An American college student who had just converted to Islam, once came up to me and asked: “Do you have to be an Arab to be a good Muslim?”
“Of course not.” I replied. “Who told you that?”
“The people in the mosque give me that idea,” She said.
“Well, knowing Arabic just gives you an advantage of being closer to the original written sources. But that's all. There are different schools of thought in Islam. Some of them even believe you can pray in your own language.” I said. She seemed desperate to find her way. Obviously, I hadn't answered her question.
“Honestly, the Islam that's being practiced these days is kind of fucked up,” I bluntly added.
“Then what IS the true Islam?” she asked.
“Certainly not what you're seeing around today,” was my reply. I knew that she had hit an ugly and big obstacle that Iranians had hit 1400 years ago. How was I to help her? After all, the way Iranians solved the problem in those days was by de-Arabizing Islam.
Iran accepted Islam, but it changed it by making of it an international religion and culture not wedded to Arab or bedouin customs and beliefs.
Why was Islam introduced to the Arabs, of all people? To save them from their own Jahiliyah (ignorance). If it weren't for Islam, God knows where they would have gone with slavery, burying their daughters alive, and racism. Ah yes, racism.
Contrary to what many people think, conversion to Islam was discouraged, if not actually forbidden for Iranians, in the days of early Islam. The caliph Omar in fact, sought to restrict conversions to Islam only to Arabs. One tradition even claims that he stopped the victorious Arabs from invading the Iranian plateau after the battle of Jalula' because he did not wish to see Persians converted to Islam.
The conquest of Persia and beyond was thus frankly intended to raise new revenues, and the native population naturally did not appreciate this exploitation. Many Arab Muslims believed that Iranian converts should not clothe themselves as Arabs, among many other forms discrimination that existed. And I'm not even going to get into the brutal and inhumane massacres of Iranians by the Arab forces that are well documented.
Arab racism was so apparent in the days of Jahiliyah, that Mohammad himself is known to have said: “Oh people! Know that Arabs are not superior to Iranians, and Blacks superior to the Red-skinned, nor is the opposite. The only scale is your piety (Taqwa).”
But from the vast majority of traditions recorded, it seems that Mohammad himself, Ali, and his progeny in particular felt an affinity of sorts for Iranians. As an example, an Arab woman once came up to Ali and protested: “Why did you give the same amount that you gave me from the public pensions, to an Iranian?” Ali replied: “In the Quran, I did not find the progeny of Ishmael (the Arabs) to be any higher than the Iranians.”
There are even documents that speak of Mohammad conversing in Farsi in some instances. This obviously did (and does) not go well with the Arabs that thought very low of Farsi. Mohammad reminded them: “Never recite the names of Iranians with indignity.” And he is famously known to have said: “Tidings to the progeny of Farrokh! For if faith and learning be tied to the star of Sorayya, the Arab will not attain it, whereas the Iranian will.”
Not long after, one day, while Ali was reciting a sermon in the city of Kufah, Ash'as ebne Gheis, a commander in the Arab army protested: “Amir-al-Momeneen! These Iranians are excelling the Arabs right in front of your eyes, and you are doing nothing about it!” He then roared: “I, will show them who the Arabs are!”
Ali immediately retorted: “These fat Arabs rest in soft beds while the Iranians work hard on the hottest days to please God with their efforts. And what do these Arabs want from me? To ostracize the Iranians, and become an oppressor! I swear by the God that splits the nucleus and creates Man, I heard the prophet once say: Just as you strike the Iranians with your swords in the name of Islam, so will the Iranians one day strike you back the same way, for Islam.”
When the Iranian city of Anbar fell to the forces of Mo'awiyeh, news reached Ali that the city had been sacked and plundered spilling much innocent blood. Ali gathered all the people of Kufah to the mosque, and gave a fiery sermon. After describing the massacre, he said: “If somebody, hearing this news now faints and dies of grief, I fully approve of it!”  It is from here that Ali is said to have had more sympathy for Iranians while Omar highly resented them.
But perhaps the most touching of all these accounts is the account of a princess, the eldest daughter of Yazdegerd III, whose empire fell to its demise by the armies of Omar, the second caliph of Islam.
When returning to Madinah from their famous victorious battle against Persia, Omar's army brought with them many prisoners. Many of them were women. Among the prisoners captured at Mada'en were members of the Persian royal family, including the princess. People flocked in masses to see the captured daughter of the fallen mythical King of Persia.
Omar the caliph soon arrived and demanded the daughter of the King of Persia to be shown to him. The soldiers brought her to Omar. Omar then approached her and reached out to lift her veil to see the woman. The princess pulled herself back and cried out in Farsi: “The face of Hormoz darkens from indignity!” (“Vay! Rooye Hormoz siyaah shod!”)
Omar, thinking that the princess had offended him, angrily shouted: “This woman insults me!” and pulled his sword out to behead her. Ali suddenly interrupted him and said: “You do not know her language. She called on her ancestor, and did not insult you.”
Omar then announced that he who paid the most will have her as a slave. But Ali again interrupted and said: “You do not have that right!” The crowd fell silent under Ali's aura. Ali then asked the princess: “Do you wish me to find you a husband?” The princess did not reply. Trying to prevent the auction from taking place, Ali said: “Her silence is a sign of approval.” Facing Omar, Ali continued: “Why don't we let HER choose a person from amongst this crowd as a husband, and we will pay for her dowry from the public treasury?” Omar agreed.
Scanning through the crowd around her, the princess suddenly stopped and froze as her eyes fell on a man amongst the crowd. “I have seen this man in a dream before” she is known to have said. Tracing her look, the entire crowd turned around and looked at Hossein, son of Ali. Ali went up to Hossein and said: “Oh Hossein! From this girl, the most noble of humans shall be born.”
Ali, then came up to the princess and asked: “What is your name?” The princess replied: “The daughter of Jahan-shah”. Ali said: “and so Shahr-banuyeh you will be called” (“the bride of the land”).
To prevent the rest of the prisoners from being sold as slaves in the auction, Ali then declared: “These Iranians are respected and learned people… I, along with the Bani Hashem tribe have decided to set them free.” Omar replied: “Ali today went forward and nullified my decision about the Iranians. So be it.”
And so during the next 300 years, the gradual internationalization of Islam came to unfold. Henceforth, the origin and home of an Islamic scholar did not have much meaning, and the equation of Arab = Muslim was eventually broken, and it was the Iranians who were primarily instrumental in this.
Sadly, nowadays, there are increasing signs of the Arab = Muslim equation re-appearing again, both by Arabs, and by the post 9-11 reactionary view. But my point, is that despite the claims of any Muslim you might run into these days, it isn't difficult to see Arab racism creeping back into the psyche of contemporary “Islam”. It seems, Jahiliyah never really died.
As for the poor American convert, she became so exposed to the ugly side of people proclaiming to represent “Islam”, that after 6 months, she went back to Christianity. Just as many Iranians have been trying to revert to their pre-Islamic Persian roots and sever their ties from this mutated thing today called “Islam”.
After all, we all know that when Mahdi finally re-appears, the faith he will re-introduce, will sound unrecognizably alien to the followers of “Islam”.
References 1. Tabari. Series I. p2778-9. 2. “Mohammedanische Studien” Goldziher. Vol 2 p138-9. 3. “Ansab al Ashraf” or “Fotooh al Buldan” by Baladhuri. P417. More: Tabari. Series II p1207. More: “Tarikh e Sistan” p82. More: “Tarikh e Qum” p254-6. 4. “Tafseer Ghartabi” Vol 9 p6161. Also mentioned in “Alghadeer” Vol 6 p187-188. 5. “Algharat” Vol 1 p70. Also “Tarikh e Yaghubi” Vol 2 p183. Also “Bihar-ol-Anwar” Vol 41 p137. 6. “Masnad Ahmad” Vol 2 p390. Also “Sirehye Nabawiyeh Dahlan” Vol 2 p48. Also “Iranian dar Quran va revayat” by Sayyed Nureddin Abtahi. p65. 7. “Rabi'ol Abrar Zemakhshari” Vol 1 p796. 8. “Sahih Al-Bukhari”, “Sahih Tormodhi”, and “Sahih Moslem” as recounted by “Jame'ol Osul Jazri” Vol 10 p149. 9. “Tarikh Asbahan Abu Na'eem” Vol 1, p6. 10. “Safinat-ol Bihar” Vol 2p693. Also “Sharh Nahj-ul Balaghih Ebn Abi-alhadid” Vol 19, p124. 11. “Nahj ol Balagheh”. Sobhi Saleh. Sermon 27. 12. “Iranian dar Quran va revayat” by Sayyed Nureddin Abtahi. p75. 13. The following sources give similar descriptions of the same account or parts of the same account: “Aldarajat ol Rafi'” p215. Also: “Mo'jem ol Baladan” Vol 2 p196. Also: “Nahj ol Balagheh” letter 45. Also: “Nahj ol Balagheh” Sobhi Saleh sermon 209. Also: “Nafs Al-Rahman” p139. 14. “Managhib ebne shahr ashub” Vol 4, p48. 15. “Islamic Iran and Central Asia”. Richrd Frye. IX. p5.