Under Prophet Mohammad’s second successor, Caliph Omar (reigned: 634-644 AD), the great era of Arab expansion began. I reproduce below his letter to the King of Persia, followed by the king’s response. As compared to the civilised Persians, the Arabs were culturally low. But the Arabs were able to defeat the Persians and incorporate their vast country into their expanding empire.
What is interesting in the letters are the perceptions of the two rulers about their own religions and their countries. The Persians followed the Zoroastrian faith, based on belief in One God, unlike the pre-Islamic Arabs who had hundreds of gods and goddesses. The Muslim caliph misunderstood Persians as polytheists or fire worshippers. Fire for Zoroastrian had a symbolic meaning in the same way as the Black Stone in the Meccan shrine had a symbolic meaning for the Arabs even after the coming of Islam.
Text of the ultimatum from Omar Ibn-Khat’tab, the Caliph of Islam, to the Persian King, Yazdgerd III:
In the name of Allah, the Benificent, the Merciful
To the Shah of the Fars
I do not foresee a good future for you and your nation save your acceptance of my terms and your submission to me. There was a time when your country ruled half the world, but see how now your sun has set. On all fronts your armies have been defeated and your nation is condemned to extinction. I point out to you the path whereby you might escape this fate. Namely, that you begin worshipping the one god, the unique deity, the only god who created all that is. I bring you his message. Order your nation to cease the false worship of fire and to join us, that they may join the truth.
Worship Allah the creator of the world. Worship Allah and accept Islam as the path of salvation. End now your polytheistic ways and become Muslims that you may accept Allah-u-Akbar as your savior. This is the only way of securing your own survival and the peace of your Persians. You will do this if you know what is good for you and for your Persians. Submission is your only option. Allah u Akbar.
The Caliph of Muslims
Response of the Persian King:
In the name of Ahuramazda, the Creator of Life and Wisdom
From the Shahan-Shah of Iran, Yazdgerd, to Omar ibn Khat’tab, the Arab Caliph.
In your letter you summon us Iranians to your god whom you call “Allah-u-Akbar” [Allah]; and because of your barbarity and ignorance, without knowing who we are and Whom we worship, you demand that we seek out your god and become worshippers of “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”.
How strange that you occupy the seat of the Arab Caliph but are as ignorant as any desert roaming Arab! You admonish me to become monotheistic [believer in one god] in faith. Ignorant man, for thousands of years we Aryaee have, in this land of culture and art, been monotheistic and five times a day have we offered prayers to God’s Throne of Oneness. While we laid the foundations of philanthropy and righteousness and kindness in this world and held high the ensign of “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds”, you and your ancestors were desert wanderers who ate snakes and lizards and buried your innocent daughters alive.
You Arabs who have no regard for God’s creatures, who mercilessly put people to the sword, who mistreat your women and bury you daughters alive, who attack caravans and are highway robbers, who commit murder, who kidnap women and spouses; how dare you presume to teach us, who are above these evils, to worship God?
You tell me to cease the worship of fire and to worship God instead! To us Iranians the light of Fire is reminiscent of the Light of God. The radiance and the sun-like warmth of fire exuberates our hearts, and the pleasant warmth of it brings our hearts and spirits closer together, that we may be philanthropic, kind and considerate, that gentleness and forgiveness may become our way of life, and that thereby the Light of God may keep shining in our hearts.
Our God is the Great Ahuramazda. Strange is this that you too have now decided to give Him a name, and you call Him by the name of “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”.
But we are nothing like you. We, in the name of Ahuramazda, practice compassion and love and goodness and righteousness and forgiveness, and care for the dispossessed and the unfortunate; But you, in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]” commit murder, create misery and subject others to suffering! Tell me truly who is to blame for your misdeeds? Your god who orders genocide, plunder and destruction, or you who do these things in his name? Or both?
You, who have spent all your days in brutality and barbarity, have now come out of your desolate deserts resolved to teach, by the blade and by conquest, the worship of God to a people who have for thousands of years been civilized and have relied on culture and knowledge and art as mighty supports.
What have you, in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar” [Allah], taught these armies of Islam besides destruction and pillage and murder that you now presume to summon others to your god?
Today, my people’s fortunes have changed. Their armies, who were subjects of Ahuramazada, have now been defeated by the Arab armies of “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”. And they are being forced, at the point of the sword, to convert to the god by the name of “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”. And are forced to offer him prayers five times a day but now in Arabic; since your “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]” only understands Arabic.
I advise you to return to your lizard infested deserts. Do not let loose upon our cities your cruel barbarous Arabs who are like rabid animals. Refrain from the murder of my people. Refrain from pillaging my people. Refrain from kidnapping our daughters in the name of your “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”. Refrain from these crimes and evils.
We Aryaee are a forgiving people, a kind and well-meaning people. Wherever we go, we sow the seeds of goodness, amity and righteousness. And this is why we have the capacity to overlook the crimes and the misdeeds of your Arabs.
Stay in your desert with your “Allah-u-Akbar [Allah]”, and do not approach our cities; for horrid is your belief and brutish is your conduct.