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The Safawi Movement.

Shi'ism has been a convenient banner under which the downtrodden could unite in hostility to the ruling Sunni class (whether this was Arab in the person of governors appointed by the caliph, or local rulers in Persia who had retained their Zoroastrian faith and who, when they did not feel strong enough to throw off control, either out of fear of local rivals or of rebellion by their subjects, co-operated with the caliphs). As such, Ja'farism tended to be revolutionary. The first Safawi theocracy expanded its territory rapidly thanks to the appeal of its Ja'farism among non-Sunnis.

Ja'far's time was crucial in the transition from Umayyad to Abbasid power. The teacher of fiqh par excellence, Ja'far was a master Sufi and an authority in alchemy. To Ja'far were also ascribed numerous utterances which - apart from defining Shi'ite doctrine as well as prayers and homilies - dealt with divination, the most famous of which was the mysterious Jafr (foretelling the future). His works and links with Sufis later led to the Ikhwan al-Safa' (Brotherhood of Purity) movement which, as a secret organisation in the first half of the 10th century, sponsored educational projects and artisans' guilds, and publicised the work of alchemists. From then emerged a Ja'fari-Sufi alliance which survived through the second half of the 15th century, when the head of the related Safawi movement was Junayd (1447-60) who, for the first time, militated for Ja'farism and aspired to temporal power. But the links to Sufism began to fade away after Isma'il I.

The Turkomans' two empires were at war: Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep) against Kara Koyunlu (Black Sheep). Junayd militated in Ardebil, which was under Kara Koyunlu monarch Jahanshah (who ruled Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, the two Iraqs - Iraq-i 'Arab and Iraq-i 'Ajam - as well as Fars, Kirman, Sarir and the shores of the Sea of Oman). Jahanshah saw the Shi'ite threat so real that he ordered Junayd to disperse his forces and leave Ardebil; otherwise, Ardebil will be destroyed. Junayd fled and later took refuge at Ak Koyunlu ruler Uzun Hassan's court in Diyar-Bakir in 1456-9. The Ak Koyunlu-Safawi alliance - the first Sunni-Shi'ite alliance - led to Junayd marrying Hassan's sister. Hassan defeated Jahanshah and Kara Koyunlu's empire collapsed. This helped Ak Koyunlu's empire to spread from Central Asia and the Caucasus to parts of Turkey, Syria, the two Iraqs, Iran, parts of Afghanistan, etc. Junayd died in battle in 1460 and was succeeded by Haydar, who later married Hassan's daughter, but was killed in 1488 and was succeeded by Ali. Hassan was defeated in 1473 by the Ottomans and died in 1478.

Ak Koyunlu declined because of wars among the princes. In 1494 Ak Koyunlu's Rustam released Ali from jail as he needed his help against a rival prince. But Rustam killed the Safawi leader as Shi'ite support for Ali rose on an alarming scale. Ali's brother Isma'il fled to Gilan; from Gilan, for the next five years, he directed the final stages of a Safawi revolution. His emissaries shuttled between Gilan and Safawi bases in Anatolia, Syria and the Armenian highlands. It was from those areas that Isma'il derived the elite of his army - his most fanatical Ja'faris - men of the Rumlu, Ustajilu, Takkalu, Dhul-Qadar, Warsak, Shamlu, Turkomans, Afshar, Qajar and other Turkoman tribes.

Called Kizilbash (Turkic for "Red Heads" as they wore a distinctive crimson hat with 12 folds denoting their Twelver faith), these men considered Isma'il to be both their religious Murshid-i Kamil ("the Perfect Guide as head of the Safawi order) and their temporal "Padishah" (king). To the Kizilbash as well as the other Ja'fari Shi'ites, Isma'il now was revered as the Shadow of God on Earth - a special Shi'ite title which Abul-Abbas al-Saffah had borrowed in 750 when he became the first caliph of the Abbasids (and which the young and thuggish Ja'fari mullah, Muqtada al-Sadr, in Iraq today occasionally is called by some of his militiamen of J&M - see on page 1 of this rim6).

In 1499 - just as in early 1979 Imam Khomeini arrived in Tehran from Paris to take power in Iran - Isma'il moved from Gilan and his revolution broke out. By the autumn of 1500 he had been joined by 7,000 magnificent Kizilbash at his rendez-vous in Erzinjan. He turned aside to crush the Shirwanshah, who had killed his father and grandfather. At the battle of Sharur, he routed Alwand Ak Koyunlu - the Shi'ite-Sunni alliance having collapsed in 1479. Isma'il entered Tabriz in 1501 and had himself crowned as the first shah of the Safawid dynasty and proclaimed the Ja'fari rite to be the official religion of the state. He emphasised two of his theocracy's objectives: to differentiate his holy state from the Ottoman empire, and to have doctrinal unity among his subjects. He appointed a sadr to head the religious order; but in reality the sadr was to derive his authority from the political institution.

In 1503, Shah Isma'il-I had the last Ak Koyunlu ruler, Murad, expelled from Iran. He had Diyar-Bakir annexed to his empire in 1507. Baghdad was captured in 1508. Khorasan was annexed in 1510. By then, the Sunni Uzbeks in the east and the zealously orthodox Sunni Ottomans in the west had become the main enemies of the Safawi empire.

The fact that on Anatolian borders was a powerful Shi'ite state having the allegiance of so many Turkic tribes was a threat the Ottomans could not ignore. So in 1514, Sultan Selim-I launched the first of a long series of invasions of Iran. In August of that year the Safawi army was defeated at Caldiran. Selim had to withdraw from Tabriz after a short occupation but took Diyar-Bakir as well as the Mar'ash and Albistan regions.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Date:Jun 11, 2007
Words:952
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