In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Iran

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Journals
  • The Period of the Rashidun (632–661) and the Umayyad Dynasty (661–750)
  • The Safavid Dynasty (1501–1722)
  • Nadir Shah and the Zands (1722–1795)

Islamic Studies Islam in Iran
Andrew A. Newman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0044


The terms “Persia” and “Persians” are seldom used in the early 21st century except in the United Kingdom or in reference to ancient, pre-Islamic Iran and Iranians, or in reference to “cultural” phenomena. “Iran” and “Iranians” are the terms used by Iranians themselves since at least 1935, when Reza Shah (d. 1941) ordered that “Iran” be used in all official correspondence. “Persia” and “Persians” have been revived in the post-1979 Iranian diasporic community. As to the Islamic conquest, although Sassanian and Muslim forces first clashed in 633, the Muslim defeat of Sassanian forces at Qadisiyyah in 636, southwest of modern-day Hilla and Kufa in Iraq, is generally understood to have been the decisive battle that opened the door to the Muslim conquest of Iran. The 642 battle of Nahavand, south of modern-day Hamadan, marked the final breakup of Sassanian military and political response to the invading forces. By 674 the Muslim armies had conquered Khurasan, Transoxiana, and Baluchistan. Both before this time and even afterwards Iranzamin (“The Land of Iran” or “Greater Iran”)—that is the sociocultural and, at different periods, the political region comprising the Iranian plateau, as well as the lands to the west, north, and east, especially into Central Asia and down into the Indian subcontinent—has always been home to many non-Iranian ethnic and non-Muslim groups. Even in the early 21st century the population of the Iranian nation-state comprises Persians (just over 50 percent) as well as Azeri Turks, Mazanderani elements, Kurds and Arabs, such tribes as Lurs, Baluch, Turkman, and Bakhtiari and such non-Iranian, non-Turkish elements as Georgians, Armenians, and Assyrians. Among the latter are many “Eastern” Christians, but there are also Protestant Christian Iranians, Jewish Iranians, Baha’is and some Zoroastrians. Over the centuries following Qadisiyyah until today, Iran may be said to have become Islamized but not Arabized. Iranzamin’s peoples increasingly accorded themselves and their affairs in reference to an Islamic religiocultural axis, even as a sense of Iranian-ness, which includes dimensions both of non-Arabness and a strong sense of pre-Islamic heritage non-Muslimness, has remained ever-present. This has remained the case even after the establishment of Twelver Shiʿi Islam as the polity’s national faith by the Safavid dynasty in the early 16th century and in the years following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Of these texts, Keddie 2006 and Abrahamian 2008 deal mainly with the modern period, while Daniel 2000, Garthwaite 2005, and Axworthy 2008 discuss the country’s history and culture from ancient times to the present, all with reference to the concept of Iranzamin. Curtis and Stewart 2009, the fourth in a series of volumes on Iran, addresses the commencement of Iran’s adaptation to Islam. Arjomand 1984 offers a sociological approach to Iran’s association with Twelver Shiʿism, and Petrushevsky 1985 discusses Islam’s relationship with Iran until the early 16th century. Corbin 1971–1972 remains a seminal view of Iran and Islam.

  • Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    Excellent coverage and analysis of the key trends and events in Iran’s history since the start of the last century. A paperback edition is also available.

  • Arjomand, S. A. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shiʿite Iran from the Beginning to 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

    Utilizes a Weberian sociological approach to both the nature of Persian civilization and history and the nature of the interaction with the Twelver faith and its history, focusing especially on the period during and since the establishment of the faith in Iran in the 16th century. Arjomand’s volume had as its underlying argument the depiction of genuine Shiʿism as characterized by “pious antipathy toward political power,” and the argument that the Ayatollah Khomeini utilized earlier “mahdi-istic” tendencies within Shiʿi Islam to promote his own political agenda.

  • Axworthy, Michael. Iran. Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day. London: Penguin, 2008.

    An overview of Iranian history through the 1979 Iranian Revolution, stressing the traditional Iranian tolerance of a broad range of cultures balanced with a deep sense of self-identity.

  • Corbin, Henry. En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques. 4 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1971–1972.

    A comprehensive vision of Islam in Iran, dealing with Twelver Shiʿism, Islamic philosophy in Iran, the compatibility of Shiʿism and Sufism, the philosophical legacy of 17th century Safavid Iran, and the Shaykhi school. The work is dated, but Corbin’s ideas remain influential.

  • Curtis, Vesta, and Sarah Stewart, eds. The Idea of Iran. Vol. 4, The Rise of Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

    Articles by well-established scholars on how Iran commenced the process of negotiating the adoption of Islam and the retention of its distinctive identity.

  • Daniel, Elton. The History of Iran. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 2000.

    Covers some 2,500 years of Iranian history, with an extensive and very useful bibliographical essay.

  • Garthwaite, Gene R. The Persians. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.

    A paperback edition appeared in 2006. A Kindle (e-book) edition is also available. An accessible overview of Iranian history from the earliest times.

  • Keddie, Nikki R. Modern Iran: Roots of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

    This is an updated version of the 1981 original, which itself went through several revisions. This volume, which commences with the 19th century, remains a very popular textbook at a number of US universities.

  • Petrushevsky, I. P. Islam in Iran. Translated by Hubert Evans. London: Athlone, 1985.

    Covers Islam in Iran up to the beginning of the Safavid period (1501–1722).

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