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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Entirely at the hands of the Mullahs


To believe that the Persians are illiterate would be a mistake, and to think that the masses of Iran were properly educated would be a greater mistake still; but, if I may be allowed the expression, the average Persian cannot be better described than by saying he is "educated in ignorance"; or, in other words, the average Persian is educated, yes; but instructed, no.

If what the people are taught can be called education--and we in England should not be the first to throw stones at others--the average Persian is better educated than the average European. But there is education and education. It is difficult to find the commonest man in Persian cities who cannot read to a certain extent, and most people can also write a little and have a smattering of arithmetic.

The teaching, except in the larger and principal centres, is almost entirely in the hands of the Mullahs, so that naturally, as in our clerical schools, religion is taught before all things, verses of the Koran are learnt by heart, and the various rites and multiple religious ceremonies are pounded into the children's brains, and accessory religious sanitary duties of ablutions, etc., which are believed to purify the body and bring it nearer to Allah, are inculcated. Even in remoter villages, the boys are taught these things in the Mosques as well as a little reading, and enough writing for daily uses and how to add and subtract and multiply figures.

Famous bits of national poetry and further passages from the Koran are committed to memory.

[Illustration: Iman Jumeh. Head Priest of Teheran, and Official Sayer of Prayers to the Shah.]

In the large cities a higher education can be obtained in the elaborate Madrassahs adjoining the mosques, and here, too, entirely at the hands of the Mullahs; but these higher colleges, a kind of university, are only frequented by the richer and better people, by those who intend to devote themselves to medicine, to jurisprudence, or to theological studies. Literature and art and science, all based mostly on the everlasting Koran, are here taught _a fond_, the students spending many years in deep and serious study. These are the old-fashioned and more common schools. But new schools in European or semi-European style also exist and, considering all things, are really excellent.

In Teheran, a Royal College has been in existence for some years. It has first-class foreign teachers, besides native instructors educated in Europe, and supplies the highest instruction to the students. Modern languages are taught to perfection, the higher mathematics, international jurisprudence, chemistry, philosophy, military strategy, and I do not know what else! I understood from some of the professors that the students were remarkable for their quickness and intelligence as compared with Europeans, and I myself, on meeting some of the students who had been and others who were being instructed in the University, was very much struck by their facility in learning matters so foreign to them, and by their astounding faculty of retaining what they had learnt. It must be recollected that the various scientific lessons and lectures were delivered not in Persian, but in some foreign language, usually French, which intensified their difficulty of apprehending.

Other private schools have also been started on similar principles in various parts of the Empire. Even in Yezd a most excellent school on similar lines is to be found and will be described later on.


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