans, who were intent on clinging to their aristocratic heritage, looked upon such conversions with disapproval, since such acts made them de facto equals of their servants. This induced a group of Khurasani dihqans to ask the governor to collect jizyah from their peasants as a means of dissuading them from conversion to Islam. It is a fact that social and economic incentives, such as the desire to avoid the payment of jizyah and the social stigma attached to it, played a major role in the conversion of the masses to the new religion, such as the population of the city of Buraz, who chose Islam over the indignity of having to pay jizyah. In time, the increasing trend of conversion began to negatively impact the revenue of the Islamic government, therefore, the caliph, Hajjaj, issued a decree according to which the new converts were still obligated to pay jizyah, an order which was rescinded by `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz, resulting in the rise in the number of conversions. In the past also when Mughayrah offered Rustam Farrukhzad the two options of war and conversion, he did mention that he preferred the latter. As regards the Iranian dihqans of Khurasan, it should be noted that they played a crucial role in the victory of the `Abbasids, especially in that region, a fact that led to the conversion of a large group of them. Abu Muslim, a prominent member of Khurasani dihqans and a zealot Muslim who killed Bukhara Khudat because of his purported heresy, was a key factor in the conversion of his people. The conversion of the dihqans to Islam had an important cultural significance, for these were well-placed in terms of social status and were the locus of Iranian culture and literature, thus, they enabled this culture to continue to thrive in the new environment.
The settlement of Arab immigrants in the various parts of the Iranian territory constituted another factor which contributed to the spread of Islam in that country. Major cities and regions which served as primary destinations for these Arab arrivals included Hamadan, Isfahan, Qum, Kashan, Qazwin, Fars, Khurasan and Sistan. Some of the local residents were less than hospitable to their new neighbors, such as those in Qum who rose in opposition to the new immigrants. The people of the Caspian region were late in their acceptance of Islam which, together with their support for the `Alawites, may be viewed as intended as a pretext for their opposition to the caliphal administration.
Another important point to bear in mind is that the majority of Iranians who came to embrace Islam did so in hope of betterment of their social status and achievement of more equitable life conditions, however, the close of the first phase of conquests coincided with a decline in the sincerity and religious fervor among the Arabs who were increasingly overcome by worldly ambition and avarice, a situation which led to mounting disaffection among the new Iranian converts who felt increasingly separated from their Arab coreligionists, who were regressing more and more into their erstwhile jahili mentality, with its concomitant sense of Arab superiority. This was the impetus behind a string of revolts by the Iranian population. These included groups whose conversion was prompted by social considerations and who were less than happy with their treatment, those who were opposed to the sidestepping of the rules of shari`ah, and the unconverted segment of the people who were in search of an opportunity to shed the yoke of Arab domination. Thus, many movements of rebellion were led under the pretext of sectarian causes or attempts at reviving the old religion and kingdom. Therefore, it goes without saying that the pace and pattern of Islamization of Iran differed in terms of geography and chronological order. In the 1st century AH, Islam spread at a much more accelerated pace in the western and central provinces, such as Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, than, for example, in Fars, which was a bastion of the old religion. Kirman had a predominantly Kharijite Muslim population, as well as those who clung to their Zoroastrian roots and lived in the mountainous regions away from the reach of the government. These converted to Islam in the `Abbasid period, an indication of the fact that the acceptance of the new religion was much wider among the urban population than among the rustics and the nomads of the mountainous regions, most of who continued to adhere to their old ways. In the 4th century AH, the mounting pressure on non-Muslims resulted in the gradual diminution of the Mazdakite religion and a more forceful advance of Islam.
 
 source: Sajadi , Sadegh "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.505 - 512
 
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