Many have tried to unite humanity through their life.
Rare is the person who consciously seeks to bring unity through his/her death.
Special is the human being who looks at death as yet another chance to bring humanity together.
We, all of us, just lost one such special human being.
The news of his passing spread quickly through the Iranian community and scholarly community.
Richard Frye, the distinguished Harvard Professor of Iranian studies, has just passed away.
Frye was Iranian studies at Harvard, and established the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern studies. He taught at Harvard from 1948-1990, though his impact lingered even after his formal retirement. He wrote more than twenty books and over 150 articles about the ancient Iranian culture.
Frye always considered there to have been two enormously influential cultures in Asia: Chinese civilization and Iranian civilization. His engagement with greater historical Iran (which for him extended from Western China to Eastern Europe, from South Asia to Jerusalem) was at a historical and civilizational level, not restricted to that of post-revolutionary Iran.
The great Iranian bibliophile Ali Akbar Dehkhoda labeled Frye “Iran-doost”, “friend of Iran, Iran-lover” decades ago.
Frye’s students are considered giants in their own right, and included the great Annemarie Schimmel (the incomparable expert of Islamic mysticism) and Oleg Grabar (the doyen of Islamic arts). Frye was the rare scholar who mastered both pre-Islamic Iranian languages (Pahlavi, Avestan, and Sogdian) as well as Islamic Iran heritage expressed in modern Persian, Arabic, as well as mastery of German, Turkish, Russian, Pashto, Uzbek, French, and more.
Frye was an advocate of the necessity of inter-cultural dialogue and exchange in a reciprocal way—not only for Americans to understand Iran, but also to invite Iranian scholars to the United States. A list of Iranian intellectuals he brought to Harvard included Mehdi Haeri Yazdi, Sadeq Choubak, and Jalal Al-e Ahmad. Frye himself demonstrated his commitment to sharing his knowledge with Iranians by teaching for six years in the poetic city of Shiraz (1970-1976). He had also taught in Afghanistan (1942-44) and University of Tajikistan (1990-1992).
Frye’s final request has been to be buried to his beloved city of Isfahan. Even the noted conservative president Ahmadinejad agreed to this honor. Frye’s hope has been that his burial in Isfahan would help unite the two countries he loved so.
Here is Professor Frye in his own words, talking about Iranians: “They are very hospitable people. I love them very much. There is no reason why I wouldn’t be buried in Isfahan. Isfahan is in the center of Iran, today’s Iran, and is the former capital of Iran. It is the cultural center of Iran.”
When American media sources critiqued him for his love of Iran and Iranians—stating that by seeking to be buried in Iran he was legitimizing the regime of the Ayatollahs—Frye simply responded: “I don’t pay any attention to governments. I pay attention to people.”
May his memory be blessed.
Inna lilah wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
This world needs more examples like Richard Frye.
May he be honored by having many more people work to unite these two cultures he so loved.
May there be many pilgrimages in friendship to his tomb by Iranians and Americans, hand in hand, united in friendship.