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  • 12/4/2005

The Persian Presence in the Islamic World

By Richard G. Hovannisian (Editor), Georges Sabagh (Editor)

Arabic-speakers can claim the Prophet Muhammad as one of their own, but Iranians have bragging rights when it comes to turning a desert religion into a world civilization, and this is the point that the present volume, built about a conference at the University of California at Los Angeles honoring Ehsan Yarshater, emphatically makes. Yarshater himself takes the lead, providing an essay that fills nearly half the book, in which he shows that "the Persian presence among the Arabs goes back to pre-Islamic times," thereby having an influence on the culture in which Islam initially appeared and which was subsequently carried around the world with the Islamic religion. Further, Yarshater and his colleagues show how Iranian ways profoundly influenced both Islam itself (such as the notions of Messianic deliverance, the five daily prayers, and the practice of ritual purity) and then the nascent Muslim society. For example, in the realm of government, the seclusion of rulers, the wearing of luxurious clothing, the institution of the qadi (religious judge), and the diwan (governmental department) all go back to Iranian precedents. Other areas of influence include architecture, coinage, pharmacology, military technique, music, and secretarial practices. In all, Yarshater finds that the first phase of Islamic civilization was Arabic, the second Persian. Other authors in the volume look in depth at such matters as astronomy, poetry, mysticism, painting, and the writing of history. Of special interest is a final chapter, by Gerhard Doerfer, on the vast Persian linguistic and literary influence among the Turks. In all, this volume establishes, Iran and its culture have had a deep, pervasive, and abiding influence on Islam, and through it reached such disparate regions asEastern Europe and India.

"...this volume establishes that Iran and its culturehave had a deep, pervasive, and abiding influence on Islam, and through it reached such disparate regions asEastern Europe and India." Middle East Quarterly

"...this work features a prominent chapter by award recipient Ehsan Yarshater on Persian influences in the development of Islamic civilization."Middle East Journal

"What makes this volume unique is the consistently high level of outstanding scholarship throughout. It is a fitting tribute to Professor Yarshater."MESA Bulletin

"It is a masterly essay, deftly skirting the quicksands of excessive panegyric while touching significantly on every point of the Persian presence, recognized or mooted, and frequently pointing in a controversial or unexpected direction...Its specialist contributors...have given us a wealth of information, argument, and speculation; I learned a great deal, and can recommend this collection to fill several gaps in the eclecticIrano-Islamicist's library." Journal of the American Oriental Society, John R. Perry,University of Chicago

Book Description
In this volume, distinguished scholars reassess the Persian contribution to the Islamic world. The major essay by Ehsan Yarshater casts fresh light on that role, challenging the view that Islamic culture declined after the ninth century. In fact, he maintains, the adoption of Persian as the medium of literary expression meant that by the sixteenth century, Persian literary and intellectual paradigms had been cultivated in the greater part of the Islamic world. The ensuing essays are devoted to specific aspects of that contribution.

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