Professor Richard N. Frye

Professor Richard N. Frye from Professor Frye's own website.

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.

Ghavam Garden in Shiraz, where Professor Frye taught for six years.

Ghavam Garden in Shiraz, where Professor Frye taught for six years. from Wikipedia

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.

Photo of Professor Frye in Iran

Photo of Professor Frye in Iran from Professor Frye's website

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.”

Ruh-e-shaan shaad.
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.

33 Comments

    • Omid Safi

      Dear Dr. Naby, what an honor to hear from you. There has been an immense outpouring of love and respect from so many people (beyond the Iranian community, and the scholarly community) towards your husband, and the values that he and you so beautifully embody. Our love, respect, and condolences to you.

    • Dr. Naby,
      Please accept my condolences on behalf of myself and my fellow compatriots. I truly believe mankind has lost a true gem. I will make sure to put flowers on his grave next time I am in Iran.

  1. Dr. Safi,
    Thank you for writing this article on such as sad event. I know mankind has lost one of the greats. The world is a lesser place now that he is no longer with us.

  2. R. Frye is amazing, just watch a video of him speaking Persian. Surely I will visit his grave to pay my respect.
    Fry is not dead since as Saadi said: A man who is remembered by his good deeds and qualities never dies (modeh anast ke namash be nekui nabarand)

  3. Malek-Khosrow Khazaee

    I met Professor Frye in Tehran during a conference in which President Ahmadinejad presented to the Professor the key of a traditional house as an award. The house is located in the city of Isfahan. Subsequently, Professor Frye delivered a lecture to the invited guests from abroad. Professor Frye’s books, especially in ancient Iranian culture and civilization, are very impressive.

  4. God Bless his shinning, exemplary, and noble soul. It is all humanity, not politics, nor religion pretense.

    Ruh-e-shaan shaad.
    May his memory be blessed.
    Inna lilah wa inna ilayhi raji’un

  5. Tanaz Bharami

    What a great loss for Iran and the world. He was truly a shining example of a great human being. God bless his soul. My deepest condolences to his own family and his greater family Iranians.

  6. Dear Dr. Safi,
    First, our sincerest condolences to Dr. Naby and the family for the loss of Professor Frye. We all value and treasure the work he has done for our part of the world.
    And, thank you Dr. Safi for the remembrance of this great scholar.
    Vahid Tayebi

  7. It takes great courage to turn against the tide like Prof. Frye did in the media when zealots wanted to start a war between the US and Iran from 2001 to 2008. He pointed out what made war wrong: Humanity.

    His work is brilliant, and his knowledge of our culture and history was amazing. I have his books and encourage my half-Iranien, half-European children to study them.

    We will visit and put flowers on his grave when we go to Iran. My deepest condolences.

  8. Jamshid Moori

    People of the greater Iran and all friends of Iran have lost with sadness a great man who spent all his life on studying and researching our ancient culture and heritage. We should never forget him and his contributions, I am sure his grave in Sepahan (Isfahan) would become a pilgrimage centre for lovers of Persian and Iranian heritage. روانش شاد باد

  9. Houchang D. Modanlou, M.D.

    My sincere condolences to Professor Richard Frye’s family and to all Iranians who admired him as a historian and as a man of principles. Few years ago, I spent 10 minutes in conversation with Professor Frye when he visited University of California Irvine. His love for Iran, its history and culture and the Iranians was genuine and pure. I shall visit his gravesite in Isfahan and pay my respect to a great historian and Iranologist.

  10. B. Tony Towfighi

    My sincerest condolences to Dr. Naby and esteemed family. We will forever treasure the great work Professor Frye has done with courage, brilliance and enduring love.

    May he rest in peace. We will never forget him and his contributions.

  11. Paul Sheldon Foote

    I had the good fortune to have known Professor Frye while a student at Harvard University. He came several times to my Harvard University apartment to enjoy my wife Badri’s Persian dinners. He invited me to dinner at his home in Shiraz, Iran. On a trip to speak at UCLA, I was able to meet him again. My review of his book Greater Iran appears at Amazon.com:
    http://www.amazon.com/Greater-Iran-20th-century-Richard-Frye/dp/1568591772/ref=sr_1_2

  12. I had a pleasure of meeting Dr. Frye in Dar e Mehr (Zoroastrian Fire Temple) in San Jose, CA, a few years ago. He was a great man and a true “Iran-doost.” As Iranians, we will never forget his contributions to Iranian culture and history. It will be an honor to have him buried in Iran.

    May he rest in peace.

  13. What a great loss and what an honor to have him buried in Isfahan..
    I wish my fellow Iranians would just think a little like Dr. Frye…“I don’t pay any attention to governments. I pay attention to people.”

    and as Dr. Safi said, “This world needs more examples like Richard Frye.”

  14. What gives Professor Frye a right to ask for a Mausoleum in the historic city of Isfahan!! Just because he loved it and chose to study Iranian history? Would any renaissance scholar or Italian history aficionado be allowed to build a mausoleum for himself in the city of Florence??? If Professor Frye was so keen on being close to Iran after his death, if there is indeed any meaning in that, he could have asked for his ashes to be scattered in any corner of it!!! I am sure no one would object to that, even Iranian hardliners! His last wish marks a certain self aggrandizement rather the more needed quality of humility amongst us humans!

    • Paul Sheldon Foote

      The mausoleum exists already in Isfahan. American Iranologists Arthur Pope and Phyllis Ackerman are buried there already. Professor Frye wanted to share a place in the same mausoleum.

      • Of course the Mausoleum is there. But why should it be there? What gave Pope the right? Pope is another presumptuous and pompous individual who has inserted himself into the history of the city and the country!!!! That does not justify Frye wanting a share of that pomposity!!! At least there is no need to aggrandize him for it!

  15. Dear DR. Naby, the loss of Professor Fry is a great loss for the Iranian community , we want to let you know that what the hardliners are doing it is NOT what the Iranian people want , it is a great honor to Iranian people that he had asked to be burried in Iran. It will be the biggest loss for Iran if the government of Iran does not allow his will to take place. It is certainly against the Islamic and Iranian principle to block a person’s will. . We want to let you know that Iran will never have another person like professor Frye. Roheshan shad

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