The islamic concept of jahilliya and the faith of pre-islamic Zoroastrian sciences and scholarship

Due to the ever-increasing enthusisasm of the iranian youth for their zoroastrian identity and roots; the vicious polemics against the ancient religion of the iranians is becoming louder and more vociferous in semi-official circles in ira…n. One of the often cited charges against Zoroastrianism is that: “the pre-islamic iran had no science or scientists, no real scientific achievement or notable learning; and all learning and wisdom, art and poetry came to iran as a direct result of the arab invasion and islamic subjugation. Accordingly, ancient iranians/zoroastrians lived in the dark ages/jahilliya, and the ancient persian empires were built on superstition, sorcery and oppression. Such statements come from people who officially teach that “the language spoken in paradise is arabic and the language spoken in hell is Persian.”

According to this line of thinking; anything pre-islamic is “jahilliya,” literally ignorant and stupid. The term jahilliya or “stupidity and ignorance” originally applied to polytheistic arabs. Yet, very soon after prophet Mohammad, the term was extended to anyone who does not follow islam or any wisdom/knowledge of antiquity prior to islam.

I believe it is important to expose the truth behind such biased polemics. The HISTORICAL FACTS are as follows:

The period of the Sassanid Empire witnessed the highest achievement of Iranian civilization, and  constituted the last great Zoroastrian Empire. Sassanid influenced Roman civilization  considerably during their times, and the Romans reserved for  the Sassanid Persians  ALONE the status of equals. The Sassanid scientific and cultural influence extended far beyond the empire’s territorial borders,  reaching as far as Eastern Europe, North Africa, Western China and Northern India, and played a prominent role in the formation of  both later European and Asiatic medieval art and sciences.

Contrary to the fundamentalist propaganda; pre-Islamic Iran was a cradle of learning and discovery in the ancient world, and the study of sciences was central to the MAGI and ancient iranians. For example, “Plutarch”, a Roman historian reports of a great academy in Ekbaataan or today’s Hamedaan, famous for excellence in astronomy, medicine, philosophy and mathematics.. He gives an account of a head faculty there, and adds that many of the ancient world greatest physicians visited this MAGI at the academy. “Plutarch” mentions similar outstanding MAGI academies all over the ancient persian empire. The Greek philosopher and mathematician “Pythagoras” is another example. It is said of him that he spent 20 years with the MAGI and learned all the secret knowledge and sciences from them.

Furthermore, the Academy of Gondishapur, the intellectual center of the Sassanid Empire, was famous in the ancient world for excellence in medicine, philosophy, theology and sciences. According to The Cambridge History of Iran, it was the most important medical center of the ancient world. The faculty in Gondishapur were versed not only in the Zoroastrian and MAGI traditions, but in Greek and Indian learning as well.

When the Bedouin armies encroached upon the ancient Persian and Byzantium empires, they showed very little or NO interest in the wisdom, sciences and advanced cultures they conquered. The second Caliph UMAR BIN IL KHATAB has famously stated; “that the knowledge in wisdom books of antiquity is REDUNDANT at best, if the same knowledge exists in Koran; and  BLASPHEMOUS, if it is absent from Koran.”

The result of this attitude was the destruction of many libraries and Classical literature by the Bedouins. Although Islamic enthusiasts in iran, deny the burning and destruction of academies and books by the arab armies; and some even go as far as claiming: that “the MAGI themselves burned their books because of their immoral and decadent content!!!!!!!”  Yet, the same report by christian and hindu sources concerning the  destruction and pillaging of their temples and libraries, books and works of art, utterly refutes the defense of such moslem enthusiasts. Furthermore, the well established practice of collecting books and works of arts as part of “Jazya” or Poll Tax inflicted on Non-Moslems; and then burning them, is another testimony to the veracity of systematic and intentional destruction of pre-islamic arts and wisdom.

As a result of this “jahilliya edict” or proclamation that all pre-islamic philosophies and sciences were stupid and dark, the zoroastrian scholars and priests extensively tried to digest, understand and conform their ancient wisdom according to the islamic terms and world view. There is much evidence to show that the efforts of these scholars were viewed by their Muslim masters with the deepest suspicion. Nevertheless, they translated and edited a vast corpus of ancient writings into Arabic and cultivated the  Islamic sciences based on what they had translated. Most of the important philosophical and  scientific works of the Zoroastrians; astronomy, mathematics and medicine were translated from Avestan  manuscripts and Pahlavi writings and rendered into Arabic. As a result, Arabic became the most important scientific language of the world  for many centuries and the depository of much of the wisdom and the sciences of  antiquity.

Much of what later became known as islamic golden age of sciences,  architecture, agriculture, irrigation techniques, medicine and other skills was borrowed MAINLY from the Sassanid Persians and  propagated throughout the broader Muslim world. Islam experienced a Golden Age in the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, but the Sassanian Golden Age, and the Greco-Roman Golden age, made the islamic golden age possible. As Fjordman says, “Arab science was the final afterglow of Hellenistic and Persian learning, a learning which the Arabs systematically destroyed very shortly after the conquest of the ancient world.”

It is very important to add that the GREAT MAJORITY of the iranian population remained non-Muslim and Zoroastrian for several centuries (circa up to the 10th century) after the islamic conquest. There is another important consideration to remember: Whilst scientists and philosophers of this period used Arab names and wrote in Arabic, the great majority of them were not Arabs or Muslims at all, but Persian Zoroastrians who recently switched over to Islam and who worked under Arab/Islamic regimes. This was the case, with the mathematician Al-Khvaarzmi, the founder of algebra, and also with the great philosopher Avicenna, among many others. “AL-Khvaarazmi Majoosi,” was called  “Majoosi” or MAGIAN, because he or his ancestors were Zoroastrians.  Interesting enough Moslem historians gave him an Arabic name, and renamed a few  generations of his ancestors with Arabic names. The purpose for giving him and his ancestors arabic names was to legitimize him and his work persay. “Khvaarazmi” is the  first person that wrote an algebra book and called it “Algebr olmoghabeleh”. In case of Avicenna; his father was an ismaili, the most Zoroastrianized Islamic sect; and his mother “Sätare,” literally Star, was a Zoroastrian woman. Avecinna was the great mind of medicine, he was also a philosopher and has been branded as a heretic by moslem clerics of his age.

The number of “scientists” and scholars, who were NOT Iranians/Persians, were seldom Arabs. We are told that Al-Kindi was “one of the few Arabs to achieve intellectual distinction” (Thompson and Johnson, p. 178).

This noble effort to save as much of the ancient wisdom as was humanly possible, was not met unchallenged by the clerics. For example; IMAM “Mohammed e Ghazaali,” reasoned that learning mathematics is wrong. He argued that one who  learns mathematics or philosophy will discover a world based on reasoning and  logic. Such a person may think that religion’s pillars are placed on the same  base. With no logic and reasoning in religion, the pupil becomes infidel.  “Gazaali” concluded that mathematics and philosophy should be banned. Gazzali, showed a particular personal haterad toward all things Zoroastrian, pre-islamic and genuinely Iranian.

The recent charge in semi-official circles in iran; arguing that “IF pre-islamic iran had any science or civilization; then give us the name of ancient pre-islamic scientists,” is ironic and shameful. Ancient iranians only option and chance to preserve their ancient wisdom, was to conform it to and name it after islam. Hence, pre-islamic names and sources were intentionally omitted to save the actual knowledge. Furthermore, beside ancient greeks, we do not have much information concerning the actual name of the scientists of antiquity. For example the ancient druids were the earliest metallurgists and scientists. Yet, we have no real record of their actual names. The same holds true of ancient hebrews, we have no specific knowledge of the names of the Jewish scientists of the ancient world. Yet, Koran, proclaims in many passages that GD has chosen the children of israel in science (ilm) and knowledge over all other nations. So judge by yourself the merit of these shameless attacks upon the noble heritage of ancient iranians.


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3 Responses to The islamic concept of jahilliya and the faith of pre-islamic Zoroastrian sciences and scholarship

  1. Bijzonder stuk over Pre-Islamitische cultuur en religie en wetenschap.

  2. shahla says:

    this article was also posted on a face book page “beauty of Iran ” the admin stated there that they are saying it al because they have hate for Arabs and will get their revenge of 1400 year from of muslim

    • Hatred for arabs or any other ppl is very unZoroastrian and not acceptable at all. Mr John Easter concerning the issue of Zoroastrianism among the arab elites in the pre-islamic times has found the following book; “Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition” by Yohanan Friedmann.
      “Faint echoes of conversions to Zoroastrianism are also discernible in the traditional descriptions of the Jahili period. In a few traditions about him, the pre-Islamic Arab prophet Khalid b. Sinan al-Absi is credited with extinguishing a mobile fire which appeared in the land of the Arabs “who were lured by it and almost became Zoroastrians””
      “Ibn Qutayba speaks about Zoroastrianism in the tribe of Tamim. References to Arab Zoroastrians can occasionally be found in Quranic exegesis. And one could legitimately ask what were the ethnic origins of the Zoroastrians who lived in Hajar and al-Bahrayn and are said to have been given the status of ahl al-dhimma by the Prophet. The spread of Judaism, Christianity (and Zoroastrianism?) among the Arabs was, in al-Shafi i’s view, significant enough to justify the creation of a special legal category for Jews and Christians who were of Arab ancestry and should therefore be treated differently from their corereligionists of non-Arab descent.”
      “Most accounts of Khalid b. Sinan do not contain an explicit reference to this issue and only describe Khalid’s miraculous ability to enter into the fire, extinguish it and emerge unscathed.”
      “Referring to the views of Maliki scholars Ibn al-Qasim, Ashhab and Sahnun, Qurtubi says: “Jizya is taken from Arab Zoroastrians and from (the Zoroastrians?) of all other nations””
      “Ibn Wahb held a different opinion: “Jizya is not accepted from Arab Zoroastrians, but is accepted from other (Zoroastrians)””

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