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The Iranian Constitutional Revolution

and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani

Modern Intellectual and Political History in the Middle East

Fred H. Lawson, Series Editor
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The Iranian
and the Clerical

of Khurasani

Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh

Syracuse University Press

Copyright © 2015 by Syracuse University Press
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For Maryam and Maya
Born in Iran, Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh migrated to Southern
California in 1984. After receiving a PhD from the University of Cali-
fornia Santa Barbara, he joined the faculty of history at Northeastern
Illinois University in Chicago, where he now teaches the history of
the Middle East and Islamic civilization. He has published articles on
history of Iran, Iraq, and the role of Shi‘i jurisprudence and ideology
in politics.

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Chronology xv

Introduction 1

The Iranian State and Religion

1. Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 19

2. Apprehensive Modernization and the Birth

of Iranian Intellectualism 37

3. Unhappy Merchants and the Revolution for Law 56

4. Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 71

5. Shi‘ite Iran and the State 95

Khurasani and Constitutionalism

6. Akhund Khurasani: His Life and Works 119

7. An Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, and Practice 131

viii Contents

8. Religious Justification and Khurasani’s

Perception of Constitutionalism 152

9. Ijtihad and Politics 173

A House Divided

10. Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 191

11. Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 207

Conclusion 225

Appendix A. List of articles presented at Khurasani’s

centennial conference in 2011 249

Appendix B. Article 27 (asl-i 27) of the supplement to the constitution signed

by Muhammad Ali Shah on October 7, 1907 253

Appendix C. Articles 71 and 72 (asl-i 71 va 72) of the supplement to the

constitution signed by Muhammad Ali Shah on October 7, 1907 255

Notes 257

Glossary 295

Bibliography 301

Index 319

Following page 235

1. Akhund Khurasani
2. Khurasani in classroom
3. Akhund Khurasani
4. Akhund Khurasani and Shaykh Mazandarani
5. Ayatullah Bihbahani and Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri
6. Ayatullah Tabataba’i
7. Pro-constitutionalist ulama
8. Khurasani, Tehrani, and Mazandarani
9. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri
10. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri’s execution


1. The Middle East in the nineteenth century xxiv

2. Iran and Iraq in western Asia today xxv


The Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the ensuing Iran-Iraq conflict be-
tween 1980 and 1988 were the main influences on this book. Many indi-
viduals, institutions, and organizations have played an essential role in its
To begin, I would like to thank professors Jochen Burgtorf, Touraj
Daryaee, Cora Granata, and William Haddad at California State Uni-
versity Fullerton, where I first started studying history between 2000 and
I am also grateful to all my professors and advisers at the University
of California Santa Barbara, where I spent six wonderful years earning
my doctorate between 2004 and 2010. I especially want to thank Nancy
Gallagher, Lisa Hajjar, Stephen Humphreys, Dwight Reynolds, and Paul
Spickard for patiently listening to my abstract ideas and helping to bring
them to some sort of understandable ground. Thanks for all the hours of
passionate teaching and intellectual discussions. Just as important, you
made it possible for me to financially sustain myself and to have a happy
life in Santa Barbara.
I am indebted to Professor Ali Gheissari at University of San Diego,
who was instrumental in critiquing the dissertation on which this mono-
graph is based. Thank you! I also would like to thank Professor Mohsen
Kadivar, who took time to help me better understand Khurasani and the
complex world of Islamic jurisprudence.
Several institutions helped to fund my education and I owe them
my deepest gratitude. The US Department of Education Title VI Pro-
gram provided me with several Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS)
grants, which allowed me to study Arabic initially at UCSB and then
xii Acknowledgments

at the American University in Cairo. The American Institute of Iranian

Studies 2007 fellowship partially funded a productive six-month research
trip to Iran.
While in Iran, Hesamuddin Ashena and Nader Motallebi Kashani
helped significantly in making the bureaucratic less cumbersome and
I was fortunate to have their assistance. I would also like to thank the
friendly staff at the Iranian Library of Parliament (Kitab-khanih-yi Majlis)
for responding to my archival requests promptly.
Northeastern Illinois University’s history department deserves thanks
for being so accommodating and providing me with a collegial environ-
ment while I wrote this book between 2010 and 2013. I am especially
indebted to Patrick B. Miller for being meticulous about every detail of my
employment in order for me to be happy and content on campus. Patrick,
along with Zachary Sayre Schiffman, Charles Steinwedel, and Francesca
Morgan, took the time to read parts of this manuscript and I am forever
indebted to them.
I would like to thank Provost Richard Helldobler, Dr. Wamucii Njogu,
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Michael Tuck, the
chair of the history department, who all generously supported this project.
Stephen Cavendish’s suggestions on the final draft of this book were very
helpful in completing it on time; thank you, Steve! I thank the North-
eastern Illinois University graduate teaching assistant Nicholas Kunkel for
patiently drafting the maps exclusively for this book.
Most important, I thank Maryam S. Sobhani for filling our home with
love, laughter, and a supporting atmosphere that are the main ingredients
of a meaningful life. My dearest Maryam, you spent hours alone while I
was busy writing and were there to greet me with a smile every time I took
a break. That meant the world to me. I don’t know how to thank you.
I took two courses with Francisco Marmolejo, an American history
professor at Irvine Valley College in California, when I first became inter-
ested in history in summer 2000. Frank awed me with the way he taught
history and made it relevant to my life. It was in his class that I first thought
being a historian was the coolest thing in the world. Thank you, Frank,
for the inspiration.
Acknowledgments xiii

My parents, Azam and Abbas Farzaneh, departed much earlier than

they should have, but I’m sure they are looking down and smiling. Their
memory leads me.
If I have left out any individual or institution to whom I owe thanks,
it is unintentional. I bear sole and full responsibility for any errors in this

1501 Shah Ismail establishes the Safavid dynasty

1721 The Safavid Shah, Tahmasp II, asks Qajar tribal militia to help quell
a possible Afghan invasion from the east

1722 Afghan invasion of Isfahan and the end of the Safavid dynasty

1736–1795 The Afsharid dynasty partially rules Iran

1750–1796 The Zand dynasty rules parts of Iran

1779 After escaping Karim Khan Zand’s captivity, Aqa Muhammad Khan
leaves Shiraz to establish the Qajar dynasty

1785 Aqa Muhammad Khan proclaims himself as the first Qajar shah

1797 Aqa Muhammad Khan is assassinated

1797–1834 Fath Ali Shah, Aqa Muhammad’s nephew, rules Iran as the second
Qajar shah

1800 Shaykh Murtiza Ansari is born

1804 Publication of the first Iranian travelogue to India

1807 Treaty of Finckenstein guarantees Napoleon’s cooperation in

safeguarding Iran’s territorial integrity and aid in repelling Russian
Mirza Taqi Khan (Amir Kabir) is born (d. 1852)

1812 Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, governor of Tabriz, asks the ulama to get
Islamic courts rid of unjust judges; Abbas Mirza and a small group of
ulama succeed in exonerating an Iranian Jew wrongfully accused of
the kidnap and murder of a Muslim juvenile
xvi Chronology

1813 Signing of the Treaty of Gulistan

1815 Mirza Salih travels to Europe to receive a modern education in order

to launch Iran’s modernization effort instigated by Abbas Mirza

1827 Signing of the Treaty of Turkamanchai

1831 Nasir al-Din Mirza is born (d. 1898)

1833 Fath Ali Shah’s crown prince Abbas Mirza dies

1834–1848 Muhammad Shah, Fath Ali’s grandson, is crowned as the third Qajar

1837 Mirza Salih publishes Kaghaz-i Akhbar, Iran’s first newspaper

1838 Muhammad Shah’s effort to regain Herat from the British fails

1839 Muhammad Kazim Khurasani is born in Tus, Iran

Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (Afghani) is born in the Hamidan

1842 Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri is born in Nur

1848–1896 Nasir al-Din Shah serves as the fourth and the longest running ruler
of the Qajar monarch

1852 Reformist chief minister Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir is murdered
after fall from grace

1852–1870 Iran operates without a chief minister

1856 Aged seventeen, Khurasani completes sutuh, marries for the first
time, and has his first child

1856–1857 Nasir al-Din Shah’s attempt to regain Herat from the British fails; the
Anglo-Persian War ensues

1857 Treaty of Paris ends the Anglo-Persian War of 1856 in Afghanistan;

Iran permanently loses its Afghan territories

1858 Nasir al-Din Shah dissolves the office of chief minister but in its place
establishes the ministries of justice, finance, war, foreign affairs, and
pensions and religious endowments
Chronology xvii

1860s Indo-European Telegraph Company erects the first telegraph poles

to provide direct communication between Iran and its neighbors the
Ottomans and India

1861 Khurasani leaves Qajar Iran for Ottoman Iraq; before arriving in
Iraq, studies with Mulla Sabzivari in Sabzivar; in a longer sojourn in
Tehran, he studies with Mullah Hussayn Khu’i and Mirza Abdul-
Hassan Jilvih

1862 April Khurasani arrives in Najaf, Iraq, and begins his studies
under Shaykh Murtiza Ansari and Mirza Hassan Shirazi
Mahdi, Khurasani’s first child, dies in Iran

1864 Shaykh Murtiza Ansari dies

Khurasani’s wife moves to Najaf and dies after their second child is

1870 Nasir al-Din Shah’s first trip to Ottoman Iraq and also makes
pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in the autonomous Arabia
Nasir al-Din Shah appoints Mirza Hussayn Khan “Mushir al-Daulih”
as the minister of both justice and religious endowments ministries

1872 Signing of the Reuter Concession

1873 Khurasani marries for a second time

Nasir al-Din Shah’s first visit to Europe

1874 Mirza Hassan Shirazi leaves Najaf for Samarra and establishes a new
Khurasani starts practicing ijtihad in Najaf

1875 Mirza Mahdi Ayatullahzadih, Khurasani’s first surviving child, is born

Khurasani starts writing his first commentary on Ansari’s al-Risa’il,
which will take him thirteen years to complete

1884 Khurasani starts writing al-Fawa’id al-Usuliyyah

1890 Nasir al-Din Shah grants the British the tobacco concession

1891 Zahra, Khurasani’s second child and only daughter, is born

Mirza Shirazi issues the famous tobacco fatwa
xviii Chronology

1892 Nasir al-Din Shah rescinds the British tobacco concession

1893 Dec. 19 The reformist Persian newspaper Habl al-Matin starts its
publication in Calcutta, India, which will continue until
December 9, 1930

1895 Khurasani marries for a third time after his second wife dies

1896 Nasir al-Din Shah is assassinated

1896–1907 Muzaffar al-Din Shah reigns as the fifth Qajar ruler

1898 Khurasani issues his first known fatwa on the behest of Shirkat-i
Islami, an Iranian textile manufacturing company, and decrees
against the unfair business practices of foreign entities supported by
the Qajar government

1900 Khurasani starts writing his commentary on Ansari’s al-Makasib

1901 Australian speculator William Knox D’Arcy secures a sixty-year oil

concession in southwest Iran (Khuzistan)
Hajj Hassan, Khurasani’s third child, is born

1902 Hajj Hussayn, Khurasani’s fourth child, is born

Aug. 7 Khurasani, along with ayatullah Sharabyani and

Mamaqani, write to Crown Prince Mirza Muhammad Ali
objecting to the lack of modernization in Iran

1903 July 27 Khurasani writes to Muzaffar al-Din Shah confirming his

support for the institution of monarchy, but not despotism
or arbitrary rule
Khurasani completes Kifayat al-Usul, his opus magnum on
usuli jurisprudence
Khurasani establishes Madrisih-yi Buzurg-i Akhund as his
first seminary in Najaf’s Huwaysh section

1905 Beginning of a general agitation for major reform in Iran and demands
for the establishment of a parliament and the draft of a constitution
Dec. 12 Two merchants are flogged for speculatively raising the
price of sugar; as a consequence bazaaris begin a general
strike the next day
Chronology xix

Dec. 15 The beginning of a general sit-in (bast-nishini) of almost

two thousand low-level clerics under the leadership of
constitutionalist ulama Bihbahani and Tabataba’i; the shah
turns down their demand for the resignation of the Belgian
customs’ general inspector and prime minister.

1906 Jan. 12 Muzaffar al-Din Shah promises the establishment of the

“House of Justice” (‘Adalat Khanih), the parliament
July Constitutionalists protest in Qum and the British Embassy
in Tehran when the shah fails to deliver on his promise
made six months earlier
July 10 Preacher Va’iz Isfahani is arrested for exciting popular
support for mashrutiyyat in Tehran
Aug. 5 Muzaffar al-Din Shah signs the constitutional decree
Sep. 9 Election rules and regulations are approved
Oct. 7 Majlis-i Shura-yi Milli (parliament) begins its first term
Oct. 18 Muzaffar al-Din Shah sends back the draft of the
constitution for revisions
Dec. 30 Muzaffar al-Din Shah approves the final draft of the
Crown Prince Muhammad Ali Mirza leaves Tabriz for
Tehran in anticipation of the shah’s death

1907 The British and Russians agree to divide Iran into spheres of
influence (Russia in the north and Britain in the south)
Khurasani helps establish Anjuman-i Ukhuvvat-i Iranian
Jan. 9 Muzaffar al-Din Shah dies
Jan. 19 Muhammad Ali Mirza is crowned the Qajar’s sixth shah
Feb. 15 Establishment of a new committee in parliament to address
what was excluded in the first draft of the constitution that
Muzaffar al-Din Shah had signed on December 30, 1906
Feb. 27 Cecil Spring reports to Edward Grey about Habl al-Matin’s
popularity in Iran
April 27 General protests in Tabriz against Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri’s
request to revise the constitution
April 28 Tehran edition of Habl al-Matin starts its publication
June 13 Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri agrees with the details of the draft
of the constitution
xx Chronology

June 21 Nuri leads a large group of his followers to Shah Abdul-

‘Azim shrine in south of Tehran to protest the un-Islamic
nature of the parliament and the constitution that it had
Aug. 31 The Anglo-Russian entente is signed
Sep. 16 The end of the Abdul-‘Azim protest led by Nuri
Oct. 7 Parliament approves a full draft of the constitution
Nov. 12 Muhammad Ali Shah attends a session of parliament and
swears to defend the constitution
Dec. 15 Muhammad Ali Shah and Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri fail in
their united attempt to eliminate parliament
Dec. 30 Majlis publishes “Shaykh Nuri and the Troublemakers
Congregate at Tupkhanih Square,” identifying the
influential Tehran mujtahid as a saboteur
Beginning of the Period of Lesser Despotism

1908 June 23 Muhammad Ali Shah orders the Russian Cossack brigade
stationed in Tehran to bombard and close parliament; the
end of parliament’s first term
June 24 Malik al-Mutikallimin, a constitutionalist preacher, and
Mirza Jahangir Khan are executed
Sayyid Hassan Taqizadih, a constitutionalist intellectual and
one of the founders of parliament, finds refuge at the British
Embassy and later migrates to Istanbul in fear for his life
July Militia forces under Sattar Khan and Baqir Khan fight on
the side of the constitutionalists against their opponents
and the Russians
Khurasani continues to support the parliament in exile
in Tabriz and fully defends its agenda
Khurasani sponsors the building of a second Persian school,
Madrisat al-Wusta al-Akhund, in the Baraq section of Najaf

1909 Jan. 5 Pro-constitutionalist Bakhtiari tribal militia occupy Isfahan

and march toward Tehran
Feb. 4 The shah’s forces lay siege to Tabriz
Feb. 17 Rasht is captured by native Gilani pro-constitutionalist
Mar. 15 Rasht edition of Habl al-Matin first published
Chronology xxi

Apr. 22 Tabriz is under siege by the pro-constitutionalist militia

under Sattar Khan’s leadership
The Anglo-Persian Oil Company is founded
Khurasani writes a letter of gratitude to the Persian
Committee of London for its help in providing support for
Iranians in their fight against tyranny
Apr. 29 Russians end the siege of Tabriz, occupying it
July 16 Pro-constitutionalist forces from Isfahan and Rasht enter
July 17 Muhammad Ali Shah takes refuge inside the Russian
Embassy and parliament places his thirteen-year-old son
Ahmad Mirza on the throne
July 19 Khurasani instructs Va’iz Isfahani to preach against anti-
constitutionalism and arbitrary rule
July 21 The parliamentary committee that had found Shaykh
Fazlullah Nuri guilty of sabotage carries out its death
sentence in public
July 26 Habl al-Matin’s Tehran edition restarts its publication
Sep. 10 After weeks of taking refuge at the Russian Embassy,
Muhammad Ali Shah is exiled to Russia
End of the Period of Lesser Despotism
Nov. 15 Parliament begins its second term
Nov. 30 Khurasani writes to parliament forbidding its members to
heed the anti-constitutionalist cleric Qurban Ali Zanjani’s
call to fight against mashrutiyyat
Dec. 14 Khurasani, in a letter to Va’iz Isfahani, defines what
constitutionalism means to him and his colleagues in Najaf
Dec. 31 Najaf-based pro-constitutionalists publish al-Ghura
Na’ini’s Tanbih al-Ummah wa Tanzih al-Millah is published
in Baghdad
Khurasani establishes his third seminary school,
Madrisih-yi Kuchak-i Akhund, in Baraq section of Najaf

1910 July 3 Parliament asks Hassan Taqizadih to take a leave of absence

for three months
July 17 Constitutional mujtahid Abdullah Bihbahani is assassinated
July 22 Parliament, under pressure of the ulama, expels Hassan
xxii Chronology

1911 May 26 Edward Browne asks Khurasani to help Hassan Taqizadih

to return to Iran from Istanbul; Taqizadih does not,
however, return until 1924
July 17 The exiled Muhammad Ali Shah secretly returns to Iran
and, despite the help of the Russians, fails to overthrow the
regime, afterward returning to Russia
June 20 In response to Browne’s letter, Khurasani claims the Shi‘ite
leadership has no say in what parliament does
The Russians issue an ultimatum to the Iranian
constitutionalists to close the parliament at once
Nov. 29 Russian forces occupy Iranian province of Azerbaijan and
kill many constitutionalists after the latter refuse to close
Dec. 12 Khurasani suddenly dies at the age of seventy-two, on the
night of his departure for Iran to wage a jihad against the
Dec. 24 Parliament’s second term comes to a close

1911–1914 Parliament is in recess

July 1914 Beginning of World War I

1914 Parliament’s third term begins

Map 1. The Middle East in the nineteenth century. Nicholas Kunkel, cartogra-
pher, Northeastern Illinois University, 2014.
Map 2. Iran and Iraq in western Asia today. Nicholas Kunkel, cartographer,
Northeastern Illinois University, 2014.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution
and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani

On December 24, 1911, Iran’s National Consultative Assembly (Majlis-i

Shura-yi Milli) was forced to close for the second time. Since its inception
five years earlier, this parliamentary body—Iran’s first democratic institu-
tion—had been continuously threatened and had experienced one crisis
after another, including a lethal attack by a Russian Cossack brigade in
1908 that left a score of its elected members killed and injured. Just before
its second suspension, the parliament devoted almost the entire first page
of its daily newspaper, Majlis (Assembly), to the sudden death of Akhund
Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (1255–1329 HQ/1839–1911) (see
figure 1). “The Islamic world, humanity, and Iranians [are] filled with sad-
ness,” the article claimed, because they had lost their only true supporter.1
Khurasani was eulogized as having been the only hope for the poor and
oppressed, and as having served Iranians as an important and influential
father figure. The Majlis article lamented his death by claiming that Iran’s
wish for a “spring of hope” had been dashed and that the pain of such a
loss was so severe that even the “blind” could see the grief and the “deaf”
could hear the “cries and lamentations” of Iranians. It rightly concluded
that Khurasani’s passing marked the end of an era.

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906–1911 represented a land-

mark in Persian, and even Middle Eastern, history, notably because of the
unlikely support it received from Shi‘ite ulama (clerics), and in particu-
lar Khurasani. Foremost among the clerics whose education and ideol-
ogy derived from diverse intellectual sources, Khurasani included Shi‘ite
doctrines, values, and institutions in his bid to advance constitutionalism
2 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

(mashrutiyyat) as the best form of government for Iran. In so doing, he

shaped a substantial role for political Westernization–an engagement
between Iran and the West that is evident even to this day.
The career of Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani illuminates the
important but insufficiently explored role that some of the Shi‘ite ulama
played in the success of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (inqilab-i
mashrutih). Living and teaching in Najaf, Iraq, Khurasani led a section
of the Shi‘ite establishment that helped the Revolution achieve its goal
of founding the parliament, which in turn drafted Iran’s first constitution
(qanun-i asasi). During its first and second sessions, Khurasani’s leadership
was instrumental in protecting the Iranian parliament from its enemies by
providing it with his unequivocal support.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, the twentieth century’s first
such political movement in the Middle East, engendered great expecta-
tions on the part of its participants—the reformist-minded intellectuals.
In 1906, when Muzaffar al-Din Shah agreed to sign the constitutional
decree (Farman-i Mashrutih), Iranian reformists thought of constitutional-
ism as a cure for their country’s political ailments. As one scholar rightly
calls it, this was a “revolution for law”2 because it aimed to create a society
in Iran that was guided by written laws that placed conditions on monar-
chical rule and curbs on the arbitrary and absolute powers of the Shah,
and made all individuals accountable for their actions. It aimed to reform
a government that was infested with corrupt, inept, and despotic officials
who primarily pursued their own interests over those of the people they
had sworn to serve.
Many of the early constitutionalists were secularly educated in Iran
and abroad. Some of them introduced European constitutionalism to Iran
after they noticed its great potential for creating an efficient political sys-
tem and a progressive society. These early constitutionalists built on the
work of previous nineteenth-century reformers who examined their soci-
ety and concluded that it was backward when compared with the more
competent Western nations that had long enjoyed constitutional systems.
Such early nineteenth-century reformists as Abbas Mirza and Amir Kabir
saw the lack of modernization, and the absence of new ways of thinking
about their country’s problems, as the main reasons why it had fallen on
Introduction 3

hard times. The early to mid-nineteenth-century reformers viewed mod-

ernization in terms of reforms in the army and the introduction of secular
education. They thought a modern military system could keep the enemy
out of “the protected realms” (mamalik-i mahrusih), meaning Iran, which
was gradually shrinking in the face of Russian advances. Likewise, an edu-
cational system based on the European model would allow students to
learn foreign languages and study engineering, chemistry, and medicine.
The ideas of these social and technological reformers laid the groundwork
for later political reformers who regarded constitutionalism as a way of
addressing arbitrary rule and despotism (istibdad), which had led to law-
lessness. However, the notions of administrative reform and moderniza-
tion were generally controversial.
For the constitutionalists to create a society based on law, they needed
to initiate revolutionary reforms that would push aside age-old traditions of
justice and seize the administration of customary laws (‘urf) and religious
laws (shari‘a) from the hands of the Shah and the clergy, respectively. This
would be a formidable task and perhaps prove impossible for the constitu-
tionalists unless they could convince the Shah and high-ranking ulama of
the benefits of constitutionalism: how it promised to serve Iranians of all
social strata, including the monarchy, the merchants, the disenfranchised,
and those who were voiceless in the affairs of the state. Although tribal
politics, the arbitrary rule of the monarchy, and religious indoctrination
had collectively contributed to Iran’s backward conditions, some elements
within these very tribal, state, and religious institutions actually noticed
the need for a more efficient government and supported the establishment
of Iran’s parliament and the fundamental law, or constitution, in 1906.
Ironically, competing elements within these same institutions sought to
fight constitutionalism to the bitter end because they perceived it as con-
trary to their traditions, political interests, and God.
If the remarkable events of the years between 1906 and 1911 center
on secular Iranian modernists, whose vision of constitutional reform
derived from Western traditions and political projects, it is nevertheless
important to underscore that they owed its tentative success substantially
to the support of “enlightened” clerics—Khurasani foremost among them.
This book will examine how and why Akhund Khurasani led a faction
4 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

of Iranian clerics to enable the modernists to establish constitutionalism

in Iran. This is not to say that Khurasani or any member of his group
invented constitutionalism or that they introduced it as a remedy for Iran’s
inefficient political process. That was certainly not the case; Shi‘ite clerics
were not the pioneers who introduced mashrutiyyat to Iranians, rather,
secular Iranian modernists should be credited with doing so. Despite the
fact that the burgeoning movement already existed before Khurasani and
his supporters joined it, it would have been seriously challenged, if not
entirely destroyed, without the support of the religious establishment.
Several factors explain the alliance of secular constitutionalists and
Shi‘ite support of the constitutional movement, and why Khurasani threw
his support behind it. He was a pragmatic leader who appreciated mod-
ern, secular concepts, placing them within an Islamic framework that the
members of his own establishment and those whom they led (the general
public) would generally understand and approve. This pragmatism bene-
fited from the dominance of the intellectual school of jurisprudence (fiqh-
i usuli), which provided him with an opportunity to think critically about
the intersection of religious and sociopolitical matters and with fewer tra-
ditional preconceptions. As a leading cleric, he was also aided by the fact
that mosques served as centers for disseminating information, by means
of which he could reach the less privileged members of society. Just as
secular progressive Persian-language newspapers, such as Habl al-Matin,
informed the literate population about the sociopolitical and economic
causes and solutions for stagnation and backwardness, Khurasani’s status
convinced many mosque leaders to provide a platform for his designees
to speak about the same issues to less educated Iranians. The telegraph
system, which the British built in Iran and Iraq, was another very practical
boon for Khurasani. It allowed him to stay informed about the develop-
ments in various cities across Iran and enabled him to respond to inquiries
much faster.
But the most important factor in Khurasani’s successful leadership
was that he took his role as the Source of Emulation (marja‘-i taqlid) seri-
ously and piously, since everything he did was to serve God (fi sabil Allah).
If he thought defending the constitutionalists improved Iranian lives over
the long term and eliminated the injustices that they had endured thus
Introduction 5

far, then he was certain that God would also have approved of his actions.
Therefore, he had no doubt of the religious validity of his support for the
constitutionalists. Collectively, these factors, which will be discussed in
detail, explain Khurasani’s desire to help Iranians reach their objective to
limit the absolute and arbitrary powers of the monarchy and to hold every-
one accountable to the law.
Prior to his sudden death on Dhul Hajjah 20, 1329 HQ/December
12, 1911, Khurasani had organized a caravan of seminary students (tul-
lab) and clerics of various ranks in Iraq to travel to Iran to wage a jihad
against the invading Russian army in the northern provinces. The Ira-
nian monarch had asked the czarist army for assistance in defeating Ira-
nian constitutionalism by closing parliament. At the time of his death,
the seventy-two-year-old Khurasani had become the leader of the pro-
constitutionalist ulama but he had already taken an active role in support-
ing reforms in Iran years before the Revolution unfolded. Aside from his
political activism, he had built a reputation across the Shi‘ite world as a
masterful religious scholar, a skillful teacher, a committed humanitarian,
and a Source of Emulation who heeded the people’s socioeconomic and
political grievances and took actual steps to address them. As a jurispru-
dent (faqih), Khurasani held the highest academic position in the holy
city of Najaf, the center of Shi‘ite learning and spirituality during the
Iranian Constitutional Revolution. By the beginning of the Revolution,
he had written the ultimate text on Twelver Shi‘ite jurisprudence, Kifayat
al-Usul (Sufficiency of Principles). It discussed various aspects of juris-
prudence (fiqh) and innovatively explained complicated juridical pro-
cedures; fiqh’s many doctrines ultimately helped jurists practice ijtihad
(independent reasoning) and provided religiously guided assistance to the
public. Since its first publication in 1903, Kifayat al-Usul has remained
standard reading for all Shi‘ite seminary students and jurists-in-training.
This work, combined with Khurasani’s position as the Twelver Shi‘ite’s
highest Source of Emulation, helps explains his enormous influence over
clerics and the people.
When the Russian incursion began in 1911, those clerics who had
set out to fight them justified their involvement in Iranian political
affairs by referring to their divinely mandated responsibility to maintain
6 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

the mamalik-i mahrusih. As briefly mentioned above, in jurisprudential

affairs Khurasani followed the intellectual school of usulism. Because
usuli fiqh accepted human intellect (‘aql) as one additional source of
forming divine law (shari‘a), in addition to the Qur’an, the Hadith, and
consensus (ijma‘), it also provided Khurasani with more freedom to deem
what acts could be constituted permissible and what could be constituted
forbidden under shari‘a.
The idea of an intellectual approach to making shari‘a or issuing legal
opinions in the process of ijtihad had been discussed much earlier than
constitutionalism or general reforms in the nineteenth century. Since the
late eighteenth century, a group of Shi‘ite jurists had argued for, and suc-
ceeded in adding, intellect as the fourth jurisprudential source, which
enabled them to make laws and issue legal opinions based on what they
believed society needed. However, after the birth of the usuli school of
fiqh, its opponent, akhbarism, the school that rejected the idea that human
intellect should play a key role in independent reasoning, was never totally
The eventual success of usulism over akhbarism coincided with the
beginnings of the struggle of secular Iranians against monarchical tyr-
anny in the mid-1800s.3 While studying jurisprudence under the master of
the usuli school in Najaf, Shaykh Murtiza Ansari (Dhul-Hajjah 18, 1214–
Jumadi II 18, 1281 HQ/May 13, 1800–November 18, 1864), Khurasani
was exposed to intricate ideas concerning the political involvement of
clerics and he learned how to gently straddle the fine line that divided
the religious world of jurists from the secular politics and mundane affairs
of the state. Khurasani was convinced that, as a marja‘ (short for marja‘-i
taqlid, or Source of Emulation), he could not separate a forward-looking
or reformed and modern civil society from his interpretation and practice
of Islamic jurisprudence and its most important process, ijtihad. In other
words, what he perceived as usulism’s practical application of jurispru-
dence and Shi‘ite doctrines afforded him the freedom to participate in,
and lead, an important group of pro-constitutionalist ulama during the
Constitutional Revolution.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution triumphed from 1906 to 1911.
Many secular intellectuals such as Mirza Malkam Khan (1833–1908) had
Introduction 7

been influenced by works of Western thinkers such as John Locke and Vol-
taire prior to the success of the Revolution and within the reform move-
ment that preceded it. Through his newspaper, Qanun, Mirza Malkam
Khan argued for a political system wherein written secular laws at the
heart of the government could fight arbitrary rule and create a system
of secular checks and balances that disposed of despotism and injustices
against Iranians. But he failed to convince the masses of the crucial need
for such a system because the less educated among the populace failed
to readily understand his arguments. When the ulama whom Khurasani
led, including Thiqat al-Islam of Tabriz (Rajab 1277–Muharram 1330
HQ/1861–1911), offered a religious perspective to defend the secular
movement for democracy, they were successful in promoting the ideas of
Mirza Malkam and his like-minded colleagues to the people. Thus, the
Revolution owed a significant part of its success to the support of progres-
sive-thinking members of the Shi‘ite clerical establishment. Khurasani in
particular supported inqilab-i mashrutih, which was a multi-ideological
movement,4 and participated in it when he formulized the religious justi-
fication for providing his support.
However, Khurasani was forced to fight off an influential anti-con-
stitutionalist group from within his own establishment. The ultraconser-
vative, dogmatic ulama under the leadership of Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri
(Dhul Hajjah 2, 1259–Rajab 13, 1327 HQ/December 24, 1843–July 31,
1909) objected to the concept of constitutionalism and parliamentary rule.
Nuri’s argument, which represented the ideas of the anti-constitutionalist
ulama as a whole, was based on a self-centered interpretation of the role of
Islam and the ulama in Iranian society that for some—including Nuri—
had become the true form of Islam. Although Nuri had, at first, agreed
with mashrutiyyat, he changed his position after he noticed how parlia-
ment planned to strip the ulama of their political influence and how its
reformist agenda slowly threatened the clerical establishment’s authority in
most public affairs, leaving them only their spiritual and religious respon-
sibilities. In 1909, after creating much chaos and disorder, the anti-consti-
tutionalist clerical leader was tried by a parliamentary commission, found
guilty of seditious acts against the assembly, and sentenced to death. Fol-
lowing Nuri’s execution (see figure 10), the clerical anti-constitutionalists
8 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

lost the force behind their argument and the work of parliament contin-
ued, despite the Shah’s opposition.
Khurasani unexpectedly died on the eve of his departure for Iran,
where he and his group had planned to confront the Russian invaders.
The clerical pro-constitutionalist movement that he led found it difficult
to continue without him. However, Mirza Muhammad Hussayn Na’ini
Gharavi (1860–1936), a student of Khurasani who also served as his private
secretary, reiterated his core arguments in support of constitutionalism.5 In
1909 Na’ini published Tanbih al-Ummah va Tanzih al-Millah (Awakening
the Community and Purifying the Nation), and in it he elaborated on how
constitutionalism was compatible with Islam.6
By the end of 1911, shortly after the Russians occupied northern Iran,
Ahmad Shah’s regent, Abulqasim Khan Nasir al-Mulk, declared martial
law and closed down the liberal newspapers. Most of the constitutional-
ist leaders were exiled and finally parliament was forced to shut its doors,
remaining closed until the beginning of its third session in December
1914. Although, at a glance, the brief period of the Revolution might not
seem long enough to have accomplished much in the way of eliminating
despotism and arbitrary rule, its legacy lives beyond its short years. There
are still many aspects of constitutionalism lacking in Iranian politics, but
one has to remember that in its historical setting, and considering the
many debacles that Iran had to encounter at the time of the Revolution,
mashrutiyyat in all its aspects changed the course of Iranian history.
To all intents and purposes, inqilab-i mashrutih was Iran’s first mod-
ern revolution. Many Iranians today view it as the beginning of their
national pursuit for a just, progressive, and enlightened society. The his-
tory of the Constitutional Revolution and the role of the ulama in it are
relevant today because they shed light on Iran’s current political system.
Inqilab-i mashrutih stands in sharp contrast to the 1979 Islamic Revo-
lution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic under the
leadership of Ayatullah Ruhullah Khumayni (1902–1989). The latter revo-
lution created a theocracy that disappointed many of its supporters and
isolated Iran as an international pariah. The events following 1979 contra-
dicted both what the leaders of that revolution had promised and also what
the Islamic Republic had claimed to be Islamic. Military purges, massive
Introduction 9

property confiscations, large numbers of executions of the “anti-revolu-

tionaries,” Khumayni’s refusal to end the Iraqi-instigated war that raged
for eight years (1980–1988), the flight and exile of millions of Iranians, the
weak and almost desperate economic standing of most Iranians and their
isolation in world politics, and, finally, the openly violent crackdown on
protesters who questioned the 2009 presidential election results, which
became known as the Green Movement (junbish-i sabz), all represent
ways in which the 1979 Islamic Revolution has reneged on its promises.
The actions mentioned above have caused many Iranians to mistrust
any idea, concept, or argument that carries an “Islamic” prefix. Some Ira-
nians share the same mistrust of the religion as those unfamiliar with
Islam and believe it to be inherently incompatible with modern ideas.7
Therefore, exploring the Constitutional Revolution from a different angle,
one that examines the essential role of the Shi‘ite ulama in Iran’s first mod-
ern revolution, offers a crucial perspective to those interested in Iranian
history or political Islam. Examining Iranian history of the constitutional
era from such a vantage point allows us to better understand how Islamic
doctrines and institutions can, and have, contributed to the establishment
of representative democracy.
I particularly view the establishment of Iran’s parliament in 1906, and
its reopening in 1909, allowing it to function despite all the challenges it
faced, as a first step in establishing democracy in Iran. Certainly Iranians
have much more work ahead of them to create a society that is close in its
sociopolitical freedom to Western nations, but Islamic doctrines and val-
ues, viewed with the innovative assistance of people like Khurasani, were
part of the very first and difficult step to reaching such goals. Although
some might disagree that Islam has contributed to establishing democ-
racy in Iran, it is imperative to view the establishment of the parliament
as the beginning of a long journey that would allow Iranians to one day
participate freely in a democratic process. What has to be carefully consid-
ered here is that, without understanding the Islamic doctrines that helped
Khurasani fight against the elements within his own establishment, those
same elements could once again offer their self-serving arguments as
“Islamic” and based on divine law. After all, it was not only Khurasani per-
sonally, but also his leadership, his tools of reasoning, and his colleagues’
10 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

support of his actions, that allowed parliament to continue its work when
the anti-constitutionalist faction was striving to destroy everything for
which the reformists had struggled for decades.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution has received a considerable
amount of scholarly attention focusing on nineteenth- and early twenti-
eth-century developments. For example, to celebrate the Revolution’s
centennial in 2006, thirty scholarly papers were presented to hundreds of
international specialists and enthusiasts of Iranian history and culture at
Oxford University. Some papers discussed how the Iranian Constitutional
Revolution inspired other parts of the world such as Armenia, Central
Asia, and China, and some focused on its domestic outcome, for instance
the introduction of modern public education and how the movement
influenced poetry in Iran.8 Despite these wide-ranging interests, however,
scholars of the Constitutional Revolution hardly mention Khurasani and
his role. To better understand the Constitutional Revolution and provide
a solid background in terms of appreciating modern Iranian politics, it is
crucial to examine Khurasani’s life and religious doctrines, as they reveal
why and how he chose to side with the constitutionalists.
Except for Abdul-Hadi Ha’iri’s concise entry in the Encyclopaedia of
Islam,9 an entry by Ha’iri and S. Murata in Encyclopaedia Iranica,10 and a
short article by Denis Hermann in Middle Eastern Studies11 that discusses
ways one could extract Khurasani’s ideas by reading his colleagues’ works,
English-language scholarly literature has mentioned Khurasani and his
connection with the Constitutional Revolution only in passing.12 Works
in Arabic about Khurasani are basically limited to Abdul-Rahim Muham-
mad Ali’s al-Muslih al-Shaykh Muhammad Kadhim al-Khurasani (2006)
and Rashid al-Khayyun’s al-Mashrutah wa al-Mustabiddah (2007).13 The
latter, though, is not so much about Khurasani as it is about Iraq’s political
turmoil after the American-led invasion and occupation in 2003, and its
fight to establish a democratic state in the face of opposition from militant
Islamist factions.
As for Persian-language works on Khurasani, not a single volume was
published before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. His grandson, Abdul-Hus-
sayn Majid Kifa’i, claims that in 1955 he presented his professors at Teh-
ran University’s Faculty of Law with a short biography of his grandfather
Introduction 11

entitled “Aftabi kih Ghurub Nimikunad.” He states that he never had the
opportunity to publish it after becoming a diplomat, serving the Iranian
foreign ministry at a post in Paris. It is safe to say, however, that prior to
1979 there were very few books that carefully discussed the involvement
of the ulama in the Constitutional Revolution. Upon his retirement from
the foreign service and return to Iran in the wake of the 1979 upheav-
als, Kifa’i published a new version of the biography under the title Margi
dar Nur: Zindigani-yi Akhund Khurasani Sahib Kifayih.14 Considering the
status of Ayatullah Khumayni as the guardian jurisconsult (vali-yi faqih)
and the nature of the 1979 revolution, one can appreciate the reasons for
publishing such a work, although Kifa’i avoids a discussion of why or how
Khurasani rejected any form of Islamic government. His work is mostly
biographical and provides a minor narrative of Khurasani’s involvement
in mashrutiyyat without an analytical framework.
Before Muhsin Kadivar published Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani15 in
2006, most Persian works on Khurasani mentioned him only casually.16
Since 2006 there have been a number of books and articles published
in Persian and a number of conferences organized in Iran to honor
Khurasani.17 However, most of these works share an underlying thematic
wish to inform readers that Khurasani flatly rejected the concept of
vilayat-faqih (guardianship of the jurisprudent). Created out of frustration
with the failure of the state-sponsored religious authorities in power since
1979, these works remember Khurasani as the most authoritative religious
scholar to remain relevant to this day, in order to validate the authors’ argu-
ments for the separation of the powers of the religious establishment from
state politics. Therefore, none of these works provides an in-depth analysis
of Khurasani’s historical contribution to the Constitutional Revolution.


This book is founded on an in-depth textual analysis of Khurasani’s

political writings as far as they pertain to mashrutiyyat and the Con-
stitutional Revolution—including his statements, letters, and fatwas
(religious decrees)—which are then compared with his relevant jurispru-
dential writings. Whereas Khurasani solely authored the latter, some of
12 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

the letters and decrees were co-written with other pro-constitutionalist

ulama in Iraq.
In order to expand our understanding of Khurasani and his role, I
have consulted a wide range of primary and secondary sources beyond
Khurasani’s own writings, including sources written before 1906 as well
as contemporary scholarship about mashrutiyyat. These texts are in Ara-
bic, English, and Persian. I have used standard Arabic primary sources,
such as the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the hadiths of the Shi‘ite Imams.
Furthermore, I have relied on another Arabic source, Khurasani’s main
jurisprudential text in Kifayat al-Usul (Sufficiency of Principles),18 which
establishes his intellectual understanding of his role as an Islamic jurist.
Primary sources written in English include accounts by non-Irani-
ans traveling across Iran that provide us with a Western perspective on
sociocultural and politico-economic conditions in Iran in the nineteenth
century, in addition to observations regarding the Constitutional Revo-
lution by those travelers who lived in major Iranian cities at the time.
These include the account of the Constitutional Revolution by Edward G.
Browne,19 a British observer and supporter of the movement.
The majority of primary sources used in this book are in Persian.
In addition to Khurasani’s letters, religious decrees, and telegrams, they
include pro-constitutionalist books, decrees, letters, and theses written by
others, such as those of Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi;20 anti-constitutionalist
bulletins, including Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri’s (lavayih), newspaper articles,
religious decrees, and published speeches; the accounts of events leading
up to the Revolution mainly found in Nazim al-Islam’s Tarikh-i Bidari-yi
Iranian, and accounts of the ensuing actions taken by the proponents and
opponents of constitutionalism until the end of 1911;21 Persian-language
periodicals that were published in Najaf, such as al-Ghura, Najaf, Durrat
al-Najaf, and other periodicals published abroad, such as Qanun in Lon-
don, and Habl al-Matin in Calcutta, Tehran, and Rasht;22 and, of course,
the Iranian parliament’s only newspaper, Majlis, which reported on every-
thing that took place in parliament while it was in session.
Besides providing a daily report on most of parliament’s proceedings,
Majlis also published pertinent news from around the world and pro-parlia-
mentary commentaries as well editorial pieces. The important role of the
Introduction 13

ulama in general, and Khurasani specifically, is evident from a reading of

Majlis, which contains something about them in virtually every issue up to
the end of 1911.23 Indeed, Khurasani’s individual and co-written telegrams
were published in Majlis because they were read aloud as part of the daily
proceedings of parliament. In some instances, we find multiple printings of
the same telegram or letter in other newspapers like Habl al-Matin, attest-
ing to the importance and widespread coverage of Khurasani’s statements
in the progressive and pro-constitutionalist print media.24
The intellectual origins of Khurasani’s political support for the Con-
stitutional Revolution in connection with his jurisprudence cannot be
found in any single source. This is because he never wrote a single-volume
work to explain how he used his reasoning in fiqh to conclude that he
must support parliament. The origin of that thought needs to be extracted
from a variety of Khurasani’s writings, which is what I have done here.
By carefully examining Khurasani’s letters, religious decrees, telegrams,
and religious texts, I have constructed the way that Khurasani justified
his support for the Revolution. Much of this material is scattered through-
out books about the Constitutional Revolution that were published in the
1910s and afterward. Other material exists in various newspapers and jour-
nals where, as mentioned above, his work was simultaneously published.
The documents available in the Iranian archives, along with some that
were published in Muhsin Kadivar’s Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, are also
another source through which one can trace Khurasani’s political thought.
Khurasani used a certain Persian style of writing that was specific to
the Shi‘ite ulama of the nineteenth century, which we may refer to as
“clerical prose.” Khurasani composed some of the fatwas and letters alone,
and in some cases he co-signed them with other less famous pro-consti-
tutionalist ulama such as Shaykh Muhammad Hussayn Tehrani, better
known as Mirza Khalil (d. 1326 HQ/1908–1909), and Shaykh Abdullah
Mazandarani (d. 1330 HQ/1912–1913) (see figure 4). Clerical prose can
prove challenging for twenty-first-century readers of Persian, as it is heav-
ily influenced by jurisprudential and philosophical jargon that, when cou-
pled with poor composition, make textual analysis more difficult.
I hope to have reached a balance between providing too much and
too little historical background. On the one hand, I have condensed
14 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

the historical narrative to a minimum for understanding how and why

Khurasani became a pro-constitutionalist cleric, though it still might
seem too long for some readers. On the other hand, I would have risked
leaving a historical vacuum had I excluded or further shortened the his-
torical background of the Qajars and their rule over Iran, beginning with
their role as a tribal militia force. Likewise, to exclude the brief history of
the development of Shi‘ism as an Islamic sect and its evolution into a state
religion in the hands of the Safavid Shahs (1501–1722) might also have
left us with more background questions. That void might in turn have
confused those who are less familiar with the Qajars, the ulama, and their
complex doctrines and jurisprudential standards. This material forms a
necessary background to better appreciate the magnitude and the diffi-
culty of Khurasani’s activism in light of an already dynamic secular group
that introduced constitutionalism to the Iranians.
This book comprises eleven chapters divided into three main parts.
Part One begins by providing a short but essential background to the
Qajar era (1785–1925) with a particular focus on Iran’s nineteenth-century
sociopolitical and religious milieu. That milieu helped to create condi-
tions that led to the beginning of capitulations to foreign governments,
Iranian modernity and the reform movement, and the Constitutional
Revolution, which are also discussed here. As a whole, Part One provides
the essential context in which Khurasani initiated his activities to support
modern ideas and concepts, including constitutionalism.
In order to provide a perspective different from that of similar works,
I have included in Part One a short description of pre-Islamic Iranian
religious traditions and the role of Zoroastrian priests and their religious-
political relations with the Sasanian rulers between 220 and 650. This is
followed by a brief introduction to Shi‘ism, with more focus on its many
relevant institutions and doctrines and a historical analysis of their evolu-
tion. In an analytical comparison of the nature of Shi‘ite traditions with
their pre-Islamic institutions of politics and religion, this section explains
the historical background of the connection between the two segments
of Iranian society, which in fact resemble each other in many ways. Some
of the topics discussed here concern the nature of the ulama, the politics
Introduction 15

of Shi‘ite jurisprudence, and the role of expediency (maslahat) in intel-

lectual juristic practice (usuli ijtihad).
Part Two concerns Khurasani and his involvement in the Revolution.
It begins with a detailed biography of Khurasani and an introduction to
his writings. It then introduces his political thought, discusses ijtihad and
politics, and demonstrates how the process of independent reasoning in
forming divine law, or shari‘a, became political. It describes how the evo-
lution of intellectual reasoning—a strictly religious task—was politicized
in a way that consequently enhanced the political power of the clerical
jurists by the mid-1800s. Finally, it concludes with a discussion of the
anti-constitutionalists’ activities against parliament and its objectives.
Throughout Part Two, Khurasani’s religious writing is compared with his
fragmented political writings, his perception of constitutionalism, and
response to anti-constitutional clerics such as Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri.
Part Three discusses the views of the anti-constitutionalist ulama as
expressed by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri. I discuss Nuri’s reasoning for turning
anti-constitutionalist in 1907 in the first chapter, and provide a detailed
account of Khurasani’s argument from the perspective of a Source of
Emulation and thinker in Shi‘ite jurisprudence.
The glossary defines non-English terms. The chronology of events
allows the reader to follow important events during the Constitutional
Revolution as they pertain to the movement and Khurasani’s life and
activism. The chronology also charts the major sociopolitical, cultural,
and economic events in Iran that shape the subject of this book.


Transliteration of Persian and Arabic terms into English follows the stan-
dards set by the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (IJMES).
Persian pronunciations of Arabic loanwords that are now part of both
literary and colloquial Persian also follow the above method except in
common nouns. The IJMES method is followed in the transcription of
proper names such as those of cities (e.g., Qum) or persons (e.g., Mur-
tiza), although they are pronounced in everyday Persian as “Qom” and
16 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

“Morteza.” Commonly used Arabic and Persian proper names in West-

ern languages will follow their customary form, such as “Tehran” instead
of “Tihran.” Diacritical marks are eliminated with the exception of the
‘ayn (as in shari‘a) and the hamzah (as in mu’min), except that the word
“ulama” is written without its ‘ayn or hamzah. Arabic and Persian techni-
cal terms are italicized throughout the text. The Persian idhafa/izafih is
absent in proper names but represented by either an –i or –yi in the titles
of books, articles, and the names of publishers.
Although the English translation for Arabic and Persian terms is pro-
vided in the glossary, each term will be translated parenthetically follow-
ing its English equivalent the first time it appears in the book, but titles
of books and articles are not generally translated. HQ (Hijri-yi Qamari)
indicates Islamic Lunar Calendar dates and HS (Hijri-yi Shamsi) Persian
Islamic Solar Calendar years. After indicating the HQ or HS year, a slash
will precede the Gregorian calendar equivalent (e.g., Muharram 1, 1324
HQ/February 25, 1906).
Part One
The Iranian State and Religion
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs

The Qajar Ascendancy to Power

With the start of the eleventh century and onset of the nomadic Turkic
incursions initiated by the Seljuqs, tribal politics found new ground in
Iranian affairs. With the tribes’ increasing influence, the power of subse-
quent central governments weakened. Although the Safavids ruled Iran
with various degrees of strength and different modi operandi after the
Seljuq and Mongol eras, tribal politics continued to have an impact on the
state. From “total independence to internal autonomy,”1 tribal leadership
managed to provide various central governments with a militia force.
When Aqa Muhammad Khan anticipated he would establish the
Qajars as the future Iranian monarchical dynasty in 1779, almost half of
the population in Iran lived within tribal social structures that were made
up of semi-nomadic coalitions under the leadership of a predominant
clan.2 The Afshar dynasty’s wars against India and its internecine rivalries
had turned Iran into a politically turbulent and disordered nation. Politi-
cal instability made the Persian domain chaotic and the lack of central
authority provided an opportunity for tribal resurgence.3 The tribal leaders
were semi-autonomous rulers in their regions, and when they contacted
the settled peoples of the cities and townships it was due to their need
for certain food items, new weapons, and other material goods that they
could not readily produce themselves.
The fall of the Safavid dynasty in 1722 and the ensuing political insta-
bility that it brought also resulted in the weakening of Iran’s economy.
As a result, Iranian trade fell to one-fifth of what it had been during the
previous two centuries.4
20 The Iranian State and Religion

Inadequate means of communication in the last quarter of the eigh-

teenth century, coupled with the absence of a viable bureaucratic system,
meant that all shahs needed to establish a cooperative relationship with
many groups, including tribes, ethnic groups, and provincial figures.5
Local governors were either chosen from the members of the Qajar family
or were locals that the shah trusted and who in turn acted on his behalf
and maintained order. Hence, each governor maintained his own militia
to protect his domain. For example, the governor of Isfahan made use of
military assistance that the Bakhtiari tribal leaders provided.6 Tribal chiefs
consequently played a major part in the provincial politics and security
of Iran because they provided the majority of men who comprised the
governors’ militias.7
Powerful tribal fighters were asked to participate in the shahs’ wars
and thus became noncommissioned warriors or mercenaries.8 This prac-
tice politically benefitted tribal chiefs and allowed them to become a force
to be reckoned with. The centralization of power became a major chal-
lenge for all rulers who sought to reconstruct the Iranian political system,
because they needed to control most, if not all, national affairs from Teh-
ran.9 This proved to be a daunting task, as the tribes acted for the most part
independently and considered themselves answerable to no one.
The Qajar’s successful bid to establish a monarchical dynasty—Iran’s
penultimate before the Islamic Revolution of 1979—traces its origins to
their becoming a militia force in the service of the weakened Safavid
dynasty (1501–1722). During their last years in power, the Safavid rulers
secured the assistance of several Qajar chiefs in military campaigns, and
consequently certain clans of the Qajars enjoyed increased prominence in
Iranian political affairs.
Although Qajars claim that they had settled in the central regions of
the Iranian plateau as part of the Turkish Oghuz confederacy in the elev-
enth century, evidence to validate such a claim is scarce.10 We first learn
of the Qajars when the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp II hired one of their
clansmen (from the Quyunlu branch of the tribe) to assist him during
a 1721 military campaign in Khurasan. After that campaign’s successful
completion, the shah hired the tribal militia leader again when Afghan
forces seized Isfahan in 1721–1722.
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 21

The Qajars’ triumphant contribution to the brief rule of the Safavids

in their most desperate hour guaranteed them a place in that dynasty’s
court. As a sign of appreciation, the Safavid ruler granted them partial
control of Astarabad, the Qajar’s ancestral region in northern Iran.11 This
allowed the Qajars to infiltrate the power structure of the Safavids but it
also coincided with the period in which the latter fell prey to Afsharid
tribal forces. What followed was decades of chaos and mayhem, until the
Zand tribe took partial control of Iran, which lasted until the fourth quar-
ter of the eighteenth century.
Another Qajar family, the Develu (Davallu), assisted the Afshars in
obtaining control over Iran’s vast landscape as its new monarchy. The
Develu took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself when the
Afsharid ruler Nadir Shah went on his major campaign against India, leav-
ing tribal forces in charge of Iran. As a consequence, the Develu moved
to bring the northern Iranian regions—where the Quyunlu (Qavanlu) had
previously ruled during the Safavid dynasty—within their sphere of con-
trol. A fight ensued between the two rival clans of Quyunlu and Develu.
As a result, the Quyunlu chief’s young son Muhammad was captured and
eventually castrated.
However, after the death of Nadir Shah Afshar in 1748 Muhammad
joined his father, who had made his militia available to the Zands, the new
monarchy that had taken over parts of Iran, to wrest control of the whole
country.12 Years of chaos and disorder followed, perpetuating the fragmen-
tation of the Iranian realm in the hands of different tribes. Iran became
a mosaic of rivals: Abdali Afghans competed for control of Khurasan, the
Bakhtiaris ruled over Isfahan, the Qashqai tribe administered Fars, and
the Lurs governed Luristan. Finally, an Afghan ruler commanded Azer-
baijan, and a Qajar held sovereignty over Astarabad, Mazandaran, and
parts of Gilan.13 This was the political milieu that the Qajars inherited at
the time of their struggle for power.
As the Zands expanded their control from southern Iran, their fighters
went on a mission to pacify the northern regions that the Qajars controlled.
Muhammad, of the Quyunlu clan of the Qajar tribe (by now referred to as
Aqa Muhammad Khan), once again fell captive to his enemy. This time,
however, he spent the next twenty years of his life in captivity not in a cell
22 The Iranian State and Religion

but in the Zands’ court. His good fortune was in gaining the trust of the
Zands ruler Karim Khan. Aqa Muhammad Khan eventually became one
of his closest advisers. By the time of Karim Khan’s death (March 1, 1779),
Muhammad Khan had become not only savvy in political maneuvering
in the royal court but also an expert in the manipulation of tribal affairs
and politics, since this was the nature of the service he had rendered to
Karim Khan during his captivity in Shiraz. He escaped captivity with the
assistance of one of Karim Khan’s favorite wives. From that point on, he
made it his goal to bring all of Iran under his control in the name of the
Qajars; first, however, he faced the daunting challenge of gaining support
for his plans from the rest of the clans.

Aqa Muhammad Khan

Up to the time that Aqa Muhammad Khan escaped captivity, the Qajars
had experienced a series of political failures and successes. Beginning
with their providing military assistance for the Safavids in the first quarter
of the eighteenth century, and the eventual capture and torture of Aqa
Muhammad Khan at a young age, to their continued cooperation with
the Afshar and Zand rulers, the Qajars did not waver in their aim to rule
Iran one day. Throughout these decades, interclan rivalries were an added
challenge that, under the astute leadership of most Qajar chiefs, especially
Aqa Muhammad Khan, did not prove a forceful enough reason for failure.
Aqa Muhammad Khan triumphed over the other competing families and
for his next move he brought Mazandaran, Gilan, and Azerbaijan—in
addition to Isfahan, Kashan, and Tehran—under his full control.14 It was
not until he was also able to annex the southern regions of Fars and Ker-
man, as well as the northern regions of Georgia and Khurasan after six
years of military campaigning, forging new alliances and strengthening
old ones, that he felt sufficiently confident to proclaim himself the first
Qajar shah in 1785. In fact Aqa Muhammad Khan reunited the lands of
Iran as they had once stood during Safavid rule.
However, Aqa Muhammad Shah’s challenge continued because he
still needed to further convince disenfranchised non-Qajar tribes and
groups to accept him as the ultimate source of authority in all of Iran.
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 23

In addition, he was compelled to carefully monitor his own tribe lest the
fragile alliance between various clans and families should break. To do
this, he aimed to emulate the Safavids by supporting the Shi‘ite establish-
ment and its clerics and to reestablish the older Safavid borders. However,
establishing a trustful relationship with the Shi‘ite ulama proved chal-
lenging because the latter had been in a state of disarray since the fall of
the Safavids and the rise of Nadir Shah to power. Nadir, the Afsharid shah,
had launched a campaign to reconvert Iranians to Sunnism, and in that
process Shi‘ite clerics had been dispersed to either India or Iraq. There-
fore, Aqa Muhammad Shah’s plan to build a new and strong relationship
with them took time and was somewhat reestablished, albeit stronger than
ever, only when his nephew was crowned as the second Qajar shah.
As for Aqa Muhammad Shah, while he was on a campaign to bring all
of Georgia and Armenia under his authority in June 1797, one of his Geor-
gian servants entered his tent and murdered him while he slept. Almost
immediately his nephew Fath Ali Khan took his place on the throne.
Thus, the rule of the first Qajar shah was spent on consolidating his power
and establishing the new monarchical authority in Iran.

Fath Ali Shah

Fath Ali Shah’s time on the throne (1797–1834) constituted an era of

considerable progress toward a more united Iran and a modernization
and reform campaign that continued well into the twentieth century.
It was during his reign that Iranians began to think in new ways as far
as modernization and reform were concerned. These reforms were not
only material or intellectual in a secular sense but also spiritual in nature.
In 1807, Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i (1753–1826) began to openly interpret
important Shi‘ite doctrines in a theosophical manner that ran counter
to Shi‘ite orthodoxy.15 Shaykhism proved to be a significant movement
that continued to evolve after Fath Ali Shah’s rule ended. Ahsa’i and his
devout disciple, Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d. 1844), in fact wanted to explain
the doctrines of Shi‘ism with the aim of removing dogmatic interpreta-
tions that had become the exclusive field of the mainstream work of the
ulama. Ideological interpretations needed to be identified and addressed,
24 The Iranian State and Religion

according to Ahsa’i, which eventually, he hoped, would lead to the end of

narrow-mindedness and spiritual ignorance. But Shaykhism proved too
dangerous for the state and the clerical establishment simply because by
discrediting one the other was affected, and neither the ulama nor the
Qajar rulers could tolerate it.
Aside from religious challenges, Fath Ali Shah’s rule had its own share
of political failures and successes. He overcame the challenging task of
expanding Qajar control over Iran, with the latter becoming a model for
kingship where there had hitherto been a “tribal warring tradition.”16 This
centralization of power, however, was not the most efficient of systems.
That meant the isolated inhabitants of regions such as Baluchistan or
Luristan were oblivious even as to their sovereign’s name, let alone duly
following his orders. Fath Ali Shah still needed to rely on brute force out-
side Tehran if any tribe or group refused to take his authority seriously.17
Although Fath Ali Shah’s success in uniting all of Iran to the point where
the Safavids had left it was manifested early in the first half of his rule
by the reestablishment of a “Royaume de Perse,” his failures were visible
when Iran lost historical territories mainly to the Russian Empire during
the second half of his rule.18

The Overpowering Foreigners

European powers never physically colonized Iran, but the foreign menace
hindered its natural development economically and politically.19 Iran was
affected by the changing international politics of the British and French
competing against each other to expand in Egypt, Greater Syria, and India
in the first half of the nineteenth century. The seeds of foreign influence
in Iran were sown then as the global dynamics of international politics
changed. France and Britain from Western Europe, and Russia from the
north, were engaged in a competition to prove their superiority at every
level, and Iran became one of their battlegrounds. Between 1807 and 1809
Iran at times realigned itself with either France or Great Britain to keep
the Russian Empire from expanding its power over it. Simultaneously, the
European powers made their own alliances with one another based on
shifting interests that were not always the same.
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 25

Today many Iranians hold the Qajar dynasty in contempt, blaming it

for failing to effectively counter Russia’s onslaught and for losing historical
Iranian territories permanently. This judgment is made, however, without
considering that Iran was unprepared to meet the modern forces of the
czarist military. Once the Russian army advanced toward the Iranian city
of Tabriz during the Russo-Persian wars of the early nineteenth century at
the time of Fath Ali Shah’s reign,20 they seemed unstoppable, and that is
why the Qajars agreed to sign the damning agreements of Gulistan (1813)
and Turkmanchai (1828)21 to halt the Russian forces’ advance.
These treaties allowed Russia to annex much of the Caucasian ter-
ritories that belonged to Iran and almost fully blocked Iranian navigation
in the Caspian Sea. The territories that Iran lost were substantial and
included the modern nation-states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia,
and also the disputed region of Nakhjivan (south of Armenia). The other
important impact of these treaties was that it made the British suspicious
of Russia and any further advances that would have directly threatened
British interests in India. This suspicion and mistrust between the Rus-
sian Empire and the British turned into a competition between the two
that ultimately culminated in the “Great Game” of the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, with Iran caught in the middle. Considering
the circumstances in which the Qajars consolidated their power and the
way they reached the throne, it is difficult to imagine how they or any
other tribal group could have sustained themselves and still challenged
the colonial powers successfully. Regardless, Iran lost key territories to the
Russian Empire and eventually, in the second half of the nineteenth cen-
tury, lost control of Herat in Afghanistan to the British. Hence, without a
doubt, Iran shrank not only during Fath Ali Shah’s reign but also during
that of his successor.
It is an accepted fact now that Iran’s outdated military training and
equipment in modern warfare was the primary reason that it failed to
defend itself against foreign encroachment and was the reason it had to
sign unfavorable agreements.22 What Iran lost in signing the Gulistan
and the Turkmanchai agreements was no surprise considering the weak
and outdated state of its military. Furthermore, we need to remember that
only fifty years earlier the Qajar patriarch Aqa Muhammad Khan was
26 The Iranian State and Religion

struggling to bring about a united Iran by subduing competing tribes after

decades of serious disorder throughout the land. Iran’s territorial losses and
the one-sided agreements, which Fath Ali Shah signed, prompted some
Iranians to think about modernizing their army.

Abbas Mirza: The Reform-Minded Prince

The Qajar prince and heir to the throne Abbas Mirza (August 26, 1789–
October 25, 1833),23 the governor of the border province of Azerbaijan,
began “the process of transformation, varyingly known as reform, West-
ernization, and modernization” within the military starting in the 1820s.24
Consequently, he asked French and Russian military advisers to help
modernize Iran’s defunct army.25
However, Abbas Mirza faced serious challenges from three groups
that felt threatened by military reform, either because they misunderstood
it or they perceived it as a direct threat to their own interests: (1) the tribal
leaders, (2) competing Qajar princes and officials, and (3) the antireform
ulama, all expressed their antimodernization views. In Abbas Mirza’s case,
the overwhelming objections came from the first two groups. The tribal
leaders objected to the army’s modernization because they thought that
once the state successfully created and managed a modern army that was
equipped with the latest technology, the tribes’ fighting force would prove
obsolete and their services would no longer be sought by the state.26
On the other hand, the princes objected to Abbas Mirza out of jeal-
ousy and in light of competition for the throne. Put another way, they
objected to whatever initiative the crown prince supported, irrespective
of its benefit, because they wanted to stop any positive development for
which Abbas Mirza ultimately took credit.27 Despite these challenges
Abbas Mirza asked French military advisers to help create a “new army”
(nizam-i jadid),28 which he perceived as the first step in regaining Iranian
dignity because a “new army” could potentially minimize Iran’s defeat in
possible future wars with Russia.
He was one of the more notable of the advocates of reform in the
early Qajar period who took on various ways to modernize Iran. Besides
the novelty of translating books written in Western languages into Persian
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 27

and the start of the nineteenth-century Iranian translation movement,

something even more telling took place. Generally, books that were trans-
lated consisted of biographies of those who were seen as heroes in the
West. For example, in the case of Peter I (1682–1725), Iranian reformers
identified “their own hopes by glorifying him as the regenerator of the
Russian Empire.”29 Change was what Iranians needed and some of them
took Peter I as a role model by whom people could be inspired to reach for
greatness. He also supported the idea of teaching European languages to
Iranians—this was considered a new step toward a modern society.30 The
new modernized army eventually served as one of Iran’s many institutions
that laid the foundations for a modern society. A subsequent new educa-
tional system and a secular judicial system helped sideline the traditional
ways that had proven inefficient. But the starting point of many, if not all,
of these ideas stemmed from Abbas Mirza’s nizam-i jadid. Aside from sup-
porting a modern army, Abbas Mirza also supported the introduction of
secular law to Iranian society before the beginning of the Constitutional
Revolution more than seventy years after he had died.

Antireform Ulama

Dogmatic clerics opposed reforming the army because they perceived it

as a direct threat to the Islamic nature of Iran. As a result, Abbas Mirza
requested fatwas from the moderate clerical camp to offset the efforts of
the ultraconservative ulama.31 But that was not all. Another group that
opposed Abbas Mirza’s reforms also asked the same group of antireform
ulama for fatwas. They sought the issuance of religious decrees from cler-
ics to proclaim military reforms anti-Islamic and thus forbidden. The suc-
cess of both the proponents and opponents of military reform in securing
fatwas from the two factions within the ulama was a manifestation of the
Shi‘ite establishment’s division in thinking about reform and moderniza-
tion. Moreover, it also demonstrated that the Qajars knew that they could
not meet their objectives—however appropriate or out of place they might
have been at the time—without the support of the religious establishment.
The ulama were suspicious about modernization and reform because
they mostly feared that modernization based on a European model might
28 The Iranian State and Religion

eventually threaten their hold on the education system and judiciary.32

Furthermore, this suspicion was rooted in the clergy’s own ignorance; and
because European colonialism presented modernity through the “barrel
of a gun,” the ignorant suspicions of the ulama suddenly became a proven
fact for those who did not trust foreigners to begin with. To put it another
way, this unattractive first encounter, by which Iranian territories were
lost during the Russian incursions, reconfirmed what the ulama had sus-
pected about those who were enthusiastic for reform and modernization
based on a European model: they witnessed the “confrontational nature
of Iran’s early contacts” with the Western powers.33 This is probably one
of the most challenging issues that led many antireform Iranians to mis-
understand Western modernity and that created a hostile relationship
between its proponents and opponents.
But objections to change were not solely reserved for changes to the
army. Some among the ulama found it difficult to accept challenges to
their traditional role as well. When Abbas Mirza tried to get rid of a cor-
rupt shari‘a court judge in Azerbaijan, his opponents labeled him a rogue
Muslim ruler. The story began in Urumiyyih in 1821 when Abbas Mirza
voiced his objection to a ruling made by an ultraconservative mujtahid
in charge of the local shari‘a court that wrongfully found a Jewish man
guilty of the kidnapping and murder of a Muslim minor.34 Abbas Mirza
launched an investigation and concluded that the jurist had overlooked
some obvious evidence that would have exonerated the Jewish man.
Hence, he asked another mujtahid to issue a religious decree by which he
saved the life of his Jewish subject.
In his traditional role as the local ruler, Abbas Mirza could choose to
ignore the issue all together. The extent to which a ruler meddled in the
business of the ulama tended to be very limited since the Shi‘ite estab-
lishment was what legitimized the Qajar’s rule over Iran. Abbas Mirza’s
interfering in clerical affairs on behalf of a non-Muslim subject while
thinking nontraditionally about him as an Iranian was therefore quite
unique. That Abbas Mirza expressed his willingness to go beyond what
was customary only demonstrates his wish to treat non-Muslim Irani-
ans fairly—this was in and of itself a noteworthy change to which many
ulama objected.
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 29

The history of reform in the army as a precursor to a full discourse

on Iranian modernity involved many Iranians of the younger generation,
who blamed their country’s undesirable conditions on its lagging behind
in scientific as well as intellectual innovations. That discussion eventually
culminated in the dynamic debate over constitutionalism and the ensu-
ing constitutional revolution. However, before reformists could voice their
concerns, reform of the army took higher priority owing to its importance
to Iran’s security.
The combination of support for fair practices in Islamic courts and
reform of the army in light of lost battles against Russia had created a need
for Abbas Mirza to strike a friendly relationship with the ulama. However,
this forging of stronger ties did not last long in the face of Abbas Mirza’s
ultimate disappointment with how easily the majority of the ulama were
swayed to support the antireform camp. The latter were intimidated by
their conservative colleagues who enjoyed more prestige and following
among the people. Thus Abbas Mirza thought of them as “overfed horses
who [had] forgotten that their function was to run.”35 Notwithstanding
this, it is important to note that appeals to the ulama and their religious
authority by proponents and opponents of modernization in Iran failed
in the first instance of that process under Abbas Mirza, but the seeds of a
stronger bond that came to full fruition during the tobacco protest (1891)
and the Constitutional Revolution (1906–1911) had already been sown.

Inspirations from Abroad

Generally speaking, reforms began during the reign of Fath Ali Shah,
when Iranians witnessed what great differences existed between their
homeland and foreign lands (diyar-i farang). Iranians who traveled abroad
with curiosity and discovered the vast gulf that separated their society
from the nations they traveled through brought the story of Western prog-
ress home to their compatriots. Witnessing the extent of the progress in
Europe and British India that had aided and improved the condition of
many people made Iranian travelers aware that key elements were amiss
in their own country. Ultimately, they feared the worsening of conditions
if reforms were not implemented.
30 The Iranian State and Religion

From the experience of living abroad or exploratory journeys through-

out Europe, several Iranians informed their literate compatriots about
how noticeably advanced was the West.36 In 1801, a certain Abdul-Latif
Musavi Shushtari, who had lived in India, discussed the Subcontinent’s
conditions and that of its colonizer, Great Britain, in his book Tuhfat
al-‘Alam. He focused on Western innovations and inventions that had
changed medicine, engineering, the military, and industry. He also
commented on religious reform. What fascinated Shushtari was the way
reform had improved societies and whether these same changes could be
applied to Iran in order to boost economic conditions. More specifically,
he was enamored with the idea of structural reforms in Iran’s judiciary
and monarchy. He believed that changes in these two systems were pos-
sible if concepts such as the separation of powers, equality of all peoples
before the law, democratic principles, a constituent assembly, free elec-
tions, and, finally, the Shah’s limited power in the government were intro-
duced to Iran.37
In 1804 another Iranian traveler, Aqa Ahmad Bihbahani, wrote Mir‘at
al-Ahwal Jahan Nama, expounding a more detailed view of India and
expressing astonishment at what he had found.38 Bihbahani pays careful
attention to the free and secular education that was available for most
Indians (especially the poor). Information about trade and merchandise,
insurance, books and magazines—in addition to what Shushtari had in
1801 mentioned about political concepts that one can identify as demo-
cratic aspirations—also fill the pages of Bihbahani’s report from abroad.
Qajar princes numbered among the Iranians who traveled abroad and
argued for reforms at home. Riza Quli Mirza, one of Fath Ali Shah’s sons,
visited England in 1837. Upon his return to Iran he expressed his admira-
tion for the rule of law in a “civilized” society that was organized beyond
his imagination.39 In one letter to his family from abroad the prince
excitedly expressed his astonishment that in England no one of high sta-
tus—including the monarch, his ministers, or military leaders—could act
unlawfully without securing proper permits even for as simple an action as
“killing a chicken.”40 If anyone shot a “bird or a wild desert beast” without
proper permits, he would surely stand trial before a “mahkamih-yi shar‘”
(shari‘a court). What he more than likely meant was a court of law.41
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 31

Mirza Quli’s last statement is of particular interest because it points

to two different issues. First, the English king’s limited power, which in
an Iranian imperial context had never been a point of contention; and
second, Riza Quli’s comparison of civil or criminal codes in England
with what was customary in his native Iran: the existence of two judicial
systems of ‘urf and shari‘a. As indicated by the name, mahkamih-yi shar‘
was fundamentally a court that based its legitimacy on shari‘a and was
administered by Shi‘ite ulama. Shari‘a’s sources of legitimacy and power
(see chapters 4 and 5) were primarily the Qur’an and the traditions (Had-
iths) of the Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Shi‘ite Imams. Faqihs/
mujtahids—who were later in the twentieth century referred to as ayatul-
lahs—interpreted these sources, which then allowed them to legislate and
administer Islamic laws. One can argue that Riza Quli Mirza recognized
that the closest thing that Iranians had in the context of law that held the
English officials accountable was shari‘a, and thus he naturally confused
it with Common Law, which was not connected to or administered by
the Anglican Church and whose judicial establishment acted indepen-
dently. This is an important point because it suggests that the fascina-
tion of Iranians such as Riza Quli Mirza Qajar was based mostly on a
superficial understanding of Western concepts (e.g., the law). Although
one cannot expect much more from brief visits abroad, even after Iranians
had had some time to debate the adoption of secular court systems similar
to the ones in the West, they failed to fully grasp the historical foundation
of Western institutions of law and their accordance with societies. Deep
appreciation for differences did not exist for reformist Iranians at that time
or even during the Constitutional Revolution. This was not the last time
foreign concepts confused Iranians. They failed to understand that those
concepts had originated in fundamentally different contexts that might
not have the same Iranian equivalent.

Western European-Educated Iranians

Besides travelers of various backgrounds who reported on European mod-

ernization and Qajar princess interested in modernizing, Iranians who
were educated in Europe introduced modern ideas to their homeland.
32 The Iranian State and Religion

In 1815, Mirza Salih Shirazi became one of the first Iranians to travel to
Europe in order to learn French, English, and Latin.42 Upon his return to
Iran he brought with him a printing press. This was the first time Irani-
ans glimpsed the invention that had revolutionized Europe centuries ear-
lier. A Western-educated technocrat who had spent four years in Europe,
Mirza Salih printed Iran’s first newspaper, Kaghaz-i Akhbar (Newspaper)
in 1837.43 He was enamored with the idea of informing his fellow Iranians
of current international affairs and the great scientific discoveries about
which Iranians were ignorant.
As an observer of foreign culture and society, in his travel report he
also expressed his astonishment at the state of affairs in Europe, especially
in London. His positive outlook44 on European culture was reflected in
his observations about the voting process for Lord Mayor, for example, or
the freedom to debate in the British Parliament. He was excited to see how
“any member of the mashvirat-khanih [parliament] who desired to speak
about the affairs of the nation could do so to his heart’s desire and no one
could prevent him from doing so.”45 Seeing how free people were to dis-
cuss what they thought was important for their future was an enticing new
concept that his native Iranian had never experienced.
Mirza Salih narrated a noteworthy account of the French Revolu-
tion, which he labeled a “balva” (riot or disturbance).46 He wrote that the
French considered Louis XVI a useless character (muattal) and that after
the mashvirat-khanih recognized that the king, along with his courtiers
and ministers, could no longer rule effectively, it stripped the monarchy of
its power. Then he confusingly writes that either the people or the parlia-
ment (it is unclear) issued a fatwa by which it authorized the execution of
the king, an order that was duly followed.
As revolutionary and refreshing as these narratives were at the time,
there is a more intriguing aspect that merits further discussion. Usage of
the term fatwa by Mirza Salih gives us reason to reflect on his understand-
ing of the dynamics between the church and the state in France at the
time. Just as Mirza Quli Mirza mistook secular courts (Common Law) for
mahkamih-yi shar‘, Mirza Salih’s interchangeable use of the term fatwa
with decisions made by the French parliament attests to his ignorance
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 33

that the Catholic establishment was only partially responsible for such
decisions. Although it is true that were it not for clerical support for the
French Revolution,47 it would never have succeeded, or at least it might
have been long delayed, Mirza Salih mistook the French making secu-
lar laws in a parliament with an Islamic decree that is issued by a single
high-ranking Shi‘ite cleric independent of council. This significant error
attests that Iranians seldom fully appreciated how parliaments in France
or England functioned, and I argue that this superficial understanding of
affairs outside Iran created expectations in the minds of political activists
later on that were beyond delivery at that point in Iranian history. Iranian
appreciation of Western concepts differed from how they had been con-
ceived by Westerners.
One can therefore argue that a precursor to a full debate on progress
and the improvement of the sociopolitical lot of Iranians existed in the
early 1800s, when the Qajars had only a few years before established their
dynasty under the challenging circumstances that included the uniting
of a fragmented Iran by Aqa Muhammad Khan. One also needs to be
mindful that the information these travelers provided was probably lim-
ited to those who could read and digest this sort of material, including
the wealthy literate and the members of the royal court. Whether or not
the ulama took to enlightening themselves by reading such material is
unclear. But we know that the general public was either under the control
of the tribal leaders or, in the case of the urbanites and villagers, under the
spell of Shi‘ite institutions, and it is highly unlikely that they had access to
such information.
Although Fath Ali Shah demonstrated that he wanted to reinvigorate
his imperial rule as an Iranian shah by making the necessary connec-
tions between his reign and Iran’s pre-Islamic period, he met with little
success in securing the lost territories in the Caucasus. It is perhaps due
to his failure to keep Iran intact that he made a connection to Iran’s past,
in order to validate his own authority and legitimacy as the shah. One of
the ways Fath Ali Shah reached back in Iranian history to connect him-
self with a great imperial past was the composition of Shahanshahnamih,
a 5,500-verse collection of poems that a poet with a similar name, Fath
34 The Iranian State and Religion

Ali Khan Saba, wrote in 1822. Adopting the style of the Shahnamih (940-
1020) by the Iranian national epic poet Ferdowsi, Fath Ali the poet wrote
about Fath Ali Shah’s wars with Russia heroically and in a manner that
went somewhat beyond the truth.48 Nevertheless, it manifests the way
Fath Ali Shah wished to rule: by connecting himself with previous Per-
sian rulers whose reigns were celebrated as having been rather grander
than his own.
The end of Fath Ali Shah’s rule did not see the end of Shaykhism,
Iran’s first religious movement of the nineteenth century.49 What had
begun as a religious reform movement by Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i had
turned political, and Fath Ali Shah responded to it with violence because
Shaykhism questioned the authenticity of the ulama’s work of interpreting
Shi‘ite doctrines. Clearly, Fath Ali Shah was not in a position to support
such activities, although one of his princes, Karim Khan Kermani (1810–
1871), led his own branch of Shaykhism in Kerman.50 Shaykhism contin-
ued to be a thorn in the side of the ulama and the state. The leadership
of Sayyid Kazim Rashti, Ahsa’i’s disciple who carried Shaykhism forward,
also marred the socioreligious and political atmosphere of the next Qajar
ruler, Muhammad Shah.
As foreigners began to interfere more in Iranian affairs and after the
untimely death of his heir apparent, Abbas Mirza, Fath Ali Shah became
more reclusive in the final years of his reign. He chose Abbas Mirza’s
eldest son, Muhammad Mirza, as the new heir to the throne. Fearful of
an inconvenient fight for the throne among the Qajars after the shah’s
death, the British and Russians make it known to Fath Ali Shah that they
preferred that Muhammad Mirza be officially designated heir for the sake
of a smooth transition.
In June 1834, only months before his death, Fath Ali Shah formed a
council and officially announced that he had selected Muhammad Mirza
as the Crown Prince. However, that was not enough to keep the prince’s
brothers from challenging him, even though British and Russian officials
fully supported his appointment.51 As far as reforms were concerned, tan-
gible changes similar to those of the Ottomans52 did not take place in the
early Qajar period, and consequently the tribes continued to enjoy influ-
ence in Iranian politics.
Tribal Fighters Become Shahs 35

Muhammad Shah

Muhammad Shah reigned for almost fifteen years (1834–1848). After he

ascended the throne, most of his time and effort was spent quelling rebel-
lions and defeating claimants to his position. Unlike his grandfather, Fath
Ali Shah, Muhammad Shah’s health problems along with his over-power-
ful courtiers created a situation in which the shah at times served more as
a ceremonial figure than as an effective sovereign. He followed his grand-
father’s policy and entrusted the governorships of different regions to his
most faithful and closest blood relatives.
During Muhammad Shah’s reign a combination of unfortunate
events— such as cholera outbreaks,53 British and Russian obtainment of
trade preferences, and an empty treasury—threatened Iran’s economic
viability, hence the Iranian business establishment lost much of its oppor-
tunity to British merchants who flooded the market with inexpensive con-
sumer goods (see chapter 3).
The increasing foreign presence and influence in Iranian politics was
too great for Muhammad Shah to recapture Iran’s losses to the Russian
Empire. When he attempted to regain Herat in Afghanistan in 1838, the
British landed five hundred soldiers in the Persian Gulf port city of Bush-
ehr and threatened to occupy the entire Fars coast.54 He was left with no
choice but to forget about his dream of bringing Herat once more under
Iranian control, and he succumbed to British power.
Although Muhammad Shah failed to continue the reform and mod-
ernization of Iran’s military with the same vigor as had prevailed under
Fath Ali Shah, he did make some political changes. He added more gov-
ernmental positions and offices that had once been part of Safavid institu-
tions but had fallen out of use after that dynasty’s collapse.55 Positions such
as controller general (mustaufi al-mamalik) and Mint master (muayyir al-
mamalik) were brought back into existence, but they bore mixed results.
The new offices helped the state to a certain extent to operate more effi-
ciently, but they also hurt Iran because they led to the burgeoning of a
new bureaucracy that had to adopt corrupt ways in order to earn its living.
The culture of corruption was strengthened in the absence of regularly
paid salaries for government officials, in addition to the fact that the shah
36 The Iranian State and Religion

or the chief minister delegated a degree of power and autonomy to those

who did as they pleased in the absence of an effective system of checks
and balances.56
As Muhammad Shah’s rule ended, the Shaykhis continued the agita-
tion that Rashti led after Ahsa’i’s death. Another significant event, which
began four years before the end of Muhammad Shah’s rule, was the advent
of Babism.57 Founded by Mirza Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819–1850),
Babism proved to be a militant and radical religious-political movement
that brought the shah’s men into direct confrontation with its followers.
The Bab (the Gate) hoped to create a new religion based on the notion
that the belief that the period of gaining new knowledge ended with the
twelfth Imam’s occultation in the tenth century—as the Shi‘ite ulama
believed—was incorrect.58 Babism also held that the one who could offer
the needed new knowledge was the self-proclaimed Bab. According to
one scholar, the Babis eventually wished to create a new religion that was
to be introduced as the continuation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
As Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad had proclaimed the oneness of God in
various ways, the Bab of Shiraz purported to be a continuation of the same
line of prophecy.59
Apprehensive Modernization and the
Birth of Iranian Intellectualism

Nasir al-Din Shah

For close to fifty years after Muhammad Shah’s death, his eldest son Nasir
al-Din Shah (1831–1896) sat on the Peacock Throne, becoming one of
the longest-serving Iranian monarchs in history. His reign (1848–1896)
was one of contrasting periods: at times he allowed reforms to take place
throughout the government at unprecedented levels, and at others he bru-
tally suppressed any effort aimed at changing the traditional characteris-
tics of Iranian politics and society. During his rule Iranians put what little
they had learned from their experience of Western cultures and politics
into practice. It was less than perfect but nevertheless propelled the nation
forward to adopt ideas that were seemingly helpful in creating a progres-
sive society.
The religious-cultural milieu of Iran during Nasir al-Din Shah’s rule
could not have been more different from that of his predecessors. An even
more dynamic political atmosphere presided over his time on the throne
than had been the case before. Specifically, Nasir al-Din Shah inherited
the challenge of the Babis. Although they had existed for only a short
period, their considerable influence over their followers, who objected to
the Shi‘ite clerical hierarchy and its teachings, became a matter of much
concern. The Bab, who at first claimed to have been “the Gate” through
which he contacted the twelfth Shi‘ite Imam (the Hidden Imam), later
proclaimed that he actually was the Hidden Imam reappeared. Deemed
politically inconvenient by the state and the ulama, and blasphemous
38 The Iranian State and Religion

by the religious establishment, the Bab was persecuted, imprisoned, and

eventually executed by Nasir al-Din Shah in 1850.1
Although some distraught elements within the Babi movement took it
on themselves to avenge the death of the Bab with an assassination attempt
on Nasir al-Din Shah, two followers, Mirza Hussayn Ali Nuri Baha’ullah
and Mirza Yahya Nuri Subh-i Azal, ventured to continue the Bab’s pro-
nouncement, which partly included the prophecy of the Promised man
that God would make appear.2 However, Baha’ullah went on to create the
faith of Baha’ism simply because of his, as well as his faith’s, “apolitical
attitude toward the state.”3
Nasir al-Din Shah also encountered serious challenges from those
who, because the Qajar rule had been unsuccessful, thought Islam held
the key to undoing the failures of the state. The beginning of the Islamic
movements and the revival of Islamic political thought began in the midst
of the Islamic world’s struggle against Western colonialism in the nine-
teenth century.4 Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (1839–1897), better known
in the West as Afghani, challenged the shah’s rule, bringing Islamic doc-
trines to the fore of political reform. Afghani had traveled abroad: to India,
the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Europe to promote reform and mod-
ernization by providing a framework to fight colonialism and improve the
conditions of Muslim societies everywhere that were clinging to Islamic
doctrines and values.5 Nasir al-Din Shah invited him for consultation in
regard to modernization on two separate occasions (in 1886 and 1889), but
decided to exile the Islamist reformer in 1891 because he directly chal-
lenged the rule of the monarch. The perception that the shah opposed all
ideas of pan-Islamism finally led to his assassination in 1898 at the hands
of an extremist.6

More European Inspiration

Iranians traveled abroad in the second half of the 1800s and brought back
additional tales of progress and success, which provided them with further
impetus to follow the European model to improve their society. Probably
no other Iranian traveler spent as much time in the West during this period
as Muhammad Ali Ibn Muhammad Riza Mahallati (1836–1925), better
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 39

known as Hajj Sayyah. Born in Mahallat, a township 100 miles south of

Tehran, he eventually became known for his journeys outside Iran, which
earned him the title “the Tourist” (sayyah). Educated in the basics for a
short period at an Islamic seminary and without any substantial financial
support from his family, Hajj Sayyah set out to see the world at the age
of twenty-three or twenty-four after he fled from the prospect of a prear-
ranged marriage with one of his first cousins. He was curious and had an
unquenchable thirst for seeing how others lived; moreover, he equated
marriage to “a life of ignorance that he could not accept because it meant
the end of learning.”7 Hajj Sayyah traveled for twenty years and visited
more than two hundred European cities and towns, including Moscow,
Istanbul, Copenhagen, London, Paris, and Rome. His detailed travelogue
mentions minute details about where he lodged and even what he ate.
The incomplete travelogue that Hajj Sayyah started on September 3,
1859 introduces us to an array of issues that were obviously important to an
Iranian visiting foreign lands. These were very much the same issues that
his predecessors Shushtari, Bihbahani, and Riza Quli Mirza Qajar had con-
sidered important several decades earlier. He was amazed that disciplined,
orderly, and organized governments and societies had led to Europe’s supe-
rior position in the entire civilized world. He was overwhelmed to see gas
lamps illuminating cities like Vienna. He marveled that nations lived side
by side in peace and engaged in commerce while their governments sup-
ported the people regardless of their creed or social status.8
A population that could read newspapers and keep records of its new-
born babies, the kind demeanor of Emperor Franz Joseph I (1830–1916)
while he listened attentively to the people’s grievances and engaged in
conversations with his subjects, and the existence of “holes in the moun-
tains” (tunnels) were all reasons for Hajj Sayyah to want to see more of
Europe. When in Paris, he wrote in awe of the city with “straight streets”
that were “lit, green, and pleasant.” He thought of the city as a “precious
gem,” and when a friend asked him about the accomplishments of the
Parisians, he responded excitedly that whatever could be imagined by
humans, Parisians achieved, and that it was this power of imagination that
had made the biggest impression on him.9 Time and again he pointed out
the way in which Europeans freely voiced their political grievances and
40 The Iranian State and Religion

disagreements. For him the sheer freedom of verbalizing one’s critique of

the monarchy or its behavior toward its subjects was a revelation.
In all of these discussions Hajj Sayyah’s excitement attests that he was
implicitly comparing the conditions in Europe with what Iran lacked and
needed. In addition to the well-lit, straight streets, the European rulers’
untroubled care for their subjects, and the existence of tunnels that allowed
access to formerly isolated places and cut down on long-distance travel,
other ideas that Sayyah carried away were the same points of contention
that other travelers had wondered about. Such inspiration set the founda-
tion for Iranian modernity, or to be exact, Iranian constitutionalism, since
pro-constitutionalists saw a direct correlation between lawlessness and arbi-
trary rule and judged them to be the basis of a backward society.
Hajj Sayyah and like-minded travelers before him, such as Mirza
Salih and Riza Quli Mirza Qajar, consistently failed to appreciate the his-
torical process by which Europe had attained its accomplishments. Hardly
any of the travelogues, including Sayyah’s, informed Iranians of the many
challenges that Europeans had overcome in achieving their goals. For
example, Iranians were ignorant of the events of the European medieval
era or the Age of Exploration, which had brought about that continent’s
material superiority while it had altered the lives and cultures of millions
of Native Americans. None of these travelers discussed the hardships that
the British, for example, endured during the Industrial Revolution, which
eventually placed Great Britain at the forefront of technology. It was not
until the 1920s and 1950s that Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables10 and Charles
Dickens’s various works,11 respectively, were translated into Persian. All the
same, Iranian travelers were rightly in awe of what they witnessed, and it
was natural for them to wish for the same things: freedom, justice, tun-
nels, telegraphs, and well-lit and straight streets.
Regardless of the likelihood that Iran might also face similar chal-
lenges, hardships, and negative consequences, there were individuals who
knew that if the state kept refusing to reform, the already difficult condi-
tions in Iran would worsen.
By 1848, when Nasir al-Din Shah was crowned, the royal viziers were
convinced that they needed to launch a campaign of change. For many
Iranians the name of Amir Kabir is synonymous with modernization and
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 41

remembered fondly.12 One can argue that the history of Iranian reform
and modernization unfolded with alacrity during Nasir al-Din Shah’s rule
as the fourth Qajar monarch after he appointed Amir Kabir, and then later
Mirza Hussayn Khan, as his premiers.

The Shah, His Ministers, and Reforms

Amir Kabir

The history of the first few years of Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign is partly
interwoven with the story of Mirza Taqi Khan, better known as Amir
Kabir (1807–1852). Initially, the shah supported Amir Kabir’s plans to
reform and to modernize, but then turned against him and finally ordered
his execution. If one takes a closer look at Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign, it is
evident, according to one scholar, that he sacrificed and eliminated any
person, idea, or institution in order to sustain his position. That is to say,
he always viewed everything from the broader perspective of preserving
his own rule.13
Of humble beginnings, Mirza Taqi Khan rose to the highest ranks
of the Qajar government, including its chief ministry, by the time Nasir
al-Din Shah took the throne.14 Amir Kabir’s appointment was a sign of the
new monarch’s “intelligence and instinctive perception,” and one scholar
heralded this period as one of unprecedented modernization efforts that
established institutions to provide Iranians with key elements of Western
modernity such as secular education and law.15
Praise for Amir Kabir’s reforms and modernist ideology is abundant,
but scholarly studies about the man himself and his role in Iranian mod-
ernization and reform are somewhat limited.16 The prime minister’s mea-
sures were expansive when Nasir al-Din Shah permitted.17 His progressive
programs affected every segment of society and government, including
the financial, judicial, military, educational, cultural, agricultural, and
economic sectors.
In order to create new urban laws, Amir Kabir modified Iranian civil
behavior and tried in earnest to lessen the role of religion in state poli-
tics, but in this he was only partly successful.18 His contributions are too
42 The Iranian State and Religion

numerous to recount here, but a few examples will suffice. He sought

the services of European military advisers to organize a small portion of
the tribal fighting forces and to establish an Iranian navy. He separated
shari‘a law from ‘urf on a very limited basis, reduced the persecution of
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, and outlawed torture in prisons. He
also broke the violent grip of city thugs (lutis) and mob leaders who had
contributed to the lawless nature of some parts of Iranian urban neigh-
borhoods (this is somewhat directly connected with the worsening of the
economic situation after the Herat War in 1840),19 and he helped build
a trade center that allowed merchants to engage in organized business
transactions. He supported the merchants, who were able to increase their
exports, and likewise limited the import of foreign goods to Iran, which
could be viewed as a significant step toward enhancing Iranian reform in
trade and commerce.20 Amir Kabir’s efforts to curb the power of the ulama
and their meddling in affairs of state, however, failed. Neither Amir Kabir
nor any other premier succeeded in that goal because it required the pub-
lic to change the way it viewed both religion and the ulama.
Amir Kabir created a host of enemies that perceived him and his
agenda as a threat to their interests. They hailed from almost all Iranian
social classes, excluding the majority of peasants and the working class,
whom the reforms would have most benefited. Foreign powers were also
unhappy with his initiatives because they limited their export trade with
Iran. The combination of an angry Iranian royalty and groups that sup-
ported them, and Europeans who were displeased with having their eco-
nomic and political schemes deemed “clashes of interest,” led to the loss of
Amir Kabir’s position in 1852.21 It was but a short time later that the shah
permitted the murder of the most reform-minded minister of the Qajar era.

Mirza Aqa Khan Nuri

Soon after Amir Kabir’s dismissal the shah appointed Mirza Aqa Khan
Nuri (1807–1865) to the post of premier. During his administration, Iran
encountered the British forces once more when Nasir al-Din Shah refused
to end his renewed siege of Herat in Afghanistan. That unsuccessful cam-
paign soon gave way to the Anglo-Persian War (1856–1857), which ended
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 43

only when both parties agreed to negotiate. The end result of the nego-
tiations was the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1857, effectively ending
all of Iran’s claims in Afghanistan and bringing the latter’s thousand-year
cultural and historical position as a major part of greater Iran to a close,
making it a quasi-independent state under British rule.22 With the end of
Iranian claims in Afghanistan, Nasir al-din Shah also ended Nuri’s prime
ministerial term and banished him from the capital, to die in exile.
Nasir al-Din Shah subsequently embarked on reorganizing and
reforming the Iranian governmental structure himself by dissolving the
office of chief minister altogether in 1858. In its place, ministries of justice,
finance, war, foreign affairs, pensions, and religious endowments (awqaf)
were created to divide up the responsibilities formerly within the purview
of the prime minster.23
One of Nasir al-Din Shah’s major decisions, which greatly improved
Iranian infrastructure, was to allow the British to build a telegraph net-
work in Iran between 1859 and 1889. It initially connected the newly
established ministries and all the provinces with the shah’s palace. It is
noteworthy that, although the building of the telegraph line greatly ben-
efitted Iran, the plan did not originate out of the necessity to improve its
communications, but happened by default. Because the British aimed to
strengthen their communications with India they sought permission to
build a telegraph line through Iran. The shah acquiesced on condition
that they also build a basic network for Iran.24
As the British raised the telegraph poles, the shah became more
informed about what took place within his dominion and was in closer
contact with different regions and ministries than at any time before. Nev-
ertheless, a sophisticated bureaucracy on the European model was not
yet in sight; for the region, for the Qajars, and for Iranians in general, this
would be a considerable feat indeed.

Mirza Hussayn Khan, “Mushir al-Daulih”

Nasir al-Din Shah was young when he ascended the throne and was some-
what overshadowed by Amir Kabir, which allowed the minister to enact
reforms quickly and decisively. After the latter’s dismissal, instead of a new
44 The Iranian State and Religion

prime minister, he appointed Mirza Hussayn Khan—also known as Mushir

al-Daulih (1827–1881)—as the new Iranian ambassador to the Ottoman
Porte. Mirza Hussayn Khan was well traveled and experienced in foreign
affairs. Fath Ali Akhunzadih and Malkum Khan, the two famous Iranian
reform advocates, are believed to have influenced the new minister, who
paid close attention to the details and potentials of sweeping changes.25
The new chief minister was a reform-minded politician who con-
vinced the monarch to accept more changes by traveling abroad. He
wanted the shah to see for himself what the West had achieved by way of
modernization and to visit the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris.26
The shah was formally invited to visit the exhibition, but instead of Paris
he preferred to travel at a later date (in 1870) to Iraq’s holy Shi‘ite cities.27
At the same time that Nuri served as the Iranian ambassador to Istanbul
the Ottomans were in the process of reforming their own government
through the tanzimat. Mirza Hussayn Khan saw how similar reforms
could also benefit Iran. Fortunately for him, Ottoman Iraq had experi-
enced the reformist efforts of its governor Midhat Pasha, and Nasir al-
Din Shah indeed witnessed firsthand the benefits of modernization in an
Islamic context on his visit to Iraq, a country that shared many of Iran’s
cultural values.28
Upon the shah’s return to Iran he demonstrated how positively he
viewed Ottoman reforms in Iraq by appointing Mirza Hussayn Khan to
head the Ministry of Pensions and Awqaf as well as the Ministry of Justice,
in order to bring about positive and centralizing changes.29 The religious
establishment, however, took that as a direct threat to its interests. The
appointment of Mirza Hussayn Khan as chief justice minister alienated
the clerics. Just as decades before, when Abbas Mirza tried to modern-
ize the army and to make changes in other areas, both the ulama and
Qajar rivals within the clan objected to these initiatives. The ulama had
traditionally served as jurists and authoritative figures in business and
family law.30 Regardless, a short time later, in 1871, the shah placed the
justice minister in charge of religious endowments. Some of the ulama,
who made their living from running the awqaf, had gained power in their
positions and thus did not welcome the appointment of a nonclergyman
to oversee their duties.
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 45

The perception by the ulama that what had been traditionally con-
trolled by them for centuries was being appropriated under the guise of
reform became the source of much trouble for reformists, and clerics
subsequently viewed reform with great contempt. To them modernity or
reform equaled destruction of their authority, and in turn Islam, and they
viewed this severely. Hence the religious establishment regarded specific
reforms to be against its own interests and stood ready to fight parliament
and constitutionalism during the Constitutional Revolution and any mod-
ernization effort that was harmful to its position.
Those around the shah who could influence him did their best to
end the career of the premier because he was one of the few officials who
viewed general reforms as directly connected with improving Iran’s condi-
tions. Consequently, Nasir al-Din Shah dismissed him.31 But as a newly
empowered premier, he had formed a cabinet with ministerial posts, a
move that had no historical precedent. Throughout his tenure Mirza Hus-
sayn Khan had also pursued the difficult task of reforming the military
and thus helped found Iran’s Cossack Brigade.
Military reform and the introduction of the new armed forces paved
the way to creating a “rational administration” that would put an end to
official corruption and inefficiency. Current scholars view Mirza Hus-
sayn Khan’s actions as ill prepared because he was not skilled enough
to face the complicated reality of Iranian politics infested with “corrup-
tion, incompetence, overstaffing, and vested interests.” These were essen-
tial parts of the “traditional ways of doing things” in Iran and to attempt
to hastily challenge them threatened the position of those who operated
within it, including the ulama.32


Although Amir Kabir and Mirza Hussayn Khan were reformists who
believed that major changes in government were needed before improve-
ments could be realized throughout society, their perception of foreign
powers, for example, Russia and Britain, and their influence sets them
apart from each other. Whereas Amir Kabir wanted Iran’s independent
economic development to be free of foreign involvement, Mirza Hussayn
46 The Iranian State and Religion

Khan viewed Russia and Britain as key players in the development and
protection of Iranian interests.33 That is why, before his dismissal, he man-
aged to gain from the British what he thought was a guarantee of Iranian
economic development.34 Under his plans Iran was poised to welcome a
new element of foreign influence into its politics by granting concessions
that proved ineffective in the long run.
The most famous of these concessions was the one granted to Julius
Reuter in 1872. Mirza Hussayn Khan is credited with encouraging the
shah to accept the terms of this substantial grant, and thereby damaged
his reputation as an honest and honorable official because he accepted
a commission, or, as some perceived it, bribes for negotiating its terms.35
However, the magnitude of the Reuter concession was so extraordinary
that even the most famous British imperialist, Viceroy of India Lord
Curzon, remembered it as an all-encompassing agreement that handed
the resources of a whole nation to a single private foreign entity. Lord
Curzon identified the agreement as an historical event “without paral-
lel.”36 The monopoly to build a railroad included the guarantee of rights
to build factories and extract minerals. In return, Reuter promised to
introduce any and all modern inventions to Iran; the thinking was that
it would allow Iranians to make their great leap into the technologically
modern world.
The proposed Reuter concession, however, never materialized
because of pressures that antireformists put on the government. Russia’s
fear of Britain’s increased privileges in Iran and the usual internal jealousy
and intrigue led to its cancellation. But the shah’s agreement to the terms
of the proposed concession had more far-reaching sociopolitical conse-
quences than perhaps the concession itself would have had. In essence,
the agreement established a precedent for several unlikely Iranian social
components to unite against outside powers and foreign influence, which
one scholar considers the beginning of a “radical-religious alliance in
Iran.”37 Members of the royal family, laymen and merchants, and the reli-
gious establishment all opposed the concession, each for their own rea-
sons. Concessions like this were to plague members of different Iranian
groups, including the intellectual modernists, reform-minded religious
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 47

authorities, and the public. As the people were under its spell, the ulama
encouraged them to participate in protests against such concessions (e.g.,
the tobacco protest). Unprecedented foreign penetration into the Iranian
economy started an opposition movement that brought disparate elements
together, although they differed in their worldviews on modernization
and reform. The Iranian intellectuals, who were not necessarily religious,
or who would not have given much credence to Islam and the Shi‘ite
establishment for its innovative ability to solve issues, initiated a reformist
discussion that supported progressive modernization (tajaddud) and pro-
tested against foreign influence in Iranian affairs.
In his last decade on the throne, Nasir al-Din Shah granted a new
set of foreign concessions that included one mostly negotiated with the
help of the British representative Sir Henry Drummond Wolff.38 In 1891
the shah granted Wolff’s client company a tobacco concession that gave
it exclusive rights to farm, cultivate, market, and sell all Iranian tobacco
inside Iran and to export the surplus.39 It produced such economic hard-
ship for those merchants who traded tobacco that it caused them to dem-
onstrate their anger in a way that the state would be compelled to notice.
The nonclerical modernists could not address the discontent by them-
selves, but the ulama had a wide enough social powerbase and the cha-
risma to implement what was necessary to fight the concession, and when
they were asked by the merchants to help them in securing their rights
over their businesses by taking action in their favor, the religious estab-
lishment initiated perhaps one of the most intriguing sociopolitical pro-
tests in Iranian history. Whether the ulama agitated the state to rescind
the concession at the behest of the traders, or whether they responded
to the public’s anger, is irrelevant at this time. What is important is that,
in the absence of other channels through which these sorts of grievances
could be aired, the ulama were made aware of their own power when they
were pushed into filling that void.
Once the Iranian tobacco merchants had asked a group of ulama in
Iran for their assistance, the latter approached Mirza Hassan Shirazi to
seek his help to force the state to reverse its position. Shirazi had been one
of Akhund Khurasani’s main teachers in Najaf and was considered one of
48 The Iranian State and Religion

the highest-ranking Shi‘ite jurists in the world at the time he was asked to
support the anti-concessionaries. The religious decree that Shirazi issued
mandated all Iranian Muslims to refrain from farming, trading, smoking,
or handling tobacco products—even from preparing it for consumption by
the shah at his palace.
Questions have been raised about the possibility that Shirazi did not
issue the fatwa and that someone in Iran took the liberty of starting a
rumor about a decree that did not actually exist. Even if that had been the
case, the sheer thought of such a fatwa existing was powerful enough to set
the protest into full swing. The sudden drop in tobacco sales was a major
disadvantage to the holder of the concession. Shortly thereafter, the whole
nation became aware of the fatwa and Muslim and non-Muslim Iranians
alike followed Shirazi’s orders. The pressure of this protest was so great
that even the shah’s butler refused to prepare him his water pipe, citing the
fatwa. Before long Nasir al-Din Shah was forced to rescind the concession
in 1891 and pay Wolff back for his losses.40
Three important facts were established as a result of the successful
protest: (1) almost everyone realized that the Shi‘ite clerics by the 1890s
enjoyed a considerable amount of political strength that was backed by
a vast social base, (2) it proved that merchants were powerful enough to
influence high-ranking Iranian clerics residing in Iraq to pressure the
monarchy to do as they wished, and (3) nonreligious activists and intel-
lectuals realized that an alliance between them and the ulama had been
effective in implementing their goals, although they perceived the reli-
gious establishment as one source of Iranian backwardness.
Mirza Hussayn Khan ultimately shared the same fate as others who
negotiated the terms of concessions, or indeed anyone who intended to
reform by viewing Western modernization as a solution to Iranian trou-
bles: he was dismissed from power.
One fact remained constant: in the last decade of the nineteenth cen-
tury almost everyone agreed that the root cause of most of the problems
contributing to dismal conditions in Iran was the arbitrary nature of the
state’s policies, which were worsened by the shah’s despotism. However,
nonreligious intellectuals stated this issue best and offered solutions for it.
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 49


It was during Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign that the first wave of objections to
arbitrary rule and despotism gained enough support for newspapers to pub-
lish the opinions of those who could express them. The arbitrary character
of Nasir al-Din Shah’s rule and his refusal to allow reforms to take full
shape over the course of his reign provided a great impetus for objectors.
Despite the ulama’s powerful position as the society’s spiritual leaders,
and the political strength that they received from it, they did not initiate
the movement that considered serious reform in various fields of Iranian
politics necessary. And perhaps they could not be expected to have done so
(see chapters 4 and 5). Nonclerical Iranians voiced their discontent much
earlier than the religious establishment. Iranians who traveled abroad
became critical of the state of things in Iran after witnessing the effects
of modernization in Europe. Once they realized that a lack of secular
education and technological innovation were just as destructive as corrup-
tion and nepotism, they argued in unison that the cause of all the misery
that Iran was experiencing was the lawlessness and ignorance instigated
in large part by the Qajars.
Newspapers and travelogues carried hopeful news from abroad to Ira-
nians and informed them of European advances in science, economics,
and politics. However, before the twentieth century, Iranians in general
had not experienced the benefits of a vibrant Western-educated intel-
lectual class based on a European model, or any other model, for that
matter.41 But Iranians could not be expected to have had any such expe-
riences. They had not gone through the Reformation and the Renais-
sance, two distinct and revolutionary cultural movements that Europe
had assimilated before reaching the Age of Enlightenment. This pivotal
fact contextualizes the expectations of Iranians regarding reform in the
nineteenth century.
Some scholars argue that reform in thought ceased to exist after the
Mongols invaded Iran in the 1200s; at the least there was a slowing in
intellectual debate compared with previous Islamic centuries (the ninth
to the thirteen centuries).42 During this imposed chaotic period more
50 The Iranian State and Religion

layers of Mongolian/Turkic expansion complicated the already complex

history of the region and hence left no time for anyone to freely con-
template the affairs of life. Although this might be an extreme view of
Iranian intellectual development, it points to the fact that, with the bur-
geoning pre-Safavid relations between state and religion, Iranians seldom
developed their ideas free from an Islamic/Shi‘ite political framework.
Whereas the state was concerned with its survival as a result of being situ-
ated between the Ottomans and the Mughals, it gave more credence and
power to a religious rationality that promoted the state’ endurance rather
than to secular ideas.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, however, a new Iranian
intellectual class had risen that fully supported reform and moderniza-
tion. Nevertheless, scholars who have written about modern Iranian intel-
lectuals believe that the intellectual class did not produce the expected
outcome.43 Iran did not have an intellectual class that originated in the
European Enlightenment and Iranian thinkers had to take measures in
order to reach new objectives by reason and intellect. But these reform-
minded individuals did not take those measures. As one scholar argues,
no formidable intellectual discourse could be found, let alone an “intel-
lectual class,” because the qualifications required of an intellectual were
set somewhat differently than in the West.44
Iran’s intellectual history shows Iranians grappling with the ideas of
modernity, its definitions, characteristics, and applications. The Iranian
elite comprised Qajar princes such as Riza Quli Mirza, reformist pre-
miers such as Mirza Hussayn Khan, and ordinary Iranians such as Hajj
Sayyah, who had experienced life in Europe. There were hardly any high-
ranking clerics who were secularly educated in the new circle of intel-
lectuals. Almost none of them ever questioned reform by comparing Iran
with Western nations until they noticed that reform meant their lessened
authority and prosperity.45 However, one cannot place progressive or lib-
eral ulama like Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi (who is discussed later in the
book) and his like-minded colleagues in a specific intellectual category
that some scholars label “Westernized intellectuals.”46 Similarly, it is dif-
ficult to include them within a group of intellectuals who were poorly edu-
cated but wanted to take political action to improve their communities’
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 51

conditions.47 Rather than being intellectuals who acted on a European

model, the ulama were concerned with Islamic affairs and were protectors
of the Muslim community within their own ideological framework. It is
perhaps later in the mid-twentieth century that the clergy, or the religious
minded, were reluctantly considered the second sizeable group of Iranian
Could the ulama actually qualify as intellectuals? What is certain is
that some clerics participated in the reform movement of the 1800s (e.g.,
Najmabadi) and then in the Constitutional Revolution (e.g., Khurasani,
Mazandarani, Tehrani, and Na’ini) but expressed themselves differently
than secular reformers even while they strove for the same goal. The rea-
son why we are unable to categorize the ulama as intellectuals in the same
way as the nonreligious is that their traditional role limited their freedom
to act on their own, and what was expected of them as social leaders was
very different from the nonclerical intellectuals.
According to Tabataba’i, the ulama refused to engage in any religious
reform, or discussion thereof, until the Qajars had suffered vast territorial
losses after their multiple defeats in the Russo-Iranian wars of the early
nineteenth century.49 To expand his argument, he claims that reform in
Islam did not take place after the formation of its judicial doctrines. In
place of reform, these doctrines actually transformed a shari‘a that was
based on rationality into a distinct kind of rationality defined by shari‘a.
He further claims that Islamic thought lacked the necessary fruitful dis-
course that would have made it dynamic. As a consequence of the end of
Iran’s intellectual golden age (pre-Mongolian invasion), the country began
to move in the “opposite” direction of a linear progression and hence failed
to intellectually evolve.
Historiographies of Iran’s encounter with reform and modernity mostly
point to the absence of a suitable environment for such an encounter. Ira-
nians were not prepared to move into new realms of thought that would
be in accord with the spirit and demands of the future. Firidun Adamiyyat
(1920–2008) was one of the first Iranian historians to expound on this
subject.50 Broadly speaking, Adamiyyat claims that, beginning with Amir
Kabir and Mirza Hussayn Khan, different reformists founded modernity
in Iran.51 Amir Kabir, as mentioned before, had a noticeable influence on
52 The Iranian State and Religion

reforming the Iranian judicial, military, and educational systems, to name

a few; the latter introduced appropriate terminology to the Iranian lexicon
that aimed to facilitate the expression of its desire for a progressive nation.
Officially, Adamiyyat states, terms such as milliyyat (nationality), hurri-
yyat-i shakhsi (individual liberty), azadi-yi afkar (freedom of thought), and
manafi-yi umumiyyih (public interest), which were nonexistent before this
period or which might have been very vague, became popular terms that
were later used by the constitutionalists over the course of the Revolution.52
However, it appears that there was considerable confusion about how
to absorb and retain modernization. The question of whether Iranians
should have blindly adopted a European model as a solution to their
problems and only concern themselves with Western material inventions
stands in contrast to some of the texts that the reformists of those days have
left us, which support a greater inclusion of European standards. Thus the
initial plan to adopt new European technology gave way to an aspiration
to completely embrace European ways, politically, economically, socially,
and culturally.
Malkam Khan (1833–1908) is widely recognized as one of the major
Iranian reformists or modernists of the nineteenth century.53 He believed
that progress was possible only if, and when, Iranians adhered to what he
believed to be the European model of life and culture, which he referred
to as the European tamaddun (civilization).54 Malkam Khan’s argument
for the Westernization of Iranians was first based on the material adop-
tion of a European model that, because it was beneficial in Europe, could
potentially be applied to the intellectual, cultural, and political realms of
Iran as well. For example, he argued that just as the telegraph—a Euro-
pean invention—was successfully introduced and set up in Iran, it would
also be possible to introduce and take advantage of European organiza-
tion and discipline. In other words, Malkam Khan believed that Irani-
ans should have refrained from reinventing anything that Europeans had
already conceived, invented, and used that could also benefit them. This
imitation, according to him, was not to be construed as Iranians’ inability
to create novel ideas but rather as an expedient by which they could prog-
ress faster by importing ideas from Europe.55
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 53

Perhaps Malkam Khan would have been right to think this way if the
only thing that Iranians had needed had been telegraph lines or new weap-
onry, but that was not what they ultimately required, or finally brought in,
from Europe. Constitutionalism was the most significant import of all
European inventions that did not necessarily have its origins in guns or
straight streets, as Hajj Sayyah would have it. What Malkam Khan pro-
posed was the adoption of cultural traits56 that were not easily transferable
or understood in Iran. This weakness in his ideas has received an apolo-
getic explanation that asserts that what he was insinuating was not full
adoption of European life and culture, but only its political organizational
standards.57 Regardless, the question remained the same: How could they
adopt these standards?
Iranians consistently failed to adjust their intellectual discourse and
likewise failed to consider the possibility of a different kind of intellectual
awakening, or one that was different from Europe’s. Iranians also misun-
derstood the notion of “faith” and how to separate it from reform in the
political realm that lessened the power of the ulama. Furthermore, they
could not determine how their religiosity would play a part in the new
challenges of modernity and reform, and this was coupled with their mis-
understanding of European history and the circumstances surrounding
their own (Iranian) intellectual development.58
As Iran continued to lose territories to Russia and Britain, and as Nasir
al-Din Shah allowed more foreigners to penetrate the economy through
the granting of concessions, an increasing number of Iranians were forced
to think critically about their future. Some clerical thinkers joined the
secular intellectual discourse to address Iran’s weakening position.59 The
general consensus was that a lack of accountability in the government was
the main factor behind Iran’s weakening position. Iranian reformers and
modernists felt that in order to curtail the monarchy’s unchecked powers,
they needed to create a system in which conditions could be placed on
the freedom of the shah to rule with impunity; this led them to think of
constitutionalism as a solution. A constitution might immediately curtail
the shah’s power and put the people in charge of their own destiny. Little
did they suspect that the institution they wished to emulate had been the
54 The Iranian State and Religion

result of centuries of debate and discourse for the Europeans. Iranian intel-
lectualism and discourse for adopting a European constitutional model
did not share the European historical experience, and the final entity was
thus created in a vacuum. More specifically, the Renaissance and Refor-
mation in Christian Europe, and Protestantism, which had provided an
intellectual foundation for the discussion of progress,60 was absent in Iran.
Some of the ulama participated in secular intellectual discourse with-
out understanding the full scope and ramifications of the parliament and
the constitution for the future of the clerical establishment or the society
in general. But this should not be taken to mean that the ulama did not
experience their own intellectual revolution; far from it. They participated
in an elaborate deliberation on the role of the intellect and rationality in
the sphere of jurisprudence at the end of the eighteenth century. The
usuli-akhbari debate (rationalist versus traditionalist), however, took place
in a religious context and not in a secular or modern setting (see chapter
5). In the late 1800s and the early 1900s some clerics united with secular
intellectuals in support of reform-oriented modern ideas because of an
acute awareness that, were they to not keep up with events in Iran, their
position of authority would be threatened. Those clerics who did not wel-
come a union with the intellectuals had a dogmatic view of their func-
tion as leaders of society. Therefore, the liberal ulama simply provided a
relatively stable and comforting social milieu in which Iran could survive
the political crisis before and during the Constitutional Revolution, as
manifested in its lost territories, despotism, nepotism, inequality, and the
merchants’ loss of business.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the formation of the Iranian
intellectual class, it was thought of as a means by which Iranians could
address issues that were only worsening through the lawlessness instigated
by the arbitrary rule of the Qajars.61 In the absence of other cures, either
from the past or from other institutions, the intellectuals realized that
they needed Western institutions to help bring everything under a certain
amount of control. They also recognized that they were better placed to
visualize and process these new ideas than any other group.
Iranian traders and travelers who witnessed free societies outside of
Iran and their profitable trade were one reason economic reform was
Apprehensive Modernization and Iranian Intellectualism 55

pursued. The other, perhaps just as important, reason was the constant
degradation of Iran’s economic system and its increasingly nepotistic
administration. Progressive newspapers such as Habl al-Matin, along with
those that advocated reform and change, such as Najaf and Durrat al-
Najaf (see chapter 6), heralded a new era in which modernization could
not be easily interrupted or destroyed. Hence, it is safe to say that modern-
ization started with those Qajar princes and Iranians who were fortunate
to be able to travel abroad. The Islamic-based arguments for change as a
way to uproot injustice, as one of the main doctrines of ‘adalat (justice) in
Iranian society, albeit arriving only in the late 1800s and early 1900s, added
to an already dynamic movement. Once the ulama and their institutions
proved capable of mobilizing the masses during the tobacco protest (1891),
many other goals seemed achievable with the religious leadership.62
There is consensus among historians now that the intellectual foun-
dation of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution was laid by several mod-
ernists. Mirza Hussayn Khan “Mushir al-Daulih,” Abdul-Rahim Talibov,
Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzadih, and Mirza Mal-
kam Khan each in his own way discussed the benefits of law, science,
reform and modernity, national participation in politics, the curbing of
monarchical power, ending arbitrary rule, and the general concept of con-
stitutionalism as it was established and practiced in Europe.
Iranians identified lawlessness to be the direct consequence of the
shah’s arbitrary rule, which had frustrated a large section of society. Pro-
gressive newspapers reflected the same sentiment. As they started to publish
increasingly pointed complaints regarding the situation and the govern-
ment’s unwillingness to address issues that the people claimed stemmed
from the Qajar’s ineptitude, more newspapers identified constitutionalism
and the rule of law as the only solution for the stated problems.
Unhappy Merchants
and the Revolution for Law

Foreign and Native Factors for Failure

Although the advancing world economy in the nineteenth century disad-

vantaged Iran, it was also periodically beneficial. However, the paucity of
reliable sources impedes our full understanding of Iran’s economic state
for much of this period.1 Whereas we have scarce information to assess the
fiscal situation during the first half of the 1800s, the increasing frequency
of contact between Iranians and foreign traders and their agents as the
century wore on provides a comparative wealth of data for understanding
the latter half. Details of contracts and foreign reports have enabled eco-
nomic historians to gain a better, if not perfect, view of this era.2
Having suffered tremendously through more than sixty years of inva-
sions, wars of succession, and mayhem during the transitional period
between the Safavids and Qajars (1722–1785) that included the rule of
the Afshar (1736–1796) and the Zand dynasties (1751–1794), the Iranian
economy exhibited considerable signs of recovery by 1850.3 As the Euro-
pean market expanded, European political presence across the Middle
East gained ground, and this in turn hindered the natural growth of Iran’s
economy. From the 1830s onward, Europeans found a new market in Iran
for their products, which eventually impacted local businesses negatively.
When Iranian merchants complained and requested that Qajar rulers pre-
vent British products from entering Iran and ruining the native economy,
they were ignored.4 The Qajars’ indifference to the complaints made by
their subjects eventually became one of the main grievances that led to
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 57

the Constitutional Revolution. In the context of the changing global econ-

omy, merchants, including the wealthy Malik al-Tujjar,5 suffered because
the state lagged behind in economic reforms or assistance.
Qajar shahs did not appreciate the long-term benefits of economic
reform and were mostly concerned with collecting more taxes to sustain
the central government budget as well as their own financial wealth. If they
offered assistance, as they did in the second half of the nineteenth century,
it was to boost the treasury rather than strengthen the local economy.6
The rule of Muhammad Shah (1834–1848) provides one example of
how Qajar rulers viewed Iran’s native economy. Citing national interest
and a lack of funds, which could be redressed by collecting higher excise
taxes on foreign products, the shah reportedly favored foreign goods over
those manufactured by Iranians in order to keep the state solvent.7 He
claimed that in the absence of a better option for the state to generate
revenue he had to fully support the introduction and importation of for-
eign products as opposed to native products that raised less tax. Another
rationale was that this policy better served the people: he claimed Ira-
nian manufacturers refused to make the same goods as those that were
imported at the same quality and price.

Inefficient Infrastructure

The global economic transformation did not impact Iran as strongly or as

positively as it did India, Turkey, or Egypt. Aside from the state’s failure to
protect and promote local businesses, there were other factors that con-
tributed to Iran’s economic woes. Iran’s geographical isolation meant that
Europeans needed to cover some 10,000 miles to reach it, and Iranian cit-
ies were between 1,500 and 2,000 miles from Russia’s economic centers.
Iran’s mostly arid and mountainous landscape was inhospitable to travel-
ing traders and the absence of navigable rivers severely limited communi-
cations throughout the country (the same factor contributed to the Iranian
governments’ failure to subdue disorder or banditry in the countryside,
hence the fear of instability put foreigners on their guard). Because there
was no sizeable non-Muslim minority population that was socially inclined
to study abroad, new means and techniques to improve the Iranians’ lot
58 The Iranian State and Religion

were slow to develop and perhaps limited to those brought home by a few
Muslim Iranians who had been educated in Europe. Finally, the Anglo-
Russian rivalry did not allow either power to successfully establish a robust
business from which Iran could benefit. If anything, this rivalry contrib-
uted to Iran’s weakened position in trade.8
The absence of a trade-friendly infrastructure was one of the main
factors that hindered Iran’s economic progress. It was not until 1872 that
Nasir al-Din Shah granted his first major Iranian concession to Julius
Reuter, which included laying the country’s first railroad tracks. But after
the shah cancelled Reuter’s contract, neither Great Britain nor the Rus-
sian Empire succeeded in building a rail system in Iran for the better
part of the nineteenth century; the Belgians and the French also failed
to accomplish the same. On the eve of the Constitutional Revolution in
1906 just a few hundred miles of railroad had been constructed in Iran,
which could not connect its vast landscape.9
When Europeans compared Iran with other Middle Eastern countries
they realized the scope of the difficulties that its lack of infrastructure pre-
sented to trade, including the absence of an effective railroad system. In
Turkey over 3,500 km (a little over 2,000 miles) of track, and an astound-
ing 56,000 km (close to 35,000 miles) in India, connected the vast regions
of those countries.10 Furthermore, a lack of seaports on the shores of the
Persian Gulf or the Caspian Sea with connections to the interior led to
greater isolation of the inland urban centers of Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad,
and Tabriz.
The Russian British rivalry impacted the Iranian economy in various
ways. For example, beginning in the 1870s the British opened up access to
southwest Iran via the Karun River. Only two decades before they decided
to invest in opening the Karun River, the British had boasted in 1850 that
they had “monopolized the trade” in Iran: their products were basically the
only foreign (Western) merchandise sold in Iranian markets.11 British prod-
ucts provided the bulk of the goods that Iranians consumed by the 1850s
to the 1860s and, in return, the British bought one-half of Iran’s exports.
Conversely, Iranians imported one-third of their products from Russia, and
in turn the czarist state bought less than one-tenth of Iran’s imports, plac-
ing the British clearly on top of the foreign trade chart with Iran.12
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 59

However, with the expansion of Russia’s political power and the dawn
of better routes and steamers in the Caspian Sea, the British began to lose
their economic edge, hence their decision to open up the Karun River for
easy access to the interior of Iran (especially Esfahan) from the Persian Gulf
port city of Bushehr. It is poignant that while the Russians and the Brit-
ish competed against each other, they equally worried that the opening of
Karun would also help Iranian merchants, and neither could readily accept
such an unintended benefit to others.13 A notable point about the success
of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff—the British agent designated to make the
dream of opening up the Karun a reality—is that as he successfully carved
out the southwestern region of Iran economically, by 1908 the Russians
obtained similar results in the north of Iran. These imperial rivalries had
long-term consequences that were not immediately felt. Slowly, improve-
ments in communication and transportation allowed Iranians to take part
in a regional economy that connected them with their northern neighbor:
Russia created and introduced steam-powered boats on the Volga River,
thus forging a connection to Iran via the Caspian Sea.14
In addition to trains and boats, the introduction of the telegraph,
beginning in 1860, became an essential part of the modernization of
Iran’s infrastructure. The first long-distance telegraph line connected
Tehran with Tabriz. As Tabriz was connected with Julfa in Armenia, the
opportunity presented itself for the whole rig to be linked with the Rus-
sian network. From a different direction, three years later, the British con-
nected the Ottoman Empire with their holdings on the Subcontinent, via
Karachi, when they set up an elaborate network in Iran. By the 1880s, Iran
enjoyed some 4,000 miles of telegraph lines, which facilitated a friendlier
environment for trade.15 It was not only the merchants and traders who
benefited from this innovation; the telegraph also enabled religious lead-
ers in Iran to stay in touch with high-ranking ulama living in Iraq, which
became relatively important during the Constitutional Revolution.
Despite the paucity of reliable data we are aware that agriculture was
Iran’s primary economic engine in the nineteenth century.16 At the end
of the nineteenth century, Iran remained an “agrarian capitalist state.”17
The isolation of cities and villages in a society that was linguistically
diverse can be viewed as an added challenge to a full reconfiguration of its
60 The Iranian State and Religion

infrastructure.18 In the 1800s, aside from agricultural production for native

consumption and export, traditional handicrafts composed the larger part
of Iran’s exports.19 Leather goods from Mashhad and Hamadan, for exam-
ple, along with Persian rugs from across the entire country but especially
from Tabriz, had all found their way into foreign markets by the 1870s. As
steam-powered navigation became possible, Britain and Russia invested in
industries and factories in Iran, employing local laborers.20 Whereas Ira-
nian trade agents took the responsibility for native work at the beginning
of the 1800s, Europeans made up the majority of agents by the mid-1800s
with a steady increase until World War I.21
However, the traditional handicraft-manufacturing segment suffered
profoundly when European goods found their way into the Iranian mar-
ket.22 Until the middle of the nineteenth century, imports and exports
seem to have been fairly balanced, but after that foreign imports out-
weighed Iranian exports, and by the twentieth century they did so by some
30 to 50 percent, leaving Iranians even further from reaching a suitable
economic recovery.23
Yet some progress was made in total capital, of which only a few people
took advantage through international business. There was some improve-
ment but it was not considerable enough to make long-lasting changes.24

The Ulama and the State Economy

What happened economically to Iran and its merchants directly impacted

the religious establishment and its endowments. The ulama were funded
by the income generated by these endowments as well as religious taxes
and donations for shrines and mosques. Various obligatory taxes such as
zakat (paid by Muslims who were left with a surplus) and khums (specific
to Shi‘ites) were based on a percentage of the total earned income of an
individual. Successful merchants naturally paid a lot more and their dona-
tions to the endowments were just as substantial as their taxes. This source
of revenue kept the ulama financially independent of the state, although
part of the funds went to sustaining the poor and students at the semi-
naries.25 Some lands that were part of the endowments of holy shrines,
such as the one attached to Imam Riza’s shrine at Mashhad, were quite
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 61

prosperous,26 and powerful mujtahids competed against one another for

control over them.27 Because revenues from these holdings were essential
for the ulama, any threat to them vis-à-vis state takeovers or decreased
donations from the public, including those made by merchants, or any
reformist scheme that would lower revenues, guaranteed a response from
clerics.28 High-ranking ulama were alert to any plan that they perceived as
an imminent threat to their financial stability.29
Although the ulama did not have a monopoly on controlling the
endowments (the Qajars claimed a certain responsibility for their protec-
tion),30 this was only one channel through which the ulama sustained
themselves31 and they could always depend on those who paid their reli-
gious taxes. The dominant European economic presence and activity in
Iran naturally weakened the ulama’s income, since the bazaaris, who were
major financial supporters of the ulama in Iran and Iraq, contributed less in
taxes and donations to the Shi‘ite establishment. Therefore, when Iranian
merchants took their grievances to their spiritual leaders, complaining that
the state was injuring their economic well-being by granting concessions
to foreigners (such as the tobacco concession of 1890) or giving preference
to non-Iranian merchants and merchandise, the ulama heeded their com-
plaints and used their clerical status and respect in society to challenge the
state.32 Because part of the money that the ulama received funded Shi‘ite
tullab in the seminaries and was distributed among the needy, they in
turn supported the ulama in whatever cause they deemed prudent. The
ulama presented the merchants’ grievances to the state based on the doc-
trine of justice and the mandate to fight against injustice, and thus united
with the business sector; in this way the masses were brought under the
financial or religious influence of the clerics (see chapter 5).
Iran’s economy suffered badly during the rule of the Qajars in the
nineteenth century, including throughout Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign, prin-
cipally because of the rising economic power of the West and its control
over the rest of the world.33 Although Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign was filled
with contradictory actions that were at times both harmful and beneficial
to Iran’s growth, it provided the necessary environment for Iran to have
the possibility of becoming a nation governed by laws rather than arbitrary
rule. Iran in the final decades of the nineteenth century was noticeably
62 The Iranian State and Religion

different from a century earlier, when Aqa Muhammad Khan’s major chal-
lenge was to unite the fragmented regions and effectively expand his rule
over them. By the time of Nasir al-Din Shah’s death in 1896, corruption,
nepotism, and despotism plagued the Qajar royal court and everyone vied
for power and influence that could easily be obtained for the right price.

The Perception of Law as a Panacea

Merchants of varying financial strength were disenchanted by the arbitrary

rule of the shahs. The sheer inconsistency of the shah’s economic decisions
was attributed to the lack of any legal recourse to challenge the state’s fiscal
policy. Certainly some merchants, such as Amin al-Darb, profited hand-
somely from exporting opium to Hong Kong, but the problem was that the
shah expected a share of his hefty profits, and the profits of others like al-
Darb.34 Additionally, when the wave of concessions swamped the Iranian
economy in the second half of the nineteenth century, many Iranians felt
disenfranchised by the shah’s arbitrary granting of preferential arrangements
to foreign agents and concluded that the absence of laws or accountability in
this process was perhaps the main reason for their lack of economic progress.
This difficult situation was compounded by the shahs’ patriarchal
role, which created an environment in which individual or collective col-
laboration among the public in any project was weakened. It is ironic that
the shahs’ absolute, tyrannical, patriarchal, and patrimonial rule was not
used to bring about more and faster reforms that could assist the public.35
Everyone who expected assistance from the state was disappointed; the
shah was indisposed to delivering any favorable solutions.
It was during Nasir al-Din Shah’s rule that Mirza Yusuf Khan, the
author of Yik Kalimih, pointed out the importance of laws in creating an
organized and responsible nation. Written in 1870, around the time that
Mirza Hussayn Khan became Nasir al-Din Shah’s reformist premier, Yik
Kalimih claimed that a society based on laws had precedent in Iranian cul-
ture because shari‘a functioned on the same model, although the major
difference between the two was that the source of shari‘a is God and the
Qur’an, whereas the source of secular law is the people. Many Iranians
became aware that lawlessness kept them from progressing and that they
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 63

had to assemble in order to make laws that could help them secure a better
future, just as the Europeans had done.36
The more Iranian modernists compared their nation with Europe the
more the ulama became concerned about the nature and future of this
turn to Europe; some took it as an apparent threat to Islam and Iran as
a Muslim nation. We must remember that because Iran had lost consid-
erable territories in the Caucasus to Russia during Fath Ali Shah’s rule,
the ulama had grown weary and fearful of any move that would enhance
European presence in society.
The constitutionalist discourse challenged two key Iranian institu-
tions: the state’s absolutist power and the religious establishment’s influ-
ence in politics and society. However, little did the constitutionalists
realize or want to admit that because religion had such deep roots in soci-
ety, their ideas of liberty, individuality, and justice would not take hold in
the populace if they sidelined religion or its protectors (the ulama).
The greatest challenge that the constitutionalists faced was the domi-
neering character of Shi‘ism, which they wished to eclipse with individual
freedom. The animosity created between pro-constitutionalists and the
anti-constitutionalist ulama (see chapter 10) created a milieu that, were
it not for the support of Khurasani, would have delayed the prospects of
constitutionalism for some time.
Mirza Yusuf Khan’s ideas were reflected in Malkam Khan’s newspaper
Qanun, published in London between 1890 and 1906. He too expressed
the urgency of establishing secular law, which he saw as the only cure for
the ailments of Iranian society. In one issue Qanun urged the adoption of
laws by appealing directly to the injustices that many Iranians endured
daily, arguing that if they had been wronged and if they were human and
could not endure such injustices, they must “demand law,” because only
through this could they attain their full rights as human beings.37
After thirteen hundred years of the supremacy of divine law, which
precluded the participation of anyone other than untrained jurists save
at the point of its being administered, the idea of a process in which the
populace could promulgate legislation was considered a threat to Islam
and its laws; the ulama therefore felt that they had no choice but to oppose
it. Without Islam, the ulama’s position would become obsolete. The
64 The Iranian State and Religion

modernists’ opposition to the institution of shari‘a, and their preference for

constitutionalism, created an animosity that the religious establishment
did not forgive; as a result, the ulama tried in earnest to destroy constitu-
tionalism in Iran altogether, as we will see in chapter 10.

Historical Background on Law or Qanun

in the Iranian-Islamic Context

Shi‘ite clerics controlled and administered shari‘a with their own courts,
which made up half of the Iranian judicial system. Customary law—or
‘urf—that the shah, his governors, and representatives administered made
up the other half. The division between the two was intentionally kept
obscure, especially under Nasir al-Din Shah, so that he could continue
his arbitrary policies without challenge from either judiciary.38 Sometimes
the tribes enjoyed the freedom to practice their own customary laws, and
this, naturally, added to the complexity of Iranian politics.
Iranian intellectual discourse, however, turned to constitutionalism,
and the idea of achieving popular sovereignty through a constitutional
form of government gained momentum. The intellectual class searched
for solutions to redress Iran’s sociopolitical and economic upheavals,
in light of the rule of the Qajars and heightened foreign hegemony. It
is important to explore when and where the term “constitution,” as an
Anglo-French substitution for the term qanun-i asasi (fundamental law),
found its way into the Iranian political lexicon to become an ultimate
objective for its supporters. Certainly we know that Iranians borrowed the
term ganun-i assasi from the Ottomans sometime in the nineteenth cen-
tury,39 but the idea of law had a longer precedent in Iranian history and
functioned in a different context.
The concept of “common law” as established in England, for exam-
ple, was absent in Iran. During the first period of Islamic civilization (ca.
660s to 950s), the term qanun (law) was used almost exclusively by the
administrative bureaucracy and those involved in the financial affairs of
the caliphates, who were independent of shari‘a.40 In the case of Iran it is
probable that, after Shi‘ism became the official religion at the beginning
of the sixteenth century, the term did not become institutionalized in its
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 65

fullest context as it had in Istanbul during the Ottoman era,41 because the
Ottomans had existed for over a century before the Safavids. However,
we should be mindful that one of the early Safavid rulers, Shah Tahmasp
I (1524–1576), had issued a decree pertaining to the rule of law in Ayin-i
Shah Tahmasp (Rules of Shah Tahmasp).42 Furthermore, concurrent with
the age of modernity and the increasing influence of Europeans in Iran,
the term qanun was perceived to mean official state laws that were inde-
pendent of the religious establishment, and that, incidentally, paved the
way for Western laws to become more pertinent, functional, and apparent
in discussions of the formation of Iran’s judicial structure later on.43 The
concept of “Western law” in Iran manifested itself mostly in the constitu-
tion of 1906, as explained below. But before turning to the events of the
Revolution, we should take a brief look at the end of Nasir al-Din Shah’s
rule and the beginning of his son’s reign.

Muzaffar al-Din Shah

On May 1, 1896 the longest–ruling Qajar monarch, Nasir al-Din Shah,

was shot and killed by an extremist follower of Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asad-
abadi.44 Preparing to celebrate his golden jubilee on the Peacock Throne
earlier that day, Nasir al-Din Shah had left the Gulistan palace in Tehran
for a short visit to the shrine of Abdul-‘Azim in the south of the city at Ray,
but he never returned to complete the celebrations. A single shot by a dis-
traught revolutionary ended the shah’s life.
Nasir al-Din Shah’s son and successor Muzaffar al-Din Shah could
not have been more different from his father. Whereas the energetic Nasir
al-Din took time to manage the affairs of state—albeit ineffectively at
times—Muzaffar al-Din was sickly, lazy, and uninterested in such mat-
ters. As he was swiftly escorted from Azerbaijan to the capital to take the
crown, more lawlessness gripped the nation, thus destabilizing it further.45
It is also during this period that Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani
became the sole Source of Emulation in the Shi‘ite world. By 1896, a year
after the death of Mirza Hassan Shirazi, the previous Source of Emulation
and author of the tobacco concession fatwa, Khurasani had firmly taken
his place, and although he was no politician, his keen attention to the
66 The Iranian State and Religion

events taking place in Iran made him an exceptional character who played
the essential part of being a responsible and pragmatic spiritual leader. As
will be discussed in Part Two, Khurasani’s career as the preeminent leader
of the Shi‘ite community began with the serious upheavals in Iran even
before the Constitutional Revolution got fully underway, and ended at the
conclusion of the Revolution in December 1911.
Put together, the remaining Qajar shahs who followed Nasir al-Din—
including Muzaffar al-Din Shah, Muhammad Ali Shah, and Ahmad
Shah—served a little more than half of his time on the throne. However,
those decades between 1896 and 1925 were anything but uneventful. As
Muzaffar al-Din Mirza was crowned, Iran entered a phase in which a
new fight for a constitutional monarchy would prove powerful enough to
make him agree to the establishment of the first Iranian parliament before
his ten-year anniversary as the fifth Qajar shah. A sickly but kind indi-
vidual,46 and to all intents and purposes uninterested in national politics,
Muzaffar al-Din Shah lacked not only experience in statecraft47 but also
his fathers’ royal aura and the repressive methods48 to counter objections
to his rule. He proved to be a force not hard to reckon with. The over-
bearing foreign presence in Iran that affected the country socially, politi-
cally, and economically throughout the nineteenth century continued to
contribute to its dismal conditions at the start of the twentieth century.
That by itself presented the biggest challenge for Iranians who pursued
key reforms that included the establishment of a parliament in order to
draft a constitution.49
The new monarch asked Russia for loans to finance three European
trips in 1900, 1902, and 1905.50 That request not only harmed Iran’s eco-
nomic prospects but also ultimately increased the influence of foreign
powers. As Iran sought more Russian aid, Britain was slowly sidelined and
the czarist government became Iran’s only creditor. That meant further
outside control and degradation of the local economy. To make matters
worse, the proceeds of the newly organized customs offices in Kerman-
shah and Azerbaijan under the management of a Belgian national, Joseph
Naus, were placed as collateral against the loans. Rampant lawlessness
and high inflation left the shah with no choice but to change one chief
minister after another, but to no avail.
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 67

During Muzaffar al-Din Shah’s rule, the idea of more freedom in a

political system that would contain the ruler’s limitless powers gave more
impetus to an already aggrieved society to seek a viable remedy. Simply
put, it led to the Constitutional Revolution soon after the start of the new
century, but there was much more yet to unfold before that auspicious
Some scholars claim that the final event that triggered the Iranian
Constitutional Revolution was the czarist army’s defeat in the Russo-Jap-
anese War (1905), which shattered the myth of the might of the Russian
Empire.51 A Far Eastern power had finally risen to defeat the menacing
Russian Army. This defeat allowed Muslim intellectuals from Egypt to
Iran, who were aware of the developments, to interpret the Japanese vic-
tory as indicative of what they themselves could achieve. They failed to
recognize that Japan was bound by its own traditions and had experienced
its own period of reform and modernization. The context of its winning
a war against Russia was different from that of the Muslim states of the
Middle East.
No one expressed the hope for a free society better than the Persian-
speaking Caucasian intellectual Abdul-Rahim Talibov, who played a part
in the general awakening of the Iranians and in the expression of their
hopes for a modernized and progressive government and society.52 Talibov
was among the Iranian modernists who explained what the democratic
aspirations of the revolution were and how he perceived the freedoms that
guaranteed such aspirations. He divided the concept of “freedom” into
six categories. He defined individual freedom (azadi-yi fardi), freedom of
ideas (azadi-yi ‘aqayid), freedom of expression (azadi-yi qaul), freedom of
the press (azadi-yi matbu‘at), social freedom (azadi-yi ‘ijtimai), and free-
dom of choice (azadi-yi intikhab) separately.53 Talibov had a sober under-
standing of these freedoms, as is evident in the following. Talibov’s ideas,
taken collectively, showed a belief in the attributes of a free society that are
common in the West today. However, what makes for an interesting com-
parison is his view of the freedom of ideas. He declared his commitment
to social mores and accepted values that already existed within Iranian
society. He specified conditions for the freedom of ideas; an idea was to be
dismissed if it was corrupt or depraved. He equated the freedom of ideas to
68 The Iranian State and Religion

individual freedom, which should be kept private and which others could
not be forced to like if they were disinclined. The collection of Talibov’s
thoughts about freedom solidified the basis of the Constitutional Revolu-
tion around the notion that individual participation in the future of Iran
was tangible.
Aside from intellectual debates about constitutionalism, the public
at large, including business owners, took drastic measures and organized
various strikes. Before Muzaffar al-Din Shah signed the constitutional
decree on August 2, 1906, a combination of three separate strikes and
protests in March and December 1905 and in the summer of 1906 proved
somewhat effective. But before these strikes began, the general yearning
for modernization and reform in politics and society found its full voice in
the alliance of different Iranian groups composed of merchants (including
Armenians and Zoroastrians), ulama (traditionalist, progressive, and radi-
cal), and members of the secret societies.54
The inflated prices of everything, including staple foods such as sugar
and wheat, created chaos in Iran. Rampant inflation resulted from the
Russian defeat by Japan, and by the October Revolution of 1905, which
sowed anxiety in the minds of many Iranians over the future of Iran.
The caning of some notable businessmen for raising the price of sugar
in December 190555 and the attack launched against clerics of Kerman,
Shiraz, and Tehran by the state, in addition to the ulama taking sanc-
tuary or staging a sit-in (bast-nishini) at the Shah Abdul-‘Azim shrine in
December 1905, all led to pressures that Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who was
suffering from gout at the time, could not resist. The situation turned
more serious when the government directly threatened the ulama and
the seminary students.56 From the perspective of the ulama, the impious
and unsavory attitude of Muzaffar al-Din Shah and his prime minister
‘Ain al-Daulih exacerbated the tense situation to the point of open strug-
gle between the state and the pro-constitutionalist faction of the clerical
establishment. During the sit-in of the ulama at the shrine, letters were
distributed and sent to the shah. A wish list compiled by the protestors
finally made its way to the royal palace; in it the request for a “house of
justice” (‘adalat khanih) clearly put the shah on the spot and forced him to
make a decision. Some scholars argue that members of the secret societies
Unhappy Merchants and Revolution for Law 69

added that specific request after the ulama had signed the letter and when
it was on its way to the shah. Whether the demand for royal permission
to establish a constituent assembly was originally sought by the ulama, or
whether the members of the secret societies added it on, is not relevant for
now. What is important is that the members of the pro-constitutionalist
ulama did not object to it when it arrived on the shah’s desk. The ulama’s
support for the list of demands provided the opportunity for the establish-
ment of a parliament and the drafting of a constitution in the weeks that
followed. Muzaffar al-Din Shah agreed to the terms specifically calling for
the establishment of a national assembly.

Establishment of the Parliament and Muhammad Ali Shah

When the parliament officially opened its first session on October 7, 1906,
it needed procedural by-laws to be enacted.57 Hence, the highest priority at
that time was “drafting rules of parliamentary procedures and organizing
[the] majlis’s internal structure [and] responsibilities.”58 The difficult task
of drafting the constitution came second. On October 18, 1906, parlia-
ment presented Muzaffar al-Din Shah with a hastily written outline of the
charter, which he flatly rejected. Finally, a few days before his death on
January 9, 1907, he signed another version of the charter that was some-
times referred to as Nizam-namih, Nizam-namih-yi Asasi, or Kitabchih.
What Muzaffar al-Din Shah signed on December 30, 1906 was not a
“systematic” legal document, but it served its purpose in stating a clear
method for administering the law, and it also set limitations and condi-
tions on how the two chambers should interact. After that, in February
1907, a new committee composed of prominent nonclerical constitution-
alists, including Sayyid Hassan Taqizadih (1878–1970), was formed.59 The
committee eventually used the 1831 Belgian constitution as a model for
drafting the preamble to their own.60 The new monarch, Muhammad Ali
Shah, finally signed what became Iran’s first constitution in October 1907.
The events demonstrate that Iranians were ill prepared for drafting a
general rule of law and therefore had to rely on, and borrow from, nations
that had a constitution. Malkam Khan’s suggestion that Iranians take
Western concepts to heart is quite evident in this episode of their history
70 The Iranian State and Religion

when they adopted European ideas as a medium through which they

could reform and modernize their own society and government.
There were fifty-one articles in the 1906 constitution.61 Whereas arti-
cles 12, 31, 32, 41, 46, and 48 resembled the Belgian constitution, articles
13, 18, 23, 25, and 42 were similar to the Bulgarian constitution of 1879.62
The latter had created a framework for change in the principality of Bul-
garia and had paved the way for a liberal government that separated its
powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. As far as
the composition of the members of parliament was concerned, the lower
house was made up of 162 representatives from Tehran and the provinces,
who were elected for a two-year term.
The first session of the assembly was interrupted when Muhammad
Ali Shah ordered its bombardment on June 23, 1908. Parliament was then
held in exile in Tabriz for around a year and a half before it reopened its
second session on November 15, 1909, abruptly closing again in Decem-
ber 1911 (see Chronology). Akhund Khurasani’s active involvement as a
pro-constitutionalist began before 1906, but it was during the closure of
parliament and its second session that he dealt with many aspects of the
institution that were new to Iranians.
Next we turn to Shi‘ism and its pertinent institutions as another
important factor in the success and failure of the Constitutional Revolu-
tion. Shi‘ism presented serious challenges to the establishment of consti-
tutionalism that only the active role of pro-constitutionalist ulama such as
Khurasani could help sustain.
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions
of Leadership

Some Iranian scholars have identified Shi‘ism as a factor responsible for

Iran’s slow progress toward modernization and reform in the nineteenth
century.1 Although Shi‘ite clerics have set social mores and moral stan-
dards in different periods of Iranian history, their recent political activity
has generated frequently pessimistic public feeling regarding their role as
protectors of Islam and Iranians. In its severest form, criticism of Shi‘ism
and its clerics has turned into anti-Islamic sentiment and has created a
sense of paranoia about anything related to it. Discussion of any subject
that includes Islam or the ulama usually ignites a reaction that is beneath
scholarship and professional argument.
Even for scholars, differentiating between what is Shi‘ite (in a reli-
gious sense) and what is Iranian (in a secular sense) is difficult because
they have become inextricably linked in common perceptions. It is the
combination of the two that constitutes Iranian culture today. Iran’s pre-
Islamic dynasties, such as the Achaemenid (550–330 BC), Parthian (220
BC–220 CE), and especially Sasanian (251–651 CE), doubtless provided
a solid foundation for Iran’s development, or lack thereof, after Islam was
adopted. Similarly, the pre-Islamic dynasties influenced Iran’s Islamic
heritage, which includes key contributions by Iranians, specifically in
“religious thought, political theory and practice, administrative models,
literature, the sciences, and morals and manners.”2 By the same token, it
should not surprise those who are well informed about Iran’s pre-Islamic
history that the power wielded by the Shi‘ite ulama from the sixteenth
century to the present is a continuation of the sociopolitical and economic
72 The Iranian State and Religion

power, and status, that the Zoroastrian priests (mobeds) enjoyed over the
Iranian imperial court. The power of Zoroastrian priests expanded over
time and their importance was noticeable on the eve of the Muslim Arab
conquest in the mid-seventh century.
Regardless of any of these arguments, in order to appreciate Khurasani’s
pro-constitutionalist position during the Iranian Constitutional Revolu-
tion, it is important to understand the general history of Shi‘ism and the
doctrines and major institutions, such as ijtihad and the ulama, that gave
the ulama—or Khurasani—the power and prestige they enjoyed.
Before discussing Shi‘ism and the ulama, and their political power
and connection with the state, we need to recognize that their actions in
Iran after the Islamic conquest did not happen in a vacuum but followed
historical precedent that dated back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past. Hence we
begin with a brief history of Iran’s pre-Islamic imperial political relation-
ship with the Zoroastrian priesthood, which provides the necessary back-
ground to understand that the ulama established their relationship with
the Safavid and the later Qajar shahs on an age-old tradition.

Pre-Islamic Iran and the Champions of Religion

Most of the written material about Shi‘ism and the Shi‘ite clerics who
influenced state power during different stages of Iranian history does not
explain its deep-rooted foundation in pre-Islamic Iran. This section should
not be construed as filling that void. A history of the pre-Islamic Zoroas-
trian priesthood or the religious influence of Zoroastrianism in the Sasa-
nian imperial government deserves serious scholarship by experts in that
field. But before examining Shi‘ism’s most important institutions, namely,
the Imamate and the ulama, it is imperative to discuss Iran’s pre-Islamic
religious-political traditions, which might have continued after Iranians
adopted Islam and which might have influenced Perso-Islamic history in
the early and middle Islamic periods. Four hundred years of Sasanian
history before the advent of Islam in the seventh century cannot, natu-
rally, be ignored; nor can anyone seriously deny that in Islamic-era Iran
all of Iran’s pre-Islamic institutions were eliminated with the Muslim Arab
conquest. The relationship of Iranian institutions to religion and politics,
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 73

granting a degree of uncertainty about the continuity of pre-Islamic Ira-

nian traditions into its Islamic period, is but one of the many subjects in
Iranian studies that is underexamined.
As a general theory it is well known that not all Islamic institutions
and concepts originated from Islam, its founder, or his successors. With
“discreet, ad hoc, references to the Koran” and the Hadith, some institu-
tions continued their pre-Islamic traditions, and the ulama, as an institu-
tion, is one of them.3 However, a full appreciation of Iran’s pre-Islamic
traditions and an understanding of its many concepts, including the rela-
tionship between religion and kingship (Zoroastrianism and the imperial
government), has been the subject of debates that scholars admit have not
yielded a generally accepted conclusion.4
To begin with, it was Ma’mun, the seventh Abbasid caliph (r. 813–
833), who brought up the question of which institution—kingship or reli-
gion—bore more weight and credibility. Most of Ma’mun’s biographers
have tried in earnest to depict the caliph as a king rather than an “imam
al-huda,” or the rightly guided leader, and indeed he ruled more like a
king than a Muslim caliph.5 In a conversation with Ibn Abi Tahir, who
became profoundly upset at the way in which the caliph’s servant ignored
him, Ma’mun reiterates that as a ruler he cannot be as upset as Ibn Abi
Tahir because he (Ma’mun) possesses the “matter of kings,” and kings
are not troubled by such mundane issues such as disobedience from a
servant. In other words, a king possessing natural royal senses could not
be provoked or upset by the simplemindedness of the commoner. How-
ever, Ibn Abi Tahir does not agree and professes that the caliph represents
more than kings or “prophets for that matter.”6 One can argue that this
event was a precursor to the development of a strong relationship between
the ruler and religion that emanated from the prestige of the position of
the king.
The most pointed of all statements regarding the relationship between
kingship and religion is that of the early Islamic historian Abdul-Hassan
Ali Ibn Hussayn Ibn Ali al-Mas‘udi (895–957 CE). Al-Mas‘udi quoted the
founder of the Sasanian empire, Ardishir, who believed “religion and king-
ship are two ‘brothers,’ and neither can dispense with the other.” Similarly,
“religion is the foundation of kingship and kingship protects religions.”7
74 The Iranian State and Religion

In the seventh century there are similar statements attesting to the

same belief in this relationship, which only manifests the general under-
standing of a pre-Islamic relationship between religion and kingship in
Denkard Book 9 and the Zand-i Wahman Yasn.8 In these Zoroastrian
texts, which narrate the calamities that were brought on the clerical class
after the introduction of Islam in Iran, we understand how the Zoroastrian
clergy lost their state sponsorship with the fall of the Sasanian empire.
Furthermore, we realize how, in accordance with the elimination of that
sponsorship, the priestly class was also relieved of its “ecclesiastical land
holdings,” from which they received income. The combination of these
two losses demonstrates the existence of a strong bond between the state
and religion, or sponsorship by the former of the latter, and that the land
holdings of the Zoroastrian religious establishment were similar to the
same institutions in the Islamic tradition, namely waqf (see chapter 5).
Despite disagreements among specialists in the field, it is accepted
that Zoroastrian priests (generally called mobeds) were ritual specialists
and “functionaries, advisers to the king, dream-interpreters, diviners, etc.”9
Various Sasanian sources attest that there existed a hierarchy of Zoro-
astrian priests who had responsibilities extending from the local admin-
istration of religious law regarding marriage and commerce to the actual
duty of making laws in their capacity as high-ranking jurists who decided
the juridical fate of members of the Sasanian community. Additionally,
the chief of the priests served as a special adviser to the king.
The magi (as Zoroastrian priests are referred to in Western scholar-
ship) are believed to have been sages who were the privileged “guardians
of Oriental wisdom.” Dating as far back as the beginning of the Ach-
aemenid period between 559 and 331 BCE, their function was limited
to the supervision of sacrifices, the recitation of the “theogonies” of the
Avesta—the Zoroastrian scripture—and they also presided over rituals for
the dead.10 As Zoroastrianism became the official religion of the Persian
empires beginning with the Achaemenids and ending with the Sasanians
between 225 and 651 CE, its priests grew in importance and their institu-
tions lasted over a millennium, until the Muslim Arab Conquest in the
seventh century. The famous Zoroastrian high priest Kerdir, scholars note,
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 75

began his ascendance to powerful positions when he formed “an ecclesias-

tical hierarchy and organization.”11
During Sasanian rule, Zoroastrianism not only flourished but also
gained enough power to support a “rigorous division of society into castes”
(peshag) that placed priests and nobles above artisans and peasants. It
appears that during the reigns of Ardishir Papagan (224–240 CE) and Sha-
pur I (240–272 CE), there was a concerted effort by Sasanian rulers to
theologically and administratively unify their empire. To do this, Ardishir
sanctioned a “ritual priest” (herbed) named Tansar, who successfully estab-
lished “a new canon of authoritative scriptures” by purging the existing
heterodoxy. This effectively created a theological monopoly for the priest
to interpret Zoroastrian sources by declaring himself infallible. To enhance
and expand religious power, Ardishir and Tansar built more sacred fire
altars, by means of which they propagated a cultlike uniformity.12
It was Kerdir who effectively had the most ecclesiastical authority
beginning in Shapur I’s reign and lasting until Wahram III, during which
reign (after 293) he attained “supreme” religious authority at all levels.
Some scholars even estimate his powers to be no less than equal to the
royal command,13 as is attested in several locations, including Shapur I’s
relief at Naqsh-i Rustam.14
Based on studies conducted on royal seals and documents from the
Sasanian era, it has been established as fact that several high-level titles,
whose bearers occupied prominent positions, composed part of that
dynasty’s governmental structure. Of these positions the shahrab (provin-
cial governor), the mog or mow (priest), and the mogbed (chief priest) are
among the most important. The large quantity of these seals belonging to
the mog is evidence of the important role they played in a society in which
Zoroastrianism overshadowed the state from as far back as the fourth cen-
tury. Additionally, the great number of mog seals further attests to the
“importance of this office for the bureaucracy of the state, as well as the
temple economy.”15 The relationship of those in charge of the religious
establishment to the economic system is also noticeable. In addition to
the mog, the mogbed over time became powerful enough to take charge
of provinces; according to Byzantine sources, they were so powerful that
76 The Iranian State and Religion

“all public business” was “conducted at their discretion and in accordance

with their prognostications.” No litigant or party involved in a dispute
could ignore them because of their juridical control within the imperial
government.16 According to Armenian sources, “the Sasanians governed
their empire by the religion of mog.”17
The historical origin of temporary marriage (mut‘a in Arabic or sighah
in Persian), which is predominantly practiced in Iran, has received some
scholarly attention.18 As discussed by one scholar, the amount of evidence
in late antiquity Iranian sources, recorded in Pahlavi, makes it difficult to
deny obvious similarities between the practice of temporary marriage in
contemporary Iran and its pre-Islamic Sasanian predecessor.19
History reveals the possibility of influential pre-Islamic traditions, in-
cluding a symbiotic relationship between the state and the religious estab-
lishment, that have continued and evolved in Iran under Islamic periods,
and it is in this context that I shall discuss the ulama and the Imamate.

The Birth of the Ulama

Shi‘ism has been called a “religion of protest”20 because it was founded in

the struggle to create what its adherents believed to be a legitimate Islamic
rule after Muhammad’s death. Its quest for authority was struck down from
the start and one can safely argue that until the sixteenth century it had not
fully realized its full potential. To unravel the complexity of the struggle for
legitimate Islamic authority, we should revisit Islam’s early years.
At the time of Muhammad’s death (10 HQ/632), the issue of succes-
sion was not easily resolved among Muslims.21 After Muhammad’s death,
a council (shura) of elders that included companions of Muhammad who
aided him in his struggle from the time he claimed he was the messenger
of God, through hijra, passed over Ali rather than electing him successor
to Muhammad.22 Ali subsequently left his ancestral Hijaz for Iraq and
settled in the town of Kufa. He was elected caliph (656–661) only after two
decades had passed, during which time three caliphs ruled the Muslim
community. It was only after the murder of the third caliph, Uthman, by
a group of distraught Muslims that Ali was elected leader, but his position
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 77

was already in jeopardy by the time he took over.23 The Umayyads, who
were from the same tribe as Muhammad but of a different clan, chal-
lenged Ali’s rule. They refused to accept his authority, and the head of the
Umayyads, Mu‘awiyah, declared himself the new caliph in Jerusalem in
the summer of 660. After Ali had fought a number of bitter battles against
his enemies, his short rule ended when one of his disillusioned followers
murdered him on Ramadan 21, 40 HQ/January 31, 661.
Over time, Ali’s rule and eventual murder served as a starting point
for the creation of the Shi‘ite sect, which effectively divided the Muslim
community. Ali’s leadership and assassination provided a suitable politi-
cal state of affairs to allow the Shi‘ites to separate themselves from the
Muslim community; in the span of a couple of hundred years, this sepa-
ration led to the formation of Twelver Shi‘ism, which venerated the next
eleven direct descendants of Ali and Fatimah, ending with Muhammad
al-Mahdi (the twelfth Imam).24
One should note that it was more than the actual details of the lives
of the twelve Imams that was important in helping future followers form
an ideology soaked in lamentation for the oppressed (as the Imams were).
The conviction of believers that the twelve Imams are infallible and pos-
sess the power to naturally understand divine revelation has made the
Imams historically significant. Hence the ulama used a modified version
of the very thing that the devout credited the Imams with (understand-
ing divine revelation through education), and this allowed them to evolve
when they took over the responsibility of the Imams as leaders of the com-
munity. The Sunni-Shi‘ite separation is not only about how two distinct
groups were created; it is also the story of how one leader succeeded in
forming a body of all-knowing individuals who later became sources of
law in the Shi‘ite tradition, and that is what has benefitted the mujtahids.
The stories of Ali’s sons and their descendants resemble one another
in that none could successfully become an effective ruler of the Muslim
community. The end of the life of Ali’s second son Hussayn and those
of his family in the seventh century highlights the concept of “right over
wrong” or “justice over injustice,” and thus formed the Shi‘ites’ ideo-
logical inspiration; it was facilely utilized even after the birth of modern
78 The Iranian State and Religion

ideologies such as nineteenth-century nationalism. The Umayyads killed

Hussayn after Hassan, Ali’s eldest son, refused to involve himself in poli-
tics. Hussayn’s slaying in the Battle of Karbala (Muharram 10, 61 HQ/
October 13, 680) sealed the political fate of those Imams who came after
him. Because he was buried on the plains of Karbala, 50 miles north of
his father’s burial site in Najaf, the two cities over time became spiritual
and ritual centers for devout Shi‘ites. These two cities, along with others
in which Shi‘ite Imams are buried, are collectively referred to as ‘atabat
al-‘aliyat, or ‘atabat, for short. Although one scholar claims that the full
history of the rest of the Shi‘ite Imams (the fourth to the twelfth) is rather
unknown,25 there have been in recent years a number of Persian and Ara-
bic biographies published on their lives and activities.26 Contrary to what
the devout believe, it is an accepted fact that none of Ali’s sons and their
descendants (the eleven Imams after Ali) actively participated in the politi-
cal strife of the Shi‘ites and none was assassinated, except for Imam Ali
and Hussayn, and perhaps Riza. Hence the idea that all of them were mar-
tyred is rather an elaboration coined centuries after their deaths, which
has enabled them to be thought of as leaders who suffered to bring about
the rightful rule of the Prophet’s family but were struck down. The most
significant of these Imams are probably Ja‘far al-Sadiq (the sixth Imam)
and Muhammad al-Mahdi (the twelfth Imam). The former is the founder
of the Twelver Shi‘ite Ja‘fari School of Law27 and the latter is considered to
be the Hidden Imam whose reappearance will precede the end of time.
Ja‘far al-Sadiq (ca. 83–148 HQ/ca. 702–765)28 was uninterested in polit-
ical activism. Although his birth date in Medina is not known for certain,
his amicable relations with the second Abbasid caliph, al-Mansur, set him
apart from his predecessors. His refusal to positively answer the call of the
Kufan Shi‘ites for renewed struggles against the status quo contributed to
the Abbasid caliph’s granting him more freedom of movement throughout
Iraq, which ultimately led to the discovery of Ali’s burial site, providing a
central spiritual axis for Shi‘ites to the present day.
Today’s Iranians have adopted the Ja‘fari School of Law as a juridical
source of their Islamic and secular laws—as is indicated in Article 1 of
the Iranian constitution. Ja‘far al-Sadiq had two sons to succeed him as
the seventh Imam; a disagreement over which son should have succeeded
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 79

him caused a crisis in the eighth century. As a result, some adhered to the
doctrine of occultation (ghaybah) and claimed that Ja‘far al-Sadiq’s son
Isma‘il, who was identified as his successor but had died before the sixth
Imam, was actually in hiding and would return later. (Those who pro-
posed this scenario formed the Isma‘ili sect, and some adherents believe
that the seventh Imam is still in hiding, waiting for a timely return.) The
occultation of Isma’il was the precursor to the birth of the messianic
beliefs of Twelver Shi‘ism a century later.29
An even more serious crisis gripped the Shi‘ite community after the
death of the eleventh Imam.30 According to Sunnite tradition, because
al-Hassan al-Askari (232–260 HQ/846–874) had not produced a succes-
sor, the Shi‘ite community was left without a leader and a power vac-
uum was created that only the concept of “occultation” could fill. Before
occultation could put any life back into the seemingly threatened body of
Shi‘ism, however, a period of confusion (hayra) led to the splintering of
the community, dividing it further into subsects and groups in the absence
of a rightful ruler.31 To resolve this deadlock, one group claimed that the
eleventh Imam had indeed had a son. However, they asserted, because
the eleventh Imam died before his son was old enough to have left the
women’s quarters of the household, he had never been seen him in pub-
lic and that was the reason why no one was aware of the existence of the
twelfth Imam.32
Muhammad al-Mahdi (b. Sha‘ban 15, 256 HQ/August 20, 870), the
twelfth Imam, according to the Shi‘ite tradition, will remain hidden from
the world but will eventually make his presence known when it is time to
lead the “Party”33 and become the legitimate ruler of the Muslim commu-
nity. The Imamite (imamiyyah) Shi‘ites therefore became the “Twelvers,”
which provides them with a distinguishable trait when discussing Shi‘ite
groups. They also now had an effective platform from which to argue their
case for the actions they took later.34
Al-Mahdi contributed to the formation of Shi‘i theology,35 politics, and
law. For Twelver Shi‘ites his occultation and absence provides the escha-
tological rationale and the spiritual conditions for hope that all grievances
will be tended to at the end of time (akhir al-zaman). Upon his return, he
would assume responsibility for eradicating tyranny and oppression and
80 The Iranian State and Religion

spreading equality and justice. After he assumed his just reign over the
world, other great prophets and Imams, for example Jesus Christ and Hus-
sayn, among others, would also reappear.
Politically, al-Mahdi’s absence provided the Shi‘ite ulama with the
opportunity to claim his deputyship while his return was awaited. Over
the centuries since his father’s passing, and as a consequence of this
political thought, institutions like ijtihad and marja‘-i taqlid have gained
ground, and have received the authority that has effectively translated into
setting social norms.36 Shi‘ites believe that the ultimate administrators of
law after God are the deputies of the twelfth Imam (ayatullahs, jurists, or
simply the ulama), and this automatically makes al-Mahdi an important
figure in shari‘a.
The beginning of the period of occultation of al-Mahdi and the birth
of Twelver Shi‘ism is historically intertwined with the role of the ulama.
The ulama took on a more active role on al-Mahdi’s behalf; to fully nar-
rate the circumstances can prove time consuming and does not find its
forum here. However, I shall discuss the role of the ulama with respect to
that of the twelfth Imam and the relevant doctrines that the ulama created
because of him. Understanding Shi‘ite Islam’s “dominant theme,”37 the
Imamate, is essential in appraising the theological and political actions of
the ulama and their involvement in the affairs of contemporary Iran.

The Imamate and the Ulama

Iranians seem to have wanted to take on a more active role in, and per-
haps control of, the Muslim caliphate from the eighth century to the pres-
ent. Because they were invited to participate in running the affairs of the
Abbasid caliphate (750–1254) as bureaucrats, they used that opportunity
to involve themselves further in the formation of Islam’s political and theo-
logical doctrines while they penetrated the caliphate’s political structure.
Except for a short interlude when the Persian Buyids took control of the
affairs of the Abbasid caliphate in 945–1058, invaders or local rulers gov-
erned Iran38 until the Safavid dynasty consolidated its hold and set its bor-
ders, which still hold to a large extent. The Buyids39 were a Shi‘ite dynasty
that assumed the caliphate’s power, keeping the caliph as a figurehead.
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 81

They provided a span of time for scholars to create the many doctrines,
Shi‘ite hadiths of the twelve Imams, and jurisprudential nuances that are
the foundation of the tradition today. One hundred years of Shi‘ite domi-
nance during the Buyid reign (945–1050) also provided a foundation that
sowed the seeds of growth of Shi‘ism in Iran a few hundred years later.
It can safely be argued that the Shi‘ite scholars’ bold attempt to gain
political influence was mildly successful when the Mongol Ilkhanid first
settled and took control over Iran and Iraq during the early fourteenth
century. The Ilkhanids proved to be tolerant and even sympathetic to
Shi‘ite theology, and the Shi‘ite ulama took advantage of their new rulers’
inclination toward their faith. Oljeitu, the Ilkhanid ruler who took the Per-
sian name of Khuda-bandih (God’s servant) when he converted to Shi‘ism
in 709 HQ/1309, declared Shi‘ism as the official state religion. However,
this exceptional period ended with his death and the takeover of his obser-
vant Sunni son in 1316.40 During the rule of the Buyids, more than any
other period before it, and in the reign of Oljeitu, the Shi‘ite ulama were
allowed to develop intellectually. They gathered and produced supporting
material for a government based on the concept of the Imamate.41
However, after the Buyids provided the opportunity for Shi‘ism to
form its ulama, the faith failed to secure any further substantial state spon-
sorship until the Safavid shahs declared Shi‘ism Iran’s official religion
in 1501. For the first time since the Muslim Arab conquest of Sasanian
Iran in the mid-seventh century, Iran reemerged as a nation-state with an
imperial understanding of regional politics, while being flanked by the
two formidable Ottoman and Mughal empires. Armed with a new reli-
gious (Shi‘ite) and linguistic (Persian) identity, Iran more or less success-
fully faced its neighbors when it mixed its pre-Islamic Persian institutions
and beliefs with Shi‘ism to fend off the Ottoman and Mughal Sunnites.
It was in the Safavid court that the ulama found support for their
dogmatic theology based on the tenth- and eleventh-century collection
of Shi‘ite hadiths. This was not because the Safavid rulers believed in
what the ulama propagated, but rather because the Safavid rulers viewed
Shi‘ite institutions as a means to legitimize their own rule. Some jurists,
like Shaykh Ali Karaki (ca. 870–940 HQ/1465–1534), refused to cooperate
with the shah (Shah Tahmasp) at first, but the power and influence of a
82 The Iranian State and Religion

royal appointment as the Shaykh al-Islam was too enticing to ignore and
he changed his mind and struck an accord with the court. Other ulama,
such as Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (1616–1698), formed an alliance with
the shah from the start.42 Although consolidating Shi‘ite Islam with the
institution of kingship might have proven politically pragmatic, it led to a
new and unprecedented shift in Iranian and Shi‘ite history whereby Iran
unwittingly echoed its pre-Islamic religious-political past.
The complexity of the ulama’s role in Islamic history becomes obvious
at the point where one cannot identify them as a single group. Although
this specific assertion applies more to the ulama during Islamic civili-
zation’s early period, the group’s perplexing character precludes it from
categorization under a specific socioeconomic class, legal estate, or profes-
sion,43 although it can be considered as part of all three. That characteris-
tic did not change much during the Safavid or Qajar periods. The ulama
(as a social class) of the nineteenth century are as difficult to describe as
they are in early Islamic centuries. In the later periods of Shi‘ism’s devel-
opment, however, they could to some extent be identified as part of what
defined Shi‘ism because they first helped to convert Iran to that doctrine.
The process began in the Safavid era and continued until the Shi‘ite ula-
ma’s foothold in Iran’s sociopolitical affairs was strong enough that they
could construct Shi‘ite rituals and customs that have endured to this day.44
Broadly speaking, the ulama created their own role in society dur-
ing the Safavid and Qajar periods, when they promoted new rituals and
customs that helped them propagate Shi‘ite ideology. They popularized
the commemorative mourning of martyred Imams (‘azadari), including
pilgrimages to their shrines (ziarat),45 and worked in cooperation with the
Safavids and Qajars to integrate Shi‘ism into the state structure, resulting
in the legitimization of the shahs’ rule.46 The creation and sponsorship
of ritual commemorative mourning and pilgrimage psychologically influ-
enced the public, soothing the minds of those average Iranians who were
impressed by the religious and spiritual devices of the rituals. The concept
of an “underdog” fighting an overbearing power was analogous to the dis-
enfranchised fighting the privileged, or in the case of the Iranian Consti-
tutional Revolution, to the people’s struggle against the king’s tyrannical
rule. Although the Safavid rulers are credited with allowing the ulama
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 83

to create these rituals that later became norms, unprecedented royal sup-
port was granted them in the Qajar court, and this cemented a seemingly
enduring relationship between the people, the clerics, and the rulers.47 In
addition to setting social standards, the ulama created self-serving rituals
that constructed a cultural norm that almost guaranteed their indefinite
involvement in it.
After the ulama created these rituals and religious doctrines, they
began to form a new political doctrine as well, one that put them squarely
in the middle of the power structure. According to al-Kulayni, a tenth-
century scholar, the belief in the concept of “guardianship” (vilayat) comes
only second to the belief in God.48 This concept gained major momen-
tum during its formative years in the Qajar era,49 and it experienced its
most deviant interpretations later on, during the Constitutional Revolu-
tion, when anti-constitutionalists used it to object to the establishment
of the parliament. With Ayatullah Khumayni’s adoption (in the 1970s) of
the same principle that vilayat comes second only to the belief in God,
the individual anointed the vali (guardian) was fully in charge of politi-
cal affairs at the top levels of the government. This concept acquired a
new connotation in the 1990s and 2000s when it was practically made
an official position within the Iranian government that no single institu-
tion could overrule.50 It is also worth noting that Mullah Ahmad Naraqi
was the ultimate proponent of a fiqhi guardianship (vilayat-i faqih),51 yet
this idea was not unique to Naraqi’s intellectual innovations. Others
among the ulama, such as Shaykh Mufid (336–413 HQ/948–1022) and
Tusi (597–672 HQ/1201–1274), had also flirted with such concepts, but its
scope remained within the confines of administering shari‘a and did not
provide the faqih with the freedom to meddle in the affairs of the state, as
is practiced in Iran today. Such a thing did not happen until the Iranian
constitution was amended in 1988, months before Ayatullah Khumayni
died. Khumayni ensured that the constitution recognized the supreme
leader or vali-yi faqih as the head of the Islamic Republic’s government,
allowing him and his successors to countermand any decision the three
branches of the government might make.
Naraqi encouraged individuals to partake in the emulation of a muj-
tahid by becoming a follower or imitator (muqallid), but he did not specify
84 The Iranian State and Religion

a need to organize the people politically, nor did he take the concept of
“emulation” beyond religious affairs.52 To politically follow a jurist, he
argued, was the people’s prerogative, and as a faqih he excused himself
from taking on that responsibility. Some jurists believe that Naraqi did
not view a political relation between the people and their government as
a concern of the ulama. Rather, faqihs had to concern themselves with
intervention in the laws that concerned family and business, the two judi-
cial fields in which clerics were mostly involved.
The ulama initially grew as they defined what Islam was and what
was expected of its followers, according to how the ulama perceived and
understood God and divine law. In other words, the ulama determined
what was “‘Islamic’ rather than something else.”53 What allowed them to
evolve as social activists in Iran (naturally within their own framework)
was their quest for authority, and this was what ultimately defined them.
The power and prestige that they attained rewarded them with financial
security54 and an opportunity to control large endowments (awqaf); for
some ulama that naturally translated into economic and political clout.
The concept of the “Imamate” gave the ulama their powerful position.
It allowed for the institutionalized ulama to assume the roles of spiritual
and political guides who assisted the Shi‘ite community in understanding
divine revelation. It is important to note that the concept of the “Imam-
ate” within the framework of leadership in religious and political spheres
gained momentum during Islam’s early years, before it was developed
under the same terminology in a Shi‘ite versus non-Shi‘ite context begin-
ning in the tenth century. Immediately after the Prophet’s death, some fol-
lowers attempted to elevate the position of his successor, in this case Abu
Bakr, by according him greater eminence, referring to him as Khalifat
Allah (God’s Successor).55 This title would have granted him overwhelm-
ing authority and legitimacy in the Prophet’s stead. However, according to
Abu al-Hassan al-Mawardi (972–1058), Abu Bakr refused to approve such
an insinuation. Al-Mawardi justifies the caliph’s refusal to accept such
a title and defends his position on the basis that “a caliph is [a person’s]
successor who is [either] dead or in occultation and God never dies, nor
does he occult.”56 That is why, al-Mawardi concludes, when a group of
Muslims called Abu Bakr Khalifat Allah he immediately corrected them
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 85

and claimed that he was “not God’s successor” but “the successor to God’s
messenger.” Hence Abu Yusuf al-Ansari’s position in the mid-ninth century
that the caliph was the successor to God’s rule on earth was not original.
The first sign of such a general institutionalization is found during
Abdul-Malik bin Marwan’s rule (d. 86 HQ/705), when the poets who
praised him also showered him with the title Khalifat Allah.57 This title
became more potent when al-Ansari (d. 182 HQ/798) became the first
scholar to politicize the role of the caliph as one who acts on behalf of
God on Earth. Al-Ansari, in the Kitab al-Kharaj, written for the Abba-
sid caliph Harun al-Rashid, claimed that God chose the world’s rulers
as caliphs and “created” (or blessed) them with a “light” within which
the affairs of the people were made clear, in his view thus enabling the
caliphs to protect the rights of the people.58 Al-Ansari altered the concept
of the caliph from “the successor to the Prophet” to “the representative
of God on Earth,” and as a consequence circumstances were created that
gave immense political leverage to those interested in the political realm
of Islam.59
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (450–505 HQ/1058–1111) discussed the con-
nection between the ancient institution of kingship and Islam, or rather
their intertwined fates, centuries after al-Ansari. In Nasihat al-Muluk, al-
Ghazali makes the distinction between kings (muluk) and prophets (anbia’
or payambaran).60 The prophets, he believed, were sent to guide and direct
the created (humans) toward the path of God, whereas kings were respon-
sible for protecting humans and looking after their affairs. The conditions
were amenable for the ruler to connect with God, and that is what war-
ranted al-Ghazali’s statement that “the sultan is God’s shadow on earth”
(al-sultan dhil Allah fi al-‘ard).61 Thus pre-Islamic traditions of kingship
were similar to the political philosophy of rulership in Islam. The two
were brought together in the hope that they would lead to the preservation
of the ruling institution.62
The list of other scholars, such as Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (545–606
HQ/1149–1209), Ibn Jama‘a (d. 733 HQ/1333), Ibn Taymiyya (661–728
HQ/1263–1328), and Ibn Khaldun (732–808 HQ/1332–1406), who dis-
cussed the political power of prophets and kings and the reconciliation
of the two—in the form of caliphs63—for the purpose of legitimizing their
86 The Iranian State and Religion

authority, is long and is beyond our focus here. What can be derived from
their assertions, however, is that they all provided a precedent on which
later mujtahids and ulama based their arguments to expand their role in
political as well as social affairs.64
Al-Mawardi and other ulama empowered the Imamate when they
harmonized it with shari‘a. Al-Mawardi’s contentions are substantiated
when he refers to the fifty-ninth verse of al-Nisa’ in the Qur’an, which
establishes the role of those “in authority.”65 It is clear that the revelation
directly guides the faithful toward those whom it considers the ultimate
judges after God and the Prophet. However, in the case of a dispute, the
third party is obligated to seek guidance from the person of authority
referred to as ulil’amr (the one with the highest authority and command;
literally, “the first order”). The ulil’amr probably had the highest political
power and also headed the community as its highest religious authority.
What is noteworthy about the fifty-ninth verse is a variant interpreta-
tion for the term ulil’amr that seems to mean different things to differ-
ent scholars and is time sensitive. For example, al-Ghazali views ulil’amr
as a term for “military ruler”; al-Mawardi and al-Juwaini interpret it as
a term for a jurist and one in charge of judging (ahl-i hal wa ‘aqd); and
Shi‘ite ulama take it to mean the infallible Imams (ma‘sumin).66 It is clear
that early interpreters of this particular Quranic verse looked beyond any
immediate interpretation, and some of them, like al-Juwaini, were more
interested in the lawfulness (mashru‘iyyah) of such a concept to legitimize
the rule of the leader, be he an imam or a caliph.
Al-Juwaini contends that the lawfulness of the ulil’amr should be based
on the consensus of those in charge. Accordingly, he believes that consen-
sus among those who are in charge of religious affairs is the most powerful
and appropriate way to extrapolate laws, or make shari‘a. Although ijma‘
literally means “consensus,” one scholar suggests that it connotes “the
majority” (aksariyyat). This is because in Islamic law, as interpreted by the
ulama, those who are not trained in Islamic sciences are precluded from
making an opinion, so “majority” (ijma‘) would mean the opinion of the
majority of those who hold the informed powerbase (Islamic jurists), or in
simpler terms, their own colleagues. Accordingly, al-Juwaini believes that
what makes Imamate (the concept that pertains to community leadership)
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 87

effective in action is when imams (leaders of communities) lead with the

intention of serving the public good. In addition, he considers any person
trained as a jurist a worthy individual who can lead the community as long
as he practices leadership that is in the public’s interest.67
Therefore, the Imamate’s main goal of successful leadership can
be effective if the leader ignores expediency (maslahat) when he makes
decisions. Although al-Juwaini briefly mentions this, it is Badr al-Din
Muhammad bin Jama‘a who expounds on the argument. It was not until
the thirteenth century, when the Mongols overwhelmed the region, that
the concept of maslahat as an operational key phrase became popular.
Because there are two ways to attain political power, either by popular
consent or by despotic rule, Jama‘a believed it was best for Muslims (dur-
ing the Mongolian onslaught) to accept the situation as it was. To resist
or try to overcome the invading Mongols was deemed counterproductive
and potentially disastrous.68 Hence, it was expedient to comply in order
to avoid the destruction that would surely follow an attempted rebellion
against the invading Mongols.
The concept of maslahat played a major role in Khurasani’s justi-
fication for involving himself in mundane politics. Mindful that being
cautious and being prudent function the same way in every culture and
society, including in Shi‘ite jurisprudence, maslahat found its strength in
the context of the Imamate and has deep roots in early Islamic history. We
witness this concept in almost every letter that Khurasani wrote regarding
his support of mashrutiyyat (see chapters 8 and 9).
The thirteenth-century theologian Ibn Taymiyya takes the concept
of “Imamate,” and one of its main components, maslahat, one step fur-
ther when he discusses governance that is entrusted with the authority to
protect the public. He bases his argument on another verse of al-Nisa’. In
its fifty-eighth verse, according to Ibn Taymiyya, Muhammad reveals the
essence of the challenges of entrusting governance to an individual.69 Ibn
Taymiyya, some scholars assert, assumes that the obscure word amanat
(entrusted) in this verse pertains to governance by the ruler.70 He con-
cludes that it would be an act of treason of the highest order to entrust gov-
ernance to those who are unworthy to govern, according to the precepts
set by the second Righteous Caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab.71
88 The Iranian State and Religion

Muslim rule pursuant to Twelver Shi‘ite beliefs faced a crisis after

the occultation of the twelfth Imam. This event, later referred to as the
“Lesser Occultation” (ghaybat al-sughra), began on Rabi al-Awwal 8,
260 HQ/January 5, 874, the same year that al-Mahdi’s father Hassan al-
Askari died. Between 874 and 940, al-Mahdi appointed four consecutive
specified agents (nuwwab al-khass) “to continue the task of rulership” on
his behalf.72 Beginning with Abu Amr ‘Uthman Ibn Sa‘id al-‘Amri (dates
unknown), succeeded by Abu Ja‘far Muhammad Ibn ‘Uthman Ibn Sa‘id
al-‘Amri (d. 305 HQ/917), then by Abu al-Qasim al-Hussayn Ibn Ruh Naw-
bakhti (d. 326 HQ/937), and ending with Abu al-Hassan Ali Ibn Muham-
mad al-Samarri (d. 329 HQ/940),73 the Lesser Occultation came to a close.
Because the political climate was still unfriendly to al-Mahdi’s rule, and
because he was threatened by designs on his life, he occulted once more
beginning on Shawwal 10, 329 HQ/ July 13, 941. However, this so-called
Greater Occultation (ghaybat al-kubra) would have an indefinite tenure
that would cease before the end of time (akhir al-zaman).74 It is agreed that
in this period no one may contact Muhammad al-Mahdi. In his absence
his followers have to explore other means to receive his guidance. This,
according to some Shi‘ite scholars, was the twelfth Imam’s specific wish,
which he made explicit in a written statement handed down to his last
Specified Agent, al-Samarri.75
The death of the last of the four Specified Agents, Abu al-Hassan Ali
Ibn Muhammad al-Samarri, created a power vacuum and allowed the
“qualified ulama to provide leadership in temporal and religious affairs.”76
What transpired from the ulama’s quest for authority enabled it to chal-
lenge all other forms of authority. At times they became partners with
secular leaders, in the same way that Zoroastrian priests had influenced
their contemporary rulers.
The absence of the legitimate Imam, followed by the death of the last
Specific Agent, created a void that led to a new crisis. Now that the Imam’s
agents could no longer deliver his wishes, how was the community to do
as the leader of the Shi‘ite community commanded? To allay the situation
the ulama engaged in a continuous struggle with nuanced ideas that had
precedent in Islamic concepts of authority.77 The Shi‘ite ulama harmo-
nized the sources of jurisprudence that were composed of “hadith, fiqh,
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 89

and kalam”78 with what they deemed a theory suitable for their idea of
rulership. To justify their efforts to independently establish their authority,
some ulama referred to prophetic traditions that supported their actions.
This clearly allowed them to separate themselves as an authority from the
temporal rule of the shahs. The most effective of their hadiths addressed
and supported the validity of the ulama’s power. A number of the ulama
gathered beneficial hadiths that supported their claim to authority as part
of an exhaustive and lengthy process of establishing their power. One
should be mindful that these hadiths and their authenticity are still “sub-
jects of polemics,”79 and no final conclusion has been reached.
Shaykh Muhammad al-Kulayni, a tenth-century scholar, for example,
substantiated his and his colleagues’ idea of government when he quoted
the following hadith: “The jurists are the authorized representatives of the
Messengers with the stipulation that they do not follow secular rulers, the
sultans.”80 To support the same claim, Ibn Babuwayh recounted the story
that when the twelfth Imam’s second Specified Agent asked him about
his authority at the time of his absence, the Hidden Imam had explicitly
stated, “those who deal with our hadiths (the ulama) are ‘my proofs (huj-
jah)’ for the people, just as ‘I am God’s proof for them.’”81 Therefore, one
can argue that the crucial element in ensuring the ulama’s success was
their concerted effort to leave no room for doubt as to their role as the
proper representatives of the Imam.
The most notable of all these hadiths is the one credited to the sixth
Imam, Ja‘far al-Sadiq. It encapsulates the ulama’s pursuit to legitimize
their authority and it states that “there is no permission for a plaintiff and a
defendant to seek judgment from a secular ruler or judge because they are
off the right path, (taqut).” It further claims, “even if one receives back his
own property through their [secular] judgments, he should not be allowed
to use it,” and all should know that “God has ordered his servants to rebel
against these judges.”82 By basing their authority on this Imami hadith, it
is clear that at one point the ulama became resolute in their belief that
they should firmly establish their unquestionable rule over the people and
bypass temporal authority. The absolutist nature of this claim that dele-
gitimizes all nonreligious authorities demonstrates the ulama’s attitude
toward, and contempt for, the state.83
90 The Iranian State and Religion

As the ulama consolidated their power after the last Specified Agent
died, mujtahids provided spiritual as well as political leadership for the
Shi‘ite community.84 To strengthen their argument the ulama referred to
the two ultimate sources: the Qur’an and the Hadith, while they strove
to reach the kind of political power that even the imams barely possessed
during their lifetimes. Although the ulama never claimed to share the
same special characteristics of the twelve Imams, such as infallibility
(‘ismah) or having knowledge of the unknowable (‘ilm al-ghayb), they
openly defended their claim to power as expressed in their assertion of
their right to lead the ummah in religious affairs. It is noteworthy that
over the ulama’s long tenure to establish their powerbase, they attained
greater political weight and wielded more practical power over society
than all of the twelve Imams combined. It appears that lacking the same
characteristics as the twelve Imams did not prevent them from increasing
their political supremacy. In some ways, they achieved more than the
Imams could dream of accomplishing, without enjoying their supernatu-
ral traits.
However, not all of the ulama considered their quest for authority
in political affairs justified or sanctioned by the Qur’an and the Hadith.
Taking full political power has remained a point of contention between
various sides that has yet to be fully resolved. Although the authority of
the ulama in political affairs is not entirely accepted by all among their
number, their reign over the administration of justice through ijtihad and
their control of religious affairs is indisputable.85


The Qur’an as the ultimate source for divine law (shari‘a) has devoted
only some five hundred out of its six thousand verses to legal issues. Half
of the five hundred verses address the issues of ‘ibadat (acts of worship), or
rituals.86 The other half is the group of laws that pertain to nonritualistic
practices and mostly concentrate on inheritance. The existence of these
laws in the Qur’an helped the ulama to acquire and retain first authority
and then political power while they evolved as an institution. Because the
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 91

ulama needed to institutionalize their ideas and power, the principal way
to reach their goal was to promote the concept of ijtihad. Literally mean-
ing “to exert oneself,”87 ijtihad is that process in which a jurist infers “legal
precept” from the four sources: the Qur’an, the Hadith, consensus, and
intellect, which are at times “contradictory,” and it is essentially a kind
of “logical reasoning.”88 When it ultimately became the most essential
source of Islamic law “next to the Quran and the Sunnah (Hadith),” ijti-
had became one of the major Twelver institutions that allowed a learned
individual (‘alim) to participate in legal scrutiny.89 Scholars believe that
mujtahids, who at one point were called the mujaddids, have existed con-
tinuously since the sixteenth century, and that throughout this time they
have constantly explored ways to form new laws, adjusting their opinions
according to compelling circumstances. This progression in Islamic jurid-
ical history manifests itself in “developments in positive law, legal theory,
and the judiciary” that suggest a continuous maturation in Islamic law.90
The Qur’an and the Hadith are the main sources for shari‘a, but because
they were “discontinued” after the Prophet’s death, the practice of ijtihad
was deemed necessary to serve as a “continuous process of development”
in Islamic law,91 congruent with sociopolitical and economic changes.92
The process of educating oneself in Islamic law and of attaining sufficient
knowledge to independently form opinions ultimately produced mujta-
hids. Ijtihad is viewed as that harmonizing factor that brings “revelation
and reason” to shari‘a.93 Because this book chiefly focuses on Khurasani as
a chief mujtahid and his role in the success of the Iranian Constitutional
Revolution, I leave some of the detailed explanations of ijtihad and his
view of it for chapter 7; further discussion on the more nuanced concepts
that were either born out of ijtihad or developed before it in modern Ira-
nian history is more apt here.
Almost all concepts that relate to the practice of Islamic law, such as
juristic preference, expediency (maslahah), analogy (qiyas), and consen-
sus of opinion (ijma‘), are “manifestations of ijtihad,”94 without which the
practicing mujtahid would have been at a loss. Ijtihad simply allowed for a
freer hand in jurisprudence, and that core characteristic helped Khurasani
to support the revolution.
92 The Iranian State and Religion

Marja‘-i Taqlid (Marja‘ al-Taqlid)

The intellectual capability of each mujtahid in Islamic jurisprudence

became the vehicle for him to ascend to the top of a virtual clerical
hierocracy and become widely known for his scholarly contributions to
Shi‘ite scholarship and erudition. Some mujtahids became social activ-
ists. Mujtahids who argued on behalf of the people and presented their
economic or political grievances, as well as mujtahids who were active
in social issues (the activists), stood apart from mujtahids who chose to
ignore the mundane affairs of this world—mainly politics—preferring to
be quiet (the quietists) on pressing social issues. The hierocracy was not
at this stage followed by all ulama. This issue of obedience to hierarchical
authority came to the fore during the struggle between pro- and anti-con-
stitutionalist mujtahids during the Constitutional Revolution when the
latter, represented by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri, rejected the marja‘ leader-
ship of Khurasani (see chapters 10 and 11).
To centralize their religious-political power, the ulama created a
hierarchical structure that allowed them to naturally consolidate their
authority. That structure led to the advent of the Source of Emulation
(marja‘-i taqlid), an institution that gave its followers an undeniable source
of knowledge and authority as a substitute for the relational vacuum that
had existed between the shahs and their subjects. Comprising both the
Source (marja‘), and those who took part in taqlid (emulation), who were
called muqallids, the Source of Emulation was the most self-centered
and self-serving institution of the new age of Shi‘ite clerical history. The
marja‘ was simply a member of the ulama whom his colleagues univer-
sally recognized as a superior mujtahid; he was the most learned and
qualified person they could choose to lead. All Muslim muqallids were
to follow a particular marja‘, unless he was a marja‘ himself. The ulama
justified this arrangement on the basis of “reason and tradition.”95 The
position stems from their argument that the ignorant should follow the
learned or those who think rationally, and that traditionally the Qur’an
commands such a practice.96
With this justification, and under these conditions, a group of mujta-
hids took responsibility for leading the people as Sources of Emulation.
Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership 93

But as this institution evolved, the Sources’ visions of Muslim society

became as varied as their own backgrounds. The dogmatic jurists tried
to overcome their pragmatic colleagues, and on rare occasions the reverse
was attempted. Just like any group with a keen interest in gaining control,
whether sanctioned by God or by the state, these mujtahids introduced
their power into the Iranian political realm in a way that was not alto-
gether unprecedented in Iranian history. The process bears similarities
to Iran’s pre-Islamic era, in respect of the power of the Sasanian priests
and the imperial court. Now, though, the relationship was fixed in a new
Shi‘ite context.97
Muhammad al-Kulayni (d. 329 HQ/940) and Hussayn Tabataba’i
Burujirdi (d. 1961), according to one scholar, were the first and the last
mujtahids who took on such a leadership role.98 Fifty-eight mujtahids were
recognized as Sources of Emulation in the period between 940 and 1961,
including Khurasani, who was a Source from 1895, when his master Mirza
Hassan Shirazi died, to the end of his life in 1911. Almost all of them were
urbanites. The majority (thirty-four) were Persian, Iraqi clerics (twenty-
four) comprised the second largest group, and Syrians and Omanis made
up the rest.99
The ulama’s quest for authority and their scholastic effort to establish
themselves as the rightful heirs to the Shi‘ite Imams’ leadership would not
have been successful were it not for the concept of “Imamate,” with ijtihad
to serve as its intellectual reasoning. That is why one scholar goes as far as
to claim that in order to understand Shi‘ite Islam, one needs to appreciate
its “dominant theme, the Imamate.” The mujtahids were (and still are) the
Imamate’s main axis of power. Some concepts of the Imamate (like the
number of the Imams or their identity) are quite varied and innovative,100
and their modi operandi are also different.
The ulama’s reasons for taking an authoritative role have been chal-
lenged throughout history. For example, the contemporary Twelver
perception that all Shi‘ite Imams were leaders of “a sharply defined fol-
lowing” in contrast with the rest of the Muslim community is seriously
challenged.101 One argument being that the messianic characteristic that
was attributed to the sixth Imam’s son, Isma‘il, or the twelfth Imam’s son,
Imam al-Mahdi, was common in both the Umayyad and the Abbasid
94 The Iranian State and Religion

caliphates and thus was not specific to the Shi‘ites.102 Muhammad bin
al-Hanafiyya, one of Imam Ali’s sons from a different wife, for example,
also enjoyed the attribution of “Savior.”103 Hence, the leadership qualities
bestowed on the twelve Imams cannot be said to have been exclusive to
them, if traditions and belief are taken into account.
Disagreements notwithstanding, and as varied as interpretations of
sources might be, the end result is that the Imamate became the basis
of the clerics’ argument to legitimize their role as leaders, while ijtihad
became their methodology in organizing a body of laws that they could
adjust accordingly. Marja‘-i taqlid, on the other hand, institutionalized
their broad goal to attain power in sociopolitical realms. Concurrently
with the Imamate and ijtihad, a number of secondary supporting concepts
such as maslahat developed that, after a few centuries of quiet utility, took
on a new meaning at the turn of the sixteenth century with the establish-
ment of the Safavid dynasty.
Shi‘ite Iran and the State

During the Safavid era (1501–1722), institutions of religion and kingship

met at a historical crossroad of mutual benefit. Shi‘ism had the potential
to save Iran from falling under the suzerainty of the Ottomans, who were
Sunnites, and the new Safavid empire had the chance to strengthen itself
further and create a new Islamic identity in a Shi‘ite context yet remain
culturally and linguistically Persian.
Albert Hourani’s observations of this episode in history should not be
ignored. He suggests that “the extreme Shi‘i views” of the Safavid Army,
which consisted of Turkish tribesmen, threatened the newly established
Safavid dynasty. Because the Safavids wanted to “appeal” to Persian city
dwellers who “possessed the high urban tradition of Islam,” they had to
repudiate the extreme version of Shi‘ism that had allowed the dynasty
to come to power and “restrain the excesses” so that the city folk would
accept the new change.1
The process of pacifying extreme Shi‘ites meant teaching a version of
Shi‘i Islam that was more acceptable to Iranians at large, one that did not
alienate their age-old traditions. This required Shi‘ite jurists to formulate
the preaching in mosques, to structure Shi‘ite education, and to adminis-
ter Islamic law in a Shi‘ite context. Because Iranians lacked such jurists,
Safavid rulers imported Arab ulama from Bahrain, Iraq, and Jabal ‘Amil
(part of Lebanon today).2
There is a long and seemingly influential relationship between Iran
and the oldest Shi‘ite community, which identifies Jabal ‘Amil as its ances-
tral home. The claim is traced back to Abu Dharr, one of Muhammad’s
companions and one among the first group who supported Ali’s claim to
succession. He was ultimately exiled to “the country districts” of bilad
96 The Iranian State and Religion

al-sham, or Syria.3 Although the claim suffers from a paucity of sources,

some scholars suggest that by the tenth century Shi‘ism had already spread
to this area.4 The existence of the Shi‘ite Hamdanid and the later Fatimid
dynasties, in addition to the eyewitness report by the eleventh-century Ira-
nian traveler Nasir Khusru that most of the population in and surrounding
Sur (today’s Tyre) were Shi‘ite, leads some scholars to agree that there was
a Shi‘ite establishment in Lebanon.5
It was in the Biqa Valley of Jabal ‘Amil that the earliest Shi‘ite scholars
flourished. An exploration of the genealogy of certain families, the history
of the Shi‘ite scholars of this region, and their contribution to the devel-
opment of Shi‘ite doctrines and thought in Iran traces them back to the
beginning of the sixteenth century.6 The patronage of local notable land-
owners made it possible for the inhabitants of the Biqa Valley, which was
isolated from the ruling Sunnite caliphs and sultans, to receive a Shi‘ite
education. Some scholars believe that this region became the center of
Shi‘ite scholarship after the twelfth century because a group of ulama
wanted to freely promote the doctrine of the Imamate and hence moved
there from Syria.7 This reasoning is enough for some scholars to speculate
that the concept of ijtihad developed as a method within jurisprudence
because of the unjust conduct of rulers, which also enticed Shams al-din
Muhammad Ibn Makki (734–786 HQ/1333–1384) to promote ijtihad.
Makki believed that the most qualified Shi‘ite ulama needed to
“give legal judgments,” and in turn Muslims needed “recourse to them
rather than judges who were appointed by unjust rulers.” In other words,
by positioning the ulama as legal advocates and requiring the people to
look to them for legal assistance, they paved the way for those peoples to
fight against the unjust practices of their rulers. Just as the sixth Shi‘ite
Imam Ja‘fari al-Sadiq’s hadith stated his goal of fighting injustice in the
nonreligious state, the ulama likened their own belief to his when mak-
ing headway toward becoming the deputies of the sixth and later imams.
Makki and another scholar, Zayn al-Din Ibn Nur al-Din Ali (911–966
HQ/1506–1558), had concerns for the safety of their community as the
political climate and Sunni Ottoman persecution worsened. And with
good reason, since that persecution consequently led to the murder of
them both. Had it not been for the Safavids in Iran who instituted Shi‘ism
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 97

as their religion, these Shi‘ite traditions would have most likely “shrunk.”8
This conclusion is sound because there was no support for their progress
and their champions were being killed in the Levant. The Safavids proved
to be the champions of Twelver Shi‘ism and the ulama were the ultimate
winners, attaining political influence in the Safavid court.
A close examination of the timeline in which the ulama’s responsi-
bilities and powers grew reveals that first the Safavid rulers and then the
Qajars contributed to that growth. To better appreciate Khurasani’s story
in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and his influence on the hearts
and minds of people who respected and listened to him as the leader of
the ulama, we must understand how the ulama became an institution as
well as other important institutions created under the Safavids.

The Office of Mullah-Bashi

The ulama as an institution in Shi‘ite Iran took on a bifurcated role that

made them protectors and preservers of Shi‘ism’s doctrines and values
and protectors of the people, which meant that they became the only
sources of authority and consultation for people unable to effectively air
their grievances. The Safavid rulers supported them in every way possible,
when it was beneficial to the state, because they thought of the ulama as
the legitimate deputies of the twelfth Imam. In return, the clerical estab-
lishment legitimized the authority of the rulers and supported the state in
its actions.
The clergy took on a more important role in the first quarter of the
eighteenth century, before the last Safavid shah lost the throne to the
marauding Afghans in 1722 and before the Shi‘ite ulama fled for their
lives in the wake of Nadir Shah’s persecutions. The creation of the
office of Mullah-Bashi provided the ulama with a strong foundation that
cemented their ties with the ruling establishment. That bond continued
well into the twentieth century under the Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979).
This strong tie between the state and the clerics vis-à-vis the granting of
mutual legitimacy guaranteed the ulama historical relevance. If it had not
been for the modernist views of reformist Iranians, which culminated in
the Constitutional Revolution, the ulama’s sustained role as protectors of
98 The Iranian State and Religion

the people more than likely would have continued and the intellectual
division that existed between the clerics would have never been exposed
(see chapter 9). There is disagreement on when the office of Mullah-Bashi
was established, but it is clear that it instituted a religious-political hierar-
chy and allowed the ulama to gain yet more influence over the monarchy.
According to Sayyid Abdul Hussayn Khatun-abadi, Waqayi’ al-sinin
wa al-ayyamm (Events of the Years and the Days), the office was created
on June 5, 17129 when “the Illustrious Vice-regency and Exalted majesty
ordered that His Excellency the Mujtahid of the Age, Amir Muhammad
Baqir, be the leader (ra’is) of all the ‘ulama.’”10 The same source focuses
on the importance of the position of the Chief Mujtahid (Mujtahid of the
Age) when it informs us that “no one” was allowed to sit or stand close to
His Majesty except for the Chief Mujtahid. The superiority of the person
holding the position was such that he reported directly to the shah. His
position precedes that of the “most learned of the ulama,”11 which imme-
diately suggests the political nature of the position and that it was not
necessarily a post based on academic excellence.
In Tadhkirat al-muluk,12 written circa 1730, it is related that the respon-
sibilities of the Mullah-Bashi included financial assistance to students and
the poor, securing the rights of the oppressed, overseeing issues in and
“investigating the problems of the Sacred Law,” in addition to providing
guidance on prayers and religious affairs.13 What is noticeably missing
from this general list of rights and duties is the right of the Mujtahid of the
Age to interfere in the state’s domestic or foreign affairs.
However, what is implied in the permission officially granted to a
designated mujtahid to investigate various issues in shari‘a, is that they
are also permitted to be flexible and free to make proper adjustments.
Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that this discretionary power is for situ-
ations calling for the fine-tuning of shari‘a to make it compatible with laws
that the state intended to implement. With the state’s support, the mujta-
hids initiated a process that aimed to harmonize the state’s policies with
shari‘a.14 To narrow the gap between the state’s decision-making process
and divine law, the two institutions (monarchy and ulama) became more
dependent on each other. This was a new beginning in the development
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 99

of the relationship between Shi‘ite clerics and shahs in a purely Perso-

Islamic Shi‘ite context.
Although Shah Abbas I (1629–1642) promoted the development of
the new Shi‘ite hierarchy with the help of the Syrian Arab “doctors,” his
successor Shah Abbas II (1642–1666) mostly supported the preexisting
Iranian clerical estate in the face of the dogmatic newcomers. Hence it
is after Abbas II’s rule and the subsequent ascension of Shah Sulayman
(1666–1694) that the Iranian dogmatic cleric Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
(1616–1698) made his presence felt when he led the ulama, who were
newly trained by the Arab Shi‘ites, and inaugurated a “hierocracy of dog-
matic religious professionals.”15 Majlisi bypassed the state’s authority in
religion and set out to promote Shi‘ism from a dogmatic point of view that
stood in contrast to the previous status quo in which the ulama had not
created rituals and ceremonies for the sake of Shi‘ism’s growth.
It was Majlisi whose influence over Shah Sultan Hussayn (1694–
1722) persuaded the latter to establish the position of Mullah-Bashi, a
post encompassing all of the powers mentioned above and which later
became a formal office some years after Majlisi died in 1124 HQ/1712.16
Mir Muhammad Baqir Khatun-abadi was the first formal Mullah-Bashi
and the first rector of the newly established Shi‘ite seminary madrisih-yi
chaharbagh in Isfahan. Because of the hereditary organization of the Safa-
vid government and the “‘caesaropapist’ character of the ruler’s authority,”
the shah’s tutor was designated the Mullah-Bashi, who assumed the “char-
acter of the Chaplaincy of the Royal household,”17 and that is why he was
also the official tutor of Shah Sultan Hussayn.18
The office of Mullah-Bashi had to compete with preexisting religious
and nonreligious institutions, each having its own distinct customs, for
example, the institutions of kingship and Imamate. It succeeded only when
Iranians brought in Arab Shi‘ite scholars from abroad to compete against
their native Shi‘ite ulama. Because a “clerical estate” consisting of some
ulama acting as qadis (judges), who tightly controlled the judiciary, already
existed during the last decades of the 1600s, and because their power was
too great to be challenged by the monarchy, they settled on importing
Arab jurists19 to lessen the Iranian ulama’s influence. The members of
100 The Iranian State and Religion

the Iranian clerical estate were “landed nobility with strong local roots”
who engaged in “quasi-political [and] quasi-religious functions,” but “Arab
Shi‘ite doctors,” whom the monarchy supported and imported from the
Levant, challenged them to offset the clerical estate’s power.20 This chal-
lenge ultimately weakened the clerical estate in the judicial realm but
failed to wrest control of the awqaf (religious endowments) that the old
clerics dominated, hence their financial power remained intact.21 How-
ever, the dogmatic teaching that the Arab Shi‘ite scholars of the Levant
brought to Iran created an atmosphere of debate with the more pragmatic
elements of the Iranian clerical body.
The resilience of the ulama and their continued domineering pres-
ence in religious and social affairs was tested when Iran fell into disarray
after the destruction of the Safavids in the 1720s. The competing tribes,
first the Afshar and then the Zand, and their competition with other
tribes to expand their rule over Iran, fragmented the nation. While tribes
competed for supremacy in Iran, Shi‘ism also came under direct threat
when Nadir Shah decided that Iranians needed to revert back to Sunnism
and as a result focused on obliterating Shi‘ism and its institutions (the
ulama included) altogether. Consequently, clerics of all ranks went into
exile to either India or Iraq, and it was there that they not only preserved
themselves but also searched for ways to survive future calamities. They
realized that they needed to strengthen their institution if they were to
continue their ascendance into higher and more powerful positions, and
this desire led to the akhbari-usuli debate.

The Akhbari-Usuli Debate

An intellectual and procedural challenge gripped the institution of the

ulama when the discourse of akhbari versus usuli gained momentum
from the time usuli fiqh added intellect to its list of sources to arrive at
shari‘a. Traditionalists in opposition to a rational approach toward judi-
cial procedures were strict about gathering and literally interpreting the
actions and statements of the twelve Imams as precedents for their legal
decisions.22 From the first Imam in the seventh century until the occulta-
tion of the twelfth Imam in the tenth century, traditionalists had scarcely
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 101

gathered their sources owing to a lack of caliphate support. During the

Buyid rule, the tenth-century Shi‘ite scholar al-Kulayni and many others
after him gathered and constructed the foundation of what, centuries later,
Shi‘ites referred to as the traditions of the Shi‘ite Imams. Hence a tradi-
tion that depended on written sources evolved over five centuries until the
establishment of the Safavids. During the period between the Buyid rule
and the Safavid dynasty, the traditionalist school went through a hiberna-
tion period, after which it gained ground once more. Some jurists started
to refer to the traditionalists as akhbari, which was their old name and
referred to their acceptance of the Shi‘ite Hadiths.23 Iraq was where the
akhbari-usuli discussion gained force in the late eighteenth century. For
example, what enabled Mirza Hassan Shirazi to justify his involvement
in the tobacco protest (1891) to protect tobacco merchants was the usulis’
success in their debate with the akhbaris. We can rationally argue that
reason allowed the ulama to take center stage in Iranian politics from that
time on. Some scholars, however, view the akhbari-usuli debate from the
perspective that usuli mujtahids’ wanted to gain more power and ensure
“their direct influence upon their followers’ conduct, and provide a basis
for their power.” That is why they made taqlid (emulation) mandatory for
the faithful.24 That being the case, one has to be mindful that from the
traditionalists’ approach, the ulama would still have had the power that
this hypothesis asserts the usulis strived for because, from an akhbari per-
spective, no one qualifies to interpret the imams’ statements, which have
been collected over the centuries. The akhbari ulama, therefore, could
still have consolidated their power by clinging to the notion that they were
the only true interpreters of what the twelve Imams would have wanted in
times of change. We should remember that the ulama positioned them-
selves to act with the utmost authority in religious knowledge and affairs
regardless of whether they belonged to the usuli or akhbari school; the
goal for the majority was to become the source of legitimate authority.
The nature of the Shi‘ite power structure within the clerical establish-
ment and its fusion with the political body of Shi‘ite society provides for a
broad base of power for those who belong to it, namely, the ulama. Hence
to argue that the usulis sought solely to increase their influence overlooks
the possibility that that could also have been achieved by the akhbaris as
102 The Iranian State and Religion

well, and they did not need to argue in a manner that separated them into
two camps.
The orthodox ulama’s quest for more power and influence in the con-
text of akhbarism, which was based on their dogmatic views of Islam and
a literal interpretation of its sources, was an obvious sign of a burgeoning
new elite.25 However, this attempt did not go unnoticed and some “free
thinking” ulama challenged it on several grounds. Their objections were
manifest in the form of a number of movements against the orthodoxy that
aimed to destabilize their position, starting in the 1450s.26 These move-
ments were grounded in philosophical, religious, and religious-political
arguments that aimed to weaken the orthodoxy’s strict views on Shi‘ism,
and naturally these movements affected the political power of the Shi‘ite
ulama. All of the movements were intertwined and had the same goal:
to create an independent and liberal interpretation of the revelation and
religious doctrines. This was an ambitious goal, and one that the orthodox
clerics viewed as a significant break with past traditions of ijtihad.
As we have seen, the most pertinent challenge facing the orthodoxy
presented itself in the akhbari versus usuli debate. Each side questioned
the other’s methods of forming an independent opinion, or their approach
to ijtihad. Usulism, derived from usul al-fiqh, or fundamentals of juris-
prudence, is based on its advocates’ (the usulis) view of fiqh as a process
in which a mujtahid exposes, analyzes, and argues in an effort to “express
God’s law (shari‘a).” The usul al-fiqh are the “rules on hermeneutical prin-
ciples that permit deduction of rules from the texts of revelation.”27 These
rules allow a free hand in considering what is and is not Islamic, simply by
deducing what God’s words meant.
In addition to the revelation’s exegesis and its function as the ultimate
source for Islamic law (commonly practiced by the Sunnis and akhbaris
alike), the usulis advocated that a jurist must add human intellect (‘aql)
and consensus (ijma‘) of those who are actually qualified to form inde-
pendent opinions about the lawfulness of certain actions. Usulis argued
that to not do so meant following others blindly without considering the
influence of the time and place in which these laws were extrapolated,
and would result in disastrous consequences for all involved.
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 103

The usulis’ view of ijtihad and its practice was revolutionary, and
some ulama considered it blasphemous because it placed human intel-
lect on the same level as the word of God and the Prophet’s wisdom.28 Up
until the sixteenth century, no one took the idea of using intellect to form
judicial opinions seriously because the word of God and the Prophet’s
tradition, according to traditionalists, were not sources that the ulama
could freely discuss intellectually. In other words, the freedom to inter-
pret divine proclamations was nonexistent.29 This dogmatism limited the
power of the ulama’s original interpretations and new opinions regarding
societal changes. The major argument that the akhbaris offered called for
an unprejudiced view and literal following of the Qur’an and the Hadith.
As far as the Shi‘ite tradition was concerned, the akhabris considered all
the Hadiths of the twelve Imams and the Prophet to be valid, and con-
sequently mandated all Shi‘ites to follow them verbatim. In this way the
need for a mujtahid within the institution of the marja‘-i taqlid was elimi-
nated and the faithful had to reckon with the written word instead of a
mujtahid’s interpretation of it.
In contrast, usulism in theory provided for and required a comprehen-
sive understanding of what society needed when a mujtahid formed an
independent opinion. Simultaneously, that mujtahid operated under the
principles of maslahat, which required action that was in the best interests
of the society. This pragmatism provided the basis of ijtihad and allowed
for a freethinking process in matters of religious law. In other words, usu-
lism called for taking into account what the sources permitted first, and
then considered the intellect of those who were qualified to understand
the revelation (the ulama).
The akhbaris took the usulis’ liberal challenge quite seriously. Special
attention should be drawn to the timing of this intellectual revolution that
coincided with the beginning of the Qajar dynasty and increasing Euro-
pean hegemony in the Middle East. Furthermore, as discussed in the last
chapter, it was a short time after the start of the akhbari-usuli debate that
Iran started down the path of general reform. It can be argued that the
akhbari-usuli debate was initiated by some ulama to reduce absolutism
and irrationality in Islam, just as nonreligious Iranians tried to free their
104 The Iranian State and Religion

society from the despotic and arbitrary rule of the Qajars in a secular
and sociopolitical sense. Liberal ulama and secular modernists, alongside
Western enthusiasts unconcerned with religious debates, tried to curb des-
potism and arbitrary rule simultaneously. Hence, what we observe in this
crucial period of the nineteenth century is one objective: freedom from
arbitrary rule, expressed differently in two distinct modalities.
The dogmatic interpretation of the Qur’an and the Hadith, and the
ulama’s construction of “Shi‘ite” doctrines and rituals that some schol-
ars, like Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi (1250–1320 HQ/1834–1903), considered
superstition (khurafat), were to lose prestige in light of a pragmatic under-
standing of what the rules of deduction in Islamic juridical process should
be. The eighteenth-century “revivalist effort within Islam” can be viewed
as heralding the akhbari-usuli debate, which in turn provided an opportu-
nity for the pragmatic and “adaptationist” and an “underlying theme for
the modern Islamic experience,” as one scholar suggests.30 The usuli chal-
lenge directed toward the akhbari mujtahids came in the form of a book
authored by Muhammad Baqir Bihbahani31 that “put an end to the activi-
ties of the Akhbaris” altogether.32 A full discussion of this particular event
is beyond the limits of this study, but suffice to say, the debate between
dogmatic traditionalists and the rationalist ulama provided an opportu-
nity for Shi‘ite jurisprudence to come to the aid of those who wanted to
solve the people’s problems not by clinging to dogma but through reason.
Another important concept in interpreting the sources and the degree
to which a mujtahid can interpret them and make independent rulings
is “the openness of the gate of ijtihad” (infitah al-bab al-ijtihad). To have
the gate of ijtihad “closed” simply meant that by the ninth to the tenth
centuries, Muslim jurists mentally stopped exerting themselves to search
for legal opinion. The rationale was that jurists had accomplished their
goal and had interpreted all that needed to be interpreted. Thus there was
no reason to continue interpreting Islamic law, which can be viewed as
illustrating “immunity of the shari‘a against the interference of govern-
ment,” or as “decadence in Islamic institutions and culture,” marked by
discontinuing further discussion in Islamic law. By the tenth century the
gate of ijtihad was not closed “in theory nor in practice.” Ijtihad was the
only tool by which jurists could attain “the judicial judgments decreed
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 105

by God,” and to close the gates of its practice was viewed as an irrational
undertaking. The openness of the gate naturally allowed for contempo-
rary interpretations to take place with the jurists’ full knowledge of the
circumstances and the realities of the day.33
Philosophically and mystically, however, the akhbari-usuli argument
was founded in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century debates that Mul-
lah Sadra (Sadr al-Din Shirazi) (1571–1640) put forward. He believed that
to ignore the “sciences (knowledge) of free-minded people” (‘ulum al-
ahrar) ultimately resulted in “supposition (zann) and emulation (taqlid).”34
Mullah Sadra believed that these suppositions and emulations, in turn,
established a custom of traditional knowledge whereby students learned
from their masters. The pupils, in turn, taught their own students what
they thought was true knowledge, but what was in fact nothing short of
suppositions and blind imitation.
For Mullah Sadra, a cleric who did not use rationality in ijtihad was
easily dispensable with.35 He was a great advocate of unifying divine law
with reason and gnosis (‘irfan). With high regard for the mujtahids’ role
as rational thinkers and jurists of divine law, Mullah Sadra was a staunch
critic of the average cleric who used his minimal education to fool the
average person who was just as “mentally deficient.”36 God, according to
Mullah Sadra, commanded the ignorant to seek the mujtahids’ guidance
and God recognized that they were the appropriate source of leadership.
However, Mullah Sadra’s adamant support for a “free-thinking” process in
ijtihad establishes the fact that a precursor to the akhbari-usuli debate had
existed long before the time when it became popular in the 1790s. This
battle was fought before the Iranians were confronted with modernity and
European encroachment, and therefore was not a direct effect of Euro-
pean colonialism.

Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi

Not all usuli ulama adhered to intellectual rigor in jurisprudence if their

own personal interests were threatened. But before we discuss the fight
between different rationalists during the Constitutional Revolution (chap-
ter 9), it is important to understand that they all accepted their more
106 The Iranian State and Religion

powerful role as independent jurists. The rationalist ulama presented their

arguments with a certain conviction that aimed to solve practical issues
such as arbitrary rule and despotism.
One of the nineteenth century’s most notable rationalist ulama,
Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi, opposed his dogmatic colleagues and viewed
them as “evil humans” who cheated their average followers through the
latter’s “leniency” and lack of care, or their acceptance of every nonsensi-
cal argument as long as it was presented in religious terms.37 Najmabadi
objected to “arbitrary rule,” and his advocacy of “law and order” as a
“liberal” mujtahid38 was due to his belief that humans could only attain
freedom and righteousness when they used their reasoning abilities.39 He
believed that what the conservative ulama propagated as true Shi‘ite val-
ues and doctrines was in fact a direct threat to Islam itself, since it was
based on myth and dishonesty.
Najmabadi’s ideas enjoyed historical precedent. Long before
Najmabadi, Mullah Sadra had warned people against blindly following
others irrespective of their credentials. Najmabadi also took a strong stance
against “superstition and blind imitation.”40 Known for his humble person-
ality and the high level of respect that he commanded as one of the leading
mujtahids in Tehran, he treated everyone—including Nasir al-Din Shah,
his courtiers, and peasants—alike, and received them in his humble home
during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Najmabadi was one of
those rationalist ulama considered to be “liberal” exponents of Islam41
who enjoyed a connection with Malkam Khan’s society of “Men.”42 There
were others who shared Najmabadi’s points of view, such as Sayyid Jamal
al-Din Asadabadi43 and Sayyid Muhammad Tabataba’i, who later became
a member of the Iranian parliament elected by his peers.44
Najmabadi recognized that the sole factor that contributed to Irani-
ans’ misery and backwardness was their intellectual indolence (musamiha
va bi-mubalati) regarding Islam and their unquestioning spirit, which
made them easy prey for ulama-disseminated superstition as a substitute
for truth. He even considered following the irrational ulama to be an act
of infidelity and equal to shirk (denial of the unity of God). The profound
nature of the akhbari-usuli debate is obvious when strong statements by
ulama such as Najmabadi express regret over the absence of reason in
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 107

Islam. In Tahrir al-‘Uqala (The Liberation of the Wise Men), Najmabadi

specifically holds the ulama (including himself) responsible for failing to
base “religion” on reason and instead obeying the “imagination and evil
practices”45 of others.
Suffice to say, liberal ulama, like Najmabadi, who fearlessly voiced
their objections against the orthodoxy and its dogmatic interpretation of
sources were few. The usuli movement gave these liberal elements among
the mujtahids a certain amount of confidence that facilitated a friendlier
environment for those who were interested in propagating rational prin-
ciples. However, because they were small in number, the usulis found
their developing ground in Ottoman Iraq, where the Sunni Ottoman
caliphate left the Shi‘ite jurists to their own designs. The orthodox ulama
supported the arbitrary and despotic rule of the Qajars. Najmabadi was
one of the very few to express his disappointment freely and attacked
both his colleagues and the institution as a whole. His outspoken objec-
tion to absolutism in the institution of the ulama gained him enemies
who at the end accused him of having “Babi sentiments” and labeled
him an infidel.46
There is no doubt that the triumph of usulism would have given more
impetus and fuel to boost the ulama’s power even in less optimal situa-
tions. In the hands of jurists such as Khurasani, who aimed to serve their
position first and foremost without self-interest, it was used as a political
and doctrinal tool to help constitutionalism advance. In essence, usulism
allowed all ulama, liberal thinking and dogmatic alike, to think and act
independently, which naturally expanded their power. As we will see in
subsequent chapters, part of Khurasani’s success depended on using usu-
lism in his fight against anti-constitutionalists in the days of the revolution.
Usuli thought, which had its main breeding ground in Iraq, was a fac-
tor in the success of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, and there was
a cultural affinity and connection between Shi‘ites and the cities in Otto-
man Iraq where their imams were buried. Let us now turn to these cities
in order to understand the other aspect of the success of the revolution,
namely, the existence of free-thinking ulama there, religious affiliation
with these cities, and the prestige of these cities to Twelver Shi‘ites, who
considered them holy. After all, it was in these cities that leadership and
108 The Iranian State and Religion

advice on political issues were most sought after during the latter part of
the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century.

The ‘Atabat al-‘Aliyat

The holy shrine cities of Karbala, Kazimayn, Najaf, and Samarra were
considered holy because six of the eleven Imams of the Twelver sect were
buried there and that naturally made them vibrant religious centers. Collec-
tively they are referred to as the “Inspiring Thresholds” (‘atabat al-‘aliyat),
or ‘atabat. It was in the ‘atabat, especially Najaf, that Shi‘ism founded its
centers of learning. What makes the ‘atabat noteworthy is their founding
by the ulama for the purpose of “erudition and scholarship” after the spiri-
tual connection of Shi‘ites had made these cities important. In contrast to
Sunni states, where religious scholarship was organized and sanctioned by
either “rulers or lay notables to serve political, administrative, and social
purposes,” Shi‘ite scholarship was independent of state support in Iraq.47
At the same time, the ulama were able to cement their existence vis-à-vis
the support of the city and its institution (i.e., the hawzah [seminary] and
its wide network) by alms and the fifths-paying48 patrons who included a
sizeable Iranian merchant class. Furthermore, the ‘atabat, and the ulama’s
community within them, made for a “Shi‘i International”49 that owed
much of its success to the combined factors of pilgrimage, learning, and
trade. All of these were concentrated in one small geographical region
that was very different from the Muslim metropolises of Istanbul, Cairo,
and Damascus.50
By forging casual “interpersonal ties” with their patrons, the ulama in
Najaf created a distinct identity and social class in the ‘atabat. This identity
facilitated the formation of a learning center that had no rival in the entire
Islamic world and enjoyed a communal sense of fraternity and camara-
derie. Because religion, ethnicity, and ecological factors divided Iranian
society, the ulama broke these barriers when they established the ‘atabat
as Shi‘ite learning centers and facilitated individual improvement by pro-
viding a forum in which students could obtain a Shi‘ite education out
of “genuine piety” or as a means to improve their social status.51 In some
ways, the ‘atabat were cities that transcended nationality in the modern
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 109

national sense, with Shi‘ism and religious education acting as overriding

concerns. For example, when Mirza Hassan Shirazi, whose intercession
was the key reason for Nasir al-Din Shah cancelling the tobacco conces-
sion in 1892, became the marja‘ and relocated his office to the city of
Samarra, the money that he received in alms and fifths helped fund edu-
cation for Tibetan and Kashmiri students in that city.52 In response to their
request for teachers in these areas, Shirazi used his financial resources and
brought one hundred potential candidates to Samarra to train in Shi‘ite
sciences and doctrines. Naturally, the opportunity to provide a Shi‘ite edu-
cation ultimately enhanced the ‘atabat’s standing in rather geographically
isolated areas such as the northern portion of the Subcontinent that bor-
ders Tibet. The seminary, under the leadership of the ulama, provided for
the students’ lodging, stipends, translators, and teachers.53
The combination of religious conviction and the chance to make a
better living, in the absence of the opportunity for upward social mobil-
ity in Iran, led to the establishment of the ‘atabat as centers of education
for promoting Shi‘ite scholarship. The result was the advent of learning
centers that were financially self-sufficient and politically self-reliant, with
no apparent socioeconomic class distinctions between their students, mas-
ters, and the public, and with the single purpose of training Shi‘ite cler-
ics. Furthermore, the ‘atabat became important because of the perceived
necessity for a center for Shi‘ite education at the place where Shi‘ism itself
started. Therefore, it is arguable that ideology, religion, and economics
encouraged Shi‘ites to further improve their position, which had been
threatened ever since Shi‘ism had become a sect. This complex ideologi-
cal, religious, and economic interdependence within the Shi‘ite commu-
nity created a viable link between Shi‘ites in Iran and Iraq that continues
to the present.54 The Iranians’ relationship with the ‘atabat was not only
religious or economic but political as well. The Shi‘ite shrine cities were
important for the faithful who were not allowed to openly express their
political views or even become a political force, considering the consistent
failure of the Shi‘ite Imams to establish a viable state.55
There exists an ideological and spiritual connection between practic-
ing Shi‘ites everywhere and the ‘atabat. For them Karbala, where Imam
Hussayn was killed in battle and buried, and Najaf, where his father Imam
110 The Iranian State and Religion

Ali was assassinated and buried, symbolize Shi‘ism in all its expressions
of persecution. Historically, the ‘atabat have come to represent humanity’s
struggle against injustice, which in the case of Karbala and Najaf was done
to the Prophet’s grandson and son-in-law, one of whom was answering
the call of Muslims to establish a rightful rule, and to Ali, who was the
just successor. In the Iranian Shi‘ite context at least, what we witness is a
certain level of respect and admiration for these cities, which stems from a
concept of self-sacrifice that results from a struggle for what is just.
Hence the founding of Najaf and Karbala and their connection to
Shi‘ism’s dominant ideology were a boon to Khurasani and other liberal
ulama. The rationalist Khurasani understood the fight between the pro-
and anti-constitutionalists to be the same struggle as that experienced by
Ali and Hussayn. The Islamic Republic of Iran made the same analogy
during Iran’s struggle against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988).
Hence it should come as no surprise that these cities are prestigious
in Shi‘ite ideology (martyrdom) as well as Shi‘ite education; consequently,
prestige and trust are conferred by the people and the Qajar court on any-
one connected with either of the two cities.
This prestige placed the ulama residing in these cities in leadership
positions of considerable power, as witnessed in the tobacco protest when
Nasir al-Din Shah was unable to quiet the clamor of the opposition. The
ulama’s condemnation of the concession did not go completely unno-
ticed in Iran, but they were not powerful enough to make all Iranians
stop trading and consuming tobacco, as was the case when Shirazi issued
a decreed from the ‘atabat city of Samarra. The belief that the ulama in
these cities were incorruptible, and had “greater independence,”56 was
why Iranians waited for, and then heeded, the fatwa issued from there.57
Not only were these cities and their shrines sources of miracles in cases of
illness, or religiously an ideal place to bury the dead, but they also served
as places where Shi‘ite education, advice, and leadership were taken very
It was during the tobacco protest that we witness the ulama’s first
direct and successful involvement in modern Iranian politics, which
reached new levels through the leadership of the ‘atabat. The separation
and sheer distance of Samarra from the Qajar seat of power in Tehran
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 111

gave the ulama the opportunity to do as they pleased in total freedom and
without concern about persecution.58
The tobacco protest is historically important and relevant to the cen-
tral theme of this book because it was the first occasion on which a marja‘-i
taqlid, in this case Mirza Hassan Shirazi, successfully participated in a
political fight from the ‘atabat. Although neither Shirazi nor the establish-
ment to which he belonged started this struggle, still we cannot disregard
his key role in it. Before Shirazi was fully in line with these events in Iran,
major protests of varying magnitudes had gotten underway in Tehran
and some provincial capitals such as Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan, and Mash-
had.59 The protests were mostly political and objected to the increasing
foreign encroachment and influence in the Iranian economy, and hence
Iranian sovereignty, of which secular and religious groups were dissatis-
fied.60 The ulama’s objection to the concession can be viewed as a conti-
nuity of their stance that their “traditional role in opposing the state” was
allowed. This political position was a “recurring” theme and it certainly
became the dominant argument after the tobacco protest.61 The ulama
resented the British concession and the apparent loss of economic inde-
pendence, which resembled that of British-colonized India,62 and this was
too much for any Iranian to accept.63 In a bulletin displayed publicly on
city walls, one of the ulama claimed that Iranians were fooled into accept-
ing a tobacco regie supported by a state (Britain) that sowed the seeds
of colonialism by using trade to penetrate foreign countries. In the same
way the British had entered Egypt and India, the bulletin warned, they
cloaked their colonial schemes “in the name of trade” (bih ism-i tijarat)
with Iran, and would soon take over the whole country, by which time it
would be too late for any defensive action.64 Fear of becoming a colony in
which the British became political as well as economic decision makers
mobilized all sections of Iranian society and, whether it was a matter of
religion or nationalism, or perhaps a combination of the two, this pre-
vented the tobacco concession from continuing.
The tobacco protest provided the first opportunity for the ulama to
demonstrate their powerfully effective leadership and influence, and it was
an event that the Iranian government and the European powers heeded.65
Historians have offered two reasons for the ulama’s involvement in the
112 The Iranian State and Religion

protest: their concern about interruptions in the collection of religious

taxes that the merchant class (bazaaris) paid66 and the Russians’ support
in their efforts to reverse the increasing British power in Iran.67 Whatever
the reasons, they are irrelevant because we are more interested in under-
standing the clerical establishment’s influential presence in the sociopo-
litical and religious realms of Iranian society. The fact remains constant
that although the protest against the concession was well underway by
the time the ulama interfered, their involvement was key to Nasir al-Din
Shah’s decision to cancel the British tobacco monopoly because they suc-
ceeded in mobilizing the nation in a relatively short time. Concepts such
as maslahat in Shi‘ism’s major institution of the Imamate and the new
advent of marja‘iyyat were used to justify a shift in jurists’ opinions. The
ulama then used that justification to assume more leadership responsi-
bilities, which in turn helped them to assume the role of protecting the
ummah, and it was that which made them stronger in national affairs, or
in the case of the tobacco protest, in political and economic affairs. What
some historians of this era fail to consider are the pragmatic elements of
usulism that, by using human reasoning and intellect, made the ulama
an integral part of reason-based Islamic jurisprudence and gave them a
free hand to participate in just about any movement as long as they could
justify it through religious means.
There is no doubt that the ulama, like any other group, had to pro-
tect their own interests, and they needed to respond to their patrons’ (the
merchants) calls of distress when they felt vulnerable and when the state
ignored their interests and favored foreign economic penetration over
their survival as Iranian businessmen. At the same time it is difficult to
confidently claim that without the concepts of maslahat and marja‘iyyat
the ulama could have succeeded. Therefore, one can argue that were it
not for a pragmatic element to Shi‘ism doctrine and the intellectual revo-
lution of the burgeoning usuli debate, Iran’s modern protest (the tobacco
protest) would have seriously lacked the necessary impetus in leadership
that the secular and intellectual groups had.
Agitations against the concession continued in Iranian cities for
several months. According to the British Iranophile Edward Browne, it
was Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi’s letter that enticed Mirza Shirazi in
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 113

Samarra to write a mildly scornful letter to Nasir al-Din Shah,68 objecting

to the tobacco concession.69 Shirazi finally issued a religious decree in
1890 making it un-Islamic for anyone to smoke for the time being.70
Some scholars consider the tobacco protest started by Shirazi’s fatwa
to be a prelude to grander movements such as the Constitutional Rev-
olution (1906–1911), but more important than that, it proved to many
observers what can happen when various groups with different ideological
backgrounds unite to reach a common goal.71 This was the first time that
an alliance between “the ulama, modernizing reformers, and . . . discon-
tented” Iranians (especially the merchants) made the nation realize that
the government and its European supporters could be defeated despite
their dominant financial, political, and military position.72
It is clear from the aftermath of this historical event that the ulama
had arrived at a crossroad where their (and other groups’) success in per-
suading the Shah to cancel the concession put them squarely in charge of
the movement’s sociopolitical leadership. Some scholars believe that the
difficult process of Iranian modernization, which included modernization
of its political system in respect of popular rule or social movements, was
made easier once the arguments or the axis of legitimacy around which
people gathered was specifically based on, and supported by, Islamic lan-
guage and doctrines because that was what Iranians understood better
than other contexts.73 Hence it is arguable that, as far as the tobacco protest
and the involvement of Shi‘ite ulama was concerned, had it not been for
making the entire issue a matter that concerned Islam, the ulama could
never have involved themselves. Some, however, did not believe they were
intended to resolve the mundane affairs of the world.
The idea of using Islam to entice people to participate in popular
protest was so strong that even nonreligious modernists used it to advance
their objectives. Malkam Khan used Islamic arguments to turn a lawless
society into one that respected and was ruled by law with the blessing of
Islam and its institutions. It was Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi’s argu-
ment, wrapped in an Islamic reasoning, against the tobacco concession
that, when he pointed it out to the marja‘-i taqlid at the time (Shirazi),
encouraged Malkam Khan to express his arguments for Iranian modern-
ization in an Islamic context in his newspaper Qanun.74 Islam and the
114 The Iranian State and Religion

doctrines that were discussed earlier had already laid the groundwork for
the ulama’s support and prompted their involvement in the first place, but
they still hesitated to participate. Various possible reasons held back the
higher-ranking ulama from participating in secular politics: the fear of
being targeted by their dogmatic colleagues for overstepping their bound-
aries, not having enough confidence to take on politics, or perhaps some
perceived state politics to be beneath them or beyond their responsibility.
The ulama could not be political leaders because they had evolved into
patrons of the people in a religious context, for the sake of keeping religion
free from the impurities of the material world, of which politics was a part.
In no other period—including the time when the twelve Imams were
alive—had there been such effective leadership that mobilized the masses
in order to address a sociopolitical and economic issue on such a grand
scale. The Iranian ulama used ideas and doctrines that had evolved over
the centuries effectively at the most appropriate time in history when the
opportunity presented itself. Some of them might have hesitated at first
and wanted to retain their quietist posture, but they moved swiftly to tar-
get what they perceived was a policy that harmed Muslim economics and
sovereignty, and consequently themselves. Their interests were the same
as those of the merchants. The people gave them their legitimacy, power,
and support, and they could not be ignored.
The nineteenth century was reaching its end when the ulama estab-
lished themselves as a force with the ability to rally the people while influ-
encing an arbitrary and despotic government such as that of Nasir al-Din
Shah. However, there were no conclusive signs that the ulama were seek-
ing more political freedom outside their purview at this point; what took
place afterward is a different story altogether. They acted within the bound-
aries that they themselves had defined, and they responded to calls based
on what was expected of them when it came to protecting their followers.
As Shirazi’s life came to an end in 1895, so did the heyday of the
learning center that he established in the mid-1870s at Samarra. He failed
in “institutionalizing a single-headed leadership,” and soon his disciples,
who were responsible for carrying on the duty of teaching at the semi-
nary in Samarra, separated. The decreasing number of pilgrims visiting
Samarra to pay their Islamic taxes affected the city’s finances, which of
Shi‘ite Iran and the State 115

course meant the return of the center of Shi‘ite learning to Najaf. Nor did
Shirazi’s death guarantee an easy transfer of power from the master to a
designated successor. The sheer number of mujtahids in Najaf had “dif-
fused” the leadership hierarchy and kept it from evolving into one central
structure with undisputed powers. It did not take long before Khurasani
was able to gather such power in the personal allegiances of his students
in Najaf.75
Khurasani had remained in Najaf, the educational center of the ‘ata-
bat cities, following the death of his master Shaykh Ansari in 1864, and
did not relocate to Samarra with his other teacher Mirza Hassan Shirazi.
He slowly began to take a leadership role in the Shi‘ite community when
he became part of a group that other mujtahids in the ‘atabat, as well as in
Iran, recognized as theirs.76 Out of this ten- or eleven-member group the
quartet that the Qajars and the British considered “the four great Mujte-
heds [sic]” consisted of Mirza Hussayn Khalili Tehrani (Mirza Khalil)
(1230–Shawwal 11, 1326 HQ/1815–November 6, 1908) Muhammad Fazil
Sharabyani (1248–Ramadan 17, 1322 HQ/1833–November 25, 1904), Has-
san Mamaqani (Sha‘ban 23, 1238–Muharram 18, 1323 HQ/May 5, 1823–
March 25, 1905), and Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.77 Some
sources point to Khurasani as the Shi‘ite world’s only marja‘-i taqlid,78 but
others place him at the bottom of the hierarchy of important mujtahids
in Iraq. A cleric’s legitimacy in the position of marja‘ was determined
not by leadership or scholastic qualities but rather by clerical politics. In
other words, Khurasani’s scholarly contributions were not the decisive fac-
tor in considering him the sole marja‘.79 All the same, as we will discuss
in the next chapter, Khurasani rose above all the obstacles that politics
and rivalries between the ulama had created. Once all members of the
Shi‘ite clerical circles of the ‘atabat recognized Khurasani’s mastery in
jurisprudence in the Islamic sciences after Shirazi’s death, and once his
demeanor, intellect, and equal treatment of friends and foes brought him
renown, he became not only a powerful Source of Emulation but also a
master par excellence and a revolutionary who supported Iran’s first mod-
ern revolution.
Part Two
Khurasani and Constitutionalism
Akhund Khurasani
His Life and Works

Early Years in Khurasan

Khurasani’s family originated in the Iranian province of Khurasan, which

today partially extends eastward into Afghanistan. According to Abdul-
Hussayn Kifa’i (one of his grandsons), Khurasani’s father, Mullah Hussayn
Hiravi, hailed from Herat; a passing reference to his mother when he was
in his early twenties indicates that he never saw her again after his depar-
ture for Najaf.1 Based on one account, Mullah Hussayn Hiravi was a silk
merchant who frequently conducted business in Kashan, and his trips to
that city allowed for regular stopovers at the Shi‘ite holy city of Mashhad,
home to the shrine of the eighth Shi‘ite Imam, Ali Ibn Musa al-Riza.2
In 1836, he moved his family close to Mashhad.3 A recently published
interview with one of Khurasani’s grandsons, Abdul-Riza Kifa’i, claims
that Khurasani’s father was a cleric from Herat who moved to Mashhad to
further his education.4
Khurasani was born in 1839 in Tus, a small town about 23 miles north
of Mashhad. He had three brothers and lived with his family until around
1850, when he came to Mashhad to attend madrisih-yi ‘ilmiyyih-yi Isma‘il
Khan, a Shi‘ite seminary.5 He started his seminary training when he was
eleven and became the only member of his family to receive a higher
seminary education. In 1856, he completed the first six years of initial
seminary training, known as sutuh, and married his first wife, who gave
birth to their first son, Mahdi.6
120 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Migration and Education

In February 1861, in order to pursue higher seminary education in Shi‘ite

scholarship, Khurasani left Mashhad for Najaf.7 On his way, he stopped in
the township of Sabzivar, where he spent three months studying philosophy
under the prominent scholar Hajj Mullah Hadi Sabzivari (1804–1872).8
He then spent thirteen months in Tehran, where he trained under such
notable theologians and philosophers as Mullah Hussayn Khu’i and Mirza
Abdul-Hassan Jilvih.9 He shared a small room with a certain Abdul-Rasul
Mazandarani on the grounds of the Sadr Seminary in Tehran. However,
according to Abdul-Riza Kifa’i, Khurasani delayed his departure for Najaf
chiefly because he lacked the funds to continue his journey to Iraq.10 His
goal was to study with the famous master of fiqh, Shaykh Murtiza Ansari,11
who was teaching at Najaf at the time. Khurasani apparently studied logic
under Khu’i in Tehran and finally managed to fund the rest of his journey
to Iraq by accepting a fee from a private individual who asked Khurasani
to fast for a certain number of days and perform a set number of prayers on
behalf of a deceased relative. Knowing that Khurasani was in a financial
bind, Mazandarani urged him to accept the fee.
After his arrival at Najaf sometime in April 1862, Khurasani began
attending Shaykh Ansari’s classes in September 1862 until the master’s
death in 1864.12 Khurasani simultaneously attended lectures by Mirza
Hassan Shirazi (1815–1895) in order to “better understand (Ansari’s) les-
sons.”13 He continued to study with Shirazi until the latter migrated to
Samarra in 1875. As discussed, some years later Shirazi became famous
for the highly effective fatwa that mobilized Iranians to boycott all things
associated with tobacco in Iran, and consequently led to Nasir al-Din
Shah’s cancellation of the British monopoly concession on the tobacco
trade in 1891.14
Typical of most seminary students of the time, Khurasani was at a
financial disadvantage because he had to live away from home. Sources
are scarce about his financial situation but some suggest that he lived fru-
gally and was content with the basic amenities offered by the seminaries
for students who lived within the college compounds.15
Akhund Khurasani 121

Khurasani’s early adult life was marred by personal tragedy from the
moment he left Mashhad for Najaf, leaving his young family behind. He
arrived in Najaf at the age of twenty-two and almost immediately was
informed of the sudden death of his first son.16 The tragic news did not
influence him to return to Iran; rather, at the urging of his father, his wife
joined him in Najaf. Shortly after the death of his notable mentor Shaykh
Ansari in 1864, Khurasani’s wife gave birth to their second child, who was
stillborn. His fortune failed to improve and his wife died shortly afterward.17
Several years passed before Khurasani decided to marry again. This sec-
ond marriage in 1873 resulted in four children: Mirza Mahdi Ayatullahza-
dih Khurasani (1875–1945),18 Hajj Mirza Muhammad (1877–1937), Hajj
Mirza Ahmad Kifa’i Khurasani (1912–1971),19 and Zahra (1891–1956).20
After the death of his second wife from a chronic illness, Khurasani mar-
ried for a third and final time in 1895 and fathered two sons: Hajj Hussayn
Aqa (1901–?) and Hajj Hassan Kifa’i (1902–1954).21
In 1875, Khurasani’s second master, Mirza Shirazi, migrated to
Samarra, home to the two shrines of the tenth and eleventh Shi‘ite Imams,
Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Asgari (al-‘Askari).22 Despite Samarra’s impor-
tant status as a pilgrimage site, it was no bigger than a semi-developed
village with minimal amenities, which made it an inconvenient place in
which to reside.23 Khurasani refused to settle in Samarra, since he had
already made a name for himself at this juncture of his career, and was
advised by Shirazi to focus on Najaf and his own teaching circle.24 He did
not sever his ties with Shirazi. There is evidence that the two continued to
enjoy a close and cordial relationship when Shirazi became more involved
in politics.25
It appears that in 1874 Khurasani acquired oral permission to prac-
tice ijtihad. Written permission seems not to have existed, but the rea-
son for this is clear. According to tradition, written permission was not
required if one had been granted oral permission to form one’s own cir-
cle of students and if one had written on fiqh.26 That was exactly the situ-
ation with Khurasani. Abdul-Riza Kifa’i claims that upon Shirazi’s move
to Samarra, Khurasani enjoyed a rise in popularity and larger groups
attended his classes, thus his influence expanded. With a widening
122 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

circle of students and followers, the funds that were made available to
Khurasani became substantially larger, and this translated into more
power and influence.

Khurasani’s Character

All sources point to Khurasani’s highly focused personality and passion

for philosophical debates with his teachers concerning jurisprudence.27
According to Abdul-Hussayn Kifa’i, Khurasani received the title Akhund
as a young scholar because he questioned his masters to exhaustion in the
presence of thousands of students (see figure 2).28 The tradition and the
etiquette at the time Khurasani was studying at Najaf frowned on such
overt scholastic eagerness. Although some scholars refer to him as Mul-
lah Khurasani, the title Akhund is used for him almost exclusively. The
term “akhund” is a compound noun derived from the combination of two
Persian words: aqa (mister) and the adjective khandih, (someone who is
well read), hence it pertains to a gentleman-scholar; probably a correct
appellation, given the many stories about Khurasani’s kind and educated
demeanor (see figure 3).
Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Hassan, better known as Aqa Najafi-
Quchani, was one of Khurasani’s many students.29 Quchani’s Siyahat-i
Sharq (Touring the Orient) became famous for its brief and honest account
of his travels throughout Iran and Ottoman Iraq. According to Quchani,
when he arrived in Najaf he could not have imagined staying longer than
would a tourist, but instead he spent “twenty-two years and fifteen days”
in Najaf studying fiqh under Khurasani.30 The city was desolate and dilapi-
dated and paled in comparison with Isfahan, where Quchani had received
his earlier seminary education.31 But Quchani began to attend Khurasani’s
lectures, and his first encounter with his teacher in 1893 completely fasci-
nated him. After witnessing “Khursani’s captivating oral delivery,” he had
a sudden change of heart and boldly decided to stay for the duration of his
intended studies. According to Quchani, no one had made the usul al-fiqh
(principles of jurisprudence) so enthrallingly accessible. Khurasani never
repeated a lesson, Quchani claims, because “once was enough” to make a
lasting impression on anyone attending his lectures.32
Akhund Khurasani 123

The same stories of Khurasani’s ease and skill teaching difficult sub-
jects are retold by his students and by subsequent generations of pupils.
Abdul-Riza Kifa’i recounts a story of how his grandfather’s arguments con-
vinced even the Ottoman Shaykh al-Islam (the highest ranking Sunni
cleric in the Ottoman Empire, who is also referred to as the Grand Mufti
of Istanbul) during one of his official visits to Iraq. The Shaykh al-Islam,
according to Kifa’i and Murtiza Mudarrisi,33 attended one of Khurasani’s
lectures in which he was discussing the reasoning and proofs in certain
rulings of Abu Hanifah. An eighth-century jurist, Abu Hanifah was the
founder of one of Islam’s four schools of law. Khurasani’s lecture immedi-
ately captured the Shaykh al-Islam’s attention, but after a short discussion
between the two in public, Khurasani changed direction and pointed out
the flaws in Abu Hanifah’s argument. The students, aware of the presence
of the high-ranking official in the hall, waited to see how the Shaykh
al-Islam would respond. According to Kifa’i, the Grand Mufti surprised
everyone and agreed with Khurasani. When the lecture ended, Khurasani
descended from the pulpit (minbar) and gave the floor to the Shaykh al-
Islam, who refused it as a sign of respect. Although we cannot be certain
of the truth of this story, Khurasani always had the reputation of an inde-
pendent, intellectually sophisticated, and credible scholar. Most accounts
describe an effective Mullah with a perceptive personality.
Despite personal rivalries between competing mujtahids in the holy
Shi‘ite cities of Iraq, the publication of Khurasani’s Kifayat al-Usul in 1903
elevated him to a new level of scholarly authority. The book instantly
transformed him into a notable scholar and jurist throughout the Shi‘ite-
dominated region, and consequently led to his becoming the leading
Source of Emulation.34 British officials in Iraq were aware of Khurasani’s
high status as a mujtahid and included him among the “four great mujte-
heds [sic]”35 having the most influence and political weight in Iran even
before the Constitutional Revolution got underway. However, it has been
suggested that at the turn of the twentieth century a notable faqih such as
Khurasani was mostly referred to as one in charge of “religious leadership”
(riyasat-i diniyya) rather than a marja‘.36 Others have suggested that he was
the director of all the Najaf ulama (ra’is-i kull-i ulama-yi Najaf) or held the
chairmanship of the Shi‘ite clergy.37
124 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Abdul-Hussayn Kifa’i relates most of the stories about Khurasani’s

character, kind demeanor, generosity, affection for his students—and his
absolute commitment to a rational point of view: first in his religious faith,
and second in his approach to his opponents; he strove to understand the
rationale for the positions that all persons adopted.38 One cannot point to
a single trait that made him an indispensable member of the ulama or
prominent in Iranian history; rather, it was the combination of his spiritual
essence and faith and his rational approach to complicated issues.
Khurasani’s only biography, written by his grandson, is void of any
detail regarding his ideological and political differences with the famous
Tehran-based anti-constitutionalist cleric Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri. Thus we
are faced with an enigmatic perception of him as a political thinker simply
because he did not express his views clearly in the organized fashion that
we might expect of someone of his intellect. To understand Khurasani
from a political angle requires one to read all of his fatwas, opinions, and
letters, which then have to be juxtaposed with his thoughts on intellect-
based jurisprudence (usuli fiqh) in his jurisprudential texts.
While conducting research for this book in Iran, various promi-
nent individuals and scholars were hesitant to discuss the political life of
Khurasani with me. For example, in summer 2007 I met with the director
of the library of the Iranian parliament in Tehran, Abdul-Hussayn Ha’iri,
to discuss my ideas about Khurasani. For reasons that are still unknown
to me, he was uncomfortable discussing Khurasani as a political figure.
After several meetings, he finally confided that he did not know the “real”
reasons why Khurasani participated in politics. He suggested that I look at
Khurasani through his writings on fiqh and nothing else. Apart from his
writings that are used in seminaries and have stood the test of time, little
information was available in either Tehran or Qum to provide a coherent
and reasonable answer to the question of how to define Khurasani other
than as a scholar of the highest order.
Khurasani’s disciples, who studied under him in Najaf, trained
most of today’s high-ranking jurists in Iran. These jurists claim that at
the height of his scholarly fame when he was busy teaching and writing
at the hawzah, he was known for his kind and gentle demeanor toward
everyone. Although he received huge sums of money from his followers
Akhund Khurasani 125

and supporters in the Shi‘ite community that traditionally were spent on

sustaining the hawzah and its projects, he also helped poor students from
different backgrounds who had come to Najaf to study. One story relates
that during the Constitutional Revolution the anti-constitutionalists were
not willing to come face to face with the Ayatullah to discuss their differ-
ing views. However, pressing financial needs of the anti-constitutionalist
students overcame their ideological rigidity and they put aside their intel-
lectual or political differences and paid a visit to Khurasani at his home.
According to Khurasani’s grandson, two anti-constitutionalist students
met with Khurasani one night to ask for financial assistance. Although
Khurasani could not immediately help them, he discreetly put some of
his own cash into the handkerchief of one and prayed for them that God
would help them somehow. Later, when the two students attempted to
clear their debt with a baker, they were informed that Khurasani had
already paid their bill and thus they owed nothing. The same happened
at the butcher’s shop and elsewhere. Anyone who had met or studied with
Khurasani spoke well of his keen concern for the spiritual and nonmate-
rial aspects of life and that differences of opinion never prevented him
from acting humanely toward those in need.39
Khurasani had a special talent for making the complex fundamen-
tals of Islamic jurisprudence accessible to almost all of his students and
other masters who taught at various schools of Najaf. According to Ayatul-
lah Shubayri Zanjani, Shaykh Abdul-Karim Khu’ayni had told him that
his own teacher’s house was in the same alley as Khurasani’s, and when
he used to attend Ayatullah Shari‘at Isfahani’s lectures in the courtyard
of this house, he could hear Khurasani lecturing his students. Khu’ayni
learned that Isfahani used to access the rooftop of Khurasani’s house and
listen to his lectures surreptitiously. Without his master’s careful attention
to Khurasani’s lessons, Khu’ayni claimed, comprehending the usul would
have proven very difficult.40
Ayatullah Muhsin Hakim, one of Khurasani’s most notable students,
trained Sayyid Muhammad Musavi Bujnurdi,41 who at a certain point
in the 1980s was one of the closest associates of Ayatullah Khumayni.
Bujnurdi heard many times from Hakim, and others who remembered
Khurasani, that he was a diligent researcher and ‘alim (scholar) whose
126 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

personal traits of humility and generosity added to his already elevated

stature and brought him fame in Najaf’s scholastic circles and a “superior
scholastic position in the Shi‘ite world”.42

Khurasani’s Legacy

Khurasani lived for close to fifty years in the city of Najaf as a student, hus-
band, father, teacher, jurist, Source of Emulation, and—at the end—as the
leader of the pro-constitutionalist ulama. Besides his personal legacy and
the level of respect that he continues to command posthumously because
of his scholarship, he has also left an impressive legacy that includes his
religious texts and the establishment of several schools and societies.
With the money he received from religious taxes on individuals,
Khurasani provided financial aid to the neediest of the seminary students
and funded the operation of the seminary and regular living stipends.
In addition to this vast financial outlay, Khurasani invested his financial
resources in long-lasting institutions such as regular schools that were not
necessarily fully religious and that, for lack of a better term, we shall call
semi-secular. In addition to learning how to recite the Qur’an, perhaps,
students would also study and memorize Persian poetry. Of course he also
contributed to the establishment of three seminaries in Najaf.
The Grand School of Akhund (Madrisih-yi Buzurg-i Akhund), estab-
lished in 1903, is located in Huwaysh, one of the central neighborhoods
of Najaf. In 1908, Akhund’s Intermediate School (Madrisat al-Wusta
al-Akhund) became his second seminary in the Baraq district of Najaf,
which was followed in 1910 by his third: Akhund’s Elementary School
(Madrisih-yi Kuchak-i Akhund), built also in Baraq.
While Khurasani was dedicated to building predominantly seminaries
in his hometown of Najaf, he also supported local Persian societies, such as
Anjuman-i Ukhuvvat-i Iranian, in Iraq and funded the building of several
schools in Kazimayn in 1907, the ‘Alawi in Najaf in 1908–1909, and the
Hussayni in Karbala (probably in 1909), established with the support of
Anjuman-i Musawat-i Iranian. Persian literature and Islamic theology was
taught at these institutions supported by Khurasani, which was unusual for
a religious figure.43 Khurasani also supported pro-constitutionalist societies
Akhund Khurasani 127

that were active during the Revolution, such as Anjuman-i Fatimiyyih-yi

Gilan, Anjuman-i Ayalati-yi Tabriz, Anjuman-i Bushehr, and Anjuman-i
Sa‘adat-i Istanbul.44
Khurasani defended non-Muslim Iranian subjects during the Con-
stitutional Revolution. As violence against constitutionalists and their
supporters terrorized people around the country, non-Muslims were
repeatedly identified and targeted as the group conspiring to change Iran’s
Islamic foundation. Enticed mostly by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri’s anti-con-
stitutionalist rhetoric, non-Muslims came under violent attacks by thugs
and supporters of Nuri. In an article in Iran’s only Zoroastrian newspa-
per published today, Khurasani’s authority is remembered in a positive
light for defending Zoroastrian Iranians against uncivilized attacks by the
It appears that in “Deltangi,” an article published in Ma‘rifat-i Yazd,
Zoroastrians complained about the lack of protection, for which the
Shi‘ite ulama were responsible.46 Obligated by Islamic doctrine to protect
Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians (ahl al-kitab, or “People of the Book”),
the author of the article reminded everyone that Zoroastrians had always
been part of a peaceful community in Iran and that their unfair treatment
during the fight between pro- and anti-constitutionalists was unwarranted.
Once that grievance reached one of the ulama in Iran, he telegraphed
Khurasani on behalf of the Zoroastrians of Iran. Hajj Shaykh Hussayn
Tabrizi asked Khurasani what would he decree in response to this com-
munity’s being “persecuted and belittled” (aziyyat va tahqir) by Muslims.47
Khurasani issued a fatwa in which he forbade such treatment of Zoroas-
trians and other non-Muslims (dhimmi) and ordered Muslims to protect
the health, wealth, and dignity of these Iranian groups, as mandated by
Islamic law. Khurasani’s popularity even in Zoroastrian circles is remem-
bered fondly in a Zoroastrian newspaper.
Khurasani was survived by six children. Zahra (1891–1956) was his only
daughter, who married Shaykh Ismail Rashti and moved to Tehran at the
age of eighteen with her husband. Khurasani’s sons included Mirza Mahdi
Ayatullahzadeh Khurasani (1874–1945), Mirza Muhammad, better known
as Aqazadih Najafi (1877–1937), Mirza Ahmad Kifa’i Khurasani (1883–
1972), Hajj Hussayn Aqa Kifa’i (1900–1976), and Hassan Kifa’i (1903–1954).
128 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

For almost forty years, Khurasani was one of the leading teachers in
Najaf. Many students considered themselves fortunate and “honored” to
have studied fiqh under him.48 The list of Khurasani’s students contains
thousands of names. Not all became notable Ayatullahs, but a large group
became the essential core of the Shi‘ite world’s leadership in the twenti-
eth and twenty-first centuries, which attests to the breadth of Khurasani’s
professional career. Among them one finds such notable names as Mirza
Abdul-Hassan Mishkini, Shaykh Muhammad Hussayn Kashif al-Ghita’,
Shaykh Muhammad Jawad Ballaghi, Aqa Zia’ al-Din Iraqi, Aqa Shaykh
Muhammad Ali Shahabadi, Sayyid Muhsin Amin ‘Amili, Aqa Sayyid
Abdul-Hassan Isfahani, Hussayn Qumi, Sayyid Muhammad Taqi Khun-
sari, and the famous Sayyid Hassan Mudarris, each of whom made a sub-
stantial contribution to the history of Shi‘ism and Iran over the course
of the twentieth century. Sayyid Hussayn Burujirdi (1875–1961) was one
of his students who later became the rector of Qum’s famous seminary;
Ayatullah Khumayni studied under Burujirdi before Khumayni began his
objection to the monarchical rule of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Writings on Fiqh

As the dates of his publications suggest, Khurasani started his scholarly

career rather early.49 His writings address a wide range of subjects and can
be divided into two major groups: complete commentaries on previous
works by famous Shi‘ite ulama and his original works on fiqh.
The first group is made up of several major texts, mainly on the works
of his master, Shaykh Ansari, as well as one on the classic Shi‘ite scholar
‘Allamah al-Hilli (d. 726 HQ/1325).50 Khurasani’s commentaries on Ansa-
ri’s works consist of al-Hashiyah al-Qadimah and al-Hashiyah al-Mabsut,
and they (his commentaries) are also contained in his al-Rasa’il (in Hashi-
yat al-Rasa’il). According to Muhsin Kadivar, Khurasani finished these
commentaries in thirteen years, between January 1875 and March 1888,
and they had all been published by 1898.51
Khurasani’s al-Hashiyah ‘ala al-Makasib, or al-Ta‘liqah ‘ala al-Maka-
sib, which was written between August 1900 and May 8, 1901, is a com-
mentary on Ansari’s other famous work, al-Makasib. Although Kadivar
Akhund Khurasani 129

believes that an older version of this work was originally published a few
years after its completion, it was not until 1986 that the Islamic Republic
of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance published the new edi-
tion.52 Yet another of Khurasani’s commentaries was Takammulah al-Tab-
sirah, published in 1910, which dealt with Hilli’s Tabsirah al-Muti‘allimin
fi Ahkam al-Din.53
Khurasani wrote many articles on fiqh and short commentaries on
works of his predecessors. The most famous of these, Qatarat Min Yara‘
Bahr al-‘Ulum auw Shazarat min ‘Aqdiha al-Mandum, was published
posthumously in October 1913 by one of his pupils, Muhammad Mahdi
Kazimi (d. 1925). In it one finds Kitab al-Waqf, Kitab al-Rida’, Kitab al-
Dama al-Thalitha, Kitab al-Tahara, and Kitab al-Salawa Ila al-Makan
Min al-Kitab al-Sabiq. Kitab al-Firaq, Risalah Fi al-‘Idalah, and Risalah fi
al-Rahn are three of Khurasani’s unfinished treaties that Kazimi included
in the same volume. Some years later, Sayyid Salih Mudarrisi published
Qatarat Min Yara‘ Bahr al-‘Ulum auw Shazarat min ‘Aqdiha al-Mandum
under the title al-Lamiat al-Nayyirah fi Sharh Takammula al-Tabsirah,
which was minimally edited.54
Procedural treaties (Rasa’il al-‘Amaliyyah) constitute another part of
Khurasani’s writings. They include Ruh al-Hayat fi Talkhis Nijat al-‘Ibad,
published in Baghdad in 1909; Zakhirat al-‘Ibad fi Yawm al-Ma‘ad, pub-
lished in Bombay and Tehran in 1911; and al-Ribaiyyah published in 1901.55
Khurasani’s commentaries also include texts on Vahid Bihbahani’s
al-Mutajir auw al-Mu‘amilat; Nijat al-‘Ibad fi Yaum al-Ma‘ad by Shaykh
Muhammad Hassan Najafi Sahib Jawahir; Sirat al-Nijat by Shaykh
Ansari; Nukhbah by Muhammad Ibrahim bin Muhammad Hassan Kal-
basi Isfahani; Wasilat al-Nijat by Mullah Muhammad Fadhl Ali Fadhil
Sharabyani; Minhaj al-Rishad by Shaykh Ja‘far Shushtari; the translation
of Nijat al-‘Ibad by Shaykh al-‘Araqayn Abdul-Hussayn bin Ali; and Zinat
al-‘Ibad: Majma‘ al-Masa’il Wa Fatawi Farsi by Muhammad Hassan Shi-
razi, which includes some of Khurasani’s own fatwas and was published
in 1913.56
Some of Khurasani’s works have remained unpublished. They include
Tahrirat fi al-Usul, which, according to Kadivar, might be commentar-
ies on Shaykh Ansari’s usul lessons; Hashiyyat al-Fara’id al-Qadimah, an
130 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

earlier version of Khurasani’s mabsut and qadimah on Shaykh Ansari’s

al-Risa’il; Hashiyyah ‘Ala Asfar Sadr al-Mutiallihin of Ayatullah Sadr al-
Mutiallihin; Hashiyyah ‘Ala Manzuma al-Sabzivari of Ayatullah Sabzi-
vari; Sharh Li Awail al-Khutabat al-Auwla Min Nahj al-Balaghah; Risalah
fi Mas’ilah al-Ijarah; Hashiyya ‘Ala Abanat al-Mukhtar fi Irth al-Zauwjah
Min Thumman al-Iqar Ba’d al-Akhid Bi al-Khiyar of Shaykh al-Shari‘a al-
Mirza Fath Allah bin Muhammad Jawad; and Hashiyyah ‘Ala al-‘Anab al-
Iinnah fi Qa‘ida al-Gharar fi al-Bay‘ auw Ghayru of Shaykh Ali bin Fadhl
Allah Mazandarani al-Ha’iri.57
The next group of Khurasani’s writings contains his original work.
There is, first of all, al-Fawaid al-Usuliyyah, composed of thirteen usuli
discussions and two fiqhi analyses, written in April 1884 and published in
By every measure, the most important of Khurasani’s works is Kifayat
al-Usul (1903). It consists of an introduction (al-Muqaddimah), eight chap-
ters (maqasid), and a conclusion (al-Khatimah). The introduction contains
thirteen commandments (awamir). The chapters are: (1) on command-
ments (fi al-Awamir), (2) on dissuasions (fi al-Nawahi), (3) on understand-
ing the meaning of usul (fi al-Mafahim), (4) on common and special
rules (fi al-‘Am wa al-Khas), (5) on absolute and independent ruling (fi
al-Mutlaq wa al-Muqayyad wa al-Mujmal wa al-Mubayyan), (6) on osten-
sive definitions (fi Bayan al-Amarat Al Mu‘tabarah Shar‘an auw ‘Aqlan),
(7) on the fundamentals of procedures (fi al-Usul al-‘Amaliyya), and (8) on
opposition to reason (fi Ta‘arud al-Adillah wa al-Amarat).59 The conclusion
is dedicated to independent reasoning and emulation (fi al-Ijtihad fa al-
Taqlid). The compendium was published three times during Khurasani’s
life, and many of his pupils, including Sayyid Muhsin Hakim, have com-
mented on it.60 It was recently published for the 453rd time.
An Islamic Jurist’s Thought,
Politics, and Practice

The city of Najaf, where the akhbari-usuli debate took shape, and where
Khurasani taught, contemplated, and wrote about religious law and
juristic methodology, was also the place where a group of Shi‘ite ulama
participated in an intellectual discussion to justify the establishment of
constitutionalism in Iran. We can gauge Najaf’s intellectual stature and
demonstrate how its residents perceived mashrutiyyat by examining what
they read during the Constitutional Revolution. For the discourse in that
city’s periodicals at the time of Khurasani’s support of the movement, we
turn to the more popular Persian-language periodicals al-Ghura and Dur-
rat al-Najaf. A review of key articles published in al-Ghura encapsulates
the intellectual position of these periodicals and helps us understand the
religious-political landscape of the city in which Khurasani led his pro-
constitutionalist colleagues.1
The township of Najaf was the center of the religious-political intellec-
tual development of Twelver Shi‘ism, which to a certain degree impacted
Iran’s constitutional movement when it eagerly defended parliament
during the Lesser Despotism (Istibdad-i Saghir) between June 24, 1908
and November 14, 1909.2 Najaf’s contribution partly owed its success to
the aforementioned periodicals, along with others such as Najaf, which
were published and read within Iraq. Aiming to discredit constitutional-
ism entirely, the anti-constitutionalist ulama claimed that mashrutiyyat
was an un-Islamic foreign tool. During the Istibdad-i Saghir they helped
the monarchy, who planned to destroy parliament by providing a reli-
gious argument against it, leaving the future of parliament hanging in
132 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

the balance. However, al-Ghura and Durrat al-Najaf aimed to counter

the anti-constitutionalists’ argument. Publication of pro-constitutionalist
material by the religious establishment in Najaf shows that publishers
wanted to inform the public that, as far as Najaf was concerned, mashruti-
yyat was compatible with Islam and that parliament was in total harmony
with its values and doctrines.
The residents of Najaf, however, also had access to secular newspa-
pers. Habl al-Matin, for example, was a much more influential newspaper
that was more effective, and probably more widely read and respected for
its modernist views on Iran’s need to reform, than the Najaf magazines.
Published originally in Calcutta, Habl al-Matin was one of the most pro-
gressive Persian-language newspapers outside of Iran.3 According to one
source, a certain Hajji Zayn al-‘Abidin Taqioff Bakui, who happened to be
a famous wealthy Cossack, provided the Persian-speaking residents of Iraq
with five hundred subscriptions to Habl al-Matin that he personally paid
for. The paper was sent to Iraq to be distributed specifically among Shi‘ite
ulama and their students in Najaf, Karbala, and other holy cities, in the
hope that the material it contained would enlighten them.4
After the anti-constitutionalist clerical leader Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri
was executed in July 1909, most of his followers—who preferred a shari‘a-
based government to a parliamentary system in a constitutional monar-
chy (see chapters 10 and 11)—discontinued their fight against parliament.
As one scholar rightly suggests, the defeat of the anti-constitutionalists in
the summer of 1909 indicates that their cause was identified with Nuri’s.5
From that time until Khurasani’s death in December 1911, Najaf played
a key role in the success of parliament. After Khurasani died, his pro-
constitutionalist position as an influential Source of Emulation was left
vacant; Najaf lost its edge and no longer played a role in the constitutional
struggle.6 Khurasani was highly involved in the constitutionalist struggle
from June 24, 1908, when parliament was bombarded, to weeks before its
closure when he unexpectedly died, as demonstrated in the number of
times various newspapers quote him in praise of his pro-constitutional-
ist position or publish his various fatwas and opinions about parliament
and its actions. As discussed in later chapters, the entire movement of
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 133

mashrutiyyat, and its support by the Najaf establishment, became dor-

mant after Khurasani died.
Although Najaf’s periodicals did not support cultural Westernization,
Khurasani and his group of constitutionalists aimed to limit the monar-
chy’s unchecked powers, eliminate tyranny and arbitrary rule, and estab-
lish equity between various Iranians. They generally viewed Westerners
as “Christian colonizers” who had developed grand designs for the region
that ran counter to progress and the improvement of the lives of Mus-
lims. Moreover, they defined the West in a religious-political context:
Westerners were “followers of the Cross” (salibi) who intended to “colo-
nize” (isti‘mari) others’ lands and exploit its resources to sustain their own
growth. Therefore, they suggested that Westerners should be viewed with
“suspicion” and without “enthusiasm.”7
Clearly, Najaf had a paradoxical view of the West. On the one hand
it defended almost all “new” (jadid) concepts, including “freedom” and
“constitutionalism,” a Western notion,8 while on the other hand it despised
the Western imperialist tactics that were felt by most people in the region,
including Iranians. The same people who were wary of “salibi colonial-
ists” also admired their idea of a constitution that could potentially limit
a government’s total freedom to do as it pleased. Consequently, Najaf
ulama debated whether to support new and modern concepts that secular
groups thought were beneficial for a progressive society. To join or ignore
the constitutionalist movement required the ulama to reconcile their reli-
gious convictions with the modernist views of reform and progress. The
religious establishment needed to justify their support for a civil society,
but they also had to think of any unintended consequences that “colonial
modernity”9 might have for their followers. For example, although Islam
allowed education for women, traditional clerical teachings over the cen-
turies had made it appear un-Islamic; hence, any move to change this
perception could have a negative impact on the ulama who supported it.
The ulama were challenged to find a modus vivendi between what the
secular Iranians propagated by way of reform and what their traditional
role allowed them to support. At the same time they were mindful that
taking sides with either reformist constitutionalists or their own traditional
134 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

colleagues could significantly harm their position as protectors of Shi‘ism

or spiritual leaders of those who believed in their authority. Some ulama,
including Khurasani and his group, approved of the constitution and the
parliament that proposed to improve the conditions of the people and
could potentially empower Iranians in dealing with encroaching foreign
powers. But the cultural challenges that were inherent in such unfamiliar
terms as “freedom” and “fundamental law” or “constitution” were a dif-
ferent story. Some of the ulama considered these proposed changes to be
threats to Iranian cultural norms and Muslim values. For example, the
idea that the liberties granted to parliament could lead to the creation of
new taxes agonized some of the ulama. In a similar vein, those who appre-
ciated the changes brought about by these reforms, which benefitted the
people by protecting their rights and limiting monarchical autocracy, were
unsure how their colleagues would react if they supported institutions that
made those changes possible. Irrespective of those issues, magazines pub-
lished in Najaf engaged their audiences by defining key terms to arrive
at a conclusion that would be conducive to accepting parliament. They
discussed such terms as “civilization” (tamaddun), “constitution” (Qanun-i
Asasi), “freedom” (azadi), and “consultative assembly” (majlis-i shura)—
the very words and concepts that Iranians were borrowing from Western-
ers to reform their society were also used to challenge colonial bullying.10
To see how these publications reconciled Islam with constitutional-
ism to normalize the establishment of a new political body (such as par-
liament) in a traditional political system at the mercy of arbitrary and
despotic rulers, and also how mashrutiyyat contributed to a Muslim soci-
ety in more than one way, we now turn to some selected articles published
in al-Ghura.

Pro-Constitutionalist Publications of Najaf

The first Persian-language magazine published in Najaf during the Con-

stitutional Revolution was al-Ghura.11 Its editor planned to produce sixty-
four pages per month,12 but it was published only once on Dhul-Hajjah
18, 1327 HQ/December 31, 1909.13 According to the editor Hussayn al-
Sahhaf al-Najafi,14 the paper was charged with violating local press laws
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 135

and consequently the Ottoman authorities in Iraq shut it down after the
publication of its first issue. However, the editor goes on to state that after
an Ottoman court found the paper in full compliance with its press laws,
publication resumed with a new look and under the new name Durrat
Durrat al-Najaf printed an array of the latest clerical edicts and pro-
vided its readers with some religious analyses and editorials focused on
the Iranian Constitutional Revolution.16 It has been suggested, albeit with-
out reference, that “Khurasani financially and politically supported some
issues of Durrat al-Najaf.”17 Although no corroborating evidence proves
this claim, a careful reading of the articles in al-Ghura reveals how the
magazine could have served as a mouthpiece for Khurasani and his col-
leagues who intended to convey to the world their thoughts about consti-
tutionalism, and that it was perfectly united in spirit with the nonclerical
constitutionalists in Iran.18 In order to alter the direction of the movement
in their favor, anti-constitutionalists at times misquoted fatwas that were
issued by Najaf-based mujtahids and sometimes completely changed
the contents of those decrees.19 That is why there is a distinct possibility
that Khurasani supported the publication of Durrat al-Najaf: so jurists
in Najaf could inform everyone of what the establishment thought about
inqilab-i mashrutih. For example, after Khurasani and his colleagues in
Najaf decreed on September 14, 1903 that Muzaffar al-din Shah’s prime
minister, Mirza Ali Asghar Khan-i Atabak Sadr-i A‘zam, was an “infidel,”
another fatwa published on February 7, 1904 by the same signatories con-
tradicted the first, claiming it to have been fraudulent. In the issue of
Habl al-Matin in which most of these decrees were published, a third
fatwa handed down by Khurasani was reproduced, which asserted that the
February decree was a total fabrication and that the original September
fatwa was still valid. Hence, it was imperative that Khurasani and others
in Najaf establish and control an outlet that would properly reflect their
views, ideas, and decisions.20
Al-Ghura’s first page stated that its main objective was to show and
convey to everyone that Islam did not clash with “civilization” (tamaddun).
Not only did Islam not oppose civilization, but civilization and all things
civil were actually Islamic. Al-Ghura declared that it aimed to “admonish”
136 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

(tanbih) and “educate” (ta‘lim) the brothers of faith and “nation” (watan)
about how the political decision-making process worked and what its main
challenges were. It planned to print articles, theses, editorials, religious
edicts, and translations of presumably non-Persian material that supported
al-Ghura’s goal.21
In the first section of its only issue, al-Ghura described what tamaddun
and tadayyun (piety or religiosity) were. It viewed humans and civilization
as one and the same and argued that “humans are civilized by nature”
(al-insan madaniyy bi al-tab‘). By extension, humans fail to thrive in an
uncivilized environment. Human beings have a natural desire to “work
alongside” and cooperate with others in a civilized society. Anything con-
trary to this norm, the article warned, would lead to disunity and would
establish an individualistic society that ignored all the considerations that
civilized persons needed to show one another.22 In short, the article tried
to convince Muslims that a certain order in everyday human life is nec-
essary and that this order provides humans with the opportunity to live
together peacefully in a “civilized” fashion, and, based on that belief, that
Islam had no issues with such an arrangement. But we need to remember
that the paper was supported by the religious establishment and it con-
textualized what it discussed based on an intellectual reference that was
religious in nature.
To create a symbiotic relationship between civilization and piety,
and to eventually connect the two with religion—in this case Twelver
Shi‘ism—is what is meant, explains the article, by the term “religiosity”
(tadayyun). “Religion is an expression of civil law or it is composed of laws
that are legislated for human civil society in order to guide its citizens in
their affairs of everyday life (ma‘ash) and the afterlife (ma‘ad).” The article
expounds on the religious premise that first God and then the twelfth
Imam al-Mahdi is the ultimate legislator; and because of the unavailabil-
ity of the latter to lead society at the moment, the combination of “a spiri-
tual order and divine law” is necessary. Therefore, when one mentions
law, one really means regulations that do not deny the authority of the
ultimate legislator.23 The article implicitly states that the religious estab-
lishment agrees with the tenets of “mashrutiyyat,” as long as constitution-
alists and lawmakers in parliament recognize that their work is temporary,
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 137

and that they should be mindful that they do not serve as the ultimate
lawmakers, because God and the twelfth Imam shall not be replaced by
any other entity.
There is no contradiction between religion and the kind of civil society
that Iranians struggled to create during the Constitutional Revolution—
a revolution that to all intents and purposes was to create a lawful soci-
ety. The article also demonstrates that the religious establishment acted
within a theological framework to protect Shi‘ism and keep open the pos-
sibility of an Islamic society that would prosper under the new concept of
“constitutionalism.” The article directly connects “divine law” with the
existence and importance of spiritual leadership that is assumed by the
ulama to justify support for the movement. It then states that because
tamaddun and tadayyun were really one and the same concept in Twelver
Shi‘ism, all those who wanted to be considered “civilized” were also essen-
tially implying that they were informed religious individuals. Hence, laws
were necessary, and without them one could not attain a progressive civil
society in any context.
It is by requiring a civilized society to have law and order at its core
that al-Ghura sets the stage to further explain Islam’s compatibility with
that which is civilized and lawful.
As part of another article, al-Ghura published the declaration of a
mujtahid whose name remains unknown.24 He declares that because “it is
obvious that the value of any action lies in its objective, an intelligent per-
son never spends his time on things that he does not believe in.” Likewise,
“people with different objectives view their intentions differently because
their goals are dissimilar.”25 This general principle, the article claims, can
be applied to those who debated mashrutiyyat. Various groups interpreted
constitutionalism according to their own interests; their ultimate objectives
after securing a constitution were not necessarily congruent with those of
the religious establishment. Every group’s objective, the article contended,
was to move forward by creating a constitution and a parliament, but their
motivations differed. The article focused on two specific groups: the reli-
gious pro-constitutionalists and the secular pro-constitutionalists. Accord-
ing to the article, whereas the religious group was Islam-centric in its view
of mashrutiyyat, the secular group was made up of Westernizer elements
138 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

of the Iranian elite whom the European “colonialists” found appealing.

However, the article fails to recognize that in the struggle for a constitu-
tional form of government, not all constitutionalists intended to serve the
interests of the West, although some were quite enthusiastic about West-
ern culture. Thus regardless of their affinity with Western civilization,
some of the constitutionalists worked to be politically independent and
to gain the freedoms that would enable them to make their own political
decisions in light of the state’s failure to do so.
The people of Najaf were enlightened as to the circumstances sur-
rounding the Revolution. In fact, this alertness was in line with Khurasani’s
justification for supporting the movement. He provided an Islamic reason-
ing for supporting parliament and he added value to his support by basing
his argument on his own interpretation of Islamic doctrines and values,
while he objected to those who supported the arbitrary rule of a despotic
regime that favored foreign encroachment in Iran.
The article further claimed that if one were civilized and faithful to
one’s religion, and if one believed in the egalitarian nature of Islam, then
one should find mashrutiyyat suitable, given its objective of creating and
securing a supreme law to fight the lawlessness and injustice instigated by
Qajar rulers. In other words, civilization, Islam, and the constitution were
not antithetic to one another; rather, they complemented one another or
were in essence one and the same.26
Justice, as guaranteed by the constitution, the author states, would
prohibit anyone from attempting to violate another’s “financial and physi-
cal well-being,” and this could only be achieved by safeguarding Islam and
making it a tool by which the constitution could be saved, because Islam
sanctions and supports such fair practices that are the basis of any civilized
society. The article reiterated that a Muslim nation could no longer allow
the rule of a despot to continue unchecked, and that in order to impose
effective supervision, a constitution had to be created. It was apparently
for such reasons that ayatullahs issued decrees calling for the drafting of
the constitution.27 Therefore, it is arguable that because Khurasani and his
colleagues took the extreme measure of labeling any anti-constitutionalist
an “infidel”—and by that definition opposed to Islamic law—they exhib-
ited their steadfast support for the movement.28 However, by no means
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 139

should this fact be construed as a total understanding of constitutionalism

in Najaf, or what a constitution actually heralded in a society that had
been under the traditional rule of a monarchy and a domineering religion.
According to the author of the al-Ghura article, secular pro-consti-
tutionalists supported the Constitutional Revolution for all the wrong
motives, because their support was not “based on any religion or rea-
son.” This group’s reasoning only pleased “some foreigners,” the author
laments while continuing to denounce the group for its unconcern about
strengthening Islam, protecting the nation, or improving the social condi-
tions of Iranians. What the seculars actually sought, the author claims,
was “absolute freedom” (hurriyyat-i mutlaq), “carelessness” (la-qaidi), the
“propagation of licentiousness” (isha‘ih-yi fahsha), and the “committing
of sins” (munkirat) that would actually weaken the Revolution’s purpose
altogether.29 It is clear from the use of terms that have a religious connota-
tion, such as “munkirat,” that the author is concerned that the un-Islamic
visions of some of the constitutionalists could alter the movement’s objec-
tives. If handled incorrectly, that is, not in accordance with traditional
Muslim values, he feels the Islamic nature and fabric of Iranian society
would be seriously hurt. Overall, al-Ghura seems to have continued its
promise of supporting the Constitutional Revolution while it confidently
demonstrated the Islamic reasoning behind that backing. This becomes
more apparent when we examine the second section of its first and only
issue, which discusses history as a modern field of inquiry.
Al-Ghura viewed history as a discipline and a tool that could be used to
educate current and future generations of Iranians who wanted to improve
their lives and make progress, which was only possible by studying their
past. “Knowledge,” or the “science of history” (‘ilm-i tarikh), was held to
be an essential discipline that had been ignored in the East, whereas the
West had embraced it as an important part of its educational curriculum.
This section discusses how Easterners valued “oral tradition and [enter-
taining] tales” (hikayat va qisas), which terms they used interchangeably
for “history,” whereas in “Western nations .  .  . real past events and the
detailed [biography] of personalities” were the focus of history. Written
histories, according to the article, had allowed Westerners to take political
actions for the future that were based on successful stories from the past.30
140 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

The section obviously draws a direct connection between planning for a

successful future and learning from past experiences, which is what had
allowed Westerners to be so accomplished.
Furthermore, the section implies that the pro-constitutionalist ulama
supported the Western approach to history, in light of their general adher-
ence to and praise for Prophetic and Imamate traditions. But this implica-
tion runs contrary to the general ignorance of the religious establishment
at the time. The section goes on to say that learning history contributes
to the attainment of two important kinds of knowledge: scientific reason-
ing (aql-i ‘ilmi) and practical rationality (aql-i ‘amali”), the use of which
enables a responsible person to handle the political uncertainties of mod-
ern nations. Therefore, history is viewed as “necessary” information, should
a nation desire to reach the “highest peaks of progress.”31 As discussed in
chapters 2 and 3, this was how early Qajar reformers such as Crown Prince
Abbas Mirza thought of Western progress. He too supported the transla-
tion of biographies of Western historical figures like Peter the Great, so
that they could serve as historical role models for Iranians who were suf-
fering as a result of ineffective leadership.
The section then correlates this seemingly secular argument with its
basis in Islam using a Quranic reference in a verse from Surat al-Hud:
“And all we relate to you [Muhammad] of the accounts of the Messengers
is to strengthen your heart therewith; and in this has come to you the truth
and an admonition, and a reminder to the believers.”32 The verse suggests
that learning from the history of other prophets before Muhammad will
lead him and all Muslims to progress. The article points out that “this
auspicious constitution” (the one that the Iranian parliament was ratify-
ing) took history as its role model, emulating what others had learned in
the past in the way God had sanctioned in the above verse from al-Hud.
The section also directs the reader to Surat al-Yusuf, another chapter in
the Qur’an, in which God informs the Prophet Muhammad: “We narrate
to you the best of narratives, by our revealing to you this Qur’an, though
before this you were certainly one of those who did not know.”33 The
explanation provided in support of history, and the positive perception of
the Najaf pro-constitutionalist circle regarding the experience of others,
implies on the one hand a need to borrow from other cultures, while on
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 141

the other, Islamicizing that very need. Islamicizing what the modernists
tried to accomplish from the time of Abbas Mirza in the early decades of
the nineteenth century is a subject that warrants elaboration, but suffice
to say this was yet another way in which the ulama reconciled Islam with
the wave of modernity and reform that had overtaken Iran.
The article goes on to explain why al-Ghura and those who supported
it were in favor of a combination of constitutional government and a
limited monarchical system: because such a government would help all
classes of people living in Iran and not just the privileged.34 Furthermore,
the article argues that the interests of others, particularly the “nonresi-
dents” of Iran, should not take precedence over those who actually live
there—an apparent reference to foreigners and their financial interests. It
is with this understanding of a constitutional monarchy that al-Ghura sup-
ported the movement and underscored its belief that it was the only way
to prevent the slow and incremental penetration of the infidels (nufuz-i
tadriji-i kuffar) into the country.35
Al-Ghura ended its first issue by summing up the modern tools for
progress that Iranians needed to create. These included: (1) a constitution
and a constituent assembly; (2) a standard and up-to-date proportional
taxation of all classes; (3) a sophisticated system of checks and balances
to monitor royal expenditure; (4) a modern army in accordance with the
newest innovations in military equipment and the training of new officers
and soldiers; (5) governmental support and propagation of literary, politi-
cal, and cultural publications; and (6) a sophisticated, erudite, and alert
foreign ministry that would fend off negative foreign designs.36

The Origins of Khurasani’s Thoughts

From a historical perspective, Khurasani’s major work is significant in that

it has remained a required text in Shi‘ite jurisprudence since it was first
published in 1903. This simple fact demonstrates Khurasani’s expertise in
describing complicated concepts in fiqh and ijtihad based on rationalist
arguments that no other jurist has been able to rival thus far. Therefore,
it should come as no surprise that Khurasani has remained a respected
mujtahid and a notable marja‘ who took his responsibilities seriously and
142 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

thought rationally about performing his duties. The same reasoning and
practicality that served as the basis of Kifayat al-Usul were used in his
pro-constitutionalist activities, even though mashrutiyyat was founded on
secular principles. The connection between Khurasani’s description of
the foundation of the rule of the ulama as jurists and his justifying his sup-
port for constitutionalism is evident when we examine Kifayat al-Usul’s
conclusion (Khatimah), where he explains his views on ijtihad (the process
of independent reasoning) as a major concept in Shi‘ite juristic practice.
His fundamental support and unwavering position on how ijtihad should
be practiced can also be inferred from the Khatimah. This is important
since no jurist could function religiously or politically without the premise
of ijtihad. In other words, if our argument is based on the belief that his
support for the Constitutional Revolution was directly connected to his
jurisprudential methodology, then it is imperative to examine his descrip-
tion of ijtihad and the way he perceived and practiced it.
Khurasani commented extensively on the writings of other ulama,
which is commonly referred to as hashiyih nivisi. His commentary was
mainly on the works of his master, Shaykh Murtiza Ansari, who was a
key contributor to the usuli school of fiqh.37 Khurasani’s commentaries on
Ansari are probably second only to Ansari’s own works, which were the
results of his intellectual explorations into fiqh. There exist two elements
of Ansari’s thoughts in Khurasani’s description of ijtihad. They are, first,
that the practice of ijtihad must be time sensitive when mujtahids form
an opinion about a certain issue, and second, that this freedom of action
to change and modify their previous judgments based on society’s needs
should not be taken as a free reign for the mujtahids to meddle in all
aspects of the people’s lives. Generally, Ansari taught Khurasani that as
Islamic lawmakers, they need to change or make laws in accordance with
those needs that occur within each society’s particular circumstances, but
that this does not give the mujtahids the right to interfere in all sorts of
issues that are beyond their framework.
Before we examine the conclusion of Kifayat al-Usul, let us glance
at these two important teachings of Ansari that Khurasani adopted.
Khurasani’s commentaries on his master’s works can be seen as a process
whereby he developed his own views and usage of fiqh, and the application
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 143

of its doctrines in different religious and social situations. It has been sug-
gested that Ansari objected to the ulama’s “involvement in politics” and
flatly opposed “excessive judicial activity” by clerics because he believed
that what the available “legal sources” were sufficient in most, if not all,
political matters.38 Considering such a stance on the involvement of the
ulama, it can be argued that Khurasani also wanted to provide an environ-
ment for reformists and constitutionalists to allow nonreligious elements
to be introduced as political solutions to the people’s issues, in light of the
new perspectives on ijtihad that were generally being discussed. This would
not have kept religion entirely out of politics, but it would have limited the
clerics’ degree of involvement in politics to those times when it might have
been religiously justifiable for them to form an opinion. In other words,
following Ansari’s advice, Khurasani wanted to limit the ulama’s political
involvement. He might have sensed an opportunity to limit clerical powers
in this way while trying to keep a balance between expressing his vision that
was based on his scholarship and the realities of interclerical politics. Real-
istically, he was unable to dispose of the clergy’s influence altogether, con-
sidering the history of Shi‘ism and Iranian politics discussed in chapter 5.
By supporting parliament and the Constitutional Revolution, which
allowed politicians and intellectuals to have a strong enough mandate to
work fairly and diligently on social and political issues, Khurasani fulfilled
the requirements set forth by Islam and the institution of marja‘iyyat, as
advised by his master Ansari. In supporting constitutionalism, Khurasani
demonstrated the effective leadership that the institution of marja‘iyyat
expected of him during the period when the Hidden Imam was unable to
lead directly: to act in accordance with what is just and beneficial to the
community. That is why he did not need to write his intentions or explain
his reasons for supporting new concepts such as a parliament or the consti-
tution; in effect he was doing exactly that when he supported the secular

Kifayat al-Usul

Let us turn now to a detailed analysis of Khurasani’s text on ijtihad in

Kifayat al-Usul to highlight the important elements of his jurisprudential
144 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

influence on his political thought. Kifayat al-Usul, is the complete text

of a seminary course in usul that students of Shi‘ite jurisprudence must
complete before continuing their education. Ayatullah Sayyid Mustafa
Muhaqqiq-Damad, one of today’s most notable jurists at Qum, considers
Kifayat al-Usul to be not only a complete description of the fundamen-
tals of rationalist jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), but also, in combination
with Ansari’s al-Makasib, to constitute the Najaf School of Fiqh, in which
philosophical and rational arguments dominate the discussion of usul.39
Hence, Khurasani is also credited as the master of that school.
Kifayat al-Usul’s “conclusion” specifically addresses ijtihad. It pro-
vides essential background for a discussion of the connection between
Khurasani’s interpretation of usuli fiqh and his actions in support of the
Constitutional Revolution. The following analysis charts Khurasani’s
Islamic intellectual development and the reasoning, based on his
“reformed” knowledge of Shi‘ite jurisprudence, that allowed him to
become an ardent pro-constitutionalist.
In the first section of the conclusion, “A Treatise in Independent
Reasoning and Emulation” (Risalah fi al-Ijtihad wa al-Taqlid), Khurasani
claims at the very beginning that it is difficult to describe exactly what
“ijtihad” is, and that difficulty is the reason for its variant interpretation.40
Referencing two notable scholars of the thirteenth century, al-Hajibi and
al-Hilli, Khurasani reiterates that a mujtahid, or anyone who practices ijti-
had, exerts “[his full] capacity in order to arrive at an opinion based on a
legitimate legal judgment.” In other words, and basing this explanation on
Shaykh Baha’i’s statement, he clarifies that ijtihad is a faculty “by means
of which one is able to arrive at a subsidiary legal ruling from a source in
actuality or potentiality [that can change from a potential to an actual
source].”41 It is clear from Khurasani’s definition that the act of ijtihad
allows a jurist to arrive at judgments that give him not only the freedom
to state his opinion, but also the opportunity to interpret, debate, refute,
adopt, or expand on his opinion.
The difficulty in comprehending ijtihad, Khurasani insists, should not
lead one to think differently about its mission because, generally, there is
consensus among scholars as to its inherent meaning.42 The real meaning
of ijtihad does not change its essence or alter its function just because it is
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 145

difficult to explain. The different descriptions of ijtihad by al-Hajibi and

al-Hilli should not result in doubt as far as the real meaning of ijtihad is
concerned, because Khurasani calls different descriptions a literary issue
in “expression of terms” (lafz) rather than something else. A word can
have a certain meaning but different people may express it differently, and
hence perceive it differently as well.
To borrow from a commentator of Kifayat al-Usul, the ability of an
individual to practice ijtihad by exerting his intelligence is the same as
any other human trait in that it is not necessarily shared by all. Some
traits, such as “bravery” or “generosity,” for example, only exist instinc-
tively among individuals who happen to be blessed with them;43 similarly,
the intellectual power to engage in ijtihad is not an attribute to which all
have equal access.
Khurasani clearly informs us that arriving at a judgment through ijti-
had can be quick and effortless without the need to consult other sources
of shari‘a.44 However, sometimes issues are not so straightforward as to
allow one to formulate an opinion promptly. It is exactly at such moments
that the root of the verb for ijtihad, j-h-d (to constantly strive for some-
thing), demonstrates its true meaning and challenges the mujtahid to
expend much effort in the search for sound and rational reasoning that
does not violate the two most important parts of “the Four Proofs” (adillah
al-‘arba‘a): the Qur’an and the Hadith. This extension of thought to other
sources and pondering the findings can take anywhere from a few hours
to several months or even years. One cannot rush this process in order to
deliver a judgment for the sake of expediency. According to Khurasani,
the mujtahid is obligated to take whatever time is necessary to arrive at a
reasonable opinion.
Khurasani defines ijtihad as an intellectual process that gives one the
ability to arrive at an independent ruling that is either “shar‘i” (compatible
with shari‘a) or is in harmony with “rational arguments” (‘aqli). Therefore,
the result of ijtihad is either “certainty” (yaqin) or “supposition” (zann).45
However, Khurasani’s description of this process is unique to the usuli
school, which promotes the use of rationalist argument on the same level
as the Qur’an, the Hadith, and “consensus” (ijma‘). Khurasani refrains
from using the term “supposition” (zann) because he believes that if one
146 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

uses rationality in conjunction with the other three sources (Qur’an, Had-
ith, ijma‘), then it is impossible to arrive at a doubtful opinion. The end
result of ijtihad, based on this qualification, is certainty, and it shall serve
as a final ruling.
As part of describing the outcome of ijtihad and its optimal function,
Khurasani provides us with a distinct explanation for the term “conjec-
ture.” The argument he offers is based on the premise that if one uses
rationality and all relevant information in arriving at a judgment, then
conjecture cannot be the end result. Hence, the outcome of ijtihad, based
on its usuli doctrinal standards, is “certainty.” In other words, conjecture
has no place in the process of independent ruling; if one practices ijtihad
based on usuli methods, “certainty” shall be the final outcome of that
process. According to Khurasani, if the end result of a judicial inquiry is
conjecture, then it must have been only partially thought out, debated,
or discussed. Since the essence of the term “ijtihad” connotes a process
of exhausting all sources available in order to arrive at a conclusion, then
clearly Khurasani was confident that the process should lead a mujtahid to
a sound and logical conclusion.46
Generally speaking, we can divide mujtahids into four groups based
on how each confirms its opinions and uses this confirmation as proof
(hujjah) in any given legal inquiry: (1) the Sunnites, who are literalist in
their interpretation of sources, which consist of the Qur’an and the Had-
ith; (2) Insidadi Imamis, jurists who believe that the gate of knowledge in
ijtihad has been closed for some time (commonly referred to as insidadi
mujtahids, or simply those who believe in the insidad al-bab al-ijtihad doc-
trine);47 (3) usulis, who believe that if there is an abundance of evidence
their proof is valid in any given case; and (4) akhbaris, who in essence are
more absolutist than the Sunnites and do not consider any thought or rul-
ing valid if it is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and the Hadith.48
Khurasani belonged to the third group, whose judicial methodology was
based on rational thought and depended on it. He took his powerful posi-
tion as a marja‘ seriously because he knew that as a spiritual leader and
as a jurist or religious authority (mujtahid), he could either promote or
hinder the general efforts in resolving the issues that Iran faced during the
Constitutional Revolution. Using the same rational argument that he had
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 147

for ijtihad, he justified his support of the constitutionalists to keep parlia-

ment intact. Although he did not invent usulism, he successfully applied
its tenets, and the powers that it granted him, to assist Iranian politicians
and constitutionalists. This is where we discover Khurasani’s perception
of fiqh in the context of a faqih’s responsibility. In his actions, Khurasani
epitomizes the very definition of fiqh: “activities of the juristic elite” and
direct response to “a divine command and a communal duty fulfilled on
behalf of the community.”49
It is clear that as a Source of Emulation or teacher Khurasani acted on
theory and did not consider theory to be a doctrine best left unexamined
or merely taught. I propose that the idea of “itjihad” in his jurisprudential
methodology became directly connected with Khurasani’s political activ-
ism. He perceived himself to be a social activist, which was permitted by
his status as a marja‘ and his ability to take a rational approach in politics
while keeping Shi‘ite doctrines intact. By his activism, he gained the trust
of many in his circle in both Iraq and Iran regarding constitutionalism
and defeated the ulama who thought otherwise.
In the Khatimah of Kifayat al-Usul, Khurasani writes that although
one might exhaust all sources in the hope of arriving at an indepen-
dently argued judgment based on the Books (the Qur’an and Hadith),
ijma‘, and ‘aql, an ideal judgment is not always guaranteed. In such a case,
Khurasani suggests that the mujtahid should obtain further knowledge.
More information could provide the necessary solution for what had thus
far prevented the jurist from arriving at a sound judgment. Khurasani reit-
erates that the nature of this new body of information should be reason-
able and not arbitrary or for the sake of expediency. Additional knowledge
and the gathering of reasonable justification should provide the appropri-
ate conditions that eventually lead to a rational conclusion. The time that
it might take to conduct more research and gather further evidence and
reasonable explanations should not be deemed time spent unwisely. That
is why, according to Khurasani, the end result of this exhaustive process
cannot be “conjecture,” but rather “reason” or “proof” (hujjah), and that,
he argues, is the “truth about ijtihad.”50
According to Khurasani, Akhbaris (those who do not use intellect in
the process of independent reasoning) shy away from ijtihad because they
148 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

believe that it only leads to conjecture and uncertainty. Therefore, because

doubt has no jurisprudential value in Akhbari thought, Khurasani con-
cludes that Akhbari ijtihad can have no value in its jurisprudence.51
Khurasani in Kifayat al-Usul divides ijtihad into two types: abso-
lute (mutlaq) and partial (tajazza). Absolute ijtihad either permits one
to extract “actual rulings from authenticated [authoritative] sources,” or
elicit rulings from the “functional principles that are valid either by way
of reason and rationality or by shari‘a.” Partial ijtihad, on the other hand,
“allows extraction of some rulings,” where extensive consultation might be
needed.52 Partial ijtihad needs a large amount of research and consultation
with other mujtahids to make a ruling that is much closer to proof.
What Khurasani declares in the discussion of arriving at rulings
through ijtihad is the exclusive infallibility of the Prophet, his daughter
Fatimah, and the twelve Imams, all of whom are collectively referred to
as the Fourteen Infallibles (chahardah ma‘sum), a major Shi‘ite doctrine.53
However, Khurasani asserts that if ijtihad produces no opinion and thus
doubt prevails, then no ruling can be issued. Despite this stalemate, the
mutlaq mujtahid still enjoys his position as an absolute jurist and his posi-
tion should not be doubted.54 The mujtahid’s absolute status is not depen-
dent on his handing down the right ruling every time he sets out to do
so. This absolute status implies that all mujtahids lack the Fourteen Infal-
libles’ essence and are thus human and imperfect.
According to Khurasani, a “mutlaq mujtahid” is a jurist who is forced
to make rulings decisively when faced with contemporary pressing issues
in society, which are referred to as al-ahkam al-fi‘liyyah. These pressing
issues are the primary concern of the followers of a Source of Emula-
tion. In the tradition of ijtihad, which allows the mujtahids to sort through
different possible scenarios that they might encounter while practicing
ijtihad, Khurasani responds negatively to the supposition that a mutlaq
mujtahid is free to not follow his own rulings. He believes that when a
mujtahid is alive and competent to issue rulings, rationally he must follow
those rulings that are made in accordance with what is necessary at that
moment in his community. For example, if a mujtahid forms an inde-
pendent ruling that constitutionalism must be followed, since it benefits
all Iranians, he cannot refrain from acting on what he has decreed. It is
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 149

mandated that an absolute mujtahid practice what he preaches. Khurasani

claimed that individuals who had not acquired the necessary intellectual
resources to reason independently have a right to choose the mujtahid
they want to follow and refer to as a Source of Emulation.55
Khurasani then categorizes mutalq mujtahids into two further groups,
based on their differing exegesis of what information they allow and disal-
low in the process of forming a judgment. He is in fact speaking of the
infitahi and insidadi mujtahids mentioned above. He argues that because
all usuli mujtahids must use the Four Proofs (adillah al-arba‘a) to arrive
at an opinion,56 usuli fiqh particularly provides for another opportunity
by allowing the followers (muqallids) to emulate a Source (marja‘) who
is more up-to-date and progressive in his opinions. Therefore, Khurasani
argues that this pragmatic approach to ijtihad is the main characteristic
of an infitahi mujtahid. Followers are free to decide whom to emulate,
depending on their own preference to follow or not follow a mujtahid
according to his progressiveness. That is to say, since the absolute muj-
tahid is not ignorant of the facts around him, having considered every
possible outside source and reasoned argument, and is sensitive to his
community’s needs, he therefore can be trusted as an authority to make
the right ruling for it citizens.57 The infitahi mujtihad is the group associ-
ated with this tenet.
Khurasani prefers the infitahi over the insidadi mujtahid. In Kifayat
al-Usual he makes it clear that the most important factors in choosing a
Source of Emulation are that Source’s openness to resolving contempo-
rary issues and his willingness to explore traditional and nontraditional
sources or avenues to address the needs of the community that he leads.
This is possible, he asserts, when a marja‘ uses the freedom granted to him
in usuli ijtihad of an infitahi type that allows for looking into nonorthodox
solutions to problems. Hence, Khurasani prefers emulators (muqallids) to
imitate infitahi mujtahids, who are sensitive to the needs of the society.
Because theoretically the infitahi mujtahid thinks realistically about the
possibility that the community might encounter future crises, and because
he foresees that challenges might vary from one period to another, he
keeps all options open for the interpretation of sources. Khurasani uses
the term fi‘li (contemporary) for contemporary problems that present a
150 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

mujtahid with a sense of urgency that requires him to seek solutions to

address pressing problems. By the same token, Khurasani naturally frowns
on following insidadi mujtahids because they refuse to consider possible
solutions that are found within nontraditional sources. That inflexibility
of the insidadi mujtahids, he argues, tends to keep ijtihad intellectually
stagnant. But he instructs us that an insidadi mujtahid is free to follow his
own ruling because he has attained the power of ijtihad, whereas others
need to consider his limitations when choosing to emulate him over an
infitahi jurist.58
Khurasani’s preference for Shi‘ites to emulate an absolute infitahi
mujtahid instead of an insidadi mujtahid as their marja‘ was founded on
two arguments. First, because the doctrine of “Reason for Emulating”
(adillah al-taqlid) suggests that an “ignorant” or uneducated individual
(jahil) should follow an “informed” person (‘alim), and because insidadi
mujtahids ignore the importance of contemporary sociopolitical condi-
tions while they engage in ijtihad, making the emulator just as ignorant
as the Source of Emulation. This immediately invalidates the reasons for
emulation, and thus the Emulation Doctrine, as far as insidadis are con-
cerned, becomes invalid. In addition, as insidadi mujtahids believe that
in most of their rulings they are not entirely certain of the validity of their
conclusions, Khurasani wonders why anyone would want to follow such
Second, because humans can generally make their own decisions, the
choice to become an insidadi follower and to view the infitah al-bab al-ijti-
had unfavorably seems irrational and should serve as a reason to not follow
insidadi mujtahids. Khurasani clearly questions why one would be closed
to the possibilities of what society and the world had to offer in nuanced
solutions to contemporary problems, and why one should ignore the facts
as they present themselves in one’s own time. However, he informs us that
flexibility in a time of crisis becomes crucial. As different situations call
for varied actions, and if there happens to be a consensus (ijma‘) among
mujtahids that looks favorably on an insidadi rule, then the followers are
obliged to do as the ruling dictates.
Therefore, it is reasonable to infer from Khurasani’s preference of
infitahi over insidadi mujtahids that he believed a mujtahid needs to
Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, Practice 151

be cognizant about everything that happens around him. Significantly,

Khurasani is aware that one cannot assume that a mujtahid, irrespective
of his scholarship, is an expert in every field at all times. For him, the muj-
tahid’s importance arises from the fact that essentially he is the one who
can successfully create the right sociopolitical milieu for change to take
place by approving innovations in various forms. Khurasani’s perception
of ijtihad, and the way one attains knowledge to perform it while being
in touch with the most advanced ideas of the day, is key to his support
of the constitutionalists, who were in need of the religious establishment
sanction that Khurasani provided. In the Shi‘ite Iranian context during
the Constitutional Revolution, the clergy was a patron of the populace, as
was the monarch, and in this instance Khurasani was the quintessential
patron in light of a less sympathetic shah.
Khurasani leaves no room for doubt about his position on the use of
common sense in the practice of ijtihad and its application in contempo-
rary issues. His adherence to the principles of infitahi ijtihad clearly sets
him apart from the “traditional” interpretation of shari‘a and qualifies him
as a revolutionary marja‘ who quietly helped the constitutionalists achieve
their goal. However, leading them during the Iranian Constitutional Rev-
olution does not mean that he became Westernized or that he doubted his
traditional role and its effectiveness. Rather, we should view his support as
a willingness to be a pragmatic leader who accepted that solutions to help
Iran out of its dismal situation were beyond his own capabilities and those
of his colleagues. He did not fear to explore what the seculars had to offer
in a time of crisis.
Religious Justification and Khurasani’s
Perception of Constitutionalism

Khurasani understood that the constitution drafted by parliament in

1906–1907 was not un-Islamic; moreover, he was aware that he was not
necessarily struggling to create Islamic law by establishing an Islamic par-
liament. Khurasani supported constitutionalism because he trusted the
constitutionalists’ judgment, which viewed mashrutiyyat as a cure for Iran’s
misfortunes. But more than that, he supported it because tradition had
made it his duty to protect the people when corruption, tyranny, and law-
lessness threatened their way of life. In addition, until the twelfth Imam’s
return before the end of time, and considering the impossibility of having
a fully Islamic and fair ruler, constitutionalism was the best option avail-
able to Khurasani. It so happened that he and nonclerical constitutionalists
alike thought that a representative system of government could eradicate
unfavorable social conditions. Based on this understanding, Khurasani
was confident that the Iranian parliament could help attain beneficial out-
comes and, therefore, could not possibly be un-Islamic. It did not mat-
ter to Khurasani if that meant taking notice of the intellectuals who were
enthused by Western culture; he supported their fight for constitutionalism
because it achieved the same favorable results that he considered Islamic.
The origin of constitutionalism was irrelevant; as long as it ameliorated
pressing problems in Iran, he and the clerics he led supported it.
One of the ways in which Khurasani supported the constitutional-
ist cause was by issuing fatwas. Khurasani studied jurisprudence under
the usuli master of fiqh and the author of al-Makasib, Shaykh Murtiza
Ansari, and his expertise in jurisprudence is informed by his mastery of
his teacher’s lessons in al-Makasib, which is where he learned about the
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 153

employment of fatwas in religious affairs.1 It was Khurasani’s frequent fat-

was that kept his name on the list of active pro-constitutionalist clerics
after parliament was established. Khurasani’s support for the Constitu-
tional Revolution strikingly resembles al-Makasib’s teachings about the
conditions under which political fatwas are warranted.
According to Ansari, certain conditions call for the issuing of reli-
gious decrees based on the doctrine of “Guardianship in Cases of Threat
to Security and Confiscation of Property” (vilayat-i tasarruf dar amval va
anfus).2 Fatwas become essential when jurists need to assert their authority
in the context of ijtihad and taqlid. In other words, when judicial matters
require religious decrees, or when an individual’s financial and physical
security is in jeopardy and at risk of being violated, it is the duty of the
mujtahid to guide the public or officials through fatwas.
If we consider the above stipulations regarding the duties of a religious
leader, it is difficult to argue that Khurasani was a politician or even might
have aspired to be one. I argue that Khurasani was not a politician and his
actions should be viewed in light of his position as a cleric. Khurasani was
least interested in becoming a politician. One can understand his original
reasons for defending constitutionalism when his rationalist jurisprudence
is compared with his actions as expressed in his letters and fatwas during
the Constitutional Revolution. His understanding of ijtihad and his appli-
cation of ijtihad in his duty as a Source of Emulation allowed him to use
his position to create an environment in which reformist politicians could
offer solutions to Iran’s problems. But he became a political activist when
he led the pro-constitutionalists in Najaf and went on to be regarded as
one of the first jurists to forge a bond with nonreligious modernists in a
progressive movement to change Iran’s political course.
Let us examine a few of Khurasani’s fatwas and letters as a mujtahid
and a marja‘ to elucidate his religiously based reasoning in support of Ira-
nian constitutionalism.

Khurasani’s Letters, Fatwas, and Concerns

Khurasani’s letters in support of the Constitutional Revolution are some

of the best sources from which we can determine his political thoughts.
154 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

My analysis is based on letters and fatwas written between 1902 and 1911.
Khurasani’s expression in them depicts a concerned mujtahid. More
than likely, Khurasani’s concept of “constitutionalism” differed from the
ideas that its major secular activists (reformists and the secular-educated
“modernists”) wanted to implement.3 Nor could he have imagined the
unintended consequences of constitutionalism on some of the beliefs
and doctrines of Twelver Shi‘ites. But he was well aware of the Iranian
government’s failure to secure better sociopolitical and economic condi-
tions for the people and that the Qajar monarchy had turned a blind
eye to despotism, nepotism, and the unfair treatment of the common
man. Khurasani’s appreciation for the dismal conditions in Iran under
the Qajars, his support of parliament, and his willingness to offer assis-
tance in its operation are well documented but dispersed within his
political writings.
Khurasani’s political thought and support of the Iranian Constitu-
tional Revolution in his letters can be summarized by several key facts.
(1) He understood how official corruption and the lack of modernization
and reform had negatively affected Iran. (2) Because he was a religious
leader and jurist trained in Islamic affairs, he never used the modern
jargon that secular constitutionalists employed in their pro-constitutional
writings, but there exists little difference between his ultimate concerns
and those of the secular constitutionalists. (3) He supported the monarchy
and was aware that as a marja‘ his support was a necessary continuation
of ulama traditions. (4) Despite his support of the monarchy, he contin-
ued to criticize it because his position demanded that he be assertive in
addressing the unjust practices of any entity, including the shah. (5) He
protected the constitutionalists and parliament when they most needed it
by providing a religious front against the anti-constitutional camp, which
claimed to be protecting Islam and its institutions. (6) He organized and
instructed clerics of various ranks to write about and support parliament
by claiming that they had a fundamental role in ending despotism. (7)
Because parliament engaged him in most of its affairs, despite its need to
act independently, Khurasani openly supported its agenda and willingly
stood against those who opposed its operation.
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 155

A Fully Informed Jurist

Not only was Khurasani informed about the rampant corruption that had
infested the Iranian government but he was also aware that corruption had
led to increased foreign economic and political infiltration and influence.
With the full establishment of telegraph technology throughout the Mid-
dle East between the 1850s and 1880s, the ulama inside Iran enjoyed much
better access to Khurasani, and that is how they notified him of events and
sought his guidance. When we consider that the merchants also had access
to Khurasani and that the pilgrims to the ‘atabat relayed news to him, it is
easier to appreciate the amount of information that flowed his way. As a
religious leader who received regular firsthand accounts of the situation
in Iran and was familiar with the country’s intricate socioeconomic condi-
tions and variables, Khurasani took his role as a marja‘ to new heights and
trusted the modernists’ proposals of sociopolitical and economic reform
over time vis-à-vis a constitutional government accountable to law.
In his first known letter dated August 7, 1902, Khurasani and the col-
leagues under his leadership questioned Crown Prince Muhammad Ali
Mirza about why the wave of “reputable reforms that [had] overtaken the
world” (kifayati kih saytihash dunya ra giriftih) had not benefitted Iran
and why the government had not succeeded in “disposing of its corrupt
element[s].”4 Although he does not provide any specific examples, it is pos-
sible that his exposure to changes in the Ottoman Empire, or even the
literature that he read about the changing world, had influenced him to
confidently discuss reform—or lack thereof—with the Crown Prince.
The letter clearly demonstrates Khurasani’s appreciation for modern-
ization and its potential to alleviate Iran’s acute problems. That is why he
questions the absence of reform in Iran. In the same letter, Khurasani
informed the Crown Prince that because he and his colleagues lived
abroad, they were aware that the monarchical system and the crown were
on the verge of losing their power. He thus knew of the worsening condi-
tions in Iran and that reform was connected to the survival of the regime.
It is possible that Khurasani’s intention was to inform Muhammad Ali
Mirza that the royal court’s hold on power was weak and therefore the
156 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

monarchy could be in jeopardy if it kept avoiding reform. Voicing his con-

cern, Khurasani and the co-signers of the August 7, 1902 letter reminded
Muhammad Ali that their intention in writing to him was nothing more
than a desire to protect and strengthen the monarchy. Khurasani aspired
to demonstrate that the “people” (millat) and the “government” (dawlat)
were united in word and deed by creating an unbreakable tie between
the two entities, or as he put it, the “unity of government and its people”
(ittihad-i kalamih-yi dawlat va millat).5
Khurasani’s thinking was rational and free from religious dogma, and
that pragmatic application of his thought in ijtihad allowed him to ask for
change that would lead to successful results, as it had in other countries
that had reformed accordingly. He claimed that he was aware of how
other nations progressed when they reformed their systems, but he did
not offer any details. He considered his action in this instance permis-
sible based on usuli infitahi ijtihad doctrines: the use of reason and the
intellect to persuade the seemingly oblivious monarchy to take advantage
of present opportunities to improve the Iranian situation and be open to
In the letter, Khurasani noticeably avoided using the Persian term
tajaddud, which secular proponents used to convey the notion of mod-
ernization/modernity. Sometimes intellectuals used the French word
“modernité,” which gave the proposal for modernization more credence
and an air of freshness as a solution to problems. Khurasani instead used
the term kifayat, which in religious texts is prevalently used to connote
“sufficiency” or “useful knowledge,” and in this case meant new ideas.7
Surely the two terms implied the same meaning, but kifayat was used in
a different context, not secular and modern but pragmatic and religious.
Khurasani was primarily a model cleric who still preferred clerical termi-
nology when discussing new and nontraditional concepts. It is interesting
that the same term kifayat that denotes reform in the jurisprudential texts
was used for the title of his major work, Kifayat al-Usul (Sufficiency of
Principles), perhaps suggesting a direct connection between how he saw
his own innovations in fiqh, as expressed in that book, and those apparent
in the world outside of his realm, as in the modernist movement that led
to the Constitutional Revolution.
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 157

Khurasani appreciated the utility of a constitutionalism that protected

the monarchy and kept the historical position of the shah intact, as dem-
onstrated in his correspondence of July 27, 1903. Again written jointly,
this letter assured Muzaffar al-Din Shah that because shari‘a mandated
it, Khurasani supported the government.8 Shari‘a required him to do so,
Khurasani explained, simply to “increase the monarchy’s stature” (i’la‘-i
maqam-i saltanat). But at the same time, as a cleric, he had another respon-
sibility and therefore informed “the Sultan of Islam,” that he (the shah)
was obligated to protect the rights of the “peasants,” who were in essence
“the shah’s subject[s]” (ra‘yat).9 Khurasani reminded the monarch that his
advice was part of the religious duty of a Source of Emulation. Therefore,
it is safe to suggest that Khurasani’s blessing for the creation of a mod-
ern government, within the existing monarchical institution sanctioned
by divine law, clearly demonstrates his support for the shah and dismisses
any suggestion that might point to his vying for power either for himself
or the clerical establishment. There is, however, another point implied by
Khurasani when he argues that the same divine law that mandated he give
the monarchy its much needed legitimacy by according it the stature of
religious sanction also required the monarchy to protect the rights of the
peasants. He implies that violating the conditions by which the clerical
establishment supported the shah could also lead to the Qajar ruler being
stripped of the protection that Khurasani provided. Khurasani makes his
intentions known with utmost skill without sounding overtly threatening.
What is more remarkable is Khurasani’s idea of an improved monar-
chical system in 1903, which he expressed before the Constitutional Revo-
lution began to directly challenge the government in 1905–1906. This in
itself demonstrates his early involvement in the constitutional movement
and his appreciation for its importance and potential benefits. Khurasani
knew that in an Islamic society the rights of the community were only
guaranteed through the protection of the rights of the individual. Only
the shah could preserve these rights in a new context where there was
much dissatisfaction within society. Constitutionalism protected Iranians,
including those who were sociopolitically vulnerable, and that, Khurasani
perceived, could not be un-Islamic. But at the same time he continued to
support the monarchy on the basis of its historical precedent.
158 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

To that end, Khurasani voiced his other concern to Muzaffar al-Din

Shah in the July 27, 1903 letter. He claimed that some of the shah’s minis-
ters were not doing enough to serve the interests of the state and improve
its conditions. He lamented that there were other countries, smaller in
size and less fortunate in their resources, that had ministers who worked
much more diligently to protect the rights of their peoples. Furthermore,
Khurasani objected that the shah had continuously ignored the failures
of his ministers in fulfilling their duties to bring about useful reforms. He
claimed that the only reason for their failure was that the consequences
of reforms of such magnitude would seriously challenge their hidden
“agendas” (maknunat).10 The ministers’ ulterior motives only served their
personal interests, Khurasani asserted, and if reforms—which included
making officials accountable by installing a new system of checks-and-
balances in the government—were to take shape, they would most cer-
tainly affect these interests. Khurasani’s direct condemnation of the shah’s
shortcomings then turns to respectful praise and acceptance of the role of
the monarch and the institution itself. That distinction can be attributed
either to Khurasani’s ability to differentiate between the institution, the
man, and corrupt ministers, or to Khurasani’s wish to clearly warn the
shah that if necessary, he could increase pressure on the monarchy to
accept reforms. In Khurasani’s view, the institution of the monarchy was
not the problem; the corrupt elements who ran it were responsible for the
current calamitous situation.
Known for his sharp, candid, direct prose,11 and a special talent for
incorporating several points in a few carefully composed sentences, in
the same letter (July 27, 1903) Khurasani questioned the shah’s inaction
and ineffective management of Iran’s finances. He inquired about the rea-
son for not allocating funds to reform the military or the state’s financial
system. He demanded an explanation from the government as to why it
had not completed the construction of a dam that was to be built in the
southwestern city of Ahvaz. This interrogation makes it quite obvious that
Khurasani was not just an expert in religious affairs who sat in Najaf igno-
rant about what went on in Iran, but that he was a religious leader capable
of understanding how mismanagement in specific cases was leading that
country into more backwardness.
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 159

Lack of oversight and rampant corruption, he complained, had led to

increased foreign dominance, or to be exact, the “infidel’s hegemony over
Muslims” (tasallut-i kuffar bar muslimin). The increase in foreign influ-
ence had brought about the wretched conditions of the peasants and the
unprecedented Russian presence throughout Iran, Khurasani claimed. He
maintained his confidence in the shah but clearly stated that he could no
longer bear witness to all the misery the people experienced and thought
that it would be better to remind “His Majesty” to pay closer attention to
these matters at once. In closing, he prayed for the shah, the state, and all
Iranians, and wished that the bond that united the people and the govern-
ment remain strong.
As evidenced in this letter, Khurasani was hardly an antimonarchist
and never thought of constitutionalism as a movement to eliminate the
monarchical system altogether. Rather, he thought of the constitution and
the monarchy as institutions that complemented each other, and that a
political system of checks-and-balances could improve both the efficiency
of the Iranian government and the rule of the shah.12 From this perspec-
tive, it is safe to argue that the ulama never doubted or rejected the unity
of the nation under the institution of the monarchy and in fact viewed
constitutionalism as a new institution that promised to strengthen Iran.
Similarly, the constitutionalists sought a set of reforms to improve a politi-
cal structure that dated back some two thousand years: the institution of
kingship, which would in turn guarantee the prosperity, and consequently
the strength and integrity, of the Iranian monarchy and the Iranian people
via the establishment of a parliament.

Anti-constitutionalism Deemed Anti-Islamic

Khurasani framed his pro-constitutionalist argument in a religious con-

text when he equated opposition to it as a direct and hostile act against the
twelfth Imam, who is the rightful, although absent, ruler. In May–June
1908, ayatullahs Sayyid Abdullah Bihbahani and Sayyid Muhammad
Tabataba’i (see figure 6), who were among the most famous mujta-
hids in Iran and had been elected to represent Tehran in the first term
of parliament, asked for Khurasani’s opinion about the persecution of
160 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

constitutionalists by the royal court and its elements. In his response in a

fatwa, Khurasani specifically decreed that any objection to the “founda-
tion of constitutionalism” (asas-i mashrutiyyat),13 or any hostility toward
those who supported it, was indeed anti-Islamic. It was the nonreligious
Iranians who introduced and supported constitutionalism in Iran. There-
fore, Khurasani’s blanket support for the movement without differentiating
between religious and nonreligious groups is rather striking. According to
his May–June 1908 fatwa, constitutionalism as a movement, and those
who supported it, were protected by the authority of the Source of Emula-
tion, and that is another significant aspect of Khurasani’s support of this
modern notion.
As did all ulama, Khurasani represented the twelfth Imam, and those
who objected to the wishes of the Hidden Imam faced grave consequences
for their anti-constitutionalist position, regardless of their political or reli-
gious standing. Khurasani punished those who objected to the rule of law
as epitomized by parliament. For instance, in a short letter to parliament
on November 30, 1909, with Mazandarani’s agreement, Khurasani forbade
all contact between constitutionalists and a certain Mullah Qurban Ali
Zanjani (d. 1911). The latter had studied under Shaykh Ansari along with
Khurasani but had become a staunch anti-constitutionalist in Iran. In a
show of force against the constitutionalists, Mullah Qurban Ali had mobi-
lized some six hundred of Zanjan’s thugs in a reign of terror campaign that
gripped the town for several days. During that period, lutis attacked the
bazaar and looted most of its stores. They then launched an assault against
the government’s representative in Zanjan, Sa‘d al-Saltanih, who was a
staunch constitutionalist. Once the lutis reached the government offices,
Mullah Qurban Ali’s mob killed Sa‘d al-Saltanih.14 To show his support
for the monarch, the next day Qurban Ali sent a telegram to Muhammad
Ali Shah and claimed the government’s representative had been punished
for his support of parliament.15 Mullah Qurban Ali invoked his rights as a
mujtahid in Zanjan when others scolded him for his actions, and that is
why parliament had apparently asked for Khurasani’s opinion on the mat-
ter. However, Khurasani believed that Zanjani’s “old age and ineptitude”
(kithrat-i sin va ‘alim nabudan) disqualified him from participating in any
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 161

activity against parliament, and as a result considered any contact with

him anti-Islamic.16
As the twelfth Imam was deemed the rightful ruler of the Shi‘ite
community and because, by divine intervention, he was still in a state of
occultation, only those governments that were guided (not ruled) by the
religious expertise of their jurists, who protected the rights of the people,
could rule authoritatively. That is what Shi‘ite doctrines called for, what
Khurasani believed in, and what he based his pro-constitutionalist activ-
ism on.17 Khurasani clearly perceived anti-constitutionalism and anti-
constitutionalists in the same vein, since he never stated that because
Jews or Christians, for example, supported constitutionalism he would
withdraw his support from it. It was insignificant to Khurasani who sup-
ported the Revolution. Considering Iranian social-religious circumstances
of more than a century ago, when a majority of the population accepted
the ulama’s guidance unconditionally, one can appreciate the value of
Khurasani’s support and the message it carried.
Khurasani wrote a letter to the Ottoman premier at Istanbul in order
to clarify his position as a pro-constitutionalist leader.18 He wished to
ensure that the Ottomans understood his religious justification for defend-
ing parliament so that he would have freedom of action in that defense
if and when the Iranian monarch complained to the Ottomans about
Khurasani’s political activities in Iraq. This letter essentially shares many
of his general thoughts about constitutionalism that have been discussed
earlier; its importance is that it was written to the Ottoman court, the only
Sunni authority at the time that also served as the last official Caliph-
ate in the Islamic world. Although the Sunni Ottomans disagreed to a
large extent with the jurisprudential standards of usuli fiqh that Khurasani
taught and practiced, Khurasani was viewed by the British agents in Iraq
that worked closely with the Ottoman court as the chief of all mujtahids
in Iraq and therefore his writing to the Ottoman court is not surprising.
Khurasani writes: “a rightful religion imposes conditions on the
actions and behavior of human beings.”19 Those conditions are derived
from either “religious or intellectual” reasoning and debate, which are
essentially attempts to prevent despots, who have become accustomed to
162 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

tyranny and violence, from hurting the people. The objective of all proph-
ets of God is to create a true “mashrutih” government but “that is impos-
sible unless the Lord of the Time” reappears, according to Khurasani. He
then reminds the premier of a prophetic Hadith that pragmatically points
out that if one cannot understand a concept as a whole, one must take
care not to abandon it entirely. In other words, what cannot be completely
attained should not be completely left.20 Thus substantiating his argu-
ment, Khurasani states that those who understand religion (ulama) and
those who can think outside that framework (uqala) have concluded that
by instituting proper laws the powers of despotic rulers could be curbed.
If those laws failed to achieve their stated goals, which included the cre-
ation of a peaceful society ruled by a just monarch and the security of the
country so that its sovereignty could be kept intact, then the ruler’s powers
should be lessened.21 That is to say, a lawful society cannot fail to achieve
its goals, and if in a parliamentary system that happened, it would mean
that the ruler was still too powerful and prevented parliament from per-
forming its responsibilities fully.
Khurasani was in a precarious situation: on the one hand, he had to
appease the shah by blaming his ministers instead of the monarch for
Iran’s failures to modernize (as discussed in his July 17, 1903 letter), on
the other hand, some five years later in the May–June 1908 letter he had
to decree that anti-constitutionalism was anti-Islamic, and that effectively
put him in direct opposition with other notable jurists, although they
lacked the same qualifications and status as a Source of Emulation. It
might have been easier for him to confront his own peers, but, before
that, he took care not to alienate the shah. He wanted to create a climate
in which the institution of the monarchy would remain intact within the
new framework set out by the constitution, with parliament serving as the
body that regulated all monarchical and state freedoms.

Khurasani’s Leadership and Perception of Constitutionalism

The “secular trait” of the Constitutional Revolution is well accepted,22 but

to think that the Iranian ulama did not debate the challenges of European
colonialism and a lack of progress would be inaccurate. Years before the
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 163

Revolution got underway, progressive Islamists had debated over how to

fight the political misfortunes of Iran, which they viewed as a factor in
Iran’s economic and political stagnation. According to them, Iran lacked
enlightenment and foreign powers supported the country’s backwardness
by backing the despotic rule of the Qajars. That debate occurred when
the Iranian Pan-Islamist thinker Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (Afghani)
spoke of reform in a religious context. He argued that if the ulama ratio-
nally interpreted the sources of shari‘a, they could help create a progressive
society from which Muslims, including Iranians, could benefit. It turned
out that rational interpretation was precisely what infitahi ijtihad in usuli
jurisprudence ultimately permitted, through the office of the Source of
Emulation led by Khurasani. By supporting the Constitutional Revolu-
tion, Khurasani effectively agreed with a system that would be friendly
to progressive ideas in solving contemporary issues, although those ideas
had never existed in the context that was introduced by the secular con-
stitutionalists. Close examination of Sayyid Jamal’s writings elucidates his
unabashed support for Islam at the same time that he gave much credence
to rationality and reason in interpreting divine law and forming Islamic
values that were conducive to progressive reform.23 Like Khurasani, who
supported new ideas such as constitutionalism in order to help Iran negoti-
ate the challenges of reform and full sovereignty, Sayyid Jamal supported
the adoption of Western ideas as a way to help Iran in lieu of the clear
and present challenges of Western colonialism. Although in the context
of his pro-constitutionalist writings Khurasani left out the discussion of
a Pan-Islamic solution, as Sayyid Jamal had not, he supported rational
approaches to solving problems while keeping Islamic tenets and doctrines
relevant and preventing society from losing its religious values. A change
to society’s Muslim values, according to Khurasani, was where the Shi‘ite
establishment had drawn the line that it would never cross: whatever the
political solution might have been for Iran’s miserable conditions, however
modern or innovative, it could not change the Islamic identity of Iran.
If we end the discussion of the similarities between Khurasani’s pro-
constitutionalist position and Asadabadi’s here, we come to Khurasani’s
effort to propagate the idea of constitutionalism. In fact Khurasani
organized a campaign to familiarize the public with the benefits of
164 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

mashrutiyyat, and to do that he asked a midranking but skillful Tehran-

based cleric to get involved. The instructions to Hajj Shaykh Muhammad
Va‘iz Isfahani (b. 1855),24 as is spelled out in the following letters, resemble
the articles that featured in the Persian magazine al-Ghura, published in
Najaf, which Khurasani may have financed. The letters to Isfahani make
it easier to appreciate how Khurasani made a concerted effort to edu-
cate the people. As a reminder, as far as available sources are concerned,
Khurasani did not explain his reasons for his involvement in the Consti-
tutional Revolution in a separate and detailed body of writing, let alone
why he chose Isfahani to speak on the subject of constitutionalism. How-
ever, when the monarchists, with Russian support, intended to close down
Parliament after its opening in 1906, Khurasani instructed him to rally
support for the constitutionalists and their cause against their opponents.
It is in one of Khurasani’s letters to Isfahani that he reveals his under-
standing of constitutionalism and why he supports it. The encouraging and
instructive letter dated July–August 1909 opens by thanking Isfahani for his
hard work and support of the Constitutional Revolution. Then he asks Isfa-
hani to “make the common segment of society understand” (bih ‘umum-i
millat bifahmanid) certain points about “constitutionalism” (mashrutih).
Khurasani asks Isfahani to inform the people that he and the constitu-
tionalists had worked intensely to keep the movement alive so that they
(the elected representatives) could improve the conditions of the masses
and reach several objectives: to “help the oppressed and take care of those
who had lost their livelihoods” (i‘anih-yi mazlum va ighathi‘-yi malhuf), to
“enforce divine laws” (ijra’ih ahkam-i ilahiyyih), to “protect Islamic lands”
(hifz-i bilad-i Islam) from foreign designs, and finally, to “enjoin right con-
duct and forbid indecency” (’amr bi ma‘ruf wa nahi ‘ala al-munkir).25 It is
clear from Khurasani’s declaration what mashrutiyyat meant to him. But it
was expressed within the framework of what a mujtahid, a Source of Emu-
lation, and a responsible cleric perceived his duties to be.
Khurasani rather confidently states in the same letter that more than
likely the elected representatives and government officials who supported
the Constitutional Revolution planned to ask Isfahani, one of the most
effective preachers and orators in Tehran, to assist them in educating the
people about the benefits of parliament and what its members aimed to
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 165

achieve. Therefore, it was essential that Isfahani accept such requests and
do everything in his power to help them.26
Not only did Khurasani believe in Isfahani’s ability to influence public
opinion but he was also confident that Isfahani would participate in activi-
ties to keep parliament from total collapse. Khurasani took the threat of a
collapse seriously enough to take the time to write to Isfahani for help in
preventing it by educating the public about constitutionalism.
Khurasani’s specific instructions in this letter do not appear to be a
response to any inquiry from Isfahani that could establish that at this time
he was acting on Khurasani’s behest as the leader of the pro-constitution-
alist clerical faction. However, according to Isfahani’s son, Aqa Shaykh
Muhammad Ali Salim Allah, on July 10, 1906 (three years before this
letter), Muzaffar al-Din Shah’s police had arrested Isfahani for inciting
popular sentiments to disobey government orders in the interests of the
pro-constitutionalists. Isfahani had begun his sixteen-year stay in Tehran
in 1894, which coincided with the precursory events marking the begin-
ning of the Constitutional Revolution. He was active in the movement
and served in the capacity of a propagandist who informed the crowds
about constitutionalism’s benefits. It does not appear that Khurasani was
in contact with him before the letters discussed here.27
Previous correspondence between these two differently ranked clerics
is nonexistent and there is no indication that they had cooperated on any
level before the July–August 1909 letter. However, Isfahani studied at a
seminary in Najaf and there could have been some connection between
the two during that period, although it still remains unclear as to whether
the two were in any way politically linked prior to the 1909 letter. The
letter is written with conviction, which suggests that it was composed to
instruct a very popular and effective orator whom Khurasani considered a
fellow pro-constitutionalist willing to help. Khurasani appears very confi-
dent that the government and the parliament planned to ask for Isfahani’s
expertise because he was an effective propagandist. Although Khurasani
is unclear as to what kind of help the officials might require of Isfahani,
it is reasonable to think that Khurasani expected the members of parlia-
ment to ask Isfahani to become the constitutionalists’ mouthpiece as a
propagandist to educate the public. What is also certain is that at this time
166 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Isfahani acted as Khurasani’s liaison, and the latter was obviously direct-
ing what the public was to be told about mashrutiyyat. This proposition is
justified because mosques and weekly gatherings, such as Friday prayers,
provided the ulama, especially those in the ranks of Isfahani, with one of
the widest social networks in Iran; they had incomparably greater coverage
and influence over the public than grassroots organizations and societies
(anjumans), which were a much newer concept. Although these societies
were quite sophisticated in their plans of action, they had a limited audi-
ence.28 Therefore, Isfahani’s access to the mosque network as a popular
preacher made him that much more valuable.
Before parliament reopened on November 15, 1909, in a follow-
up letter to Isfahani on September 30, Khurasani reiterated why it was
important that the public understand mashrutiyyat.29 Because Khurasani
believed in the core objectives of constitutionalism, he instructed Isfahani
to assist active constitutionalists in the capital. He left no room for specu-
lation about his perception of the doctrine and opened this letter with
a brief explanation of what mashrutiyyat meant.30 The only place where
Khurasani describes constitutionalism is in the September 30 letter.
Khurasani defines the term mashrutiyyat as a system in which “limita-
tions and conditions” required “the monarchy and all government offices”
to work within “boundaries that the laws and religion of every nation
determines.”31 Of course, Khurasani does not leave out religion, and if we
consider his commitment to divine law and its overarching authority, it is
significant that he thinks these laws (articles of the constitution) ultimately
provide the conditions necessary to limit the actions of government offi-
cials. In the same letter, he asserts that nonreligious laws, along with the
“presence of religion, stood to confront state despotism,” and that is why
he believed in the absolute necessity for mashrutiyyat. Clearly, Khurasani
sees a natural and complementary relationship between secular and divine
law, which puts the idea of the supremacy of divine law into question.
In this letter, Khurasani identifies the arbitrary rule of greedy and cor-
rupt Qajar officials as the main cause of the upheavals in Iran. No one
held these negligent and corrupt officials accountable for their misdeeds,
and this made them feel untouchable. Khurasani thus concluded that that
was why the corrupt officials were only interested in protecting their own
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 167

interests regardless of the outcome of their actions.32 To correct all the

wrongs committed by these corrupt officials and to replace the defunct
system they oversaw, which had contributed to the dismal conditions in
the country for so long, it was imperative for Iran to adopt a constitutional
form of government.
According to Khurasani, constitutionalism had the necessary author-
ity to limit government power because it was founded on the idea of
protecting the “nation’s [inherent and natural] liberties.” That freedom
prevented the state from ruling absolutely and with impunity, and only
when the state’s absolutism was “curtailed” could a nation live up to its
full potential.33 To clarify, Khurasani states that it is important to limit the
power of the government because parliament also governs the adjudica-
tion of laws that are based on the values of Twelver Shi‘ism. And as one of
those values is the fair treatment of all under the rule of law, it would be
counterintuitive to allow any government to rule with impunity.
Because Iran is an Islamic Twelver Shi‘ite state, Khurasani continues,
naturally its freedom under mashrutiyyat should be able to stop all efforts
to violate Shi‘ite values. These values, which were based on religious rules
and derived from God’s instructions (the Qur’an), are beneficial in several
ways, he contends. Not only do they protect Iranian dignity and religious
pride, but they also support all “new” solutions, which might result in law
and order that keeps Iran’s borders intact.
Therefore, Khurasani strongly believed that mashrutiyyat would not
violate Shi‘ite values, although it promised to treat all Iranians, irrespec-
tive of their cultural or socioeconomic differences, equally and fairly
under the law.
Khurasani agreed with using Western inventions such as constitution-
alism to help Iranians improve their sociopolitical and economic condi-
tions. But by no means can that be taken as agreeing to the creation of a
state in which his Islamic values would be threatened or Iran would lose
its Islamic identity. His status as a Source of Emulation, or simply as a
cleric, prevented him from supporting a total conversion of Iranian society
into a Western one. Thus, his support of constitutionalism was limited,
and regardless of its fate he disagreed with crossing boundaries that he
considered to be firmly drawn.
168 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Nowhere else is this better demonstrated than in a relatively long

letter of January 17, 1910 to Nasir al-Mulk, the minister of the treasury.
Khurasani keenly delineated his reasons for supporting his idea of consti-
tutionalism from those who perceived it differently. Some Iranians inter-
preted the triumph of constitutionalism and the liberties that it granted
them radically. They wanted to change some of Iran’s Islamic values, to
which Khurasani vehemently objected. He viewed the Revolution as a way
of eliminating despotism in order for parliament to make laws that held
everyone accountable for their actions. Hence, after thanking the minister
for his efforts during the Revolution, Khurasani wrote that he hoped par-
liament would not lose its “Islam-centric” identity by passing un-Islamic
laws. He wrote: “Now that the foundation of despotism has been uprooted,
[parliament should] take good care not to violate the second article to the
Supplementary Fundamental Laws.” Article 2 was passed on October 7,
1907 and mandated that at no time must any legal enactment “be at vari-
ance with the sacred rules of Islam or the laws established by His Holiness
the Best of Mankind [the Prophet Muhammad].”34
Khurasani was troubled about what he had read in Habl al-Matin, that
a progressive newspaper in Tabriz (no name given) had favorably viewed
the story of some women who had appeared in public without the hijab.
He reminded Nasir al-Mulk that parliament was obliged by Article 2 of the
constitution to make laws that did not contradict shari‘a, and then asserted
that he did not sanction the Revolution so that un-Islamic behavior, such
as removing the hijab, could be facilitated. Furthermore, he did not toler-
ate such inappropriate acts. Obviously, he claimed, some Iranians abused
the freedoms that constitutionalism had granted them and had tried to
interpret those liberties in ways that contradicted Islam. To counter the
spread of overt actions to change the Islamic identity of Iran, Khurasani
hoped that organizations would be created to maintain that identity by
teaching the public the major and minor religious mores and what society
should readily accept. Additionally, newly formed laws, Khurasani stated,
should emanate from shari‘a based on the Ja‘fari School of Law, as per
Article 1 of the Supplementary Fundamental Laws.
This letter reveals that the only issue Khurasani showed a great deal
of sensitivity toward was the threat of Iranians losing their Islamic values
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 169

to total Westernization by those who interpreted constitutionalism in a

totally nonreligious way. As far as Khurasani was concerned, mashruti-
yyat’s responsibility to protect the religious identity and moral values of
Shi‘ites was minimal; however, for some constitutionalists its responsi-
bility expanded beyond making laws in order to eliminate arbitrary rule
and despotism, and they viewed constitutionalism as a means of improv-
ing Iran and the conditions of Iranians on all levels of society, includ-
ing family and women’s rights. That is to say, whereas Khurasani thought
of mashrutiyyat as a way for Iranians to create a more balanced political
order that treated everyone fairly under the protection of law, to his mind
it could never be a source of religious authority.

Khurasani’s Role as a Pro-Constitutionalist Cleric

Khurasani continued to actively fight against anti-constitutionalism when

he supported parliament during the seventeen months of the Lesser
Despotism (istibdad-i saghir). That was the period after which, with the
approval of Muhammad Ali Shah, the Russian Cossack Brigade bom-
barded parliament on June 23, 1908. A number of MPs were killed and
injured and parliament was suspended until it reopened on November 15,
1909. Just as before, Khurasani’s support of the Revolution at this time had
more to do with his desire to act less as a politician and more as a facilita-
tor for all who were skilled in modern politics and were seemingly on the
verge of annihilation. He could better serve the public as a marja‘ and a
spiritual leader when he took full advantage of the freedoms that were
inherent in those positions.
Khurasani’s teacher Ansari believed that a marja‘ and an ‘alim should
be designated at all times and under all conditions to deliver final rulings
in cases of disagreements between jurists.35 In fact, during the Constitu-
tional Revolution, disagreements between jurists about the compatibility
of the Revolution’s goals with divine law—especially during the period
of the Lesser Despotism—warranted the involvement of a higher power,
such as Khurasani, who was the only Source of Emulation in Iran.
Ansari deemed it permissible for any marja‘ to object to the rulings or
opinions of independent jurists (mujtahids) when the Source of Emulation
170 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

disagreed with jurists.36 In the case of religious discussions about the Con-
stitutional Revolution, Khurasani was confident that he could apply what
he had learned from Ansari regarding interjurist disagreements in order to
defend the constitutionalists. Either individually or in concert with other
Najaf jurists, Khurasani eliminated any doubt about the activities of the
pro-constitutionalist ulama in Iran. Those pro-constitutionalist ulama
who lived in cities across Iran had the task of arguing against anti-consti-
tutionalist adversaries and their followers, and Khurasani provided them
with the authority to do so. He issued decrees that vehemently disagreed
with anti-constitutionalist ulama’s claims against the Revolution and
that supported clerical pro-constitutionalist opinions. Khurasani’s fatwa
against the influential cleric Qurban Ali Zanjani is one such case.
Khurasani’s actions in no way infringed on the rights of independent
mujtahids and only served as the supreme source of judgment that in the
Constitutional Revolution played a crucial role in uniting and supporting
pro-constitutionalist clerics and undermining the opposition’s argument
against the movement.
If we accept the premise that Khurasani was a religious leader with
the insight to appreciate that modern concepts could resolve the prob-
lems of Iranians, and that that was why he aligned himself with nonreli-
gious thinkers and activists, then where can we place him in the context
of modern Iranian intellectual discourse? We should bear in mind that, in
a secular context, modernist intellectuals also strived to achieve an opti-
mal level of reform that would enhance the rule of the people and limit
the unchecked powers of the royal elite and the foreigners. Therefore, it
is valid to question whether Khurasani was a modern-day intellectual or
rather a religious leader whom circumstances had forced into the political
realm, which his leadership position mandated that he offer a peaceful
path through.37
The answer requires us to look at how contemporary scholars describe
intellectuals of the early 1900s. Generally speaking, they are described
in a secular context. However, it is impossible to consider Khurasani as
an early twentieth-century thinker in a secular framework. It is highly
doubtful that he was a secular thinker, and even if he had been, he left
no trace of his secular thinking. Western scholars assume that a cleric is
Religious Justification and Constitutionalism 171

incapable of thinking in a secular context when he is actively searching for

solutions to social issues that he is required to address. According to some
scholars today, to be considered a modern thinker one needs to “follow
a modern vision, receive a modern education,” obtain one’s knowledge
based on modern institutions, or “subscribe to the modern style of criti-
cism.”38 Hence, within that framework Khurasani could not be considered
an intellectual. To argue otherwise would be stretching the boundaries
of reasonable argument. We can claim factually that Khurasani was a
product of seminaries in Mashhad and Najaf. Apart from some modern
European ideas to which he was exposed when he read John Locke and
others in the progressive Persian newspaper Habl al-Matin, his expertise
lay in the intricate field of Islamic jurisprudence, which overflowed with
doctrines for and expectations of the Source of Emulation.
Khurasani can be seen as an Iranian who either encountered West-
ern concepts through European colonialism or was exposed to the more
positive side of its modern concepts, science, and technology; for example,
government accountability and the telegraph. At the same time he was a
dignified Muslim scholar who had the intellectual capability and imagi-
native capacity to address contemporary issues within a generally Islamic
and specifically Shi‘ite conceptual framework. He valued the positive attri-
butes of nontraditional means that potentially addressed contemporary
problems; we know that he searched for them piously. In the conclusion of
Kifayat al-Usul he favored those reformers who were open to searching for
new concepts and inventions to address various societal issues, even when
they came from foreign lands. It was not his own interests, but rather the
interests of the people, that made him strive for solutions to Iran’s debacle.
In the mind of an Islamic jurist like Khurasani one fails to find secular
politics, secular thinking, or even secular reasoning. To expect that would
be to totally misunderstand the nature of his life and education, which
he dedicated to Islam, and his function as a jurist in society. We must
consider Khurasani’s faith, duty, education, social status, expectations of
himself, expectations of others, and the capacity in which he influenced
the everyday affairs of Iranians—along with his loyalty to all of these. We
conclude that his frame of reference and methods were very different from
those of secular modernists. But the flexibility with which he strived for
172 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

constitutionalism allowed him to overstep his official boundaries, making

him a pragmatic and indispensable pro-constitutionalist leader. Having
understood his thoughts about constitutionalism and his active support
of the Revolution, it becomes apparent that on every level and from every
perspective Khurasani was a religious leader and bound to act only in that
capacity. To expect anything else from him would be unrealistic.
Ijtihad and Politics

In letters that Khurasani wrote to the Qajar royal court and in his
responses to different groups, including elected representatives, on the
compatibility of parliamentarian action with Islamic doctrines and values,
Khurasani addresses, clarifies, and reflects on parliament as an institution
in harmony with Islam in order to counter anti-constitutionalist objec-
tions that were mostly launched by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri. A comparison
of Khurasani’s ideas on ijtihad and usuli jurisprudence with his letters
in support of mashrutiyyat and parliament reveals a direct correlation
between the two as well as usulism support for constitutionalism.
From the establishment of the Iranian parliament in 1906, its mem-
bers constantly consulted Khurasani as the leader of the other two Najaf
pro-constitutionalist mujtahids (see figure 8). Parliament, a new addition
to the Iranian political landscape, was now in a position to make impor-
tant decisions that held everyone accountable to the law. Therefore, it was
natural and wise that parliament should want to be certain the Shi‘ite
establishment considered the laws legitimate and compatible with Islam.
Because only mujtahids, and Khurasani as a Source of Emulation, could
determine this legitimacy, both his and his colleagues’ opinions and advice
were indispensible to parliament. Khurasani’s opinion was so valuable that
sometimes when parliament discussed legislative bills, it concurrently tele-
graphed Khurasani to ask about the compatibility of such bills with sharia‘.
Parliament was aware that its very existence had upset the social, political,
and cultural norms of early twentieth-century Iran, which for centuries
had been accustomed to the absolute and arbitrary rule of the shah.
Khurasani, as the leading member of the pro-constitutionalist ulama,
was at the forefront of constitutionalist activities between Najaf and
174 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Tehran. There was hardly a single issue in Majlis (parliament’s official

newspaper) that didn’t bear Khurasani’s name; he was mentioned more
than any other cleric. What is striking about the body of correspondence
between parliament and Khurasani is the Islamic tone that the members
of parliament used when they inquired about their prospective bills or their
planned actions. The phrasing was carefully pious, and nationalist, within
the framework of Islam. Although only one-third of the elected members
were clerics, as a whole members refused to use the language one might
have expected from a group that had a reformist, modernist agenda. There
was a fear of alienating mujtahids who did not appreciate some of the
plans for the secularization of schools, for example, and at the same time
pro-constitutionalists of all classes wanted Khurasani to support parlia-
ment. The MPs’ careful composition of letters to Khurasani also provides
yet another clue that parliament perceived him not as a politician but
rather as a facilitator of a religious kind. The letters written to Khurasani,
and the letters he wrote to others, are free from any modern political jar-
gon. Khurasani’s function is evident in a letter published on June 3, 1907,
almost six months after parliament opened its doors, to reaffirm that it
was founded with the goal of ensuring that shari‘a was followed and it
aimed to safeguard Twelver Shi‘ism and its values. In the letter that was
addressed to Khurasani and the other two supporting jurists, parliament
noted that its objectives essentially strengthened the “glorious Islamic gov-
ernment” and that was exactly what Islam wanted.1 The letter stated that
personal interest had driven some individuals (anti-constitutionalists) to
threaten parliament’s plans, and hence the elected representatives sought
the opinions and suggestions of the ayatullahs of Najaf. The response in
a fatwa from Khurasani and the pact he led was short and to the point:
“Because we are aware of the intended reasons for this institution, it is
therefore incumbent on every Muslim to support its foundation, and those
who try to defeat it, and their action against it, are considered contrary to
shari‘a.”2 The three mujtahids were as clear as they could be. In so many
words, Khurasani and the others decreed all anti-constitutionalists to be
That, however, made no difference to anti-constitutionalists, since
they continued their campaign of subversion against parliament. On
Ijtihad and Politics 175

December 30, 1907, a report titled “Shaykh Nuri and the Troublemakers
Congregate at Tupkhanih Square” was read out loud in the chambers of
parliament. It informed the members that city “thugs” (luti) were hired
to destroy whatever and whoever supported the constitutionalists.3 As one
might expect, the two mujtahid members of parliament (Bihbahani and
Tabataba’i), who were the main clerical representatives in parliament,
asked Khurasani for a fatwa and wondered how they should address this
issue. Identifying Nuri as the culprit and instigator of violent unrest was
a serious issue. And for parliament to make such a claim independent of
the religious hierarchy would have harmed it much more than helped
it. Therefore, it knew that it had to refer the matter to Khurasani and his
consenting jurist colleagues in Najaf.
Because Nuri was a wealthy and notable mujtahid working in Tehran
with a large following, it was not easy for any single person or nonclerical
entity to form an opinion about what action should be taken against him.
That is why, when Khurasani received the telegraph, he did not respond
separately from the others. According to the usuli school’s juridical rule, a
jurist needed to have consensus (ijma‘) in order to render a valid opinion
that others would accept. And he did not act alone for additional reasons.
First, because he could not predict the consequences, he did not want to
find a well-connected and popular mujtahid, who happened to live in the
epicenter of the Constitutional Revolution (Tehran), guilty of subversive
acts. There was the possibility that opportunists would twist the story and
depict the issue as a personal rivalry between the two, which would have
ill-served the intentions of the constitutionalists. Second, Khurasani did
not want to appear as though he were acting alone in calling Nuri a crimi-
nal or saboteur because the punishment for such behavior was usually
death. Third, he refused to be the only jurist in the realm to make sub-
stantial decisions that happened to be mostly positive toward parliament,
a new concept and institution that had no precedent in either Iranian or
Shi‘ite history, while attacking traditional elements that opposed it.
With the blessing of the other two ulama led by Khurasani in Najaf,
he did not treat anti-constitutionalists who also happened to be his col-
leagues any differently than nonclerics. Nuri was an established ayatullah
but that was unimportant to Khurasani. What was at stake, in addition to
176 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

protecting the people’s rights, was the potential to limit arbitrary rule and
to promote a civil society that was based on law, and these, according to
Khurasani, transcended professional camaraderie. Hence, he responded
quite swiftly, and along with the other two pro-constitutionalist ulama
declared that Nuri, as the leader of subverters, was forbidden to participate
in subversive activities because it “disturbed the peace” (mukhill-i asayish),
and consequently found him to be corrupt, or to be more specific, a “rot-
ten [soul]” (mufsid).4 To be labeled a mufsid by the religious establishment
carried a mandatory sentence of death, and that is exactly what Parliament
decreed. Eighteen months later, on July 21, 1909, a parliamentary com-
mittee found Nuri guilty of sabotage and he was taken to a crowded square
and hanged in his clerical garb.
Before Nuri was executed, anti-constitutionalists launched more
attacks against members of parliament. On January 19, 1908, in a tele-
gram to Khurasani and the other two ulama in Iraq, anti-constitutionalist
representatives asked them to respond separately and clarify whether par-
liament was compatible with Islamic teachings and laws.5 The mounting
pressure from anti-constitutionalist royalists and their clerical backers who
expressed their doubts about the legitimacy of parliament and its compat-
ibility with Islam had caused parliament to seek more fatwas in its favor.
Hence, Khurasani’s decree serves as yet further essential proof that he
believed he had to counter the anti-constitutionalists’ claim that parlia-
ment was un-Islamic in order to save it from total annihilation. Khurasani
personally reaffirmed his position that, because parliament wanted to cre-
ate a more just and fair environment for all Muslims and eradicate arbitrary
rule in Iran, parliament’s fundamental reason for being surely correlated
with the concept of “enjoining right conduct and forbidding indecency.”
Therefore, he declared any act against parliament to be strictly forbidden.6
It was not parliament alone that recognized Khurasani’s authority. The
monarchy was also conscious that it had to pay respect to the ‘atabat ulama
and make sure that, theoretically and on the face of it at least, the shah
supported their position regarding parliament. Whereas the members of
parliament made certain that their endeavors did not violate Islam in any
shape or form, the shah took care to put the ayatullahs in Najaf at ease by
writing to reassure them of his friendly disposition toward parliament. But
Ijtihad and Politics 177

at the same time, in a letter dated June 18, 1908, the shah considered some
of the member’s actions anti-Islamic and hence suggested to Khurasani
and his colleagues that they needed to carefully search for and identify
Babi groups in the assembly that had ulterior motives. As Khurasani was
unmoved by the last claim, he ignored it, along with the request made by
the shah, and continued to support parliament.7
On June 18, 1908, Muhammad Ali Shah reassured Khurasani that
he also agreed with the intentions of parliament and that he too aimed
to strengthen the foundation of shari‘a, which automatically added to the
legitimacy of the monarchy. This last statement resembles Khurasani’s
claim six years prior when he wrote to Muhammad Ali Shah (the then
Muhammad Ali Mirza) on August 7, 1902. In that letter, Khurasani
informed the heir to the throne that mashrutiyyat strengthened the
monarchy because it curbed the injustices for which its ministers were
In Muhammad Ali Shah’s 1908 letter, he wrote that because consti-
tutionalism aimed strengthening shari‘a, it was also beneficial for him to
support parliament and make sure its agenda proceeded uninterrupted. He
assured Khurasani that his government’s powers would be at the disposal
of parliament so that it could implement what mashrutiyyat demanded,
and that in the process he (the shah) would do his best to protect the
nation’s borders.
None of the letters exchanged between Khurasani and parliament
threatened the monarchy as an institution or considered it contrary to
shari‘a. Unlike Ayatullah Khumayni’s direct condemnation of monarchi-
cal rule and the person of Muhammad Riza Shah starting in the 1950s,
resulting in the final elimination of Pahlavi rule in 1979, Khurasani
never objected to a constitutional monarchy. In fact no other member of
the ulama, irrespective of their views on the Constitutional Revolution,
decreed the monarchy un-Islamic. Furthermore, nowhere can we locate
a single statement by any cleric during the Constitutional Revolution that
suggested anti-monarchical thoughts. The shah and the institution of the
monarchy, and its relationship with the Shi‘ite establishment, needed
to be kept intact, as Khurasani’s writings attest, and it needed to remain
fully functional. Although it is probable that the ulama tried in earnest to
178 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

penetrate the political realm more and wanted to become the only source
of political authority, just as they were already the only authority in spiri-
tual and religious affairs, it is clear that Khurasani gives no impression of
such a desire and never implied an interest in such a goal. On the con-
trary, he does not deviate from the position and responsibility of a marja‘,
and his correspondents do not give any impression that would suggest he
aspired to political authority.
Quite different from the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Constitu-
tional Revolution aimed not to destroy the monarchy but to strengthen
Iran through introducing laws that would eliminate state despotism against
its subjects while keeping its imperial tradition intact. It would be difficult
to claim that the constitutional activists aimed to remove the monarchi-
cal system. Hence, in response to the shah’s letter (published on January
19, 1908), Khurasani and the ulama he led expressed their contentment
that he had agreed with mashrutiyyat. Additionally, they asked him to use
all national resources at his disposal to defeat “the most corrupt of cor-
rupts,” (afsad-i mufsidin) who stood against parliament’s agenda.8 Little
did Khurasani know that in less than a week, on June 24, 1908, Muham-
mad Ali Shah would order the bombardment of the same parliament that
he had written in support of on June 18, 1908.
Khurasani verified the legitimacy of parliament and it continued to
consult him on legislative bills that it should have been able to decide by
itself as an independent body. This was evident when parliament debated
the issue of a national defense force that included military training and
conscription. It solicited Khurasani’s opinion about such an institution
and its compatibility with Islamic law.
In an unusually long response to that inquiry published on March 25,
1908, Khurasani stated that it was incumbent on Muslims of all capaci-
ties and levels of education, skill, and training to help protect Islam and
its dominion.9 Modern military training and learning the “principles of
war” (qawa‘id al-harbiyyah) based on the “nation’s needs,” he asserted,
were part of the protection that the Iranian nation deserved. Khurasani
then argued that because no one doubted the importance of protect-
ing the nation and the means to carry it out, parliament should man-
date military service and training for all who qualified. Khurasani once
Ijtihad and Politics 179

again pragmatically approached and responded to actual challenges that a

backward-thinking religious leader could have objected to because it had
never been attempted before.10 On the other hand, the letter demonstrates
parliament’s awareness that new ideas in its legislative agenda had to be
confirmed with Khurasani, otherwise the result could have easily led to a
loss of legitimacy for parliament, based on its un-Islamic nature, if Najaf
The elected members of parliament were mindful that they could not
succeed in modernizing Iran and reforming its inadequate systems without
Khurasani as the leader of the pro-constitutionalist ulama and the chief
of the Shi‘ite jurists. On December 9, 1909, Majlis reminded everyone
of Khurasani’s undisputed position when it commended him days after
parliament had reopened in November 1909 for his continuous service
and support for the affairs of the government as “the chief of Shi‘ism with
the highest position over all other Islamic ulama.”11 Parliament needed to
first receive permission from that faction of the Shi‘ite establishment that
understood the proposed changes and happened to support them, so that
in turn parliament could prove to the public that Islam, as embodied in
the Source of Emulation (Khurasani), had agreed with its agenda. Majlis
printed Khurasani’s statements twice, once on March 25, 1908 and again
on April 11, 1908, as it published all the correspondence between parlia-
ment and Khurasani about the new military training.12
After parliament reopened in November 1909, Khurasani was regarded
even more as an influential powerbroker. Iranians, and those who sup-
ported the Iranian Constitutional Revolution abroad, regarded Khurasani
as the de facto spiritual chief of mashrutiyyat who could achieve the
Even Khurasani considered himself the “chairman” (ra’is) of the reli-
gious hierarchy, and said so at least once, in correspondence with Edward
Browne, who wrote to him in May 1911. Browne, who was a British friend
of the constitutionalists, had returned to his native England by 1911 and
had kept in touch with the constitutionalists, doing his best to help them
in their struggle to keep parliament from total collapse.13
In a letter dated Jamadi al-awwal 27, 1329 HQ/May 26, 1911, Browne
asked Khurasani to reconsider Sayyid Hassan Taqizadih’s service and
180 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

contribution to mashrutiyyat and facilitate his return to Tehran. Taqiza-

dih was one of the most progressive representatives in parliament, with
a passionate desire to quickly Westernize all aspects of Iranian society,
including its political system and culture. He had served in the first session
(1906–1908) and was exiled by Muhammad Ali Shah when parliament
was bombarded in 1908. After the end of the Lesser Despotism in 1910, he
returned to Iran and was re-elected. However, his second term as Tabriz
representative was short lived because of the rumor that he had conspired
to assassinate Sayyid Abdullah Bihbahani, one of the two mujtahids in
parliament. Fear and the threat on his life made him leave Iran for the
second time, and he did not return to his homeland until 1924.
Browne simply says, “it is regrettable to overlook [Taqizadih’s] isola-
tion,”14 knowing very well that he was one of the most dedicated consti-
tutionalists. Browne informed Khurasani that the exiled politician had
written to him twice protesting his innocence and his desire to return
to serve his country, and now Browne wanted to point out the positive
aspects of Taqizadih’s service to Khurasani and quite discreetly ask him to
help Taqizadeih return to Iran.
Five weeks later, Khurasani responded to Browne’s letter on Rajab 3,
1329 HQ/June 30, 1911. In the opening line he addresses himself as “the
chairmanship of the spiritual authority of the Ja‘fari Muslims” (riyasat-i
ruhani-yi muslimin-i Ja‘fari), confirming his position of authority and his
leadership of all Iranian Twelver Shi‘ites, or the sole Source of Emulation.
After confirming the receipt of Browne’s letter, he writes: “the spiritual
leadership was completely informed of [Taqizadih’s] good intentions and
his services are noted” (riyasat-i ruhani kamilan muttali’ ast va khayr khahi
va khadamat-i [ou] ra masbuq ast). Unfortunately, he asserts, the situation
of Taqizadih or others in similar circumstances are common in times of
revolution. In such times, the “servant” (khadim) of the revolution can be
mistaken for the “traitor” (kha’in) at a moment’s notice. Although he con-
sidered Taqizadih an “intimate” (samimi) friend, “because the office of
religious leadership did not meddle in such details” (maqam-i ruhaniyyat
ham kih mudakhilih dar in juz’iyyat ra dar ‘uhdih nadarad), he was unable
to help. But he was hopeful that soon the right duties would be bestowed
on those who were worthy of such responsibilities.15
Ijtihad and Politics 181

One striking point about this letter is that Khurasani, as usual, keenly
separates his responsibilities as a cleric from the intricate politics of par-
liament. By way of conveying to Browne that the politicians themselves
would make the right decision regarding Taqizadih, Khurasani confirmed
his pledge to help the ‘uqala (secular modernist intellectuals) by guaran-
teeing their independence.
In addition to parliament and private requests such as Browne’s, the
merchant class also requested Khurasani’s assistance and opinion when
the government refused to heed the concerns of the business community.
On April 20, 1906 a group of Iranian ulama asked Khurasani to issue a
fatwa addressing the purchase of foreign-manufactured clothing that had
flooded the Iranian market.16 More than likely, the merchants in Tehran
had approached these ulama for assistance after the government’s refusal
to protect their interests. They claimed that Muslims manufactured exactly
the same products, and that there was no functional difference between
theirs and what their non-Muslim rivals imported into Iran. The letter
to Khurasani mentions that government policy was negatively impacting
local clothing manufacturers.
This was not the first time that textile merchants had approached
Khurasani to ask for assistance. In 1898, the Islamic Company (Shirkat-
i Islami), an Iranian textile manufacturing business in Isfahan, pleaded
with Khurasani to issue a fatwa in the hope that it would help their busi-
ness.17 Khurasani’s response in 1898 was the same as in 1906: he consid-
ered it un-Islamic for any Muslim to buy foreign-made textiles as long as
its equal was made by Iranians. In this way he aimed to protect Iranian
businesses that suffered unfair trade practice.18
What stands out is the tone of the 1906 letter, which refers to the man-
ufacturers as “Muslims” rather than Iranians. Although the issue had more
to do with economics and politics, by referring to the merchants as Mus-
lims in distress, the ulama presented the difficulties of these merchants
within a religious framework that Khurasani was obligated to address. The
letter demonstrates a hierarchical religious structure whereby the midrank-
ing ulama served as intermediaries between the people and the Source of
Emulation, who in turn was the person who would inform the state of its
subjects’ disapproval of policy. Therefore, the ulama served as protectors of
182 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

Muslims rather than Iranian subjects, and the reason is rather clear: there
existed no sense of protecting national interests on the secular idea of a
modern nation-state, and members of the religious establishment were
void of such an understanding. They viewed everyone from the perspec-
tive of their religious affiliation: they were Muslim or not. If the state, in its
relationship to its subjects, had considered it had a responsibility to prevent
threats to the local economy, the ulama would not have had to deal with
the issue. But the notion of a government that operated independently of
the religious establishment to establish a friendly relationship with its sub-
jects and protect their rights was almost nonexistent in Iran. The respon-
sibility to protect the people by safeguarding their business interests had
fallen on the ulama, which in turn assisted the ulama through the cleri-
cal establishment’s structure and hierarchy. The state had failed to create
such a system of communication and assistance in a secular framework.
The lack of a viable system of communication between the state and its
subjects allowed the ulama to take charge of the merchants’ political and
economic grievances in light of the ulama’s organization and determina-
tion to establish itself as a source of authority.
Iranians had started to depend heavily on foreign-made products,
which negatively affected not only their economy but also other econo-
mies in the Middle East. The request that the Iranian business commu-
nity forwarded to Khurasani and his colleagues via the ulama made them
aware of the serious threat to the independence of Iranian merchants
caused by increasing foreign economic penetration in Iran.
Khurasani confidently and promptly responded that priority should
be given to Muslim-owned and operated businesses. He declared that the
“selling [or exchange] of products to and purchase from or any contact
with infidels [kuffar; i.e., non-Muslim foreigners] that leads to strengthen-
ing of their economy and weakening of the Muslims is forbidden.”19 It
is difficult to find secular nationalist jargon within the clerical writings
of Khurasani. Iranian Shi‘ite writing had its own blend of nationalism,
which stemmed from religious beliefs and commitments that existed since
Shi‘ism became the state’s official religion in 1501.
Khurasani dealt with Iran and Iranians through the prism of Islam, as
God had mandated, and he acted according to the values and expectations
Ijtihad and Politics 183

of Muslims who believed in the institution of the Source of Emulation.

Khurasani understood that foreign political and economic penetration was
generally harmful to a sovereign nation. By using the word kuffar, Khurasani
essentially categorized all non-Muslims who more than likely were part of
the European colonial presence in the Middle East. But Khurasani’s state-
ment should not be construed as an anti-Christian sentiment or enmity
toward non-Muslims. It should instead be viewed as a way to separate the
people Khurasani supported from those for whom he had no institutional
responsibility. Arguably, had Japan, for example, tried to influence Iran’s
markets the way Britain and Russia did, more than likely Khurasani would
have stood his ground and prohibited any cooperation between Muslims
and their rivals that promoted foreign economic penetration.
It is evident from the letters discussed thus far, including those that
Khurasani wrote and the members of parliament or other ulama wrote to
him as the leader of the pro-constitutionalist bloc in Najaf, is that Shi‘ite
usuli fiqh was Khurasani’s fundamental source of justification for his pro-
constitutionalist position. If not directly under the influence of Western
thought, Khurasani’s support of a new military system or the local econ-
omy that the nonreligious modernists introduced was certainly sanctioned
by his jurisprudential standards. To further elucidate this point, we turn
to Ayatullah Muhammad Hussayn Tabataba‘i, who described every faqih’s
duty in cases where expediency (maslahat) played a key role in forming
an opinion. Khurasani’s closest student, Mirza Hussayn Na’ini, who was
also his private secretary, studied usuli fiqh with Tabataba‘i and Tabataba’i
ultimately became a notable jurist of the twentieth century in Iran.
Tabataba’i asserts that there are particular instances where expediency
mandates a marja‘ to issue certain rulings that in fact are just as valid
as shari‘a.20 Although “heavenly” (asimani)21 laws or the laws found in
the Qur’an and the Hadith are constant, the laws that a mujtahid creates
under conditions that he is allowed can be altered. Meaning that, because
the public’s needs vary from one period to another, the rulings of a mujta-
hid can also shift accordingly.
According to Tabataba’i, who was an usuli jurist, Islamic provisions
are divided into three groups: (1) primary factual provisions (hukm-i vaqi’i-
yi awla), (2) secondary factual provisions (hukm-i vaqi’iy-yi thanawi), and
184 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

(3) governmental provisions (ahkam-i hukumati).22 Fundamentally, pri-

mary factual provisions are those laws that cannot be changed under any
circumstance. The daily prayer, for example, can never be altered, as it is
one of Islam’s five core tenets. Another explanation that Tabataba’i offers is
that primary factual provisions are made on the basis of the belief that laws
are what allow humans to engage in actions that are beneficial to them;
similarly, at other times, laws prohibit humans from engaging in certain
actions because they are deemed harmful.
Whereas primary factual provisions are those that in a natural or ordi-
nary state cannot be altered, secondary factual provisions are made when
primary factual provisions fail to address the needs of society or if there
is a need to temporarily suspend what is mandated or forbidden in pri-
mary factual provisions. In combination with primary factual provisions,
secondary factual provisions simply allow for more flexibility in Islamic
juristic practice, which in turn can address the people’s needs, and these
should be the major concerns and indication of mujtahids.23 Certain situ-
ations mandate a religious leader to invoke his right to issue secondary
provisions: (1) the threat of “destitution and poverty” (‘usr va haraj), (2)
“urgency” in difficult situations (iztirar), (3) when “one causes another
harm” and when “one is being harmed” (zarar va zirar), (4) breeching
a “pledge and agreement” (‘ahd va payman), (5) “necessary conditions”
(muqaddamih-yi vajib), and (5) “keeping order” (hifz-i nizam).24
Governmental provisions are essentially those that only a ruler in the
position of vali (guardian) can create. When primary and secondary fac-
tual provisions fail to address a certain issue, the ruler has at his disposal
the power to make an official ruling that overrides certain primary or sec-
ondary factual provisions.25 As a complex doctrine, “official provisions”
apply almost exclusively to situations where a community is ruled under
the concept of vilyat-i faqih. As the ultimate source of authority in that
situation, the vali-yi faqih can rule supreme and issue secondary factual
provisions without considering any mujtahid’s opinions.
Khurasani’s concern about the state of affairs in Iran, and the opinions
he expressed by issuing fatwas, were legitimate based on the secondary fac-
tual provisions. His concerns about political and social unrest during the
Constitutional Revolution voiced in a letter to the crown prince in 1902,
Ijtihad and Politics 185

or his call to action to resolve those problems, addressed to the prince,

show secondary factual provisions functioning in context. Khurasani rec-
ognized the need for new rulings and he invoked his power to issue them,
as was his right and duty when the people were subjected to conditions
that, from a jurist’s perspective, were dangerous or unjust.
If we consider Iran’s situation, including economic hardship and the
constant threat of occupation—which from the Russian Empire led to
the loss of provinces in the Caucasus, and from the British led to the
loss of Iran’s Afghan provinces—we can appreciate the urgency by which
Khurasani reacted and carried out his duties as a religious leader rather
than as a politician. He was not a politician but he facilitated the work
of politicians, the representatives of parliament. Khurasani’s actions cor-
responded with his right to make secondary factual provisions, and there-
fore he accordingly supported parliament’s existence by issuing secondary
official provisions.
Although Aqa Muhammad Khan had succeeded in politically uniting
Iran in the 1780s after sixty years of chaos following the fall of the Safavid
dynasty in 1722, the subsequent Qajar rulers experienced great difficul-
ties in reforming their flawed political system, and they failed to improve
Iranian conditions beyond simple, albeit important, reforms. Their inac-
tion in the face of tangible foreign threats created an environment in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that propelled the ulama
into the political realm as protectors of the people’s social, economic, and
political rights, although they were trained neither in modern politics nor
modern economics. However, certain conditions existed that required and
enabled Khurasani to assist the constitutionalists and participate in the
Revolution. The secular and the Muslim understanding of mashrutiyyat
were defined and formed differently, but they shared the same objective.
If we were to take the view that Shi‘ite doctrines generally were inherently
intolerant toward reforming Iran, as some scholars and popular opinion
might suggest, then Khurasani’s actions as the highest-ranking jurist who
assisted with modernization efforts vis-à-vis Khurasani’s support of the
parliament is certainly puzzling.
Khurasani agreed that a newly forged relationship between the cler-
ics and the secular intellectuals posed no threat to his establishment and
186 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

was mutually beneficial as long as the intellectuals shared the objective

of keeping Iran safe and free from foreign hegemony. When Anjuman-
i Tabriz asked him on January 26, 1907 for a fatwa stating his thoughts
on the collaboration of the ulama with the ‘uqala to “prevent state des-
potism,”26 Khurasani’s answer was encouragingly positive.27 His response
attests to his belief that Islam did not limit nor prevent the two groups
from cooperating with each other if they aimed to bring about social and
political stability through reform. In that fatwa Khurasani confirmed that
there was no difference between the secular and religious activists, as long
as they did their best to “weaken the forces of oppression and block des-
potic acts.”28 He believed that the absence of a united front against arbi-
trary rule and oppression could lead to more insecurity, and that would
surely harm everyone. The responsibility to improve Iran’s sociopolitical
and economic conditions was every Muslim’s “most important obligation”
(ahamm-i takalif), regardless of whether they belonged to the ulama or
the ’uqala.29
We see again the direct link between Khurasani’s use of reason-based
usuli fiqh and secular modernist goals for the Iranian parliament in an
introductory article in the first issue of Majlis. On November 25, 1906, in
“Favaid-i Majlis” (Benefits of Parliament), the paper’s editor Muhammad
Sadiq Hussayni-Tabataba’i stressed the benefits of parliament for Iranians
who wondered about the function of that institution. He stated that its
main objective was to protect the “political order and the nation’s natural
resources.” He pointed out that “political laws of the state” were to be
created in “accordance with [Iran’s] contemporary conditions with the
public’s interest [in mind].” This was essentially the exact argument that
Khurasani had offered based on the doctrine of infitahi ijtihad in conjunc-
tion with the concept of maslahat in juridical practice. In other words,
the religious conviction supported by Shi‘ite doctrines that persuaded
Khurasani to support the Constitutional Revolution appeared in the par-
liament’s first official pronouncement of its objectives. “Favaid-i Majlis”
officially introduced the religious component of the judicial legislature
when it reasserted that secular law making could never alter shari‘a because
the Quran and the Hadith were the origins of divine law and that was to
remain constant. Religious laws were unchangeable, Hussayni-Tabataba’i
Ijtihad and Politics 187

stressed, and the ulama could not stop performing the duties mandated
by religious laws.30
The influential position of the ulama as overseers who would ensure
the Islamic nature of new laws, especially laws that supported the Consti-
tutional Revolution, was also guaranteed. The involvement of the ulama
in the Constitutional Revolution was a natural duty from a traditional
religious point of view. The Shi‘ite ulama supervised and assisted the
members of parliament in welding secular legal codes with religious laws
so tightly that theoretically there was no space for error that would permit
the modernists’ full control of Iranian politics.
The article’s explanation of parliament’s future role and agenda
demonstrates that the two important segments of Iranian society, tradi-
tionalist (mostly religious) and modernist (mostly secular) thoughts, had
joined together to introduce progressive reforms just as Khurasani had
envisioned. The article declared that “the nation’s thinkers and scientists”
must debate “national and state laws” in concert.31 Neither the modernists
(the thinkers) nor the ulama, who were experts in Islamic sciences, were
expected to promulgate laws alone.
Khurasani’s traditional appreciation for the Iranian monarchy and its
history was also reflected in the article. Neither Khurasani nor the parlia-
ment’s newspaper editor expressed any ill will toward the monarchical
system. Finally, the article guaranteed the ulama’s position and deemed
it necessary in the legislative process, although the monarchy would be
the glue that held the nation together. It was at that point that the three
elements of monarchy, clergy, and intellectuals united to persuade Ira-
nians to support and thus legitimize their country’s first democratically
elected institution. All laws made in parliament were expected to undergo
a rigorous process of debate for political and economic justification by
intellectuals in the “sovereign’s presence,” while the ulama made sure of
their compatibility with Islamic doctrine. Parliament thought pragmati-
cally that none of the three elements (monarchy, clergy, and intellectuals)
could be eliminated if it were to do its work properly.32
Did the modernist nonclerical faction of parliament sway Khurasani’s
political thinking, or did Khurasani influenced them throughout the whole
fight for constitutionalism? After all it was he who provided the urgent
188 Khurasani and Constitutionalism

religious support that allowed the Revolution to succeed. But that question
is unimportant at this moment. What is important is that the two united to
establish a new political system in Iran with a single common goal.
The article assured the religious establishment that the members of
parliament would never waiver from truthfully performing their duties.
It asserted that the representatives were mindful that “God’s command-
ments were unchangeable.”33 It reiterated that although God’s laws never
changed, political and economic circumstances and social conditions
did. Therefore, flexibility was essential. That is why the “people’s repre-
sentatives and the outcome of their intellectual thought always changed
in accordance with time which is suitable for the society,” the article
It is difficult to argue that parliament and Khurasani had confused
their roles during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. It is clear that,
in view of his fatwas to parliament when it asked for clarification and reli-
gious justification, Khurasani saw a direct correlation between his juris-
prudential understanding of his own duty and that of parliament’s. Not
only did Khurasani not want to create an Islamic state ruled by Islamic law
promulgated by parliament, he was also open to the possibility that mod-
ern innovations such as European-style parliamentarianism could benefit
Iran in more than one way.
Part Three
A House Divided
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani

Mashrutiyyat and the Majlis Divide the Ulama

To understand why Nuri became such an ardent enemy of parliament

requires us to consider seemingly unrelated factors that indicate funda-
mental interclerical differences. In no particular order, they include Nuri’s
perception of Islam; his interpretation of specific Shi‘ite doctrines and
institutions, such as the mujtahid, in politics and society; and his belief
that shari‘a should be the only law that Muslims follow.
These factors complicate our study of the religious interpretation
of mashrutiyyat, and one should also consider the following facts: (1)
Although the institution of marja‘ al-taqlid, the closest concept to a hiero-
cracy that Iran had, provided the basis of authority in religious affairs for
followers (muqallids), it lacked the necessary rigidity in its operation that
could specifically direct the actions of clerics. (2) Each mujtahid had his
own perception of what was in accordance with the principles and rules
of Islam. In the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, the perspectives of
Nuri and Khurasani varied and each had his own interpretation of how
shari‘a, for example, was violated. (3) Personal interests sometimes com-
pelled a cleric to object to constitutionalism and this motivation was at
times implied, in Nuri’s case, or explicit, in the case of Aqa Najafi in Isfa-
han,1 when he refused to cooperate with Nuri and sided with Khurasani,
which was apparently the exact opposite of his past alliances. (4) Whereas
Nuri’s position regarding parliament and his opinion about mashrutiyyat
is deemed Islamic according to his own dogmatic interpretation of Islam
and shari‘a, from another perspective it was anti-Islamic because it lacked
a progressive streak that is needed to create the opportunity for society to
192 A House Divided

improve its conditions. To ascertain which was the correct interpretation

depends on how we look at Islamic doctrine and Shi‘ite political thought
regarding political activism.
Nuri did not readily accept the existing religious hierocracy and the
leadership of the Source of Emulation, which Khurasani held during the
Revolution, despite the fact that the ulama of Najaf generally respected it.
This nonacceptance had become evident by June 1907 as Nuri grew fear-
ful of the consequences of mashrutiyyat or a political system that looked to
sideline the influential authority of Shi‘ite clerics, and he began to doubt
parliament’s intentions altogether, whereas Khurasani had proclaimed his
support for that institution. Nuri’s actions against Khurasani’s pro-consti-
tutionalism demonstrated that he disregarded Khurasani’s juristic author-
ity as a notable master at Najaf and the leading Source of Emulation who
had obtained the consensus of other notable ulama. By invalidating that
structure or dismissing the authority of the Najaf ulama, Nuri vied for
power and influence that, regarding constitutionalism at least, was based
on a narrow understanding of shari‘a and its application in society and a
desire to serve his own interests rather than fulfilling a doctrinal obliga-
tion as a mujtahid.
In debates during the Constitutional Revolution the ulama were
divided between the dogmatic and the rationalist or pragmatic clerics. As
a member of the former group, Nuri misunderstood elements of consti-
tutionalism and experienced great confusion regarding its agenda, while
Khurasani appreciated most of its positive attributes and the prospect of
reforming a backward and tyrannical political system, to be accomplished
under the careful scrutiny of mujtahids. Nuri’s dogmatic interpretation
of the clerics’ role shaped his interpretation of shari‘a as a way of life for
Muslims. Nuri and Khurasani differed greatly in their perception of the
practicality or applicability of Islamic doctrines in resolving sociopoliti-
cal issues. The progressive Khurasani believed that curbing the absolute
and arbitrary power of the shahs benefitted the public at large, whom the
ulama were responsible for safeguarding. On the other hand, mashruti-
yyat as a solution frustrated Nuri since he refused to accept that shari‘a
could be altered in a practical manner to improve life in general. He was
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 193

narrow-minded regarding shari‘a. At the heart of his objection to consti-

tutionalism was Nuri’s discovery that his personal influence and, to a cer-
tain extent, his financial interests would be diminished when parliament
implemented its reformist agenda in education and the judiciary, which
the ulama controlled almost completely. He became even more driven to
object to parliament when he thought the Islamic identity of the state was
under threat of permanent modification.
To further complicate the issue, beginning with Fath Ali Shah’s
reign (1797–1834), the ulama had divided the affairs of society into two
spheres: the people’s affairs (‘umur-i ‘ammih) and the state’s affairs (‘umur-i
daulati). Nuri was incapable of imagining the possibility that the religious
establishment could maintain its influence in ‘umur-i ‘ammih and still
allow ‘umur-i daulati to be supervised by parliament, which contained a
committee of five mujtahids who ascertained whether parliament’s bills
conformed with Islam. Given that some of the people’s affairs would natu-
rally expand into the affairs of the state and vice versa, the committee of
five mujtahids was created to prevent such contraventions from happen-
ing. Although it was by no means a perfect solution, and no one knew how
this system would function in reality, what is unique about Khurasani is
that he was open to trying constitutionalism, as a Western advent, to deter-
mine its success in Islamic Iran.
Secular and liberal Iranians who stood apart from religious progres-
sive thinking added yet another dimension to the constitutionalist debate,
which was made stronger and more viable when it gained the support of
the more liberal-leaning and flexible religious leaders such as Khurasani.
But Nuri stood his ground, so that with the help of the shah and other
anti-constitutionalist elements parliament could be annihilated regardless
of who supported it.
At times the anti-constitutionalists could not tame their emotions; at
one point during an anti-constitutionalist rally near parliament, they were
incited by a cleric who declared that it was better to commit rape, rob-
bery, and murder than to get involved with constitutionalism (zina bukun,
duzdi bukun, adam bukush, amma nazdik-i in Majlis naru).2 Rallies such
as these were typical during the Revolution and some resulted in violence
194 A House Divided

against unsuspecting bystanders. After this particular rally, the anti-con-

stitutionalist crowd forced some Jews out of their homes to side with them,
and abused them and anyone else who refused to cooperate.3

Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri

Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri (see figure 9) was a highly respected mujtahid in

Tehran but, unlike Khurasani, was not known for his breadth of knowl-
edge of fiqh. He gathered all of his strength to dissuade the people from
supporting mashrutiyyat and parliament by launching a campaign against
these institutions. Nuri thought of constitutionalism as shari‘a’s “most for-
midable enemy.”4 The Tehran-based cleric tried all options available to
him to destroy parliament, including publishing his opinion and ignoring
that some of his followers had resorted to violence. Sabotage and violence
against parliament was justified, according to the anti-constitutionalist
leadership, because it believed parliament to be un-Islamic. However,
because of Khurasani’s status as the sole Source of Emulation and one
of the most respected living jurists at that time, the anti-constitutional-
ists did not have the courage to explicitly launch any attacks against him
Before the constitution and the supplement to it that was referred
to in the final draft (Mutammam-i Qanun-i Asasi) was fully approved
in October 1907, parliament discussed its powers and limitations after
Muzaffar al-Din Shah’s death in January of the same year. Although
Nuri only hesitantly agreed with the idea of constitutionalism,5 and he
did not vehemently object to it or raise any concerns about it (see fig-
ures 5 and 7). According to Vanessa Martin, his support was mostly due
to “public pressure”6 and the fear of not wanting to be isolated as a dis-
senter. However, after his initial acceptance of constitutionalism, Nuri
appears to have become unenthusiastic toward parliament when his court
ally Ain al-Daulih (Abdul-Majid), the ruler of Tehran, was sacked from
his position in July 1906,7 and as soon as he realized that mashrutiyyat
opposed his perception of shari‘a and Islam. Later, hoping to become
one of the members who drafted the constitution, Nuri asked parliament
to amend the constitution by stipulating that a committee made up of
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 195

five mujtahids determine the compatibility of all future laws with shari‘a.
Although parliament agreed and introduced this failsafe into the con-
stitution as Article 2, Nuri’s lack of care in thinking about who would
elect the five mujtahids allowed parliament to choose whomever it con-
sidered amenable to its agenda, and because Nuri was not chosen as one
of the five, this made the matter even thornier. In his place two of his
competing mujtahid friends, Bihbahani and Tabataba’i, were selected.
It was then that Nuri grew impatient and suddenly changed his mind,
becoming an ardent anti-constitutionalist.8 Although he was not the only
anti-constitutionalist cleric, he was one of the movement’s most famous
figures and ultimately its de facto leader in Iran.
It had taken a long time for Nuri to achieve success as a notable mujta-
hid in Tehran. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri (1842–1909) was born in the north-
ern village of Nur in Mazandaran, and after moving to Najaf 9 to further
his clerical education, he returned to Iran in 1885 to settle in the capital.10
Through marriage and family connections he managed to secure an influ-
ential and prestigious position in the royal court and at one point became
its official registrar, responsible for notarizing most Qajar marriages and
contracts. He also notarized and occasionally administered the wills of
wealthy merchants and collected substantial sums in religious taxes from
a variety of groups in Tehran.11 Therefore, his source of income was very
different from Khurasani’s, though they both hailed from the provinces,
and, like Khurasani, Nuri hoped an education in Najaf in the second half
of the nineteenth century would improve his life.
By the time the Revolution was unfolding, Nuri had established him-
self in Tehran as an authority on religious affairs.12 However, his relation-
ship with other ulama who were not as influential was less than favorable.
A story narrated by the constitutionalist era historian Nazim al-Islam con-
firms that the clerical class was all but united when it needed to protect
its own against violence. When Nazim al-Islam informed the ulama that
a local Qajar ruler in Kerman had flogged a pro-constitutionalist cleric,
Nuri stayed noticeably silent and did not raise concerns about this outward
expression of hostility against the clergy. As became evident, the cleric
who was flogged was one of Khurasani’s students and an influential figure
in the south. Because violence against notable clerics was uncommon at
196 A House Divided

this time, the incident raised questions about how the clerical establish-
ment should respond.13 But Nuri’s unfazed attitude stemmed from the
fact that he believed any act against the status quo and any change by
the modernists was a collective effort to destroy not only Islam but also
the institution of monarchy. Nuri believed that irrespective of any person’s
status, Muslims should disavow anyone who supported constitutionalism,
a system that in his view would allow for the “teaching of chemistry, phys-
ics, and foreign languages.”14 Nuri equated knowledge of the secular sci-
ences with infidelity to Islam and its eventual destruction. Having never
authored any Shi‘ite texts of note, his base of power was mostly the influ-
ence he had over “court notables, fief and pension holders, and a large sec-
tion of the ulama,” including religious students.15 According to one source,
he was substantially in debt at the time of his death.16

The Bast of 1907

Nuri opposed the very essence of the parliament and the newly approved
constitution and labeled them “un-Islamic.” In open protest against par-
liament only days after he had agreed with the details of the draft of the
constitution, he left Tehran leading a large group of his followers and took
sanctuary in the Shah Abdul–‘Azim complex (a medieval Shi‘ite shrine)
south of the capital. He and his followers began a round-the-clock sit-in
(bast-nishini, or bast) on June 21, 1907, which lasted until September 16,
1907.17 Nuri’s like-minded colleagues and some elements from the royal
court provided funds to feed the one thousand protesters for almost ninety
days.18 There, the opposition force warned the public that constitutional-
ism generally violated shari‘a and that it was also conceived by foreigners
as a tool to benefit them and to further their own interests in Iran. There-
fore, according to Nuri, who was now the voice of the anti-constitution-
alists, the constitution and the parliament were unnecessary for Iranians
and ran contrary to Islamic teachings. The anti-constitutionalists believed
that foreign innovation, such as a parliamentary system, was inappropriate
for Iranians, the vast majority of whom were uneducated.19
Nuri generalized the basis of shari‘a and viewed it as a tool to enable
him to impose his own sociopolitical views on the populace. Contrary
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 197

to the ideal that shari‘a be used to provide guidance and serve as a role
model for Muslims to live a better life in accordance with Islamic val-
ues, Nuri personalized his impressions of it and, instead of using it to
help people, interpreted it in a self-serving manner. Nuri’s anti-constitu-
tionalism was based on his self-centered understanding of his position as
a mujtahid rather than his doctrinal appreciation for the position. This
stance was indicative of his limited understanding of shari‘a’s applicability
to contemporary problems in Iran. It was also based on his own specific
interpretation of shari‘a, which excluded most rationales except his own.20
The following points have been identified as the basis for his objecting to
the Revolution: (1) He identified new sects and naturalists responsible for
importing constitutionalism from abroad with the aim of destroying Islam.
(2) He believed Iranians were deceived into accepting the premise for the
Revolution because it gave them the illusion that the Revolution aimed
to eradicate despotism and promote justice, whereas in fact it had wanted
to weaken Islam. (3) He believed that mashrutiyyat initially intended to
do good but later deviated from its goals and became anti-Islamic. (4) He
disagreed with the idea that ordinary people should have the right to elect
representatives, and at the same time he mistrusted those who were elected
as legislators. (5) He rejected the participation of nonclerics in the judicial
system because he believed it was the ulama, trained in Islamic fiqh and
ijtihad, who were the only ones qualified to be the source for Islamic law.
(6) He thought the only laws that Muslims should follow were those found
in the Quran. (7) He accepted the absolutist monarchical system and not
only believed in it as an institution but also preferred the rule of the Qajars
as just and hence in conformity with shari‘a.21
During the bast, Nuri informed people about his views on constitu-
tionalism. Because all Tehran newspapers refused to publish the dissenting
opinions of the anti-constitutionalists, the Shah Abdul–‘Azim protestors
purchased a printing press and published their own propaganda. Nuri
expressed the views summarized above in Ruznamih-yi Shaykh Fazlullah
(Shaykh Fazlullah’s Newspaper) and lavayih (leaflets), as the anti-consti-
tutionalists referred to their publications. The anti-constitutionalist lit-
erature reveals an ideologically self-centered mujtahid driven to object
to anything that directly threatened either his dogmatic interpretation
198 A House Divided

of shari‘a or his own personal interests.22 In one instance Nuri explained

his objection to parliament by referencing the five qualifiers that morally
graded all actions taken by Muslims. Because every action is deemed by
shari‘a to be either obligatory (vajib), recommended (mandub), permissible
(mubah), reprehensible (makruh), or forbidden (haram), and because the
constitution would oblige people to undertake certain actions that might
be reprehensible or forbidden under shari‘a, it followed that abiding by
laws mandated by a nonclerical body was un-Islamic.23
Nuri claimed that because the concept of “constitution” originated in
non-Muslim lands, it was automatically inappropriate for Muslims in Iran.
In a bulletin dated Jumadi 18, 1325 HQ/July 29, 1907, he refused to accept
the constitutionalists’ objection to the absolute power of the monarchy
over its subjects. According to Nuri, the monarchy was accountable to
no institution other than God and shari‘a. For this reason, making a con-
nection between social backwardness, economic stagnation, and arbitrary
rule with oppression and Iran’s absolutist government was not acceptable
to Nuri and his supporters.24
In the same leaflet, anti-constitutionalists explained how they per-
ceived the parliament and the constitution. They claimed that noncler-
ics had constructed these concepts out of enmity toward Islam. Whereas
Khurasani reassured the public that mashrutiyyat and the Majlis were
compatible with Islam, Nuri held that they were a major threat to it. The
major point of contention for Nuri and his followers was that Islam and
shari‘a had lost their places in the constitution. Hence, the constitutional-
ists were viewed as people with no beliefs and no moral standards (jama‘at-
i la-qaydu la ubal).25
Although some Iranian constitutionalist activists were part of the
Baha’i faith, the anti-constitutionalists claimed that most supporters of
constitutionalism were probably Babis of the worst kind and generally
identified them as atheists who objected to shari‘a. They claimed the
Muslim community should tolerate neither the constitution nor the par-
liament, because “anarchists, nihilists, socialists, naturalists, Babis,” and
skillful saboteurs had designed them.26 The opposition did not differenti-
ate between the clerical supporters of parliament and its secular advocates.
The anti-constitutionalists viewed all adversaries negatively; however, this
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 199

proved challenging and resulted in an unprecedented backlash from the

pro-constitutionalist clerics.
In some of their writings, Nuri and the anti-constitutionalists he led
reiterated that the pro-constitutionalist ulama’s argument that shari‘a can
be, and indeed must be, interpreted in accordance with society’s needs
was nothing but a sham. On July 18, 1907, in a desperate attempt to thwart
the constitutionalists’ efforts, Nuri’s supporters published a leaflet claim-
ing that the constitutionalists had an ulterior motive for their actions.
They added that the constitutionalists’ claim that the absence of reform
and progress throughout society was responsible for Iran’s dismal situa-
tion was basically a misrepresentation of facts. However, neither Nuri nor
anyone else offered any alternative explanation as to what had contrib-
uted to the backward conditions or lawlessness that had made Iranians
think of constitutionalism as a solution in the first place. Rather, the anti-
constitutionalist camp was confident that reform and modernization fell
short of addressing those issues. They attacked the objectives of reform,
which included a Western-style educational system, and claimed that con-
stitutionalists planned to build “brothels [and] factories” (fahishih khanih-
ha . . . karkhanih-jat) under the guise of “schools to educate women and
schools for children” (madaris-i tarbiyat-i nisvan va dabistan-i dushizih-
gan).27 It is obvious that by comparing schools for girls with brothels the
anti-constitutionalists were provoking the most sensitive of all Iranian
taboos and aiming to outrage the most impressionable and conservative
sections of society.
Their misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the reformist plans
were most likely indicative of their own narrow views of what constituted
progress. Although some of the reformists were enthusiastic about West-
ernization, if we take that group out of the equation, we are left with many
others who simply wanted to improve conditions in Iran without changing
Islam or the Islamic identity of Iranians, as Nuri thought.
The fact that the anti-constitutionalists remained undisturbed about
the political inefficiencies of the state, undaunted by the territorial losses,
and indifferent toward the health of the economy—the precise issues that
parliament intended to address—raises the question of how Nuri per-
ceived his responsibilities as a mujtahid. But when the future economic
200 A House Divided

well-being of the lower-level clerics, who were the army of propagandists

supporting the high-ranking anti-constitutionalist ulama, was in jeop-
ardy, Nuri did not miss the opportunity to voice his dissent. These lower-
ranking clerics engaged in almost all popular religious rituals and their
function—and prospect of survival—were in many ways different from the
higher echelon of the clergy, such as the pro-constitutionalist ulama of
Najaf. It is when they specifically complained about the threat of losing
their sources of funds to organize Shi‘ite lamentation ceremonies (rawza-
khanis) and pilgrimages to holy cities (ziyarat) that we understand what
actually concerned them. In the same bulletin of July 29, 1907, anti-con-
stitutionalists complained that if plans to establish secular schools, which
the government intended to finance, succeeded, it would definitely hurt
the funding of Shi‘ite lamentation ceremonies, and annual pilgrimages to
the holy cities would also be affected.28
Nuri and his followers claimed that, before the establishment of par-
liament, shari‘a had been effective in creating an ideal society because it
had addressed all issues that concerned the people socially, politically, and
economically. Nuri tried to dismiss Khurasani’s activities by claiming that
his support existed in a vacuum because he did not live in Iran and did
not really know what was taking place.29 Although his claim was valid, it
was irrelevant at that time. Khurasani, as a master mujtahid, had enough
knowledge to recognize that the premise of the creation of mashrutiyyat
was sound and that allowed him to fully support it. Ultimately, Nuri mis-
judged Khurasani’s skill and interpretive mastery of the issues in more
ways than one; he should have been aware that the same sources that he
used to disagree with the Revolution were available to Khurasani, includ-
ing shari‘a. In interpreting shari‘a, Nuri’s simple and self-serving approach
was incapable of addressing society’s concerns, whereas the pro-constitu-
tionalists, led by Khurasani, took a pragmatic approach to their interpreta-
tion of shari‘a and used it for urgently needed social reform. Khurasani
simply heralded a new era in which the meaning and application of
shari‘a in society was beyond one person or one strict interpretation. He
did not totally disregard shari‘a, but an usuli foundation for practicing ijti-
had while keeping the Gate of Knowledge open (infitah al-bab al-ijtihad)
allowed him to think and act differently and be flexible in performing his
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 201

duties as a mujtahid. Although it is debatable that based on Shi‘ite hiero-

cracy Nuri could have “excommunicated”30 Khurasani, he seems to have
ventured into making his opinion the standard opinion of all mujtahids
who had achieved much more than he had academically. It is difficult
to argue that Khurasani would have continued to support parliament in
place of shari‘a if he truly thought that parliament and the constitution
were unable to resolve Iranian issues or that they would one day weaken
shari‘a as an institution.
The anti-constitutionalists called the ratification of the constitution
a “shameful” act and dismissed everyone who supported it. They rightly
claimed that, as an outspoken leader of the anti-constitutionalists, Nuri
had been the target of an array of insults,31 ridicule, and attacks32 by the
pro-constitutionalists because he had argued that the way the constitution
was being drafted was “outdated and unstable.”33
The anti-constitutionalists’ fear of constitutionalism stemmed from
the perception that because the Iranian parliament emulated the French
parliament, its major goal was to alter Iranian culture and religion. It did
not matter to the anti-constitutionalists that the constitution was actually
modeled on those of Belgium, Bulgaria, and Russia. They continued their
criticism of the assembly, which they believed was blindly adopting “the
laws of foreign parliaments.” However, they failed to notice that it was not
every article of the constitutions of those nations that was emulated, but
rather ideas about reform and specifically how to separate the powers of
the monarch and distribute them among the three branches of the govern-
ment: legislative, executive, and judicial. Nuri believed that because Iran
was “blessed” with shari‘a it was useless to follow French laws because
those laws were based on the needs of French society. He insisted that the
French needed such written laws because they did not have the “eternal
and heavenly shari‘a.”34 Just as Riza Quli Mirza, one of Fath Ali Shah’s
sons, had mistaken British common law for shari‘a, as he wrote of it in
his letter of 1837 (see chapter 1), Nuri likewise, but in a different context,
erred on this point. He too thought that shari‘a functioned the same way
that a written constitution promised to function. Khurasani easily differ-
entiated the two and understood them to be dissimilar. It is clear that the
anti-constitutionalists were ill informed about how the two very different
202 A House Divided

systems, constitutional law and shari‘a, functioned. In the struggles of the

pro- and anti-constitutionalists, both groups confused many of the details
that were essential in strengthening their arguments.
Anti-constitutionalist literature produced at Shah Abdul-‘Azim aimed
to convince the people that the correct “basis for Shi‘ism” was that which
was advocated by Nuri.35 To make certain that everyone was convinced
by that line of thinking, leaflets were frequently read aloud in public in
the grounds of the shrine during the sit-in. The impressionable devout
throughout Tehran were influenced as well when the same propaganda
was also read at local mosques and plastered all over the city. The lower-
level clerics, who sought a career in the clergy in order to take advantage of
its socioeconomic benefits, knew that their prosperity depended on their
relationship with mujtahids such as Nuri because of his connections and
support for the Qajar court.36
It was not only the masses whom the anti-constitutionalists needed
to convince to oppose parliament. Najaf was an influential city, being the
spiritual and educational center of Shi‘ism, and during the Constitutional
Revolution it was home to the pro-constitutional religious leadership.
That is why it was vital for the anti-constitutionalists led by Nuri to reach
and persuade the clerical hierocracy in Najaf, including notables such as
Khurasani, of the Revolution’s incompatibility with Islam.

Nuri and the Religious Elite of Najaf

On August 17, 1907, in an attempt to warn Khurasani, Nuri wrote him a

letter in which he claimed that the parliament Khurasani supported was
not what he imagined it to be. Nuri cautioned Khurasani about its un-
Islamic essence and violation of Islamic values. He counseled Khurasani
to be mindful of his support for the Majlis and suggested that he stop
supporting it altogether. However, Nuri did not say how he had arrived at
his conclusions. The letter was void of any rational argument that would
indicate a serious intellectual debate between the two colleagues. It read
more like an order than a collegial discussion. What allowed Nuri to take
an authoritative tone was perhaps his ideological conviction or his con-
fidence in his position: he was a financially secure cleric who enjoyed a
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 203

close relationship with powerful institutions in Tehran and had a large fol-
lowing. But Nuri overestimated his own dominance and underestimated
the power wielded by Khurasani as an influential and pragmatic marja‘-i
taqlid. He failed to grasp that the high regard that all parliamentarians had
for Khurasani for his support and legitimization of mashrutiyyat and the
Majlis was perhaps more powerful.
Khurasani’s reply to Nuri’s somewhat unclear and patronizing let-
ter was brief. He mockingly responded that the parliament at Baharistan
Square was exactly the one he supported, and added that he had no doubt
about its intentions.37 Perhaps he mentioned the location of the Majlis to
make it clear that he would reject any other assembly that Nuri and the
shah were thinking of creating.38 Nuri refrained from openly opposing
Khurasani’s support of parliament because he would have been viewed
as a distraught and angry cleric vying for power for his own self-centered
agenda instead of the public interest. Nuri also did not want to be viewed
as a cleric who doubted the authority of the Najaf ulama, which percep-
tion could have hurt Nuri’s cause and perhaps isolated him.
Khurasani had learned from Ansari that, because there was an insuf-
ficient number of sources to guide the ulama, the need to engage exces-
sively in political activities was not warranted. The involvement of the
five-member mujtahid committee in drafting the constitution was strictly
to ensure that parliament did not make any Muslim duty illegal or any un-
Islamic action mandatory and punishable by law. They remained protec-
tors of Islamic values and institutions, maintained Islam as a value system,
and ensured that certain Shi‘ite rituals were not destroyed.
According to Nuri, what threatened vilayat was vikalat (the representa-
tional system), which was modeled on the Western parliamentary system.
Vikalat allowed the people to elect officials (clerical and nonclerical) to
represent them in parliament. He believed that vikalat would overshadow
vilayat in influence not only in the Qajar court but also in society. Nuri
rejected the idea that in a representational system, butchers, carpenters,
or farmers, for example, could freely elect a representative to make laws
on their behalf. As long as trained Shi‘ite jurists (mujtahids) existed, the
election of nonclerics, who were ignorant of such knowledge, was unjust
and therefore un-Islamic. Nuri believed that these groups simply did not
204 A House Divided

qualify to legislate and that such authority would have automatically

allowed them to meddle into the affairs of the ulama, although in fact the
constitution prohibited this.39
It appears that Nuri appreciated the idea of separating the ‘umur-i
‘ammih from ‘umur-i daulati, but for other reasons he either decided to
cleverly ignore the separation of those spheres or confused it altogether.40
Khurasani, who was much more familiar with the intricate field of Islamic
jurisprudence, having written the most innovative text on usuli jurispru-
dence, Kifayat al-Usul, trusted the same people—secular and religious
members of parliament—and that they made their own decisions about
the political fate of Iran, and that is why he fully supported parliament.
More important, whereas Khurasani cautiously trusted the constitutional-
ist intellectuals of his time, Nuri discredited them by labeling them “athe-
ists” and “Babis.”41
According to Nazim al-Islam, some of Nuri’s colleagues visited him at
his home in order to convince him to support parliament. In that discus-
sion, he expressed concerns about Parliament’s agenda and stated that he
was disturbed about the future plans of parliament, which wanted to pass
laws mandating the payment of fees or taxes for simple practical transac-
tions. If an Iranian wanted to “drill a hole into his wall” he would need to
obtain a permit for it by paying fees to some government organization.42
Nuri thought that if he had to pay taxes for drilling holes in his wall,
then he would surely be expected to pay taxes for other mundane affairs.
That was simply unacceptable and against shari‘a, as he complained to his
There is no doubt that Nuri was correct about the new fee and tax
codes that were so desperately needed to increase national revenue, but
he failed to appreciate the reason for such plans and how they were to be
structured. And a new secular tax system clearly did not threaten Islam or
its survival as a religion or a way of life in Iranian culture.
We must conclude that Nuri based his premises on myths and so
arrived at illogical conclusions. As a result, he had a twisted understand-
ing of progressive ideas—in a society that was trying to rejuvenate itself
through reform. His irrational fantasy that constitutionalism promoted
modern demonic education, and that it aimed to destroy the monarchy
Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani 205

and Islam, suggests that in fact Nuri and his kind perceived the new
“order” to be a threat to their livelihood, and it is for this reason that they
opposed mashrutiyyat.43
Eventually, political volatility and the anti-constitutionalists’ failure
to rally enough support for their cause led them to choose sheer violence.
Nuri recruited neighborhood gangsters and thugs, who were commonly
referred to as lutis, to harass the pro-constitutionalists.44 The hired thugs
eventually became more zealous and attacked and vandalized the offices
of the pro-constitutionalist press.45 On December 22, 1907, Nuri and a
group of lutis left his house and marched toward Tupkhanih Square,
where the thugs physically attacked just about anyone on the street and
looted nearby stores.46 Terrorizing various neighborhoods in Tehran and
creating chaos allowed the anti-constitutionalist thugs, under Nuri’s lead-
ership, to blame the constitutionalists for failing to provide a law-abiding
and secure city.
It is clear that anti-constitutionalists, and Nuri as their most zealous
leader, objected to mashrutiyyat not because of their concern for theo-
logical issues or the movement’s alleged threat to Shi‘ism or Islam but
rather because they were trying to protect the status quo that had greatly
benefited them in the past.47 Nuri’s opposition can be summed up thus:
First, he was concerned that his wealth and political influence (through
his connection to the shah’s court) would be considerably weakened if
parliament succeeded in limiting royal power). Second, aside from want-
ing to protect his assets in lieu of new secular laws, he was ideologically
driven and interpreted many things in a dogmatic and rigid fashion. That
dogmatic rigidity contradicted the main responsibility of usuli mujtahids,
who were supposed to think vigorously about the needs of society. Shaykh
Fazlullah Nuri forgot that as a mujtahid he was obliged to exert himself
beyond exhaustion, as the root word for ijtihad, j-h-d, suggests, to arrive at
rational and practical solutions to resolve the people’s issues. Fear of the
unknown and the destabilizing effect that constitutionalism might have
on his livelihood compelled him to change his position and become a
staunch anti-constitutionalist. His lavish lifestyle and abundant wealth,
which he freely flaunted with visitors, was no secret and was in deep con-
trast to the conduct of Khurasani and his ulama followers.
206 A House Divided

Nuri’s and Khurasani’s differing views of constitutionalism, the end

result of their lives, and the fact that mashrutiyyat did not fully give way
to a democratic society after 1911 inform the most significant discussion
about whether clerics can be part of a progressive society in Iran. Because
of their divergent perception of constitutionalism, we are left without a
definitive answer and have argued their points as we ourselves see them.
Fundamental Differences
between Nuri and Khurasani

Although Khurasani’s pro-constitutionalist position was shaped by ratio-

nal usuli Shi‘ite jurisprudence, which fully supported parliamentary polit-
ical representation, Nuri’s anti-constitutionalist argument was based on a
different perception of shari‘a, which lacked any flexibility for a mujtahid
to form pragmatic and progressive opinions. Therefore, it could be argued
that Nuri’s perception of shari‘a was based on dogma rather than sound
reasoning. Nuri’s dogmatic arguments did not permit any possibility that
constitutionalism could resolve Iran’s issues. It is possible that Nuri did
not believe that the problems the pro-constitutionalists wanted to solve
were major issues in society. Nuri did not take issue with the arbitrary
rule of the monarchy. Nuri interpreted Islamic sources in an absolutist
paradigm, even if circumstances called for adaptability, and that is how
he defined the societal role of the ulama and shari‘a. Nuri and Khurasani
differed in their interpretation of shari‘a, and this is where an intellectual
dichotomy makes itself apparent in jurisprudential thought of the Twelver
Shi‘ite ulama at the turn of the twentieth century.
Nuri’s anti-constitutionalist bulletins and declarations from the Shah
Abdul-‘Azim shrine in the summer of 1907 appeared suddenly. We can
eliminate all possible reasons for the switch from reluctant constitutional-
ist to rabid anti-constitutionalist except one, which points to the timing of
his objection. If we consider the fact that the switch occurred only after he
realized he was not part of the five-mujtahid committee, we can conclude
that his objection was born out of personal dissatisfaction with the compo-
sition of the committee. In other words, he could have avoided objecting
208 A House Divided

to the parliament as a whole and instead offered his reasons for not approv-
ing the committee members. Otherwise why would he show signs of irri-
tation and declare that shari‘a was being violated and the parliament was
un-Islamic when, before the election of the committee, he had approved
it? Nuri was unenthusiastic about mashrutiyyat at the beginning of the
Revolution and joined the other pro-constitutionalist ulama only when
he felt his silence might isolate him. His support for mashrutiyyat was
probably due to his desire to wait and see how it unraveled and whether he
would play a key role in its implementation. Another possibility is that he
did not think constitutionalism could be a threat to shari‘a until he discov-
ered the Majlis’s agenda. But it was when he was sidelined and not chosen
to serve on the five-mujtahid committee in parliament that he began to
exhibit signs of agitation.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue that Nuri’s claim that constitu-
tionalism was anti-Islamic was a match for Khurasani’s far-reaching and
solid support of the Constitutional Revolution, which was based on a reli-
gious and progressive understanding of the need for reforms. Khurasani
preferred to think in broader terms when supporting mashrutiyyat, in
order to bring shari‘a and constitutionalism closer together. Khurasani’s
support did not occur in a vacuum, but rather was offered diligently, in
line with the principles of usuli fiqh that included using reason to inform
his religious opinions about mashrutiyyat and establish consensus (ijma‘)
among other faqihs. Khurasani must have considered how his support
would affect him, the institution that he led (marja‘iyyat), and Shi‘ism as
a whole. But it is difficult to ascertain if he understood the full ramifica-
tions of his support for an institution such as Majlis-i Shura-yi Milli (the
National Constituent Assembly). During the course of the Iranian reform
movement of the nineteenth century the nonreligious progressives intro-
duced to Iran’s nationalistic lexicon certain terms, such as milli, that
became the standard vocabulary of that discourse. Because Khurasani
comprehended these terms in a different context, it leaves one to surmise
that he was flexible enough to give these new institutions or concepts a
chance to discover their practicality and conformity with Islam, which
Nuri refused to do.1
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 209

Liberal Newspapers and Nuri

The Shah Abdul-‘Azim protestors failed to gather enough support for their
cause and they increased their rhetoric against parliament by reiterating
that pro-constitutionalist newspapers were blaspheming against Islam and
its institutions. In a statement issued on August 16, 1907, the anti-constitu-
tionalist propaganda claimed that the supporters of parliament specifically
insulted “morning and nightly Quran recitations and the commemora-
tion of the death of the Lord of Martyrs (Imam Hussayn).” It went on
to accuse them of ridiculing the Shi‘ite holy places, including Mecca,
and doctrines that Shi‘ites considered divine.2 If viewed superficially these
accusations might not seem very damaging, but we must remember that
discrediting any sociopolitical movement or associated group by accusing
it of being anti-Shi‘ite was (and continues to be) an effective way to gain
the support of those who relied on the assertions of the clergy. After all,
for many people the ulama (which included lower-level clerics who had
better access to poorer areas of the cities and rural Iran) were the symbol
of Islam and what they decreed to be Islamic or un-Islamic was often
blindly accepted. However, providing evidence for their accusations was
difficult for the anti-constitutionalist faction. A systematic examination of
the available issues of Habl al-Matin, the progressive newspaper that the
anti-constitutionalists identified as the publisher of the constitutionalists’
anti-Islamic teachings, fails to fully support their accusations.
Although Habl al-Matin did not run an “anti-Islamic” campaign per
se, it certainly criticized many practices that liberal Iranians considered
counterintuitive to reform and progress. At the same time Habl al-Matin,
and other publications that shared its perspective, introduced Western
political philosophy to Iranians that was the foundation of constitutional-
ism and reform. The appearance of foreign ideas and discussion of pos-
sible changes in Iranian politics might have seemed anti-Islamic to those
who were unfamiliar with such writings or unenthusiastic about non-
traditional ideas that liberal reformists viewed as cures for their society’s
ailments. As far as Nuri and other dogmatic clerics were concerned, these
solutions posed a serious threat to (their perception of) Islam and their
210 A House Divided

interests. The overarching position of Habl al-Matin, and other newspa-

pers like it, invited Iranians to think liberally and more thoroughly about
“modernization” (tajaddud) and its benefits. Such liberal publications
also suggested that Iranians should examine the way they spent their
resources when they visited holy shrines or traveled to perform religious
duties, when society as a whole was sinking deeper into trouble. Aside
from interpreting these critical liberal articles in a dogmatic fashion, it
is reasonable to think that Nuri and his followers exploited them so that,
by not letting modern ideas gain ground, they could propagate their own
brand of Islam and shari‘a.
From another perspective it should be mentioned that active consti-
tutionalists and modernists like Sayyid Hassan Taqizadih, whom contem-
porary historians viewed as a “radical” (tundru), were staunch supporters
of cultural Westernization. After Khurasani had died in 1911, Taqiza-
dih asserted that being modern and reforming must basically amount
to Iran becoming “Western” in every sense of the term. Iranians, there-
fore, would not only need to adopt European political and educational
systems, but they would also have to embrace Western clothing, West-
ern manners, and a Western way of life.3 During the Revolution, many
people took such suggestions literally, and those who misconstrued the
intricacies of Taqizadih’s nuanced ideas confused them with the belief
that Iranians were being advised to change their religion and values. In
a traditional society that was largely illiterate and rural, such statements
were taken to mean becoming infidel (kafir) and were viewed as part
of the scheme that the reformist constitutionalists had designed against
Islam and Iran.
Habl al-Matin specifically criticized Nuri because he had resorted to
violence after failing to convince the public of parliament’s un-Islamic
nature during the Abdul-‘Azim bast in the summer of 1907. A wave of
violent acts gripped the city, and in the January 1, 1908 article “Domes-
tic News and the Rebellion of Shaykh Nuri” (akhbar-i dakhiliyyih va
tughyan-i Shaykh Nuri), Nuri was singled out as having led the uprisings.
As a way to denigrate him, his birthplace Nur in Mazandaran, which lies
on the edge of the Iranian rain forest, was depicted as a lawless “jungle”
inhabited only by the wildest “beasts” (janivaran-i darandih). Based on
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 211

that metaphor, the article concluded that it should come as no surprise

that Nuri was so uncivilized and feral in his opposition of mashrutiyyat
by resorting to violence. Habl al-Matin depicted Nuri’s hometown as a
place where individuals with “evil innate dispositions and thoughts” (bad
tinat va bad afkar) were bred. “The natives of Nur had been accustomed
to killing humans and cannibalism”(adam khuran va insan-kushi ra adat-
dirinih-yi khud sakhtih), the article asserted, adding that it was natural
that Nuri would support a society whose environment resembled the one
in which he was born.4 For Habl al-Matin, a liberal and widely distributed
publication that was also well received in Najaf, to describe an influential
mujtahid so disparagingly was unprecedented, and the publication of the
article only attests to the changing sociopolitical conditions of Iran. The
age-old tradition of holding all ulama in high esteem was beginning to
fade, and that was unacceptable to Nuri and his colleagues, as their com-
plaints indicate.
Nuri and his followers nevertheless exaggerated their interpretation of
liberal writings that supported new ways of thinking about Iranian soci-
ety and culture. Sometimes anti-constitutionalists fabricated stories that
were essentially inflammatory in nature, in order to excite Nuri’s followers.
His willing supporters, made up of the vulnerable devout who were not
necessarily aware of what was being discussed in constitutional circles or
parliament, were under the almost total influence of Nuri and his associ-
ates. Nuri, in the bulletin of August 16, 1907, specifically identified Jews,
Christians, Zoroastrians, and the “misguided Babis”5 as being responsible
for indoctrinating individuals who had become constitutionalists. He con-
demned the actions of the pro-constitutionalists and lamented that they
no longer obeyed “the orders of [the] ulama.”6 The irony was that the
ulama dismissed the words of their colleagues if they happened to dis-
agree with them. Nuri, though, was obsessed with the fact that the highest
powers in Najaf, including Khurasani as the leader of the other two faqihs,
Mazandarani and Mirza Khalil, fully supported parliament. He was right
to lament the loss of the prestige of the ulama, but, from another perspec-
tive, it is possible that he was lamenting the loss of the prestige of the
anti-constitutionalist clerics and himself, and not the ulama who thought
favorably about mashrutiyyat.
212 A House Divided

Khurasani’s Reaction to Nuri’s Activities

The constitutionalists in Tehran informed Khurasani of Nuri’s activities

and, in one telegram published in Majlis, the Source of Emulation issued
a stern order to that assembly to sideline him.7 On December 30, 1907,
addressing Bihbahani and Tabataba’i (two mujtahid members of both
parliament and the five-mujtahid committee), Khurasani made it clear
that because Nuri’s actions generally disturbed the peace, he was identi-
fied as an agent of sedition and “his interfering in any affair [was] forbid-
den” (tasarrufash dar ‘umurat haram ast).8 That fatwa can be essentially
interpreted as Khurasani’s endorsement of whatever action parliament
deemed appropriate in countering Nuri’s disruptive behavior. The short
telegram leaves no room for doubting which side Khurasani was on. It
was his authority as a highly influential marja‘ and his leadership of the
pro-constitutionalist ulama at Najaf that allowed him to lead so decisively.
Months before, Khurasani had apparently written directly to Nuri
and advised him to refrain from his anti-constitutionalist activities. How-
ever, according to Kadivar, the “ten-page” letter that one of his [Kadivar’s]
colleagues had seen was no longer available for his examination at the
archives of Muassisih-yi Mutali‘at-i Tarikh-i Mu‘asir-i Iran.9 Before anyone
could contain Nuri, who was frustrated with his lack of progress in win-
ning over the public and the constitutionalists, he escalated his efforts to
convince other ulama of the un-Islamic nature of parliament.
In order to influence the pro-constitutionalist ulama and to change
the public’s perception of parliament, Nuri claimed that mashrutiyyat did
not conform to shari‘a, and therefore that “constitutionalism [was] incom-
patible with shari‘a” (mashrutih mashru‘ih nimishavad).10 Nuri’s assertion
became one of the anti-constitutionalist slogans. It meant that one should
not confuse mashrutiyyat, a new political system limiting the absolute and
arbitrary powers of the monarchy, with the actual rule of shari‘a, the basis
for Islamic government. Nuri’s statement was essentially correct, but the
problem with it stemmed from the fact that no one, including Khurasani
and his group, wanted to create an Islamic government.
Although Khurasani used usuli jurisprudence to offer an Islamic
solution that would convince Iranians to support mashrutiyyat, he never
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 213

wished for an Islamic regime based on shari‘a. Khurasani agreed with

the establishment of a system that did not violate shari‘a, but it is hard to
argue that he supported the notion of a government that in every detail
of its actions would conform to shari‘a. An Islamic government was only
possible when the twelfth Imam ruled it, Khurasani believed. Regardless
of that doctrine, according to Nuri the Qajar rule was based on shari‘a
and what existed in Iran before the start of the Revolution was mashru‘
(accepted by shari‘a). Nuri argued that the constitutionalists aimed to
replace a mashru‘ rule with an un-Islamic, modern, and foreign system
that was alien to Iranians, calling it mashrutih. Nuri claimed that the con-
stitutionalists had disguised an un-Islamic scheme (mashrutiyyat) that was
not based on shari‘a (na-mashru‘) in order to win people over.
In an attempt to strengthen his position as Tehran’s influential muj-
tahid and the leader of the anti-constitutionalist clerics, Nuri openly sup-
ported Muhammad Ali Shah, who wanted to create a different assembly
(similar to the already established National Assembly) that conformed
with shari‘a.11 According to Zahir al-Daulih, Nuri set out to convince other
ulama throughout Iran to write to the shah directly that constitutionalism
had “failed” everyone. He also asked them to convince merchants and
guilds in their regions to do the same.12
Nuri considered himself to be the ultimate source of knowledge about
an assembly’s conformity with shari‘a, when he knew of nothing in the
Shi‘ite tradition that would allow him alone to create such an assembly,
which would also have permitted the religious elite to make sweeping laws.
A Shi‘ite assembly would have enabled the ulama, presumably with Nuri
as their leader, to convene in a “parliamentarian” setting to make “Islamic”
laws. But, as discussed, the ulama had maintained the power that enabled
them to perform their duties pertaining to the people’s affairs, as was indi-
cated in the final draft of the constitution. Therefore, Nuri’s cooperation
with the most powerful enemy of mashrutiyyat, namely, Muhammad Ali
Shah, indicates that he aimed to gain more political influence and was
discontent with the breadth of power held by the ulama in general as
religious leaders of Iranian Shi‘ites. Nuri ignored, or perhaps conveniently
forgot, that ijtihad, with its freedoms that enabled the ulama to sustain
their religious power, also allowed Nuri and others to protect the Islamic
214 A House Divided

character of the community. But the creation of another parliament of a

religious type was one of those ideas that resulted out of the confusion
and desperation of the anti-constitutionalists, and that never materialized.
The fact remains that although Nuri was technically an usuli mujtahid,
his actions and opinions opposed usulism. In other words he behaved as
though he belonged to the school of akhbarism, which forbids flexibility
in solving problems using “new” solutions.
There are other notable usuli mujtahids who are mostly remembered
for their anti-constitutionalism but who actually assisted parliament in
limited ways, and so we turn now to Sayyid Kazim Yazdi, a powerful but
apolitical mujtahid who lived in Najaf at the time of the Revolution.13

Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi

Anti-constitutionalist activists boasted that other notable Najaf mujtahids

intellectually refuted Khurasani’s support of the Revolution and agreed
with Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri in his fight against parliament. The percep-
tion during the Revolution was that even high-ranking ulama of Najaf dis-
agreed over the conformity of the constitution and parliament with Islam
and shari‘a. Additionally, when usulism (which allowed Khurasani to
take a pragmatic approach to the Constitutional Revolution) is discussed,
Yazdi (1247-1337 HQ/1831-1919) is remembered as one usuli mujtahid who
disagreed with Khurasani in order to counter the assertion that usulism
is what allowed Khurasani to act so freely in supporting constitutional-
ism. Assisted by one of his followers by the name of Sayyid Akbar Shah,
Yazdi harassed Khurasani in the hope that that he would refrain from sup-
porting the constitutionalists in 1907, and at times Yazdi asked the local
armed gangs of “the Zugurt and the Shumurt” to continue pressuring
Khurasani. However, Yazdi’s total disagreement with constitutionalism
does not appear to be entirely correct. More than likely, Yazdi thought
of politics as beyond his expertise and he did not wish to engage in the
mundane affairs of the world.14 One Habl al-Matin article suggested that
Yazdi’s anti-constitutionalist fatwas were actually forged. Yazdi refused
to elaborate on his objection to constitutionalism and simply declined to
involve himself in the Revolution without explaining why.15 At the same
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 215

time, in order for parliament to appease Nuri and address his concerns
about the constitution it asked Yazdi to specifically comment on the final
draft of the constitution. Muhammad Ali Shah signed off on the mutam-
mam-i qanun-i asasi on October 7, 1907, only days after Nuri ended his
protest at the Abul-‘Azim shrine, and hence it is very likely that Yazdi made
his commentary on the final draft at the behest of parliament in order
to bring Nuri’s activities to an end. Protection of the ulama and shari‘a
within a reformist agenda that included creating constitutional laws that
could affect Islamic institutions was just as important to Yazdi as it was to
Khurasani. Yazdi too seems to have struggled when making his commen-
taries on the final draft of the constitution.
Yazdi is remembered as a mujtahid who “fundamentally defended”
Nuri’s invention of a new brand of constitutionalism, referred to as
mashrutih-yi mashru‘ih, that was entirely based on shari‘a. But in this
case he simultaneously and cautiously supported the work that a special
committee of parliament had undertaken to complete the final draft of
the constitution (Mutammam-i Qanun-i Asasi).16 He accepted parlia-
ment’s request to review the final draft articles in order to verify their
conformity with shari‘a, and eventually suggested some key modifica-
tions that were subsequently adopted. Yazdi’s changes clearly prohibited
meddling in the affairs of the ulama through new laws and the state’s
newly formed offices.
He essentially maintained the powers that the ulama had monopo-
lized in their traditional role as religious leaders in charge of people’s
affairs. At the same time he separated the powers of the ulama from the
state’s affairs and limited their interference in state matters, leaving one
loophole in the draft that would have allowed the ulama to object to any
law deemed contrary to shari‘a or, in his words, na-mashru‘.
The following examples clearly demonstrate how Yazdi was careful
to be as specific as possible to ensure that the government, as stated in
the articles of the constitution, did not overrule religious edicts pertain-
ing to the people. For example, in Article 18 the drafters had written:
“learning of the sciences and religious education are allowed” (tahsil-i
‘ulum va ma‘arif azad ast). However, Yazdi modified that statement as fol-
lows: “learning and teaching of the sciences and religious education and
216 A House Divided

industries are permissible unless they are prohibited by shari‘a” (tahsil va

ta’lim-i ‘ulum va ma‘arif va sanayi‘ azad ast magar anchih shar‘an mamnu‘
bashad).17 Yazdi inserted two conditions: first, he asserted that if divine
law prohibits the learning of some sciences, the ulama could object and
remove such subjects from the list of disciplines being studied. Second,
he made certain that the teaching of Islamic sciences continued uninter-
rupted, and perhaps would be exclusive of the introduction of secular edu-
cation in Iran. This loophole in effect created more confusion and posed
an important question, which overshadowed the gist of constitutionalism,
as to who would ultimately be in charge of shari‘a; as discussed earlier,
every mujtahid could claim that his interpretation of what was mashru‘
and what was na-mashru‘ was the right interpretation. What makes this
part of Yazdi’s idea noteworthy is that it took place in the absence of a solid
hierocracy that every ulama could have followed.
In another instance, in Article 21, the drafters wrote: “peaceful societ-
ies and organizations are free [to operate] throughout the country” (anju-
manha va ijima‘at bih tawr-i musalimat dar tamami-yi mamlikat azad ast).
However, Yazdi changed this article to read: “societies and organizations
that do not create chaos, be they religious and [or] political and [that]
do not disturb the peace, are free [to operate] throughout the country
(anjumanha va ijtima‘ati kih muvallid-i fitnih nabashand, dini va dunyavi
va mukhill-i bih nazm nabashand, dar tamami-yi mamlikat azad ast).18
Whether the organizations were political or religious, Yazdi did not want
any group to have the liberty, under the banner of freedom, to create a
situation in which “anti-Islamic” ideas could be discussed or in which the
peace and security of the people were undermined.
In Article 27 the drafters had identified “the legislative branch, com-
posed of His Majesty the Shah and the National Constituent Assembly
and the Senate” (quvvih-yi muqannanih kih nashi mishavad az a‘lahazrat-
i shahanshahi va Majlis-i shura-yi milli va Majlis-i sina). Yazdi made this
correction: “the legislative branch [that] is responsible for legislating [new
laws] and refining ‘urf laws” (quvvih-yi muqannanih [kih] makhsus ast
bih vaz‘ va tahzib-i qavanin-i ‘urfiyyih).19 Here Yazdi clearly separates the
powers of parliament by disallowing any entity to intrude on the pur-
view of the religious establishment, including in public affairs, and gives
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 217

parliament the authority to be the sole decision maker in governmental

affairs. That is, it prohibited the ulama from interfering in political affairs
such as setting foreign policy, trade relations, or establishing a new and
modern army.
In the same article (27) that pertains to the separation of the three
powers of executive, legislative, and judiciary, the drafters had written:
“the judicial branch whose actions are limited to courts and ministries”
(quvvih-yi qadhaiyyih kih a‘mal-i an makhsus ast bih mahakim va divan-
khanih-ha). Yazdi changed to: “the branch of judiciary and order that is
composed of administrating law [whose] power is exclusive to shari‘a courts
related to the affairs of shari‘a, and to ‘urf courts in the affairs of ‘urfiyyih”
(quvvih-yi qadha va hukm kih ‘ibarat ast az tamyyiz-i huquq, va in quvvih
makhsus ast bih mahakim-i shar‘ dar shar‘iyaat va bih mahakim-i ‘urf dar
‘urfiyyat).20 Yazdi here also takes care to separate the powers of the ulama
from that of the secular legislators. This is the point that had apparently
upset Nuri and turned him from a pro- to an anti-constitutionalist, and
one can view Yazdi’s changes as addressing Nuri’s concerns.
What eventually became articles 71 and 72 was partly based on Yazdi’s
general commentary on which duties belonged to the shari‘a courts and
which were to become the responsibility of the new court system (‘adli-
yyih). He essentially retained for shari‘a courts full and exclusive rights
of arbitration and decision in cases related to people’s wealth and to fam-
ily disputes, and these were seen as the rights of the mujtahids who pre-
sided over those courts (fasl-i khusumat va murafi‘at dar amval va huquq
va i‘raz va nufus va ashya’-i anha, mukhtas bih mahakim-i shar‘iyyih-yi
mujtahidin-i ‘uzzam ast). However, what the new court system (‘adliyyih)
should have had authority over, according to Yazdi, was making everyone
accountable to the state. Yazdi also suggested that oversight of governmen-
tal offices that handled financial and customs matters or had similar politi-
cal responsibilities be given exclusively to the new judicial courts, unless
there were exceptions. (Mushajirat dar huquq-i siyasiyyih kih ‘ibarat ast az
vazayif-i divani va ‘umur-i maliat va gumruk va ma’muriyyat va amthal-i
inhha mustaqillan raji‘ bih mahkamih-yi ‘adliyyih ast, magar dar muqi‘i
kih qanun istithna minimayad.) Parliament created two articles, 71 and
72, based on Yazdi’s suggestions.21
218 A House Divided

Yazdi might have had good reason to be ambivalent about his par-
ticipation in the Constitutional Revolution because he seems to have
approved of how constitutional laws functioned. A group of clerics had
apparently asked him to clarify what course of action Muslims should
take if an article in the constitution forbade a certain action that was
in agreement with shari‘a, or mandated one that was contrary to shari‘a.
They reminded Yazdi that these constitutional commands did not involve
shari‘a directly but at the same time Muzaffar al-Din Shah had also origi-
nally stated that as long as constitutional laws did not violate shari‘a every-
one should follow them.
Yazdi’s response reaffirmed the shah’s condition and stated that as
long as constitutional laws did not mandate people to take actions that
were forbidden (haram) or order people to refrain from actions that were
mandatory (vajib), everyone should indeed follow them. A simple example
would be that the law could not forbid Muslims from praying (one of the
five pillars of Islam), just as it was unable to force anyone to pay their reli-
gious tax (khums) or alms (zakat) instead of paying a new tax excised by
the state. In cases where these constitutional mandates were broken, Yazdi
decreed that the government could prosecute violators.
Therefore, if we take Yazdi as an example of an usuli mujtahid who
is believed to have also been an anti-constitutionalist, we can conclude
that Nuri failed to convince even his seemingly supportive colleagues that
mashrutiyyat was on the whole un-Islamic. He imagined that if he branded
it as an anti-shari‘a scheme he could persuade the pro-constitutionalist
ulama residing in Najaf to stop supporting it. But when he presented the
reasons for his conviction he excluded the fact that the new system would
negatively affect his self-centered understanding of shari‘a, which had
allowed him to gain influence in the royal court as well as in society.

Khurasani’s Response to Nuri’s Call of Support

Shaykh Aqa Buzurg Tehrani, also known as “Sahib Zari‘ah” (1876-1970),

was one of the most notable Iranian jurists of the twentieth century and
had studied under Khurasani in Najaf. In an interview with his grand-
nephew Akbar Thubut, Aga Buzurg narrated what he had heard from
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 219

Khurasani at the time of Nuri’s anti-constitutionalist agitation and efforts

to convince Khurasani to refrain from supporting the constitutionalists.22
According to Aqa Buzurg, first and foremost, Khurasani resented any-
one, including Nuri, who supported a dictatorial and brutal regime such
as that of Muhammad Ali Shah. Additionally, Khurasani failed to fully
understand the anti-constitutionalist clerics’ reasons for considering that
such a regime was based on shari‘a (mashru‘). The opposition of the anti-
constitutionalists to a constitutional government was contrary to Islamic
values, Khurasani thought, because people who wished for mashru‘ih (a
government based on divine law) and not mashrutih should never tolerate
the violation of people’s rights. Khurasani believed that if one perceived a
government to be mashru‘, that meant that all of its actions must conform
with shari‘a. If the government was based on divine law, it could not be
tyrannical and it could not be unjust.
Aqa Buzurg informs us through Thubut that Khurasani was confident
that the duties of Muhammad Ali Shah as a Muslim monarch during
the Constitutional Revolution were clear and that the Shah was obliged
to protect the rights of his subjects without considering his own gains.
Recall that this is precisely what Khurasani pointed to in his July 27, 1903
letter to Muzaffar al-Din Shah.23 Khurasani warned the shah that he had
infringed on the rights of his subjects, the same rights that Islam mandated
he protect as a Muslim ruler. Therefore, none of the previous governments
before mashrutiyyat could be considered mashru‘,24 and the regime in the
first decade of the twentieth century needed to change its ways too, since
right rule was not only fully warranted by Islamic values but also based on
society’s needs.
Aqa Buzurg asserts that Khurasani was alarmed that Nuri buttressed
his argument in support of an untrustworthy and despotic regime and
considered it Islamic. For any cleric to declare that a tyrannical and arbi-
trary government conformed with shari‘a, Khurasani thought, could cause
Iranians to have a detrimental view of Islam, clerics, and their role in the
society. He was concerned that the public would come to mistrust and
view Islam and shari‘a negatively because the anti-constitutionalists, with
the support of a famous cleric such as Nuri, who had vast resources and a
considerable following, upheld a despotic regime that refused to yield to
220 A House Divided

a parliamentary system that addressed the public’s issues and declined to

establish a fair and equitable system of government, while declaring itself
to be based on divine law or mashru‘ih.
According to Aqa Buzurg, Khurasani’s main concern was that people
would think of Islam in the way clerics like Nuri portrayed it, as a religion
supporting royal despotism. To consider a regime that was known for the
nepotistic mistreatment of its subjects to be in compliance with shari‘a
could in no way benefit Islam; this was what Nuri and his followers failed to
realize, and Khurasani resented their ignorance. Khurasani believed that
naming something in a way that did not hold true to its essence—identify-
ing the Qajar’s despotic, absolutist, and arbitrary rule as Islamic—not only
failed to resolve the people’s problems but also led to more misgivings and
backwardness. Besides, demanding a mashru‘ih government, or in effect
an Islamic government, while knowing that such a system was impossible
to implement in the absence of the Hidden Imam, failed to legitimize the
rule of any government. Therefore, Khurasani thought that referring to a
government that had no system of checks and balances as mashru‘ih was
a misleading label for a dictatorial and corrupt political system, which he
refused to protect.25
Aqa Buzurg says that Khurasani reiterated that in order to have a truly
legitimate Islamic government based on shari‘a, the twelfth Imam must
reappear to rule it. Meaning, he refuted the claim of absolute guardian-
ship of any faqih.26 In the absence of the Hidden Imam, what Iran needed
at the time, Khurasani believed, was not so much a mashru‘ regime as
a conditional monarchy with limited powers; a system that was void of
absolutist and arbitrary ideologies and that was amicable to Shi‘ite values,
while simultaneously cooperative with a parliamentary system.27 There-
fore, during the Constitutional Revolution, according to Khurasani, “cir-
cumstances of the time” (muqtaziyyat-i zaman) prevented a government
that was shari‘a-based from forming.28 In other words, the conditions at the
time dictated that nothing suited Iranians’ needs better than a conditional
monarchical system of government, overseen by a parliament, and this was
what the constitutionalists wanted to create. Conversely, Nuri disagreed
with Khurasani’s flexible reasoning and considered constitutionalism a
fresh idea that was foreign to Iranian society, thus calling it a “sham.”29
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 221

According to Aqa Buzurg, in order to harmonize his support for con-

stitutionalism with Shi‘ite tradition, Khurasani reminded his students of
the story of the second Shi‘ite Imam in the first Islamic century and how
he had rejected the call of a group of Muslims to lead them. Hassan Ibn
Ali refused to heed the calls of the original Shi‘at Ali to lead the small
community of Muslims in Iraq. Shi‘at Ali believed that in light of the
unjust elimination of the first Imam in 661 and the Umayyad usurping of
caliphal power in Damascus in 660, Ali’s eldest son, Hassan, should fill
his position as the new imam. However, Imam Hassan was doubtful that
he could fulfill the wishes of his father’s followers. In order to effectively
rule over Muslims Hassan needed to fight against the already established
and powerful Umayyad dynasty, and in the absence of an army power-
ful enough to counter the Umayyads he rejected the call of Shi‘at Ali on
the grounds that the right circumstances did not exist for such an under-
taking, and that neither the necessity nor the opportunity to launch an
effective campaign against the Umayyad forces was apparent.30 Therefore,
Khurasani reminded his students that the best course of action for Hassan
Ibn Ali was to prudently reject Shi‘at Ali’s call.
Khurasani justified his support for parliament in place of a theocratic
government by reminding his students that if the second Shi‘ite Imam
could make such a difficult decision in light of the realities of his day, then
the course for those who wished to create a shari‘a-based government was
clear. Khurasani reiterated, according to Aqa Buzurg, that just as Imam
Hassan realized that the time was inopportune for him to lead a legitimate
Islamic regime, anti-constitutionalist ulama should appreciate the moral
of Hassan’s story and take it as a model for their own situation in the early
1900s; they should forego the idea of establishing shari‘a-based rule. Has-
san’s pragmatic approach in the seventh century had taught Khurasani a
lesson in the twentieth century that he too needed to settle for a less-than-
perfect form of government and accept constitutionalism, which prom-
ised to be the closest thing to a fair political system as could be achieved
at the time.
From another perspective, one can claim that, based on Khurasani’s
statements and actions against the anti-constitutionalists, if the circum-
stances to establish an Islamic government had existed, the twelfth Imam
222 A House Divided

would have been the first person to heed the call for his involvement as
the ultimate legitimate ruler. There would have been no reason for God to
keep al-Mahdi hidden, and rather his return would have been facilitated
so that he could establish a just society before the beginning of the end
of time. However, Khurasani went beyond this thinking and believed that
even for such an important event to take place, God must create a suitable
milieu in which the reappearance of the twelfth Imam could be accom-
modated. To elucidate this point, he refers to another Hadith related to
Imam Ali: “God mobilizes all forces for an event (referring to the coming
of the Mahdi) only when the right circumstances exist and not when one
simply wishes.”31 Therefore, Khurasani refuted the anti-constitutionalists
argument for a mashru‘ government based on this Hadith. Simply wishing
for a mashru‘ government, Khurasani argued, did not mean that the right
circumstances were in place to create it.
Khurasani argued against Nuri’s assertion that mashrutih was not
mashru‘ih, that a government based on a constitutional monarchy was
not the same as one based on shari‘a. Khurasani wondered how it was that
anti-constitutionalists who claimed that a constitutional government was
against shari‘a could justify the existence of all the other regimes (shahs)
that were neither Islamic nor just that had existed before the advent of
constitutionalism in Iran.32 He considered the anti-constitutionalists’
argument flawed; it could only be valid if all other governments before the
establishment of constitutionalism in Iran were under the same scrutiny of
the ulama, but they were not. To call for a mashru‘ government during the
Constitutional Revolution was unfounded because, according to Shi‘ite
belief, after 632 there had never been a monarchy that conformed fully
to Islam and divine law as interpreted by Twelver Shi‘ites. As Khurasani
understood it, Nuri’s argument was obviously invalid because it rejected
the matured doctrine of the ulama’s deputyship of the twelfth Imam that
they themselves had developed. That doctrine called for the ulama to pro-
tect the public interest and remain vigilant to not violate the laws of God
or the twelfth Imam’s expectations.
Khurasani believed that because all Qajar governments before the
start of the Constitutional Revolution had lost Iranian territories in battles
against Russian and British armies, they were liable to Iranian subjects.
Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani 223

Those governments that failed to keep Iran’s territorial integrity intact

were not based on shari‘a. And he wondered why no cleric objected to such
calamities, or why no cleric mandated that shari‘a become the basis for
the government in light of the politically significant loss of Iranian lands.
Consequently, he asked why some ulama had now suddenly become con-
cerned about mashru‘ih only when mashrutih had made a strong impres-
sion on those who supported constitutionalism and promised to improve
Iran’s situation. For Khurasani the anti-constitutionalists’ support of the
corrupt system that Muhammad Ali Shah headed and the government’s
tyrannical modus operandi was incomprehensible considering what the
nation had achieved by establishing an Iranian parliament.33
Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri represented a faction of the ulama who could
not conceptualize an Islamic society whose spiritual leaders (mujtahids)
were flexible in their interpretation of Shi‘ite doctrines. Although Nuri
was an usuli mujtahid, he viewed shari‘a in rigid terms that could not be
modified even when intellect and consensus facilitated change. He pre-
dicted that constitutionalism would lessen the ulama’s influence; the new
system of checks and balances promised to curb the unlimited powers of
the monarchy that he so vehemently supported.
Nuri was unable to understand how the two systems of shari‘a, which
he thought only he represented, and secular laws, as represented by par-
liament and the constitution, could coexist to address society’s needs. He
ignored the fact that the ulama, as an institution, had attained a position
of leadership first in the spiritual and then the political realm over the cen-
turies, and had become an influential power broker after the Qajar dynas-
ty’s second ruler Fath Ali Shah ascended the throne. The power of the
corrupt ulama, and in some ways the faction of the Shi‘ite establishment
that supported the inefficient rule of the Qajar, was entangled with the
system that held the regime together. Any act against the absolutist form
of the monarchy meant a direct threat to the livelihood of this faction.
Furthermore, if modernization efforts aiming to reform the educational,
judicial, and taxation systems were to be fully implemented in order to
have a more efficient government, most clerics stood to lose a consider-
able amount of their clout and financial security that had increased from
monopolizing these fields.
224 A House Divided

But as we have discussed throughout the book, the clerical establish-

ment, and Khurasani as the chief model of the institution of ijtihad, was
supposed to function differently. It had no need to be concerned about
issues such as court power and influence because no entity could strip its
membership of their privileges as spiritual leaders. That is why Khurasani
refused to accept the argument that constitutionalism was a threat to
Islam or the clerical establishment. He pioneered the idea that the two
systems could function side-by-side, and that was possible when he or
other mujtahids became progressive in thought and pragmatic by being
flexible in action. Nuri, as well as Khurasani and all other ulama, were
concerned that support of constitutionalism might give rise to the notion
that clerics were indifferent to the prospect of cultural Westernization.
Nuri, Khurasani, and most ulama did not support cultural Westerniza-
tion. Since constitutionalism was imported from Christian Europe, and
because some Iranians wanted Iran to adopt Western culture in totality,
the religious establishment became concerned that Islam had come under
attack. Whereas Khurasani was more sober and able to understand what
was taking place, Nuri thought narrowly and gave a higher priority to his
own way of thinking.

It took the Qajars over sixty years to establish full control over Iran (1722–
1785). Before they became Iran’s penultimate monarchical dynasty, they
used to roam the northern plains as a militia force that Safavid rulers
hired for protection against the threats that finally annihilated them. The
Qajars slowly formed a powerful tribal confederacy with enough zeal that,
coupled with the dream of one day uniting a fragmented Iran, enabled
them to rule for over a century.
Qajar rulers varied in their perception and acceptance of reform and
modernization and it was during the reign of Fath Ali Shah (1797–1834)
that Iran experienced its first wave of reforms. He was one of the longest-
ruling shahs of the Qajar line who allowed reforms to take place, and
modernization reached its peak under the rule of Nasir al-Din Shah
(1849–1896). Muzaffar al-Din Shah’s (1896–1907) agreement to establish
the Iranian parliament in 1906 was the culmination of decades of secular
effort to modernize and reform Iranian society and politics, which seemed
to lag behind the rest of the world, as was evident in its weakening econ-
omy, increased foreign hegemony, loss of territories, and defeat in one war
after another. However, his successor, Muhammad Ali Shah (1907–1909),
tried his best to undo everything that the reformists had strived for by
launching a war in 1908 against constitutionalism in Iran and the newly
established parliament that proposed to limit arbitrary rule and the shah’s
unchecked power.
The idea of reform and modernization was born in the early years
of the nineteenth century. In addition to Qajar princes and ministers
such as Crown Prince Abbas Mirza and Mirza Taqi Khan “Amir Kabir”
who viewed reforms favorably, nonofficial Iranians also expressed their
226 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

discontent about the lack of modernization in Iran. Iranian students, and

explorers such as Mirza Salih and Hajj Sayyah, who traveled to Europe
and experienced firsthand an efficient and equitable system of govern-
ment that allowed Westerners to address the social, political, and eco-
nomic needs of their citizens, returned to their native land to pursue
similar goals. As a result, a group of Iranians who became the intellectual
class imported Western modern education and political ideas into Iran.
This group was composed of mostly secular modernists who concluded
that, without binding laws, Iran would be unable to reach that optimal
political milieu in which reform and progress could take shape. This pio-
neering intellectual group claimed that the arbitrary and absolute powers
of the state had created a lawless society that, unless the unchecked pow-
ers of the monarchy were curbed, would continue to exist as a backward
nation infested with corruption.
Iranian intellectuals struggled in their endeavor to create a progres-
sive society under the rule of law; the ultimate goal was to create what the
West had attained: a fair and profitable social and economic system that
was lawful. However, most Iranians failed to fully appreciate the reasons
for Western Europe’s unmatched progress and prosperity. For example,
they did not realize that European colonialism in the Americas and the
financial benefits that Western Europe reaped from extracting Native
American resources had enabled them to become the superpowers of their
day. Similarly, they ignored the fact that the profits of the transatlantic
slave trade and free labor had given the West an unprecedented source of
income and an opportunity to change the course of its history.
From another perspective, Iranian modernists also failed to realize
the challenges that the English, for example, had to overcome during the
Industrial Revolution. Moreover, in the minds of Iranians, the remarkably
fertile eras preceding the French Revolution, such as the Renaissance and
the Reformation, had little influence on how European society had turned
out. Basically, Iranians were misinformed about the nature of progress and
reform and then viewed it in a vacuum, which led to unrealistic expecta-
tions about attaining Western levels of prosperity, and to disappointment
with their own nation when it failed to produce the same results as the
English or the French enjoyed.
Conclusion 227

Whatever the strength of the reformists’ rational arguments for

change and ideas of transformation and modernization based on a Euro-
pean model, they needed to convince the majority of the population—
which was almost 98 percent illiterate and three-quarters rural—that their
ideas benefitted the people as well. This proved to be a difficult task since
the reforms that the modernists had in mind directly challenged age-old
traditions of almost every person in Iranian society and politics. These
traditions needed to be modified, simplified, and made relevant for the
reformists to achieve their goals.
At this point an uneasy but pragmatic alliance between the religious
establishment and the reformists determined the future of modernity and
reform in Iran. During the Constitutional Revolution, the ulama had
the power to either destroy or help to save constitutionalism, depending
on their reception of parliament’s agenda and interpretation of shari‘a.
Khurasani proved to be an indispensible leader of the pro-constitutionalist
faction within the clerical establishment by expressing his liberal thoughts
and approval of mashrutiyyat. But another faction led by Shaykh Fazlullah
Nuri, which had a dogmatic and self-centered interpretation of Islam,
threatened constitutionalism by denouncing it as an un-Islamic system.
If we think of mashrutiyyat as the consequence of Iranian reform and
modernization, the biggest obstacle to it was the faction within the tradi-
tional clerical group that was, by almost all measures, superstitious, cor-
rupt, self-serving, and prepared to die for its convictions, at least in the case
of Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri. Clerical influence in the affairs of the state was
a pre-Islamic Iranian tradition that had survived through the centuries.
Zoroastrian priests had a great deal of power over the Sasanian emperors
and at one point the two institutions depended on each other for legitimacy
and survival. Hence, it was natural that when constitutionalism threatened
the powers of the monarchy the clerical establishment mobilized to defend
it in order to save its own interests and those of the monarchy.
The reasons why a number of ulama vehemently fought against
constitutionalism are clear if we note that they had attained their lofty
position of religious authority after legitimizing the rule of the Safavids
(1501–1722). After the end of the Safavid era, to make certain that the
system by which the monarchy and the ulama legitimized each other no
228 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

longer existed, the Afshar dynasty (1736–1796) under the rule of Nadir
Shah began to reconvert Iranians back to Sunnism. Nadir chased the
Shi‘ite clerics out of the country in order to deinstitutionalize their socio-
political influence. Once the majority of the clerics had settled in Iraq,
they understood they needed to think of ways to better protect their reli-
gion and secure their future. Hence, by the end of the eighteenth century,
they began to debate how they could assert themselves better, which led
them to consider the role of human intellect—in this case their own—
in Islamic jurisprudence. Although exceptional scholars such as Mullah
Sadra had argued a few centuries earlier that a rational-thinking mujtahid
who reasoned independently could produce better results, at this time the
ulama had strong reasons to want to assert their own will in ijtihad. Using
their own reasoning and shari‘a situated them more firmly as leaders in
society. Positions such as Mulla-Bashi during the Safavid era had given
them a certain confidence to want to have more authority and freedom
of action. Ultimately, the freedom that Fath Ali Shah granted the ulama
so that they could legitimize his rule allowed religious dogma to infiltrate
and impact Iranian politics, as was the case during Abbas Mirza’s gover-
norship and his derailed reform programs by a faction within the ulama.
The mujtahids’ success in creating the usuli school provided them with
considerable power to assert their own ideas, which could also be used
to address the concerns of their followers. At the same time, some ulama
abused their power and engaged in activities that satisfied their own indi-
vidual needs without much regard for what society needed.
Khurasani used usulism pragmatically within its Islamic framework to
improve Iranian conditions by accepting mashrutiyyat. The long and sub-
stantial argument over usulism formed Khurasani’s pragmatic approach
to constitutionalism, a secular and Western concept that Iranians of vari-
ous backgrounds considered a panacea for the political ills of their soci-
ety. Its success partly depended on the support of Khurasani and a group
of Shi‘ite ulama he led: the pro-constitutionalist clerics. It is difficult to
claim that without his backing the parliament that was established in
1906, bombarded and shut down in 1908, and reopened in 1909 could
have continued its work. Khurasani defended parliament against the
vicious attacks of its enemies during the seventeen months of the Lesser
Conclusion 229

Despotism between June 1908 and November 1909, when parliament was
closed while its members assembled in Tabriz. The opponents of parlia-
ment included the monarchists, who were supported by anti-constitution-
alist Shi‘ite clerics claiming that the despotic and arbitrarily ruled regime
of the Qajars accorded with Islamic law.
Clearly, Khurasani was no modern intellectual or politician, but as
a cleric who provided religious reasoning to support the Constitutional
Revolution, he remains an indispensible figure in the history of consti-
tutionalism in Iran. He participated in the Revolution as a marja‘-i taqlid
and a mujtahid who was the master of Islamic jurisprudence and its most
innovative thinker. As a jurist and a spiritual leader, Khurasani searched
for and discovered an Islamic solution for modern problems, staying politi-
cally in the margins but making certain that morality and the values of
Shi‘ite Iran were protected in the process. In other words, he was realis-
tic about the limitations of Islamic doctrine to solve modern problems.
Khurasani’s justification for constitutionalism was based on jurispruden-
tial arguments and religious rulings that followed the usuli school. His
belief that the Gate of Ijtihad remained open allowed him to look favor-
ably on non-Islamic imports such as constitutionalism, if he deemed them
appropriate as solutions and in harmony with the religious traditions of
Iran and shari‘a.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution succeeded partly because the
rational school of Shi’ite jurisprudence (usulism) had triumphed over the
traditionalist school (akhbarism). The debate between the followers of
these schools, the usulis and akhbaris, and the eventual success of the for-
mer was a revolution in itself because it led to the prominence of rational
argument in Islamic juridical rulings. At the same time, the success of the
usuli school generally allowed the mujtahids a greater role in the everyday
affairs of society. After the success of usulism, the ulama that adhered
to it gained greater leeway in implementing their own dogmatic ideas
about Shi‘ism, which, for the majority, served their personal interests. In
their political involvement, the majority of ulama forgot their doctrinal
responsibilities to protect the interests of the public and some usuli ulama
joined other self-serving groups that, through nepotism and corruption,
promoted a flawed government that cared little for people’s needs.
230 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

Mashrutiyyat’s staunch clerical enemy, Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri, was

associated with the usuli school of jurisprudence, but he appears to have
ignored and misinterpreted his duties during the Revolution after his self-
serving ideas about shari‘a were ignored. Whereas Khurasani’s use of usu-
lism in support of mashrutiyyat essentially pushed society forward and
made it more reform friendly, Nuri used his intellect and reasoning in a
dogmatic framework that did not allow him to deviate from what he per-
ceived and insisted was the correct form of Shi‘ism.
Khurasani was obliged to support Iran’s first modern revolution
because he was convinced that mashrutiyyat aimed to address the people’s
needs, although the secular constitutionalists expressed the same objec-
tives differently and reasoned that Iran needed constitutionalism not to
please God but to please the people. As a Source of Emulation, he was
doctrinally compelled to protect and defend people against domestic,
international, sociopolitical, economic, and religious threats. Although he
took the duties of marja‘-i taqlid seriously and performed them piously,
he also believed in his doctrinal responsibility as a mujtahid and as the
deputy of the twelfth Imam. If one considers his actions in this religious
context, we can see that he could not have performed his duties in a self-
serving manner for his own personal interests. Although he appreciated
the adoption by secular Iranians of Western political solutions such as
constitutionalism, his pro-constitutionalist activism was generated by and
enshrined in religious argument.
Khurasani dedicated his life to serving God and viewed his position
as one that allowed him to work for God’s sake. Based on his perception
of these duties, he did nothing to contradict the expectations of the divine
and the twelfth Imam. His successful pro-constitutionalist position was
informed by his progressive and liberal perception of his duties, and that
in turn allowed him to think of ijtihad as independent judgment that must
address the issues of society and not be used solely for the benefit of the
clerical establishment.
Khurasani confidently agreed with the objectives of parliament and,
just as he outlined in Kifayat al-Usul that the outcome of ijtihad must be
“certainty” (yaqin), he never doubted his decision to support that demo-
cratic body. Based on his description of how to formulate an acceptable
Conclusion 231

religious opinion, which was founded on the fundamentals of the usuli

school of jurisprudence, we can ascertain the direct influence of his jur-
isprudential methods in his religious activism within the politics of the
Constitutional Revolution. Khurasani essentially reconciled constitution-
alism with the basic four sources of shari‘a in Shi‘ite usuli fiqh: the Quran,
the Hadith, the intellect, and consensus.
To expect him to think, act, or form his opinion in the same way that
a Western-influenced modern intellectual or politician would is to miss
the context in which he was born, bred, educated, and worked. Instead,
it would be more fitting if we understood him as a master of religious sci-
ences who lived with a set of Islam-centric values that appreciated life and
what it had to offer by being open to people outside his circle who thought
differently. His life story demonstrates his commitment to Iran, to Islam,
and to his training and convictions in Islamic sciences and affairs. He
became the most notable master of the fundamentals of jurisprudence in
the twentieth century, while celebrating his Persian identity. As a devout
Muslim, he assisted the poor and believed in treating non-Muslims fairly.
Khurasani was dedicated to his students, his community, to Iranians and
their culture, and he was open to considering fresh ideas from foreign
lands that could help him perform his duties better. More important, he
claimed no contradiction between Islamic values or doctrines and con-
stitutionalism because he was not driven to serve his own interests or any
other individual or entity.
The historical significance of Khurasani is that he was an Islamic jurist
who, as an authoritative source of jurisprudence that determined what was
permissible or forbidden in a Muslim society, agreed with secular ideas; he
appreciated that they had the same objectives as shari‘a in creating a more
equitable and just society. But that favorable view of Western constitution-
alism did not mean that he readily accepted everything that the constitu-
tionalists wished for under the premise of constitutionalism or freedom.
He was, ultimately, a cleric. As a result, he openly objected to those who
tried to impose Western culture that, from his and the ulama’s perspective,
threatened the Islamic identity of Iranians and their system of values. For
example, he never approved of less modest clothing for women for any rea-
son, nor did he countenance the idea of questioning the existence of God.
232 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

Khurasani understood that he and the secular constitutionalists gener-

ally shared the same objectives but, whereas his reasoning was founded on
a kind of rationality that was based on Islam and Shi‘ite jurisprudence, his
secular counterparts embraced modern science and Western reasoning
that was based on empirical analysis. They both wanted to limit the abso-
lute and arbitrary powers of the monarchy and its supporters in exchange
for a democratically elected parliament that treated all Iranians fairly
under the rule of law. Khurasani was sober about mashrutiyyat and what
it theoretically aimed to achieve, but he was only partially aware of exactly
how it worked in practice. That confusion was not exclusive to Khurasani;
the ulama and those mujtahids who dealt with divine law, such as Sayyid
Kazim Yazdi, also lacked a full understanding of how secular laws were to
function and not trample on shari‘a and its many nuanced ideas. There-
fore, because Khurasani realized that shari‘a had failed to curb the unjust
and arbitrary decisions of the shahs that had led to a lawless society, he
agreed with a parliamentary system that Islam could accept, provided that
the moral foundation of society remained intact. Khurasani agreed with
a working relationship between the ulama and the ‘uqala-yi millat (wise
men of the nation) and recognized that it was prudent to support the lat-
ter’s innovative ideas. That is why he protected them by decreeing that par-
liament and its members should be free to devise plans to make Iran more
progressive and modern while also directing that anyone who objected to
their activities was an enemy of the twelfth Imam.
What attests to Khurasani’s broad appeal in his position of authority
among the people is how seriously other Iranian groups considered his
views. The bazaaris also identified him as a respected religious figure who
could help them transmit their political grievances to the ruling regime.
In 1898, after recognizing Khurasani as the highest source of religious
authority able to issue warnings to the government regarding unfair for-
eign business competition that the state supported at the price of a weak-
ened native economy, a group of bazaaris asked Khurasani to act as their
representative to the royal court. It was then that Khurasani stepped into
the limelight as the champion of voiceless Iranians while he lived in Iraq.
He became more involved in politics as a religious source of authority
as the government repeatedly ignored the people’s concerns. This lack
Conclusion 233

of a voice caused the people to turn to Khurasani and other ulama who
were willing to assist them. Beginning with his first direct letter to Crown
Prince Muhammad Ali Mirza in August 1902, Khurasani became politi-
cally involved as a cleric in the Constitutional Revolution and he contin-
ued to support the movement until his death in 1911.
Khurasani agreed with reforms and questioned the monarchy’s refusal
to modernize many of its inefficient systems. As he directed other ulama
to do the same, he based his argument on one of the principles of ijtihad,
which mandates “attaining certainty” when forming juristic opinions. In
essence, becoming certain, as Khurasani describes in Kifayat al-Usual,
should serve as the ultimate outcome of jurisprudential arguments.
Khurasani issued his rulings by being certain about constitutionalism as
a new political system. His opinion and ruling that supported mashruti-
yyat and parliament were issued either individually or as a member of
a group of clerics who had reached consensus (ijma‘). The group was
composed of Khurasani and the other two notable mujtahids of Najaf,
Shaykh Muhammad Hussayn Tehrani “Mirza Khalil” and Shaykh Abdul-
lah Mazandarani. He thought rationally within the confines of an Islamic
framework and took special care that his decisions did not contradict the
Four Sources of shari‘a (adillah al-arba‘a) within the Shi‘ite usuli school
of jurisprudence.
When Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri objected to parliament and the con-
stitution, and claimed that both were un-Islamic, Khurasani rejected the
premise of his argument. Khurasani was quick to condemn the influential
Tehran mujtahid Nuri and his supporters’ actions against parliament and
decreed that the anti-constitutionalist clerics were enemies of God and
the twelfth Imam. After parliament found Nuri guilty of seditious acts
against the state and sentenced him to death, Khurasani refused to take
steps to stay or overturn his execution, instead remaining silent. Before
Nuri’s death, Khurasani had clearly expressed his opinion and objected
to the famed mujtahid’s claim that the Qajar regime, as it stood, was a
mashru‘ government. In other words, he disagreed with Nuri’s opinion
that the despotic, absolutist, and arbitrary rule of the shah was in harmony
with shari‘a. Khurasani argued against such assertions because a mashru‘
system, according to the beliefs of Twelver Shi‘ism, simply could not exist
234 Iranian Constitutional Revolution

in practice since the ultimate administrator of justice, the twelfth Imam,

was still in a state of occultation. That was why, according to Khurasani,
Iran needed a just and fair system of government: a parliamentary system
that secular Iranians had adopted from Europeans. Khurasani prudently
reasoned that this was the best option that he or anyone else could support
in the absence of any other viable and effective system.
Finally, in addition to Khurasani’s successful application of the fun-
damentals of usulism in analyzing mashrutiyyat, which allowed him to
support the Revolution, other Shi‘ite doctrines and institutions that had
evolved over the years, such as expediency (maslahat) in connection with
the working ethos of the Source of Emulation (marja‘iyyat), also helped
him to justify his participation in the Revolution. Based on these doctrines,
Iranians expected their religious leaders to defend them in times of severe
injustice. The dogmatic anti-constitutionalist camp was well aware of such
injustices but, because of ideology and self-interest, it ignored the issues.
According to Ahmad Kasravi, the notable historian of the constitution-
alist era, were it not for the fatwas of the Najaf ulama, hardly anyone would
have supported mashrutiyyat in Iran. During the period of the Lesser Des-
potism, when constitutionalists were fighting to keep the government in
exile in Tabriz stable after parliament had been bombarded, Kasravi claims
it was the ulama’s fatwas that members of parliament followed. In effect
Khurasani and the ulama legitimized the exiled government. Nationalist
champions like Sattar Khan accepted the leadership and authority of the
Najaf ulama that Khurasani led, as did the merchants who maintained
the government in exile, who were mostly following the religious decrees
issued in Najaf. Kasravi claims, therefore, that Najaf served as a “center of
assurance” (kanun-i dilgarmi) for the struggling constitutionalists.
Although the Constitutional Revolution left many Iranians aspiring
for more reforms that would create a law-based society, the Revolution
achieved an important goal as a first step that still preoccupies many who
are concerned about the fate of Iran. What in part made that challenging
accomplishment of setting up a parliament and drafting a constitution
possible was the progressive ulama’s recognition that they had to bring
Islam and its teachings closer to the tenets of constitutionalism, based
on what it had to offer in protecting the interests of the people. Since
Conclusion 235

the Constitutional Revolution, we have not seen any player come close to
our protagonist Akhund Khurasani’s status as a scholar, jurisprudent, and
reformist, who fought to the very end to establish a law-based society in
Iran. His selfless approach to ijtihad and the way he carried out his respon-
sibilities as a Source of Emulation is unmatched in Iranian history.
Akhund Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani died on the evening
of December 12, 1911. He had planned the next day to lead a group of
high-ranking ulama and a number of seminary students who lived in Iraq
in a jihad against the Russians invasion into northern Iran. The czarist
army provided the Iranian monarch with much-needed logistical sup-
port to defeat a native democratic movement by eliminating the Iranian
National Consultative Assembly. Days later, parliament was suspended for
a second time, until 1914.
Historically, as an enlightened religious figure, Khurasani demon-
strated that if one takes the positions, doctrines, and responsibilities that
Islam dictates and the values that Shi‘ite tradition requires should be fol-
lowed, it is possible to be open to outside ideas and to innovatively adopt
modern solutions to one’s traditional culture. This is only possible when
one realizes that Islam leaves a great deal of room for interpreting concepts
and ideas that might otherwise be used to keep Muslims from improving
their lives. Khurasani exercised that opportunity to its fullest extent and in
its most positive aspects.
1. A portrait of Akhund Mulla Muhammad Ka-
zim Khurasani. Courtesy of The Institute for Ira-
nian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS),
2. It was usual for Khurasani to have hundreds of students in seminary halls
attending his classes. Some of the most notable clerics of the twentieth century
are identified in this photo of one of his lectures. They include: (1) Mirza Ahmad
Kifa’i, Khurasani’s son; (2) Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq Khatunabadi; (3) Sayyid
Hussayn Burujirdi, who later became the rector of Qum’s ‘Ilmiyyih seminary and
Ayatullah Khumayni’s teacher; (4) Aqa Buzurg Tehrani; (5) Shaykh Muhammad
Hussayn Kompani Isfahani. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian Contemporary
Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
3. A full-body picture of Akhund Khurasani. Courtesy of The Institute for Ira-
nian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
4. Khurasani seated left to one of his distinguished supporters in Iraq, Shaykh
Abdullah Mazandarani. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian Contemporary
Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
5. Ayatullah Sayyid Abdullah Bihbahani (left) and Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri (right)
before clashing over the role of parliament. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian
Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
6. Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Tabataba’i, an elected member of par-
liament and a staunch constitutionalist. Courtesy of The Institute for
Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
7. A group of pro-constitutionalist clerics before Nuri turned anti-constitutional-
ist. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri is seated second from left in the middle row and Sayyid
Muhammad Tabataba’i is seated fifth from left in the middle row. Courtesy of
The Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
8. The three most influential pro-constitutionalist ulama residing in Iraq dur-
ing the Revolution: from left to right, Akhund Muhammad Kazim Khurasani,
Shaykh Muhammad Hussayn Tehrani (Mirza Khalil), and Shaykh Abdullah
Mazandarani. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical
Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
9. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri in his study. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian Con-
temporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.
10. Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri was executed in a public
square on July 21, 1909 after he was found guilty of
seditious acts against parliament by a parliamentary
committee. Courtesy of The Institute for Iranian
Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran.




Appendix A

To celebrate Khurasani’s life and to remember his social activism as a scholar, the
following papers were presented at a conference on the centennial of his passing
at Qum in Azar 1390 HS/December 12–13, 2011.

Abadian, Hussayn. “Mashrutiyyat dar Fiqh-i Siasi-yi Akhund Khurasani.”

Abduli, Kiramat. “Tahavvul-i Guftihman-i Fiqh-i Siasi va Tabayyun-i Andishih-
yi Siasi-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Abid, Ali. “Akhund Khurasani va Vahdat-i Islami.”
Aliakbarian, Hassan-Ali. “Ra’y-i Akhund Khurasani dar Mas’ilih-yi Taba‘iyat-i
Ahkam az Masalih va Mafasid.”
Alizadih, Ali. “Akhund Khurasani Dar al-Zari’ah.”
Asadalizadih, Akbar. “Zidigi va Shakhsiyyat-i ‘Ilmi va ‘Amali-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Asadullahi, Manizhih. “Akhund Khurasani va Mashrutiyyat.”
Asghari, Sayyid Muhammad. “Ta’thir-i Tahavvulat-i ‘Ilmi va Tarikhi bar
Ruykardha-yi Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.”
Ashuri, Hassan. “Ta’ammuli bih Hayat-i Farhangi-Siasi-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Ayyazi, Sayyid Muhammad Ali. “Hujjiyyat-i Khabar-i Vahid dar ‘Aqayid va Tafsir
ba Ta’kid bar Aray-i Akhund Khurasani.”
Azimi, Ilham. “Akhund Khurasani dar Adabiyat-i Farsi-yi Mashrutih.”
Babayi, Riza. “Adabiyyat-i Siasi-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Fayrahi, Davud. “Akhund Khurasani va Imkanat-i Fiqh-i Mashrutih.”
Furughi, Ruhullah. “Mu‘amma Hamchinan Baqi Ast?”
Hatami, Hussayn. “Nazariyyih-yi Ma’khuziyyat-i Mashrutiyyat az Shari‘at dar Ara-
ih Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.”
250 Appendix A

Haydari Kashani, Muhammad Javad. “Didgahha-yi Akhund Khurasani dar Bari-

yi Qa’idih-yi Husn va Qibh-i ‘Aqli.”
Hujjati, Ali. “Iqdamat-i Akhund Khurasani bara-yi Difa‘ az Istiqlal-i Kishvar va
Mubarizih ba Tajavoz-i Rusiyyih va Ingilis bih Khak-I Iran.”
Hussayni, Sayyid Ahmad. “Manat-i Hujjiyyat-i Khabar-i Vahid va Natayij-i Muti-
rattib Bar An.”
Hussayni, Sayyid Muhammad. “Shakhsiyyat-i Akhlaqi-yi Ayatullah al-‘Uzma
Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.”
Ibrahimi, Abbas, and Mahmud Rayigan. “Nuavariha-yi Fiqhi va Usuli-yi Akhund
Jalali, Ghulamriza. “Sunnatha-yi Amuzishi-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Jamshidi Kuhsari va Mahdiyih Ahmadpur. “Zindigi va Shakhsiyyat-i ‘Ilmi va
‘Amali-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Javadi, Qasim. “Akhund Khurasani dar Nigah-i Aqa Najafi Quchani.”
Kifa’i Khurasani, Mirza Abdul-Riza. “Guftari dar Bari-yi Hayat va Shakhsiyyat-i
Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.”
Mardanipur, Arash. “Afaq Qa‘idah Ladharar al-Khalidah ‘And al-Akhund
Mazinani, Muhammad Sadiq. “Tamayuziat va Ishtirakat-i Andishihha-yi
Akhund Khurasani va Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri.”
Musavi, Sayyid ‘Isa. “Zidigi va Shakhsiyyat-i ‘Ilmi va ‘Amali-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Najafi, Muhammad Ali. “Munasibat-i Siyasi-yi Akhund Khurasani ba Shagirdan-
i Khud.”
Nuri, Marziyih. “Naqsh-i Ulama-yi Najaf bih Rahbari-yi Akhund Khurasani dar
Hidayat va Himayat-i Jarayan-i Mazhabi-yi Nihzat-i Mashrutiyyat-i Iran.”
Nuri, Rasul. “Andishihha-yi Falsafi-yi Marhum Akhund Khurasani.”
Parishan, Fatullah. “Akhund Khurasani va Zaminihha-yi ‘Ayni-yi Andishih-
pardazi-yi Siasi dar Inqilab-i Mashrutih.”
Rajai, Abdulmahdi. “Vatan-i Duvvum-i Mashritih: Nigahi bih ‘Amalkard-i ‘Atabt
dar Inqilab-i Mashrutiyyat.”
Razavi, Sayyid Abbas. “Sima-yi Madrissih-yi Amuzishi va Tarbiyati-yi Akhund
Appendix A 251

Sa‘adatfar, Hussayn. “Zidigi va Shakhsiyyat-i ‘Ilmi va ‘Amali-yi Akhund Khurasani.”

Sarami, Sayfullah. “Jaygah-i Tafkik-i ‘Itibarat va Haqayiq dar Athar-i Usuli-yi
Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani.”
Shafayi, Amanullah. “Jaygah-i Akhund Khurasani dar Takvin va Tadavum-i
Andishih-yi Ittihad-i Islami.”
Shakuri, Hadi. “Akhund Khurasani va Akhlaq.”
Talai Ardakani, Muhsin. “Shakhsiyyat-i Akhlaqi-yi Marhum Akhund Khurasani.”
Shirkhani, Ali, and Fatimih Ibrahimi. “Fahm-i Mashrutih dar Partu-yi Andishih-
yi Dini-yi Akhund Khurasani.”
Tayyib Husayni, Sayyid Mahmud. “Akhund Khurasani va Tahavvul dar Nazari-
yyih-yi Isti‘mal-i Lafz dar Bish az Yik Ma‘na.”
Thaqafi, Sayyid Muhammad. “Ta’thir-i Tahavvulat-i Tarikhi-‘Ijtimai bar Zihni-
yyat-i Akhund Khurasani.”
Thubut, Akbar. “Shivih-yi Akhund dar Barkhurd ba Mukhalifan.”
Zakiri, Ali Akbar. “Naqsh-i Ulama-yi Najaf bih Rahbari-yi Akhund Khurasani
dar Mashrutiyyat-i Iran.”
Zamaninizhad, Ali Akbar. “Akhund Khurasani az Didgah-i Ayatullah Shubayri
Ziaifar, Said. “Ta’thir-i Andishih-yi Kalami bar Usul ba Ta’kid bar Didgahha-yi
Akhund Khurasani.”
Source: “Dabir-khanih-yi kongirih-yi buzurgdasht-i Akhund Mulla Muhammad
Kazim Khurasani,”
Appendix B

Article 27 (asl-i 27) of the supplement to the constitution signed by Muhammad

Ali Shah on October 7, 1907, which was added to the constitution originally
signed by Muzaffar al-Din Shah on December 30, 1906.

Quva-yi mamlikat beh sih shu‘bih tajziyih mishavad: avval- quvvih-yi muqa-
nnanih kih makhsus ast bih vaz‘ va tahzib-i qavanin va in quvvih nashi
mishavad az a‘lahazrat shahanshahi va majlis-i shura-yi milli va majlis-i sina
va har yik az in sih mansha’-i haqq-i insha’-i qanun ra darad vali estiqrar-
i an muquf ast bih ‘adam-i mukhalifat ba mavazin-i shar‘iyyih va tasvib-i
majlisayn va tawshih-i bih sihhi-yi humayuni lakin vaz‘ va tasvib-i qavanin
raji‘ bih dakhl va kharj-i mamlikat az mukhtassat-i majlis-i shurayi milli
ast. Sharh va tafsir-i qavanin az vazayif-i mukhtass-i majlisi shurayi milli
ast. Duvvum- qvvih-yi qadhaiyyih va hukmiyyih kih ‘ibarat ast az tamyiz-i
huquq va in quvvih makhsus ast bih mahakim-i shar‘iyyih va bi mahakim-i
‘adliyyih dar ‘urfiyyat. Siyyum- quvvih-yi ‘ijraiyyih kih makhsus-i padishah
ast yani qavanin va ahkam bih tavassut-i vuzara’ va ma‘murin-i dawlat bih
nam-i nami-yi a‘lahazrat-i humayuni ‘ijra mishavad bih tartibi kih qanun
mua‘yyan mikunad.

Source: “Mutamm-i Qanun-i Asasi Muvarrekh 14 Dhul Qa‘dh 1324 HQ/December 30,
1906,” Library of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Consultative Assembly (Kitab-khanih-yi
Majlis-i Shura-yi Jumhuri-yi Islami-yi Iran).

Appendix C

Articles 71 and 72 (asl-i 71 va 72) of the supplement to the constitution signed by

Muhammad Ali Shah on October 7, 1907, which was added to the constitution
originally signed by Muzaffar al-Din Shah on December 30, 1906.

Article 71 (asl-i 71)

Divan-i ‘idalat-i uzma va mahakim-i ‘adliyyih marja‘-i rasmi-yi tazallumat-i

‘umumi hastand va qidhavat dar ‘umur-i shar‘iyyih ba ‘udul-i mujtahidin
jami’ al-sharayit ast.

Article 72 (asl-i 72)

Munazi‘at raji‘ bih huquq-i siyasiyyih marbut bih hakim-i ‘adliyyih ast magar
dar mavaqihiy kih qanun istithna bidanad.

Source: “Mutamm-i Qanun-i Asasi Muvarrekh 14 Dhul Qadih 1324 HQ/December 30,
1906,” Library of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Consultative Assembly (Kitab-khanih-yi
Majlis-i Shura-yi Jumhuri-yi Islami-yi Iran).



1. Majlis, Dhul Hajjah 25, 1329 HQ/December 16, 1911, 1.

2. Homa Katouzian, The Persians (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 170–99.
3. Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran: The Tobacco Protest of 1891–1892
(London: Frank Cass & Co., 1966); Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alli-
ance in Iran,” Past and Present, no. 34 (July 1966); and Keddie, Iran: Religion, Politics, and
Society (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1980).
4. Janet Afary, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906–1911 (New York: Colum-
bia University Press, 1996), 2.
5. Abdul Hadi Ha’iri, Shiism and Constitutionalism in Iran: A Study of the Role
Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Iranian Politics (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977).
6. Ibid.
7. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, ed. R. W. Smith (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1974), 2: 12–52.
8. To view conference abstracts of The Iranian Constitutional Revolution 1906–1911:
Centenary Conference 30 July–2 August 2006 at Oxford University, see The Iran Heri-
tage Foundation’s website
ographies.htm. See also Vanessa Martin and Houchang Chehabi, Iran’s Constitutional
Revolution: Popular Politics, Cultural Transformations, and Transnational Connections
(New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010).
9. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Khurasani, Akhund Mulla Muhammad
10. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “AKUND KORASANI (1255–1329/1839–
(accessed March 22, 2009).
11. Denis Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani and the Iranian Constitutional Move-
ment,” Middle Eastern Studies 49, no. 3 (2013): 430–53.
12. Said Amir Arjomand, “The State and Khomeini’s Islamic Order,” Iranian Studies
13, nos. 1–4 (1980): 149; Arjomand, Turban for the Crown (New York: Oxford University
258 Notes to Page 10

Press, 1988), 52; Edward G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, ed. Abbas
Amanat, new ed. (Washington, DC: Mage Publishers, 1995), 218, 262; Hamid Dabashi,
Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (New
York: Transaction Publishing, 2005), 228; Dabashi, “The End of Islamic Ideology–Iran,”
Social Research 67, no. 2 (2000), 475–518, available through Abdul-Karim Soroush’s web-
site: On_DrSoroush/E-CMO-20000600-The_End_
of_Islamic_Ideology-Hamid_Dabashi.html; Hamid Enayat, Modern Political Thought,
foreword Roy Mottahedeh, 2nd ed. (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005), 164–67; Ziba Mir-
Hosseini and Richard Tapper, Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest
for Reform, (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006), 91; Ali Gheissari, Iranian Intellectuals in the
Twentieth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), 11–12, 25; Gheissari, “Mer-
chants without Frontiers,” in War and Peace in Qajar Persia: Implications Past and Pres-
ent, ed. Roxane Farmanfarmaian (New York: Routledge, 2008), 208; Mehran Kamrava,
The Modern Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 56–57; Kam-
rava, Iran’s Intellectual Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 120;
Ellie Kedouri, “The Iraqi Shi‘is and Their Fate,” in Shi‘ism, Resistance, and Revolution
ed. Martin Kramer (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987), 144; Meir Litvak, “Continuity
and Change in the Ulama Population of Najaf and Karbala, 1791–1904: A Socio-Demo-
graphic Study,” Iranian Studies 23, no. 1 (1990): 58; Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-
Century Iraq: The Ulama of Najaf and Karbala (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1998), 91–92, 94; Ismail Marcinkowski and Hamid Algar, Religion and Politics in Iraq
(Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 2004), 20–24; Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i
Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi‘ism (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1985), 189, 201, 203, 246–47, 299, 340; Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet (New
York: Oneworld Publications, 1985), 218–19, 222; Farhang Rajaee, Islamism and Modern-
ism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 69, 217–18; Bernard Reich, ed., Political
Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa (Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press, 1990), 311; Mahmoud Sadri, “Sacral Defense of Secularism,” International Journal
of Politics, Culture, and Society 15, no. 2 (2001): 264–68; Muhammad Tavakoli-Targhi,
Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Historiography (New York: Palgrave,
2001), 136.
13. I could not locate a hard copy of this book but I found a few reviews of it in Arabic on
the World Wide Web. Ahmad al-Shatri, “Idha’at Hawlah Kitab al-Mashrutah wa al-Must-
abiddah Li-Rashid al-Khayyun,” Markaz I‘lami Thaqafi Fanni Mustaqal Minbar al-Katib
al-Iraqi, id=61299 (accessed November 1, 2009); Sami
Jawad Kadhim, [title unknown], Minbar al-Katib al-Iraqi,
(accessed November 15, 2009); Jaridat al-Mada al-Baghdadiyyah, http://www.iraqstudies
.org/rashid02.htm. The Lebanese Shi‘ite Source of Imitation Grand Ayatullah Sayyid
Notes to Page 11 259

Muhammad Hussayn Fadhlullah’s website is another site that discusses al-Khayyun’s

recent book. Bayyinat,
14. Abdul-Hussayn “Majid” Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur: Zindigani-yi Akhund Khurasani
Sahib Kifayih (Mashhad, Iran: Zawwar Publishing, 1359 HS/1980–1981), viii. Note
that Khurasani’s sons and grandsons took the last name “Kifa’i,” which is derived from
Khurasani’s title “sahib kifayih,” given to him by other clerics after his Kifayat al-Usul
became famous.
15. Muhsin Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani: Qata‘at-i Siasi dar Athar-i Akhund
Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani Sahib Kifayih (1255–1329 HQ) (Tehran: Kavir
Publishing, 1385 HS/2006–2007). In a recent article in Tabnak Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani,
one of the most senior Shi‘ite clerics and the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shi‘ite com-
munity today, mentioned Kadivar’s book Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani and expressed his
interest in more studies that focus on Khurasani’s works and thoughts and the need for
more historical research about him. Born in the township of Fasa in the province of
Fars, Kadivar was one of the more notable students of Ayatullah Hussayn Ali Muntaziri
(1922–2009), whom some consider the spiritual leader of the Green Movement. Before
falling out of favor with the Islamic Republic, Kadivar served in various official posts in
the government. After completing his prison term in 2000 he lost his faculty position and
became a research associate at Mu’assissih-yi Pazhuhishi-yi Hikmat va Falsafih-yi Iran
and is now a visiting professor at Duke University. See
16. Lutfullah Ajdani, “Tahlil-i Naqsh-i Ulama dar Inqilab-i Mashrutiyyat-i Iran,”
Nigah-i Naw, Special issue on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Constitu-
tional Revolution, no. 1 (Murdad 1385 HS/July 2006): 32–35; Ajdani, Ulama va Inqilab-i
Mashrutiyyat-i Iran (Tehran: Akhtaran, 1383 HS/2004–2005); Yahya Dawlatabadi, Hayat-
i Yahya, 4 vols. (Tehran: Attar, 1361 HS/1983; first printed in 1957); Abdul-Hadi Ha’iri,
Azadiha-yi Siasi va I’jtimai az Didgah-i Andishihgaran: Guzari bar Nivishtiha-yi Parsi
dar Do Sadih-yi Vapasin (Mashhad: Intisharat-i Jihad-i Danishgahi-yi Mashhad, 1374
HS/1994–1995); Ahmad Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1344
HS/1965–1966); Nazim al-Islam Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian ya Tarikh-i Mashruh
va Haqiqi-yi Mashrutiyyat-i Iran, 3 vols., 7th ed. (Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1384 HS/2005–
2006); Mahdi Malikzadih, Tarikh-i Inqilab-i Mashrutiyyat-i Iran, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Tehran:
Intisharat-i Ilmi, 1363 HS/1984–1985); Muhammad Hassan Najafi-Quchani, Siahat-i
Sharq, ed. Mujgan Shaykhi (Tehran: Qadyani, 1379 HS/2000–2001); Mas‘ud Pidram,
Rushanfikran-i Dini va Mudirnitih (Tehran: Gam-i Naw Publishing, 1383 HS/2004–
2005); Sayyid Jawad Tabataba’i, Ta‘ammuli dar Barih-yi Iran: Nazariyyih-yi Hukumat-i
Qanun dar Iran (Tehran: Sutudih Publishing, 1385 HS/2006–2007).
17. Muhsin Daryabaygi, ed., Hayat-i Siasi, Fahangi, va I’jtima’i-yi Akhund Khurasani
(Tehran: Muassisi-i Tahqiqat va Tawsiih-i Ulum-i Insani, 2007); Akbar Thubut, Didgahha-
yi Siasi Akhund Khurasani va Shagirdanash (the Islamic Republic Ministry of Guidance
refused to permit publication, but a completed typeset copy was made available to me.
260 Notes to Pages 12–13

On December 12–13, 2011 and on the occasion of the centenary of Khurasani’s death,
Pazhuhishgah-i ‘Ulum va Farhang-i Islami, an institute that belongs to Qum’s Shi‘ite sem-
inary (Hawzih-yi ‘Ilmiyyih-yi Qum), organized a two-day conference in which over forty
articles were presented. For a complete list of these articles and books, see Appendix A.
18. Muhammad Kazim Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 511th ed. (Qum: Mu’assihsah
al-Nashr al-Islami, Shawwal 1412 HQ/April 1992).
19. Browne, Persian Revolution of 1905–1909.
20. Hassan Marsalvand, Hajj Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi va Mashrutiyyat (Tehran:
Wizarat-i Farhang va Irshad-i Islami, 1378 HS/1999–2000); and Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi,
Tahrir al-Uqala, ed. Murtiza Najmabadi (Tehran: Bina Publishing, n.d.).
21. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian.
22. Habl al-Matin, edited by Jalal al-Din Hussayni, better known as Muayyid al-
Islam, was published weekly between 1311 and 1348 HQ/1893–1894 and 1930–1931 and,
according to many specialists in the field, was one of the most influential, credible, and
top-selling papers of its genre at the time; Shams, under the management of Sayyid Has-
san Tabrizi, was published in Istanbul between Sha‘ban 1326 and Dhul-Qa‘dah 1328
HQ/August 1908 and November 1910; Hikmat was published in Cairo for a short period
in 1310 HQ/1893–1894; al-Ghura, based in Najaf-Iraq and edited by Aqa Muhammad
Mahallati, was published between Dhul-Hajjah 18, 1327 and Safar 18, 1328 HQ/Decem-
ber 31, 1909 and March 1, 1910, and was published under the name Durrat al-Najaf
between Rabi‘ al-Awwal 20, and Dhul-Qa‘dah 10, 1328 HQ/April 1, 1910 and November
13, 1910; Najaf, edited by Hajj Muhammad Ibn Hajj Hussayn, was published in 1328
HQ/1910–1911; Surayya, edited by Faraj Allah Hussayn Kashani, was published in Cairo
in 1316 HQ/1898–1899.
23. Majlis issues that printed Khurasani’s letters and fatwas are too numerous to
mention here, but specific references are cited throughout the book.
24. I have also examined the following newspapers (either in their original form or,
if unavailable, through secondary sources): Subh-i Sadiq, Sur-i Israfil, and Nida-yi Vatan.
Other periodicals active in the Constitutional Revolution were: Ruznamih-yi Majlis, a
daily newspaper published between Shawwal 8, 1324 and Jamadi al-Thani 27, 1330 HQ/
November 25, 1906 and June 13, 1912, edited by Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq Tabataba’i
and Shaykh Yahha Kashani; Habl al-Matin, a daily newspaper (published in Calcutta,
Tehran, and Rasht for a brief period, and the first newspaper to be shut down after the
closing of the parliament), published between Rabi‘ al-Awwal 15, 1325 and Rajab 14, 1327
HQ/April 28, 1907 and August 2, 1909, edited by Sayyid Hassan Kashani; Sur-i Israfil,
another daily, published between Rabi‘ al-Awwal 17, 1325 and Safar 15, 1327 HQ/April
30, 1907 and March 8, 1909, whose editor, Mirza Jahangir Khan Shirazi, was executed on
the orders of Muhammad Ali Shah on Jamadi al-Awwal 4, 1326 HQ/June 4, 1908; Subh-i
Sadiq, edited by Murtada Khan Muayyid al-Islam, published between 1324 and 1325
HQ/1906–1907 and 1907–1908; Nida-yi Vatan, edited by Mujaddid al-Islam Kermani,
Notes to Pages 19–20 261

published between 1324 and 1327 HQ/1906–1907 and 1909–1910; Shaykh Fazlullah
Nuri, an anti-constitutionalist newspaper edited by Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri, published
between 1325 and 1326 HQ/1907–1908 and 1908–1909, Kawkab-i Durra, edited by
Muhammad Nazim al-Islam Kermani, published between 1325 and 1326 HQ/1907–
1908 and 1908–1909; Iran-i Naw, edited by Mahmud Shabistari Azarbayjani, published
between Shawwal 7, 1327 and Dhul-Hajjah 26, 1329 HQ/October 22, 1909 and January
8, 1910; Istiqlal-i Iran, a newspaper committed to unity and progress, published between
Jamadi al-awwal 1328 HQ/May–June 1910 and Sha‘ban 1329 HQ/August–September
1911, edited by Muhammad Khan Muhandis Humayun; Nijat, edited by Muhammad
Khurasani in 1327 HQ/1909–1910 (not related to Muhammad Kazim Khurasani).
The following periodicals were published in provincial capitals with considerable
religious and political support for the Constitutional Revolution: Anjuman, a publication
of the National Society of Tabriz, edited by Mirza Ali Khan-i Wakili, published between
Ramadan 1, 1324 AH and Jamadi al-Awwal 9, 1327/October 19, 1906 and May 29, 1909;
Muzaffari, edited by Mirza Ali Aqa Shirazi in Bushehr between 1319 and 1326 HQ/1901–
1902 and 1908–1909; Khurshid, published in Mashhad between Muhrram 21, 1325
and Safar 1, 1326 HQ/March 6, 1907 and March 4, 1908, edited by Muhammad Sadiq
Tabrizi; Musavat, edited by Muhammad Rida Musavat Shirazi, published in Tabriz in
1327 HQ/1909–1910; Nasim-i Shumal, published by Ashraf Hussayni in Rasht between
Sha‘ban 2, 1325 and Dhul-Qa‘dah 1, 1329 HQ/September 10, 1907 and October 24, 1911.

1. Tribal Fighters Become Shahs

1. Nikki Keddie and Mehrdad Amanat, “Iran Under the Late Qajars, 1848–1922,” in
The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 7, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, ed. Fisher
et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 174.
2. Arjomand, Turban for the Crown, 16.
3. Ann K. S. Lambton, “The Tribal Resurgence and the Decline of the Bureaucracy
in the Eighteenth Century,” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Islamic History, ed. T. Naff
and R. Owen (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977), 109–29.
4. Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind (New York: Hurst, 2008),
5. Vanessa Martin, Qajar Pact: Bargaining, Protest, and the State in Nineteenth-Cen-
tury Persia (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005), 13.
6. Ibid., 14.
7. Stephanie Cronin, The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910–
1926 (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1997), 5–6, 121–25. See also Arash Khazeni, Tribes and
Empire on the Margins of the Nineteenth-Century Iran (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 2010).
8. Cronin, Army, 5–6, 121–25.
262 Notes to Pages 20–26

9. Heribert Busse, History of Persia under Qajar Rule (New York: Columbia Univer-
sity Press, 1972), 17, 23, a translation of Hassan Fasa’i, Fars Namih-yi Nasiri.
10. Gavin Hambly, “Aqa Muhammad Khan and the Establishment of the Qajar
Dynasty,” in Fisher et al., Cambridge History of Iran, 7: 104. The author claims there
exists no mention of the Qajars as part of the Oghuz tribe based on surviving tribal lists
left by Mahmud Kashghari and Rashid al-Din. Hambly suggests the possibility of the
Qajars being simply an “element” of a larger tribe, the Bayats, who were actually the
ancestors of Timur.
11. Ibid., 104–8.
12. Busse, History of Persia, 3–4.
13. Ibid., 111.
14. Hambly, “Aqa Muhammad Khan,” 113–14.
15. Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran (Syr-
acuse: Syracuse University Press, 1982), 36–43.
16. Abbas Amanat, Pivot of the Universe (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2008), 42.
17. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Fath Ali Shah,” http://www.iranicaonline.
org/articles/fath-ali-shah-qajar-2 (accessed March 22, 2009). For example, he blinded Aqa
Muhammad Shah’s brother, Ali Quli Khan, when he and his supporters arrived in Teh-
ran to challenge Fath Ali for the throne. Fath Ali Shah also saw to it that the murderers
of the late Shah would meet their destiny and had them cut in pieces in his presence,
and he made sure that Aqa Muhammad Shah would be honored with a kings’ burial in
Najaf, Iraq.
18. Ibid., 144.
19. Homa Katouzian, “European Liberalism and Modern Concepts of Liberty in
Iran,” in Iranian History and Politics: The Dialectic of State and Society, ed. Homa Katouz-
ian (New York: Routledge Curzon Publishing, 2000), 79. The title of Hamid Dabashi’s
polemic book Iran: A People Interrupted (New York: New Press, 2008) identified foreign
meddling into Iranian affairs as the prime cause of that country’s misfortunes in the future.
20. Maziar Behrooz, “Revisiting the Second Russo-Iranian War (1826–28): Causes
and Perceptions,” Iranian Studies 46, no. 3 (2013): 359–81.
21. The Russian version of the treaty is now available online, http://www.hist.msu.
ru/ER/Etext/FOREIGN/turkman.htm (accessed June 5, 2008).
22. Stephanie Cronin, “Importing Modernity: European Military Missions to Qajar
Iran,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 1 (2008): 197–226.
23. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. «Abbas Mirza.»
24. Hamid Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785–1906: The Role of the Ulama in the
Qajar Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 73.
25. Ibid., 76. See also Shaul Bakhash, Iran: Monarchy, Bureaucracy, and Reform
under the Qajars, 1858–1896 (New York: Ithaca Press, 1978), 1.
Notes to Pages 26–32 263

26. Gene R. Garthwaite, Khans and Shahs: A Documentary Analysis of the Bakhti-
yari in Iran (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
27. Lutfullah Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran dar Asr-i Mashrutih (Tehran: Akhtaran
Publishing, 2007), 21–22.
28. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 73. This term was also used by the Ottomans
when they were reforming their military in the nineteenth century.
29. Maryam Ekhtiar, “An Encounter with the Russian Czar: The Image of Peter the
Great in Early Qajar Writings,” Iranian Studies 29, nos. 1–2 (1996): 57.
30. Ekhtiar, “Encounter with the Russian Czar,” 57–70.
31. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 73. According to Algar, Abbas Mirza asked the
likes of Shaykh Ja‘far Najafi, Aqa Sayyid Ali Isfahani, Mirza Abulqasim Gilani, and Mul-
lah Ahmad Naraqi to issue proper religious decrees in support of his military reforms.
32. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 414–16.
33. Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1989), 28.
34. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 74, mentioning Nasir Najmi, Iran dar Mian-i
Tufan ya Sharh-i Zindihgi-yi Abbas Mirza dar Jangha-yi Iran va Rus (Tehran: n.p., 1338
HS/1959–1960), 29, 198.
35. Ibid., 80, quoting Muhammad Sadiq Hussayni, Makhzan al-Insha (Tabriz: n.p.,
1273 HQ/1857–58), 324–26.
36. Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 11.
37. Abdul-Latif Musavi Shushtari, Tuhfat al-‘Alam (Haydarabad: n.p., 1293 HQ/1877–
1878), 284, 351, as quoted in Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 11.
38. Aqa Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ali Bihbahani, Mir‘at al-ahwal-i Jahan
Nama, ed. and intro. Ali Davvani (Tehran: Intisharat Markaz-i Farhangi-i Qiblih, 1371
HS/1992–1993), 515, as quoted in Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 12.
39. Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 13.
40. Abdul-Hadi Hai’ri, Azadiha-yi Siasi va I’jtimai az Didgah-i Andishihgaran:
Guzari bar Nivishtiha-yi Parsi dar Do Sadih-yi Vapasin (Mashhad: Intisharat-i Jahad-i
Danishgahi-i Mashhad, 1372 HS/1994–1995), 107.
41. Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 13.
42. Hujjatullah Karimi, “Nizamha-yi Gharbi dar Nigah-i Safar Namih Nivisan-i
Irani,” Risalat, (accessed January 2, 2010).
43. [n.a.], “Naukhaustin Ruznamih-yi Farsi-yi Chappi dar Iran,” Yadigar 1, no. 2
(1944): 50.
44. Mohammad R. Ghanoonparvar, In a Persian Mirror: Images of the West and
Westerners in Iranian Fiction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 18.
45. Muhammad Shahristani, ed., Safar Namih-yi Mirza Salih-i Shirazi (The Travel-
ogue of Mirza Salih Shirazi), intro. Ismail Rain (Tehran: Ruzan Press, 1996), 281, 312–13.
264 Notes to Pages 32–40

46. Ibid. Bakhash, Iran, 2.

47. François Furet, The French Revolution, trans. Antonia Nevill (Cambridge, MA:
Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 78–85.
48. Mohammad Tavakoli, Intellectual Background: The Constitutionalist Language
and Imaginary, (accessed
June 20, 2011).
49. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, 63.
50. Ibid., 63–78.
51. Edward Ingram, The Beginning of the Great Game in Asia, 1829–1834 (London:
University of Oxford Press, 1979), 318.
52. Laurence Lockhart, “The Constitutional Laws of Persia: An Outline of Their
Origin and Development,” The Middle East Journal 13, no. 4 (1959), 373.
53. Amir A. Afkhami, “Disease and Water Supply: The Case of Cholera in Nine-
teenth-Century Iran,” in Yale Forestry & Environmental Studies Bulletin, no. 103 (1998):
54. Busse, History of Persia, 260.
55. Hambly, “Aqa Muhammad Khan,” 156–57.
56. Katouzian, “European Liberalism,” 79.
57. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, 87–132.
58. Ibid., 88–90.
59. Ibid., 88.

2. Apprehensive Modernization and the Birth of Iranian Intellectualism

1. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, 126.

2. Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Late Qajars, 181–82.
3. Mangol Bayat, Iran’s First Revolution: Shi‘ism and the Constitutional Revolution
of 1905–1909 (Oxford University Press, 1991), 54.
4. Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, trans. Carol Volk (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1994), 32.
5. For a detailed discussion of Asadabadi’s life and works, see Nikki Keddie, Sayyid
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press,
6. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 443.
7. Ali Dehbashi, ed., Safar Namih-yi Hajj Sayyah (Tehran: Sukhan, 1386 HS/2007–
2008), 25.
8. Ibid., 93–95.
9. Ibid., 93–95 and 158.
10. Hussayn Quli Musta’an’s (1904–1983) 1928 translation of Les Misérables was
first published as a serial in Iran (a newspaper) and then as a five-volume work titled
Notes to Pages 40–46 265

Binavayan. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Mosta’an, Hosayn-Qoli,” http://www (accessed February 24, 2013).
11. Karim Imami, “Translation of English Literature into Persian,” Encyclopaedia
Iranica Online, (accessed
February 24, 2013).
12. Katouzian, Persians, 153.
13. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 410.
14. Abbas Iqbal Ashtinani, Mirza Taqi Khan-i Amir Kabir, ed. Iraj Afshar (Tehran:
Tus Publishing, 1385 HS/2006–2007), 83.
15. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 63.
16. Only passing details about Amir Kabir exist in Western literature. However,
Abbas Amanat, “The Downfall of Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir and the Problem of
Ministerial Authority in Qajar Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 23, no.
4 (1991): 577–99; and the two chapters about reform under Amir Kabir in Amanat, Pivot
of the Universe, fill some of that void.
17. Firidun Adamiyyat, Amir Kabir va Iran (Tehran: Khwarazmi, 1353 HS/1974–
1975), 218–19.
18. Adamiyyat, Amir Kabir va Iran, 218–20, as also quoted in Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i
Iran, 23–25.
19. Martin, Qajar Pact, 116.
20. Adamiyyat, Amir Kabir va Iran, 218–20.
21. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 148.
22. Ibid., 338–39.
23. Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Qajars,” 183.
24. Gad G. Gilbar, “The Opening Up of Qajar Iran: Some Economic and Social
Aspects,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49, no. 1 (1986): 82.
25. Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Qajars,” 184.
26. Bakhash, Iran, 48–49.
27. Ibid., 49.
28. Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Qajars,” 184–85. For a general discussion of
Mirza Hussayn Khan (Mushir al-Daulih), see Bakhash, Iran, 46–50.
29. Stanford Jay Shaw, “Some Aspects of the Aims and Achievements of the Nine-
teenth-Century Ottoman Reforms,” in Beginning of Modernization in the Middle East, ed.
Richard Chambers and William Polk (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1968), 29–39.
30. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 12.
31. Shaw, “Some Aspects,” 186.
32. Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Qajars,” 186.
33. Ibid., 186–87. For a general discussion of Mirza Hussayn Khan and his involve-
ment in the Reuter Concession see Bakhash, Iran, 112–13.
34. Bakhash, Iran, 91–120.
266 Notes to Pages 46–51

35. Cyrus Vakili-Zad, “Collision of Consciousness: Modernization and Develop-

ment in Iran,” Middle Eastern Studies 32, no. 3 (1996): 147.
36. George Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London: Longmans, Green,
1892), 480, as quoted in Keddie and Amanat, “Iran under the Qajars,” 187.
37. Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past and
Present, no. 34 (July 1966): 70–80.
38. Ann K. Lambton, “The Tobacco Regie: Prelude to Revolution I,” Studia Isl-
amica, no. 22 (1965): 121.
39. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran.
40. Ibid.
41. Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 14–15.
42. Sayyid Jawad Tabataba’i, Ta’ammuli dar Bari-yi Iran: Nazariyyih-yi Hukumat-i
Qanun dar Iran, vol. 2 (Tehran: Sutudih Publishing, 1385 HS/2006–2007), 154.
43. Gheissari, Iranian Intellectuals; Ervand Abrahamian, Iran between Two Revo-
lutions, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); Houchang Chehabi, Ira-
nian Politics and Religious Modernism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990); Hamid
Dabashi, Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in
Iran (New York: Transaction Publishers, 2006); Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals
and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press,
1996); Lloyd Ridgeon, Iranian Intellectuals, 1997–2007 (London: Routledge, 2008); Far-
zin Vahdat, God and Juggernaut: Iran’s Intellectual Encounter with Modernity (Syracuse:
Syracuse University Press, 2002); Ali Mirsepasi, Ta’ammuli dar Mudernitih-yi Irani (Teh-
ran: Tarh-i Nau, 1384 HS/1996–1997).
44. Tabataba’i, Ta’ammuli dar Bari-yi Iran, 2: 156.
45. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, 28.
46. Muhammad Qasim Zaman, The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of
Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 2.
47. Ibid. Zaman quotes Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 85, who refers to this group
with the peculiar term “lumpen-intelligentsia.”
48. Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West, 77, 78–98, 99–130.
49. Tabataba’i, Ta’ammuli dar Bari-yi Iran, 2: 153–56.
50. Educated at the University of Tehran and the London School of Economics,
Adamiyyat was the son of Abbas Qoli Admiyyat the constitutionalism-era activist and
founder of the Adamiyyat Society (Anjuman-i Adamiyyat) at the turn of the twentieth
century. Adamiyyat, the author of major works about Iranian modernity and reform
during the Qajars, such as Fikr-i Azadi va Muqaddamih-yi Nihzat-i Mashrutiyyat-
i Iran (Tehran: Intisharat-i Sukhan, 1339 HS/1960–1961); Fikr-i Dimukrasi-yi I’jtimai
dar Nihzat-i Mashrutiyyat-i Iran (Tehran: Payam, 1354 HS/1974–1975); and Ideologi-yi
Nihzat-i Mashritih-yi Iran (Tehran: Roshangaran, 1355 HS/1975–1976), was also a for-
eign-service bureaucrat and Iranian ambassador to the United Nations.
Notes to Pages 51–58 267

51. Adamiyyat, Amir Kabir va Iran, 223; Adamiyyat, Andishih-yi Taraqqi va Hukumat-
i Qanun dar Asr-i Sipah Salar (Tehran: Kharazmi, 1351 HS/1970–1971), 130.
52. Adamiyyat, Andishih-yi Taraqqi va Hukumat-i Qanun, 130.
53. Lloyd Ridgeon, Religion and Politics in Modern Iran (New York: I. B. Tauris,
2005), 14–15.
54. Adamiyyat, Fikr-i Azadi va Muqaddamih-yi, 113, as quoted in Ajdani, Rushan
Fikran-i Iran, 98.
55. Mirza Malkam Khan, Majmu‘ih-yi Asar-i Mirza Malkam Khan, ed. Muhammad
Muhit Tabataba’i (Tehran: Ilmi Publishing, n.d.), 13.
56. Katouzian, Persians, 157–61.
57. Mashallah Ajudani, Mashrutih-yi Irani, 5th ed. (Tehran: Akhtaran, 1383
HS/2004–2005), 283–84.
58. Tabataba’i, Ta‘ammuli dar Barih-yi Iran, 2: 153–56.
59. Ibid., 156.
60. Ibid., 157. Robert Norman Swanson, Twelfth-Century Renaissance (New York:
Manchester University Press, 1999).
61. Katouzian, “European Liberalism,” 77.
62. Keddie, “Origins.”

3. Unhappy Merchants and the Revolution for Law

1. V. F. Nowshirvani, “The Beginnings of Commercialized Agriculture in Iran,”

in The Islamic Middle East, ed. A. L. Udovitch (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1981),
2. Some of the recent studies include Shahbaz Shahnavaz, Britain and the Opening
Up of South West Persia, 1880–1914 (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005); Soheila Torabi
Farsani, “Merchants, Class Identification Process, and Constitutionalism,” in Iran’s Con-
stitutional Revolution, ed. Houchang E. Chehabi and Vanessa Martin (London: I. B.
Tauris Publishers, 2010); Gad Gilbar, “The Rise and Fall of the Tujjar Councils of Rep-
resentatives in Iran, 1884–85,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient,
no. 51 (2008): 639–74.
3. Charles Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, 1800–1914 (Chicago: Chicago Uni-
versity Press, 1971), 112
4. Ibid., 103–4.
5. Gilbar, “Rise and Fall,” 640.
6. Ibid., 642–43.
7. Issawi, Economic History of Iran, 112.
8. Charles Issawi, “European Economic Penetration, 1872–1921,” in Fisher et al.,
Cambridge History of Iran, 7: 590–91.
9. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 593–95.
268 Notes to Pages 58–62

10. Ibid., 590.

11. Shahnavaz, Britain and the Opening Up of South West Persia, 10, quoting J. A.
Saldana, Persian Gulf Gazetteer, Historical and Political Material, Part 1 (1903), 2:
L/P&S/20/C.242, from India Office Records.
12. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 596–97.
13. Shahnavaz, Britain and the Opening Up of South West Persia, 10–11.
14. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 591–92.
15. Ibid., 592.
16. Willem M. Floor, Traditional Crafts in Qajar Iran, 1800–1925 (Costa Mesa, CA:
Mazda Publishers, 2003), 2.
17. Willem M. Floor, A Fiscal History of Iran in the Safavid and Qajar Periods, 1500–
1925 (New York: Bibliotheca Press, 1998), 3.
18. Hambly, “Traditional Iranian City in the Qajar Period.”
19. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 598.
20. Gilbar, “Rise and Fall,” 649–51.
21. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 600.
22. Floor, A Fiscal History of Iran, 3.
23. Issawi, “European Economic Penetration,” 595–96.
24. Ibid., 595. Iranian foreign trade by the 1880s was no more than an estimated £7.5
million; that had improved considerably by 1901 to exceed £9 million.
25. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 14. Vanessa A. Martin, Islam and Modernism:
The Iranian Revolution of 1906 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1989), 36.
26. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, 1:163, in Algar, Religion and State in
Iran, 14. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 37.
27. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 36.
28. Mirza Ali Khan Amin al-Daulih, Khatirat-i Siasi, ed. Hafiz Farmanfarmaian
(Tehran: n.p., 1962), 243, in Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 14.
29. Take for example the case of Mirza Jawad, a mujtahid businessman from Tabriz
who vehemently opposed the Tujjar’s Council of Representatives (majalis-i wuqala-yi tuj-
jar), in Gilbar, “Rise and Fall,” 661–65.
30. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 16.
31. Meir Litvak, “The Finances of the Ulama Communities of Najaf and Karbala,
1796–1904,” Die Welt des Islams, New Series 40, no. 1 (2000): 42.
32. Ira Lapidus, “Islamic Political Movements: Patterns of Historical Change,” in
Islam, Politics, and Social Movements, ed. Edmund Burke III and Ira Lapidus (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988), 28.
33. Chris Paine and Erica Schoenberger, “Iranian Nationalism and the Great Pow-
ers: 1872–1954,” MERIP Reports, no. 37 (May 1975): 3–28.
34. Gilbar, “Rise and Fall,” 652–55.
Notes to Pages 62–68 269

35. Floor, Fiscal History of Iran, 4, quoting Gideon Sjoberg, The Pre-Industrial City
(Glencoe, IL: Bibliotheca Persica, 1956); A. Reza Sheikholeslami, “The Central Struc-
ture of Authority in Iran, 1871–1896,” PhD diss., UCLA, 1975.
36. Adamiyyat, Fikr-i Azadi va Muqaddamih-yi, 287–89.
37. Mirza Malkam Khan, [benefits of law], Qanun, March 22, 1890, 3.
38. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 410.
39. Said Amir Arjomand, “Shi‘ite Islam and the Iranian Fundamental Laws of
1906–1907,” in The Political Dimension of Religion (New York: State University of New
York Press, 1993), 77.
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid.; see also Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 12.
42. Ibid.
43. Ibid., 99–100. By “Western law” I mean European law, or more specifically,
Belgian, Bulgarian, and Russian constitutional law, which the Iranian parliament copied
almost verbatim. The aim of the Iranian constitutionalists was to have a constitution
modeled after the laws of these nations so that they could carry out elections, separate
powers, and divide “responsibilities between executive and legislative powers in constitu-
tional texts and in practice.” See Chibli Mallat, Introduction to Middle Eastern Law (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 143.
44. Katouzian, Persians, 170.
45. Ibid., 170–71.
46. Browne, Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, 98.
47. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 402.
48. Browne, Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, 98.
49. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe, 445.
50. For details of his trip, see G. M. Wickens, “Shah Muzaffar al-Din’s European Tour,
AD 1900,” in Qajar Iran: Political, Social, and Cultural Change, 1800–1925, ed. Edmund
Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1992), 34–37.
51. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 37.
52. Ibid., 38.
53. Ajdani, Rushan Fikran-i Iran, 77, quoting Abdul-Hadi Ha’iri, Tashayyu va
Mashrutiyyat dar Iran va Naqsh-i Iranian-i Muqim-i Araq (Tehran: Intisharat-i Amir
Kabir, 1985), 37–39, quoting Mirza Abdul-Rahim Talibov, Masail al-Hayat (Tbilisi,
Georgia: n.p., 1324 HQ/1906–1907), 184–89.
54. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 39–42 and 50–51, mentioning Mahdi
Bamdad, Sharh-i Hal-i Rijal-i Iran dar Qarn-i 12 and 13 and 14 Hijri (Tehran: Intisharati
Zavvar, 1371 HS/1992–1993), 348–62, and Malikzadih, Tarikh-i Inqilab-i Mashrutiyyat-i
Iran, 1: 202–4, 42.
55. Ibid., 67.
270 Notes to Pages 68–74

56. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 240, 246–48.

57. Ibid., 100.
58. Adamiyyat, Idiuluzhi-i Nihzat, 408–9.
59. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 100–101; quoting Adamiyyat, Idiuluzhi-i
Nihzat, 408. Adamiyyat labels the members of this committee “the progressive intellec-
tuals” (afkar-i mutirraqqi).
60. Adamiyyat, Idiuluzhi-i Nihzat, 408. He also asserts that it was “no accident” that
the constitutionalists chose the Belgian constitution as a model for Iran’s, because most
other nations also used the Belgian model. Iranian constitutionalists created a fifteen-
member translation committee to translate the constitutions of various countries, provid-
ing them with a thorough understanding and appreciation of this new invention.
61. Lockhart, “Constitutional Laws of Persia,” 377.
62. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v., “Constitutional Revolution: The Constitu-

4. Shi‘ism and Key Institutions of Leadership

1. Ahmad Kasravi, On Islam and Shi‘ism, trans. M. R. Ghanoonparvar (Costa Mesa,

CA: Mazda Publisher, 1989). Some other popular views of Shi‘ism and the ulama’s politi-
cal role are even harsher, as demonstrated by hateful commentaries on http://www.iran, or more organized literature such as Sayyid Mahdi Pirastih, Akhund Shinasi:
Barrisi-yi Naqsh-i Akhund va Mullah dar Iran az Zaman-i Hamlih-yi Tazian ta Faji’ih-yi
Bahman 1357 va Pas az An (Stockholm: Arash Publishing, 2005).
2. Ehsan Yarshater, “The Persian Presence in the Islamic World,” in Thirteenth
Giorgio Levi Della Vida Biennial Conference, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian and Georges
Sabagh (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 5.
3. Aziz al-Azmeh, Muslim Kingship: Power and the Sacred in Muslim, Christian,
Pagan Politics (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001), 66.
4. Albert de Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Litera-
ture (New York: Brill Publishers, 1997), 39.
5. Michael Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography: The Heirs of the Prophets in the
Age of al-Ma’mun (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 41–48.
6. Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography, 42, quoting from Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur,
Kitab Baghdad, published as Baghdad fi tarikh al-khilafa al-Abbasiya (Baghdad: al-Muth-
anna, 1968), 51–52.
7. Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina, “Miscegenation, ‘Mixture,’ and ‘Mixed Iron’:
The Hermeneutics, Historiography, and Cultural Poesis of the ‘Four Ages’ in Zoroastrian-
ism,” in Revelation, Literature, and Community in Late Antiquity, ed. Philippa Townsend
and Moulie Vidas (Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 252–53, quoting Jacques
Notes to Pages 74–76 271

Duchesne-Guillemin, “Zoroastrian Religion,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3,

The Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian Periods, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1983), 877.
8. For general information on this subject, see: Hans G. Kippenberg, “Die Geschichte
der mitterlpersischen apokalyptischen Traditionen,” Studia Iranica 7 (1978): 49–80; and
Philip G. Kreyenbroek, “Millennialism and Eschatology in the Zoroastrian Tradition,”
in Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern
America, ed. Abbas Amanat and M. Bernhardsson (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002), 33–55.
9. de Jong, Traditions of the Magi, 391.
10. Herodotus, Histories, 1.132, as quoted in Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v.
“Zoroastrianism i. Historical Review,”
ism-i-historical-review (accessed January 19, 2008).
11. Geo Widengren, Die Religionen Irans (Stuttgart: n.p., 1964), as quoted in ibid.
12. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Zoroastrianism i. Historical Review.”
13. Ibid.
14. Philippe Gignoux, “Middle Persian Inscriptions,” in Yarshater, Cambridge His-
tory of Iran, 3: 1205–15. For a full translation of Kerdir’s inscription below Shapur I’s,
refer to D. N. MacKenzie, “Kerdir’s Inscription,” Iranische Denkmaler [Berlin] 2, no. 13
(1989): 35–72.
15. Touraj Daryaee, “The Effect of the Arab Muslim Conquest on the Administra-
tive Division of Sasanian Persis/Fars,” The British Institute of Persian Studies Journal: Iran
41 (2003): 198–99.
16. Agathias Scholasticus, Agathias: The Histories, trans. Joseph D. C. Frendo (Ber-
lin: de Gruyter, 1975), II.26.5, as quoted in ibid.
17. Daryaee, “Effect of the Arab Muslim Conquest,” 199–200, referring to Elishe,
History of Vardan and the Armenian War, trans. Robert W. Thomson (Cambridge: Har-
vard University Press, 1982), 60.
18. Maria Macuch, “The Function of Temporary Marriage in the Context of
Sasanian Family Law,” in Proceedings of the 5th Conference of the Societas iranologica
Europae, ed. Antonio Panaino and Andrea Piras (Milan: Mimemis Edizioni, 2003),
585–98; Janet Afary, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2009); D. Denffer, “Mut‘a—Ehe oder Prostitution?: Ein Beitrag zur Untersuc-
hung einer Institution des siitischen Islam,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen
Gesellschaft (1978): 299–325; A. K. Ferdows, “The Status and Rights of Women in ithna
‘ashari Shi‘i Islam,” in Women and the Family in Iran, ed. Asghar Fathi (Leiden: n.p.,
1985), 13–35; Shahla Haeri, Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Iran (Syracuse: Syra-
cuse University Press, 1989), and Haeri, “Temporary Marriage: An Islamic Discourse
on Female Sexuality in Iran,” in The Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary
Iran, ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994),
272 Notes to Pages 76–79

98–114; Wilfred Madelung, “Shi‘i Attitudes toward Women as Reflected in Figh,” in

Society and the Sexes in Medieval Islam, ed. Affaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot (Malibu, CA:
Undena Publications, 1979), 69–79.
19. Macuch, “Function of Temporary Marriage.”
20. Hamid Dabashi, Shi‘ism: A Religion of Protest (New York: Harvard University
Press, 2011).
21. Wilferd Madelung, The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliph-
ate (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1–27.
22. Madelung, Succession to Muhammad, 141.
23. Julius Wellhausen, The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall, trans. Margaret Graham Weir
(Beirut: Khayat Publishing, 1963), 50–52.
24. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, 3 vols., ed. R. W. Smith (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1974), 1: 374–76.
25. Heinz Halm, Shi‘a Islam: From Religion to Revolution, trans. Allison Brown
(Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996), 21.
26. Muhammad Jawad Fazlullah, Tahlili az Zidigani-yi Imam Riza (Mashhad:
Bunyad-i Pazhuhishha-yi Islami, 1382 HQ/2003–2004) trans. Muhammad Sadiq
Arif; Hishmatullah Qanbari, Imamat-i Salihan (Tehran: Nashr-i Baynulmilal, 1385
HQ/2006–2007); Jasim Husayn, Tarikh-i Siyasi-yi Ghaybat-i Imam-i Davazdahum,
trans. Muhammad-Taqi Ayatullahi (Tehran: Nashir-i Amir Kabir, 1377 HQ/1998–1999);
Muhammad-Jawad Moini and Ahmad Turabi, Imam Ali Ibn Musa al-Riza: Munadi-yi
Tawhid va Imamat (Mashhad: Bunyad-i Pazhuhishha-yi Islami 1379 HQ/2000–2001).
27. Halm, Shi‘a Islam, 24.
28. Ibid., 22.
29. Ibid., 24–25.
30. Said Amir Arjomand, “Imam Absconditus and the Beginnings of a Theology of
Occultation: Imami Shi‘ism circa 280–90,” Journal of American Oriental Society 17, no.
1 (1997): 1.
31. Ibid., 2. It is noteworthy that before hayra (the perplexed period) began, as Arjo-
mand explains, the eleventh Imam’s secretary Muhammad (b. ‘Uthman al-‘Amri) acted
as though he were writing letters and collecting khums on behalf of the hidden Imam.
So much did he do this that it became a normal phenomenon and al-‘Amri even dared to
settle some scores with old rivals by cursing them on behalf of the “Lord of the House,”
which later became the “Lord of the Age” (imam-i zaman).
32. Halm, Shi‘a Islam, 28.
33. Ibid., 28.
34. Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Just Ruler in Shi‘ite Islam: The Comprehensive Author-
ity of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).
35. Arjomand, “Imam Absconditus,” 2.
Notes to Pages 80–84 273

36. Fathi, “Role of the Traditional Leader,” 88.

37. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 2.
38. Abdul-Hadi Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran: A Study of the Role
Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Iranian Politics (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977), 60.
39. The Buyids (Buwayhids) (322–446 HQ/934–1055) were the first non-Arab group
to assume control of the Abbasid caliphate in 945. Originally from the northern regions
of the Iranian plateau adjoining the Caspian Sea (Tabaristan), the Buyids managed to
capture the important cities of Isfahan, Kerman, and Ray before moving on to Iraq for
the capture of the grand prize, the caliphate’s seat in the city of Baghdad. Iranian Buyids
kept the caliph as a mere figurehead and controlled most of the caliphate’s affairs for the
time being. A distinctly Iranian Shi‘ite entity, the Buyids allowed for further development
of Shi‘ism before the dynasty came to an end over a hundred years later. Encyclopaedia
of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Buwayhids or Buyids.”
40. Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam: History and Doctrines of Twelver
Shi‘ism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 92–93, referring to Muhammad Baqir
Majlisi, Bahar al-Anwar, 3 vols. (Beirut: n.p., 1403 HQ/1982–1983), 1: 209–10.
41. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 61–62.
42. Ibid.
43. R. Stephen Humphreys, Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry, rev. ed. (Princ-
eton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 187.
44. Jean Calmard, “Shi‘i Rituals and Power, The Consolidation of Safavid Shi‘ism:
Folklore and Popular Religion,” in Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic
Society, ed. Calmard (New York: I. B. Tauris Publishing, 1996), 140.
45. Ibid.
46. Ahmad Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi: Tahlili az Mabani-yi
Nazari-yi Qudrat-i Ulama va Sayr-i Tarikhi-yi An (Bethesda, MD: Ibex, 1383 HS/2004–
2005), 136.
47. Ibid., 98. There are other probable reasons why the Qajar or Safavid shahs sup-
ported the ulama that need detailed study. They include the possibility that the Iranian
shahs wanted to keep a Shi‘ite presence in Ottoman lands with a view to supporting the
establishment’s hierarchy in the holy cities of Najaf, Karbala, etc.
48. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 6.
49. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 151.
50. Ibid., 155–57, 158–77.
51. Ibid. Mullah Ahmad Naraqi (1771–1829) was born in Kashan and was educated
in fiqh at Najaf after he had studied under his father for fifteen years, starting from age
five. Mahdi Bamdad, Sharh-i Hal-i Rijal-i Iran dar Qarn-i 12 and 13 and 14 Hijri (Tehran:
Intisharati Zavvar, 1371 HS/1992–1993), 3: 84.
52. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 158–77.
274 Notes to Pages 84–87

53. Humphreys, Islamic History, 187.

54. Calmard, “Shi‘i Rituals and Power,” 167–68.
55. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1–3.
56. Abu al-Hassan Ali bin Muhammad al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya wa al-
Wilayat al-Diniyya (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1985), 17, as quoted in ibid., 4.
57. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 2.
58. Taha Abdul-Ra’uf Sa‘d, ed., Abu Yusuf al-Ansari, Kitab al-Kharaj (Cairo: Makta-
bah al-Azhariyya, 1987), 5, as quoted in ibid., 3.
59. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 3.
60. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Nasihat al-Muluk, ed. Jalal Huma’i (Tehran: Homa Pub-
lishing, 1367 HS/1988–1989), 81–83, as quoted in ibid., 4–5.
61. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 4.
62. What is probable is that the old institution of kingship was being fitted into an
Islamic paradigm, because Islam was all about governing and religion as one entity.
63. Antony Black, The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the
Present (New York: Routledge, 2001), 143.
64. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 257–58.
65. Al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, 37, as quoted in Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i
Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 7. Ya ayyuhallazina aminu atai‘ullah wa atai‘urrasula wa ulilamr
minkum fa in tanza‘tum fi shay’in farudduhu illallah wa al-rasul in kuntum tu’minun bil-
lahi wal yaumil akhiri zalika khayrun wa ahsanu ta’wila (O you who believe, obey Allah
and obey the Messenger and those of you who are in authority. If you differ in anything
among yourselves refer to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last
Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination).
66. Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 7.
67. Imam al-Haramayn Abdul-Malik bin Abdullah al-Juwaini, Ghiath al-imam fi
al-tiath al-dhulm (Doha, Qatar: The University of Qatar Press, 1400 HQ/1979–1980),
42–55, as quoted in ibid.
68. Ann K. S. Lambton, State and Government in Medieval Islam: An Introduction
to the Study of Islamic Political Theory: The Jurists (London: Routledge, 1981), 142, refer-
ring to Gustave E. von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam: A Study in Cultural Orientation
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 169.
69. Innallaha ya’murukum an tu’addu al’amanati ila ahliha wa eza hakamtum
baynannas an tahkumu bil‘adli innallha ni‘imma ya‘idhukum bihi innallah kana sami‘un
basira (Verily! Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to whom they are
due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent
is the teaching that He gives you! Truly, Allah is ever all-hearing, all-seing).
70. Taqi al-Din Ahmad bin Abdul-Halim bin Taymiyya, al-Siyasah shar‘iyya fi islah
al-ra‘i wa al-ra‘ya (Beirut: Dar al-Bayan, 1985), 5–18, 36, as quoted in Kazimi-Musavi,
Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 8.
Notes to Pages 87–91 275

71. Ibn Taymiyya, al-Siyasah Shar‘iyya fi islah al-ra‘i wa al-ra‘ya, 13, as mentioned in
Kazimi-Musavi, Ulama-i Shi‘i va Qudrat-i Siasi, 8.
72. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 58.
73. Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Mufid, al-Irshad (Najaf: n.p. 1962), 346–54.;
and Muhammad Ibn Ya‘qub Kulayni, al-Usul al-Kafi (Tehran: n.p., 1956), 1: 328–33, as
quoted in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 58.
74. Muhammad Ibn al-Hassan Tusi, Kitab al-Ghaybah (Najaf: n.p., 1965), 214–43,
as mentioned in Ha’iri, Shiism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 58.
75. Ibid.
76. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 58.
77. Lapidus, “The Golden Age: The Political Concepts of Islam,” Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 524 (November 1992): 13–25.
78. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 59.
79. Ibid., 60.
80. Al-Kulayni, al-Usul al-Kafi, 38, as quoted in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutional-
ism in Iran, 59.
81. Muhammad Ibn Babuwayh, Ma‘ani al-Akhbar (Tehran: n.p., 1959), 374–75, as
quoted in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 59.
82. Shaykh Hurr al-‘Amili, al-Wasa’il al-Shi‘a wa Mastadrakatuha, 18: 98–100; also
quoted in Ruhullah Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami ya Vilayat-i Faqih (Najaf: n.p., 1970),
14–25, as cited in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 59. A popular Quranic
verse that the ulama use in support of ijtihad is from al-Tawbah (9:122): Wa ma kana
al-mu’minun liyanfiru kaffatan fa lawula nafara min kulli firqatin mihum tayifatun li yata-
faqqahu fiddini wa liyunziru qawmahum iza raja‘u ilahim (And it is not proper for the
believers to go out to fight all together. Of every division of them a party should only go
forth that they may get instructions in religion, and that they may warn their people when
they return to them, so that they may be informed).
83. Ayatullah Khumayni used that same hadith when he propagated the doctrine of
vilayat-i faqih (the guardianship of the jurist) in his quest to establish a hukumat-i Islami
(Islamic government). Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, 5: 14–25.
84. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 62–63.
85. Ibid., 60.
86. Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, Durus fi ‘Ilm al-Usul, intro. and trans. Roy Parviz
Mottahedeh (Oxford, UK: One World, 2003), 1; also available in arabic with the same
title (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, 1978).
87. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Idjtihad.” Wael Hallaq introduces the term
ijtihad as perceives the classical Muslim jurists believed it to be: “the exertion of mental
energy in the search for a legal opinion to the extent that the faculties of the jurist become
incapable of further effort.” Wael B. Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” Interna-
tional Journal of Middle East Studies, no. 16 (1984): 3.
276 Notes to Pages 91–94

88. Hossein Modarressi, “Rationalism and Traditionalism in Shi‘i Jurisprudence: A

Preliminary Survey,” Studiea Islamica, no. 59 (1984): 143.
89. Muhammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 3rd ed. (Cam-
bridge, UK: The Islamic Text Society, 2003), 468.
90. Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” 33–34.
91. Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 468.
92. Some jurists think that once efforts have been exerted to discern what is lawful
in view of the Qur’an and the Hadith, the opportunity for such activity ended forever
and ijtihad could no longer be practiced. Known as the “Closing of the Gate of Ijtihad”
(Insidad al-Bab al-Ijtihad), those in opposition to this concept believe that the Gate of
Ijtihad was never closed and has always been open, and this concept is referred to as
the “Openness of the Gate of Ijtihad” (Infitah al-Bab al-Ijtihad). Wael Hallaq effectively
discusses this subject in “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” and “On the Origins of the
Controversy about the Existence of Mujtahids and the Gate of Ijtihad,” Studia Islamica,
no. 63 (1986): 129–41.
93. Ibid.
94. Ibid.
95. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 62.
96. The Qur’an, “al-Nahl” (16:43): Wa ma arsalna min qablik illa rijalannuhiy
ilayhum fas’lu ahla al-zikri in kuntum la ta‘lamun (And we send not before you any but
men whom we inspired. So ask of those who know the scripture if you know not).
97. For a detailed study of the power of the Zoroastrian mobeds in Iran’s pre-Islamic
era, see Shaul Shaked, “Administrative Functions of Priests in the Sasanian Period,”
in Proceedings of the First European Conference of Iranian Studies, Turin, September
7–11, 1987, by the Societas Iranologica Europea (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed
Estremo Oriente 1990), 261–73.
98. Ali Davvani, Zindigani-i Zaim-i Buzurg-i Alam-i Tashayyu‘ ‘Allamih-yi Aliqadr
Hazrat-i Ayatullah Burujirdi Quddisu Sirruh (Qum: n.p., 1338 HS/1961–1962), 18–34, as
quoted in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 63.
99. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 63.
100. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 2.
101. W. Montgomery Watt, “The Reappraisal of Abbasid Shi‘ism,” in Arabic and
Islamic Studies in Honour of Hamilton A. R. Gibb, ed. Watt (Leiden: Leiden Press, 1966),
638–39, as quoted in Algar, Religion and State in Iran 1785–1906, 2. See also Marshall G.
S. Hodgson, “How Did the Early Shi‘a Become Sectarian?” Journal of American Oriental
Studies, no. 75 (1995): 1–13.
102. W. Montgomery Watt, “Shi‘ism under the Umayyads,” Journal of Royal Asiatic
Society, nos. 3–4 (1960): 158–72, as quoted in Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 2.
103. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 2.
Notes to Pages 95–99 277

5. Shi‘ite Iran and the State

1. Albert Hourani, “From Jabal ‘Amil to Persia,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London (in Honor of Ann K. S. Lambton) 49, no. 1
(1986): 136.
2. Ibid., 136–37.
3. Ibid., 133.
4. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Abu Dharr al-Ghifari,” in ibid.
5. Nassir Khosrau, Sefer-nameh, French trans. Charles Schefer (Paris: n.p., 1881), 47,
in Hourani, “From Jabal Amil to Persia,” 133.
6. Hourani, “From Jabal ‘Amil to Persia,” 133.
7. Ibid., 134.
8. Ibid., 135, 136.
9. Ibid., 137. The last Sunday of the month of Rabi al-thani 1124 that Arjomand
quotes from Vaqayi’ is not June 15, 1712, but June 5, 1712.
10. Khatun-abadi, Waqayi’ al-sinin wa al-ayvamm, 566, as quoted in Arjomand,
“Office of Mulla-Bashi,” Studiae Islamica, no. 57 (1983): 137.
11. Ibid.
12. Rafiuddin Ibrahim Shirazi, Tadhkirat al-Muluk (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Pub-
lishers, 1987).
13. Vladimir Minorsky, ed., Tadhkirat al-Muluk (London: E. J. Gibb, 1943), 41, as
quoted in Arjomand, “Office of Mulla-Bashi,” 138.
14. This harmonization seems to be still taking place in Iran; for example, the
issue of sperm and egg donation was taken notice of by the vali-yi faqih Ayatullah Ali
Khamenei. He surprisingly approved its practice, and thus harmonized a fairly new
medical practice on which shari‘a had no prior position with secular Iranian laws.
See Marcia C. Inhorn, “A More Open Mind toward Iran,” Chronicle of Higher Educa-
tion 52, no. 42 (June 23, 2006): B12; and Abbasi-Shavazi, Mohammad Jalal, Marcia
C. Inhorn, Hajiieh Bibi Razeghi-Nasrabad, and Ghasem Toloo, “The ‘Iranian ART
Revolution’: Infertility, Assisted Reproductive Technology, and Third-Party Dona-
tion in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 4, no. 2
(2008): 1–28.
15. Arjomand, “Office of Mulla-Bashi,” 140.
16. Ibid., 138. He was the son of the notable mujtahid Mullah Muhammad Taqi
Majlisi, who was “the first” to gather most of the Shi‘ite akhbar and hadiths after al-
Kulayni in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Muhammad Baqir composed several works,
including Bahar al-Anwar, ‘Ayn al-Hayat, Hilliyyat al-Muttaqin, Hayat al-Qulub, and
Haqq al-Yaqin. Abdul-Azim Reza’i, Tarikh-i Dah Hizar Salih-yi Iran (Tehran: Iqbal Pub-
lishing, 1363 HS/1984–1985), 4: 74.
278 Notes to Pages 99–104

17. Arjomand, “Office of Mulla-Bashi,” 137, quoting Sayyid Mushih al-din Mahdavi,
Tadhkirat al-Qubur ya Danishmandan va Buzurgan-i Isfahan (Isfahan: Thaqafi, 1348
HS/1969–1970), 158.
18. Arjomand, “Office of Mulla-Bashi,” 138.
19. Ibid., 139; Hourani, “From Jabal ‘Amil to Persia,” 137.
20. Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1984), 123.
21. Arjomand, “Office of the Mulla-Bashi,” 139.
22. Modarressi, “Rationalism and Traditionalism in Shi‘i Jurisprudence,” 150–51.
23. Ibid., 156.
24. Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, 21–22.
25. John Obert Voll, Islam, Continuity, and Change in the Modern World (Boulder,
CO: Westview Press, 1982), 79.
26. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 65.
27. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Feqh,”
/feqh (accessed June 1, 2009). According to Norman Calder, besides its jurisprudential
function, fiqh has many practical applications. Fiqh influences one’s life through “medi-
ums like sermons and public and private discussions.” Calder even states that Middle
Eastern life was patterned and structured on fiqh: “as a guide to religious conduct, as a
symbol of religious authority, and as a cultural tool,” it was a “practical and useful dis-
cipline—when the informal pattern of life broke down and led to litigation.” In Ha’iri,
Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 65.
28. Mullah Sadra, for example, was deemed an infidel (kafar) when he objected to
blindly following the ulama who were uneducated to lead the people. Sayyid Jala al-Din
Ashtiani, Sharh-i Hal va Asar-i Falsafi-yi Mullah Sadra (Mashhad: n.p., 1961), 6, as men-
tioned in Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 69.
29. Again, Mullah Sadra provides a good example. He was isolated and driven out of
scholastic circles for his free-thinking ideology and its application to Shi‘ism and its laws.
Sadr al-Din Muhammad Shirazi Mullah Sadra, al-Hikmah al-Muta‘aliyah fi al-Asfar al-
‘Aqliyyah al-Arba‘ah (Najaf: n.p., 1967), 1: 6, as mentioned in Ha’iri, Shiism and Consti-
tutionalism in Iran, 68. As explained in the following pages, according to Mangol Bayat,
Mullah Sadra generally believed that Quranic revelations could not be made obvious to
everyone, except those who could see its inherent hidden secrets and those who could
actually reflect those secret messages. Mullah Sadra, Bayat states, in addition to disre-
garding the material world, did not accept the theological conformity that the mujtahids
mandated because he viewed blind conformity as equal to the pollution of knowledge.
Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, 29–30.
30. Voll, Islam, Continuity, and Change, 29–30.
31. Muhammad Baqir Bihbahani, Risalah al-Ijtihad wa al-Akhbar (Qum: n.p. 1896).
32. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 67.
Notes to Pages 105–9 279

33. Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” 3, 4, 33.

34. Ha’iri, Shiism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 68.
35. Mullah Sadra, al-Shawahid al-Rububiyyah, commentary Mullah Hadi Sabzivari,
ed. and annotated Jalal al-Din Ashtiani (Mashhad: n.p., 1346/1967), 377–78, as men-
tioned in ibid.
36. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 69.
37. Najmabadi, Tahrir al-‘Uqala, 141–42, as quoted in Ha’iri, Shiism and Constitu-
tionalism in Iran, 75.
38. Ha’iri, Shiism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 72.
39. Najmabadi, Tahrir al-‘Uqala, 93.
40. Ibid., 15–22.
41. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 72.
42. Nikke Keddie, “Iranian Politics 1900–1905: Background to Revolution,” Middle
Eastern Studies 5, no. 2 (1969): 153.
43. Nikki R Keddie, Sayyid Jamal al-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berke-
ley: University of California Press, 1972).
44. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 49.
45. Najmabadi, Tahrir al-‘Uqala, 140, as mentioned in Hassan Marsalvand, Hajj
Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi va Mashrutiyyat (Tehran: Wizarat-i Farhang va Irshad-i Islami,
1378 HS/1999–2000), 122.
46. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 48.
47. Ibid.
48. This is a 20 percent tax on either inheritance or mines that Shi‘ites owe to Imams
(sahm-i imam). In light of the absence of the twelfth Imam, the ulama that receive these
taxes are allowed to spend half of the Fifth on the religious establishment (seminary
education and salaries) and are mandated to help the needy with the second half. Mot-
tahedeh, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, 179.
49. Chibli Mallat, The Renewal of Islamic Law, Muhammad Baqer as-Sadr, Najaf,
and the Shii International (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 45–46, 188–89,
in Mottahedeh, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, 2.
50. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 3.
51. Ibid., 21, 4, 6, 2.
52. Aqa Buzurg Tehrani, Nuqaba’ al-Bashar fi al-Qarn al-Rabi‘ ‘Ashar, ed. Ali Naqi
Manzuvi (Qum: n.p., 1335–1336 HQ/1917), 374. Also documented by a British dispatch
to the British Foreign Office, Mockler Currie, May 5, 1894, F.O. 195/1841, Baghdad no.
237/24, in Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 85.
53. The same tradition continues to this day in Qum. Students from all over the
world are funded to study at the city’s recently established University of Imam Khumayni
under close supervision of the hawzah-yi ilmiyyih (Qum’s largest seminary). During my
research in the city (summer 2007), I had the opportunity to meet the college president
280 Notes to Pages 109–12

and students from Iraq, Senegal, Argentina, China, Canada, and other countries. The
languages of instruction are Persian and Arabic, and students live in the university dormi-
tories. With computers, access to the Internet, and satellite, these students, according to
the president of the college, are being prepared to protect Shi‘ism and its political power
around the world.
54. For a better appreciation of the devotional financing of the Holy Shi‘ite cit-
ies of Najaf and Karbala, and the influence that contemporary Iranians wield vis-à-
vis this religious connection, see Sam Dagher, “Devotion and Money Tie Iranians to
Iraqi City,” New York Times, May 31, 2009,
55. Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh, “Interregional Rivalry Cloaked in Iraqi Arab
Nationalism and Iran Secular Nationalism, and Shi‘ite Ideology,” International Journal
of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 2, no. 3 (2008): 391–407.
56. Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past
and Present, no. 34 (July 1966): 72.
57. Abbas Amanat, “In Between the Madrasa and the Marketplace: The Designation
of Clerical Leadership in Modern Shi‘ism,” in Authority and Political Culture in Shi‘ism,
ed. Said Amir Arjomand (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), 118; and Keddie, Religion and
Rebellion in Iran, 118.
58. For a general understanding of this event, see Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and
Rebellion in Iran; also Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 205–21.
59. Abbas Mirza Mulkara, Sharh-i Hal, ed. Abdul-Hussayn Nava’i (Tehran: n.p., 1325
SH/1946-1947), 114-16; Ibrahim Taymuri, Tahrim-i Tanbaku ya awwalin Muqawimat-i
Manfi dar Iran (Tehran: n.p., 1328 HS/1949–1950), 68–69, 71–72, in Algar, Religion and
State in Iran, 207–9.
60. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 31–33.
61. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 205.
62. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 35; Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran,
17–18, in Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 209.
63. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 208.
64. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 35–36.
65. Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 205.
66. Keddie, “Origins of the Religious-Radical,” 72–73.
67. Perhaps we will never know for certain or read in any source that Shirazi, or
anyone else, cited usulism as the reason for his political involvement or even claimed
that usulism allowed him to participate in politics. Shirazi, as did other ulama who were
involved in politics, reiterated that maslahat dictated they get involved and nothing else
enticed them. But if we consider the rule of law, we have no need of an explicit statement
from the ulama, except that involvement is imperative and sanctioned by the Qur’an and
the Hadith. As the twelfth Imam’s representatives, the mujtahids were responsible for
Notes to Pages 113–19 281

protecting the ummah. For those who believe the ulama’s involvement in the tobacco
protest and eventually the Constitutional Revolution was to protect their financial posi-
tion, one ought to consider their need to be flexible and enter the political realm because
it required by their position. Surely if their livelihood was challenged, they should have
responded to that challenge. Similarly, although in a different context, considering the
malevolent socioeconomic and political situation in Iran and the Iranians’ fight against
foreign encroachment, Shirazi’s death and Khurasani’s accession to the position of marja‘
propelled Khursani to act in the same way as his predecessor.
68. Keddie, “Origins of Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” 76.
69. Browne, Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, 16, in ibid., 75–76.
70. The authorship of the tobacco decree (fatwa-yi tanbaku), as it is widely known,
is controversial. Algar (Religion and State in Iran, 211–13) details the varying views of the
decree and whether it was actually Shirazi who wrote the order or someone else inside
Iran, or whether the fatwa in Samarra was a continuation of Aqa Najafi’s insistence in Isfa-
han, having already issued a separate fatwa that had gone unheeded. Almost all scholars
agree that one can find the origin of the objection to the tobacco concession in Samarra.
The sheer existence of the ‘atabat and its function as a Shi‘ite holy site, and thus a center
for the Iranian ulama, gave it politico-religious weight and prestige.
71. Ann Lambton, “The Tobacco Regie: Prelude to Revolution I,” Studia Islamica,
no. 22 (1965): 119; Nikki Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran, 1; Algar, Religion and
State in Iran, 205.
72. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran, 1.
73. Ibid., 76.
74. Ibid.; see also Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909, 31–36.
75. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 90–91.
76. Ibid., 91.
77. Hardinge to Lansdowne, January 1, 1904, British Foreign Office 416/16 no. 112,
in Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 91.
78. Davvani, Zindigani-i Zaim-i, 33; Hibat al-Din Shahristani, “Ayatullah al-
Khurasani Akbar ‘Ulama al-Din wa Ra’is al-Mujtahidin,” al-‘Ilm 2 (1912): 290, 309, as
cited in Encyclopedia of Islam, s.v. “Akhund Khorasani,” in Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nine-
teenth-Century Iraq, 91.
79. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 91, 92. The sources that Litvak
uses are not clear and are only mentioned by name.

6. Akhund Khurasani: His Life and Works

1. Abdul-Hussayn Kifa’i, Margi Dar Nur: Zindigani-yi Akhund Khurasani Sahib

Kifayih (Mashhad, Iran: Zawwar Publishing, 1359 HS/1980–1981), 8.
2. Ibid.
282 Notes to Pages 119–21

3. Ba Pishgaman-i Azadi: Zindigi Namih, Andishiha va Mubarizat-i Akhund Muham-

mad Kazim Khurasani (Tehran: Qalam Publishing, 2003). M. Jarfadiqani, Ulama-i
Buzurg-i Shi‘ih: az Kulayni ta Khumayni (Qum: Intisharat-i ma‘arif-i Islami, n.d.), 340.
4. Abdul-Riza Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar va mujiz az hayat va shakhsiyyat-i
Akhund Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani,” in Hayat-i siasi, Fahangi, va I’jtima’i-yi
Akhund Khurasani, ed. Muhsin Daryabaygi (Tehran: Muassisi-i Tahqiqat va Tawsiih-i
‘Ulum-i Insani, 1386 HS/2007-2008), 12. Meir Litvak also states that his father was a
“minor preacher” (Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 102).
5. Ba Pishgaman-i Azadi, 7, 20.
6. Ibid., 7. Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 13.
7. Ba Pishgaman-i Azadi, 7, 20.
8. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 29–36. This claim is denied by Khurasani’s grandson,
Abdul-Riza Kifa’i. He limits Khurasani’s visit to only one meeting in “one night.” Kifa’i,
“Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 13.
9. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 38–40.
10. Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 14.
11. Shaykh Murtiza Ansari (b. May 12, 1800–1865), the son of Muhammad Amin
Ansari, was born in the city of Dizful in the Iranian southwestern province of Khuzistan.
He studied with some of the most influential Ayatullahs such as Mullah Ahmad Naraqi,
Sharif al-Ulama al-Mazandarani, and Shaykh Ali Kashif al-Ghita. Among his many
works, al-Risa’il and al-Makasib have had the most influence on the contemporary teach-
ing of business law in Shi‘ite seminaries. Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 140.
12. Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 57–58. Although his grandson asserts that
Khurasani also studied with Sayyid Ali Shushtari and Shaykh Razi Najafi, he is most
remembered for his studies with Shaykh Ansari (see also p. 13).
13. Ibid., 59, 70.
14. Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 142. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-
Century Iraq, 83.
15. Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 16–17.
16. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 54–56; and Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 47–48.
17. Ba Pishgaman-i Azadi, 8. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 47–48.
18. Mirza Mahdi appears to have been Khurasani’s assistant while Khurasani was
supporting the constitutional movement. He visited with Muzaffar al-Din Shah in 1901
(Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 403), and Habl al-Matin (no. 8, 1910) praises his efforts in support
of the constitutional movement with regard to assisting Khurasani. See Kifa’i, Margi dar
Nur, 403.
19. Ba Pishgaman-i Azadi, 8.
20. Ibid. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 402–25.
21. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 402–25.
22. Halm, Shi‘a Islam, 28.
Notes to Pages 121–25 283

23. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 69.

24. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 92.
25. Ha’iri, Shi‘ism and Constitutionalism in Iran, 112. We lack sufficient evidence
to conclude that Shirazi was consulting Khurasani with regard to the tobacco fatwa. We
just know that he was highly respected by Shirazi and that they met on a regular basis.
26. Most sources on Khurasani fail to mention a date when Khurasani received
permission (ijaza) to practice ijtihad. In a personal interview on August 19, 2008, Muhsin
Kadivar claimed that permissions were absolutely necessary only for those clerics who
had not published on jurisprudence or did not have students. It was after Shirazi’s migra-
tion to Samarra that Khurasani widened his circle of students. According to Litvak (Shi‘i
Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 92), it was Shirazi who had “groomed” Khurasani as
his successor (quoting Muhammad Mahdi al-Kazimi, Ahsan al-Wadi‘a fi Tarajim Ashhar
Mashahir Mujtahid al-Shi‘a [Baghdad: n.p., 1930]).
27. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 62.
28. There is a story that several times three of Khurasani’s students stood at the exit
of the lecture hall after one of his lessons and counted two thousand persons leaving.
Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i mukhtasar,” 20, citing Shaykh Aqa Buzurg Tehrani, Zari’ah,
29. Muhammad Hassan Najafi-Quchani, Siahat-i Sharq, ed. Mujgan Shaykhi (Teh-
ran: Qadyani, 1379 HS/2000–2001), 3.
30. Ibid., 327.
31. Kifa‘i, Margi dar Nur, 44.
32. Najafi-Quchani, Siahat-i Sharq, 151.
33. Murtiza Mudarrisi, Tarikh-i Ravabit-i Iran va Iraq (Tehran: Kitab Furushi-yi
Furughi, 1351 HS/1972–1973), 265, as mentioned in Daryabaygi, Hayat-i siasi, 18–19.
34. Litvak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 91–92.
35. Hardinge to Lansdowne, January 1, 1904, F.O. 416/16, no. 112, as quoted in Lit-
vak, Shi‘i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq, 91.
36. Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani,” 430, quoting Sabrina Mervin, Un réformisme
chiite: Ulémas et lettrés du Gabal ‘Amil du Liban-sud de la fin de l’empire Ottoman à
l’indépendence du Liban (Paris-Beirut-Damascus: Karthala-CERMOC-IFEAD, 2000),
37. Muhsin Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani: Qata‘at-i Siasi dar Athar-i Akhund
Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani Sahib Kifayih (1255–1329 AH) (Tehran: Kavir Pub-
lishing, 1385 HS/2006–2007), 33.
38. Kifa’i, Margi dar Nur, 102–4.
39. Daryabaygi, Hayat-i siasi, 313, 314, 317.
40. Ibid., 319.
41. Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Musavi Bujnurdi was born in Najaf in 1943 and
finished his seminary education in Qum and Najaf. He studied under some of the most
284 Notes to Pages 126–31

notable Ayatullahs, including Ruhullah Khumayni, Sayyid Hassan Musavi Bujnurdi (the
author of al-Qawa‘id al-Fiqhiyyah), and Muhsin al-Hakim. Khumayni appointed Bujnurdi
as the director of the Decrees and Fatwas Office (daftar-i istifta’at) of the Supreme Leader
in 1980. While he participated in drafting the Islamic Republic constitution, he obtained
his doctoral degree in Religious Studies at Hawaii International University.
42. Daryabaygi, Hayat-i siasi, 329.
43. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Persian Schools in Iraq,” http://www.iranica (accessed
February 25, 2009).
44. Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani,” 440, mentioning Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi
Khurasani, 187–88, 235, 216–17, 225.
45. Ali Akbar Tashkari-Bafqi, “Zartushtiyan Pas Az Mashrutiyyat,” Amurdad, Mur-
dad 13, 1387 HS/August 3, 2008, 6.
46. “Deltangi,” Ma‘rifat-i Yazd, Ramadan 16, 1327 HQ/October 1, 1909, as men-
tioned in ibid.
47. Tashkari-Bafqi mentiones a letter from Tabrizi to Khurasani, Safar 10, 1328 HQ/
February 21, 1910.
48. Ibid., 140, quoting Muhammad Sadiq Tehrani, Nigahi bih Tarikh-i Inqilab-i
Islami 1920 Iraq va Naqsh-i Ulama-i Mujahid (Tehran: n.p., n.d.), 29.
49. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, vi. His first commentaries were written at
the age of thirty-six.
50. Jamal al-din al-Hassan Ibn Yusif al-Hilli (b. Ramadan 19, 648 HQ/December
22, 1250) was a student of Shaykh Tusi. Born in Hilla, Iraq, Hilli is famous for his Usul
al-Fiqh, which according to Momen includes a considerable discussion of the role of
mujtahids (An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 313).
51. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, xxii.
52. Ibid., xxxiii.
53. Ibid., xxiv.
54. Ibid., xxiv–xxv.
55. Ibid., xxv.
56. Ibid., xxv–xxvi.
57. Ibid., xxix.
58. Ibid., xxii–xxiii.
59. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, x.
60. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, xxv.

7. An Islamic Jurist’s Thought, Politics, and Practice

1. Not every scholar holds Najaf in high regard. The Iraqi scholar Hanna Batatu
describes Najaf as an old city that has historically been “the seat of oppressive wealth and
Notes to Pages 131–34 285

dire poverty,” but that has also been a center for “the most stubborn religious traditional-
ism and a ferment for the most advanced of revolutionary ideas.” Hanna Batatu, The Old
Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq’s Old Landed and
Commercial Classes and of Its Communists, Ba‘thists, and Free Officers (San Francisco:
Saqi Books, 2004), 752.
2. Mahmud Taliqani’s introduction to Muhammad Hussayn Na’ini, Tanbih al-
Ummah va Tanzih al-Millah (Tehran: n.p., 1955), 17; also mentioned in Dabashi, The-
ology of Discontent, 233; and Musa Najafi, Bunyad-i Falsafih-yi Siasi dar Iran (‘asr-i
mashrutiyyat): Talaqqi-yi andishih-yi Siasi-i Islam va Iran ba Gharb (Tehran: Markaz-e
Nashr-i Danishgahi, 1376 HS/1997–1998), 13.
3. Habl al-Matin became a leading Persian newspaper that discussed most aspects
of reform and modernization in response to tyranny and injustice, and it offered solu-
tions such as constitutionalism before, during, and after the movement to improve the
sociopolitical situation of Iran. In my August 19, 2008 interview with Muhsin Kadivar at
his office in Tehran, he claimed that “Khurasani was an avid reader of Habl al-Matin and
that articles mentioning or discussing Montesquieu or Locke were his favorites.” Kadivar
sees a direct influence of European thinkers of the Enlightenment on Khurasani.
4. Edwarde G. Browne, Tarikh-i Matbu‘at va Adabiyat-i Iran dar Dawrih-yi Mashruti-
yyat, trans. Muhammad Abbasi (Tehran: Nashri ‘Ilm, 1386 HS/2007–2008), 463.
5. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 195.
6. Sayyid Ali Mir-Musavi, “Rah-i Natamam: Mahjuriyyat-i Rahyaft-i Islahi-yi
Akhund Khurasani,” Shahrvand 84, no. 7 (Murdad 22, 1390 HS/August 13, 2011): 52–53.
7. Musa Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf va Falsafih-yi Tajaddud dar Iran (Tehran:
Mu’assihsih-yi Farhangi-yi Danish va Andishih-yi Mu‘asir and Mu’assihsih-yi Mutali‘at-i
Tarikh-i Mu‘asir-i Iran, 1379 HS/2000–2001), 18. Najafi does not provide a reference.
8. Ibid.
9. Dabashi, Iran, 45–47.
10. Vali Nasr, The Shi‘a Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future
(New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 173, points to the same phenomenon in post-American-
occupied Iraq in 2004–2005, namely, that the Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani employed the same
rhetoric that had been used to launch the war against Iraq, including key terms such as
“freedom” and “participatory self-rule” and “determination,” to attain a majority Shi‘ite
representation in the Iraqi National Assembly after Saddam Hussayn’s rule ended.
11. Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 27. “Al-Ghura” is one of the many names for “Najaf”
(“Mashhad” being another one).
12. Ibid., 136, 250. Allamah Shaykh Ja‘far Baqir al-i Mahbubah, Madi al-Najaf va
Hadiruha (Beirut: Dar al-Adwa, 1985), 178–80.
13. Although Musa Najafi claims that al-Ghura was published in 1328 HQ/1910, the
first page in Najafi’s book shows 1327 HQ/1909 as the date of its only issue. See Najafi,
Hawzih-yi Najaf, 136 and 829.
286 Notes to Pages 134–44

14. Al-i Mahbubah names Hussayn al-Sahhaf al-Najafi as al-Ghura’s editor, but on
the cover of the first and only issue, Aqa Muhammad al-Mahallati is the chief editor.
Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 828.
15. Muhammad Sadr-Hashimi, Tarikh-i Jara’id va Majallat-i Iran, 4 vols. (Isfahan:
Kamal Publishing, 1327–1331 HS/1948–1952), 1: 260.
16. Sadr-Hashimi, Tarikh-i Jara’id, 2: 283.
17. Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 134–35.
18. Ibid., 135.
19. [Verifying Khurasani’s earlier fatwa], Habl al-Matin, Dhul Qa’dah 5, 1326 HQ/
November 28, 1908, 6–7.
20. Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 135.
21. Ibid., 249.
22. Ibid., 250–53.
23. Ibid., 251–52.
24. Ibid., 256; the declaration is itroduced as “Layihih-yi Yiki Az Afazil-i ‘Uzzam.’”
25. Ibid., 256–60.
26. Ibid., 256–57.
27. Ibid.
28. Branding subjects as “infidels” (kafir) is a serious action that is not to be taken
lightly. The term can also be used to designate a foreigner or anyone who is not a Muslim.
29. Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 257.
30. Ibid., 260–61.
31. Ibid., 262–63.
32. Ibid., 263. Qur’an, 11:120, Wa kullan naqussu ‘laika min ‘anba’irrusul ma nut-
habbitu bihi fuwadaka wa ja’aka fi hazihill haqqu wa mau‘dhatun wa zikra lil mu’minin.
33. Nahnu naqussu ‘alaika ahsan al-qasasi bima auwhaina hadha al-Quran wa ‘in
kunta min qablihi lamin al-ghafilina, Qur’an, 12:3, as quoted in Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf,
34. Najafi, Hawzih-yi Najaf, 267. The article points to the constitutional government’s
responsibility with regard to the equal treatment of “all people residing in Iran” (majmu‘-i
sakanih-yi mamlikat). It does not, however, differentiate between the religious-minded
and poor and the European-educated and bourgeois, or Muslims and non-Muslims.
35. Ibid., 272.
36. Ibid., 273–79.
37. Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 186–87.
38. Arjomand, Turban for the Crown, 112. Black, History of Islamic Political Thought,
39. Mustafa Muhaqqiq-Damad, “Faqih-i Maktab-i Qum,” Khabarguzari Ayandih
Rushan, Khurdad 18, 1387 HS/June 7, 2008: a speech at the first-year anniversary of
Ayatullah Fazil Lankarani’s passing (
Notes to Pages 144–56 287

pf hklhlolnekonglicaphfgcabjbmbcbibbocnonebmnhnooedohbhcnlpekolgbjhbibaa
40. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 528–29.
41. Ibid., 528 n1. Abu ‘Amru Jamal al-Din ‘Uthman bin ‘Umar, known as al-Hajibi
(d. 1248), and Abu Mansur Jamal al-din Hassan bin Yusuf al-Hilli. Or as Khurasani puts
it, “Malakah yaqtadir biha ala istinbat al-hukm al-shar‘i al-far‘i min al-‘asl fi‘lan aw quw-
watan qaribatan.”
42. Ibid., 528.
43. Ali Muhammadi Khurasani, Sharh-i Kifayih, 5 vols., 3rd ed. (Qum: Qalam,
2004), 5: 355–56. The relationship between Ali Muhammadi Khurasani and our subject
Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani is unclear.
44. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 528. Khurasani, Sharh-i Kifayih, 356.
45. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 528.
46. Ibid., 528–29.
47. Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” 3–41.
48. Khurasani, Sharh-i Kifayih, 358–59; Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 529.
49. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Feqh.”
50. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 529.
51. Ibid.
52. Ibid., 529–30.
53. Halm, Shi‘a Islam, 30–31.
54. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 530.
55. Ibid., 530–31.
56. Murtiza Mutahhari, Usul-i Fiqh, 25th ed. (Qum: Sadra, 2002), 20–21.
57. Khurasani, Kifayat al-Usul, 531.
58. Ibid., 530–31.

8. Religious Justification and Khurasani’s Perception of Constitutionalism

1. Davud Firahi, “Mabani-yi Fiqhi-yi Mashrutih Khahi az Didgah-i Akhund

Khurasani,” in Barrisi-yi mabani-yi fikri va ijtimai-yi mashrutiyyat-i Iran: buzurgdasht-i
ayatullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (Tehran: University of Tehran Publishing, 1384
2. Firahi, Mabani-yi Fiqhi-yi, (accessed
August 28, 2009).
3. Gheissari, Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century, 11–12.
4. Habl al-Matin, August 7, 1902; as quoted in Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani,
159–60. The signatories are Ayatullahs Muhammad Kazim Khurasani, Muhammad
Sharabiani, Muhammad Hassan Mamaqani, and Hajj Mirza Khalil.
5. Ibid., 160.
288 Notes to Pages 156–63

6. Hallaq, “Was the Gate of Ijtihad Closed?” 3–4.

7. Habl al-Matin, August 7, 1902. Also in Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani,
8. “Objection to the Shah and the Crown Prince’s Negligence,” Habl al-Matin, July
27, 1903; also quoted in Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 157–59. Same signatories
as that of the August 7, 1902 letter: Khurasani, Sharabiani, Mamaqani, and Mirza Khalil.
The Imamate doctrine that was discussed in chapter 4 is central to this statement of
9. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 158.
10. Ibid.
11. Abdul-Riza Kifa’i, “Sharh va bayan-i,” 11.
12. There are several letters that he co-wrote to either Muzaffar al-Din Shah or
his Crown Prince Muhammad Ali Mirza that were printed in Habl al-Matin; one was
published on July 27, 1903. Quoted in Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 157–59, or
“Objection to the Shah and the Crown Prince’s Neligence,” Habl al-Matin, August 7,
1902. Also quoted in another letter that Khurasani references in his letter to Muzaffar al-
Din Shah (Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 159–60) that neither I nor Dr. Kadivar
could locate.
13. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 614–15.
14. Mujtaba Zadih-Muhammadi, Lumpanha dar ‘Asr-i Pahlavi (1304–1342), 2nd ed.
(Tehran: Nashr-i Markaz, 1389 HS/2010–2011), 62.
15. Ibid. Mentioning Jafar Mehdinia, Qatlha-yi siasi va tarikhi-yi si qarn-i Iran az
Kourosh ta Muhammad Riza Shah, 2nd ed. (Tehran: Nashr-i Pasargad, 1381 HS/2002–
2003), 19–22.
16. [A response in a fatwa from Khurasani and Mazandarani about Zanjani], Majlis,
17 Dhul-Qa‘dah 1327 HQ/November 30, 1909, 3.
17. For the formation of Shi‘ite political thought during Qajar rule in the 1800s to
the end of Nasir al-Din Shah’s reign in 1898, see Said Amir Arjomand, Shadow of God,
22–29, 232–33, 238–39, 245–49, or see Expectation of the Millennium: Shi‘ism in History,
ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, and Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1989), 194–210.
18. Akbar Thubut, Didgahha-yi Siasi Akhund Khurasani va Shagirdanash [typset
copy in author’s possession, no facts of publication available], 82; Thubut provides no
date for his letter.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid. “Ma la yadrak kulluhu la yatrak julluhu.”
21. Ibid., 82–83.
22. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 4.
23. Nikki R. Keddie, “Sayyid Jamal al-Din ‘al-Afghani,” in Pioneers of Islamic
Revival, ed. Ali Rahnama (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books, 1994), 11–29.
Notes to Pages 164–76 289

24. According to Aqa Shaykh Muhammad Ali Salim Allah, Isfahani’s son, his father
was born in Tehran to a family with a long tradition in Shi‘ite teaching. Responding to
Nazim al-Islam Kermani’s request for a biography of his father to be published in Tarikh-i
Bidari-yi Iranian, what we know of Va‘iz Isfahani is based on his son’s account. Shaykh
Va‘iz Isfahani received his immediate education in Tehran and studied fiqh and philoso-
phy for six years in Najaf. He was given the position of master preacher (va‘iz) for seven
years there and, after a short visit to Mashhad, he took up the same position in Isfahan for
nine years. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 240–48.
25. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 264.
26. Ibid.
27. For some detail account of Isfahani’s involvement refer to Kasravi, On Islam and
Shi‘ism, 56, 65, 68, 74, 88, 95, 104, 225.
28. Afary, Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 63–88.
29. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 264–66.
30. Ibid., 267.
31. Ibid. “Mashrutiyyat-i har mamlikat ‘ibarat az mahdud va mashrut budan-i ‘iradat-i
saltanat va davayir-i daulati ast bih ‘adam-i takhatti az hudud va qavanin-i mawdhu‘ih va
tibq-i madhhab-i rasmi-yi an mamlikat va taraf-i muqabil-i an kih istibdadiyyat-i dawlat ast.”
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. “The Letter Written by Ayatullah Khurasani Is Now Read Out Loud,” Majlis,
Muharram 4, 1328 HQ/January 17, 1910, 3.
35. Abbas Alhajiani, Majmu‘i-yi Risail-i Fiqhiyyih va Usuliyyih, Risalih-yi Shaykh
Ansari dar Bab-i Ijtihad va Taqlid (Qum: Maktab-i Mufid, 1404 HQ/1983), 70, as men-
tioned in Firahi, “Mabani-yi Fiqhi-yi,” 199.
36. Ibid.
37. Gheissari, Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century, 12.
38. Ibid., 10.

9. Ijtihad and Politics

1. Majlis, Rabi‘ al-Thani 21, 1325 HQ/June 3, 1907, 1 (Asas-i an ijra-yi ahkam-i shar‘
va sianat-i mazhab-i haqqi-yi ithna‘ashari va raf ’-i ta’addiyyat-i kha’inin va nashr-i adl-i
bayn al-‘ibad va mujibat-i quvvat va shawkat-i dawlat-i Islamiyyih dar qibal-i i‘adi-yi din ast).
2. Ibid.
3. Majlis, Dhul-Qa‘dah 25, 1325 HQ/December 30, 1907, 1. The published Grego-
rian date of (December 31) is incorrect. The correct conversion is December 30.
4. Ibid.
5. Majlis, Dhul-Hajjah 15, 1325 HQ/January 19, 1908, 1. The published Gregorian
date of January 20 is incorrect. The correct conversion is January 19.
290 Notes to Pages 176–84

6. Ibid.
7. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 616.
8. Majlis, Muharram 16, 1326 HQ/February 19, 1908, 4.
9. Majlis, Safar 22, 1326 HQ/March 25, 1908, 3.
10. Ibid.
11. Majlis, Dhul-Qa‘dah 26, 1327 HQ/December 9, 1909, 1.
12. Majlis, Rabi‘ al-Awwal 9, 1326 HQ/April 11, 1908, 4. The ulama eventually did
not support conscription and on three occasions resisted national military service: in
1927, 1928, and 1929; urban Iranians also showed their displeasure with conscription. See
Stephanie Cronin, “Conscription and Popular Resistance in Iran, 1925–1941,” Interna-
tional Review of Social History 43, no. 3 (1998): 451–71.
13. Edward G. Browne, “Maktub-i marhum Edward Browne bih marhum Akhund
Mullah Muhammad Kazim Khurasani va javab-i an,” Yadigar 1, no. 2 (Mihr 1326 HS/
September–October 1944): 46–50.
14. Ibid., 49.
15. Ibid., 51.
16. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 163–64. Habl al-Matin Safar 25, 1324 HQ/
April 20, 1906.
17. Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani,” 432.
18. Encyclopedia Iranica Online, s.v. “Akund Korasani,” http://www.iranicaonline
.org/articles/akund-molla-mohammad-kazem-korasani (accessed August 28, 2011), as
mentioned in S. J. Isfahani, Libas al-Taqwa (Shiraz: n.p., 1317HQ/1900–1901), 2–15.
19. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 164. The Persian response: “Bism allah
al-rahman al-rahim. Bay‘ va shira’ ba kuffar kih mujib-i taqwiyat-i kuffar ast va sabab-i
za‘f-i Muslimin, jayiz nist, va hamchinin sayir-i umur az mu‘ashirat bih [sic] ishan, wa
Allahu a‘lam.”
20. Muhammad Hussain Tabataba’i, Bahsi dar Barih-yi Marja’iyyat va Ruhaniyyat
(Tehran: Shirkat-i Sahami-yi Bita, n.d.), 83, as mentioned in Yahya Fuzi-Tuysirkani,
Mazhab va Mudernizacion dar Iran (Tehran: Markaz-i Asnad-i Inqilab-i Islami, 1380
HS/2001–2002), 110.
21. Murtiza Mutahhari, Islam va Muqtaziyyat-i Zaman (Qum: Sadra Publishing,
1370 HS/1991–1992), 1: 27, as quoted in Fuzi-Tuysirkani, Mazhab va Mudernizacion dar
Iran, 107.
22. Fuzi-Tuysirkani, Mazhab va Mudernizacion dar Iran, 109–10.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., 108.
25. Muhammad Rahmani, “Ahkam-i Hukumati va Naqsh-i Zaman va Makan,” Kun-
girih-yi Baynulmilali-yi Imam va Ihya’-i Tafakkur-i Dini (Conference Proceeding) (Teh-
ran: Muassihsiyi Tanzim va Nashri Athari Imam, 1376 HS/1997–1998), as mentioned in
ibid., 107–8.
Notes to Pages 186–95 291

26. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 164.

27. Anjuman-i Tabriz, Dhul-Hajjah 11, 1324 HQ/January 26, 1907. Also in Kadivar,
Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 165–66.
28. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 164.
29. Ibid., 165.
30. Muhammad Sadiq Hussayni-Tabataba’i, “Favaid-i Majlis,” Majlis, November 25,
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.

10. Shaykh Fazlullah versus Akhund Khurasani

1. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 172–73.

2. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 512.
3. Ibid.
4. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 165.
5. Ibid., 186.
6. Ibid. See also Vanessa A. Martin, “The Anti-Constitutionalist Arguments of
Shaikh Fazlallah Nuri,” Middle Eastern Studies 22, no. 2 (1986): 181.
7. Martin, “Anti-Constitutionalist Arguments,” 181.
8. Abdul-Hadi Ha’iri, “Shaykh Fazl Allah Nuri’s Refutation of the Idea of Con-
stitutionalism,” Middle Eastern Studies 13, no. 3 (1977): 328. There were others that
disagreed with a constitutional form of government and presented their argument in
writing, such as Shaykh Abdul-Nabi Nuri in Tadhkirah al-Ghafil wa Irshad al-Jahil and
Abul-Hassan Najafi Marandi in Barahin al-Furqan fi Butlan Qawanin Nawasikh Mah-
kamat al-Quran, which were both published after parliament was shut down in Decem-
ber 1911.
9. Martin, “Anti-Constitutionalist Arguments,” 181, mentioning M. Turkaman,
Shaikh-i Shahid Fazlallah Nuri (Tehran, 1362 HS/1983), 9–10.
10. Mansurih Ittihadiyyih and Said Ruhi, eds., Dar Mahzar-i Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri:
Asnad-i Huquqi-yi Ahd-i Nasiri, intro. Sayyid Ali Al-i Davud, 2 vols. (Tehran: Nashr-i
Tarikh-i Iran, 1385 HS/2006–2007), 1: 12.
11. Ibid. Dar Mahzar-i Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri is based on a recent discovery of
three notary books belonging to Nuri’s office that show 1,452 records of a variety of legal
transactions that he officiated, such as the sale, purchase, and rent of properties, as well
as marriage, divorce, power of attorney, and the designation of endowments. Recorded
from Rabi‘ al-Thani 1303 HQ/October 1885 until Rajab 1306 HQ/March 1889, some
of the original transactions that he notarized were dated from ten years before, which
292 Notes to Pages 195–203

demonstrates that not only did he oversee most of these transactions but he notarized
previous contracts as well.
12. Firidun Adamiyyat, Idiuluzhi-i Nihzat-i Mashrutiyyat-i Iran (Tehran: Intisharat
Payam, 1355 HS/1974–1975), 414.
13. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 256.
14. Ibid., 257.
15. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 172.
16. Ibid., 188. Martin argues that at the time of his death, Nuri was substantially
indebted to moneylenders as well as to the Imperial Bank of Persia.
17. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 415–16.
18. Martin, “Anti-Constitutionalist Arguments,” 182, mentioning British Foreign
Office dispatches: Spring Rice to Grey, No. 143, July 18, 1907, F.O. 416/34; Nos. 136 and
164, July 18, 1907, F.O. 800/70; No. 26051, July 19, 1907, F.O. 371/304.
19. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 165.
20. Ibid., 183.
21. Ha’iri, “Shaykh Fazl Allah Nuri’s Refutation,” 327–39.
22. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 409, 411.
23. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 179, translating Nuri’s statement about his griev-
ance about how secular law could affect divine law and the whole institution of shari‘a:
“If such a change would be from Islam to Islam it is conceivable. But it is an error (ghalat)
to make a law (which by its nature must be enforced) concerning an action which the
Founder of Islam has designated as permissible (mubah, i.e., that need not be obeyed or
enforced), and as a consequence to punish (a Muslim) for non-compliance with a law
which (according to the shari‘a) he need not obey.”
24. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 415–16.
25. Ibid., 416.
26. Ibid. See also Momen, “Baha’is and the Constitutional Revolution,” 344.
27. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 416.
28. Ibid.
29. Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani,” 438.
30. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 165.
31. Habl al-Matin, Dhul-Qa‘dah 26, 1325 HQ/January 1, 1908, no. 195, 1–2.
32. There was an attempt on Nuri’s life at a much later date on January 8, 1909;
Martin, Islam and Modernism, 171.
33. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 421.
34. Ibid.
35. Ibid., 430.
36. Ibid., 429. See also Martin, Islam and Modernism, 172.
37. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 431–32.
Notes to Pages 203–15 293

38. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 167.

39. Articles 27, 71, and 72 of the final draft to the constitution of 1906 specifically
allow the ulama to continue to perform their duties as mujtahids in the judiciary.
40. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 181.
41. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 416.
42. Kermani, Tarikh-i Bidari-yi Iranian, 257–58.
43. Ibid., 430–31.
44. Zadih-Muhammadi, Lumpanha dar ‘Asr-i Pahlavi, 63–64.
45. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 512.
46. Zadih-Muhammadi, Lumpanha dar ‘Asr-i Pahlavi, 64.
47. Ibid.

11. Fundamental Differences between Nuri and Khurasani

1. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 172.

2. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 433, Rajab 7, 1325 HQ/August 16, 1907.
3. Nikki R. Keddie, Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolutions (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2006), 181.
4. Habl al-Matin, Dhul-Qa‘dah 26, 1325 HQ/January 1, 1908, no. 195, 1–2.
5. Ibid.
6. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashrutih-yi Iran, 434.
7. Majlis, Dhul-Qa‘dah 25, 1325 HQ/December 30, 1907, 1. According to Kadivar,
Subh-i Sadiq, Anjuman-i Tabriz, and Khurshid-i Mashhad also printed this important
fatwa, which recognized Nuri as a seditious agent in the affairs of parliament. See Kadi-
var, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 178, n1.
8. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 178 n1.
9. Ibid., 176 n2.
10. Kasravi, Tarikhi Mashrutihyi Iran, 287.
11. Martin, Islam and Modernism, 167.
12. Ibid., quoting from Mirza Ali Khan Amin al-Daulih, Khatirat-i Siasi, ed. Hafiz
Farmanfarmaian (Tehran: n.p., 1962), 401.
13. Arjomand, Turban for the Crown, 52–53.
14. Hermann, “Akhund Khurasani,” 433.
15. Habl al-Matin, Dhul Qa‘dah 5, 1326 HQ/November 28, 1908, 6–7, 16, 18, as
mentioned in Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 303-5.
16. Ata Ahmadi, “Mu‘arrifi-yi Yik Sanad-i Tarikhi: Didgah-i Sahib-i Urwat al-Wuthqa
Raji’ Bih Mutammam-i Qanun-i Asasi-yi Mashrutih,” Ganjinih-yi Asnad: Faslnamih-yi
Tahqiqat-i Tarikhi 16, no. 62 (1385 HS/2006): pt. 2, 55. The final draft to the constitu-
tion was signed by Muhammad Ali Shah on Sha‘ban 29, 1325 HQ/October 7, 1907. It
294 Notes to Pages 216–23

contained 107 articles and had more articles than the original draft of the constitution (51
articles) that Muzaffar al-Din Shah had signed on Qul-Qadah 14, 1324 HQ/December
30, 1906, days before his death.
17. Ibid., 56.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid. See Appendix B for the entire Article 27.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 57. See Appendix C for both articles.
22. Daryabaygi, Hayat-i Siasi, 507–604.
23. Habl al-Matin, Jamadi al-Awla 2, 1321 HQ/July 27, 1903; also mentioned in Kadi-
var, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, 157–59.
24. Daryabaygi, Hayat-i Siasi, 539–41.
25. Ibid., 529–30.
26. Kadivar, Siyasat Namih-yi Khurasani, xviii.
27. Daryabayhi, Hayat-i Siasi, 529.
28. Ibid., 543.
29. Kasravi, Tarikh-i Mashturih-yi Iran, 416.
30. Daryabaygi, Hayat-i Siasi, 542.
31. Ibid., 542. “In Allah ujri al-umur ‘ala ma yaqtadhiyyah la ‘ala ma tartadhiyya.”
32. Ibid., 553–61.
33. Ibid., 556–57.

‘adalat-khanih: house of justice; an early reference to the parliament in Iran

adillah al-arba‘a: the Four Proofs; sources of Islamic law consisting of the
Quran, traditions (the Hadith of the Prophet and the twelve Imams), consen-
sus among expert opinion (ijma‘), and the application of the intellect (‘aql)
based on analogy and exigencies of time
akhbari: a follower of the akhbari school of jurisprudence
akhbarism: a school in Shi‘ite jurisprudence that excludes intellect from the
interpretation of shari‘a
akhund: a religious scholar, a cleric; also a gentleman-scholar
‘alamiyyat: the essence of being an expert in Islamic sciences
‘aqayid: beliefs (sing., ‘aqidah)
‘aql: intellect
‘alim: a learned individual
‘atabat al-‘aliyat: thresholds; a term used when referring to the Shi‘ite holy cities
of Najaf, Karbala, Samarra, and Kazimayn
‘ayal: family
ayatullah: the sign of God; a title given in Twelver Shi‘ism to a high-ranking
mujtahid, used at the beginning of the twentieth century
al-bara‘a: allowing the maximum possible freedom of action
bast: a sit-in or protest; taking sanctuary
bast-nishini: a sit-in or seeking sanctuary; silent protest usually at a holy site or a
government building
batin: the inner or esoteric meaning of the Qur’an as compared with its literal
and external sense (zahir)
296 Glossary

bay‘: purchase
dawlat: state; government
faqih: jurisprudent (pl., fuqaha)
fatwa: a religious decree issued by a mujtahid (pl., fatawi)
fiqh: Islamic applied law, jurisprudence
qadi: judge
qat‘: certainty; absolute
qiyas: juristic analogy
Hadith: stories and traditions associated with the Prophet Muhammad or the
twelve Imams
HQ (Hijri-Qamari): date of Islamic calendar based on lunar calculations
HS (Hijri-Shamsi): Islamic calendar based on solar calculations, used in Iran
and some countries under Iranian influence
hujjat al-Islam: proof of God; a title given to a midranking Shi‘ite seminary
‘ibadat: acts of worship, as stipulated in the Qur’an
‘idalat: justice
ihtiyat: cautious act whenever in doubt
ijma‘: consensus of the majority expert opinion on matters relating to the applica-
tion of Islamic law
ijtihad: independent judgment on shari‘a-related questions based on the faculty
of intellect and exigencies of time
imam: refers to prayer leader; in the Shi‘ite tradition imam refers to the lineal
descendants of Ali and Fatima
Imamate: the office of the imam, in which all the religious and political affairs
of the Shi‘ite community is directed; the authority of the religious leader as
the twelfth Imam’s deputy (after the occultation) is contained in this system
infitah al-bab al-ijtihad: permissibility of ijtihad (lit., the constant openness of
the gate of ijtihad)
infitahi mujtahid: a jurist who believes the gate of ijtihad remains open; a jurist
who considers contemporary knowledge as a possible source to form an inde-
pendent opinion
Glossary 297

inqilab: revolution
inqilab-i mashrutih: the Constitutional Revolution
insidad al-bab al-ijtihad: impermissibility of ijtihad (lit., the state of closure of
the gate of ijtihad)
istibdad: despotism; arbitrary rule
istihsan: to consider something good; an Islamic legal term whereby a legal deci-
sion is made on the basis of the virtues of the acts
istinbat: inference as a methodological principle in fiqh
kasb: business
khushk mazhab: a strictly observant religious individual who follows all religious
edicts without questioning their merits, even when they are irrational
Kifayat al-Usul: Sufficiency of Principles, the title of Khurasani’s magnum opus,
which is still considered a standard text on usuli jurisprudence
kuffar: lit., “infidel,” but it also refers to non-Muslim foreigners (sing., kafir)
al-Mahdi: the Rightly Guided; title given to the twelfth Imam, who, according
to Twelver Shi‘ite beliefs, disappeared by divine intervention in 329 HQ/941
and will return before the end of time
Majlis: parliament; representational consultative assembly; the name of the Ira-
nian parliament’s official periodic bulletin
mall: wealth
mamalik-i mahrusih: the protected domains or the protected realm
mamlikat: nation; state
marja‘: source (usually referring to marja‘-i taqlid)
marja‘-i taqlid: source of emulation in Twelver Shi‘ism
marja‘iyyat: the essence of being a source of emulation
mashru‘: what shari‘a allows
mashru‘ih: a system that is based on shari‘a and set by clerics (as opposed to
mashrut: a system that is based on conditions set by the constitution
mashrutih: conditional, referring to conditions on the shah’s rule and govern-
ment set by the Iranian constitution
298 Glossary

mashrutiyyat: constitutionalism
maslahat: expediency
millat: people; the nation
mu‘amilat: transactions, as stipulated in the Qur’an
mufti: a Sunni jurist or religious leader of a major city
muqallid: someone who emulates a marja‘ on shari‘a-related questions
mujtahid: someone qualified to practice ijtihad
mulk: land, country
Mullah-Bashi: an official office of the Shi‘ite clerics during the Safavid dynasty
munawwar al-afkar: intellectuals
mutlaq: absolute
mutlaqiyyat: absolutism
nafs: essence; spirit
namus: nomos in the original Greek, which in legal terminology denotes Islamic
law (namus-i Islam); it is also a term given to female members of one’s family,
and at times is applied to the nation, in that it should be protected at all costs
shakk: doubt
shari‘a: divine law; the way of a Muslim
shaykh: a learned man in religious sciences
sutuh: basics in religious education (the first four years in a seminary)
ta‘arud: conflicting possibility
tab‘: spirit; nature
tafsir: interpretation; exegesis
tajaddud: reform or modernity; modern viewpoint
tajaddud-gara: one who leans toward newer solutions and reforms
talabah: a seminary student (pl., tullab)
taqlid: emulation
‘ugala: secular modern intellectuals or politicians; so-called by clerics during the
Constitutional Revolution
Glossary 299

ulama: clerics of mostly higher ranks (sing., ‘alim)

‘ulum-i ‘aqli: rational sciences, philosophy, logic, legal methodology
‘umur: affairs
‘umur-i ‘ammih: public/people’s affairs
‘umur-i daulati: state’s affairs
‘urf: customs
usul: principle
usul al-‘amaliyyah: procedural or practical principles
usul al-fiqh: principles of jurisprudence
usuli: a follower of the usuli school of jurisprudence
usuli fiqh: jurisprudence that is based on the rationalist school of ijtihad
usulism: a school in Shi‘ite jurisprudence that includes the intellect as a source
of shari‘a
vali: guardian
vali-yi faqih: the jurisconsult who leads the office of vilayat-i faqih
vikalat: representation in a secular sense (as in a representative system of
vilayat: guardianship (as in a representative system in which Shi‘ites give up all
powers of decision making to one high-ranking cleric)
vilayat-i faqih: guardianship of jurisconsult
yaqin: certainty
zann: conjecture

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Abbas, Shah, I (Safavid), 99 ‘Ain al-Daulih (Abdul-Majid), 68, 194

Abbas, Shah, II (Safavid), 99 akhbari, 100–104, 146–48, 229, 295
Abbas Mirza, Crown Prince, xv, xvi, akhbarism, 6, 102, 214, 229, 295
2, 26, 140–41, 225, 228, 262n23, Akhbari-Usuli debate, 100–101, 103–6
263n31, 280n59, 304–6; death, 34; akhir al-zaman, 79, 88
modernizing the army (nizam-i Akhundzadih, Mirza Fath Ali, 55
jadid), 27, 44; and relations with ‘Alawi (school at Najaf), 126
ulama, 27–28; saving a Jewish life, ‘Amili, Sayyid Muhsin Amin, 128, 301
28; translation of foreign books, 26 Amir Kabir, Miza Taqi Khan, xvi, 2,
Abdul-‘Azim, Shah, xx, 65, 68, 196–97, 40–43, 45, 51, 225, 305
202, 207, 209–10 al-‘Amri, Abu Amr ‘Uthman Ibn Sa‘id,
Abu Dharr, 95, 277n4 88, 272n31
activist marja‘, 92 al-‘Amri, Abu Ja‘far Muhammad Ibn
acts of worship. See ‘ibadat ‘Uthman Ibn Sa‘id, 88
‘Adalat Khanih (House of Justice), xix, Anglican Church, 31
295 Anglo-Persian Oil Company, xxi
Adamiyyat, Firidun (Amir Kabir va Anglo-Persian War, xvi, 42
iran), 51–52, 265n17, 266n50 Anjuman-i Adamiyyat, 266n50
adillah al-arba‘a, 145, 147, 149, 295 Anjuman-i Ayalati-yi Tabriz, 127, 186,
Afghan, Abdali, 21 293n7, 302
Afghan forces, 20 Anjuman-i Bushehr, 127
Afghani. See Asadabadi, Sayyid Jamal Anjuman-i Fatimiyyhi-yi Gilan, 127
al-Din (Afghani) Anjuman-i Musawat-i Iranian, 126
Afghanistan, xvi, 25, 35, 42, 43, 119 Anjuman-i Sa‘adat-i Istanbul, 127
Afsharid dynasty, xv, 23, 56, 228; and Anjuman-i Ukhuvvat-i Iranian, 126
India, 19; threat to Shi‘ism, 100 al-Ansari, Abu Yusuf (Kitab al-Kharaj),
Afshar tribe, 21 85, 274n58, 301
Ahmad Shah (Qajar), 8, 66 Ansari, Shaykh Murtiza (al-Risa’il, and
Ahsa’i, Shaykh Ahmad, 23–24, 36; and al-Makasib), xv, xvii, 6, 115, 120–21,
Shaykhism, 23–24, 34 128–30, 142, 152, 160, 282n11–12
320 Index

Aqazadih Najafi, Mirza Muhammad, bast-nishini (bast), xix, 68, 196–97, 210,
127 295
‘aql, 6, 102, 147, 295 Belgium, xix, 66, 69–70, 201, 269n43,
Arabic, 16, 76, 78 270n60
al-‘Araqayn Abdul-Hussayn bin Ali, Bihbahani, Aqa Ahmad (Mir‘at al-Ahwal
Shaykh, 129 Jahan Nama), 30
Ardishir, 73, 75 Bihbahani, Ayatullah Sayyid Abdullah ,
Ardishir Papagan. See Ardishir 159, 180, 240
Armenia, 10, 23, 25, 59, 68, 76 Bihbahani, Muhammad Baqir (Risalah
Asadabadi, Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Ijtihad wa al-Akhbar), 104, 278n31
(Afghani), xvi, 38, 106, 163, 264n5, Bihbahani, Vahid, 129
288n23, 313; and tobacco concession, Browne, Edward G. (The Persian
113 Revolution), xxii, 12, 112, 179–81,
al-‘Askari, Hassan (al-‘Asgari; eleventh 260n19, 269n46, 281n69, 285n4,
Shi‘ite Imam), 79, 88, 121 290n13, 309
Astarabad, 21 Bujnurdi, Sayyid Muhammad Musavi,
‘atabat al-‘aliyat (‘atabat), 78, 108–11, 125, 283n41
115, 155, 176, 281n70, 295 Bulgaria, 69–70, 201, 269n43
Ayatullahzadeh Khurasani, Mirza Burujirdi, Sayyid Hussayn Tabataba’i,
Mahdi, 127 93, 128, 237
azadari, 82 Bushehr, 35, 59, 261n24
Azerbaijan, xxii, 21–22, 25–26, 28, 65, Buyids (Buwayhids), 80–81, 273n39

Cairo, 108, 260n22

Bab, the, 36–37; execution, 38 Calcutta, xviii, 12, 132, 260n24
Babis, 37, 198, 204 Caspian Sea, 25, 58–59, 273n39
Babism, 36 Catholic establishment, 33
Babuwayh, Muhammad Ibn (Ma‘ani Central Asia, 10
al-Akhbar), 89, 275n81, 303 Chaharbagh, Madrisih-yi, 99
Baha’i, Shaykh, 144 chief mujtahid (Mujtahid of the Age),
Baha’i faith, 198 91, 98
Baha’ism, 38, 198 China, 10, 280n53
Baha’ullah, Mirza Hussayn Ali Nuri, 38 Christians, 127; viewed as Western
Bakhtiari(s), xx, 20–21 agents, 42, 161, 211
Bakui, Hajji Zayn al-Abidin Taqioff, commemorative mourning. See azadari
132 Common Law, English, 31–32, 64, 201
Ballaghi, Shaykh Muhammad Jawad, concessions, xvii, xviii, 45–48, 53, 58,
128 61–62, 65, 109–13, 120, 265n33,
Baluchistan, 24 281n70
Index 321

confusion, period of. See hayra Fiqh, 278n27

consensus. See ijma‘ Four Proofs, in usuli jurisprudence. See
constitution, xviii, xix, xx, 3, 53–54, adillah al-arba‘a
64–66, 69–70, 78, 83, 133–34, France, 24, 32–33
137–41, 143, 152, 162, 168, 194, 196, Franz Joseph, I (Austro-Hungarian
198, 201, 203–4, 213–15, 223, 233–34, emperor), 39
253, 255, 269n43, 270n60, 284n41, French Revolution, 32–33
293n39, 294n16, 297
constitutionalism. See mashrutiyyat
Copenhagen, 39 Georgia, 22–23, 25
customary law. See ‘urf Gharavi, Mirza Muhammad Hussayn
Na’ini (Tanbih al-Ummah va Tanzih
al-Millah), xxi, 8, 51, 183, 306, 183
Damascus, 108, 221 ghaybah, 79
democracy, 7, 9 ghaybat al-kubra, 88
Denkard, 74 ghaybat al-sughra, 88
denying unity of God. See shirk al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid (Nasihat al-
Develu (Davallu), 21 Muluk), 85–86, 274n60, 301
Dickens, Charles, 40 al-Ghura, xvi, 12, 131–32, 134, 135–37,
diyar-i farang (foreign lands), 29 139, 141, 164, 260n22, 285n11,
doctors, Arab, 99 286n14, 302
Durrat al-Najaf, 12, 55, 131–32, 135, Gilan (Gilani), xx, 21–22
260n22, 302 gnosis. See ‘irfan
God’s successor. See Khalifat Allah
Great Britain, 24, 30, 40, 58
Egypt, 24, 38, 57, 67, 111 Greater Occultation. See ghaybat
emulation (imitation). See taqlid al-kubra
emulator (imitator). See muqallid Great Game, 25
end of time. See akhir al-zaman Green Movement. See junbish-i sabz
expediency. See maslahat guardian. See vali
guardianship. See vilayat
faqih, 5, 83–84, 123, 220, 296 guardianship of jurisconsult. See vilayat-
Fars, 21–22; coast, 35, 259n15 i faqih
Fath Ali Shah (Qajar), xv, xvi, 23, 29, 30, Gulistan, Treaty of, xvi, 25
34–35, 63, 193, 201, 223, 225, 228,
262n17; and foreign powers, 25–26;
pre-Islamic Iran, 33; and religion, 24; Habl al-Matin, xviii, xix, xx, xxi, 4, 132,
and Shahanshahnamih, 33 135, 168, 171, 209–11, 214, 260n24,
Fatimah, 77, 148 282n18, 302
Ferdowsi, 34 al-Hadi, Ali (tenth Shi‘ite Imam), 121
322 Index

Hadith, 6, 12, 73, 90, 103–4; of Shi‘ite Ibn Khaldun, 85

Imams, 12, 101, 145–46, 183, 186, Ibn Musa al-Riza, Ali (eighth Shi‘ite
231, 276n92, 280n67, 295 Imam), 60, 119
Ha’iri, Abdul-Hadi (Shi‘ism and Consti- Ibn Taymiyya, Taqi al-Din Ahmad bin
tutionalism in Iran), 10 Abdul-Halim (al-Siyasah shar‘iyya
Ha’iri, Abdul-Hussayn, 124 fi islah al-ra’i wa al-ra‘ya), 85, 87,
al-Ha’iri, Shaykh Ali bin Fadhl Allah 274n70, 275n71
Mazandarani (Hashiyyah ‘Ala al- ijma‘, 6, 102, 145–47, 150, 175, 233, 295,
‘Anab al-Linnah fi Qa‘ida al-Gharar 296
fi al-Bay‘ auw Ghyru), 130 ijtihad, 5–6, 11, 15, 72, 86, 90–91,
al-Hajibi, 144–45, 287n41 93–94, 96, 102–5, 121, 141–53, 156,
Hajj Sayyah, 38–39, 50, 53 163, 173, 197, 200, 205, 213, 224,
Hakim, Sayyid Muhsin, 125, 130 228–30, 233, 235, 275n82, 276n90,
al-Hanafiyya, Muhammad bin, 94 283n26, 296–99
Hanifah, Abu, 123 Ilkhanid, Mongol, 81
hayra, 79, 272n31 Imamate. See imamiyyah
Herat, xvi, 25, 35, 42, 119 imamiyyah, 72, 76, 79–81, 84, 86–87,
herbed, 75 93–94, 96, 99, 112, 140, 288n8, 296
Hermann, Denis, 10, 257n11, 311 imitator. See muqallid
Hijaz, 76 independent reasoning. See ijtihad
hijra, 76 India, xv, xvi, xvii, 19, 21, 23–25, 29–30,
al-Hilli, ‘Allamah, 128, 144–45, 284n50, 38, 43, 46, 57–58, 100, 111
287n41 India Office Records, 268n11
Hugo, Victor, 40; Les Misérables, 40 Industrial Revolution, 40, 226
human intellect. See ‘aql infitah al-bab al-ijtihad, 104, 150, 200,
Hussayn, Shah Sultan, 99 296
Hussayni school of Karbala, 126 inqilab-i mashrutih, 7–8, 135, 297
Hussayn Khan, Mirza (Qajar premier). insidad al-bab al-ijtihad, 146, 276n92,
See Mushir al-Daulih 297
intellectuals, 2, 6, 47–48, 49–55, 67, 143,
152, 156, 170, 181, 185, 187, 226, 298
‘ibadat, 90, 296 Iran, Islamic Republic of, 8, 110, 129,
Ibn Abi Talib, Ali (first Shi‘ite Imam), 259n15, 284n41; and global economy,
222 57; infrastructure, 57–62; and Persian
Ibn Ali, Hassan (second Shi‘ite Imam), Gulf, 35, 58–59
78, 221 Iran-Iraq War, 9, 110
Ibn Ali, Hussayn (third Shi‘ite Imam), Iraq, xvii, xxv, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, 23, 44,
77–78, 80, 109, 209 48, 59, 61, 76, 78, 81, 93, 95, 100–101,
Ibn Jama‘a, 85 107–10, 115, 120, 122–23, 126, 128,
Index 323

129, 131–32, 147, 161, 176, 221, 228, Kashan, 22, 119
232, 235, 239, 243, 259n15, 260n22, Kashif al-Ghita, Shaykh Muhammad
262n17, 273n39, 280n53, 284n1 Hussayn, 128, 282n11
Iraqi, Aqa Zia’ al-Din, 128 Kasravi, Ahmad (Tarikhi Mashruti-yi
‘irfan, 105 Iran), 234, 259n16, 270n1, 280n62,
Isfahan, xv, xix, xx, xxi, 20–22, 58, 99, 288n13, 289n27, 290n7, 291n2,
111, 122, 181, 191, 273n39, 281n70, 292–94, 304, 312
289n24; and Bakhtiari rule, 21; Kazimi, Muhammad Mahdi, 129
center of Shi‘ite education, 99; seize Kerdir, 74–75, 271n14
by Afghans, 20 Kerman, 22, 68, 195, 273n39
Isfahani, Aqa Sayyid Abdul-Hassan, 128 Kermani, Karim Khan, 34
Isfahani, Ayatullah Shari‘at, 125 Kermani, Nazim al-Islam (Tarikh-i
Isfahani, Muhammad Ibrahim bin Bidari-yi Iranian), 12, 195, 204,
Muhammad Hassan Kalbasi, 129 259n16
al-Islam, Shaykh, 82, 123 Kermanshah, 66
Islamic Revolution (1979), 8, 9 Khalifat Allah (God’s Successor), 84–85
Istanbul, xx, xxii, 39, 44, 65, 108, 161; Khan, Aqa Muhammad (Qajar), xv, 19,
grand Mufti of, 123 25, 33, 63, 185; captivity, 21–22; and
istibdad, 3, 297 ruling over Khurasan, Baluchistan,
Istibdad-i Saghir, xx, xxi, 131, 169; autoc- Luristan, Georgia, and Armenia, 24;
racy change, 180, 234, 304 and Shi‘ite establishment, 23
Khan, Mirza Malkam (Qanun), 6, 7, 44,
52, 53, 55, 113
Jerusalem, 77 Khatun-abadi, Sayyid Abdul Hussayn
Jesus, 36, 80 (Waqayi’ al-sinin wa al-ayyam),
Jews, viewed as western agents, 211 98–99
Jilvih, Mirza Abdul-Hassan, xvii, 120 Khu’ayni, Shaykh Abdul-Karim, 125
Julfa, 59 Khuda-bandih (God’s servant), 81
junbish-i sabz, 9 Khu’i, Mullah Hussayn, xvii, 120
jurisprudence. See Fiqh Khumayni, Ayatullah Ruhullah
jurisprudent. See faqih (Hukumat-i Islami), 8, 11, 83, 125,
128, 275n82, 282n3, 284n41; closest
associate of, 125; condemnation of
Kadivar, Muhsin (Siyasat Namih-yi monarchy, 177; supreme leader, 11;
Khurasani), 11, 13, 128–29, 212, as vali, 83
259n15 khums, 60, 218, 272n31
kaghaz-i akhbar, xvi, 32 Khunsari, Sayyid Muhammad Taqi,
kalam, 89 128
Karaki, Shaykh Ali, 81 Khurasan, 20–22, 119, 129
324 Index

Khurasani, Akhund Mullah Muham- Locke, John, 6

mad Kazim, 1; and Akhbaris, 147–48; London, xxi, 12, 32, 39, 63
Arabic works about, 10; bazaaris London School of Economics, 266n50
ask, 181; children, 121; description Lord Mayor, 32
of mashrutiyyat, 166; establishing Louis XVI, 32
Persian schools (Madrisat al-Wusta Lur, 21
al-Akhund, Madrisih-yi Buzurg-i Luristan, 21, 24
Akhund, Madrisih-yi Khuchak-i lutis, 42, 65, 175, 205
Akhund), 126; ijtihad and politics,
147; instruction to Va‘iz Isfahani and
description of constitutionalism, 164; magi, 74
jihad against Russia, 5; and juris- Mahallat, 39
prudential writings, 128–30; Kifayat Mahallati, Muhammad Ali Ibn Muham-
al-Usul, 5, 12, 143–51; in Majlis, 12; mad Riza (Safar Namih-yi Hajj
and marja‘iyyat, fatwa on Nuri, 212; Sayyah). See Hajj Sayyah
marriages, 121; and secular think- al-Mahdi, Muhammad (twelfth Shi‘ite
ing, 171; as spiritual leader of Ja‘fari Imam), 37, 77–80, 136, 222, 297
Muslims, 180; support for monarchy, mahkamih-yi shar‘, 30–32
157; and Taqizadih, 179–80; usage Majlis (newspaper), 1
of religious terms, 156; usage of sec- Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir (Bahar al-
ondary factual provisions, 184; and Anwar), 82, 99, 273n40, 277n16, 305
views on Islamic values, 167; views Majlis-i Shura-yi Milli, xix, 1, 208, 216;
on local economy, 181–83; views on appreciating Khurasani’s support,
monarchical government, 158; and 179; approval of Khurasani, 176;
Zoroastrians, 127 being bombarded, 177; and conscrip-
Khusru, Nasir, 96 tion, 178
Kifa’i, Hajj Hussayn Aqa, 121, 127 Makki, Shams al-Din Muhammad, 96
Kifa’i, Hassan, 127 Malik al-Tujjar, 57
Kifa’i Khurasani, Mirza Ahmad, 127 mamalik-i mahrusih, 3, 6, 297
Kitabchih, 69 Mamaqani, Hassan, xviii, 115, 287n4,
Kufa, 76 288n8
al-Kulayni, Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Ma’mun (caliph), 73
Ya‘qub (al-Usul al-Kafi), 83, 89, 93, marja‘-i taqlid (marja‘), 4, 6, 80, 92, 94,
101, 275n73, 277n16, 305 103, 109, 109, 111–13, 115, 123, 129,
141, 146–47, 149–51, 153–55, 169,
178, 183, 191, 203, 212, 229, 230, 234,
lamentation mourning. See azadari 281n67, 297–98
Lesser Despotism. See Istibdad-i Saghir Marwan, Abdul-Malik bin, 85
Lesser Occultation. See ghaybat mashrutiyyat, xix, xxi, 2, 4, 7, 8, 11–12,
al-sughra 40, 87, 131–34, 137–38, 142, 152, 160,
Index 325

164, 166–67, 173, 177–80, 191–92, Muhammad Ali, Mirza, xix, 155, 177,
194, 197–98, 200, 203, 205–6, 208, 233, 288n12; Shah, xx, xxi, xxii, 160,
211–13, 218–19, 227–28, 230, 232–34, 169, 177–78, 180, 213, 215, 219, 223,
298 225, 253, 255, 260n24, 293n12
mashvirat khanih, 32 Muhammad Shah (Qajar), xvi, 34–35, 57
maslahat, 15, 87, 94, 103, 112, 183, 186, Muhaqqiq-Damad, Sayyid Mustafa,
234, 234, 280n67, 298 144, 286n39, 306
al-Mas‘udi, Ali Ibn Hussayn Ibn Ali, 73 mujtahid(s), xx, xxi, 28, 83, 91–92, 98,
al-Mawardi, Abu al-Hassan (al-Ahkam 102–4, 123, 137, 141, 144–50, 153–54,
al-Sultaniyya wa al-Wilayat al-Dini- 160, 164, 175, 183, 191–92, 194–95,
yya), 84, 86, 274n65, 301 197, 199–201, 203, 205, 207–8,
Mazandaran, 21–22, 210; Nur, 195 211–16, 218, 223, 228, 233, 268n29,
Mazandarani, Abdul-Rasul, 120 277n16, 295–96, 298
Mazandarani, Shaykh Abdullah, 13, 51, Mullah-Bashi, 97–99, 298
120, 130, 211, 233, 239, 243, 282n11, Mullah Sadra, 105–6, 228, 278n28
288n16, 160 munkirat, 139
Midhat Pasha, 44 muqallid, 83, 298
Mishkini, Abdul-Hassan, 128 Murata, S, 10
modern army (nizam-i jadid), 3, 26–27, Mushir al-Daulih, xvii, 41, 44–46, 48,
141, 217 50–51, 55, 62, 265n28
modernization, xvi, xviii, 2–3, 23, 26–29, mustaufi al-mamalik, 35
31, 35, 37–38, 40–41, 44–45, 47–50, Mutammam-i Qanun-i Asasi, 194, 215
52, 55, 59, 67–68, 71, 113, 154–56, Muzaffar al-Din Shah (Qajar), xviii, xix,
185, 199, 210, 223, 225, 227, 285n3 2, 65–66, 68–69, 157–58, 218–19,
mog, 75–76 253, 255, 282n18, 288n12, 294n16
mogbed, 75
Mongol, 19, 50–51, 81, 87
Moscow, 39 Nadir Shah, 21, 23, 100, 228
Moses, 36 Najaf (newspaper), 12, 55, 131, 133–34
mow, 75 302
Muassisih-yi Mutali‘at-i Tarikh-i Najaf, city, xvii, xx, xxi, 2, 5–6, 12, 47,
Mu‘asir-i Iran, 212 126, 131, 78, 108–10, 115, 119–28,
Mu‘awiyah, 77 132–35, 138–40, 153, 158, 164–65,
Muayyir al-mamalik, 35 170–71, 173–76, 179, 183, 192, 195,
Mudarris, Sayyid Hassan, 128 200, 202–3, 211–13, 214, 218, 233–34,
Mudarrisi, Murtiza, 123, 283n33, 305 260n22, 262n17, 273n47, 280n54,
Mudarrisi, Sayyid Salih, 129 283n41, 284n1, 295
Mufid, Shaykh, 83 Najaf School of Fiqh, 144
Muhammad, the Prophet, 36, 85–86, al-Najafi, Hussayn al-Sahhaf (editor of
103, 140, 148, 168, 295–96 al-Ghura), 134, 286
326 Index

Najmabadi, Shaykh Hadi (Tahrir al- openness of the gate of ijtihad. See
‘uqala), 12, 50–51, 104–7, 260n20, infitah al-bab al-ijtihad
279n37, 306 Oxford University, 10
Nakhjivan, 25
Naqsh-i Rustam, 75
Naraqi, Mullah Ahmad, 83, 263n31, Pahlavi, language of, 76
273n51, 282n11 Pahlavi dynasty, 97, 128, 177
Nasir al-Din Shah (Qajar), xvi, xvii, Pan-Islamism, 38, 163
xviii, 37–38, 40–45, 47–48, 53, Paris, 11, 39, 44
58, 64–65, 106, 109–10, 113–14, Paris, Treaty of, xvi, 43
225; assassination attempt, 38; and Parliament, British, 32
reform, 43–46 Peacock Throne, 37, 65
Nasir al-Mulk, Abulqasim Khan, 8, 168 People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), 127
National Consultative Assembly (parlia- Persian poetry, 10, 126
ment). See Majlis-i Shura-yi Milli peshag, 75
Native Americans, 40, 226 pilgrimage to holy sites. See ziarat
Naus, Joseph, 66 Protestantism, 54
Nawbakhti, Abu al-Qasim al-Hussayn
Ibn Ruh, 88
Nizam-namih, 69 Qajar, xv, xvi, xvii, 4, 20–26, 30–31,
Nizam-namih-yi Asasi, 69 34, 38–42, 44, 50, 55–57, 62, 65,
Nur, xvi, 195, 210–11 72, 82–83, 103, 110, 138, 140, 154,
Nuri, Mirza Aqa Khan, premier, 42–43 157, 166, 173, 185, 195, 202–3, 213,
Nuri, Shaykh Fazlullah, 7; and Akh- 222–23, 225, 233, 273n47, 288n17
barism, 214; and Bast of 1907, 196; Qanun-i Asasi, 2–3, 64, 134. See also
and Islamic assembly, 213; lavayih Kitabchih; Nizam-namih; Nizam-
of, 12; life, 195; mentioned in namih-yi Asasi
Habl al-Matin, 210–11; objection Qashqai, 21
to Khurasani, 202–3; reasons for Quchani, Aqa Najafi (Sayyid Muham-
objecting to constitutionalism, 197; mad Hassan), 122
Ruznamih-yi Shaykh Fazlullah, 197; quietist marja‘, 92
support for constitutionalism, 194; Qumi, Hussayn, 128
and view of constitutionalists, 211 Quran, 12, 62, 145; al-Nisa’, 86; al-Hud,
nuwwab al-khass, 88 140; al-Yusuf, 140
Quyunlu (Qavanlu), 20–21

occultation, doctrine of. See ghaybah

Oghuz, 20 al-Rashid, Harun (caliph), 85
Oljeitu, 81 Rasht, xx, xxi, 12, 260n24
Index 327

Rashti, Sayyid Kazim, 23, 34, 36 Sasanian empire, 14, 71–76, 81, 93, 227
Rashti, Shaykh Ismail, 127 Sattar Khan, xx, 234
rawza-khani, 200 Sayyid Akbar Shah, 214
al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din, 85 secular education, 3, 30, 41, 49, 216
reform(s), xviii, 2–3, 5, 7, 14, 23, 26–30, Seljuqs, 19
34–35, 38, 40–42, 44–45, 53–55, seminary students, 68, 120, 126, 235;
57, 67–68, 70–71, 103, 132–34, 141, Kashmiri, 109; Tibetan, 109. See also
154–56, 158, 163, 170, 186, 199–201, tullab
204, 208–9, 223, 225–28, 230, Shahabadi, Aqa Shaykh Muhammad
265n16, 266n50, 285n3, 298 Ali, 128
religious law. See shari‘a Shahnamih, 34
Reuter, Julius, xvii, 46, 58, 265n33 shahrab, 75
Riza Quli Mirza, 30–31, 39–40, 50, 201 Shapur I, 75; inscription, 271n14
Rome, 39 Sharabyani, Mullah Muhammad Fadhl
Russia, xix, xxi, xxii, 24–26, 29, 34, Ali Fadhil, xviii, 115, 129
45–46, 53, 58–59, 60, 63, 67, 183, 201 shari‘a, 3, 6, 15–16, 30–31, 42, 51, 62,
Russian Cossack Brigade, xx, 1, 45, 132, 64, 80, 83, 86, 90–91, 98, 100, 102,
169 104, 125, 132, 145, 148, 151, 157,
163, 168, 174, 177, 183, 186, 191–92,
194, 196–202, 204, 207–8, 212–23,
Saba, Fath Ali Khan, 33–34 227–33, 277n14, 292n23, 295–99
Sabzivar, xvii, 120 al-Shari‘a al-Mirza Fath Allah bin
Sabzivari, Hajj Mullah Hadi, xvii, 120, Muhammad Jawad, Shaykh, 130
130 shari‘a court judge, 28
al-Sadiq, Ja‘far (sixth Shi‘ite Imam), shari‘a courts, 28, 30, 217
78–79 Shi‘ites of Lebanon, 96; Biqa Valley, 96;
Sadr al-Mutiallihin, Ayatullah, 130 origins, 95; and Ottoman persecu-
Sadr-i Azam, Mirza Ali Asghar Khan-i tion, 96–97
Atabak, 135 Shiraz, xv, 22, 36, 68, 111
Safavid, xv, 14, 19–24, 35, 50, 56, 65, Shirazi, Mirza Ali Muhammad, 36
72, 80–82, 94–97, 99–101, 185, 225, Shirazi, Mirza Hassan, xvii, 47, 109, 111,
227–28, 273n44 115, 120; move to Samarra, 121
Sahib Jawahir, Shaykh Muhammad Shirazi, Mirza Salih (Safar Namih-yi
Hassan Najafi, 129 Mirza Salih-i Shirazi), 32
Salim Allah, Aqa Shaykh Muhammad Shirazi, Muhammad Hassan, 129
Ali, 165, 289n24 Shirazi, Sadr al-Din. See Mullah Sadra
al-Saltanih, Sa‘d, 160 shirk, 106
al-Samarri, Abu al-Hassan Ali Ibn Shumurt, gang, 214
Muhammad, 88 shura, 76
328 Index

Shushtari, Abdul-Latif Musavi (Tuhfat taqlid, 92, 101, 105, 153, 298
al-‘Alam), 30, 39 taqut, 89
Shushtari, Shaykh Ja‘far, 129 Tehran, xvii, xix, xx, xxi, 12, 16, 20, 22,
Source of Emulation. See marja‘-i taqlid 24, 39, 58–59, 65, 68, 70, 106, 110–
(marja‘) 11, 120, 124, 127, 129, 159, 164–65,
specified agents of the twelfth Imam. 174–75, 180–81, 194–97, 202–3,
See nuwwab al-khass 205, 212–13, 233, 262n17, 289n24
supreme leader (guardian jurisconsult). Tehrani, Shaykh Aqa Buzurg “Sahib
See vali-yi faqih Zari‘ah” (Nuqaba’ al-Bashar fi
sutuh, 119 al-Qarn al-Rabi‘ ‘Ashar), 218, 221,
Syria (Greater), 24, 96 237
Tehrani, Shaykh Muhammad Hussayn
(Mirza Khalil), 13, 51, 115, 211, 218,
Tabaristan, 273n39 233, 237, 243, 287n4, 288n8
Tabataba’i, Muhammad Sadiq Hus- Tehran University, Faculty of Law, 10
sayni, 186 telegraph system, xvii, 4, 43, 52–53, 59,
Tabataba’i, Sayyid Muhammad, 106, 155, 171
159, 241–42 Thiqat al-Islam, 7
Tabataba’i, Sayyid Muhammad Hus- Thubut, Akbar, 218–19
sayn, 183 tobacco concession, xvii, xviii, 47–48,
Tabriz, xv, xix, xx, xxi, 7, 25, 58–60, 61, 109, 111, 113, 281n70
70, 111, 168, 180, 229, 234, 268n29, tribal resurgence, 19; leaders, 19–20, 26,
284n47; parliament held in exile in, 33; politics, 3, 19–20
xx, 70, 234 tullab, 5, 61
Tabrizi, Hajj Shaykh Hussayn, 127 Turkmanchai, Treaty of, 25
tadayyun, 136–37 Tus, xvi, 119
Tahmasp, Shah, I (Safavid), 81; and his Tusi, Muhammad Ibn al-Hassan (Kitab
Ay’in-i Shah Tahmasp, 65 al-Ghaybah), 83
Tahmasp, Shah, II (Safavid), xv, 20 Twelver Shi‘ism, 77, 79–80, 97, 131,
tajaddud, 47, 156, 210, 298 136–37, 167, 174, 233, 295, 297
Talibov, Abdul-Rahim (Masail al-
Hayat), 55; and definition of free-
dom, 67–68 ulama: from Bahrain and Jabal ‘Amil,
tamaddun, 134–37 95; birth of, 76–77; as intellectuals,
Tansar (herbed), 75 51
tanzimat, Ottoman, 44 ulil’amr, 86
Taqizadih, Sayyid Hassan, xx, xxi, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (caliph), 87
xxii, 69, 179–81; viewed as radical, Umayyad, 77–77, 93, 221
210 ummah, 90, 112, 281n67
Index 329

‘umur-i ‘ammih, 193, 204, 299 Wolff, Sir Henry Drummond: and open-
‘umur-i daulati, 193, 204, 299 ing Karun River to trade, 59; and
‘urf, 3, 42, 64, 217, 299 tobacco concession, 47–48
Urumiyyih, 28 women, 133, 168, 199, 231
usuli, 101–5, 107, 130, 145–46, 149, 152,
156, 200, 205, 214, 218, 223, 228–30,
233, 299 Yazdi, Sayyid Kazim, 214; as anti-
usuli jurisprudence (fiqh-i usuli), xviii, 4, constitutionalist, 214; modified draft
100, 124, 144, 161, 163, 173, 183, 186, of constitution (Article 18, 21, 27, 71,
204, 207–8, 212, 231, 297, 299 and 72), 214–18
usulism, 6, 102–3, 107, 112, 147, 173, Yusuf Khan, Mirza (author of Yik
214, 228–30, 234, 280n67, 299 Kalimih), 62, 63

Va‘iz Isfahani, Hajj Shaykh Muham- Zahir al-Daulih, 213

mad, xix, xxi, 164, 289n24 zakat, 60, 218
vali, 83, 184, 299 Zand-i Wahman Yasn, 74
vali-yi faqih, 11, 83, 184, 277n14, 299 Zand tribe, 21; Karim Khan and, xv, 22
Vienna, 39 Zanjani, Ayatullah Shubayri, 125
vikalat, 203, 299 Zanjani, Mullah Qurban Ali, xxi, 160,
vilayat, 83, 203, 299 170
vilayat-i faqih, 83, 275n82, 299, 305 Zayn al-Din Ibn Nur al-Din Ali, 96
Volga River, 59 ziarat, 82, 108, 121,
Voltaire, 7 Zoroastrian priests (mobeds), 14, 72, 74,
88, 227, 276n97
Zoroastrians: persecution of, 42; Nuri’s
Wahram, III, 75 view of, 211
waqf, 74 Zugurt, harassing Khurasani, 214