Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/101

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82
PERSIA.

perished by the hand of that Tartar. Among his successors, however, there were some who adopted the doctrine of the Shiites: such were Gazan Khan, and his brother, Mohammed-Koda-bendeh, though the latter, indeed, afterwards recanted. At length Ismail Ardebili, founder of the house of the Sofis, embraced it; he spread it with his victories, and in his zeal, laid sacrilegious hands on the tombs of the Sunnites, destroyed their mosques, and cruelly persecuted such of his subjects as rejected his doctrine. Selim I. who then occupied the throne of Turkey, availed himself of the pretext of religion, to declare war against Ismail: and in the letter which he addressed to the Persian monarch, previously to this declaration, he gives a curious exposition of the motives of piety and zeal by which he professed to be influenced. Ismail was vanquished in the battle of Tchaldiran, but nevertheless continued his efforts for the propagation of the tenets of the Shiites, which the majority of the Persians have ever since his reign espoused. This difference of creed has laid the foundation of that antipathy which prevails between them and the Turks. Their wars are religious wars, of which politics are never the apparent motive.

When Nadir Shah had contrived that the crown should be offered to him, he accepted it only on condition that the Shiites should in future abstain from anathematizing the first three caliphs, and holding festivals in honour of Ali and Hossein. It must have been a singular spectacle, though not unparalleled in history, to see that ferocious conqueror assembling the doctors, entering into theological discussions, and arguing like a casuist. Toleration appeared to be his virtue: he exhorted the Persians to return to more moderate opinions, to adopt merely the explanation of the Koran by the Imam Djafar-el-Sadik, one of Ali's descendants, and to assume the name of Djafari. These indications of extraordinary moderation were at first persuasive; but the persecution by which they were followed, displayed Nadir's character in its true light: it was not, as may easily be conceived, either philanthropy or piety that had actuated this barbarian. His object was to conciliate by this conduct, the Arabs, the Courds and the Turcomans, who composed the greater part of his army, and who were Sunnites. It was probably his intention also, to pave the way to the more easy conquest of Turkey, by removing the cause of religious animosity. These designs he thwarted by the impolicy of his own conduct: he imagined that a new point of faith may be established by force of arms, and that it is not more difficult to rule consciences than to govern men. He increased the hatred of his subjects, shook his power, and perished without obtaining the least success. Had he been