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.