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“Bismillah Ar- Rahman Ar- Rahiim”

By the Name of Allah the most Compassionate, the most Merciful


Prayer, Worship and Devotions in Persian Literature
By: Prof. M. S. TAJAR
Former Lecturer
University of the Philippines

The term “worship” in English comes from “worth-ship” which means praising
and declaring the worthiness of somebody or something, through words or actions or
both. In religious terminology it means praising God Almighty and declaring His praise-
worthiness through prayers and devotions.

Meanwhile, in Persian language, the term for prayer or worship is “Namaz”,


which is the root word of “Namasteh” in Sanskrit. And considering the fact that Sanskrit
is actually an Aryan language, meaning Iranian in origin, (Ref. “India” DK publishing,
U.K. 1999, p.42) then the background of worship and prayer among the Aryan people,
including the Persians, goes as far back as 40,000 years. (Ref.”gardesh-gari” Iran
Magazine, spring 2000, p.28).

According to the scholars of history and archeology, the oldest formal religion in
the world, which exists today, is “Mithraism” (or the Sun-god worship) that is some 4000
years old. (Ref. “International Herald Tribune” Mar. 18/2006.) (Also www.iranyad.ir)

This form of religion, which originated in Persia, thousands of years ago, later
went to Egypt and became “Amon-ra” (short for Mithra) in Greece it was called “Helios”
/ “hyerion” and in Rome it was named “Apollo” and lastly in India as “Mithra” (note: In
India, sun is called “Suraj” meaning the mighty ruler or the Almighty.)

Today in India we can still see the Sun temples of Konark and Modhera standing
tall, as witnesses to the sun-god worshipping traditions. The truth of the matter is that
Mithraism or the sun-god worshipping in India is much older than the Hinduism itself.
(There is also a yearly celebration for the sun-god “Mithra”, along the Ganges River in
India, every spring season.) But the sun-god worship or Mithraism did not stop there, it
went even farther to reach South America, where the people of the Aztec culture in
Mexico and the Incas of Peru, and other native Indians, still observe the sun-god
worshipping traditions on March 21, which is the start of the spring and also the Persian
new year (Nauruz); This, despite the fact that, officially at least, the Indians of Latin
America follow the Christian faith. (Ref. “Aljazeera” network March 1/2007.)

Another interesting point regarding the sun-god worshipping is the belief and
practices of some European communities and their intellectuals; among them Goethe
(1749-1832), the great German scholar who also practiced Mithraism. He was fascinated
with the Persian culture and poetry, especially those of Sa’di and Hafiz, and he even
wrote one of his best books (“The Eastern Diwan”) about them.
All this celebrations and devotions are related to each other in one main concept
and that is Mithraism. You may even add the Stonehenges in England and other sun-
worship cultural and religious beliefs and practices around the world, which are all Aryan
and Mithraic in origin. For example the Swastika, as the symbol of the “revolving sun”
which is curved in some old church buildings in Eastern Europe. (Ref. BBC “fast track”
feb.20/2206) or it is used by the Hindu and Buddhist groups or some Aryan extremists in
the West, or the smiling sun, which is the symbol of the city of Manila, the University of
Santo Tomas, and some other Christian institutions; even the flags of some countries like
Argentina, Japan, the Philippines, etc. For instance the sun in the Philippine flag is
traceable to sun-worship called “Taong Araw.”

Prayer in the Pre-Islamic Persia

As we have said before, with an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 years of progressive


civilization and culture, the Aryans and especially the Iranians, who consider their
country as the original home-land of those people, have probably the oldest and the
earliest type of a formal and organized set of religious rituals and practices in the world.

For example, the “fire temple of Azerbaijan” (a country, whose name itself means
“fire temple land”) is some 5000 years old and it’s still burning non-stop (Ref. ”The new
world” Siemens magazine, Sept.2001, p.21)

If we accept the idea that “Father Abraham” (who is considered as being the
father of all the monotheistic religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was
actually the same “Brahma” of the Indians and the Zoroaster of the Persians, the story
becomes even more interesting and eligible for some further research and more
intellectual debates. (Take note, for example, that Abraham or Prophet Abraham A.S. as
the Muslims call him, was born in the “Ur” (city) of Chaldea, which is located in present
day Iraq, but in those days Iraq itself was a province of the Persian Empire; and Baghdad
was one of the four capital of the Persian Empire (the other three being Susa, Hagmatana
(Hamadan, today) and Persepolis. In fact the name Baghdad comes from two Persian
words of Bagh(=God) and dad(=giving) meaning God given city or “Diosdado” in Latin.
Actually the modern Iraq, as an independent state is only 87 years old, since it was
created by the British colonizers in 1920, after they had grabbed it from the Ottoman
Turks in the first world war (1914-1918).

Going back to Abraham/ Brahma and Zoroaster, it is very amazing that the birth
place and the dates of birth of these apparently different persons are almost the same. The
Ur of Chaldea in Iraq, or the city of Urumiyya in Iran or the city of Baku in Azerbaijan,
which border each other today, but they were parts of one empire in the past.

And considering the fact that according to the Holy Qur’an (69:21) Abraham was
thrown into a burning fire by King Nimrud of Iraq, to die, and God, miraculously, turned
that fire into a “cool garden” for Abraham, and also the fact that the followers of
Zoroaster (also known as Parsees) respect the fire and keep it always alive in their
temples, many interesting similarities about Prophet Abraham and Prophet Zoroaster
could be observed.
In the same region that Prophet Abraham and Prophet Zoroaster were teaching
how to worship the One True God, (Yahweh or Ahura Mazda) there used to be another
prophet called Noah (A.S.). His ark landed in mount Ararat, located in present day
Turkey, that also used to be one of the 27 states of the Persian Empire (which stretched
from the Indus river, today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan up to the Danube river in Europe
and from there up to the Nile river in Egypt, Phoenicia (Lebanon) Palestine and up to
Ethiopia in Africa. All this goes to show the depth and the width of the roots of religion
in general and religious practices, and rituals including prayers and devotions in ancient
Persia.

And that is the subject of our study, in this prestigious gathering today.

Persian Prophets and Their Holy Books

Now that we have touched the geographical vastness of the lands of the ancient
Persia, allow me also to share with you, very briefly, the most well-known prophets of
Persia, and their holy books, which are the main parts of our discussion about the
“prayers in Persian literature”. Those prophets and their holy books, which are basically
the hymns, devotions and praises to the Almighty God, are as follows:
1) The “priest king”Jamshid Jam (the shinning ruler), the first “Ten
commandments” giver, 5000 BC. He was also the first king in the world, according to the
Persian folklores. (ref. “Parsi Names” by Maneka Gandhi and Prof. Ozair Hasain, India,
1994-p. 208)
2). The “Priest-King” Hushang Pish-dadi (the first law giver) 3000 B.C. his holy
book is “Azar-hushang” (Ref. “Parsi Names” by Maneka Gandhi, India, 1994- p.177)
Note: try to compare this with King Hamurabi, the ancient teacher-law-giver of the
Mesopotamian region and the book of Gilgamesh.
3). The Prophet Maha-Baad or Abad, 1,200 B.C. his holy book is “Dasastir”
(Ibid).
4). The Prophet Zoroaster or Zaratush-tra, 600 B.C. his holy books are “Zand”
“Avesta” and a book of hymns, called “Gatha” or songs. (His teachings have influenced
all other religions after it, namely Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Mahayana Buddhism,
Manicheanism, etc.)
5).Prophet Jaumist the Maji 400 B.C. his holy book is called “ Gaumist”
(Qamus?)
6). Prophet Maani (“the Messenger of Light”) 230 A.D. the founder of
Gnosticism and Manicheanism, that had great influences on the Christian theology, too.
He was the first religious figure, who started the iconography, through his paintings, in
order to help even the illiterate masses in learning the religion through pictures. He is also
known as the painting prophet or the artist- prophet. His holy books are called
“Shapurgan” and “Arzhang” or “Artang” (probably the word art has some relation to
Artang, too.).
After the advent of Islam into the Iranian Lands in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.
many other religious orders, like the Sufis were formed. Their main teachings, that are
founded on the Islamic principles, are basically spiritual devotions and “meeting with
God” (or “Liqa-ul Lah”) which is another name for the “union with God” or yoga, that is
one of the oldest, if not the oldest form of worshipping the one and only true God. (Take
note that the word yoga is another old Persian or Aryan term meaning “union” or
“becoming one with God” (Ref. Parsi Names. P. 420)

The main Persian Sufi Orders are: The Maulavis, Naq-sh-bandies, Kobravies,
Sohrwardies, Cheshties, Nematullahies, Safi-Ali-Shahies, etc.

Their holy book is the same Holy Qur’an and the main Islamic books of hadith,
but their leaders who are also known as “ Murshids” “Qutubs” and “Murads” have often
Diwans ( books of poetry) in Persian or some other languages (e.g. the Mathnawi of
Rumi, the Diwan of Shah Nematullah, etc.)

The Islamic-Era Devotional Literature of Persia

To better appreciate the Islamic–era devotional literature of Persia, it is enough to


note here that the first-ever translation of the Holy Qur’an (the main book of devotions
and laws in Islam) was done in Persian language; and it took place during the life time of
the Holy Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.), The great honor of the first translation of the
holy book of Islam, went to a Persian Muslim scholar, by the name of Salman Al-Farsi
( Salman the Persian, whom the Holy Prophet used to call “ a member of my family”). He
was one of the top ten Sahabah or close associates of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.)

And the first sentence of his Qur’an translation was the greatest and the most
famous verse in the Holy Qur’an, which is repeated at the beginning of every chapter
(except chapter 9 or the “At-taubah”). That great verse is “Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-
Rahim” meaning “By the authority of the Name of Allah, the most Compassionate, the
most Merciful”.

Every act of every Muslim, every day and every minute starts with this words and
with their meaning --- the first Islamic mantra(note: Mantra is an old Persian/ Aryan term
which means zikr or praise), if you please, whether it is to slaughter an animal, or to eat
food, to pray or to do any devotional act. (Take note that the Persian version of the
translation was, and still it is up to today: “Be-nam-e khoda-vande bakh-shande-ye mehr-
ban”. This is the exact translation of Salman into Persian language, and it is more than
1400 years old.)

Other Qur’anic Translations in Persia

No other Muslim nation has translated the Holy Qur’an (the heavenly book of
devotions and worship in Islam) as often as the Persians—more than a thousand
translations, up to now. (Ref. ‘Ettelaat Daily”, Tehran, Iran, Jan.20/1996)
While the Othman Turks considered themselves as the legitimate successors to
the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and they ruled as the Islamic Khalifahs for 700 years (1300-
1919) all over the Middle East, from Arabia Felix up to the Balkan in Eastern Europe and
the entire North Africa, yet even they could not succeed in the Qur’anic scholarship, or
it’s translation, as the Persians did.

In fact, the greatest interpreter of the Holy Qur’an in the history of Islam is Imam
Tabari (d. 923 A.D.) a Persian Muslim scholar, from Tabaristan, near the Caspian sea of
Iran. As for the Turkish translation of the Holy Qur’an, for the benefit of the Othoman
Khalifs, it was still another Persian scholar by the name of Mohammad Daulat-Shah
Shirazi in 1310 A.D. who for the first time translated the Holy Qur’an into Turkish
Language. (Ref. “Tarjoman Wahy” magazine, Tehran, Iran Feb.1999)

The Role of the Modern Persians/ Iranians in the English Translation of the Holy Qur’an,
Today

Although the Persian scholars were not the first to translate the Holy Qur’an into English
language, (this honor went to some European scholars and the Indian Muslims, like the
late Marmaduke Picktal and Abdullah Yusof Ali, and others) yet, recently, two Iranian
scholars have compensated for that delay, by coming up with the most unique job of
translating the Holy Qur’an into English, also. There they are:
No. 1) The first melodious English translation of the Holy Qur’an in the world,
took place in 1998 by the Iranian scholar Dr. Fadlullah Nik-Ayin. His melodious
English translation is intended to follow the original melodious Arabic text of the
Holy Qur’an—the first of it’s kind in any foreign language. This unique English
translation, which has been published by the Skookie Books of Illinois, USA, is
said to be a favorite of the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, who always carries it
with himself, wherever he goes.(Ref. “Tarjoman Wahy” Magazine, Tehran, Iran,
Feb.1999,p.20)

No. 2) Is the newest translation of the Holy Qur’an into English language, and it
is done by an Iranian-American scholar, by the name of Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar. The
very interesting aspect of this new English translation, aside from the much
improved language and style, is the fact that the translator happens to be the first
woman who ever translated the Holy Qur’an into English language. (Ref. “The
New York Times” Apr.16/2007 and “Aljazeera” Channel Apr.28/2007) (Note:
this new English translation is under print as of this writing, by the Kazi
Publications of Chicago, USA)

Other Islamic Devotional Literature by the Persian Scholars

When it comes to the Islamic Literature (or even the Islamic Arts) which pertain
to the prayers, worship and devotions to the Almighty Allah (S.W.T.) again the Persian
Muslims are on top of the list.
No wonder the Holy Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) said: “If knowledge and
religious science were in the stars, there would be some Persians to acquire it”. (Ref.
“Sahih Muslim” p.204)

Just to give you a good example here, it suffices to say that all the major books of
Hadith, or the teachings and instructions of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) were written by
the Persian scholars, and not by the Arabs, to whom Islam came in the first place, nor by
the other ethnic groups or nationalities, who embraced Islam later, like the Turks, the
Indians, the Indonesians, etc.

Here are the names of those six greatest authors of the Books of Hadith (“Sihah
Sittah”) who collected and thus preserved the basic Islamic teachings, as follows:
1. Mohammad ibne Ismail Bukhari (821-897A.D.) from Bukhara, the ancient
Persia.
2. Muslim- from Nishapuer or Neishabur (Persia)
3. Tirmzi- from Tirmiz ( ancient Persia)
4. Nasai- from Nasa of Khorasan (Persia)
5. Abu- Dawoud-from Sajistan ( Sistan-Baluchistan of Iran)
6. Ibne Majah- from Qazwin (Caspian region of Iran)

But, even greater than these six scholars is another Persian learned man, who
produced the Encyclopedia of the Islamic thoughts and teachings as a whole, with the
main topic on worship of the Almighty Allah (S.W.T.). That great personality was the
Grand Allamah Mohammad Al-Majlesi (17th century) and his monumental work of 110
volumes is called “Beharul Anwaar”. This voluminous masterpiece has been published
many times in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries.

The Persian Sufi Devotions

The Sufis are a class of their own, when it comes to prayer, meditation (zikr) and
devotions. They often go up to the level of trance, and the total submersion in their
“ibadah” and spiritual relationship with God.

From the whirling Derwishes of Turkey and the Balkans (see “International
Herald Tribune”, Mar.24/2007) to Syria, Egypt, Sudan and up to the Sufis of North
Africa, almost all of them have been influenced by the Master Sufis of Persia, like the
Great Jalalud Din Rumi, whose monumental book “The Mathnawi” is known as “ the
holy Qur’an in Persian version” because he has incorporated thousands of the Qur’anic
verses, into his Persian poems. (By the way it is also very interesting to note here, that
Rumis’ classical book of wisdom and spirituality—i.e. the Mathnawii is the bestselling
book of poetry in the entire history of the world literature; even today, it is on top of the
list in Europe and America, some 800 years after its creation. Next to Rumi, the second
bestselling poet in the world history is another Persian, i.e. the Great Omar Khyayyam,
whose Rubaiyyat, after the Bible, is the most translated piece of literature in the world.
But, the third best selling poet in the world is not a Persian, he is William Shakespeare of
England.)
Now, going back again to the Sufi worship and devotions, they go beyond the
ordinary, and reach to a point where a grand Sufi like Mansour Al-Hallaj openly
declares” I am the Truth! The Truth is in me!” (Just like what the Bible quotes Jesus
Christ, as having said.)

What Al-Hallaj was saying is that “There is nothing in this world which is not the
projection of the Almighty God. In other words, he was saying “God is everything, and
everything eminates from God, and without Him, there is nothing (although not
necessarily everything is God, as the Greek Pantheists, and the Hindus or the Buddhists,
believe.)

This concept is supported by the Qur’anic statement that says: “He (Allah) is the
First, the Last, the Apparent, the Hidden and He alone knows everything.” Holy Qur’an
(57:3). And Imam Ali (A.S.) whom many Sufis consider as their spiritual example, once
said: “I have never looked at anything unless I have seen God Almighty, before it, with it,
and after it!”

But when the Sufi, Al-Hallaj declared this truth so bluntly and boldly, many
people misunderstood him, and he paid the ultimate price, i.e. his life, for this statement,
which was considered blasphemous by some people (again very similar to what the
Christians believe about Jesus Christ, although the Muslim version of the story of Jesus is
different).

Al-Hallaj was declaring that what he felt during his devotions and “Zikr” or
prayer and worship of God, was a “union and oneness with the beloved or the yoga”, to
use the Old Persian/ Aryan term.

Hafiz of Shiraz Defends Al-Hallaj

One of the greatest Persian poets and Sufis, if not the greatest, the marvelous
Hafiz of Shiraz defends Al-Hallaj’s statement. While describing the tragic death of Al-
Hallaj, he concluded that “ Al-Hallaj’s only crime was that he exposed the secrets of what
goes on between a true worshipper and his beloved—The Almighty God”. (“Jormash aan
bood keh asrar howaida mi-kard”. (Ref. “Diwan of Hafiz” Elmi Books, Tehran 2001,
p.82)

Several centuries later, the great Philosopher- Sufi, Mulla Hadi Sabzwari, also
affirmed the position taken by Al-Hallaj, and declared his innocence by this immortal
Philosophical-Mystical poem, in Persian, that says:
“If there was another Moses,
He, too, would have heard, clearly and loudly,
The voice that is constantly shouting:
“I am the Truth! I am the Truth!”
For, there is no bush, a shrub or a tree,
That does not constantly repeat this claim:
“I am the Truth! The Truth is in me!”
Motahari, “Islamic studies”, p. 20

Actually, the Philosopher-mystic from Sabzewar is explaining what the great


Sheikh Mahmood of Shabastar had already stated. He too, was defending the declaration
by Al-Hallaj, when he said, and we quote:

“If a humble little bush,


From the desert of Sinai,
Could shout loudly that “I am the Lord”
Why can’t a holy man of God, too,
Who is Godly in all his ways,
Claim that: “It’s God speaking, not me!”
(Ibid)
And as always, the grand sufi; Jaladud Dun Rumi hast the final saying:

“We are just like the mountains, (O’ Lord!)


And the echo is your voice!”

Some Examples of the Sufi Sayings About Worship

There are countless statements, by the Sufis, both in poetry and prose, about
prayer, worship and devotions, in Persian literature.

But to shorten the discussion, I would like to quote just a few of them here, as an
example. After all, as the Persian proverb says: “A handful of grain, could serve as a
sample, for the rest of the stock, too!”

The great Sheikh Sa’di of Shiraz, who was also a Sufi and a man of Wisdom and
letters, an author and poet, par excellence, who wrote the sweetest possible poetry and
prose, in Persian language, says, and I quote:
“The sun, the moon, the winds, and the clouds,
All are performing their duties so well
It is not alright that you, O’ little soul,
Will not be performing your duties to the lord!”
The Golestan (“Rose Garden”) p.21

Again in another chapter he says, and we quote:

“One morning I was fast asleep”


“Suddenly I was awakened
By a loud cry of a bird
Who was on top of a tree”
“I said to myself: my dear,
“It’s not good for you to be neglecting
Your own morning prayers and devotions,
“While those little birds are singing
Their beautiful praises to the Lord”
(Ibid p.22)
In fact, Sheikh Sa’di has devoted an entire chapter of his immortal classic
“The Golestan” (“The Rose Garden”) to the subject of worship, prayer and
devotions to God Almighty.

Another famous Persian Sufi-poet, called Khawja Abdullah Ansari, says:


“When you were just a kid, you would always play,
Now that you are young and strong, you are happy-go-lucky,
And when you end up old, you will be too weak to work,
Tell me, then, my son, when are you going to serve the Lord?”

Hashemi, “Islamic Studies”, p. 80

A third Persian Sufi believed that: “The true prayer and devotions to Allah (S.W.T.) is to
serve His people well”. (“Ebadat be-joz khedmat-e khalq nist!”)

And that agrees with a saying from Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) himself that said:
“90% of worship consists of the rightful works and lawful jobs” (that will benefit the
community).

And one of the greatest Islamic spiritual leaders of our time, the Grand Ayatollah
Imam Khomeini (A.R.) has summed this up in one of his lectures on prayer, worship, and
devotions. Today, being his 18th death anniversary, I would like to end this part, by
quoting his refreshing words on this subject. He says and I quote:
“I know of no better protection against evil and any more powerful defense, than
your prayers”.
(Ayatullah Khomeini “Lecture” 1985)

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