As Threads in a Carpet: Persian Cultural Norms that Allowed for the Acceptance of Shi’ism
The Islamic world is, despite the single title, far from a uniform entity. There are, under
this umbrella term, various ethnicities, languages, and sects that have, at various points in
history, been both allies and adversaries. Perhaps the biggest divides are exemplified by a
national division and a subsequent denominational split. In regards to Islamic ethnicities, the
largest and most violent divide has been between the Arab and Persian peoples. These groups
have, since the Muslim conquest of the region in the 600s, been culturally and sometimes
militaristically opposed. As if to further strengthen this gap, the people of Persia, now Iran,
embraced the Shi’a school of Islam, a view diametrically opposed to the “orthodox” Sunni
school followed in most of the Islamic, particularly the Arab, world.
These radical divisions
have led to many hypotheses as to why Persia chose to continue the path of Shi’ism, rather than
conform to the beliefs of its neighbors.
Rather than being a rapid change, the introduction and
implementation of Shi’a thought and belief on the Persian people was a gradual process that
began with the birth of the indigenous Persian and was finally brought to concrete climax with
the institution of Safavid power.
This paper will be divided into two sections. The first sections will delve into the history
of Persia from its formation as a nation to the rise of Shi’a thought and rule under the Safavid
Empire. Special interest will be paid to the developments that related to the development of an
1 Arjomand, Said Amir,
The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam
(Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press,
2 Dorraj, Manochehr,
From Zarathustra to Khomeini
(Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1990) pp.