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Abu Rayhan al-Biruni

Persian contributions


There are a lot to mention on the contributions that Iranians made to the development of international Islamic society in the two centuries of direct Arab rule. Ibn Khaldun, the great Arab historian and sociologist (before sociology) of the fourteenth century, wrote in his celebrated “Muqaddima”:

“Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Frisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…..They invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…..Furthermore all the great jurists were Persians as is well known….Only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the Prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it’….The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them….as the case with all crafts….”

There may be some exaggerations in this, but it shows the extent of contribution made by Iranians in all aspects of learning, from Arabic grammar to Islamic jurisprudence to arts and crafts. E.G.Browne once calculated that in this period thirteen out of forty-seven masters of high Arabic literature were of Persian extraction. They included the great grammarian Sibawaih, mentioned by Ibn Khaldun, who was not only a high ranking administrator but a master of both Arabic and Middle Persian.

The rise of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, to which Persians made a significant contribution, initially owed perhaps more to Gnosticism, Manichaeism and Iranian Buddhism than to orthodox Islam. What is known about Ibrahim ibn Adham as the prince of Balkh who repudiated his worldly power and possessions to become a mystic, and of the beliefs and practices of his followers, is rather reminiscent of the life and works of the Buddha himsel

In medicine, the Persians continued Sasanian traditions, as exemplified by the school at Jondishapur and the Bokhtishu’ family of renowned physicians, who were Christian Iranians and acted as court physicians to a number of Abbasid caliphs. Sabur (Shapur) ibn Sahl wrote the first of many treatises on antidotes in medicine. Another author in medicine was Ali ibn Rabban al-Tabari, an Iranian Christian convert to Islam who flourished in the ninth century. There were also some outstanding Arab physicians in the earlier period, but with the passage of time the Persians excelled in the field of medicine, culminating in the careers of such great figures as Mohammad ibn Zakaria Razi and Abu Ali ibn Sina (=Avecenna), who flourished in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The latter two were also great rationalist philosophers who, having been preceded by Abu Nasr-e Farabi (=al-Farabi), continued and developed the application of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy to Islamic knowledge and learning.

The imperial art of Sasanian Persia also had a large impact on the development of artistic culture in the centuries following the conquest. There had been no substantial architecture, decorative arts or crafts in Arabia before Islam, and the conquest of Persia, Syria and North Africa marked the beginning of Islamic art. Muslims were not in favor of images and icons, which in their view might mean or imply idol worship, the struggle against which had been the central issue of the prophet Mohammad’s campaigns. But unlike Byzantine art, Sasanian art was neither religious nor predominantly based on images. Thus the art of Persia, and more especially of western Persia, which had enjoyed direct court patronage, provided models for the development of Islamic art, crafts and architecture, including rich textile motifs and designs of objects made of gold and other precious metals, as well as jewellery.

It took the Persians two centuries to found Persian speaking dynasties and produce written literature in New Persian. But they were otherwise very much engaged in creating the new international Islamic civilization...Read more

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