Shi‘ites and Sunnis or the Critical Disagreements between Persians and Turks Concerning Religion

August Pfeiffer

The biography of Pfeiffer is provided in part II, Religion and Theology (Chapter 5).

Summary and Analysis

Pfeiffer sets out to describe the religious differences between the Persians and the Turks, the two major powers in the seventeenth-century Islamic Middle East. He begins his dissertation with the proverb, “Truth is singular, falsehood is multifaceted,” implying that Islam is the latter. He says that Islam is divided into 73 sects, the most famous of which are the Sunni and Shi'ite sects. Pfeiffer then states his intention to adumbrate the religious differences of the Shi'ite Persians and Sunni Turks, using Muslim writings along with firsthand accounts of European observers. His work is divided into three chapters: the first contains background information on the ethnic origins of the Persians and the Turks and their pre-Islamic religions; the second outlines the articles of faith that both hold in common; and the third focuses on their religious differences, which Pfeiffer claims are the cause of their division and enmity.

In the first chapter, Pfeiffer gives several potential etymologies of Persian, compiled from European sources, mostly based on biblical evidence and Hebrew derivations. The origin of the Persian people is then discussed before he gives a similar account of the Turks. He explains that, although both peoples take the name Muslim, the Persians are called Shi'ites and the Turks Sunnis due to doctrinal differences. Thus, Pfeiffer outlines two Muslim groups, divided along ethnic and religious lines, which he compares throughout the rest of the dissertation. Pfeiffer then turns to a discussion of pre-Islamic religions. According to his account, drawn chiefly from European sources, the Persians worshipped first the sun, then Venus, and then fire. He discusses whether fire-worshippers still exist in Persia and their relation to the Magi, whose name is the subject of a lengthy etymological digression. Pfeiffer describes how Turks were steeped in the most savage idolatry, worshipping many gods and goddesses before Islam. This religious heterogeneity in the pre-Islamic Middle East, along with a description of Muhammad’s teachings being a mix of Christianity, Judaism, and ancient Saracenism, portrays a region riven by religious doctrine, much like Christian Europe at that time. Since I did not think this chapter would be of general interest I omitted it. Sentences that are omitted in the text are indicated by [...].

In his second chapter, where the translated text starts, Pfeiffer focuses on the religious agreements between the Persians and the Turks; he claims that an understanding of the Turks’ and Persians’ religious agreements will underscore their religious differences. Both groups agree on the divinely inspired nature of Muhammad. They place a high value on the Qur’an, with the Turks, in particular, taking pains to see that no copy is sullied by Christian contact. Both recognize the Qur’an as the word of God, and there is no disagreement about dogmas originating in the Qur’an itself. Both sides have a religious leader analogous to a president or pontiff. Both have holy men, similar to Catholic saints and monks, who practice asceticism and chastity, and both keep Friday as a holy day. Both practice circumcision, engage in five obligatory daily prayers, and observe Ramadan as the holy month of fasting. For dietary restrictions, both prohibit alcohol in theory, but find ways of circumventing it in practice, obeying a shared prohibition of pork more strictly. Both observe the religious holiday in honor of Abraham known as Bayram or Kurban, practice polygamy, and allow divorce. They honor saints and make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Finally, both groups have mosques of various sizes and names in which they congregate to worship. Thus, in this chapter, Pfeiffer acknowledges Islam’s two major sects and their similarities that transcend ethnic and sectarian bounds.

Pfeiffer begins his third chapter with a question: since the two groups do not differ significantly about the fundamentals of their faith, why do they “attack one another with such implacable hatred”? He gives no geopolitical reasons for this, but rather uses a religious lens, describing how both Persians and Turks show little compunction about killing each another, despite their being coreligionists. He traces their enmity to sectarian differences between the Shi‘a (Persians) and the “rest of the Muslims” (the Sunni). According to Pfeiffer, the two differ in the foundation of their faith, the designation of Muhammad’s legitimate successor, their explanation of the Qur’an, and in certain religious holidays and rites. The Persians take the Qur’an alone as the canon of their faith, while the Turks give legitimacy to the Sunna as well. The Shi’ite Persians believe that ‘All should have succeeded Muhammad immediately following his death, while the Sunni Turks acknowledge the legitimacy of the three caliphs who came before ‘All. Much of this chapter is taken up with a description of the exalted place that ‘All and his descendants hold in Persian Islam. The two sects also differ on their interpretation of the Qur’an, with the Turks favoring that of Abu Hanlfa and the Persians favoring that of ‘All. Pfeiffer then outlines some differences in religious rituals celebrated by the Persians and centered primarily on ‘All and his family, before ending the dissertation somewhat abruptly. Unlike Pietist Lutherans or Calixtinians, Pfeiffer is not concerned with conversion of Muslims or the unity of religions as his interest lies with religious differences rather than similarities as he believes in Lutheran orthodoxy.

Shi'ites and Sunnis or the Critical Disagreements between Persians and Turks Concerning Religion (Wittenberg, 1670)

The oft-repeated phrase “Truth is singular; falsehood is multifaceted” is proved by the division of the Muslims into so many branches. Under the category of “Islam,” one counts 73 branches that disagree with each other to a greater or lesser extent. The most famous of them is the heresy of the ‘Alites, or rather, the followers of ‘All, who are themselves divided into 70 branches, occupying Persia today. As the Persians disagree the most with the Turks, it seems useful to look at some writings from Eastern peoples and the accounts of eyewitnesses concerning their differences. I will briefly survey the most important reasons for which these nations curse one another so terribly. Let God make it turn out successfully!


On the Agreement between the Persians and Turks

I will not tarry further examining the superstitions of Persians and Turks, but I shall explain the differences between them in modern times with regard to Islam. In order to reach a better understanding of their disagreement, and to further illuminate the points of distinction between them, it is best to use a thorough methodology. First, I will explain the points on which they have heartfelt agreement and which they defend with equal passion.

The Turks and Persians treat Muhammad, who is also called Ahmad, Abu al-Qasim, Sabi’m, and Mustafa, as a true and universal Apostle, a most outstanding Prophet, and a divinely inspired Author. The Turks have no doubt about this. They say that “the angels knew Muhammad and his excellence before they knew Adam.” Two sayings of Muhammad are in circulation: “I was the Prophet, when Adam was still among the water and mud.” And: “What God created first was my light.” In his Travel to the East, Jean Jacques Breuning declares that it was a capital offense in Turkish lands for anyone, whether Christian or otherwise, to call the Prophecy of Muhammad false; such a person can be spared at no price, unless he becomes a Muslim or mamluk. From the Persians, let us cite here Muslih al-Din Sa'di ShirazT, their most famous author, whose Gulistan was translated into Latin by the famous George Gen-tius, and into German by Olearius, who attributes these honorific titles to him and calls him: “Intervener, Reverend, Sage, Generous, Steward, Mighty, Delightful, Sign-bearer.” Sa‘dl ShirazI calls him “sign-bearer” because the Muslims say that Bahira the Monk graciously received the young Muhammad as he was coming to Damascus with his uncle Abu Talib. After he had seen all the signs of a future sage in him, Bahira asked Muhammad to lay bare his shoulders; when Muhammad did this, Bahira is said to have found the sign of the Prophecy, as if it were burned into him by a brand, and gave him his full approval. The noble Olearius adds that the Persians claim the name ‘All was written in that mark, and so it was indicated in Muhammad himself that ‘All would be his true successor.

Both Turks and Persians follow the Qur’an with equal adoration, and they praise it as a God-given gift. Indeed, Leunclavius says that the Turks will worshipfully kiss the Qur’an; and Busbecq states that a Christian who is disrespectful to it is punished by death. It is also a capital offense for the Turks to sell a Qur’an to a Christian, if we believe Georgiewitz’s depiction in his On the Customs of the Turks. Indeed, Hottinger, using his own experience and that of F. Barton, confirms this, for the Turks deem it unworthy for such a marvelous gift from God to be polluted by the filthy hands of Christians.

As for the Holy Scripture, both people recognize it as the Word of God, because Muhammad himself conceded it. Thus, in the orthodox understanding of Islam, the phrase of al-Ghazall is repeated: “The Qur’an, the law, the Gospels, and the Psalms are books handed down by God to his Apostles.” In fact, they seek legitimacy for Muhammad and for the prophecies of his arrival in the Holy Scriptures. [...].

There is no disagreement between the Persians and Turks on Qur’anic theology or those dogmas which can be deduced from the Qur’an precisely. [...]. In what follows I will demonstrate the similarities between the Persians and Turks in their Ecclesiastical rites and their holy practices.

Both recognize that the high leader in religious matters is the leader or Pontiff. The Persians call him a Sadr, from whom the King and others seek answers—like from the Oak of Dodona—in disputes concerning religion and justice. Olearius says: “The Sadr is the spiritual High Priest, just as in the Catholic Church the Pope is.” The Sadr can also conduct political affairs by public authority. He also oversees all the madrasa, or “Academies” in Persian, nine of which are those outstandingly famous ones: at Isfahan, Shiraz, Ardabil, Mashhad, Tabriz, Qazvin, Qum, Yazd, and Shamakhi. The Turks, on the other hand, have a Mufti, the supreme and highest authority. Earlier caliphs, the first successors to Muhammad, engaged in political and ecclesiastical business. Afterwards, once the Arab Empire gave way to the Turks, their Emperors, when they were engaged in public business, either could not or would not deal further with sacred matters, therefore, they chose High Priests [Mufti] and judges for all disputes concerning religion. They are generally compared with the Roman Pontiff: “Among the Turks, the Mufti is the chief of Priests, just as the Roman Pontiff is with us.” George Dousa says: “The Mufti holds that authority among the Turks as the Pope does among the Latins.” To demonstrate the Mufti’s unique position, we shall recount here the order of Turkish officials outside of the Saray, or “the Sultan’s Court,” which is as follows: 1. Mufti; 2. Three supreme Kadilar, commonly known as the Kazasker, “Military Judges,” special judges whom Breuning compares with Cardinals; 3. Vezir Ba$t, the chief and highest of whom is Veztr-i Azam, commonly called the Grand Vizier or Chief Vizier; 4. Three Beylerbeyi, overseeing Romania-Greece, Anatolia-Asia, and the Sea; 5. Three Defterdar, or Prefects of the Treasury; 6. Reisu’l-Kiittab, Vice-Chancellor; 7. Agalar, that is, tribunes of the Agha; 8. Emir-i Alem, or Supreme Standard-bearer, who carries the standards for all Beylerbeyi and Sancakbeyi, when they are appointed; 9. Qavu$ba$t, or the Prefect of the Qavu§, who come with noble courtiers.

Among the Turks, the less educated priests are called Talismanlar. They differ very little or not at all from the commoners. Busbecq says that they can be found in great numbers in their mosques or masjid and that they need to be called from their tasks to prayer. The literate priests are called hoca, whose particular role is to interpret the Qur’an and teach boys. The Persians, apart from their mullahs or priests, who are also pedagogues, have their own Monks, who are called dervishes. The monks of the Turks are divided into three classes, according to Georgiewitz:

The Monks, called dervishler, are of varying and, most importantly, a tripartite ranking. The first rank is such that has nothing of its own; they go forth nearly nude, apart from a sheepskin covering for their genitals, and in times of cold, they likewise use the skin for covering their back. Their side, hands, feet, and head they cover in absolutely no clothing, begging alms, asking both Christians and Turks, Allah icin, which means ‘For Allah.’ They consume the herb called maslach and are driven into a fury, so that they make a crosswise wound across their entire chest and likewise across their arm, pretending never to be in pain, and once they place a burning mushroom from the trees on their head, breast, or hand, they do not remove it until it has turned to ash. I have seen another sort, who have their member, or their penis pierced, prevented from having sex with a small bronze ring put in, to maintain chastity. A third sort seldom goes about, but stays in temples day and night, keeping little huts in the corners of the temples; no shoes, no clothing, their heads uncovered, wearing nothing but a single linen shirt, fasting and praying for many days at a time that God will reveal the future to them, the very people that the king of the Turks, when he plans to wage wars, tends to consult.

They differ in their clothing, and each one carries a mark of his profession, according to Georgiewitz:

If you see someone carrying feathers on their head, it indicates that he is dedicated to meditations and revelations. If he wears clothing interwoven with scraps of various colors, it indicates poverty. Those who wear earrings show themselves obedient in spirit. Wearing chains on the neck or the arms indicates the violence or passion that they have in their ecstasy.

He also has various passages on certain people’s marvelous abstention from food and drink, their constant silence, their unsound dancing, and the twirling of their bodies. Among the Persians, chief in fame is ‘Abdal, whom they call Qalandar because of his avoidance of luxury and worldly pleasures [...].' The Persians also have their own dervishes and their various orders; for some men are described as eremites in Sa‘di ShTrazi. Some men are chiefly praised for their abstinence from food and drink, like the man who would eat only on every other day, and another man who lived off the leaves of trees; and although some men are celibate, still others are said to have a wife. Sa‘di ShTrazi has more passages on these topics throughout, especially in On the Customs of Dervishes or Monks.

Both peoples hold Friday holy, and they both call it the day of jum'a, or of the congregation, for which Muhammad also intended his Q. 62:9. They both extol it with great praises and call it the “prince of days.” Al-Ghazall says that this day “was granted to Islam by God, as a token of honor, and was made special for Muslims.” A commentator on the Qur’an writes: “God elevated Mecca among the cities, Ramadan among the months (the month of fasting), and Friday among the days.” In fact, they think that Friday will be the Day of Judgment; so the same commentator says: “Why did God choose Friday? Because the Sun first rose then, Adam was made then, was put in Paradise then, was cast out onto the land then, and the judgment day will occur then.” Yet they do not spend the whole of Friday in worship, but once they complete their prayers and rites, they return to work. [...]. They keep many things out of superstition up to this day, and they argue, among other things, that one’s nails must be trimmed on that day, “if one cuts his nails on Friday, God will free him from illness and restore him to health.”

Turks and Persians practice circumcision religiously, but they do not perform it on the eighth day like the Jews, but delay it for some years. Flavius Josephus says that the Saracens before Muhammad were circumcised at age 13, because they read that Ismael was circumcised then, in Genesis 17:24. Ibn al-Athïr the Arab seems to agree with Josephus, writing that the Arabs in the days before Muhammad “tended to be circumcised at a certain time, between ten and fifteen years of age.” But today that age is not observed by the Turks or the Persians. [...] Geor-giewitz describes the rite of circumcision at length in On the Customs of the Turks:

First, they invite friends to a banquet, and platters are prepared of every sort of meat, which they feast upon, and among the wealthier families a cow is slaughtered, and inside of it they close up a sheep, skinned and gutted, in which they place a chicken, and they put an egg in that, all of which are designed for the glory of that day. Then, between the banquets and dinnertime, they bring forward the boy who is going to be circumcised. The doctor of this skill reveals the glans and seizes the folded-back skin with small tongs. Next, to ease the boy’s fear, he says that he will perform the circumcision on the next day, and so he departs; then, pretending as though he had lost something which he needs for the task, suddenly he cuts off the foreskin and applies a small amount of salt and bombazine to the wound. Now he will be called a Muslim, meaning ‘circumcised’ (or ‘orthodox’ or ‘faithful’). Boys are not given names on their day of circumcision, but on their actual birthday.


The Turks and Persians are compelled to pray five times a day in the public temple, or mescid (which they distinguish, being a smaller temple, from a larger one, which they call cuma), unless they are legitimately prevented (in which case, they can pray anywhere). The Turks are summoned to prayer by the Hoca and the Persians by their muazzin. According to Cotovicius, the Turks call these five prayers: Ascher, Zuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib, Alescher; but according to others, they call them: Sabba-Namas [Sabah Namazi], Ulli-Namas [Ogle Namazi], Scinti-Namas [Ikindi Namazi], Aschtsam-Namas [Ak$am Namazi], Jasci-Namas [Yatsi Namazi]- Cotovicius writes that they hold their first prayers before sunrise, and that it contains four erket [rekat] and two chalamath; rekat means a double prostration, chamalath is said after prostration; the second prayers, around noon, contain ten prostrations and five chalamath-, the third, in the afternoon, eight prostrations and three chalamath-, the fourth, at sunset, five prostrations and three chalamath; the last around midnight (or, as some say, when they usually go to sleep), fifteen prostrations and eight chalamath. Olearius says that the Persians observe the same hours of prayer [...]. Although in certain prayer ceremonies the Persians may differ from the Turks, yet they collude in their hypocritical devotion and outright madness. Fabricius, based on eye-witnesses, says in his Specimen Arabicum,

Not only with their heart and spirit, but also with the entire body and all one’s strength they think that the divine name must be praised and worshipped. Thus, some people repeat La ilaha ilia Allah, etc., ‘There is not God but Allah,’ with such haste (they have contests on it among themselves) and such passion that they cannot utter those words further (ending their utterances with the word Hu, Hu, as Cotovicius says). Some men extend this cry to such an extent that, whenever they are worn out by this great outcry, some of them emit spittle from their mouths, others grow black in the face because of the force expended by their cries, and they fall to the ground as though they are half-dead; for they think that God is greatly soothed by their bodily suffering. In fact, the greater the force someone inflicts upon themselves, the more pleasing he thinks he will be to God.


Both Turks and Persians strictly observe the month-long fasting of Ramadan, although in other instances they will also hold certain fasts. They fast throughout the entire month of Ramadan because the Qur’an was brought to Muhammad in that month in a Night of Power, as they call it. Therefore, Muslims excessively praise this month, for in it they say the gates of Paradise were opened and the gates of Hell closed. The stench of the mouth in that month of fasting is supposed to be more pleasing to God than the scent of musk. The Turks call that month-long fasting orug, and they begin it during the new moon in the month of Ramadan. “When they fast,” Georgiewitz says, “they eat nothing for the entire day, not even bread or water. Then, once a star has been seen, they are allowed to eat everything except for something strangled and pork.” [...]. Moreover, once their fast during the day has been completed, they frequently carouse for the entirety of the nights, and although they refrain from wine, they indulge most abundantly in drinking coffee.

Both Turk and Persians abstain (or at least, should abstain, under penalty of law) from wine, the use of which Muhammad famously forbids in Q. 2:219 in the following words: “They shall ask you about wine and gambling; answer them, in both cases, that it is a terrible sin.” Concerning the Turks, see Georgiewitz and Busbecq, who also cite a particular example of an old man who would cry out every time he drank wine, as though he were in this way trying to warn his soul to retreat to some safer part of the body for a time. But if wine goes down one’s throat just one time, the same author says that they make a compromise with this religion of theirs. This is also the case with the Persians; Olearius relates that they are compelled to refrain from wine by law, but he says that, since they are seized by an insatiable desire for wine, although they are busy with the fulfillment of their law at the same time, everywhere, both in the cities and the countryside, they allow Armenian Christians to grow grape vines and then buy wine from them, as though the law were satisfied if they did not prepare the wine themselves. Both sides allow grapes to be eaten, however.

Both Turks and Persians abstain entirely from pork blood and meat. In Q. 6:145, Muhammad prevented these two things in the following words:

I do not find in what has been revealed to me that a prohibition has been issued against anyone eating anything, unless it is carrion, or the blood has been poured out, or the accursed flesh of pig, or if something were offered in honor of an idol.

Concerning the Persians, Olearius’ Itinerary speaks at length, and he tells an utterly revolting tale from the Qur’an, how the pig on Noah’s ark was born from the dung of an elephant and thus must be deplored.

Both Turks and Persians fastidiously observe Bayram, or the religious holiday of Kurban, in honor of Abraham. Following the example of their Impostor, they declare with the foulest mendacity that he wanted to offer Ismael as a sacrifice to God. As soon as their month-long fast ends, the Turks celebrate their Ulu Bayram (i.e., a great religious holiday corresponding to our Easter) on the new moon of the following month (shaunval). Ulugh Beg the Tatar says in On Eastern Ages, “on the new moon of shawwal is the holiday of Muslim Easter.” They continue for three days, taking some time in the mornings for their divine worship and spending the rest of the day in banquets, dancing, and merriment. After two months, they celebrate their Kii$uk Bayram, wherein, amidst other rites, they offer sacrifices, but they do not burn them; rather, they distribute them among the poor. [...]

Both Turks and Persians permit and practice simultaneous polygamy. Strabo testifies that it has been practiced by the Persians for many ages, and that they did it for the sake of increasing their offspring. But today, Olearius argues that multiple wives are taken rather to satisfy one’s lust, to which those people are devoted. He states that the Persian compares a wife to a calendar, whose use can only extend for a single year. [...] At the same time, Busbecq in his Epistles says that Turks take multiple wives (four at one time, according to Cotovicius and Breuning), but they may take as many mistresses or concubines (which are only distinguished from proper wives by a dowry) as each man can support with his wealth. How much strife and annoyance this polygamy begets among them, however, a certain Turkish saying, from a famous poet, proves: “Two asses, one caravan. Two wives, one forum.” Or—as the meaning is somewhat unclear because of the succinct Turkish phrase—to say it more clearly: Two asses create as much annoyance as an entire train; and where there are two wives, there is a constant forum because of quarrels. Both, on this account as well, follow the instruction or allowance

of their Pseudoprophet Muhammad, a most lustful man, in Sura 8; they even follow his example, since he had, besides his concubines, seventeen wives as Abu al-Faraj says. According to Abu al-Fida’ and others, it was fifteen; according to some, it was more than twenty wives.

Divorce is practiced among both Turks and Persians, although not as frequently among the Persians as the Turks, because with the Persians, husbands without a pregnant wife are divorced under certain circumstances, but his case is first heard by a judge or kadi or qadT. Although divorce may take place, it is not possible to take a second set of vows right away [...]. Among the Turks, though, divorces are more frequent, and can be obtained for trivial, or more often absurd reasons. In the first place, though, that foul custom of theirs must be mentioned here, whereby it is sometimes permitted to take in cohabitation a woman who has been rejected three times. [...] But the Persians detest this practice.

Both Turks and Persians rigorously visit the tombs of their saints, whose power and guardianship they beseech in certain cases, although they do not worship those saints in either place. Apart from the more ancient saints (for they visit the tombs of Abraham and other Patriarchs, according to Leunclavius), the Turks also worship some new and fraudulent saints and apotheosized miracle-workers, over whose tombs they perform their vows and prayers. Seyyid Gazi was just such a miracleworker—or rather, an Impostor, who is greatly esteemed throughout Turkey, according to the Transylvanian monk, in the work cited. According to the same witness, they call another man Harschi Pettesch, that is, “the travelling assistant,” who is honored by travelers. Another is A$ik Paja, that is, “the guardian of love,” who is said to bring aid to married persons, those laboring in childbirth, those who desire offspring, or others who are pressed by needs in their marriage. Ali van Paja is said to sooth contrary souls and bring them to harmony. Seyh Pa§a is called upon as the guardian of the disturbed and sorrowful. Gotvelmirtschim and Bartschin Pa§a are believed to take care of the flock. Hidirellez is said to be an aid to travelers pressed by need. The Persians studiously visit the tombs of their saints as well—first the tomb of Sheikh Sofi, their first reformer; then the twelve tombs of the imams, or rather, the sons and grandsons of their High Priests, the Sofi, about whom we shall talk later, as well as the monuments to other saints. Thus, they travel to the tomb of Seyyid Ibrahim, in the region of Pyrmaraas, for whom there is a nearby monument to another saint, whose name was Tiribabba [Piri Baba?]. The Persians also seem to owe some of their saints to the Christians, for they visit the tomb of the seven sleepers, or rather, the cave saints of which there is also mention in the Qur’an. [...]

The Turks and Persians both make compulsory pilgrimages to the Temples of Mecca, of Jerusalem, of Medina, and others. For Muhammad demanded this in his Qur’an, and he wanted it to be an important part of his religion, to the extent that, as al-Ghazali relates it, according to Muhammad’s judgment, if anyone were to die before he undertook such a journey, he would not die as a Muslim, but as a Jew or Christian. Both Turks and Persians visit the Ka'ba, that is, the Temple of Mecca, because that is the homeland of the Impostor Muhammad. Concerning the Turks and Persians, the authors say that they encamp at Mecca amid various troubles and great dangers. Whenever they are on a three-day journey away from the city, they approach it almost completely naked, covered only around their genitals; and preparing themselves with various lotions, they enter the temple of Mecca, and they perform their rites with a great many particular observances. Every year, a troop of a thousand men under a certain Duke (who is called amir al-hajj) visit it. Concerning the Persians, there is similar agreement, according to Sa'di Shirazi, that many thousands from the most remote provinces come to Mecca and pray, often on foot, laying their heads on the temple threshold. Every year, that temple is covered with a shroud, which is called Kiswat al-Ka‘ba, “Holy Mantle of the Temple, Temple’s Dress or Garment,” and that is sent by the Ottoman family at Constantinople to Mecca by land journey through Damascus, full of pomp. Every year a new shroud is produced, and the old one is carried away, made a revered treasure by its contact with the majesty of that most sacred place. It is divided by priests into pieces and is sold at a high price to those making the pilgrimage for the sake of religion. Mecca is held in such great esteem because it is renowned for the birth of Muhammad, and they believe that Abraham laid the foundations of the temple there. Likewise, Muslims make the journey to the temple at Medina, with great earnestness, regularity, and amidst the various trials of the road, where one may find the tomb of the Impostor. The Sunnis say that Muhammad encouraged them to visit it: “Whoever comes to Medina to visit my tomb, I will intervene on his behalf on the Day of Resurrection. If anyone dies in either holy place,” that is, Mecca or Medina, “he will certainly be revived and saved.” Likewise: “Whoever visits my tomb, it is as if he were visiting me while I was alive.” Thus, they also establish travels to the temple at Jerusalem, which the Turks call Kudiis-ii Miibarek.

The Turks and Persians have temples in a great number of places. There are the smaller ones, or masjid, which they commonly call Moskeas; they differentiate them from Jum'a (which you might call Synagogues), or the Cathedral Temples, being the greater ones. In those masjid of theirs, they gather not only on Friday for their holy practice, but every day as well for their sacred prayers, after washing, which we shall discuss below. They do not permit their women to enter the mosque, but they place them at the doorway. If they are noblewomen of a higher status, they have a spot separate from their men, and so secret that no one can peer in, which they occupy every Friday. Men remove their shoes and leave them in front of the Temple door. The floors of the Temple, strewn with mats, they do not touch with their shoes. They grant entrance to

Christians with great reluctance unless it is granted to someone as a special favor. Going before the Hoca or the Molla, they enter and perform their prayers and other sacred rites. Speeches to the people, however, are more seldom. Concerning the Turks, Cotovicius says in his Journey through Jerusalem and Syria that when a new Pasha enters his position, a summoner calls out to the people, holding a straight sabre in his hands. Otherwise, both the Turks and the Persians (who do sometimes have Ecclesiastical orations) are generally satisfied with a reading from the Qur’an, illustrated with a brief explanation, which takes place in certain cathedrals [greater mosques]. Neither people tend to summon their fellows to holy rites with bells, but both use heralds instead. The Persians call them muazzin, the Turks talismanlar, who call men to prayer at established times with extremely piercing voices from small towers built near the temples. Concerning the Turks, Georgiewitz says

around the temple is a tower of wonderful height. Their priest climbs it at the time for his call. With a high voice and his fingers in his ears, he repeats the following words: Allah hak bir, that is, ‘God is true and singular’.

Concerning the Persians, in the well-known words of Sa‘dT Shirazi: “A holy herald, or, muazzin, has cried at the wrong time,” notes the famous Gentius.

Because Muslims refuse to use bells out of their intractable hatred of Christians, every day they summon their fellows to perform their prayers and holy rites with the living voice of heralds (following the example of Muhammad); five times each from the top of small towers, which they have built beside their holy buildings.

Yet they do not reject clocks in their private buildings. But that is enough about this.

Concerning the Disagreement between the Persians and Turks

We have so far seen agreement and harmony between the Persians and Turks. Now, we must dig into the matter and explain in what ways they differ. As can be seen from what was said so far, these cannot be too numerous. One might therefore wonder why they attack one another with such implacable hatred. The Persians condemn the religion of the Turks and attack them in their prayers, and the Persians hardly consider murdering Turks a sin. Thus, a certain highly esteemed Persian author declares: “The Turk, although he is highest in learning; Still it is acceptable to kill him.” The most famous author among the Persians, Sa‘dl Shirazi, left a good indication of how he felt toward them in his preface to Rose

Garden—that is, he compares them to bloody wolves, savage lions, and tigers, and in contrast to them, he likens his Persian people to the angels. Nor do they hold themselves from slanderous names, and they regularly call them Sag Sünnis, or dog Sunnis. On the other hand, the Turks hate the Persians no less, and as a jeer they call them Kizdba§, or Redheads, because those who celebrate their descent from the family of ‘All or Sophi wear red turbans, which they usually call Tatsch or Takye. [...] Busbecq, says that the Turk Rüstem Pasha said to him: “We abhor the Persians more and treat them as more sacrilegious than Christians.” Leunclavius says that Turks who had crossed over to the Persians were killed by other Turks. Based on this, then, there is sufficiently clear evidence of the agreement that exists among Turks concerning the Persians.

We should explore the cause of such great hatred, which it seems few people have properly explained. They say this hatred is caused by a difference in religion; but they have not thoroughly laid out what constitutes that disagreement. Petrus Bizarus in History of Persian Affairs, Giovanni Tommaso Minadoi in On the Turkish-Persian War and others discussed several things. However, they do not touch upon the differences between the Persians and Turks, or only do so lightly. Recently, the noblest Olearius has pursued the core of the matter with a marvelous attempt in Itinerary. Therefore, we shall briefly and clearly outline this topic.

To relate everything “from the egg,” as they say, the chaotic nature of that Monster of Mecca immediately dragged Muslims into different camps. According to al-Shahrastani, Arabs say that disunity emerged and finally produced 73 sects in Islam, for so this prattler says: “the Magi are divided into 70 sects; the Jews into 71; Christians into 72; Muslims into 73. Among the sects, however, one always has to be correct.” The same author, however, counts four primary sects: al-Qadariyya, al-Sifätiyya, Khärijites, and al-ShT‘a; some count six, others eight, Mu‘tazilites, Shi‘ites, Khärijites, Murji'ites, al-Najjäriyya, Jabrites, al-Mushabbiha, al-Näjiyya, and the Ash‘arites, which most of the Arabs follow and treat as orthodox. Others identify more primary sects, from which the rest have emerged. Our current project does not allow us to treat each one individually but let us guide the good reader to Abü al-Faraj and his commentator, Pococke. Here, we will only examine how the Persians differ from the rest of the Muslims, who are called Sunnis. Although even these people [Sunnis] have various disputes and arguments (especially scholarly ones among themselves in different regions), they share common cause against the Shi‘ite Persians; I will illustrate those issues they have in common against the Persians. Also, the Persians do not follow the same custom in all places, but in times of abundance and in times of want they sin against their own principles. The Persians oppose the Sunnis with the same passion that we do. Therefore, among the disagreements between the Persians and Turks, the most learned gentleman Joachim Camerarius and others, cite certain scholarly debates on the origin of evil, on the eternity of law, and similar things. But in doing so, they do not seem to explain sufficiently the cause of such disharmony, since debates of this sort are not dealt with among the Sunnis themselves. As for the Turks, who are called either Sunnis or Ash'aris, we believe that they differ from the Shi'ites or Rafidl, whose sect is called Imamiyya by some, in the following ways: first, the foundation of their faith; second, the designation of Muhammad’s legitimate successor; third, their explanation of the Qur’an; and, fourth, certain religious holidays and rites.

As for the first, both accept the Qur’an as the canon of their faith; but the Persians accept it alone, while the Turks have the Sunna, or tradition, in addition. Thus, the Turks are called Sunni, that is, traditionists. For this disagreement, we could compare the Persians with the Sadducees, insofar as they rejected unwritten traditions, satisfied with the letter of the law alone. Thus, some people called them scripturalists, but the Turks are compared to the Pharisees, who followed not only the written divine law, but also the “unwritten law,” or rather, a variety of ancestral traditions. Therefore, because the Turks see that their traditions are shunned by the Persians, they hate the Persians. As we also see today, the remaining Karaites are crushed under a hatred worse than Vatinius’ because they rejected the Talmudic traditions. Still, we must talk briefly about the Sunna. There were seven men who compiled all Muhammad’s words and deeds outside the Qur’an with the greatest diligence, and they passed it down to their descendants. Among them was Abu Hurayra, named by Muhammad for the kitten that he held very delicately and would constantly carry about with him in public assemblies. He had the most remarkable memory and, outliving the other six traditionists; he alone kept alive in later days the traditions [hadith] that he had heard from Muhammad, keeping them in his wonderful memory until they were finally put in the literary record.

A second, no less worthy question on the successor to Muhammad is passionately debated among the Persians and Turks. The foundation of their disagreement is: “Did Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman lawfully succeed Muhammad in his ecclesiastical and political governance after his death? Or was injury done to ‘All on this account?” The Sunnis, or Turks, assert the first; but the Shi'ites, or Persians, endorse the latter; for just as the Turks are called Sunnis because of the previous debate, so too are the Persians called Shi'ites because of this one. Therefore, the origin of this debate must be shown at some length. After Muhammad died, the Muslims were troubled concerning the Imam, or rather, the leader or caliph—that is, Muhammad’s successor, who would be supreme over the whole Muslim people, in matters relating to the world as well as to religion; or rather, who would take the place of Muhammad in all matters. The Turks count four such caliphs, the sole successors of Muhammad, in a rather strict sense (although all Muslim Emperors in

Saracen history are otherwise called caliph). They succeeded each other in order: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman (whom they start from in counting Muslim Emperors, and who are thus called Osmanli, and their family “Ottoman,” and their court the “Ottoman Porte”), and ‘All. For so it is said in al-Ghazali’s confession of faith, which is commonly treated as orthodox among the Turks:

It is likewise necessary for a Muslim to confess the virtue of Muhammad’s companions and their positions; and that, after Muhammad, the most outstanding man was Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar, then ‘Uthman, then ‘All, and he ought to have good feelings about all the companions and celebrate them, just as God and His Envoy celebrated them all.

In fact, so far from the Turks accusing ‘All of being the Persians’ High Priest, they rather extol him with the highest praise. The Turks argue that ‘All should not be put ahead of the first three, but that he should be subordinate. The Persians think that the first three caliphs did a terrible injury to ‘All, and that they stole the Caliphate and position of High Priest, against what is right and fair, since ‘All took the daughter of Muhammad, Fatima, in marriage, and he completely outshone the first ones, because of his learning, his virtue, his righteousness, and his other gifts as the High Priest and caliph.

This controversy arose in 1363 AD, because of a certain man name Sefi or Sofi (whom some men call “wool” in Arabic, because he only used woolen clothes). He said that he was a descendant of ‘All and carried himself with an appearance of great learning and holiness. Then at Ardabil and other places in Persia, he publicly argued that the right of the first Stewardship and Caliphate, dating back to Muhammad—that is, the right of succession in political and religious matters, lay in the hands of ‘All, whom Muhammad called his cousin and his own son-in-law for purposes of inheritance and succession. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, however, because they were greater in might, wickedly took his due from him, and assumed for themselves the things that were his. Finally, Sofi [al-ArdabilT] said that ‘All alone deserved the name of High Priest, because he had plainly performed so many wondrous things. Many were immediately opposed to his opinion and things began to move in the direction of war. In fact, from the great authority this revolutionary Reformer [al-Ardabili] held, one can surmise that he gave his name to Kings (of course, those who call themselves Sefi or Sofi do so for that reason, not from the Greek word for “wise,” or for some other reason, a fact which Ismael was the first to use, for they call him Ismael Sophinus [Shah Esma‘11] for this reason), and to all Persians generally (those who are called the Sofiani [Safaviyya]). The Persians make much of his various miracles. Among other things, when Temiirleng, or Tamerlane, the King of the Tatars, wanted to determine whether or not

Soft’s religion was genuine and they say that he thought of three signs that, if Tamerlane beheld these signs in the presence of Soft, he would convert to Soft’s sect—that is, if Soft did not rise up for Tamerlane as he approached, if he prepared rice with wild goat milk, and if he survived poison that he had to drink as a toast—all of which signs they say were fulfilled by Soft.

Over time, the argument concerning ‘Alt’s succession was carried on by the descendants of Soft [al-Ardabili], Sadredin and Tsinid (who is called Junayd in other sources), as well as Haydar and others. This issue grew so much that it created tensions between the Persians and Turks, although this dispute does not seem to be of much importance. In fact, some men were not afraid to say (according to al-Shahrastani) that “religion lay in the knowledge of the High Priest alone.” Indeed, it can scarcely be stated how much strife both sides fight with on behalf of their High Priests. The Persians, following their own ‘All, make him semi-divine; the Turks do not accuse him, but rather they praise him, and when they are going to mount a horse, they usually say “O ‘All, i.e., Aly” (i.e., a famed knight and High Priest). They dismiss the Persians’ boasting with mockery and slander. The Turks, however, honor Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman as the successors to Muhammad. The Persians, however, condemn them and curse them savagely; indeed, they even speak foully in their hatred for them: Kir-i sag dar dahan-i Abubekir, Omar, Hanife baad, that is, “May the penis of dog be in the mouth of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and Abu Hamfa.”

We must show further how much the Persians honor ‘All. On one hand, they compare him with Muhammad; on the other, they in fact prefer ‘All to Muhammad. They say that Muhammad, at some point while he was still alive, said to ‘All: “Is it not enough for you if you are by my side, in the same position Aaron occupied beside Moses?” In fact, some people say that the Qur’an came into the hands of Muhammad because of a mistake by Gabriel when it ought to have been given to ‘All. But they also consider ‘All a symbol of their faith, which they use as grounds to distinguish themselves from the Turks, that is, “There is no God but the true God, Muhammad the Apostle of God, ‘All the prefect of God.” The Turks leave out the final words. In fact, some people support the praises of ‘All that come from the Persians so indecently that they do not hesitate to ascribe divinity to him. That blasphemous utterance from the Persians is well known: “I do not acknowledge ‘All as God, but I know that he is not far from God.” This one is not much better: “Whoever is not like dust, when he stands before the doors of ‘All, even if he is an angel, dust will cover his head.” These words, attested by Olearius, have a place too in their royal standards. Al-Shahrastani also says that there were some men among the Shi'ites, whom he calls Nusayri, who say that ‘All was the one “in whose form God appeared, and by whose hands He made the world, and by whose tongue He gave his teachings, and so they said that ‘All existed before the creation of the heavens and earth.” Thus, it can hardly be overstated how great were the miracles attributed to ‘All. They worship his sword no less than the one which the Turks once dreaded as belonging to George Castriot (who is called by the Turks Scanderbeg [Iskender Beg], that is, Master Alexander, for Beg means Master in Turkish, and Alexander is abbreviated among the Turks as Scender, just as Constantinople is shortened to Stamboli), which Marinus Marletius wrote about. According to Olearius, the Persians say that ‘All was in fact able to split rocks with his sword. They call that sword zulfiqar, and they tell tales about it being given to Muhammad by Gabriel on the condition that he give it to his cousin ‘All. Thus, they say that ‘All at some point carried the city gates to a place in Khaybar, and they say “the evidence is clear that there was in him a divine spark and heavenly might.” When he could not find water on a certain island to relieve his thirst, he is said to have brought forth a spring on the spot, as Olearius says; he also adds that, today, this island is called Alybarluch because of this myth. ‘All is also said to have miraculously produced grapes in Iran in the wintertime, whence the Persians say that grapes are still cultivated, which they call Enkuri aly deresi. Finally, they tell the story that, when Muhammad was taken up to heaven, ‘All followed him and found Muhammad sitting with the angels and refreshing himself with heavenly nectar. But because the angels refused to allow ‘All entrance, they say that ‘All said that he was “the Lion of God,” and that after they heard it, the angels brought to him a vial of the exact same sort of nectar. Let us leave his horse duldul in silence.

As the Persians worship their native ‘All for this reason, they perform almost all their official acts, both political and ecclesiastical, in his name. Thus, when a new King is crowned, the crown is brought to him, to be kissed in the name of God, Muhammad, and ‘All. The Persians swear by God and ‘All alike. When they forge brotherhood among themselves, they are given three strikes by the caliph, who says at the first stroke Allah, at the second Muhammad, at the third, ‘All. Finally, they also celebrate unique religious holidays in memory of him and his descendants, as we shall discuss shortly.

Just as the Persians worship ‘All, they also glorify his descendants, as though his virtue were grafted upon them by a cutting. Chiefly, they worship ‘All’s two sons, Hasan and Husayn, whom he begat from Muhammad’s daughter Fatima; likewise his nine grandsons, Zayn al-‘Abidin, Muhammad Baqir, Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Musa al-Kazim, ‘All ibn Musa (al-Rida), Muhammad al-Taqi, ‘All al-Naqi, Hasan al-‘Askan, and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan (al-Mahdi); and they call these twelve Imams, their High Priests, and they give them deep devotion, together with ‘All and Shaykh Sofi, the reformer of their religion; and people make pilgrimages to their tombs, especially people who cannot visit the Temple of Mecca because of the distance. Even today, those of their descendants who remain are marked by special signs, and they enjoy various privileges.

Third, the Persians and Turks have various authors whom they follow in their interpretation of the Qur’an. The Turks, although they otherwise have few scholars and are satisfied with almost a bare explanation of the words (so says Georgiewitz), nevertheless they follow Abu Hanifa in difficult passages of the Qur’an. They endow Abu Hanifa with the special instinct of God, and they put him at the side of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. The Persians, however, consider him an impostor and a heretic, and they follow ‘All in their explanation of the Qur’an, and his grandson Ja‘far al-Sadiq. There would obviously be cause for some difference, if what Hottinger relates were true, based on the evidence of F. Bartoni, that the Persians translated the Qur’an into their own language (although Muslih al-Din Sa‘dl ShTrazi, in his Rose Garden, constantly cites passages from the Qur’an in Arabic), something which is not done by the Turks.

Finally, the Persians differ from the Turks in certain ceremonies and rites, especially their religious holidays, prayers, and ablutions. To the annoyance of the Turks, the Persians celebrate various religious holidays in honor of ‘All and his descendants. On the fourteenth day of the month Shawwal, they celebrate the event of GhadTr Khutntn, in memory of ‘All, who is said to have succeeded Muhammad on the very day that ‘Uthman died. They conduct this holiday with many entertainments and trivialities. On the twenty-second day of Ramadan, they perform funeral rites for ‘All, who is said to have been killed on the twenty-first day of the month in the Great Mosque of Kufa while praying by his slave ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam. They also celebrate his memory with many solemn rites and tears. Persians perform their ‘dshtlra’ for ten days, to commemorate Hussein, the younger son of ‘All, who was wounded with 72 spears, stabbed by a certain Sinan ibn Anas, and finally killed by Shamr ibn Dhu al-Jawshan. In remembrance of this, some men shed their blood in various ways and perform other rites.

As for their prayers, there is a difference in some of their ceremonies [...]. There are differences in ablutions which they always perform before they enter mosque [...]. It is certain that Persians also separate themselves from the Turks in their clothing, wearing green stockings, something that the Turks despise, because the turban of Muhammad was green. Let what has currently been said on the disagreements between the Persians and Turks suffice.


1 [MK] On the term ‘Abdal, see Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988), 110-19. For Qalandar, see Katherine Pratt Ewing and Ilona Gerbakher, “The Qalandariyya: From the Mosque to the Ruin in Poetry, Place, and Practice,” in Routledge Handbook on Sufism, ed. Lloyd Ridgeon (New York: Routledge, 2020), 233-68.

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