How did the Savafid Kingdom turned most Sunni Iranians into Shia?


How did the founders of Savafid Kingdom turn the Shia which was a sect of a party into government ideology?

* When did this sect witness to political changes and how did it develop?

* How did the canon jurisprudence of Islam which consisted of sharia laws and simple rules take hold of the political and social control of the society?

First of all we must state that those questions do not examine a kingdom which was solely within the process of history and fell a few centuries ago. For, the Islamic government in Iran which is based on political fundamentals and canonical laws of Islam is today faced with these questions.

The young empire of the Safavids needed a standard and civilized form of the Shia sect in order to provide legitimacy to their own sovereignty. The Kizilbashes (Ghezelbash) were devoted to traditions of the Shia sect which were “considered primitive”. Most of the elites and statesmen were Sunni. As a result, none of these groups was in the interest of the efforts which the Safavid state was exerting for search of new horizons. The Safavid state wished to refer to this method in order to raise the level of social awareness and to provide political identity to its own sovereignty.

The founders of the Safavid state aspired to free the Shia sect from belonging to an ordinary party and turn into “a world view of a state”. Countless Shia scholars who had been living Jabel Amal (which was located in Syria and now in Southern Lebanon) at the time were immigrating to Iraq, India and Iran from Damascus together with their families. Those scholars “who were claimed to have emigrated due to the fact that they could obtain no jobs and income in these Sunni areas and they could not implement the rules of their own sect” followed an antagonistic attitude toward the Ottoman presiding board and palace. A few scholars which reached the rank of Mojtahed and who provided courses of canonical law of Islam were followed under the pressure of government. One of these Mojtaheds was even killed by the government and referred to as (“the Second Martyr”). The Safavids believed that the view of “Ijtehad” or “the rational attitude towards Shia” would serve the purpose of legitimatizing their power of sultanate. The Safavids would take on the identity of “the protectors of the Islamic fundamental” vis-à-vis their eternal rival in other words the Ottoman. As a matter of fact, Shah Tahmaseb Safavi trusted the scholars of Jabel Amal very much and favored a family called Korki among them and made a researcher called “Mohaghegh Korki” his undersecretary.

Sheykh Ali Korki who is known as Mohaqeq (meaning researcher) Korki and the author of the famous book (Jame Ol Maghased immigrated to Iraq and began to gain the love of the Safavids in order to assume an important role in the Safavid state order. The real aim of Korki was to settle the Shia sect to the political, administrative and social structure of the society and to apply the Sheriat rules one by one.

Shah Tahmaseb Safavi turned to agreeing with Jabel Amal’s new claims which believed that the person called Faqih (person knowledgeable about the canon jurisprudence of Islam or today’s mullahs) who consider themselves superior in the theology of Jabel Amal would take decisions instead of “the Secret Innocent Imam” and which consider that Faqih should make the political power legitimate! Those claims which granted Faqihs a political power and made them opposed to statesmen and the notables concluded with the domination of Faqihs. For, Kizilbashes would protect them.

The Shia of the Safavid era started with the immigration of the Jabel Amal scholars, however, this sect mixed with the cultural and traditional elements of Iran subsequently and assumed the identity of Iran. Thus, the Shia of Safavid era was not entirely imported. This sect was tried to be raised and spread many times in other countries however, it did not receive the required interest and it only drew attention of the political circles dominating Iran. In fact it is not the right attitude to describe the spread of a religious idea with words such as import and export when assessing a religious thought. For it is utmost important that a specific religious thought should meet the requirements of the country where it is spread. Every country that is in position of host knows how to mix every outside issue with its own culture and moral values in a creative way and benefit from this element in such a way as to point out its own identity. It is a value that is worth of assessing how the Jabel Amal scholars were admitted and absorbed to Safavid structure.

When the Shia sect gained political identity through Jabel Amal scholars, the government was transferred to others temporarily in absence of “the Innocent Imam” in other words “12th Imam”. The Jabel Amal scholars would settle themselves in the state structure according to the needs of Safavid rulers in the face of the Ottoman Empire. Those scholars produced many rules and laws in order to make the political fundamentals of the kingdom legitimate in terms of the canon jurisprudence of Islam. Thus Jabel Amal scholars (originating from Southern Lebanon) would recapture their power of religious content which they lost within the Ottoman borders.

The Safavids who seized power in Iran in 16th century and ruled for 2 centuries are remembered as an important milestone in the Iranian history. For, the Safavids turned the Shia sect into state and public thought and equipped it with social and political fundamentals. When the historians assess the Mongol occupation that was experienced in the Islamic countries, they note that the institution of Caliphate was weakened after this occupation and the sect of Shia had the opportunity to spread more freely. In the end, the Mongol occupation which shook the countries brought Shia a great gift. In other words, if the Mongol occupation was not experienced, it would not be possible for the Shia members to get strong in Iran and to establish dominance.

The sect of Shia which was a primitive and marginal belief system came under the control of those who assumed Velayat-e Faqih and religious experts. After immigrating towards Iran from the south of Lebanon, the Jabel Amal scholars approached to the Safavid State which is the real rival of the Ottoman Empire and reached very important positions in the palace. Although those scholars did not think that the Safavid government was right, they made the rulers legitimate and conveyed the public the views in this direction. Jabel Amal married the eshraf (khahad dasht) and notable circles of Iran over time and they obtained their support as well. Jabal Amal scholars almost all of which belong to a certain family and which are under the protection of a great network of relatives turned in to the official religious officers of the country and produced various rules and laws out of the bed of sheriat.

The seed planted by Jabel Amal Faqihs started to bear fruits almost a century later. With the Jabel Amal School in Southern Lebanon starting to be low on the agenda gradually, the new stream of the Iranian Shia Faqihs started. This new stream would lower the Shia and Faqih thought to the public level and drew quite as many supporters. One of the results of this new stream started to operate as a school educating students under the name of “Elmiyye Basin (Howze-ye Elmiyye)” Thus the effort which was made for the spread of Shia was initiated.

This situation initiated the great dispute between the Faqihs and Sufis. The Faqihs who consider mysticism “as a style of thinking as the sect of the ordinary people and full of novelties and deviations” left Arabic aside and began using Persian which was under the monopoly of Sufis and the Wise (those who adopt the view of education) The understanding of the canon jurisprudence of Islam by the public easily enabled some members of the notable circle to be interested in the canon jurisprudence of Islam closely. The Friday prayer was a political occasion for the Faqihs and it was used by the Faqihs to come to power.

In the Safavid era, the meaning of the word “Mojtahed” suggesting “the person who attained maturity in the religious issues and who can be imitated” also changed. Seyyed Nematollah Jazayeri Al Anvar ol Alnamaniye who was a disciple of Allameh Majlesi who was considered one of the foundation stones of the Shia sect described the Mojtahed concept as “the heir of our Prophet, the caliphate of Allah and the speaking language of our God” and Mojtahed became the focus of the moral and social assessments. Mojtahed had knowledge about this world and the world which we will pass to and the recovery of the society was entirely in his responsibility. This interesting office reached such a position that the Safavid kings would take even their own crowns from the hand of Faqih or Mojtahed al Asrai.

Islam clashed with the European Crusaders, with the Mongol conquerors from Central Asia, and was spread further by the Ottoman Turks.

By the year 1500, Persia was a seat of Sunni Islamic learning, but all that was about to change with the arrival of Azeri conquerors. They established the Safavid dynasty in Persia — modern-day Iran — and made it Shiite.

“That dynasty actually came out of what’s now eastern Turkey,” says Gregory Gause. “They were a Turkic dynasty, one of the leftovers of the Mongol invasions that had disrupted the Middle East for a couple of centuries. The Safavid dynasty made it its political project to convert Iran into a Shia country.”

When the Shias took over the power in Iran they massacred thousands of people as they were not ready to abandoned Sunnism and convert to Shiism.

The Iranian great historian, Kasrawi wrote that 20 thousand people were killed in Tabriz, capital of Azerbayjan, as the Sunnis refused to become Shia. The urgent pressure for converting the Sunni Muslim of Iran into Shia resulted in the disintegration of Iran as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Gherghizistan, and all parts of Central Asia seceded from Iran. About three million sq m of Iranians soil seceded from Iran as the residents of these places were not prepared to abandon Sunnis in and convert to Shiism.

This is bigger than Karbala.

Shiism gradually became the glue that held Persia together and distinguished it from the Ottoman Empire to its west, which was Sunni, and the Mughal Muslims to the east in India, also Sunni.

This was the geography of Shiite Islam, and it would prevail into the 20th century.

There were periods of conflict and periods of peace. But the split remained and would, in the second half of the 20th century, turn out to be one of the most important factors in the upheavals that have ravaged the Middle East.

“Why has there been such a long and protracted disagreement and tension between these two sects?” asks Ray Takeyh, author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic. “It has to do with political power.”

In the 20th century, that meant a complex political dynamic involving Sunni and Shia, Arabs and Persians, colonizers and colonized, oil, and the involvement of the superpowers.

One thought on “How did the Savafid Kingdom turned most Sunni Iranians into Shia?

  1. Why Safavid converted to shiaism from sunniism, what was they are plan to converts ?
    Why they didn’t like sunniism?
    What cause them to convert to shiaism?

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