Preserving like Iranians

Many know the story of king Solomon and the two mothers who fought over a baby. It was the love of the real mother, who would rather lose her baby to the imposter mother than see him killed, that revealed to king Solomon who the real mother was. The Persians in a very similar fashion have managed to preserve their many treasures.

If you befriend an Iranian it becomes clear very early on that they are a nation that value their long history very much. They go out of their way to preserve it like the biggest treasure that has ever existed, from culture to customs to rituals to verbal and written history. It may be that they inherited this custom because of king Cyrus and the incredible legacy he left behind of the greatest empire the world has ever seen and the abundance and prosperity his reign brought not only to the Persian but all who lived in her borders. The Persian preservation tactics started very early on after the fall of the Achaemenid Dynasty with the invasion by Alexander the Great. They intermarried with the Greeks and eventually integrated these newcomers into Persian life. After Alexander the Parthian and Sassanid Dynasties, both Persian, went out of their way to not only “reinstate” lost Persian arts, crafts and customs, but to build on it and develop it so much so that when the Arab Conquests of Persia started, it was one of the wealthiest empires in the world. Because of the religious angle of the Arab Conquest the newcomers wanted to eradicate all symbols of non-believers and so the Persians had to intervene to ensure that their ancient history will remain untouched. When the head of the Arab army ordered the destruction of the temple of their beloved king Cyrus, they convinced him that it was in fact a temple for the mother of king Solomon and because the Arabs were familiar with him through the holy Quran, the temple was regarded as sacred and remained untouched. By that time the extraordinary weaving skills of the Persians were world renowned and they needed to protect this art form as well. In order to do so they convinced the Arab newcomers that the woven carpets were in fact the “sofreh of Mortezah Alli”. Imam Ali was the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and thus widely revered as one of the holiest Imams in Islam. The sofreh is a long wide carpet runner that is used by people to congregate on in order to converse and dine together. Thus naming Persian carpets so the Persians managed to preserve the weaving of Persian carpets as a protected and blessed art form and thanks to their efforts we can all still enjoy the fruits of it today!

There are many more examples of Persians “renaming” or “repurposing” their ancient sacred sites (especially those of the Mithraic and Zoroastrian origins in small and faraway villages thousands of years old) after converting to Islam and naming it after important Imams and Imamzadehs (children of Imams) to ensure their survival. None more so than the Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad that is in fact a very important and ancient Mithraic ritual site. Another practice that became widespread in order to ensure preservation was that of “vaghf” that is the act of bequeathing property and possessions to the religious orders which make it untouchable.

There is a saying that the invaders of Persia never changed her, but she changed them. They became Persianite and often ensured that Persian customs were upheld and even exported to their new territories, such as the Mamluks in India and the Seljuks. The success of the survival of the Persians was in getting to know the newcomers, their beliefs and customs, and to convince them that they were not really any different at all and that if the preservation of important treasures would be guaranteed by name changing, then that was a small sacrifice they were willing to make.. Even to this day the Iranian communities outside of Iran is well known for remaining full blown Persian in all they do, no matter where they are or whom they befriend.