THE RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND OF THE 1979 REVOLUTION IN IRAN
The intensity of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the suddenness with
which it appeared "out of the blue" surprised many people both in Iran
itself and in the rest of the world. In this presentation, I hope to examine
some of the factors that contributed to that revolution. There were, of
course, many and varied factors and we are probably still too close to
the event to be able to make any meaningful assessment of their relative
importance, but I think we can at least begin to list these and discuss
In this presentation, I am not going to deal with the economic factors
that led to the Revolution. There is undoubtedly an important economic
background to the Revolution. The large amount of money flowing into the
country following the oil price rise led to a boom, which eventually rebounded
with ensuing hyper-inflation and unemployment. The results included much
corruption in the upper echelons of society and a sense of disappointment
and frustration among the people at the non-appearance of the prosperity
that had been promised them. I am also not going to deal with the political
factors leading to the Revolution. The suppression of protest and even
of political discussion in the country, the activities of foreign powers
within the country, and the organization of the opposition forces are among
factors that should be looked at in any full analysis of the background
of the 1979 Revolution. I am not even going to examine in this presentation
what may be called the general religious and cultural factors that form
an important background to the Iranian Revolution. What I mean by this
are general factors that apply in many societies of the Middle East (and
elsewhere) and are not specific to Iran. For example, it should be noted
that the movement towards religious fundamentalism is not confined to the
Iranian or Shi`i world alone. We can detect it occurring in all parts of
the Muslim world (and elsewhere also). Therefore it must represent a response
to factors that are affecting a wider area than just Iran. There appears
to be a widespread perception that the adoption of the practices and standards
of Western civilization has not only failed to bring about improvement,
it has led to a deterioration in moral standards, causing a loss of sexual
morality and a rise in the taking of alcohol and drugs. In Islamic societies,
there is also the humiliation of seeing the Muslim world subservient, economically
and militarily, to the countries of the West, together with the associated
factor of the creation of the state of Israel. These may be considered
to be the general religious and cultural factors contributing to the Revolution.
What I will be doing in this presentation is to look at factors that
were specific to the religious environment of Iran, factors in Shi`ism
that contributed to the intensity and pattern of the Iranian Revolution
when it broke out in 1978-9. In this presentation I want to look at a number
of threads running through Twelver Shi`i Islam which culminated in the
1979 Revolution in Iran. Although the threads may appear to be disparate
when described individually, it was the coming together to these and other
factors that gave such intensity to the 1979 Revolution.
A. The Role of the Ulama in Society
The active role of the Shi`i religious scholars (the ulama) in the Revolution
has been noted by almost everyone who has commented on this episode. How
then did it come about that the ulama, who in the rest of the Islamic world
tend to maintain a low profile in social and political matters, were able
to take such a prominent part in the 1979 Iranian Revolution?
The early history of Shi`i Islam was that of being a persecuted minority
within the Islamic community. Since those in authority were inimical to
the Shi`is, it was only natural that the leadership of the Shi`i community
fell to their religious scholars. It is therefore part of Shi`ism's history
and ethos that the ulama have been seen as leaders, spokesmen of and intercessors
for the Shi`i community. When Shi`i states did eventually arise, the role
of the ulama nevertheless continued as upholders of individual and community
rights in the face of any tyranny from the authorities.
The theoretical basis for this role of the ulama was through the evolution
of the na'ib al-`amm
(collective or general vicegerency) concept.
The history of this concept goes back to the earliest period of Twelver
Shi`i history. With the occultation of the Imam, all of his functions,
including the giving of judgements on points of religious law, the collection
of religious taxes, the leading of the Friday prayers, etc. were at first
considered to have lapsed. However, as time went by and the Imam did not
reappear, the theoretical absence of all religious authority became a doctrine
that was increasingly difficult to maintain. Therefore the ulama began
gradually to argue that they, as a body, had been designated the deputy
of the Imam. The basis of this assertion was the existence of a number
of traditions that appear to give the ulama the authority to act
on behalf of the Imam. These traditions relate to specific circumstances,
and not all of them are considered reliable; but those who wished to advance
the scope of the activities of the ulama argued that these traditions
gave them the authority to act as the deputies of the Hidden Imam. Using
this argument, the
ulama began gradually to assume more and more
of the functions of the Imam in the religious sphere: the giving of judgements
on religious law, the collection of religious taxes, the leading of the
Friday prayers, etc.
There was, however in Shi`i history, an ongoing tension between those
who pressed forward the social role of the ulama and those who held back.
There have been at various times in Shi`i history different issues over
which this unresolved tension has played out. In the earliest period, Shi`i
ulama such as Kulayni (d. 940 C.E.) and Ibn Babuya (d. 991 C.E.), felt
themselves to be primarily transmitters of the Traditions (hadith)
of the Imams. They decried the Sunni used of analogical reasoning (qiyas)
and innovative exegesis (ijtihad). In the later Buyid period, the
balance swung towards those ulama, such as Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa al-Tusi (d.
1067 C.E.) who wanted to be able to give judgements in an increasingly
wide range of social matters. This was accompanied by a move towards Mu'tazilite
rationality and increased social involvement of the ulama in directing
the affairs of the community. The same conflict between different attitudes
of the ulama can be seen in the conflict between the Akhbari and Usuli
schools of jurisprudence. This disagreement, which had undoubtedly been
brewing for some centuries, emerged during the Safavid era (16th
- 17thcentury C.E.). The Akhbaris were conservative in giving
legal judgements. They confined themselves to those areas in which they
felt there was clear, unambiguous guidance from the Qur'an and Traditions
and were content to leave other matters to secular courts. They tended
towards piety, mysticism and mystical philosophy. The Usulis were prepared
to use the tool of
ijtihad to deliver legal judgements (fatwas)
on almost any social or personal issue. They were therefore able to extend
the social role of the ulama. This conflict was eventually won by the Usulis
at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The Usulis were faced with two major challenges in the 19th
Century. The first was the Shaykhi movement, which through its emphasis
on piety and mysticism, was again an attempt to move Shi`ism away from
its social involvement. The ulama moved against the Shaykhis and succeeded
in eliminating this threat. A more significant threat emerged in the form
of the Babi movement in the middle of the 19th century. The
Bab claimed to be the author of a new revelation, superceding Islam; he
claimed his message was a new teaching from God and his writings a new
holy book, superceding the Qur'an. This claim, together with the denunciations
of the ulama that the Bab made, was a direct challenge to the ulama. While
they had succeeded in dealing with the challenge of the Akhbaris and Shaykhis
largely through debate, they were not successful in halting the Babi movement
in this way. Eventually they resorted to violence and succeeded in inciting
the Iranian government to launch a campaign which succeeded in driving
the Babis underground. Eventually the Babi movement transformed into the
Baha'i movement and has gone on to become a world-wide religion. But its
persecution in Iran has always prevented it from being a threat to the
position of the ulama.
Although in formal terms the Usulis won over their adversaries, the
tension between greater and lesser degrees of involvement of the ulama
in social affairs has remained. In general one can say that three courses
of action have been open to the ulama in their social and political role:
1. Political Aloofness. This attitude stems from the belief that the ulama should concern themselves only with the shari'a. The secular authorities have the obligation to ensure that conditions are suitable for the carrying out of the shari'a. As long as they do this, then the ulama do not concern themselves with political matters. This has traditionally been the attitude of the majority of the leading ulama from the time of the Qajar dynasty until recent years. Many of the most important figures in Shi`ism from this period exemplify this attitude, for example: Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari (d. 1864) and Ayatollah Burujirdi (d. 1962).
2. Support for the Government. Those that advocated this position argued that the shari'a can only be promulgated in conditions of political stability and social order. Therefore it is the duty of the ulama to support the Government in the execution of its duties. This view seems to have predominated during the Safavid period when the interests of the ulama the state were more or less identical. The foremost ulama of the period - such figures as Shaykh Baha' al-Din Amili (Shaykh-i Baha'i, d. 1622 or 1623) and Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1699 or 1700) - accepted state positions (both of them held the post of Shaykh al-Islam in Isfahan), and were incorporated into the state apparatus. During the Qajar period, a few of the ulama remained supporters of the state. Not surprisingly, the majority of these were those whose positions depended on state appointment, for example the successive Imam-Jum`ihs of Tehran.
3. Opposition to the Government. This position was buttressed by the theoretical illegitimacy of all temporal authority in the absence of the Hidden Imam. In practice this position was adopted whenever the ulama felt their position threatened either directly, through secularizing reforms, or indirectly, when their main financial supporters, the merchants of the bazaar, were threatened. Some of the ulama were more prone to adopt this position than others, for example Shaykh Mahdi al-Khalisi (d. 1925) in Iraq, and Sayyid Abul-Qasim Kashani (d. 1962) in Iran.It should not be imagined, however, that these three positions represent three different schools of political thought, and that Shi`is would choose one position to follow. Rather they represent three options to be exercised by Shi`is according to circumstances. Thus it is common to find individual ulama who moved backwards and forwards between these three positions, according to circumstances. For example Mirza Hasan Shirazi (Mirza-yi Shirazi, d. 1895), the leading Shi`i scholar of the late nineteenth century, is usually remembered by most historians as the person who issued a fatwa forbidding the consumption of tobacco,  and thus brought about the collapse of the Tobacco Regie in 1891. He is therefore usually thought of as having been a revolutionary figure. In fact, for almost all of his life, following the example of his teacher Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari, he studiously avoided any interference in political affairs. Then in the matter of the Tobacco Regie he decided to abandon this policy and become actively involved. A few months later, when the issue was over, he reverted to his former position. Conversely, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini was politically active for some twenty years, at first opposing the Shah as one of the most active supporters of the Constitutionalists, and later opposing British rule in Iraq. And yet after he was expelled from Iraq in 1923 for his political agitation, he played no further political role even though he returned to Iraq in 1924 and lived until 1936.
The majority of the ulama were flexible in their social and political
attitudes, being fully able to vary their approach according to what they
perceived to be their best interests. Prior to Khomeini, we can find almost
no figure in Shi`i history who was opposed to the existing government in
the sense that he advocated its complete overthrow and replacement with
a clerical government. 
The most that Shi`i ulama have demanded in the past has been
that the government of the day make its policies conform more closely to
the shari'a, which in practical terms has meant that the government
should make its policies conform with what the ulama perceived to
be their own best interests. It is really only with Khomeini, and then
only in his later years, that opposition to the Government became a fixed
and unnegotiable position based on a political theory that made the very
existence of the government illegitimate.
One factor that has helped the ulama whenever they have wished to take
an active social role is the fact that, in contrast to the Sunni ulama,
they have a financial base that is independent of the state. Shi`i law
states that the religious taxes of khums and zakat should
be paid to the Imam. In the absence of the Imam, the ulama have asserted
that they were the rightful recipients of these taxes. The income derived
therefrom gives the ulama an independent financial base which makes it
much easier for them to oppose the government if they should choose to
As economic conditions in Iran in the 1970s deteriorated, political
repression became more pronounced, and Western influence increasingly penetrated
Iranian society, the people increasingly turned to the ulama in their traditional
role as the spokesmen of and intercessors for the masses. While most of
the ulama contented themselves with their traditional aloof attitude towards
social and political questions, a few under the leadership of Khomeini
began to take a more active stance.
B. Political Authority in Twelver Shi`ism
Among the questions that must be asked is: how did a sect that at its
outset in early Islamic history was regarded as the most least aggressive
and most accommodating of the Shi`i sects become transformed into a revolutionary
force that was able to sweep away what had been regarded as one of the
most stable regimes in the Middle East?
Shi`ism was, of course, the expression of support for the claims of
Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and his descendants to leadership
of the Islamic community. Three main sects of Shi`ism have survived from
the earliest period of Islam to the present day. Historically, the first
of these to come to prominence was Zaydi Shi`ism. Politically, this sect
believed that authority belonged to any descendent of Ali who rose to claim
it, and was able to achieve it. A large number of revolts during the Ummayad
and early Abbasid periods were Zaydi in origin, but apart from some limited
success in Yemen and Tabaristan in Iran, the Zaydis were never able to
achieve much political power. The second of these Shi`i sects to come to
prominence was Isma`ili Shi`ism. It held that political authority belonged
to its line of Imams, who were descendants of Ali. This Shi`i grouping
arose in revolt in North Africa, and was able to establish its line of
Imams as the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt from 909 to 1171 C.E. However,
these two sects today represent only a minority of the world's Shi`is.
By far the largest grouping of Shi`is today are the Ithna-`Asharis (Twelvers),
which is the group that we are concerned with in this presentation. They
believe in a succession of twelve infallible religious leaders called Imams,
the first of whom was Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, and
the twelfth of whom is believed to have gone into occultation in 874 C.E.
Since Twelver Shi`ism cannot be said to have come into existence until
this latter date, it was the last of these three Shi`i sects to be established.
But it differed from the other two Shi`i sects in a radical way. Zaydi
and Isma`ili Shi`ism were revolutionary, and never really succeeded in
establishing themselves in any appreciable numbers in the Islamic heartlands,
where their revolts were crushed and they were persecuted relentlessly.
They were always a phenomenon of the fringes of the Islamic world. The
Twelvers on the other hand, from the very start, existed primarily in the
Islamic heartlands. Their main centre was for many years in the Abbasid
capital at Kufa and, later, Baghdad. Many of their most prominent figures
were leading statesmen in the Abbasid power structure; the al-Furat and
Nawbakhti families, for example who held the highest positions in the Abbasid
For these Shi`is at the centre of Abbasid power, the Shi`i tradition
of revolt and opposition was clearly undesirable and unwanted, as it made
them suspect in the eyes of their Abbasid patrons. The resolution to this
problem was found among the influential circle in Baghdad that included
the Nawbakhti family. Politically this involved the declaration that the
Imam had gone into hiding (occultation). This mystic removal of the Imam
from the eyes of men served two purposes. Firstly, it effectively removed
the Imam from being a focal point for opposition. For no-one could raise
a rebellion in favour of an Imam who was not there. The second consequence
of the occultation was that, since the Imam was still alive, although occulted,
no one else could claim to be the Imam (and there had been numerous claimants
to the Imamate in Shi`i history). The Imamate, which for the other Shi`i
sects was a political institution, a rival for the caliphate, had been
depoliticized by the Twelvers and transformed into a focus for theological
elaboration and eschatological expectation. It was no longer a threat to
the political establishment and so the Twelvers could be seen as loyal
citizens within the Abbasid power structure.
It may be thought that if the Twelver Shi`is were not militant and revolutionary
in their early history, then this tendency arose within the sect prior
to the Safavid conquest of Iran in 1501 and the establishment of Twelver
Shi`ism as the state religion. But in fact, the Safavid assumption of power
in Iran had little to do with Shi`i militancy. The Safavids were primarily
a Sufi order that became increasingly militaristic and Shi`i in orientation.
This Shi`ism was not however of the Twelver kind, but of the kind that
is generally referred to as ghulat (extremist). This designation
refers to various doctrines held by these groups which were considered,
by orthodox Shi`is and Sunnis alike, to make them heretics and outside
the pale of Islam. Thus, for example, Isma`il the first Safavid ruler of
Iran, wrote poetry in which he equated himself with the Divinity. It was
this mixture of 'extremist' Shi`ism and militaristic Sufism that gave the
Safavid order the fervour and dynamism to rise against the established
order in Iran, and take over the country in a very short period of time.
However, once the conquest was achieved and the new state established,
Isma`il proclaimed Twelver Shi`ism as the state religion. Part of his thinking
was no doubt that Twelver Shi`ism would be a more quietist, and therefore
more stable, religious basis for the new state than the extremist Shi`i/Sufi
admixture of his Safavid supporters. Once again, we find Twelver Shi`ism
being identified with stability and quietism, rather than with revolution
There was, however, at the heart of Twelver Shi`ism a certain tension.
Over against this history of quietism and political accommodation, there
was the doctrine that all political and religious authority belonged by
right to the Hidden Twelfth Imam and anyone who held power was therefore
a usurper of the rights of the Imam. There was thus a contradiction between
what the Shi`i texts said and what in practice the Shi`is themselves did.
The difference was bridged, in part, through the doctrine of taqiyya,
the Shi`i doctrine of pious dissimulation. This doctrine held that a Shi`i
could deny their faith or assert a different position from that which the
Shi`is believe in order to protect themselves from danger. The difference
was also in part accounted for by other teachings which stated that since
it was necessary for there to be social order for the Shari`a to be implemented,
it was necessary to obey a just ruler.
It cannot be said that Shi`ism in its early history developed any coherent
political theory, in the same way that Sunni Islam did. With a Hidden Imam,
all political questions were frozen. No-one had the authority to replace
the Imam, but equally no Shi`i could claim religious authority for trying
to overthrow the existing regime. Those Shi`i writers of the early period
who do mention the question of opposition and rebellion were of the opinion
that revolt and rebellion against the established ruler, even if he be
unjust, were not permissible as the overthrowing of oppression and wrong,
and the establishment of justice, constituted one of the tasks that the
Hidden Imam would perform on his return.
Typical of early Shi`i expressions of opinion is the following passage
from the Buyid scholar, al-Shaykh al-Mufid. Writing about the return of
the Hidden Imam, he states:
'His fathers [i.e. the preceding Imams] on the other hand allowed [their followers] to practise dissimulation before their enemies, engage in social intercourse with them and be present at their assemblies. In fact they forbade [their followers] to draw the sword against them and warned against inciting anyone to do so.' 
Very few of the Shi`i ulama have written political treatises.
Those that have been written date mainly from Qajar times up to the present.
Several treatises were written in the early Qajar period by eminent ulama
were supporters of the state. The Qajars, having established themselves
by force and not having a supposed descent from the Imams which the Safavids
claimed, were in need of a basis of legitimacy to act as a buttress for
their authority. In these treatises, the principle was enunciated that
the political rulers were the agents of God, and of the Hidden Imam, in
establishing social order and thus promoting the Holy Law.
In a later period, some of the ulama wrote treatises in favour
of the Constitutional Movement.Although modern scholars
have sought out and brought these political treatises into prominence,
in their own time they were not held to be of any great importance, and
were among the more obscure of the writings of their authors.
When Imam Ruhullah Khomeini (1902-1989) began to write on political
matters, therefore, he was going outside the tradition of the major Shi`i
In order to understand the revolution in Shi`i political thought that he
brought about, it is necessary to review briefly the background of the
basis of the authority of the ulama. The authority of the Sunni
ulama is based on their appointment to a particular office by the
State. Thus the authority on the basis of which a Mufti gives judgement
is by virtue of his appointment as Mufti. The theoretical basis for the
authority of the ulama in Shi`i Islam is quite different. Their
authority is based on the concept that they are collectively the deputies
of the Hidden Imam (na'ib al-Imam al-'amm, see above). Thus, according
to the most authoritative texts, even if they are appointed by the government
to a position such as judge in a court, their authority to give judgements
is still by virtue of the na'ib al-'amm concept.
Until the advent of Khomeini, however, none of the leading ulama
laid claim to the right to deputize for the political authority of the
Imam. This political authority was either held to have lapsed with the
occultation of the Imam or, as described above, the ulama would
sometimes advance arguments to justify the interim derivative legitimacy
of the secular political authorities.
Khomeini was the first to outline a theoretical position which involved
an uncompromising assertion that only a government by experts in religious
jurisprudence (vilayat-i faqih) is an accept able form of Islamic
government. This was not always Khomeini's position. His earliest writings
only insisted that the Shah's government should conform to Islamic norms
as defined by himself. It was only after his exile to Iraq in 1964 that
he began, in his lectures to the religious students at Najaf, to call for
the vilayat-i faqih. His position was that an Islamic ruler needs
to rule in accordance with the Holy Law (the shari'a), and only
an Islamic scholar, an expert in jurisprudence (the faqih), can
have a sufficient knowledge of the shari'a. Therefore leadership
in an Islamic country belongs by right only to a faqih.
There is however nothing illogical in Khomeini's extension of the na'ib
al-'amm concept to include the political authority of the Hidden Imam.
The distinction between church and state which exists in the West is meaningless
in Islam. Islam is not just a religion, but a religio-political entity
in which all religious and social matters come under the purview of the
And if the
ulama are the general vicegerents of the Hidden Imam
in all religious matters, why not in the political sphere also?
Although Imam Khomeini's concept of the ulama's right to supervise
political affairs (vilayat-i faqih) can thus be seen as a logical
extension of the na'ib al-'amm concept, it is nevertheless a radical
break with the Shi`i tradition that the leading ulama concern themselves
in political matters only very rarely; and then only when issues of major
importance arise. This had certainly been the attitude of the major ulama
up to and including Ayatollah Burujirdi (d. 1962), the last Ayatollah who
could claim to be sole marja al-taqlid.Even
now, despite Khomeini's prestige, the concept is not universally accepted
among Shi`is. In Iran itself, opposition to the vilayat-i faqih
was led by a group calling itself the Hujjatiyyih. Outside Iran, the major
marja al-taqlid, several important ayatollahs have voiced reservations
about it (in particular the late Ayatollah Khu'i).
C. The Karbala Paradigm
Much of the power and intensity of the 1979 Revolution came from the
willingness of ordinary people to go out onto the streets and court death
by confronting armed troops. What was it that inspired ordinary people
to risk their lives, to move from a pattern of ordinary every-day life
into the mould of heroism and self-sacrifice?
In traditional societies (and even in modern societies to large extent),
people are inspired by and try to live their lives in accordance with certain
mythic paradigms. In the telling and retelling of the myths of the society,
the psychological and ethical norms of the society are built up, the role
models by which people live their lives are inculcated and the general
ethos of a society is created.
In Shi`i Islam, as indeed with most religions, popular religious activities
play a major role in the life of the individual by creating the myths by
which the individual lives. In Shi`i Islam, centre place in popular religion
is taken by the various re-enactments of the Karbala episode. From early
childhood, most Shi`is have been immersed in a culture in which the martyrdom
of the Imam Husayn plays a very prominent role. The martyrdom of the third
of the Shi`i Imams, Husayn, at the hands of the Umayyad armies of the caliph
Yazid at Karbala in AD 680, is undoubtedly one of the most important and
emotive episodes in Shi`i history. The first ten days of the month of Muharram
are completely given over to commemorating the martyrdom, culminating on
the tenth day, `Ashura, the day of the martyrdom of the Imam. This
forms the most important religious event of the year, far outweighing any
of the commemorations associated with the Prophet Muhammad, or any other
of the Imams. The commemorations take the form of orations recounting the
episode, plays depicting the events, and ritualized processions of mourning
at which it is usual to see people whipping themselves, and cutting themselves
in a state of frenzied mourning for the martyred Imam. For the rest of
the year also, it is not uncommon to hold meetings at which narrations
of the Karbala episode are given, and at which expressions of grief abound.
Thus the Karbala episode is not an event in distant history, but rather
a powerful symbol kept alive among the Shi`i masses by frequent emotive
rituals and ceremonies.
In the rest of the year, there are numerous commemorations of the other
Shi`i Imams who were persecuted and martyred by their enemies in the first
three centuries of the history of Islam. The other ten Imams of Twelver
Shi`ism did not, however, rise up in rebellion to assert the leadership
that they believed had wrongfully been taken from them. They lived quiet
lives of prayer and piety, restraining their followers from any active
opposition to the Sunni caliphate and ordering them to practice taqiyya
(pious dissimulation, see above).
Here again we can observe some degree of polarity and tension between
two opposite paradigms. The Husayn/Karbala paradigm of qiyamat (uprising)
is one of taking an active role, rising up against injustice and tyranny;
its opposite paradigm, mazlumiyyat (patient endurance of tyranny)
is one of political quietism and was espoused by the other Shi`i Imams.
Both are available to Shi`is. Both can inspire paths of social and political
In this presentation, I have examined three themes that are specific
to Shi`i Islam. The leadership role of the Shi`i ulama, the question of
political authority in Shi`ism, and the role of the Karbala paradigm in
the popular religion. I have shown how each of these three themes had their
origins in the earliest days of Islam and how they culminated by playing
a major role in the 1979 Revolution.
But I have also tried to show that each of these three powerful motivating
impulses for the Iranian Revolution were in fact only one pole of opposing
tensions within Shi`i Islam: the tension within the leadership role of
the ulama between political activism and quietism; the tension within Shi`i
political theory between obedience to the government and the concept that
all government is an unjust usurpation of the authority of the Hidden Imam;
and the tension between the
qiyamatparadigm of Husayn rising up
against tyranny and the mazlumiyyat paradigm of the other Imams
patiently enduring the tyranny of others.
In the history of Shi`ism and Iran, these tensions within Shi`ism have
at times pulled in one direction and at other times in the other, particular
in the last two centuries. It was perhaps the misfortune of the late Shah
of Iran to experience the effects of a point in time when all three factors
were moving powerfully in the direction of social action and against his
1. There is some doubt as to whether he personally issued it but, if
he did not, he certainly made no effort to renounce it when it was published.
2. Chardin, the French traveller in Iran in the late Safavid period
notes that a few of the ulama
were making such remarks (Voyages
de monsieur de chevalier Chardin en Perse et autres lieux de l'orient (ed.
L. Langles), Paris, 1811, 5, p. 108; 6, pp. 249-250) and see also the remarks
of Yusuf Astarabadi after the Ottoman sacking of Karbala in 1843 (J. R.
I. Cole and M. Momen, 'Mafia, Mob and Shiism in Iraq: the rebellion of
Ottoman Karbala, 1824-1843', Past and Present,
112, Aug 1986, pp.
138-139) but these are almost the only reports that we have.
3. Ash-Shaykh al-Mufid: Khams rasa'il fi ithbat al-Hujja, Najaf,
1951, fourth letter, pp. 2-3, quoted in M. J. MacDermott: The Theology
of al-Shaikh al Mufid, Beirut, 1978, p. 282n. See also statement by
Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, the foremost scholar of the late Safavid period,
in his Ayn al-Hayat, Tehran 1341/1962~, pp. 49~500, quoted in A.
Lambton, State and Government in Medieval Islam, Oxford, 1981, pp.
4. Among such political treatises may be numbered: Sayyid Ja'far Kashfi:
al-Muluk (see S. Arjomand: 'The Shi'ite hierocracy and the State in
pre-modern Iran: 1785-1890', Archives Europ. Sociologie, 22 (1981),
pp. 53-55) and Mirza-yi Qummi: Irshad-Namih (see A. K. S. Lambton:
'Some new trends in Islamic political thought in late 18th and early 19th
century Iran', Studia Islamica, 39 (1974), pp. 95-128).
5. In particular, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini: Tanbih al-Umma (see
A. H. Hairi: Shi`ism and Constitutionalism in Iran. Leiden, 1977).
6. This line of argument appears in one of his most influential books,
a collection of his addresses at Najaf entitled, Hukumat-i Islami. This
been translated in Islam and Revolution: writings and declarations of
Imam Khomeini (trans. H. Algar), Berkeley, 1981.
7. Reference point for imitation - in Shi`i theory, the believers are
divided into two groups: the leading ulama, the mujtahids, are
considered sources for imitation in all legal matters for the rest of the
believers, those who have not striven for the requisite religious knowledge
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