Elburz Mountains, Sassanid dynasty, Ismailis, western Afghanistan, Twelver
Arab Muslim armies began their conquest of the Persian Sassanian Empire in ad 636 and during the next five years conquered all of Iran, with the exception of the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian coastal plain. They finally put an end to the Sassanid dynasty in 651. For the next two centuries, most of Iran (which at that time extended beyond Herat in what now is western Afghanistan) remained part of the Arab Islamic empire. The caliphs (successive Islamic leaders) ruled initially from Medina in present-day Saudi Arabia, then from Damascus, Syria, and finally from Baghdad, Iraq, as each city became the seat of the caliphate. Beginning in the late 9th century, however, independent kingdoms arose in eastern Iran; by the mid-11th century, the Arab caliph in Baghdad had lost effective control of virtually all of Iran, although most of the local dynasties continued to recognize his religious authority.
From the time of Islamic conquest, Iranians gradually converted to Islam. Most had previously followed Zoroastrianism, the official state religion under the Sassanid dynasty, but minority groups had practiced Christianity or Judaism. By the 10th century the majority of Iranians probably were Muslims. Most Iranian Muslims adhered to orthodox Sunni Islam, although some followed various sects of Shia Islam. The Ismailis, a Shia sect, maintained a small but effectively independent state in the Rudbar region of the Elburz Mountains from the 11th through the 13th century. Iran's unique identity as a bastion of Jafari, or Twelver, Shia Islam (which constitutes the main body of Shia Islam today) did not develop until the 16th century.
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