Thank you for your reply, alijsh. I apologize for my delayed response; it’s been a little hectic lately with Eid, family, and school taking up so much time.
alijsh wrote:You can also understand Islam better, not just Iranians. Persian literature is a treasure for everybody, and us Muslims in particular.
Well-said. Contrary to what many orthodox Sunnis believe, Shi’ism is an integral part of Islam and not some deviant heresy. I absolutely agree with you on the universality of Persian literature. The works of Rumi, Attar, Jami and others have spiritual value not only for Muslims but humanity as a whole.
alijsh wrote:You don't have to convert (which you had talked about) but I seriously recommend you to study Shia theology in detail.
Yes, I had originally mentioned my brief interest in conversion, but later edited my post to clear up any confusion. My initial interest in Shi’ism was not
because of its predominance in Iran, but of my desire to learn about the diversity within Islam.
About a year and a half ago, I went through what would be considered a “spiritual crisis” and this experience led me to not only explore the Islam of the Shias, but also the Islam of the Salafis, Ismailis, Ahmadis, Mu'tazilites, reformists, progressives and modernists.
A blogger at a site for progressive Muslims does an excellent job of explaining the appeal of Shi’ism to those dissatisfied with the austerity of Sunni Islam. She writes
Yet the Shi'ah, despite their theological difficulties, do have established patterns of deep and abiding emotional experiences tied into the definition of the faith. To be Shi'i is to remember Karbala. To be Shi'i is to grieve for martyred leaders who might-have-been and should-have-been. The Shi'i year is a circle of gut-wrenching holidays from both joyous and mournful ends of the emotional spectrum. In addition, Indian traditions of emotional connection to God through song and poetry - bhakti - infuse many Shi'ah traditions, particularly the Isma'ili. Where I find the palette of emotions on Sunni websites and in the Sunni community to be a dull grey, the Shi'ah have a world full of deep and profound colour.
To make a long story short, my fascination with Shi’ism became more academic than spiritual in nature. And this interest deepened with my desire to learn more about Iran and the role of Shi'ism in Iranian society. That Rafsanjani quote I mentioned is from Hooman Majd's The Ayatollah Begs To Differ
and it reflects how the Shia narrative defines the Iranian experience. I recently saw a documentary (which I'll post in the movies
thread) about Iranian pilgrims traveling to Imam Hossein's shrine. It shows the personal struggles of ordinary Iranians (witnessing the Revolution, fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, surviving social upheaval etc.) and how they relate to the tragedy of Karbala.
Not too long ago I read an essay by an American translator of Persian poetry. He talks about the difficulties Westerners face when translating Persian texts, one being how unfamiliar they are with the Shia references and themes that prevail in Persian literature from the Safavid era and onwards. I'll post the link in the Articles about Persian language
thread once I can find it again.
Abbas Amanat's work is also worth mentioning. I would love to get my hands on his book, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism
. According to Amanat
, "the messianic paradigm and hope for salvation is something very old in Iranian culture, perhaps as old as inception of Iran." His research suggests that Shi'ism in Iran was shaped considerably by Zoroastrianism, most notably absorbing its dualistic worldview of the eternal battle between good and evil. You can read more about his research in this book review
alijsh wrote:You know, the Prophet couldn't live enough to explain everything thoroughly and His Descendants have really left much for us to explore and gauge with the mind (even, for instance, Abu Hanifa has learned much from the 6th Imam.
Interesting point about these two men, both of whom founded mazhabs (Hanafi and Ja'fari). As his student, Imam Abu Hanifah respected Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq and held him in high esteem. Despite this amity between the two founders, extremist Hanafis in Pakistan are waging a violent war* against the country’s Shias, which has claimed more than 4000 lives in the last decade alone. It's quite the irony considering that Pakistan's founding father, President, and Prime Minister are all Shia.
*15% of Pakistanis belong to a revivalist Hanafi subsect known as the Deobandi movement, which exercises influence far beyond its numbers. Deobandi doctrine teaches that Shias (20% of Pakistanis) are heretics and outside the fold of Islam. The Taliban and all of Pakistan's major Sunni militant groups are offshoots of the Deobandi movement.
alijsh wrote:Another example is Iqbal Lahuri, whom we call «شیعهترین سنی» [the most Shia Sunni]).
That‘s quite the title Iranians have bestowed upon Iqbal; his love for the Ahle Bayt is well documented in his poetry. I was also surprised to find out that Ayatollah Khamenei is an ardent admirer
of Iqbal and his work.
alijsh wrote:It is good to learn some Arabic but I'd say you to learn Persian, and learn it well. It is far more useful for Urdu speakers, whom even historically, got acquainted with Islam thru Persian.
Absolutely correct. For Pakistan’s religious parties, Islamisization has come to mean Arabization, when in fact our uniquely South Asian Islamic heritage has stronger Persian roots than Arab.
My avatar picture is the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, the patron saint of Lahore. Also known as Data Ganj Baksh
, he was a Persian Sufi who migrated to Lahore in the 11th century and is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the spread of Islam throughout the Subcontinent. His seminal work, Kashf ul-Mahjub
, is a landmark in Sufi literature and the first Sufi treatise to be written in the Persian
alijsh wrote:You can also know your own language better.
Exactly. Formal Urdu is very Persianized and learning Farsi would help me with the vocabulary and grammatical structures Urdu has borrowed.
Sorry for the long post and going off on so many tangents