A few years ago, and under different political circumstances, I wrote a brief preface to a letter attributed to Yazdgerd III and supposedly addressed to either Omar or the Prophet Mohammad himself. It aimed to show that the letter was indeed fake, despite claims of the existence of its original version in the British Museum, a claim that initiated many emails to several acquaintances at the British Museum and other British institutions, enquiring after the original of this letter.
The current two letters, another version of the same letter now preceded by a newer forgery attributed to Caliph ‘Umar (Per. Omar) seem to require a similar introduction. The fact that the Iranian community sees the need to create such forgeries is a socio-political issue that needs to be addressed by its own experts, however.
Fortunately, this time I don’t need to argue for the anti-Arab sentiments of whoever has forged these letters. While for the previous version, I had to argue about the tone of the letter, this time, one can easily see these feelings in the “captions” included after the words “Ajam” (in Omar’s letter) and after Taazi (in Yazdgerd’s letter). Both meanings given are wrong and polemically anti-Arab. We don’t know the meaning of Ajam at all, while Tazi is not “wild dogs” (another meaning of it in modern Persian), rather from Middle Persian tay-zik (similar to MP Ray-zik à New Persian Raazi, meaning “from the city of Ray”). Tayy was the name of an Arab tribe who lived close to the Sasanian borders. So, Sasanians used to call all Arabs Tay-zik, “those of the Tayy”.
The Omar letter is a pretty standard letter, much if its text can be assembled from what is available in early Islamic histories as being the content of the letters sent by the Prophet Mohammad to leaders of other states and tribes, inviting them to Islam. One thing, however, is sloppy here. In the Omar letter, the Muslim slogan “Allah o Akbar” (God is Great) is treated as the name of the god, saying “consider Allah o Akbar as your savior”. This would have been quite impossible for a Muslim and a native speaker of Arabic. Also, one wonders when Omar would have written this letter, and the same is true for Yazdgerd. Is this supposedly after the Battle of Ghadisiya? After Nahavand?
This is one of the major points in the Yazdgerd letter. Yazdgerd seems to be writing after Arabs have successfully invaded Iran and converted the people, seeing as he is referring to people being forced to say prayer five times a day and other pointers to Islamic practice. This obviously - knowing that this is a modern forgery - sounds like the laments of a 20th-21st century ultra-nationalist. When could this have been for Yazgerd? Even after his departure from Ctesiphon, the time would have been too short for the conversion of even Mesopotamia to take place so thoroughly. That process was not completed, even in Mesopotamia, until later in the seventh century, when Yazdgerd was obviously dead.
Then, there are a score of anachronisms in the text, including references to Aryanism, Fire Worship (a later, Medieval Muslim accusation against the Zoroastrians) as well as understanding of Sasanian Zoroastrianism as monotheism. Another give away is the titles enumerated for Yazdgerd, somehow influenced by the Medieval European feudal titleture. No Sasanian king would have used the title of “King of Pars”. Enumerating the territories one rules over in one’s title was a practice of Medieval European monarchs whose territories were bound to them by a feudal agreement. The Sasanian Empire, being a centralized empire, would have no need for this. The title of the king of Pars seems to have occurred to the forger from the title of the Achaemenid kings, another example of forger’s lack of historical understanding that has also resulted in the anachronisms mentioned above.
Furthermore, the insults used by Yazdgerd against Omar are quite modern as well, showing another example of the anti-Arab tendencies of the faker of the letters. Title of lizard-eater is a new Persian insult for the Arabs, based on 20th century understanding of the Bedouin Arab life style. A Sasanian king would have known the Arabs via the client kingdom of Hira and the tribe of Tayy, both of them settled, in the case of the former, even converted to Christianity. So, it would have been quite unusual for Yazdgerd to know the living habits and customs of a distant Arab tribe in the west of the Arabian Peninsula. Same is true for the degree of (polemic) familiarity Yazdgerd shows for the nascent religion of Islam, again an indication of the naturally modern attitude of the person who forged the letters.Yazdgerd/writer of the letter seem to have attended some Quranic school and/or read some books since the last incarnation of this letter!
In fact, one can barely call this a forgery, as there are no original “Arabic” or “Middle Persian” of these letters presented. Interestingly enough, the original that is presented is in English, making one wonder, along with the mistake of treating Allah o Akbar as a deity, whether the original faker was an Islamophobic English speaker. One would never know.
As a last word, let me inform you that these sorts of documents, if ever existing in reality, would not first surface in popular media, rather in scholarly journals and books. This is generally a good indication of whether something is real or fake: if you see bibliographical references to scholarly editions of the text, then there is a high chance that it is real. Even if you have no access to all sorts of scholarly books, you can try checking out academic sites, such as the one we have recently created, dedicated to the Sasanian Empire. The Sasanika project, lead by Prof. Touraj Daryaee of UC Irvine and using the cooperation of many scholars of late antique Near East, aims to bring together the available information on the Sasanian history and culture to the world wide web. We are doing this by creating a library of primary sources, publishing scholarly articles, and creating archaeological and art-historical resources. I suggest that the next time you find a very interesting, but very suspect document on the internet, you do your own research by looking at the sources and books, and Sasanika would be an excellent place to start!
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