The purpose of this study is to evaluate the influence of the Zoroastrian religion on Hadiths and Islam that happened in the course of time during the political, religious and cultural disruption. This influence occurred during the conquest of Mesopotamia, present-day Iran and Khorasan by Muslims, and shows some similarities with the primary source, the Quran. The conversion to Islam of the indigenous people in Mesopotamia and Iran took many years, due to instability resulting from the collapse of the great Roman and Sassanid empires. It also happened because of the mix of cultures and faiths of the Arabs and the indigenous people. There are two main aspects of this influence to be considered. Firstly, the indigenous people were divided into three groups; some of them kept their faith but paid the Jizya (tax), while other people had no choice but to embrace Islam; the other group rebelled for at least 150 years after the conquest of their land. Secondly, due to instabilities caused by the conflict, it took many years to record Islamic history and traditions. Therefore, as writing the Hadiths and the biography of the Prophet relied on the memory of different mixed races of jurists, it is difficult to distinguish the pious from the impious (someone who hides their faith). The purpose of this study is not to distinguish the authenticity of Hadith but to bring forth the inherent similarities shared by the religions, as the contact between the Arabs and the Parsees is even older than Islam itself. It is the study of the cultural, political and religious amalgamation of people two different places merging over centuries.
Zoroastrianism is the pre-Islamic religion of Iran and Zarathustra (most widely known as Zoroaster outside Iran) is the founder of this religion and philosophy, it is also the first religion that proposed the idea of monotheism and unification under one God that later influenced Judaism, Christianity and most importantly Islam and Hadith. Friedrich Nietzsche the great 19th century philosopher used Zoroaster as his mouthpiece to dramatize the death of God. Hence, the influence of Zoroastrianism on these three major religions of the world is indisputable. However, the influence of Zoroastrianism on Islam and Hadith is remarkable as we’ll see in the course of this study. The commonalities and influence is far ranging as it includes the day to day practices borrowed from Zoroastrianism to Islam. It includes rituals, public holidays, prayers, clothing, and infrastructure. The prohibition of exhibiting too much grief is similar in Islam and Zoroastrianism, the prohibition to urinate in water and the prohibition to walk with one shoe is typically Zoroastrian.
Apart from day to day life it also affected their beliefs about after life, the judgment day, resurrection and the concept of dualism that differentiate good (Spenta Mainyu) from evil (Angra Mainyu). The ascent of the prophet to the heaven in Islamic literature is also an indication of the commonalities shared by the two religions. In Zoroastrian tradition, Viraz (Arda Viraz the Zoroastrian Priest who wrote the book of Arda Viraz) is guided by Saraosh while in Islam Muhammad is guided by Gabriel through their journey of heavens. (Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism). One can also track the roots of Islamic Sufism in Furthermore, the similarities between the founding figures of these to religions are startling. Along the way we’ll also see the fabrication done by the rebels as polemic to the Arab faith.
Richard C Foltz in his most insightful book Spirituality in the Land of the Nobles, says the following “the extraordinarily broad and profound influences of Iran on the world’s religions”, the Judaism and Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrianism and Islam borrowed from both Judaism and Zoroastrianism and one cannot turn a blind eye on the ‘profound influence’ as Richard Foltz put it in his dramatic expression about the profundity of the influence of Zoroastrianism on world religions. (Foltz, Spirituality in the land of the noble: how Iran shaped the world’s religions).
Another prominent scholar on Zoroastrian religion says the following:
“Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith.” (Boyce, 2011)
Boyce is one of the leading figures regarding the philosophy and religion of Zoroastrianism put it quite accurately in the above statement. The influence can be direct as well as indirect in terms of our discussion as I have already asserted this gesture somewhere above that Judaism is influenced directly from Zoroastrianism and Islam is influenced by Zoroastrianism through Judaism and then directly from Zoroastrianism in Persia (Boyce, 1990). To quote another proponent of the subject:
‘With extensive and varied contacts between Arabs and Persians, particularly in the course of 6th century, it is hardly surprising that a number of Islamic concepts and practices should have been adopted from or influenced by the tenets of Iranian religions……Among these are the eschatological notions of resurrection, the bridge between heaven and hell that the resurrected bodies will have to cross, millenarian and Messianic beliefs, and the catastrophic end of the world.’ (Richard et al, 1998)
Nothing can get more elaborative than the above statement where Richard G states the adoption of Persian traditions and concept in Islam that shaped Islamic religion over the course of time. It includes the beliefs like resurrection, doomsday, the idea of heaven and hell and the coming of Messiah.
Ghorbannejad wrote an article in 2014 regarding the roots of Islamic Sufism. He argues that the roots of inspiration of Islamic Sufism can be track down to Zarathustra who laid the foundation of their belief system, he states the following in the article ‘Late Onset of Sufism in Azerbaijan and the Influence of Zarathustra Thoughts on its Fundamentals’:
‘Islamic Sufism started in Azerbaijan later than other Islamic regions for some reasons. Early Sufis in this region had been inspired by mysterious beliefs of Zarathustra which played an important role in the future path of Sufism in Iran the consequences of which can be seen in illumination theory.’ (Parisa Ghorbannejad, 2014).
The influence of Zoroastrianism is undeniable, weather its daily life or a matter of spiritual struggle Zoroastrianism seems to be the dominant influence for Arabs due to its rich traditions and the man behind, Zarathustra, who has been considered the prophet of Allah by many Muslims. A man and a philosopher who would change the course of world religion for forever.
Another famous concept regarding the coming of Imam Mahdi is very famous among Muslims alludes that the end of the world, it is a very controversial concept even among Islamic Scholars, nonetheless, present in Hadith, it says:
‘Allah will bring out from concealment al-Mahdi from my family and just before the day of Judgment; even if only one day were to remain in the life of the world, and he will spread on this earth justice and equity and will eradicate tyranny and oppression.’ (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Vol. 1, P. 99)
As we can see from the above Hadith the coming of al-Mahdi and the end of the world is described by the prophet himself according to Musnd Ahmad Ibn Hanabal. According to the very famous Sufi Poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal the concept of coming of al-Mahdi had been borrowed from Zoroastrianism. H Mahmood in his book Interpreting Sacred Texts: Eschatology in Islam says the following:
‘Iqbal further corroborates his argument by proving that this idea [the idea of coming of Imam Mahdi] has penetrated into Islam from Magian and Zoroastrianism concepts of the return of Zoroaster’s unborn sons.’
The argument was not intended to highlight the contradiction that resides among Sufis but to bring forth the origins of Hadith that were directly borrowed from the Zoroastrian tradition.
The concept of evil (Angra Mainyu) and good (Spenta Mainyu) which is also known as dualism is the major contribution of Zoroastrianism to Islamic conception of good and evil. They believed evil is the active agency in this universe. The Muslims borrowed this concept and later it was manipulated by the religious fanatics of our time but it is a concept that meant to be understood in terms of personal struggle and movement, it doesn’t mean ‘holy war’. Nonetheless, the original concept refers back to Zoroastrian. (Stepaniants, The encounter of Zoroastrianism with Islam. Philosophy East and West)
There are many Persian phrases used in Hadiths apart from the borrowed words in Arabic language. Here is an example of such phrases uttered by Prophet Mohammad; hrš b’yd bwd wa-huwa be’l-fāresiya tafsirohu koll šayʾen qoddera yakun, “harča bāyad bovad, which can be translated as ‘all that has been decreed will come about’ “(Moḥammad b. Ḵa-laf, I, p. 345). Similarly, al-ʿenab do do wa’l-tamr yak yak which means “grapes are [eaten] two by two, dates are [eaten] one by one” (ʿAli Qāri, p. 248, no. 305). In Abu Ḥafṣ ʿOmar, p. 43, there are other Persian expressions quoted by the Prophet. (Encyclopedia Iranica). Hence the adoption of these Persian phrases into Hadith is the direct indication of the influence that the Zoroastrianism had on Islam even in the time of Prophet Muhammad.
Many similarities in the writing of the biographies of both Prophets Muhammad and Zoroaster can be seen; the first declaration of new faith among their families, having few followers, then migrating to different places. Also, there are a few stories in their biographies, as proclaimed by followers, which are not mentioned in the primary sources, the Quran and Avesta, such as their childhood, ascent to heaven, and the accusation of being magicians. Besides, it is vibrant that Ibn Hisham wrote the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, it based on the Sira by Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Ishaq was born in 703 CE. Like many ancient manuscripts Ibn Ishaq’s work has lost, it is believable that his work reached us through Ibn Hisham that borrowed many aspects from Zoroastrianism.
The doubts about the origins of Hadith has always baffled students of religious studies over the course of history. Ignác Goldziher the Hungarian Scholar of Islam argues that how these doubts spread in early Islam. The Hadith were composed over many years by Arab and non-Arabs jurists; their accounts were a collection based on the memories of people from different places. For example, they visited Iraq, Kufa, Basra and Egypt, which was originally a land of different nationalities and faiths. Here, we can see the influence that other cultures, and especially the Zoroastrian faith, had on the Hadith. For instance, there are two verses in the Quran that mention the word al-Dahr (Quran, 45: 2, & 76: 1), which refers to time. The given verses are indisputably literal that require no explanation whatsoever, both deal with the word al-dahr and it doesn’t indicate any attribution to god which means time. However, in one of Qudsi’s Hadiths, God calls himself time. The Hadith has been repeated and rephrased time and time again in different Isnad, but in all the Hadiths God repeats it as a mantra, exemplifying himself as time.
As whole, in Sahih Sitta this mantra appears 12 times while 5 times in al-Bukhari and Muslim. Not merely Sahih Sitta al-Bukhari and Muslim but Malik and Abu Dawud also mentioned it once in their books. However, Musnad Ahmad referred it quite a few times in his book. More probably this concept of time attributed with God might have found its way in Islam through Zoroastrianism. Nonetheless, the time when the Sassanid Empire collapsed during the rule of Umar Ibn Khatab the religious heresies did not vanished from those areas but flourished with time that gave rise to different sects. According to the book ‘Mohammad and Islam’, there is a possibility that this fabrication and manipulation occurred due to the constant interaction of Arabs with the people of Mesopotamia (Goldziher, 2016).
Hence, the argument leads us to doubt whether all Hadiths that were passed to the Imams involved in collecting them can be believed. The study shall also illustrate the evidence based on historical records, the Hadiths were fabricated for political purposes. In order to use the fabricated versions of Hadith against their enemies Ali bin Abi Talib and Mu’awiyah b. Sufyan made it all up. It also seems that Abu Hurarya fabricated many Hadiths, as stated in the Sira of Umar Ibn Khatab. The rulers relied on Hadith to regulate the daily affairs of day to day life. Consequently, the scholars tried to fill the gaps (left by time as I have already mentioned that it was composed over years after the death of Muhammad) by other sources and none other than Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Thus, we can obtain an absolute view that Hadiths were written under the influence of other faiths, especially the Zoroastrian faith. It was hectic to trace down the original sources, particularly for Imam al-Bukhari as there was a gap of five generations between him and the prophet. Also, the project concentrates on the reasons why other traditions leaked into the Hadiths and the biography of the Prophet Muhammad.
Another leading figure Salman Farsi the spiritual counsellor of Noshirwan-e-Adil was the only person with Mohammad from Iran, he was converted to Christianity due to the dualistic nature of the Zoroastrianism and then converted to Islam because even Christianity was about three Gods (the concept of Trinity). He remained one of the closest advisors and companions of Mohammad. And we know that Salman Farsi was the Zoroastrian high priest which was known as Dastur-e-Dinar, hence, it is probable that Mohammad was influenced by Zoroastrianism through him.
Furthermore, one of the great pillars of Islam is to pray to Allah, but there is no indication in the Quran of how Muslims should practise prayer. However, biographies and Hadiths instructed Muslims on how to pray and how to perform ablutions. We can see in Zoroastrianism the same things as in Islam: prayer five times a day and at exactly the same times. In addition, the ablution is nearly the same: washing the face, forehead, palm to ankle and feet with clean water. If there is no water, they have to purify themselves by touching the ground three times then rubbing their face and the backs of their palms. This process is called ‘Yadab’, which in Islam is ‘Tayamum’.
To emphasise the two major points: firstly, that Zoroastrian people start their prayer by saying, ‘By the name of the God, the Beneficent, and the Merciful. My Ahura Mazda, Please me, I believe in the Zoroastrian Religion, which was sent by the Prophet Zoroaster. This faith is away from Dew (Devil) and pagan’, then they recite the mantra (Zoroastrian supplication). Here, we can see the similarity with Islam as they start with, ‘By the name of Allah, the Beneficent, and the Merciful’. Also, the testimony in Islam is very similar, saying, ‘I testify that Muhammad is a Messenger of Allah’. Secondly, also in the Zoroastrian faith, they have another kind of prayer, which is the mass prayer, meaning that they pray in large or small groups (Hienz, 2008).
According to the book ‘The origins of Muslims prayer: Sixth and seventh century religious influences on the salāt ritual’, a strong disgust has been seen among Muslims concerning dogs, it is said that Mohammad ordered to kill all the dogs in Madina, but there is an indication of conflicting arguments, because first, he ordered to kill all the dogs with black colour and then forbade to kill them out of affection that came from Zoroastrian tradition (Boyce, 1992).
As per the source ‘Late Onset of Sufism in Azerbaijan and the Influence of Zarathustra’, there is another parallel of commonalities that can be seen among these religions. Muslims believe in the unity of God and so are the Zoroastrians, they call their God Ahura Mazda. Like Quran they have a book that they call Avesta, the word of God. The Sufi tradition in Islam didn’t come with Islam but it was there centuries ago even before the arrival of Islam, one can argue that just like Sufism in Islam, Zurvanism is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism. Furthermore, the Zarathustra was the sole inspiration for Islamic Sufis who were baffled by its mysterious nature and provided the foundation for the Islamic Sufis that were to become a dominant sect in Islam having its roots in Zoroastrianism. (Ghorbannejad, 2014).
- How did Zoroastrian faith influence Hadith and the day to day practices of present day Muslims?
- What are the major influences that Zoroastrian faith had on Islam and Hadith?
- To what extent has Zoroastrianism influenced present day Islam?
- What is/are the similarities in terms of influence among these religion?
- What were the reasons behind these influences?
The purpose of this study is to evaluate and analytically review the influence of Zoroastrian faith on Hadith and Islam. Many religious scholars have already debated on this issue and the students of religious studies up to this day are fascinated by the startling similarities that they find in Zoroastrianism and Islam. The similarities of practices are so abundant that one is force to believe that Islam itself is an extended form of Zoroastrianism just like Christianity and Judaism. We are living in 21st century and the questions on the reliability of religion and myths was never so vital than now. Hence, the scope of this study is far ranging and far reaching for the people who are daring enough to dive deeper into the realm of ideas, concepts, and beliefs in order to test their reliability for the better understanding of this world we live in and our position in this universe. Although these questions about faith, religion and mythology may seem cliché’s to many but in fact we are no more modern than Zarathustra who examined and challenged his position in this universe that always started him and forced him to reconsider his position in the world he lived in.
The research is a careful analysis of the concepts and beliefs shared by Zoroastrianism and Islam through historical evidences in the spotlight of the experts of the subject who have spent their whole lives to the study of Zoroastrianism an Islam. The study contains up to 20 numbers of references in order to supports its major argument. All the references are taken from the most reliable sources available. The problem has already occurred in many generals regarding the influence of Zoroastrianism on Islam and Hadith, the references are quoted in the literature review section along with a brief summary of the influences of Zoroastrianism on Islam and particularly on Hadith.
The references that I have quoted deal the issue on a surface level while the in depth study of the given problem is one of the preliminary purposes of this study. Furthermore, the purpose of this study is to give a comprehensive, honest and objective overview of the nature of intertextuality that is ever present in religious texts and the nature of flexibility of human faith in pre-scientific world. The targeted audiences of this study are not merely the people of academia but the people of all fields of life. Like any qualitative research and the fallible nature of human beings it does have limitations, ambiguities and openness of opinions that can be challenged, as it is just an attempt to indulge the reader into a dialogue like the great Greek thinker Socrates used to do 2000 years ago.
The method that would be applied to this study is analytical-descriptive where different texts from ancient, medieval and modern times would be used as a source of material and then would be critically evaluated and analysed under the prison of the above mentioned research questions. Although the research primarily deals with religious issues, nonetheless, its interdisciplinary nature would welcome historical, cultural, political, religious and philosophical texts of the time. Thus, the history of ideas and more specifically the history of religious ideas, thought and, their evolution and, extinction and, most importantly their transmission to other cultures during the course of colonization and wars would be the grand frame of the research.
It (domain of the research) also include the thorough examination of the decentralization of the Persian Empire under Islamic rule, and the instabilities caused by during the conflict that went on for 150 years after the conquest of Persian Empire. The use of analytical-descriptive method would allow me to describe facts from the authentic resources that can be described in terms of information, knowledge and history while the analytical method would be used to evaluate the given data without being sentimentally involved or being biased. Hence, analytical-descriptive method would be a great choice concerning the nature of the issue under question.
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Berg, H., 2013. The Development of Exegesis in Early Islam: The Authenticity of Muslim Literature from the Formative Period. Routledge.
BOYCE, M. (1982). A History of Zoroastrianism. Volume 2 Volume 2. Leiden, Brill.
BOYCE, M. (1990). Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Boyce, M., 2001. Zoroastrians: Their religious beliefs and practices. Psychology Press.
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Zoroastrianism | Definition, Beliefs, Founder, & Facts. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zoroastrianism [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].
Erickson, L., 1999, May. The Problem of Zoroastrian Influence on Judaism and Christianity. In World Congress on Mullā Sadrā, Tehran (pp. 25-27).
EZZATI, A. (2002). The spread of Islam: the contributing factors. London, Islamic College for Advanced Studies Press.
FLOWER, L. (1997). The elements of world religions. Shaftesbury, Dorset, Element.
FOLTZ, R. C. (2004). Spirituality in the land of the noble: how Iran shaped the world’s religions. Oxford, Oneworld.
Ghorbannejad, P., 2014. Late Onset of Sufism in Azerbaijan and the Influence of Zarathustra Thoughts on its Fundamentals. International Journal, 2(3), pp.93-106.
GOLDZIHER, I. (2016). MOHAMMED AND ISLAM (CLASSIC REPRINT). [S.l.], FORGOTTEN BOOKS.
Hienz, J.P., 2008. The origins of Muslims prayer: Sixth and seventh century religious influences on the salāt ritual. University of Missouri-Columbia.
Holt, P.M., Holt, P.M., Lambton, A.K. and Lewis, B. eds., 1977. The Cambridge History of Islam: Volume 2B, Islamic Society and Civilisation (Vol. 2). Cambridge University Press.
HOVANNISIAN, R. G., HOVANNISIAN, R. G., SABAGH, G., & SABAGH, G. (1998). The Persian presence in the Islamic world. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Iranicaonline.org. (2018). AS INFLUENCED BY IRANIAN IDEAS AND PRACTICES – Encyclopaedia Iranica. [Online] Available at: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/hadith-v [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].
Kriwaczek, P., 2011. In search of Zarathustra: The first prophet and the ideas that changed the world. Hachette UK.
Mahmood, H., 2011. Interpreting Sacred Texts: Eschatology in Islam (Doctoral dissertation, dissertation. Heythrop College, London University).
MOTZKI, H. (2000). The biography of Muhammad: the issue of the sources. Leiden [u.a.], Brill.
Stepaniants, M.T., 2002. The encounter of Zoroastrianism with Islam. Philosophy East and West, 52(2), pp.159-172.