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The Appearance of Manichaeus

As mentioned earlier, the rule of Ardshir, began with the recognition of the Zoroastrian faith. After his death, Shapoor the 1st, his son, became king who after further expanding the realm of his father, dominated the situation. He learnt that a man named Manichaeus 44 had risen claiming to be a prophet. Shapoor 1 received Manichaeus in court and after a few sessions fell deeply under his influence.

Manichaeus was an Iranian who was bom in Iraq in a village by the Tigris. He was familiar with Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, and by mingling these three faiths created a special creed and declared himself its prophet. After meeting Shapoor in Khuzistan and influencing him in favor of his religion, he obtained from Shapoor a directive to all his governors to allow Manichaeus and his missionaries freedom to propagate their religion.

Manichaeus rose as a reformer of the Zoroastrian religion, but he offered a set of teachings which were a combination of the ideas of Zoroaster, Christ and Buddha. For thirty years Manichaeus and his missionaries carried out their mission, winning numerous followers until in the time of Bahram II in the year 277 Manichaeus was arrested and in a court held by the Zoroastrian high priest he was charged with heresy in religion. He was thrown in prison and after 26 days he was killed there in an atrocious manner. His skin was then filled with straw and hung in front of Bahram's court as a warning to anyone who committed heresy in religion.

The question is what led Shapoor to favor Manichaeus' religion? Historians explain that Shapoor had realised that the Zoroastrian faith did not fulfill the needs and spiritual expectations of the people, and was inadequate in satisfying their religious spirit, and for this reason he gave Manichaeus a free hand as a religious reformer. This shows that zoroastrianism, which some people wish to revive now and make it replace Islam in some parts of Islamic lands, was as early as so many centuries before the advent of Islam, as ineffective a creed that it could not satisfy the people, and thus the king allowed a religious reformer like Manichaeus to become active. It should be remembered that at that time a religious vacuum existed in the realm of Iran. Manichaean faith has had a strange fate and has had many ups and downs, not as much as a religion, but as a philosophy it sent ripples as far as China on the one side, and as far as Europe including England and France in the other direction but that in itself is a long story.

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44. Manichaeus (215-276 A.D.) in his youth studied philosophy, science and various religions, and at the age of 24 he claimed prophethood. After being treated with disfavor by Shapoor the 1st, he was exiled from Iran, and he travelled to India, Tibet and China, and in 272 A.D. returned to Iran after Shapoor's death. Hormoz, Shapoor's successor, allowed him to propagate his faith freely, and he found many followers in a short time. He was killed by Bahram I after Hormoz. Among his works are the books of Shapoorgan in Pahlavi and Arjang in which he employed pictures to attract the illiterate, thereby he was nicknamed 'the painter' - Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary Vol. 6; History of Iranians and Arabs in the Sassanid time, Theodore Noldke, pp. 123, 611 and 615.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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