Empathy and politics in Safavid Iran

The ceremonies and the rules and principles related to it is one of the important issues in the field of diplomacy which generally refers to the formal and visible aspects of a relationship. At the same time it should not be considered completely separate from the content of a relationship.
3 January 2024
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The ceremonies and the rules and principles related to it is one of the important issues in the field of diplomacy, which generally refers to the formal and visible aspects of a relationship. At the same time, it should not be considered completely separate from the content of a relationship. Ignorance and non-awareness of the rules of ceremonies can create grounds for misunderstandings and disputes and create disruption and weakness in the image that each nation presents to the world through its politicians. Generally, the formalization of ceremonies and the development of specific instructions and guidelines in this field is attributed to the new era of diplomacy around the 19th century. Regarding the history of Iran's foreign relations, there is especially the impression that these relations, at least until the middle of the Qajar era, lacked clear rules, plans, and policies and were only in a reactive position, and there were no instructions regarding the frameworks of diplomatic work in its various aspects.

This perception is not correct, and a careful study of various sources and documents shows that the Iranian governments, which started acting independently in the field of foreign relations from the Safavid era (16th century AD), were aware of the necessity of regularity and the formulation of frameworks and principles in this work, and there are instructions left from them that make these principles clear. These instructions reveal the diplomatic ceremonies of the Safavid government.

Among the most important and worthy of attention among these instructions is related to the reception and welcoming ceremonies of Mirza Nasir al-Din Muhammad (Humayun), the asylum king of the Mughal government of India, who became a refugee to Iran during the reign of Shah Tahmasp Safavid. The details of the events that led to the loss of his throne in India and his escape from that region have been mentioned in historical sources and detailing it is beyond the scope of this research. Just to clarify the topic, it should be mentioned that Humayun- the son of Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, the founder of the Mughal government and the father of Akbar Shah, the most powerful and famous ruler of that government- as a result of political conflicts in the territory of his government was defeated against the advances of Sher Shah Suri, the ruler of the northern regions of India. In a situation where even his brother Kamran Mirza stopped supporting him and joined his enemies, he entered the territory of the Safavid government through Sistan in 1544, and he was met with the kindness and compassion of the officials of this government and the special attention of Shah Tahmasp.

When the news of the arrival of this fugitive and asylum king reached the court of Shah Tahmasp, he issued detailed and lengthy orders to the officials of his government and explained to them the instructions for dealing with this Indian guest. Today, we have two examples of these decrees, one of which was addressed to Mohammad Khan Sharafeddin Oglu Taklo, the governor of Khorasan, and the other was addressed to Ali Kuli Khan Shamlu, the general of the Safavid government. These decrees are very long and their volume exceeds the usual volume of Safavid decrees, and in them, the ceremonies and customs of receiving the Indian Shah are explained in great detail.

In order to draw a view of the amount of detail mentioned in these instructions, we can only mention this section that Shah Tahmasp ordered to prepare the houses where the guests will stop along the route the day before and delicate, white, and patterned tents and Atlas and velvet canopies installed in these houses the day before. When he reached that place, they prepared tasty rose syrup and lemon juice and cooled it with snow and ice. After the syrup, they should treat the guest with jams of apple, watermelon, grapes, and white bread and put rose and amber ashhab inside his veil. of course, the details of cooking white bread are also included in these decrees.

In fact, the content of what is mentioned in these decrees shows the view of Safavid Iranians on diplomatic ceremonies for receiving an important guest, and in this view, kindness, empathy, and human behavior towards a defeated and broken-hearted king and treating him as an important and cherished royal guest are seen first and foremost. The manifestation of this human behavior is so much that even Shah Tahmasp refused to hand over his guest to the Mughal in exchange for the promise of Kandahar's surrender, which was presented to the Safavid government by Kamran Mirza, Humayun's brother. Let's not forget that controlling Kandahar was the political dream of the Safavids from the very first days of the formation of this government, and Shah Tahmasp himself in 1536, that is, about eight years before this date, had embarked on a massive campaign to conquer Kandahar, but even so, he refused to fulfill this political wish of his government by betraying and handing over the person who had sheltered him to his enemies. These instructions emphasize compassion and sympathy with this guest.

Another element that can be clearly seen in these instructions is the observance of all the customs and rituals of hospitality in the culture of Muslim Iranians. These rituals range from paying attention to the smallest details to provide comfort and convenience to the guest (similar to what was mentioned in the above lines) to treating him graciously and respectfully, such as the order to the hosts to sit on two polite knees before the king. In these decrees, Shah Tahmasp strongly emphasizes the display of politeness and respect and orders the ruler of Khorasan to pay attention to the fact that because the Safavid crown prince, the thirteen-year-old Muhammad Mirza (the next Sultan Mohammad Khodabanda), who ruled in Khorasan according to the Safavid tradition, took him to Humayun, that son has behaved according to the noble people who are the heritage of his fathers and ancestors, and also give gifts to each of the servants of the Indian king. He is also aware of his guest's mental condition and tries to prevent him from getting bored and heartbroken due to the events he has gone through, and therefore advises them to think of talking to him and constantly make his mind happy with the same language that is in full strength". He also orders to remove his boredom, famous musicians such as Maulana Qasim Ganoni, Dost Mohammad Khafi, Professor Yusuf Maudod- whom the Shah specifically mentions- and any other famous singers and musicians are at his service all the time, and whenever the king wants, they sing non-stop songs and hymns, to make him happy.

But beyond all these cases that testify to the humane and moral aspects of these instructions, these texts are important in terms of politics and the Safavi Shah Tahmasp's attention to various aspects of diplomatic practice and show that contrary to popular opinion, Iranian politicians have had a clear view of the ins and outs of diplomatic activity. What is clearly evident in these instructions is to look at this fugitive and defeated guest as a potential king, that by forming emotional ties with him in this difficult situation, it is possible to help advance Iran's policy in its eastern borders, especially in the Kandahar region. India was very important in the foreign policy of the Safavids for various reasons. The Safavid government was trying to reach a superior position in relation to that government with various political, diplomatic, and military means. Now, this condition that is sheltering one of the parties involved in political disputes and disputes on the territory of India was an opportunity for the foreign policy of the Safavid government that should not be missed. That is why in the text of these decrees, Safavi Shah Tahmasp considered him as a divine gift.

Accordingly, in these instructions, the effort of the Safavid government to present the best, strongest, and most influential image of itself is evident. In fact, the ceremonies of reception and welcoming of the potential king of Mughal, who has been separated from his throne for some time, should be in such a way as to show the prosperity, glory, luxury, and power of the Safavid government. Part of this power naturally goes back to politicians, and that is why it has been emphasized many times that the people who talk and associate with Humayun for various reasons should be wise and experienced and liked and trusted, and for three days, all the commanders and armies should appear in his sight with glory and power, so that the military strength and readiness of the Safavid government would be clear to him. This is why Shah Tahmasp orders the ruler of Khorasan to be present at the meetings between Crown Prince Muhammad Mirza and Humayun so that if a question is asked to the prince and he could not give a worthy answer due to his young age, modesty, or lack of knowledge, they deserve an answer. In general terms, the best image of the Safavid government, both in terms of prosperity, luxury, and welfare and in terms of the readiness and ability of the officials of that government, should be presented to Humayun.

Finally, after all these recommendations, which included the most detailed matters in the form and content of receiving this guest, it has been emphasized that the complete and accurate report of everything that happened and all anecdotes and bad and good narrations written and present it to the Shah Tahmasp so that he knows everything. The Shah Tahmasp even appointed the person responsible for writing this report (Mozuddin Hossein, Sheriff of Darul Sultanah Herat) and introduced him as a well-written and skilled man.

These two decrees can be examined from different aspects, and different angles of the subject can be discovered in them. From any angle, of course, the Safavids' regular, precise, and rule-based approach to diplomatic behavior and their pioneering in developing instructions for this behavior, with this level of detail and accuracy, is admirable and instructive. Let's not forget that the Safavid government also compiled the first instructions for diplomatic correspondence in the history of Iran, and they basically had a clear understanding of the necessity of regularity in diplomacy.

Mahiya Shoaibi Omrani, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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