Sufis and Shiites 2

May 21 2015

Ismail I and the Safaviyya order of Sufis were Shiite long before he took power: I have corrected the last post but one.

The Safavi were descended from Safi al-Din (1253-1334) of Ardabil in Azeri-dominated north-western Iran, the head and founder of the Safaviyya. About 1399 the order exchanged its Sunni affiliation for Shia.

Qizilbash anti-Ottoman Shiite militant groups, named after their red headgear, flourished in Azerbaijan, Anatolia and Kurdistan (from when?) and, as members of the order (were all Qizilbash members?), contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty.

Ismail’s father was their leader. He died in battle against Sunni forces when Ismail was a year old.

Ismail emerged to take his father’s position as head of the Qizilbash. In 1501 he took Tabriz and proclaimed himself Shah. He brought all of modern Iran and parts of Iraq and Turkey under his rule.

The non-Osmanli Türkmen tribes in Asia Minor had resented being conquered by the Osmanlis in the fourteenth century and being reconquered by them after having been temporarily liberated by Timur. In 1511 the Ottoman Empire was nearly overthrown once again by a widespread revolt in Asia Minor of Twelve-Imam Shiʿi Türkmen partisans of Shah Ismaʿil, the founder of the Safavi Empire. This revolt was repressed savagely by Selim I in 1512-13. The original Safavi army was composed of corps of Shiʿi emigres from the Türkmen principalities in Asia Minor that had fallen under Ottoman rule. After Shah Ismaʿil’s death in 1524, the turbulence of these Qizilbash (“Red-heads”, so-called from the colour of their headgear) became a plague for Ismaʿil’s successors, though the Shahs of the Safavi Empire were ex officio the spiritual heads of the Sufi religious order in which the tribal regiments of Qizilbash soldiers were enrolled.

So Iranian Shiism was forged partly in opposition to the Ottoman Turks. Turkish, Mongol and Persian ethnicities, languages, cultures and polities meet and overlap: it is easy to distort matters when one applies labels. Toynbee, below, in an early book, calls the Timurids Turkish, but Timur is usually described as Turco-Mongol. He is a successor of the Mongols, but came from a Turkicised Mongol federation, the Barlas.

The “native Persian” Shah Ismail unified Persia through the intolerant imposition of Shiism and a renaissance of Persian culture followed, but, coming from Azerbaijan, he is usually described as being of Turkic stock (though the point is disputed). “Native Persian” is the kind of imprecise nationalistic term Toynbee would have dropped in later books.

“Turco-Mongol” can also be used in a broader sense, to describe the hypothetical common origin of both the Turkic and Mongol peoples which can be found in their common Altaic languages, culture and, to a lesser degree, ethnic and genetic origins.

In the sixteenth century A.D. a native Persian dynasty, the Sufi, which adhered to [the Shiite] sect, swept away the Turkish [Timurid and sub-Timurid] princelings who had divided Iran between them since the Mongol [Il Khan] era. The plateau was united once more in a national state, and once more again the renaissance of Iran expressed itself in religion. The heresy of its kings became the belief of the nation, and under the banner of “Shiism,” Persia kept at bay the hated Turkish powers which hemmed her in on every side and uniformly professed the orthodox “Sunni” faith: Ottoman Turks on the West, Uzbeg Khans upon the Oxus in the North, and the Uzbegs’ Mogul [sic] cousins, who had carved themselves a mighty empire in India upon Persia’s Eastern flank.

I assume that there is an etymological connection between Sufi and Safaviyya or Safavid.

Toynbee does have throughout this book, and with a respectable publisher in 1915, “century A.D.”.

Old post: Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Nationality and the War, with maps, Dent, 1915

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