Islam and the Persian Civilization

Sep 19, 2019
folder_opencategory: History

Cultures of the world are very dynamic because they change depending on the other cultures they interact with, the politics, population growth, and other things. A good example is Islam which developed its own unique culture that spread on its followers; but its traditions have been changing, evolving and adapting to the various transformations in history. Islam has benefitted greatly from the neighboring cultures, and it embraced many unique aspects of the societies it conquered; as a result, Islamic culture has acquired its shape and became much more diverse proving that the processes of cultural diffusion and development impacted all of the cultures involved in it.

Islam has been developing for a long time spreading across different cultures and reaching out to different nations. When speaking about Islam influencing ethnicities, one talks about cultural diffusion. This concept identifies the process when particular cultures norms, beliefs or ideas transmit to the new territories and people. This way, a particular culture is spreading its influence and becomes more important and recognizable among people of the world. Therefore, it is safe to say that Islam has undergone cultural diffusion throughout its history, and it keeps impacting new societies at the present moment making them accept and embrace some of its aspects (Lapidus, 2002). The concept of cultural diffusion is extremely important because it helps the researchers to analyze the cultural development over time, so they get to see how the culture transformed, and the factors which led to the transformation. Since the cultures do not exist in a vacuum, they usually influence each other, and taking politics into consideration, some of them have more impact than the others. Nevertheless, the constant exchange between the cultures makes it possible to embrace the new ideas and relate to the other cultures more efficiently.

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It is interesting to observe Samuel Huntington’s study about civilizations. Huntington talks about the clash of various civilizations that exist in the world and represent different values (Huntington, 1993). He speaks about Western, Orthodox, and Islamic civilizations among many others. Although the scientist states that the civilizations are doomed to clash with one another because of their differences, they still cooperate as well as embrace some of the aspects of alien civilizations due to the globalization and migration of the people. As a result, civilizations transform and adapt. Islamic culture represents the entire civilization and spreads its influence throughout the entire region in the Middle East; thus, due to the current developments, it does clash with the values carried out by other civilizations. However, through cultural diffusion and exchange between various cultures and civilizations, Islam has been able to benefit from such communication and transform basing on the new ideas. The way Islam benefited from Persian culture shows that even when one culture dominates the other, the latter still manages to save and preserve some of its aspects by integrating them into the leading culture and mixing the two (Hirschler, 2012). It is what has happened with Muslims after conquering Persian civilization.

Islamic culture has a very dynamic history because Islam spread quickly throughout the region due to the military interventions and war won by the Muslim rulers and followers. A good example is conquering of Persia in the seventh century. The Islamic warriors were able to defeat Persian rulers and thus, they brought a new culture to the territory, which now includes modern Iran. The influence of Islam impacted the territory very strongly, making Persians embrace new values and traditions as well as educating new generations based on Islamic principles. However, it is the culture of Islam which benefited greatly as a result. Muslims did not simply apply their culture to the newly-conquered land; on the opposite, both cultures connected and formed a new one, which still exists and represents Iranian society. Cultural diffusion enabled the Muslims to spread some of the important ideas of Islam and impact the Persians who were reluctant to accept the new rulers. However, in the adaptation process, Muslims also took a lot from the Persians showing that their culture benefited greatly from the Persian one.

For instance, various researchers emphasize that although Islamic culture helped to spread the religion to the new territory, the Persian culture did not become Arabic. On the opposite, it added its Persian features into Islamic tradition. The latter embraced the various achievements the Persian civilization had completed. For instance, Muslims were able to learn from the cultural artifacts and ideas Persians were using. A good example is Islamic poetry, which became strongly influenced by the Persian style and affected the poetic development throughout the entire Islamic culture. The poems by the Muslim writers, created after the conquest, significant differ from the works created before the event. It showed that the Persian civilization impacted the Muslims greatly because it changed an important part of their lives. Having the impact on the artistic sphere, Persian culture also brought benefits to the other branches of the Muslim life, showing that the dominant culture was able to receive a big cultural push from the culture it conquered (Hirschler, 2012).

Another benefit Islam received from exchanging with the Persian civilization is the overall transformation of Muslim face. For a long time, the religion has been the core base for the cultural development. It was the main reason that formed the culture in the first place, so Islamic tradition was a direct consequence of the spread of Muslim faith. The doctrines of Islam remained almost unchanged for a long period as they were considered canonic and served as milestones of the culture.

However, after the conquest of the Persian civilization, religion has changed, too. As the researcher Bernard Lewis puts it, thanks to Persians, Islam developed its new identity and embraced a new form of itself (Lewis, 1988). It means that the conquest enabled both cultures to diffuse and influence one another, so just as Islam impacted the way Persians lived and viewed life, the Persians changed some of the important religious views and attitudes. Overall, Islam emerged as a new culture thanks to its experience with Persian civilization because it became much richer culturally and gathered the achievements of the past. Bernard Lewis also adds that the transformed Islam, the one that dominated in the conquered Persia, became a significant tool to impact other cultures in the region (Lewis, 1988). He points out that Islam, developed in Persia, was later spread out to the Central Asia and Turkey, so these nations accepted the culture which had been heavily influenced by the Persians, but still contained the main elements of Islam (Lewis, 1988). Thus, the culture evolved and spread out making its ideas reach more territories and people. The Islamic culture benefited greatly from communicating with Persians because it was not just the territories the Muslims had gained. They also learned from the other ancient culture and were able to use its main achievements for their own development, thus showing that dominant culture responded to the culture it was to dominate and received a big cultural push thanks to it.

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The benefits the Muslim culture received are closely linked to the influence of the other cultures it interacted with. Muslim tradition, on the other hand, influenced many cultures in the region as well as spread its reach far outside of the East reaching out as far as to Europe. A good example which has been mentioned earlier is the influence on the Turks and the neighboring Ukraine in the 14th century (Williams, 2001), or the conquest of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina making it Muslim (Malcolm, 1994). Crimea and Bosnia are located in Europe, yet, they became absolutely Muslim due to the Islamic influence. The people there did not only embrace the new religion. They also adjusted to the Muslim lifestyle. For example, when the Turks started to control the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they brought their institutions, currency, language, and traditions with them. The Turkish people were strongly influenced by Islam spreading out from the East, and yet, they brought something new to the Islamic culture as well. Bosnians, who converted to Islam and accepted the norms and values of Turkish conquerors, were strongly influenced by the Islamic culture as a result because they were able to connect with it through the religion as well as adjust their society to the new norms and structure. Turkish model was based on the institutional model in other Islamic states, so the territory of Bosnia copied the same model, and the institutions in Bosnia mirrored the same ones in the rest of Islamic world. Due to different religion, the period of conquest is also marked as a period when civilizations clashed because the Turks were spreading their culture in the overall Christian Europe. However, despite the clashes, Turks were also heavily influenced by the Christians. They took many aspects of the Christian worldview and incorporated them into their culture, and later, the same aspects were transmitted to the Islamic cultures of the countries to the East and South of Turkey. As a result, the ideas traveled, and just as Islam influenced the other cultures around it, the culture received a lot of influence from other cultures and transformed because of those influences.

Islam had various interactions with other cultures across the planet, and its influence spread not only through military because there were various interactions on the social, artistic, and even psychological levels. The carriers of Islamic tradition were able to exchange with other cultures through trade whenever they bought or sold their goods to representatives of other cultures. Thus, the trade enabled them to receive some aspects of other cultures as well as spread the important things from their own one. The same applies to art and science because it enabled equal exchange and growth of Islamic as well as other cultures. Islamic tradition enjoyed the scientific achievements of other cultures, and it spread many scientific discoveries it had made to other territories thus showing how science enabled the cultural interaction.

Thus, it is safe to say that Islam has never been a closed culture existing and developing in its own vacuum; on the opposite, it has always been influenced by other cultures as well as spread its own influence to the different civilizations. Through the mutual interactions and communication, Islamic and other cultures became the way they are now, and still continue exchanging with one another whether it is ideas, art, science, or trade. The continuous exchange and historic developments show that Islamic culture not only shaped its region but also benefited from the local developments and now consists of a wide diversity of various cultures.

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