Before Islam, Iran was Persia (ایران: جمهوری اسلامی ایران, ایران). Persia had existed as an empire and a fountain of civilization and culture for more than a thousand years. On the eve of the Arab Muslim invasion in 637 AD, the religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic faith that rose in Persia at about the same time that Judaism developed in the Levant, and it had a profound influence on the three Abrahamic religions as well as the religions of the East.
After Persia’s fall to Islam, Zoroastrians were relegated to dhimmi status. Today they number less than 200,000 worldwide, the largest community being India where refugees from Iran found some tolerance. In Iran itself about 22,000 Zoroastrians remain, or less than 0.1% of the population.
Before Islam, Iraq was called Assyria. Prior to the Arab Muslim conquest, the majority of its inhabitants were Assyrian Christians. By the dawn of the 20th century, dhimmi laws, persecutions and conversions had reduced their numbers to about 5% of the Iraqi population. On the eve of the US-led invasion in 2003, they had dropped to 1%. A lot of noise has been made about the plight of Iraqi refugees since 2003. What is less widely known is that Assyrian Christians make up 40% of the 1 million refugees that have left Iraq, despite making up less than 1% of the population. These refugees represents 2/3 of the pre-war Christian population.
The removal of the tyrant Saddam Hussein allowed the Sunni and Shia Muslims to revert to the customary persecution of their Christian neighbors. Frivolous events such as the Danish Muhammad cartoons have had very real repercussions for Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, in the form of bombings and murders. Seven churches were bombed in January 2006, in retaliation for the dreaded cartoons of blasphemy. Since the start of the war at least 46 Churches and Monasteries have been bombed.
The Iranians, or Persians were one of the first peoples to come under the Islamic boot. Around 636AD, Mohammed’s 2nd successor, Caliph Umar, dealt the Persian Sassanid Empire a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Qasadiyyah on the banks of the Euphrates River. In the aftermath of the battle he sent the following letter to Shah Yazdgird III, Emperor of Persia:
“I do not foresee a good future for you and your nation save your acceptance of my terms and your submission to me. There was a time when your country ruled half the world, but now see how your sun has set. On all fronts your armies have been defeated and your nation is condemned to extinction. I point out to you the path whereby you might escape this fate. Namely, that you begin worshipping the one god, the unique deity, the only god who created all that is. I bring you his message.
Order your nation to cease the false worship of fire and to join us, that they may join the truth.Worship Allah the creator of the world. Worship Allah and accept Islam as the path of salvation. End now your polytheistic ways and become Muslims that you may accept Allah-u-Akbar as your savior. This is the only way of securing your own survival and the peace of your Persians. You will do this if you know what is good for you and for your Persians. Submission is your only option. Allah u Akbar.” (Caliph Umar)
Yazdgird’s response is one of the most eloquent rebuttals of Islamic aggression in all of history. Keep in mind this was almost 1400 years ago, the 7th century AD. Islam was a brand new upstart, but thousands of years of Persian civilization and 300 years of the Sassanid empire were about to be crushed by it’s zealous warriors.
“In the name of Ahuramazda, the Creator of Life and Wisdom.
In your letter you summon us Persians to your god whom you call “Allah-u-Akbar”; and because of your barbarity and ignorance, without knowing who we are and Whom we worship, you demand that we seek out your god and become worshipers of “Allah-u-Akbar”.
How strange that you occupy the seat of the Arab Caliph but are as ignorant as any desert roaming Arab! You admonish me to become monotheistic in faith. Ignorant man, for thousands of years we Persians have, in this land of culture and art, been monotheistic and five times a day have we offered prayers to God’s Throne of Oneness. While we laid the foundations of philanthropy and righteousness and kindness in this world and held high the ensign of “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds”, you and your ancestors were desert wanderers who ate snakes and lizards and buried your innocent daughters alive.
You Arabs who have no regard for God’s creatures, who mercilessly put people to the sword, who mistreat your women, who attack caravans and are highway robbers, who commit murder, who kidnap women and spouses; how dare you presume to teach us, who are above these evils, to worship God?
You tell me to cease the worship of fire and to worship God instead! To us Persians the light of Fire is reminiscent of the Light of God. The radiance and the sun-like warmth of fire exuberates our hearts, and the pleasant warmth of it brings our hearts and spirits closer together, that we may be philanthropic, kind and considerate, that gentleness and forgiveness may become our way of life, and that thereby the Light of God may keep shining in our hearts.
Our God is the Great Ahuramazda. Strange is this that you too have now decided to give Him a name, and you call Him by the name of “Allah-u-Akbar”.
But we are nothing like you. We, in the name of Ahuramazda, practice compassion and love and goodness and righteousness and forgiveness, and care for the dispossessed and the unfortunate; But you, in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar” commit murder, create misery and subject others to suffering! Tell me truly who is to blame for your misdeeds? Your god who orders genocide, plunder and destruction, or you who do these things in his name? Or both?
You, who have spent all your days in brutality and barbarity, have now come out of your desolate deserts resolved to teach, by the blade and by conquest, the worship of God to a people who have for thousands of years been civilized and have relied on culture and knowledge and art as mighty edifices.
What have you, in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar”, taught these armies of Islam besides destruction and pillage and murder that you now presume to summon others to your god?
Today, my people’s fortunes have changed. Their armies, who were subjects of Ahuramazada, have now been defeated by the Arab armies of “Allah-u-Akbar”. And they are being forced, at the point of the sword, to convert to the god by the name of “Allah-u-Akbar”. And are forced to offer him prayers five times a day but now in Arabic; since apparently your “Allah-u-Akbar” only understands Arabic.
I advise you to return to your lizard infested deserts. Do not let loose upon our cities your cruel barbarous Arabs who are like rabid animals. Refrain from the murder of my people. Refrain from pillaging my people. Refrain from kidnapping our daughters in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar”. Refrain from these crimes and evils.
We Iranians are a forgiving people, a kind and well-meaning people. Wherever we go, we sow the seeds of goodness, amity and righteousness. And this is why we have the capacity to overlook the crimes and the misdeeds of your Arabs.
Stay in your desert with your “Allah-u-Akbar”, and do not approach our cities; for horrid is your belief and brutish is your conduct.” (Shah Yazdgird III, Emperor of Persia)
Within 15 years Persia was utterly defeated and Shah Yazdgird was forced into exile. He was killed by a common thief in 651AD. By the 10th century the Persian’s Zoroastrian religion had been eclipsed, as the majority had converted to Islam. Since 1979, Iran has been governed by Islamic Shariah law, and ruled by Shi’ite Muslim religious clerics. Now its current president openly embraces the Islamic version of Armageddon as the only salvation for the world, and it’s former president says it would be worth it for the Muslim world to be gravely wounded, as long as they can wipe out all the Jews. Today this regime is on the verge of possessing a nuclear arsenal, and the means to deliver atomic devastation to the entire Middle East and much of Europe.
Letters written in the name of Islam are not simple correspondence between monarchs and clerics. In reality, letters written in the name of Islam have changed our world.
Further reading on Iran and the native Zoroastrians: