The Safavid Empire was a strong Islamic empire located in what is currently Iran. It was also called the Safavid dynasty or the Iran dynasty. The Safavids were the natives of Iran from Azerbaijan, which ruled between 1501 and 1736. They were the descendants of the Ardabil’s Sheykh Safi al-Din, the head of Sufi order of the Safawiyyah. However, they exchanged their affiliation with Sunni for Shi’ ism. Their dynasty established Shi’a Islam as the official religion in Iran. This united provinces under one Iranian sovereignty at the beginning of the modern period. This empire was very strong and it challenged the east Mughals and West Ottomans.
What led to the emergence of the Safavid Empire?
The Safavids founded this empire. This was a Sufi order dating back to the time of Safi al-Din between 1252 and 1334. Safi al-Din was a Persian nationalist converted from Sunni to Shi ism. Originally, Safavid brotherhood existed as a religious group. After many centuries, this brotherhood grew to a level of attracting the local warlords. Political marriages made it stronger. Eventually, it became a strong military and a religious group during the 15th century. Allegiance of the brotherhood to Ali as well as to the ‘Hidden Imam” attracted many people.
Throughout the 15th century, this brotherhood was growing militarily becoming more aggressive. It waged holy war or Jihad against the modern day Georgia and Turkey. This empire dates from the time of Shah Ismail’s rule which was between 1501 and 1524. The Shahs of Safavid declared independence after Shi’a Islam was outlawed by the Ottomans within their territory. The empire was strengthened by the Shi’a soldiers who were part of the Ottoman army running away from persecution. Shah Ismail became the ruler following the assumption of power by the Safavids. At this time, he was either 14 or 15 years old and the entire Iran had been conquered by Ismail by 1510.
How and why the empire fell
This empire was united by the need for defense from the Ottoman Empire as well as conquering more territories. However, the threat from the Ottoman declined in the 17th century. This made military forces less effective. The Shahs of the Safavids became complacent when the enemy kept quiet. They also became decadent and corrupt and eventually, power went to Shi’a ulama. These were religious leaders who deposed Shahs then proclaimed the first Islamic Republic globally in the 18th century. They declared that only Mujtahid or an individual with deep Sharia knowledge could rule.
The ruling dynasty was destroyed by an Afghan group or Afghan forces in 1726. This was followed by power division between Shi’a ulama and Afghan Shahs. Foreign policy and the state were controlled by the Afghan Shahs allowing them to come up with secular laws and levy taxes. The ulama enforced Sharia in family and personal matters while controlling religious practices. The empire ended officially in AD1736.
Legacy of the Safavid Empire
Safavids were the ones who established the Iran as a Shi’ism bastion. They also introduced the Persian culture as well as Iranian-hood’s self-awareness. This created a bridge to the current Iran. Shah Ismail, who founded the dynasty which was the foundation of the empire, adopted Pādišah-ī Īrān, the Persian Emperor’s title. This had an implicit notion of the Iranian states which stretched from Khorasanb to southern Persian Gulf.
Due to this empire, the only major difference between modern day Iran and Persia at the time of the empire is the European’s influence that was spread at the beginning of the 20th century.
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