IV: Muslim Sects: Sunni and Shi‘a

Persian Discourse

Sebastian Kirchmaier

Sebastian Kirchmaier was born in Uffenheim in 1641. He enrolled at the University of Altdorf in 1660 and at Wittenberg in 1661, where he earned a Magister der Philosophic in 1662. He became an adjunct professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in 1665. Kirchmaier’s school remembrance book (Stammbuch) written between 1660 and 1667 reveals his significant Lutheran network at Wittenberg. Most prominent figures of seventeenth-century orthodox Lutheranism, such as Abraham Calov, Johannes Musaeus, August Pfeiffer, and Hieronymous Kromayer, wrote entries in Kirchmaier’s Stammbuch. Later, in 1668, he became professor at the college in Regensburg. Some of his most important works were on ancient German paganism and ancient papyri. In 1681, he became the superintendent of St. Jacob Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. As is clear from his Persian Discourse, Kirchmaier valued arts and poetry. He also wrote the foreword to Lutheran pastor Georg Falck’s Idea boni cantoris, a Lutheran singing treatise of 1688. In 1692, as the chief ecclesiastical official in the city of Rothenburg, Kirchmaier visited a woman, Barbara Ehness, awaiting execution for attempted murder by poisoning, where, according to her, he coerced her into confessing to being a witch. Luckily his attempt to start a witch-hunt failed, due to a lack of support from the city councilors. He died in Rothenburg in 1700. The year after Kirchmaier’s death, Johann Andreas Planer (d.1714), Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at the University of Wittenberg, wrote Panegyricus, Memoria Celeberrimi Theologi, Sebastiani Kirchmaieri (Honoring the Memory of the Celebrated Theologian, Sebastian Kirchmaier), and eulogized Kirchmaier to posterity.1

Variant Names: Sebastian Kirchmayer, Sebastiano Kirchmaiero, Sebastiani Kirchmayeri, Sebastianus Kirchmaier, Sebastian Kirchmaierus, Sebastian Kirchmair, Sebastianus Kirchmaierus, Sebastianus Kirchma-jerus, Sebast. Kirchmaierus, and Sebastian Kirchmajerus

Summary and Analysis

Kirchmaier’s speech was originally written in Persian before being translated into Latin.2 The Rector of Wittenberg, Johann Erich Ostermann, whose preface introduces the speech, explains that it outlines the religious hostility between the Persians (praised as ‘a quite ancient and exceedingly noble nation’) and the Turks (‘foul and four-day-old swill’). The Persians’ more favorable characterization by Ostermann, along with Kirchmaier’s speech being written in Persian, reflects an authorial bias for a civilization with roots in classical antiquity. Furthermore, being geographically more distant from Europe than the Ottoman Empire, Persians had not recently clashed militarily with German-speaking central Europe.

Kirchmaier begins his speech by noting that most Europeans are unaware of Muslim sectarian violence or their differences. He states that these differences result from various interpretations of the Qur’an, differences in the understanding of sainthood, articles of faith, religious authorities (i.e., imams), and miracles. After some brief invective against Muhammad and an account of the spread of Islam, Kirchmaier outlines the origin of sectarian differences and the problem of the succession of Muhammad in Islam. Thus, the succession story of the first three caliphs, ‘All, and the fate of his sons are discussed. Then, Kirchmaier discusses the Sofians (referring to the Safavid dynasty), a contemporary Persian sect that rejected the three caliphs who came before ‘All in the succession line—Safi al-Dln Ardabili being one of ‘All’s descendants. According to Kirchmaier, this influential sect among the Persians believed that the Qur’an had come to Muhammad by mistake—it was meant for ‘All— and this led to a violent disagreement between the Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Kirchmaier discusses several interpreters of the Qur’an, now considered saints, whose teachings are followed in different parts of the Islamic world. Many of these were descendants of ‘All and were “high priests and prophets of their religion.” The Turks, however, are contemptuous of them, venerating the three caliphs (who reigned before ‘All) as equal to gods. It is clear from his account that Kirchmaier’s impression of Islam is of an idolatrous religion while, to his Protestant audience, the Persian (Shi'ite) veneration of saints was reminiscent of the prominence of saints in Catholicism. Islam is thus likened to Catholicism, the major Christian sect, which conflicted with Kirchmaier’s Protestantism.

Kirchmaier concludes by describing the main prayers of Islam, some of which (though not all) are shared by the two principal sects—not unlike Christianity. He says that Muslims are indifferent to the Bible, believing it to be a Greek and Jewish fabrication. The Persians believe that the story of Adam, the Last Judgement, and eternal life are marvelous tales, which the Turks ridicule. Of the two sects, Kirchmaier sees the Shi'ites as less hostile to Christianity, which might account for the



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Figure 15.1 Sebastian Kirchmaier, Oratio Persica de differentia religionis Turcicae & Persicae, 1662 (Courtesy of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz).

Rector of Wittenberg University’s favoring the Persians in his opening comments. Kirchmaier’s speech ends with a prayer that God himself will convert both Turks and Persians to the path of salvation, so that they all may live in peace.

Persian Discourse (Wittenberg, 1662)

[Opening Remarks] by the Rector of the Academy of Wittenberg

Johann Erich Ostermann, Public Professor of Greek Letters

To the Members of the Academy:


After the second hour of the afternoon and the religious rites have been conducted, Sebastian Kirchmaier, the most learned youth and a noble man of Uffenheim, is going to give a speech in Persian, which he recently wrote at his house. Whether or not we respect his reason for writing it or deem it a praiseworthy endeavor in less common languages, we cannot but support the effort. As for its contents, he will explore and at the same time explain the causes of the disagreement between Persians and Turks and the hyper-Vatinian hatred between them, the tremendous difference in both of their fabricated superstitions, and a scarcely feasible process for reuniting Persians with the Turks.

Kirchmaier thought that this was his business, especially at this time when some men are contemplating the bonds of religion and wish to rejoin religions into peaceful unity. As things stand now, they are neither willing nor able to be united. The Persian and Turkish races are akin to each other and intermingled. When they received the mad teachings of the impostor Muhammad long ago, it seemed that they would more easily join in the bonds of shared friendship. Yet they are divided in tremendous wrath, and they quarrel over their myths as though the salvation of their souls depended on it. How many thousands of soldiers have been cut down and destroyed just since the times of Soft Shah EsmaTl? What has brought Muslims to infighting is not the desire for more possessions, but their divergent adherence to their superstition to Muhammad, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, and others with similarly barbaric names.

Religion, indeed, is the apple of strife, and you can easily find wars for which religion was either the mother or at least the midwife. The annals of all ages and peoples bear witness; the monuments of history, both sacred and profane, attest to it. Even today this holds true. Who would be surprised at the fatal hostilities of the Persians, a quite ancient and exceedingly noble nation, against the foul and four-day-old swill of the Turks? When Kirchmaier spent significant time on these issues, he despaired of finding any means of reuniting the two sects. But we do not wish to speak further on this matter, since the man himself is shortly going to address us on this subject. Attend then, Members of the Academy, attend, in a great thronging crowd! Beyond the love that is due to the Eastern Muses, come together in greater numbers despite the unfavorable time, because of the rarity of this endeavor. They always enjoy novelty. If it is good, they gain envious emulation. And you are the best, with such abilities that your pious fellow colleagues will join you readily.

Sunday, the 13th day after the Trinity, in the year of received grace 1662.

Latin Version [Kirchmaier’s Persian Speech]3

Magnificent rector, the most reverend man of all, the wisest, most experienced, most excellent, most generous, most distinguished, most learned, and you, my friends in faith! [...] Most honored men of all ranks! I am motivated to say a few words about the present theme to this most splendid audience. I think that the mutual animosity between Turks and Persians is well-known; but the more intimate reasons for this hostility are not clear to everyone.

Both Turks and Persians follow Muhammad’s religion and the Qur’an, but most Europeans lack knowledge of the foundations of this faith. Turks and Persians persecute each other with the fiercest hatred; however, Europeans do not know how the religions of Turks and Persians differ. Therefore, I wanted to speak about this to the best of my modest abilities, and, have also decided to use others’ written works to explain why the Turks curse Persians. When I speak, I wish that I had the persuasive elegance and rhetoric power of Sa‘dl [ShirazI]: a certain style of speech that the Persians cultivate and value. Such a skill would have made a huge impact. Although my wish has not been granted, I long for your benevolence, listeners, and most earnestly beseech your patience.

O listening friends! One would generally assume that both nations [Turks and Persians] have a common faith and, thus, would maintain a sincere friendship. However, one should now be able to trace from whence that deadly dissent between these two races arose. Where does that highest bitterness of spirit and jealousy come from? Those insults and horrible wars with which they persecute each other more than they do Christians? I will speak briefly on where all of this arises from. It is born from different interpretations of the Qur’an, the differences in their imams, articles of faith, rites, religious authority, and finally miracles done by their prophets. While I enumerate these one by one, I will not speak of the evolution of their lineage, morals, state, and kingdoms, as these are variously treated by other writers. So, here I will not introduce the old religion of the ancient Persians, who venerated the sun, fire, moon, the planets Venus and Jupiter, earth, water, winds, and rivers instead of gods, and sacrificed their own wives and children. Here I will treat one thing alone; I will illustrate the reasons why these two nations commit mutual savageries against each other.

Everyone knows that there are three main religions in the world, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Leaving aside the first two, Muslims boast that their religion is the first and best of all, although it was invented most recently by that most foul serpent Muhammad. Not many centuries have passed since their religion came into existence, and yet they still do not blush from selling it as the best. At that time, we did not refute this stupid opinion of theirs more rigorously. For what were you wretched races able to recognize that was healthful or good, illuminated by no splendor from the divine word? These are errors, these are tricks, and more than diabolic falsehoods, which you believed so easily through persuasion, wretched heathens! For what did you good men expect from a sinful man, a heretic, a pimp, a tyrant, a word, a portent? What is that kind of man, teaching a religion without piety and justice, other than a wanderer without knowledge, a bird without wings, a wise man without good works, a tree without fruit, a teacher without a teaching, a building without doors? Therefore, it is no wonder that heathens fell into such error with such a leader that they soon loved their religion devotedly and embraced it fiercely.

Henceforth Muhammad’s very pestilent dogmas were spread throughout almost the entire East; so many nations adopted the Qur’an and its author that they worshipped him as a god among mortals. He soon obtained formidable followers, and the most noble peoples of the East, namely the Turks, Persians, Indians, Moors, Tartars, and, if it is to be believed, more than seventy nations. No one can wonder that when one religion was divided among so many nations, their doctrines soon became dissimilar from one another and hostility arose because of this disparity.

To return to my own thesis, I will start explaining the whole thing “from the first egg” as they say. The reason that Muslims persecute each other as enemies started originally when Muhammad named a certain man as his successor (his nephew and son-in-law, ‘All by name), founding a throne at once sacred and profane [the Caliphate]. However, ‘All’s inheritance was snatched away from him, beyond all law and morality, by Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, and 'Umar and 'Uthman as they were more powerful and richer. Soon all the populace burned in anger and preferred to hail ‘All as King in their presence. For that reason, they became more and more divided, so that afterwards there was no way they could return to their old favor and friendship. If ‘All had opposed the first three caliphs from the beginning they would not have set such deep roots of hostility, as the wise Persian [Sa‘di ShTrazi] said:

A tree that has just set root is uprooted from its place by the strength of one man; if you leave it for any amount of time, you cannot even tear it out from its roots with a chariot. The beginning of a spring can be blocked by a covering, but when it swells with the waves, it cannot even be crossed by an elephant.

Persians always belittled Abu Bakr, who was said to have entered into a contract with the devil. They venerated ‘All like a man of heaven who was wise, a just ruler on the royal throne, victorious over his enemies, a refuge to the poor, a haven for wanderers, an upholder and judge of learned men, a lover of pious men, the pride of nation and faith, and helper of Islam and Muslims. But the Turks believed the opposite and were enflamed to a greater hatred of that superior man and his sons, which further fueled the enmity between the Turks and Persians.

Because of all these reasons, an unworthy exile and banishment came to ‘All and his sons. This situation greatly increased the fury of the populace as well as their pity, and they longed for ‘All alone, and everyone wanted to see him, above all others, appointed to the highest pinnacle of merit. When the populace heard that the first three caliphs [Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman] had died, how much, immortal God, they rejoiced. Indeed, they praised him wishing ‘All’s life would be fulfilling:

An intercessor, a reverend man, a prophet, a generous man, a powerful man, a smiling man, and a standard bearer. What sorrow can befall the wall of the nation when you are its supporter? What fear would one have if his ship’s captain is Noah? God wanted to have mercy on this world, so He appointed you as the King of this world.

O my listeners! Friends and enemies in a nation may love or despise their rulers or treat them as something important. It was for this reason that the Safavid Persians unanimously execrated the three previous caliphs as if they were unjust and illegitimate usurpers; none of the Persian Muslims were dubious about comparing ‘All to them to their detriment and venerating him excessively. Meanwhile, in later years, a certain wise and holy man, Safi al-Din al-Ardabili, who was of ‘All’s lineage, appeared in Ardabil and extolled the immortality of ‘All’s fame. This man led his impoverished life in uncultivated places in order to impose himself more easily on the populace, and thus, influenced them without difficulty. For he [al-Ardabili] taught that the succession of ‘All was usurped illegally, grievously angering God when the Turks suppressed his greatest miracles so evilly. Therefore, the Persians believed in him [al-Ardabili] as a reformer and this caused disunity between Turks and Persians. Those bloody wars that they waged against each other can testify as to how much dissent and tumult were soon roused by this diversity of religion.

Human nature is such that whatever is imposed on it, it thereafter serves continually. Indeed, a sapling changes its form if you bend it, but an oak does not change form if you try to bend it; so, the Persians formed their opinion about ‘All so deeply as soon as it was conceived that they were never able to forget it afterwards. It is for this reason that they ascribed ‘All a certain prerogative, almost ahead of Muhammad himself, claiming that the Qur’an had come by the archangel Gabriel’s mistake into Muhammad’s hands though it was truly owed to ‘All.

The Persians also professed that if ‘All did not approach God’s divinity, he at least came close to it. Hence their common prayer came about: “praise to no one other than God alone, the prophet Muhammad, and ‘All, the prefect and helper of God.” So, as much as they worshiped ‘All most religiously, they execrated his predecessors as unjust and impure, indeed with poisonous witticisms. Among their insults, this one is by no means the least: “May dogs’ testicles be upon their faces!” Whenever their imam calls a sacred congregation [five daily prayers], he must rant against the reputation of those men like a dog. This irritates the Turks so much that they are all angered. This is the first root and spring of this fierce hostility.

Furthermore, I will illuminate the differences between the Persian and Turkish interpretations of their religion; particularly, the different interpretations of the Qur’an. For example, the Persians respect and praise the wisest men, ‘All and Ja‘far al-Sadiq, who had been endowed with a talent for interpreting the scripture and whom Muslims still call saints; the Turks respect and praise the Hanafi; the Indians respect and praise Hanball and Maliki; the Uzbek Tatars respect and praise al-Shafi‘I. Since the Qur’an is obscure in many passages with meandering and vague sentences, so that barely one in a hundred can understand what Muhammad meant, therefore, the more learned Arabs commented on it and yet they filled it with greater lies. This situation soon made the Qur’an distorted [the meanings] and altered in such a way that it was up to each one’s interpreter [imam] as an authority to determine what to believe and what to reject. As a result, imams provided interpretations which caused new disputes and enmities among Muslims. As the Safavid Persians treated Abu Hanifa’s interpretations as trivial and himself as a fraud, yet the Persians exclaimed that he was a disciple of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq who made miracles in the service of the Turks.

The Persians also claim that Shah Tahmasp turned the grave of this infamous man [Abu Hanifa] in Baghdad into a stable, and, what is worse, a latrine to belittle him. They see each other with their sharp words, so it is no surprise that these people could not resume their previous bond of friendship. Add to this ‘the infinite miracles of ‘All, his horse and his marvelous sword,’ which the Persians believe are holy; and the Turks ridicule and look down on as false. Think how much fuel all this adds to their hatred!

Today, all Persians venerate their saints equally. Just as the Persians attribute great prerogatives to ‘All, they seem to worship and venerate his sons and successors no less. ‘All had two sons from his wife Fatima, Hasan and Husayn. They were succeeded by Zaynal ‘Abidin, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Musa Kazim, ‘All Musa al-Rida, Muhammad al-Taqi, Hasan al-Askarl, and Muhammad al-Mahdl. The Persians say they are all high priests [imams] and prophets of their religion, and they most solemnly attend their tombs annually. On the contrary, Turks show hostility toward the Persian veneration of imams and consider them contemptuous; they venerate their own men, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, like gods.

There is more to say on this topic, which supports me in this last claim. If I am not mistaken, other authors refer to “27 particular articles of belief” Turks and Persians wrote; according to these doctrines they judge and damn each other to hell. I could explain these articles, however, it is not my intention to write a long and detailed text. Therefore, it is enough for us to know the number of those articles of belief. As the others have already discussed them, I will explain [a further difference] which is no less important. When I turn to it, I see obvious traces of this hatred between these two nations. Indeed, I will discuss this enmity. Isn’t it obvious how different the ‘appearance of Church rites’ of the Persians and the Turks is to us? If I wanted to discuss their differences in detail, I could go on forever. However, I will give one example: how they differ in performing prayers at the mosque. The Persians have some prayers and ceremonies, Turks others. One recites their prayers, the other hates them. That is why they always strive in opposite directions. This is the main prayer for all of them:

Glory to God the Father, Lord of things created, King of the Last Judgement, we worship you, we call on your aid, lead us into the true path of salvation, into the true path of those you have blessed, but not into the path of those on whom you have poured your wrath, nor indeed into the path of those who stray! Amen.

After this, they finish with al-hamdu li’l-lah, then subhana rabbi, and Allahu akbar, and finally salamun alaykum. They treat our most Holy Bible indifferently, as if it were written by Jews and Greeks, as they think. Therefore, they praise their Qur’an, as if it was directly given by God Himself as an uncontaminated scripture from the sky.

The Persians think that the creation of Adam and other sacred histories, the Last Judgement, and eternal life are marvelous tales; the Turks, however, ridicule them. If I now intended to recount all the differences between them in a longwinded rambling style, it would take a whole volume to write. Finally, I should mention the two sects’ differing celebrations of religious holidays, historical memories, and miracles of the prophets. As they have different imams and celebrate different religious holidays in their mosques, there is great hostility between them.

This is the end of my speech on the different interpretations of religion between these races, Turks and Persians. This may sound a retreat, but I will repeat my wish again and again, that the Supreme God Himself is willing to convert these idol worshippers along with all other unbelievers, so having followed the straight path of salvation, they may live in tranquility with us now and forever!

I have spoken.

[Kirchmaier’s Note]: The reader should be aware that I was not able to write [my Persian text] using the four letters which the Persians use but Arabs do not, except through cognate letters, because of a lack of appropriate typescript. Those with more than a rudimentary knowledge of Persian will not be offended. And those who have not gathered the rudiments of the language will not cast judgment in this matter. As for my translation, it is translated to the sense, not to the word. Since a word by word translation stuffed with foreign loan words would exasperate the reader, I thought that it would be better to translate sense for sense. Finally, if certain errors have crept into the typesetter despite my care, let the prudent reader restore them easily in his candor.

To the Glory of the only God.


  • 1 Kirchmaier’s biography was compiled from the following sources: Sebastian Kirchmaier, Stammbuch Sebasian Kirchmaier, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, MS Stb 155 (Wittenberg, 1660-67); Johann Andreas Planer, Panegyricus, memoriae celeberrimi tbeologi, Sebastian! Kirchmaieri, antistitis, consistorialis, et scholarchae Rotenburgensis ad tubarim optime meriti, dictus Vitembergae, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS 4 Diss. 43 (Wittenberg, 1701); Christian Gottlieb Jöcher, Allgemeines Gelehrten-Lexicon, vol. 2 (Leipzig, 1750), 2099-100; Nicolas Maria Serrano, Diccionario Universal, vol. 15 (Madrid, 1881), 5471; Paul Schattenmann, “Neues zum Briefwechsel des Rothenburger Superintendenten Dr. Johann Ludwig Hartmann (1640-80) mit Philipp Jakob Spener in Frankfurt am Main: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Frühpietismus in Franken,” Zeitschrift für bayerische Kirchengeschichte 7 (1932): 36-44; John Butt, “Germany-education and Apprenticeship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Handel, ed. Donald Burrows (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 15; Horst Weigelt, Geschichte des Pietismus in Bayern: Anfänge, Entwicklung, Beudeutung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2.001), 50-57; Alison Rowlands, “Father Confessors and Clerical Intervention in Witch-Trials in Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Germany: The Case of Rothenburg, 1692,” The English Historical Review 552/1 (2016): 1010-42.
  • 2 [MK] Although the Latin version was taken as the main text for translation, the Persian text was also used for clarification and flow. Some paragraphs were joined together to improve the readability of the text.
  • 3 Kirchmaier’s note: “Translated more to the sense than the word.”

16 Investigation of Religions

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