Part 42

Most of the scholars in Islam have been Persians

January 2, 2022

Most Muslim scholars both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs. When a scholar is of Arab origin, he is non-Arab in language and upbringing and has non-Arab teachers. This is so in spite of the fact that Islam is an Arabic religion, and its founder was an Arab.

This is because at the beginning Islam had no sciences or crafts because of the simple desert attitude. The religious laws, which are the commands and prohibitions of God, were in the breasts of the authorities. They knew their sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, from information they had received directly from the Prophet Muhammad himself and the men around him.

The people at that time were Arabs.

They did not know anything about scientific instruction or the writing of books and systematic works. There was no incentive or need for that.

This was the situation up to the second generation. Illiteracy was general among the men around Muhammad, since they were (Arab) Bedouins.1208

The persons who knew and transmitted the religious laws were called “Qur’an readers”. They were literate. They read the Qur’an and the Sunnah in order to know the religious laws because those laws were known only from:

  • the Qur’an
  • the traditions which explained the Qur’an

Muhammad said= “I left among you two things. You will not go astray as long as you hold on to them= the Qur’an and my Sunnah.“1209

By the time of the reign of ar-Rashid, (oral) tradition had become far removed (from its starting point). It was thus necessary to write commentaries on the Qur’an and to fix the traditions in writing, because it was feared that they might be lost. 1210

It was also necessary to know the chains of transmitters and to assess their reliability, in order to be able to distinguish sound chains of transmitters from inferior ones. 1211 Then, more and more laws concerning actual cases were derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Moreover, the (Arabic) language became corrupt, 1212 and it was necessary to lay down grammatical rules.

All the religious sciences had (thus) become habits connected with producing and deriving (laws and norms) and with comparison and analogical reasoning.

Other, auxiliary sciences became necessary, such as knowledge of the rules of the Arabic language, (knowledge of) the rules that govern the derivation (of laws) and analogical reasoning, and defense of the articles of faith by means of arguments, because a great number of innovations and heresies (had come into existence).

All these things developed into sciences with their own habits, requiring instruction (for their acquisition). Thus, they came to fall under the category of crafts.

We have mentioned before that the crafts are cultivated by sedentary people and that of all peoples the Arab (Bedouins) are least familiar with the crafts. 1213

Thus, the sciences came to belong to sedentary culture, and the Arabs were not familiar with them or with their cultivation.

The only sedentary people back then were non-Arabs. They were most versed in crafts and professions because sedentary culture had been firmly rooted among them from the time of the Persian Empire.

Thus, the founders of grammar were:

  • Sibawayh and, after him,
  • al-Farisi and az-Zajjaj. 1214

All of them were of Persian descent. They were brought up in the Arabic language and acquired the knowledge of it through their upbringing and through contact with Arabs.

They invented the rules of grammar and made grammar into a discipline in its own right for later generations to use.

Most of the hadith scholars who preserved traditions for the Muslims also were non-Arabs (Persians), or Persian in language and upbringing, because 1215 the discipline was widely cultivated in the ‘Iraq and the regions beyond.

Furthermore, all the scholars who worked in the science of the principles of jurisprudence were non-Arabs (Persians), as is well known.

The same applies to speculative theologians and to most Qur’an commentators. Only the non-Arabs (Persians) engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus, the truth of the following statement by the Prophet becomes apparent= “If scholarship hung suspended at the highest parts of heaven, the Persians 1216 would (reach it and) take it.”

The Arabs who came into contact with that flourishing sedentary culture and exchanged their Bedouin attitude for it, were diverted from occupying themselves with scholarship and study by their leading position in the ‘Abbasid dynasty and the tasks that confronted them in government.

They were the men of the dynasty, at once its protectors and the executors of its policy. In addition, at that time, they considered it a contemptible thing to be a scholar, because scholarship is a craft, and political leaders are always contemptuous of the crafts and professions and everything that leads to them.1217 Thus, they left such things to non-Arabs and persons of mixed Arab and non-Arab parentage (muwallad).

The latter cultivated them, and (the Arabs) always considered it their right to cultivate them, as they were their custom (din) and their sciences, and never felt complete contempt for the men learned in them. The final result, (law ever,) was that when the Arabs lost power and the non-Arabs took over, the religious sciences had no place with the men in power, because the latter had no relations with (scholarship). Scholars were viewed with contempt, 1218 because the (men in power) saw that (scholars) had no contact with them and were occupying themselves with things that were of no interest to the (men in power) in governmental and political matters, as we mentioned in connection with the religious ranks. 1219 The fact established here is the reason why (all) scholars in the religious sciences, or most of them, are nonArabs.

The intellectual sciences, as well, made their appearance in Islam only after scholars and authors had become a distinct group of people and all scholarship had become a craft. (The intellectual sciences) were then the special preserve of non-Arabs, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them. They were cultivated only by Arabicized non-Arabs (Persians) 1220 as was the case with all the crafts, as we stated at the beginning.

This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and the Persian countries, the ‘Iraq, Khurasan, and Transoxania, retained their sedentary culture. But when those cities fell into ruins, sedentary culture, which God has devised for the attainment of sciences and crafts, disappeared from them. Along with it, scholarshipaltogether disappeared from among the non-Arabs (Persians), who were (now) engulfed by the desert attitude. Scholarship was restricted to cities with an abundant sedentary culture.

Today, no (city) has a more abundant sedentary culture than Cairo (Egypt). It is the mother of the world, the great center (Iwan) of Islam, and the mainspring of the sciences and the crafts.1221

Some sedentary culture has also survived in Transoxania, because the dynasty there provides some sedentary culture. Therefore, they have there a certain number of the sciences and the crafts, which cannot be denied. Our attention was called to this fact by the contents of the writings of a (Transoxanian) scholar, which have reached us in this country.

He is Sa’d-ad-din at-Taftazani. 1222 As far as the other non-Arabs (Persians) are concerned, we have not seen, since 1223 the imam Ibn al-Khatib and Nasir-ad-din at-Tusi, any discussions that could be referred to as indicating their ultimate excellence. When one considers and ponders this fact, one will observe (in it) one of the wondrous circumstances of this world.


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