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The Shiite Century

July 10, 2020

In the 10th century A.D, sometimes termed the Shiite century, the Islamic civilization was peculiar, indeed, in its fertility, diversity, tolerance, and literary genius. The fusion of the Persian culture and its satellites with Arabian traditions and arts, Near Eastern crafts, myths, and folk tales; produced a wonderous soil of creativity in the region. More emphasis is required in schools’ curriculum on this period that somewhat presaged modernity.

No wonder, the Persian civilization in centuries B.C integrated the Aryan culture with the Near Eastern one. Perhaps Jesus Christ and Christianity, according to a plausible hypothesis, were a salient outcome of a new civilization and culture that morphed later on into Byzantine with the Hellenic and Roman admixtures. Perhaps a geopolitical, rather too idealistic, lesson for the current Middle East on the cusp of explosion is that the Mediterranean virtually ends in Iran and maybe Pakistan.

In Arabic literature written pieces showed satire that is almost modern in feel, social critique, and smileys while still being distinct from Persian one. The most famous of them is Maqquamaat Al-Harriry: a collection of light stories written in impressive linguistic tricks that play with letters and rhyme. The Protagonist, Abu Zayd, carries the marks of Robin Hood-like tricksters and the 20th century’s wandering lucky Luke comic. The desert scoundrel ventures into town where he charms a party with his eloquence into believing every word he says and ends up taking their money for merrymaking in the tavern; or drugging guests at a wedding before skimming off their belongings and heading back off to the desert.

What I find most thought provoking of the 10th century currents, one which is worthy of resurrection as a 21st century cool cult is the mysterious order of the ‘Pure Brethren’ or ‘Ikhwan Al-Safa’ in Arabic. The order was esoteric, and members spread across towns downwards from the intelligentsia to ordinary people. It was a Shiite branch, yet devoid of Shiite dogmas. It was Neo-Platonist as it believed in the unity of existence in the form of reason— or Allah. The worldly microcosms fulfill their existence and go back to Allah through reason and pure reasoning without stressing any dogma. What is left from their heritage is unfortunately only an encyclopedia of rationalistic philosophies called ‘Epistles of Pure Brethren’.

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