Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
The opening chapter of the Holy Quran, Sura Fatihah, which has only seven verses, alludes to the Christians and the Jews in the last verse. Chapters 2-5 of the Quran, which make almost twenty percent of the book, by volume, talk directly and in great detail about Christianity and Judaism. The Holy Quran makes no direct or detailed mention of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism or Hinduism, except for the Arab pagans. The Arabs of the seventh century were in direct and frequent contact with both the Persian Empire as well as the Roman Empire, yet the Quran makes no detailed mention of Zoroastrianism, the official religion of the Persian Empire. If the converse had been true and the Holy Quran had spent a large part of its volume on Zoroastrianism, which is now going extinct, and barely touched on Christianity, it would have seemed terribly out of touch and out of place in our day and age. It is indeed a miracle that the Holy Quran focused on Christianity, which now forms 20-25% of the world population and has tremendous influence in our contemporary world. The Quran also details Judaism, which among other reasons, serves as an apt refutation of the Christian dogma. The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, explains this in one of his books, published in 1903: Tohfa e Golariah:
In Sura Fatihah God has taught us a prayer, in two words, Walad-dualeen, to explain and safeguard us from the corruptions of Christianity. It is clear that there must have been a great trial and danger, to safeguard from which, this prayer has been prescribed in the five daily prayers or Salats. It has been emphasized so much that without Fatihah there cannot be a Salat, as is the Hadith, ‘There is no Salat without Fatihah!’ It is self evident that there are hundreds and thousands of religions and sects in the world. We find that the Parsi faith that is Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Chinese religions have millions of followers. The pagans, perhaps, exceeded all other religious followers in numbers. All these religions were wide spread in the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and the Christian faith in comparison was a mole against a mountain. Then what is the reason that the opening chapter of Sura Fatihah has not taught us prayers against the corruptions of the Chinese religions or those of the Zoroastrians or those of the Buddhist or against the corruptions of the Hindus and other pagans? What is the great wisdom in Divine reminder to the Muslims to keep on praying for protection against the corruptions and false doctrines of Christianity? What is the great danger latent in Christianity? Remember that this dire warning was due to Allah’s Omniscience about the Latter days. He knew that all the other religions including paganism, the Chinese religions, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism are in decline and will not pose any danger to Islam. Allah knew that a time is coming when great enthusiasm will be shown in favor of Christianity and billions of rupees will be spent in its cause. Allah knew that every strategy and trickery will be used to spread Christianity in the whole world and these Latter Days will be of great trial for Islam. So, this is the time in which we are living. So, this prophecy of Sura Fatihah, from 1300 years ago is being fulfilled in your time, in your country.
At the start of the prophethood of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, the Persian Empire was gaining influence over the Byzantines or Roman Empire. The state religion of the Persians was Zoroastrianism and Judaism and Christianity were in minority. Yet the Holy Quran is replete with discussion about the Christians and the Jews and makes no mention of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism or Hinduism. If these Eastern religions had gathered major influence in the world at the expense of the Abrahamic faiths, the Holy Quran would have seemed completely out of touch with the present day realities. The Holy Quran, which the Holy Prophet Muhammad presented as his major miracle, continues to fulfill needs and meets challenges of every era.
The landscape of religions in the seventh century was dramatically different from today’s and I will now collect some materials in the remaining of this post to offer some snapshots of different religions from the time of revelation of the Holy Quran.
The population of the Sassanid Persian Empire in 621 CE is estimated to be: 19,700,000, majority of whom believed in Zoroastrianism.
The Sassanian Empire or Sassanid Persian Empire (pronounced /sæˈseɪniən/, /ˈsæsənɪd/; also spelled Sasanid or Sasanian), known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran, was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from AD 224 to AD 651. The Sassanid Empire, which succeeded the Parthian Empire, was recognized as one of the main powers in Western, Southern, and Central Asia, alongside the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, for a period of more than 400 years.
The Sassanid Empire was founded by Ardashir I, after the fall of the Arsacid Empire and the defeat of the last Arsacid king, Artabanus IV. During its existence, the Sassanid Empire encompassed all of today’s Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, eastern Syria, the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Dagestan), southwestern Central Asia, part of Turkey, certain coastal parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf area, and areas of western Pakistan. The native name for the Sassanid Empire in Middle Persian is Eran Shahr which means Aryan Empire. According to legend, the vexilloid of the Sassanid Empire was the Derafsh Kaviani. It was also hypothesized that the transition toward the Sassanid Empire represents the end of struggle of ethnic proto-Persians with their close migrant ethnic relatives, the Parthians, whose original homeland was in modern-day Central Asia.
The Sassanid era, during Late Antiquity, is considered to have been one of Persia’s/Iran’s most important and influential historical periods, and constituted the last great Iranian empire before the Muslim conquest and the adoption of Islam. In many ways, the Sassanid period witnessed the peak of ancient Persian civilization. Persia influenced Roman civilization considerably during the Sassanid period. The Sassanids’ cultural influence extended far beyond the empire’s territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India.
Whereas, the population of the Sassanid Persian Empire in 621 CE is estimated to be: 19,700,000, majority of whom believed in Zoroastrianism, today the numbers of Zoroastrians has dwindled dramatically. In 2004, the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated at between 145,000 and 210,000. India’s 2001 Census found 69,601 Parsi Zoroastrians. In Pakistan, they number 5,000, mostly living in Karachi; they have been reinforced in recent years with a number of Zoroastrian refugees from Iran. North America is thought to be home to 18,000–25,000 Zoroastrians of both South Asian and Iranian background. A further 3,500 live in Australia (mainly in Sydney). Iran’s figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely; the last census (1974) before the revolution of 1979 revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians.
Some 10,000 adherents remain in the Central Asian regions that were once considered the traditional stronghold of Zoroastrianism, i.e., Bactria (see also Balkh), which is in Northern Afghanistan; Sogdiana; Margiana; and other areas close to Zoroaster’s homeland. In the Indian census of 2001, the Parsis numbered 69,601, representing about 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai. Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by 2020 the Parsis will number only about 23,000 or 0.002% of the total population of India. The Parsis would then cease to be called a community and will be labeled a “tribe”. By 2008, the birth-to-death ratio was 1:5; 200 births per year to 1,000 deaths. In Iran, emigration, out-marriage and low birth rates are likewise leading to a decline in the Zoroastrian population, which is currently estimated at under 20,000.
China in the seventh century had a population of 50 million was ruled by the Tang dynasty and state religion was Buddhism.
The Tang Dynasty (Chinese: 唐朝; pinyin: Táng Cháo; IPA: [tʰɑ̌ŋ tʂʰɑ̌ʊ]; Middle Chinese: Dâng) (June 18, 618 – June 1, 907) was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li (李) family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty (October 8, 690 – March 3, 705) when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne, becoming the only Chinese empress regnant, ruling in her own right.
The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), which at the time was the most populous city in the world, is generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization—equal to, or surpassing that of, the earlier Han Dynasty—a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Its territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, rivalled that of the Han Dynasty. In two censuses of the 7th and 8th centuries, the Tang records estimated the population by number of registered households at about 50 million people.a[›] Yet, even when the central government was breaking down and unable to compile an accurate census of the population in the 9th century, it is estimated that the population had grown by then to about 80 million people. With its large population base, the dynasty was able to raise professional and conscripted armies of hundreds of thousands of troops to contend with nomadic powers in dominating Inner Asia and the lucrative trade routes along the Silk Road. Various kingdoms and states paid tribute to the Tang court, while the Tang also conquered or subdued several regions which it indirectly controlled through a protectorate system. Besides political hegemony, the Tang also exerted a powerful cultural influence over neighboring states such as those in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.