Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Books
TAGS: Interfaith dialogue; Islam; Shiism
> add/edit tags

An Introduction to Shi'i Islam:
The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

by Moojan Momen

previous chapter chapter 13 start page single page chapter 15 next chapter

Chapter 14


          Contemporary Shi'ism

The 20th century has seen great changes in all the Shi'i
communities of the world. The principal change has been in
the political sphere where the Shi'i communities have become
more assertive, particularly in countries such as Iraq,
Lebanon and Bahrain where they form a significant proportion
of the population but wield little political power. This
process will undoubtedly be accelerated by the 1979
Revolution in Iran but the full effect of this remains to be

The Religious Leadership

After the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi in 1895 there was a
period when leadership was shared among a group of prominent
mujtahids in Najaf. This group included Mulla Muhammad known
as Fadil Sharabiyani (1245/1829-1322/1904), Shaykh Muhammad
Hasan ibn 'Abdu'llah Mamaqani (1238/1822-1323/1905), Mirza
Husayn ibn Mirza Khalil (Khalili) Tihrani (d. 1326/1908) and
Mulla Muhammad Kazim known as Akhund Khurasani (1255/1839-
1329/1911). With the death of the other members of this
group, the last-named was for a time the sole marja at-
  During this period the leading mujtahids at Najaf were
strongly in favour of the Constitutional Movement in Iran.
In 1909, in protest at the actions of Muhammad Shah and the
continued presence of Russian troops in Iran, the leading
mujtahids of Najaf left the town and retired to Karbala, but
the success of the Constitutionalist forces in taking Tehran
caused them to return. Again in 1911 after the Russian
occupation of several Iranian towns and the threat of
Muhammad 'Ali Shah's restoration, the mujtahids planned to
leave Najaf and return to Iran to lead the people. The
sudden death of Akhund Khurasani delayed their departure but
in January 1912 they reached Kazimayn. By that time
negotiations between the Russians and the Iranian government
were at an advanced stage and so the mujtahids returned to

There was also, during the Constitutional Revolution, some


resurgence of interest among the Shi'i ulama in Pan-
Islamism. The mujtahids of Najaf addressed several telegrams
to the Ottoman Sultan addressing him as Caliph of the
Muslims and asking him to intervene in Iran against Muhammad
'Ali Shah and the Russians. But that was a short-lived
revival and faded soon after the Constitutionalist triumph. 
 After Khurasani, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi (d. 1918)
became sole marja'. He was different in many ways from the
maraji' who preceded and succeeded him. He had been opposed
to the Constitutional Movement in Iran and, unlike the other
mujtahids, was friendly towards the British after their
occupation of Iraq. Under his leadership the ulama as a
whole became much less enthusiastic about the Constitution,
particularly as they observed the resulting secularisation
of many aspects of life such as education.

Yazdi's successor was Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi (d. 1920),
a resident of Karbala, who was an implacable opponent of the
British in Iraq and even issued a decree calling for a jihad
against them. The next marja' at-taqlid, Shaykh Fathu'llah
Isfahani, known as Shaykhu'sh Shari'a (d. 1920), survived
his predecessor by only four months.

In 1920 an event took place in Qumm that was to have far-
reaching consequences. For a number of years prior to this
date, a group of ulama had been busy refurbishing the
madrasas of Qumm which had fallen into disuse and disrepair
for a century. Then in 1920 Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-
Yazdi (d. 1937) was invited to come from Sultanabad (Arak),
where he had been teaching, to Qumm. This event marked the
beginning of the renaissance of Qumm.

From 1920 onwards there was a period similar to the years
after the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi when several of the
leading mujtahids were all regarded as being maraji' at-
taqlid. These were Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-Yazdi (d.
1937) in Qumm, and Shaykh 'Abdu'llah Mamaqani (d. 1933),
Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini (d. 1936), Shaykh Diya'u'd Din
'Iraqi (d. 1942) and Sayyid Abu'l-Hasan Isfahani (d. 1946)
in Najaf. After the death of the others, the last-named
became sole marja'. His successor, Sayyid Aqa Husayn ibn
Muhammad Tabataba'i known as Ayatu'llah Qummi, a resident of
Karbala, survived him by only three months, dying in
February 1947.

After the death of Ha'iri-Yazdi in 1937, the centre of
learning (hawzayi 'ilmi) at Qumm continued to increase in
importance. At first Ha'iri Yazdi's work was continued by
Ayatu'llahs Sayyid Muhammad Taqi Khwansari (d. 1952), Sayyid
'Ali Hujjat (d. 1953), and Sayyid Sadru'd Din Sadr (d.
1954). Then in Muharram 1364 (December 1944-January 1945),
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi came to Qumm from Burujird and began
teaching there. After this Qumm increased even more in
importance until it rivalled Najaf.


  On the death of Ayatu'llah Qummi in 1947 there was
agreement among the ulama that his successor should be
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi of Qumm. Thus at this point in time,
with the residence there of the sole marja' at-taqlid, Qumm
took over as the leading centre of Shi'i scholarship. Najaf,
however, continued to contest this leadership and many
students, especially from the Arab countries and the Indian
subcontinent, continued to go there. But for Iranian
students Qumm now superseded Najaf.
  Burujirdi himself played a very quietist role politically
but towards the end of his life was moved to speak out
against the Bahá'ís in 1955 and against the land reform
proposals of the Shah in 1960. He died in March 1961.
  After Ayatu'llah Burujirdi there was no-one who could
claim to be outstandingly superior to the other mujtahids in
his knowledge. At Qumm there were Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi; at Mashhad,
Ayatu'llah Muhammad Hadi Milani; in Tehran, Ayatu'llah Ahmad
Khwansari; and in Najaf, Ayatu'llahs Khu'i, 'Abdu'l-Hadi
Shirazi (d. 1381/1961), Al Kashifu'l-Ghita and Muhsin al-
Hakim (d. 1970).[2] The last-named received the broadest
support but was unable to consolidate his position
sufficiently, especially among the ulama of Qumm, to become
regarded as the sole marja'.
  At the same time, there was a great deal of discussion
regarding the whole concept of marja' at-taqlid. In the book
Bahthi dar ba-ra-yi Marja'iyyat wa Ruhaniyyat (Discussion
regarding the marja' and the Religious Classes, see p. 258),
a number of ulama as well as some leading laymen discussed
the question of the leadership of the ulama and some of the
political problems confronting Iranian Shi'ism. One view
which was discussed by several writers in this book and
which had been favoured by Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-Yazdi
was that the concept of a sole marja' at-taqlid be abandoned
in favour of each mujtahid specialising in a particular
field and being followed in that field. Parallel with this
view was the idea of a council of mujtahids sharing
leadership. It was argued that problems were now too complex
for any individual mujtahid to have universal competence.
  For a time Mashhad seriously rivalled Qumm in importance
with the presence there of Ayatu'llahs Kafa'i-Khurasani and
Milani, but with the death of the first in 1971 and of the
second in 1975, together with the destruction of Milani's
theological college in the course of municipal improvements,
there was a relative decline in Mashhad's importance
although it remains one of only three centres (the others
being Qumm and Najaf) from which universally-recognised
mujtahids can graduate. 3

The events of 1963 (see p. 254) catapulted Ayatu'llah
Khumayni into prominence as a marja' at-taqlid and so after
the death of Milani in 1975


there remained six top-ranking maraji' at-taqlid: in Najaf,
Ayatu'llahs Khu'i and Khumayni; in Qumm, Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi; and in
Tehran, Ayatu'llah Khwansari.
  At present the leading maraji' at-taqlid appear to be:
Ayatu'llah Khumayni at Jamaran, near Tehran; Ayatu'llahs
Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani, Shihabu'd-Din Mar'ashi-Najafi and
Ahmad Khwansari* at Qumm; Ayatu'llah Abu'l-Qasim Musavi
Khu'i in Najaf; and Ayatu'llahs Hasan Qummi and 'Abdu'llah
Shirazi* at Mashhad. It remains to be seen whether the
announcement of Ayatu'llah Kazim Shari'atmadari's deposition
as a marja' will be taken notice of by his supporters or
not. Early indications are that Shari'atmadari still has
considerable support in Adharbayjan.


The Constitutional Movement

The first decade of the 20th century saw the ulama of Iran
and Iraq much involved in the Constitutional Movement. The
leading mujtahids of the Shi'i world, who were resident in
Najaf and therefore relatively immune from the political
power of the Shah, threw their weight behind the
Constitutionalists. Three of them in particular, Mirza
Husayn ibn Khalil Tihrani, Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani
and Mulla 'Abdu'llah Mazandarani, showed constant support
for the movement by letters telegrams and fatwas. Some of
the ulama were, however, against the Constitutionalists.
These included Shaykh Muhammad Kazim Yazdi at Najaf, Hajji
Mirza Hasan at Tabriz and most notably Shaykh Fadlu'llah
Nun. The latter held that the reforms advocated by the
Constitutionalists would weaken the Shari'a and increase
European penetration of Iran. He felt that the laws of the
nation should be dictated by the Shari'a and not by
parliamentary assembly.
  The Constitution was finally granted, after much public
agitation, by Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah in August 1906 and signed
one week before his death on 8th January 1907. His
successor, Muhammad 'Ali Shah, lost no time in trying to
cancel out its effects and finally, in June 1908, staged a
coup d'etat and overturned the Constitution. At first it
appeared that the king would have his way but, slowly, the
forces of the Constitutionalists gathered and in the spring
and summer of 1909 they advanced on Tehran, eventually
forcing Muhammad 'Ali Shah's abdication on 16 July 1909.
  * As this book was being prepared for publication, news
was received of the death of Ayatu'llah Shirazi in Mashhad
on 27 September 1984 and of Ayatu'llah Ahmad Khwansari in
Tihran on 19 January 1985.

January 1985.


  Among those executed by the triumphant Constitutionalist
forces was Shaykh Fadlu'llah Nuri. His memory was generally
execrated by Iranians because of his anti-Constitution stand
until the 1979 Revolution, since when he has been
rehabilitated as a great champion of the Shari'a. The
Constitution recognised Twelver Shi'ism as the official
religion and provided for a committee of five mujtahids who
would vet all the legislation of the National Assembly and
reject anything that was not in accordance with the Shari'a.
This last provision was, however, never activated.

In 1911, when the Russians occupied Tabriz and threatened to
restore Muhammad 'Ali Shah, it was the turn of a
Constitutionalist religious leader, Mirza 'Ali Thiqatu'l-
Islam, to be executed. After the First World War the
mujtahids continued to play a political role although it was
increasingly the Nationalist politicians who were in the

Rida Shah Pahlavi

When in 1923 Rida Khan came to power and forced Ahmad Shah
to leave the country, all the talk was of declaring a
republic. But the ulama, seeing the markedly secular
direction of the newly-formed Turkish republic under
Ataturk, took fright and began to call for a rejection of
republicanism. Rida Khan, who at this time needed the
support of the ulama, fell into line with their wishes and
in 1925 had himself proclaimed Shah, thus starting the
Pahlavi dynasty.
  No sooner was Rida Shah firmly in power, however, than he
began to take measures to curtail the power and influence of
the ulama. Between 1925 and 1928 a secular commercial,
criminal and civil code of law was introduced beginning the
erosion of the influence of the Shar' (religious) courts. In
1928 a law was passed making the abandonment of traditional
dress in favour of Western attire compulsory. Although the
ulama were exempt from this, the law stated that they had to
prove their status by examination (except for recognised
mujtahids), thus giving the government the defacto power of
deciding who was and who was not a member of the ulama. In
1929 government examinations were decreed for the teachers
and the tullab (students) at the religious colleges and in
1934 the Ministry of Education announced a curriculum for
these colleges, while the foundation of the University of
Tehran with a Faculty of Theology (established in 1934)
provided, for the first time, an alternative means of
acquiring a religious education. Thus the government was
giving itself the right to determine who was a member of the
ulama and who could enter this class, whereas previously
there had been no restriction on this. The rapid expansion
of the state school


system replacing the old maktabs (see p. 200) resulted in a
secularisation of general education. The powers of the ulama
were further curtailed in 1931 when strict limits were
placed on the Shar' courts. Thenceforward, these could only
deal with matters of personal status (marriage, divorce,
inheritance, etc.). The referral of other cases to these
courts had to be by approval of the civil courts or the
Attorney-General and then they had only power to determine
guilt, not to pass sentence. In 1932 the power of
registering documents and property titles was also removed
from the Shar' courts. The final stage of Rida Shah's attack
on the ulama was the Law on Religious Endowments (Awqaf) of
1934. This law provided for all religious endowments where
the administrator of the endowment was unknown, was
incompetent or was diverting the endowment to private gain
to be taken over and administered by a government Department
of Endowments (which meant, of course, that the government
determined how the income was to be spent).
  Apart from his direct attack on the ulama, Rida Shah also
carried out a number of other measures that were seen as an
attack on religion. The use of the veil by women was
prohibited in 193 6, an attempt was made to suppress
ta'ziyas and rawda-khanis in 1932, the Muslim lunar calendar
was replaced by a solar calendar and even the pilgrimage to
Mecca was prohibited for a time. The state also took over a
number of social functions such as the provision of
hospitals, public baths and orphanages, which had usually
been the domain of the ulama.

By the end of Rida Shah's reign the ulama had been greatly
subdued. In contrast to the early decades of the 20th
century, there was little political activity among them. The
numbers at the religious colleges were declining.

The most important religious thinker of the period of Rida
Shah was probably Mirza Rida Quli Shari'at-Sanglaji. He made
a plea to the ulama to abandon their reactionary and
superstitious attitudes and to use the tool of ijtihad to
reinterpret and modernise Islam. Another important religious
figure of this period was Sayyid Hasan Muddaris who led the
religious opposition to the Shah's secularisation programme
in the Majlis (Parliament). He was imprisoned in 1929 and
killed on 14 December 1937 (see Fig. 58).

Muhammad Rida Shah

After the abdication of Rida Shah in 1941 the ulama pressed
for and obtained the reversal of several measures which had
been considered anti-religious. These included the repeal on
the ban on ta'ziyas and rawda-khanis, and the observance of
Ramadan by government offices. Even the veil made a
reappearance on the streets. The British, who had


spearheaded the Allied occupation of Iran which forced Rida
Shah's abdication during the war, also encouraged this
resurgence of the ulama as a bulwark against communists who
had occupied parts of northern Iran.
  Up to 1953 the new Shah, Muhammad Rida, was unable to
exert any authority and became increasingly eclipsed by
political figures such as Ahmad Qavam and Musaddiq.
  Parallel to the rising importance of the ulama themselves
was the emergence of powerful and active religious groups.
The first of these, the Fida'iyan Islam, led by Navvab
Safavi, was formed in 1945. It was a right-wing
fundamentalist Islamic movement with much support among the
lower classes and the Bazaar elements. It was not, however,
a supporter of the ulama and they were not sympathetic to
it. It was responsible for several assassinations between
1946 and 1951.
  Closely linked with the Fida'iyan was a politically-active
member of the ulama, Ayatu'llah Kashani (d. 1962), and his
group of religious delegates in the National Assembly who
were called Mujahidin-i Islam. Kashani was popular among the
lower-ranking ulama and the middle classes. Kashani's
expressed aims were to make the Shari'a the law of the land
and to have the ulama as the principal element administering
and guiding the community. In all this he appears to have
been a forerunner of Khumayni. Kashani was a supporter of
Pan-Islamism but above all else he was anti-British. He came
to act as a link in an alliance of Fida'iyan, ulama and the
National Front party which brought Musaddiq to power in 1951
with a programme to eliminate Western influence in the
country and nationalise the oil company. However,
immediately Musaddiq came to power the coalition fell apart.
First the Fida'iyan were refused a part in the government.
Then Kashani also fell out with Musaddiq when the latter
tried to assume extraordinary powers. The increasing
infiltration of the National Front by the communist Tudih
Party had made Kashani and the rest of the ulama
antagonistic towards Musaddiq's government. Thus when the
Shah staged his dramatic return to Iran in August 1953,
almost the entirety of the ulama from Kashani to the leading
religious figure in Tehran, Ayatu'llah Bihbahani,
enthusiastically welcomed him back and were active in
mobilising the crowds that took to the streets and overthrew

After Musaddiq, the Shah, with strong British and American
support, became increasingly dictatorial and soon all
elements of democracy were gradually eradicated or negated.
The Fida'iyan-i Islam were ruthlessly crushed and their
leader Navvab Safavi executed on 18 January 1956.

The ulama during this period after the fall of Musaddiq
withdrew from active involvement in politics to a large
extent but gave the Shah


much-needed support in the early days of his efforts to re-
establish his authority. In return, the Shah maintained an
outward show of deference to the ulama and even accommodated
some of the requests of the ulama such as for more Islamic
instruction in the schools. Part of this accommodation
between the ulama and the Shah was the leeway given to the
ulama to raise a violent anti-Baha'; campaign.
  The Bahá'ís had, for over a century, been a convenient
scapegoat for both the ulama and the government of Iran
principally because persecution of this religious minority
was less likely to cause international repercussions than
persecutions of Christians or Jews. Also the Bahá'ís had
been successful in making converts from the Muslim
population thus, in effect, threatening the position of the
ulama in a way that the other religious minorities did not.
During the month of Ramadan (May-June) in 1955, the popular
preacher Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Falsafi was allowed to
broadcast, over the government-controlled radio, several
very inflammatory attacks on the Bahá'ís. Ayatu'llah
Burujirdi gave his support to Falsafi and soon Bahá'ís and
Bahá'í properties in all parts of the country were under
attack. Beatings, killings, looting and raping went on for
several weeks, usually incited by the ulama in each
locality. The Shah appeared, at first, to countenance these
disturbances which probably acted as a useful smoke-screen
to hide the fact that he was in the midst of signing the
Baghdad Pact (CENTO) allying himself formally with the much
distrusted British and Americans. It may even have been that
the Shah had negotiated a secret deal whereby the clergy
agreed not to agitate against such issues in return for
being allowed a free hand against the Bahá'ís. Eventually,
however, international pressure forced the Shah's government
to restore order.

Following the anti-Bahá'í persecution of 1955 there followed
a period of relative calm, during which the Shah drew up his
plans for modernising Iran, plans that would inevitably
bring him into conflict with the conservative ulama. The
comparatively good relations between the state and the ulama
came to an end in 1960 when Ayatu'llah Burujirdi, who had
previously studiously avoided political involvement, began
to speak out against the Land Reform Bill that had been
drafted. Although the ulama, as controllers of large
religious land endowments, were obviously concerned at any
measures involving the land, and although they were acting
to an extent on behalf of the landowners who were one of
their main benefactors, it is likely that the land issue was
merely the 'last straw' in a series of measures which the
ulama had perceived as threatening and had thus become the
focal point around which these resentments burst out. This
is shown by the fact that immediately afterwards, a number
of other issues were joined to the land


question as being policies that the ulama objected to. These
issues included: the question of women's rights and
enfranchisement; the regime's foreign policy and, in
particular, the close links with Israel; the growing Western
cultural penetration of the country which the Shah's regime
appeared to be actively encouraging; and the increasingly
totalitarian nature as well as the corruption of the regime. 
 Interestingly, at this juncture, as in previous times when
relations between the ulama and the state were
deteriorating, the idea of Pan-Islamism re-emerged strongly.
One sign of this was the issuing, in 1959, by Shaykh Mahmud
Shaltut, the Rector of al-Azhar in Cairo, the leading
theological institution of the Sunni world, of a fatwa
recognising Ja'fari (i.e. Twelver) Shi'ism as a legitimate
Islamic school of law. This was matched by increased
interest in Pan-Islamism among the Shi'i ulama.

In March 1961 Ayatu'llah Burujirdi died and there was no
single figure prominent enough to succeed him as sole marja'
at-taqlid. The Shah used this opportunity of disarray among
the ulama to push forward with his plans. In May 1961 he
dissolved the National Assembly and, in effect, suspended
the Constitution by not allowing further elections. He then
pressed ahead with land reform decrees and in 1963 announced
and won approval by referendum for his 'White Revolution'.
  Paradoxically, however, the lack of a clear successor to
Burujirdi had, by giving increased independence to local
religious leaders, strengthened the political effectiveness
of the ulama. The increasing dissatisfaction of the ulama
now boiled over into attacks upon the government. By 1962
the ulama were organising demonstrations and riots. On 22
January 1963, four days before the referendum on the 'White
Revolution', the ulama, acting in concert with their
traditional supporters in the Bazaar, staged violent
demonstrations and closed the Bazaar. The disorder reached
such a pitch that the Shah went to the previously undreamt-
of lengths of detaining a leading marja' at-taqlid,
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari, together with Ayatu'llahs
Khumayni, Mahallati-Shirazi, Qummi and Talaqan.
  It was Ayatu'llah Ruhu'llah Musavi Khumayni (b. 1902) who
came into prominence this year. He was the most outspoken of
the ulama in his criticism of the regime; his pictures
suddenly appeared everywhere as symbols of anti-government
feeling. It was his arrest at 2.00 a.m. on 5 June 1963 that
sparked off the worst of the rioting that year during the
Muharram mourning period. Khumayni remained in prison until
August 1963. He was tried and sentenced to death by a
military court. However, at the instigation of Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari and Milani the combined Iranian Ayatu'llahs
proclaimed Khumayni to be elevated to the rank of Ayatu'llah
al-'Uzma and thus saved him.4 Although released from prison,
Khumayni continued his criticism of the


government and was eventually exiled to Turkey in November
1964 where he remained until October 1965 when he moved to
  Khumayni's rise to prominence at this time is probably
unique in Shi'i history. The usual way in which a mujtahid
rises to become a top ranking marja' at-taqlid is through
being recognised by other ulama and by the tullab as being
pre-eminent in scholarship (in the traditional fields of
jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence) and piety.
However, Khumayni (who had not specialised in jurisprudence
and principles of jurisprudence) projected himself into the
top-ranking echelon of maraji' at-taqlid by his political
appeal to the masses.
  The ulama and all other opposition groups were effectively
crushed by the Shah in 1963 and the next fourteen years saw
a period of what appeared to be relative political calm. The
ulama were kept under firm government control and were thus
forced into political quietism. Censorship ensured that only
religious works on non-controversial topics could be
published and the few ulama who did venture to speak out
against the regime such as Ayatu'llah Sayyid Mahmud Talaqani
and Ayatu'llah Muhammad Rida Sa'idi were immediately dealt
with (the latter was tortured to death in 1970). The Shah's
secret police, SAVAK, infiltrated religious groups and dealt
harshly with any protests.

Religious Developments in the 1960s and 1970s

However, under this surface calm there were some very
important religious developments going on. These
developments during the 1960S and 1970S can best be
considered under four headings: the attempt by the Shah to
create a religious system independent of the ulama and
controlled by the government; the discussions within the
ranks of the religious classes aimed at reform of the ulama;
the rethinking of Shi'i concepts in order to bring them up
to date and thus counter more effectively the increasing
pervasion of Iranian society by materialistic Western
culture; and the continuing underground opposition of some
of the ulama to the Shah's regime.
  Having effectively muzzled the ulama, the Shah,
recognising that the innate religiosity of the masses would
always give the ulama a power base within the country, set
about constructing an alternative religious system. The
groundwork for this had been laid by Rida Shah when he had
begun the process of taking over control of some of the
religious endowments. Religious endowments formed a large
proportion of the income of the ulama and, although the
government Department of Religious Endowments continued to
use the income from the endowments for religious, charitable
and educational purposes, it was now the government that was
increasingly in control of the uses to


which the money was put. Also, as mentioned before, the
establishment of the Faculty of Theology at Tehran
University during Rida Shah's reign provided an alternative
means, under government control, of acquiring a religious
  The first stage of Muhammad Rida Shah's plan to set up a
religious structure to rival the ulama was the creation
under the White Revolution of a Literacy Corps (Sipah-i
Danish) which was to bring literacy and education to the
villages. Since the Corpsmen also taught the Qur'an and
religious education as part of their programme in each
village, they became, in effect, rivals of the village
mullas. Following on from this, the Shah created in 1970 a
Religious Corps (Sipah-i Dini) and a Corps of Religious
Propagandists (Muravvijin-i Din). These were in even more
direct competition with the village mullas.
  Thus what came to be called the Din-i Dawlat (government's
religion) was set up in competition with the Din-i Millat
(people's religion) and had virtually a complete hierarchy;
starting at the top with several influential religious
figures, such as Ayatu'llah Mahdavi and 'Allama Vahidi, who
threw their weight behind it; a country-wide network of
holders of government-appointed posts, such as the Imam-
Jum'as of many of the most important mosques; the
educational facilities of university theology faculties as
well as the government-run college, the Madrasa Sipahsalar
in Tehran; the efforts at the village level of the Literacy
and Religious Corpsmen; and the financial backing of the
Religious Endowments Department (see Table 10).
  Indeed, although it was never explicitly claimed, the
tenor of many of the Shah's pronouncements, about how he was
being guided by God and had seen visions of the Imams,
implied that he regarded himself, rather than the ulama, as
the true representative of the Hidden Imam (not unlike but
less extreme than the claims of Shah Isma'il, the first
Safavid monarch, see p. 105) and therefore the Din-i Dawlat
as the true form of Shi'i Islam.
  However, the Din-i Dawlat had up to 1978 failed to win the
allegiance of the masses who boycotted the government-
controlled mosques in the cities and continued to turn to
the traditional ulama and the independent mosques.
Nevertheless, it was a serious threat to the ulama and may
possibly have achieved its purpose had it continued longer.
Its existence certainly explains the intense hostility of
the ulama for the regime of the Shah.[5]
  During the 1960s there was an intense discussion among the
ulama concerning their role in society. Ayatu'llah Burujirdi
had always discouraged political involvement by the ulama
but after his death a number of writers began to call for
reforms within the religious establishment and for the ulama
to take a more active social role. In


Table 10. Diagrammatic representation of Din-i Dawlat and Din-i Millat
(adapted from Braswell, 'Mosaic of Mullahs and Mosques ', pp. 246-7)

                       Din-i Dawlat                  Din-i Millat

Leadership             Shah                          Maraji' at-taqlid
                       Imam-Jum'as                   Mujtahids
                       Sipah-i Dini and Muravvijin   Mullas

Institutional Arrangements

Education              Faculties of Theology         Qumm and other
                       Madrasa Sipahsalar            religious colleges

Legal                  Secular courts                Shari'a courts

Finance                Religious endowments          Some religious
                       Government support            Voluntary
                                                     offerings of khums
                                                     and zakat
Centres: national      Tehran                        Qumm
           local       Government-controlled         Independent
                        mosques                       mosques
Communications         Mass Media                    Informal

Literature             Qur'an                        Qur'an
                       Shah's autobiography          Traditional Shi'i
                       White Revolution              Writings of
                        literature                    maraji' at-taqlid
                                                     and some
                                                     thinkers such as

Ideology               White Revolution              Imam Husayn's
                       Monarchy                      Leadership of the
                       Modernisation                 Traditionalism



December 1962, after Burujirdi's death, there appeared a
seminal publication Bahthi dar bara-yi Marja'iyyat wa
Ruhaniyyat (Discussion regarding the marja' and the
Religious Classes) in which a number of leading ulama as
well as prominent lay thinkers presented papers discussing
the role of the ulama in Muslim society. This document urged
the necessity of reform of the curriculum at the religious
colleges so as to replace the centrality of fiqh
(jurisprudence) in the curriculum with more socially-
oriented subjects such as ethics. It considered that the
main factor holding the ulama back from being a major social
force was their financial dependence on the masses who
always tend to conservatism. It also urged the ulama to
resurrect the communal spirit among the Shi'i masses. Since
Islam is a total way of life, there can be no separation
between religion and social and political issues, therefore
the ulama have no choice but to emerge, speak out on these
issues and provide social leadership.6
  Parallel with this reassessment of the role of the ulama
in society was the attempt by a number of intellectuals to
reinterpret some of the traditional concepts of Shi'i Islam
in such a way as to make them more applicable to the modern
world. In previous generations, intellectuals, seeing the
backwardness of the Islamic world and the prosperity of the
Western nations, had sought to bring modernisation to Iran
and therefore had emphasised that Islam was compatible with
modernisation (i.e. Westernisation). But now, seeing the
regime pressing ahead with modernisation and the enormous
social disruption that this was causing, the new generation
of intellectuals looked back to a past that they imagined to
have been free of such problems and therefore they sought to
present Islam as a bulwark against the moral decay caused by
  Among the first of this new generation of intellectuals
who wrote of the need to resist the cultural penetration of
Iran by the West were Dr Sayyid Fakhru'd-Din Shadman, Prof.
Ihsan Naraqi and Jalal Al-i Ahmad (d. 1969). The latter
popularised the term gharbzadigi (spellbound by the West) to
describe the attitude of those who enthusiastically called
for the uncritical and wholesale adoption of Western ways.
Al-i Ahmad's line of thought was taken up and developed by
Dr 'Ali Shari'ati (1933-77). In 1965 an institute called the
Husayniyya Irshad was set up in Tehran to discuss modern
social issues in an Islamic context. Shari'ati lectured at
this institute regularly from 1967 until it was closed by
the government in 1973. These lectures were mimeographed and
distributed and caused a great deal of discussion,
eventually becoming one of the ideological bases of the 1979
  Both Al-i Ahmad and Shari'ati were very critical of the
ulama for their obscurantism and passivity. Shari'ati in
particular presents a theory that the original 'pure'
Shi'ism (which he calls 'Alawi Shi'ism) was perverted


in Safavid times so that the socially-active 'Alawi Shi'ism
in which each Muslim has an obligation to strive for
achieving the ideal Shi'i society became the passive Safavid
Shi'ism in which each Muslim was enjoined to sit back and
wait for the advent of the Hidden Imam who would put
everything right. The ulama of the Safavid period concerned
themselves only with other-worldly matters and hence gave
the state a free hand in politics and this tendency had
persisted, Shari'ati maintained, to the present day.
Shari'ati was also a sharp critic of the neo-colonialism of
the West and sought in a revitalised Islam the means of
combating this Western imperialism.
  Although very popular with the masses and especially with
the young, Shari'ati's writings never found favour with the
ulama. There was too much of an attack on the ulama
themselves in his writings for their comfort, although they
based their denunciations of Shari'ati on his lack of
traditional Shi'i learning and hence his liability to make
mistakes in his presentation of Shi'i history and doctrine.
Indeed, Shari'ati and certain groups such as the Furqan
terrorists who considered themselves his followers were
accused of being crypto-Sunnis.7

Two other lay writers who were very influential at this time
and who were later to play important political roles after
the 1979 Revolution were Abu'l-Hasan Bani-Sadr (b. 1933) and
Engineer Mihdi Bazargan (b. 1905). The former was the
leading economic thinker in the Revolution's ideology and
later the first President of the Islamic Republic; the
latter wrote mainly about Islam's adaptability and
compatibility with modern science and technology and later
became the Islamic Republic's first Prime Minister. Whereas
in the 1950s the university students had been anti-
religious, it was due to writers like Bazargan that the
interest of the students in Islam was rekindled in the 1960s
and this paved the way for the alliance of the students with
the ulama and Bazaar elements that was to be such an
important factor in the 1979 Revolution. Another factor that
contributed to the growing interest in Islam in the
universities was the increasing number of students from the
lower (and in general more rigidly Islamic) strata of
  Among the ulama also there were several writers of
importance in this process of rethinking the basis of Shi'i
Islam. Leaving aside Khumayni for the present, the most
influential of these were Ayatu'llah Mahmud Talaqani (1919-
September 1979) who achieved a reputation of being liberal,
progressive and sympathetic to minority groups and who was
very popular with the students and the middle classes, and
Ayatu'llah Shaykh Murtada Mutahhari (assassinated May 1979)
who was also very popular with the students and a leading
advocate of reforms among the ulama.

The ulama within Iran had very limited opportunities for


opposition to the regime. Some protest did occur in 1970-72
when disturbances occurred in the universities especially at
Tehran and also at Qumm. Two of the most outspoken ulama,
Ayatu'llahs Muntaziri and Talaqani, were arrested and exiled
internally. Shortly afterwards in 1973, the Husayniyya
Irshad was closed down and Shari'ati arrested. In June 1975,
on the anniversary of Khumayni's arrest in 1963, there was a
demonstration by religious students at the Madrasa Faydiyya,
the leading religious college in Qumm. Police invaded the
building using tear gas and are said to have killed some of
the students by throwing them off the roof. The Faydiyya was
closed and remained so until the Revolution.
  Ayatu'llah Khumayni, on the other hand, in exile in Iraq,
did not have the same constraints upon him. His writings and
talks in pamphlet form and on cassette were smuggled into
Iran and distributed. He thus became a rallying point for
the opposition to the regime among the religious elements of
the population and, in particular, the lower-ranking ulama,
the religious students and the Bazaar elements.
  Until 1970, Khumayni, while critical of the Shah's
government, had only called for its reform. But in that
year, in a series of lectures given to his students in Najaf
and later published in a book, Hukumat-i Islami (Islamic
Government), Khumayni stated that the only acceptable form
of Islamic government was government by an expert in Islamic
jurisprudence (the Vilayat-i Faqih, see p. 196). The Shah's
government tried everything that it could to discredit
Khumayni and to prevent his messages from reaching his
supporters, but its success was limited.
  The Iranian population was left in the late 1970s with
socialism and nationalism spent forces after the Musaddiq
episode, with all forms of political expression suppressed
by the state and with the Shah's White Revolution in
disarray. Of all of the groups that laid claim to leadership
within the nation, only the ulama were still a creditable
alternative with a viable organisation and so it was to this
group that the people turned for leadership in the 1979
Revolution (see the last section of this chapter).
  The population of Iran is about 38,000,000. The official
statistics indicate that the vast majority of Iranians (92%,
i.e. 35,000,000) are Twelver Shi'is although some observers
have suggested a much lower figure. Almost all of the
Persian-speaking population, both citydwellers and the
tribes of the south and south-west, are Twelver Shi'i.
Several of the most important non-Iranian ethnic groups such
as the Adharbayjan Turks and the Arabs of the south-west are
also predominantly Twelver Shi'i. Three important ethnic
elements have remained Sunni: the Baluchis of the south-
east, the Turkomans of the north-east, and the Kurds of the
west (the latter also contain many Ahl-i Haqq). The only
important groups that are not Muslims are the Bahá'ís


(numbering 350,000), the Christians (150,000), the Jews
(50,000) and Zoroastrians (30,000).


The First World War resulted in the British occupation of
Iraq. The British were at first welcomed by the Shi'is of
south Iraq as deliverers from the yoke of Turkish Sunni
oppression. But from 1918 onwards, when it became clear that
the British were not about to depart as quickly as they had
arrived, the Shi'is, led by Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Shiraz and
Shaykh Abu'l-Hasan Isfahan, began to oppose the British rule
and, in particular, they issued fatwas against the
appointment of a non-Muslim, Sir Percy Cox, as the British
Governor of Iraq.
  When in 1920 the British occupation appeared about to be
formally institutionalised by the establishment of a League
of Nations Mandate, the whole of Shi'i south Iraq erupted in
a violent revolt which was only subdued with difficulty by
the British. Th› Sunni elements in Iraq only played a minor
role in this revolt. Even after the British had withdrawn
the idea of ruling Iraq through a British governor, had put
Faysal on the throne with an Iraqi government, and had
produced a timetable that would lead eventually to full
independence, the Shi'is remained implacably opposed to the
British although most of the Sunni elements of the
population accepted the position.

The opposition of the Shi'i mujtahids to the British reached
its climax in 1922-3 when Na'ini and Isfahan issued fatwas
forbidding participation in the national elections. There
were then some disturbances and three of the more
politically-minded ulama were expelled from the country. In
protest the leading ulama of Karbala and Najaf, including
Na'ini and Isfahani, left Iraq for Iran in the summer of
1923. They went to the recently re-established centre of
studies at Qumm as guests of Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-
Yazdi. They had been expecting that their departure would
provoke southern Iraq into revolt and would induce the Iraqi
government to request their return on their terms. In the
event, nothing happened and the Iraqi government was only
too happy to have these mujtahids out of the country during
the elections and only allowed their return afterwards in
April 1924.

For a time Shi'i political activity was quiescent and when
it reemerged, in 1927, in protest at the publication of an
anti-Shi'i book, it was now led by politicians rather than
the ulama. In 1934-5 there was a further crisis caused by
the resentment of the Shi'i tribes of the south at certain
government actions. One of the leading ulama, Shaykh
Muhammad Husayn Al Kashifu'l-Ghita, acted as mediator in
resolving these problems.


  However, in the main, religious differences decreased in
importance over the next decades and although individual
Shi'is were active in politics, they acted within the party
political framework rather than representing the Shi'i
community. Most government cabinets had one or two Shi'i
members and Salih Jabr and Sayyid Muhammad as-Sadr were
Shi'is who succeeded in becoming Prime Minister. Arab
nationalism and party politics superseded the former Shi'i
political unity. The Shi'i mujtahids were no longer
politically active (although such figures as Na'ini and
Isfahani, who had been active in the early 1920s, lived on
for many years more) and even the renewed British occupation
during the Second World War elicited surprisingly little
reaction. The tribes, the main political weapon of the Shi'i
community, became less militant and less able to threaten
the government.
The pace of secularisation was increased after the revolt of
1958 which overthrew the king and brought the socialists and
communists into power. The Shi'is, because of their poorer
social and economic position supported the socialists. When
the Ba'th party came to power in the coup of 1963, Shi'is
constituted 53% of the party. But gradually the Sunni
element in the party predominated and by the time of al-
Bakr's takeover of power in 1968, the Shi'i representation
in the party had fallen to 6%.

When Khumayni first arrived in Iraq in 1965 after being
expelled from Iran, 'Abdu's-Salam 'Arif's regime was
antagonistic to Shi'is and Khumayni was suppressed. Later,
under 'Abdu'r-Rahman 'Arif, Iraq established improved
relations with Iran and once more Khumayni's activity was
kept under a tight rein.
  It is said that at first Ayatu'llah Muhsin al-Hakim,
Iraq's foremost religious leader at the time, disapproved of
Khumayni's political stance but after Khumayni's arrival in
Najaf and meetings between the two, al-Hakim reversed his
opinion and supported Khumayni. Ayatu'llah Khu'i, although
al-Hakim's successor as the leading marja' of Iraq, is
reported to have opposed Khumayni's political activity.
  In 1968, after Hasan al-Bakr took power, Ayatu'llah al-
Hakim left Najaf for Baghdad in protest against the new
regime's treatment of the Shi'i ulama. It was about this
time that, with the extinction of any hope of social
improvement through political activity, the Shi'i masses
began to turn back to the ulama for leadership. It was out
of this change that the Da'wa party was formed and had the
support of most of the minor ulama and the blessing of many
of the more senior ulama.

In the early 1970s Khumayni enjoyed a short period of favour
with the regime of Saddam al-Husayn who took over from al-
Bakr. This was during a period when there was increased
tension between Iraq and Iran and Khumayni was used by the
Iraqi government as part of its campaign


against the Shah. In 1975, however, when Saddam al-Husayn
came to terms with the Shah, Khumayni's activities were once
more suppressed. The opening of the borders and the
resumption of pilgrimages by Iranians to the Iraqi shrines,
on the other hand, allowed Khumayni to smuggle his messages
and tape-recordings into Iran more easily.
  The Shi'i population of Iraq became increasingly
disaffected during the 1970S. The religious processions
during Muharram in the shrine cities became occasions for
political protests. In 1974 there was rioting after which
five members of the Da'wa party were executed. In 1977 there
were more serious disturbances and eight were executed.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was inevitably a severe test
to Saddam al-Husayn's Ba'thist regime. Friction between the
government and the Shi'is increased almost immediately. In
June 1979 Ayatu'llah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr was arrested and
placed under house detention. During the same year another
senior Iraqi religious figure, Ayatu'llah Shirazi, who had
close links with the Da'wa party, and Shaykh Ghulam-Rida
Ridwani were expelled from Iraq and came to Iran where they
began to organise the Shi'i resistance to Saddam al-Husayn.
On 9 April 1980, after an attempt to assassinate Saddam al-
Husayn, Ayatu'llah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr was executed.
Following this several hundred more Shi'is suspected of
being associated with the Da'wa party were executed and
several thousand Shi'is whose families had in some instances
lived in Iraq for generations were pronounced to be Iranian
and expelled across the border.

Various attempts have been made by the Iranian government to
coordinate the different Iraqi opposition groups. The three
main religious Shi'i groupings, the Da'wa party, the Paykar
group (a guerilla organisation similar to the Iranian
Mujahidin) and the Jama'at al-'Ulama (a grouping of pro-
Khumayni ulama) have been united and their activities co-
ordinated from within Iran by Hujjatu'l-Islam Muhammad Baqir
al-Hakim, a son of Ayatu'llah al-Hakim.8 But these Shi'i
groups have not thus far managed to co-ordinate with the
secular Syrian-backed opposition groups.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi leadership made a determined effort to
woo support from Iraqi Shi'is. Resources were diverted to
the Shi'i south. The official government propaganda has cast
the war with Iran in terms of the struggle between the Arabs
and the Iranians for supremacy that occurred in the early
days of Islam, trying ta make the Shi'is of south Iraq
identify more closely with their being Arabs in the face of
the Iranian foe rather than their being Shi'is. Thus the
Iraqi official propaganda uses certain symbolic key-words
such as Qadisiyya (the battle at which the Arab armies
defeated the Iranian Empire in AD 637) while the Iranian
propaganda seeks to win the support of south Iraq's Shi'is
by using such


key-words as Karbala. Ayatu'llah Khu'i, the most senior of
the Iraqi religious figures, has refused to commit himself
politically but the regime did succeed in obtaining support
from another important figure, Shaykh 'Ali Al Kashifu'l-
  As the war with Iran has become prolonged, however, the
Iraqi government has become more and more severe on the
Shi'is in Iraq. Ayatu'llah Khu'i is now under virtual house
arrest and Shi'is in all walks of life are under suspicion
and pressure. In June 1984 some 95 Shi'i ulama, and in
particular members of the al-Hakim family, were executed.

Most authorities are agreed that the Shi'is form the
majority of Iraq's population and estimates of the
proportion vary from 55% to 60%. Thus the Shi'is number
approximately 7,000,000 of Iraq's total population of
12,000,000. With the Sunni population divided between the
mutually-antagonistic Arabs and Kurds, this makes the Shi'i
position even stronger. The Shi'is predominate in the
southern half of the country as far north as Baghdad, which
is a mixed Sunni-Shi'i city. Of the holy cities, Karbala and
Kazimayn, which is now a suburb of Baghdad, have a very
strong Iranian influence while Najaf is much more an Arab
city. Most of the tribes of the south are Shi'i and the
largest town of the south, Basra, is predominantly Shi'i.


The Shi'i community in Lebanon has always been and largely
remains to the present the poorest and least-educated among
Lebanon's religious groups.9 At the beginning of the 20th
century it was predominantly a rural community occupying
some of the poorest land. The majority were peasants
dominated by a small number of rich land-owning Shi'i
families. The Shi'is who lived in the towns tended to
conceal their religious identity and conform outwardly to
  During the 19th century the Ottomans had created a
separately administered Christian area on Mount Lebanon.
Following the First World War the Christians succeeded in
persuading the French, who were given control of Syria under
a League of Nations Mandate, to create a separate state
consisting of Mount Lebanon, Jabal 'Amil and 'Akkar together
with the central strip and the Biqa' valley. This area
included a large number of Sunni Muslims who regarded
themselves as Syrians and agitated against the proposed
division into Syria and Lebanon.

It was as a result of this conflict that the Shi'is of
Lebanon were suddenly forced into the centre of the
political arena. The Sunnis claimed that they spoke for all
Muslims, including the Druse and Shi'a, when


they demanded to be rejoined to Syria. The Christians,
however, realised that the Shi'is were unlikely to want to
be drawn into a Sunni-dominated Syria when they could be a
part of a multi-confessional Lebanon where they would not be
forced to conceal their religion. Therefore it was largely
due to the efforts of the Christians that the hitherto
apolitical and largely forgotten Shi'i community was
suddenly drawn into the limelight and in 1926 constituted as
an official community separate from the Sunnis.
  The Christians' assumption proved correct and the Shi'a
gave their backing to an independent state. The Christians
realised that the addition of large Muslim areas to the
original Christian enclave to form the new state would
threaten their numerical predominance but it was not until
the 1932 Census that they realised to what extent. That
Census revealed a Christian majority of only 266 in a total
population of 793,226. The Christians had managed to
persuade the French mandatory authorities to allow
registration of some 67,403 citizens (i.e. about 8% of the
electorate) who were resident abroad and predominantly
Christians, thereby shoring up their figures. The Shi'is
were numbered as 155,035 resident and 3,390 abroad. The
Christians have blocked the taking of another Census since
that time lest it show, as it almost certainly would, a
Muslim predominance.
  Based on the 1932 Census, an informal National Pact was
worked out in 1943, just prior to full independence in 1944.
According to this pact, virtually every aspect of public
life would be arranged so as to maintain a confessional
proportionality. The parliamentary seats were divided:
Christians 54, Sunnis 20, Shi'a 19, Druse 6. It was
determined that the President of the Republic would be a
Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and
the Speaker of the House a Shi'i. The Shi'a have usually
been allocated the Agriculture Ministry.
  During the 1950s the Muslims began to clamour for a fresh
Census as they felt that they now outnumbered the Christians
and resented the automatic predominance of Christians in all
spheres of public life. Rising Arab nationalism under
Nasser, the Suez crisis of 1956, and discontent with the
rule of President Chamoun caused a political crisis in 1958
but Lebanon emerged from this with its power structure
little altered.
  The religious head of the Shi'i community at this time was
Hajj Sayyid 'Abdu'l-Husayn Sharafu'd-Din who had studied in
Najaf under Akhund Khurasani and Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi
and also under Sunni scholars in Egypt where he held some
much-publicised debates with Sunni scholars at al-Azhar
University between 1912 and 1919. He then returned to Tyre
and became the head of the Shi'i community in the Jabal
'Amil and was instrumental in setting up schools and a
madrasa and building a mosque in Tyre. He died in 1377/1957.


  In 1959 a leading Shi'i scholar, Musa as-Sadr (whose
ancestors had been from the Jabal 'Amil) came to Lebanon
from Iran and became the religious leader of Lebanon's
Twelver Shi'is. He took up residence in Tyre where he had
been appointed the Shi'i Mufti. The Shi'is were still at
this time, as they always had been, at the bottom of the
social scale in Lebanon, occupying the poorest regions of
the country and generally ignored by the government. So
demoralised was the Shi'i community that, in some villages,
it is reported that Musa as-Sadr even found Shi'is burying
their dead according to Christian rites.
  Imam Musa as-Sadr, as he came to be known, displayed
considerable ability and was able to build up a community
solidarity among the Shi'is. In December 1967 the Shi'i
Supreme National Islamic Council was set up by an Act of
Parliament and in 1969 Imam Musa as-Sadr was elected as its
President. The establishment of this Council completed the
process begun in 1926 of separating the Shi'i community
entirely from the Sunnis.
  Imam Musa as-Sadr's new role thrust him into the political
arena and at first he was opposed by the traditional Shi'i
feudal families who had always previously represented the
Shi'a politically. But by making his appeal direct to the
Shi'i masses he was able to neutralise this opposition.
Politically, while confirming the basic Shi'i support for an
independent Lebanon, he criticised the Lebanese government's
record with respect to the development of the poorer Shi'i
areas and also the failure of the Lebanese army to protect
the Jabal 'Amil from repeated Israeli incursions.
  In 1970 Imam Musa as-Sadr was instrumental in setting up a
Council of the South to develop the Jabal 'Amil region
together with a large injection of government money. In
1974, when he saw that the money promised by the government
for the south was not forthcoming, he mobilised the Shi'a in
the south and the Biqa' valley by holding a series of mass
meetings to pressure the government, and also made an appeal
to the Christians of Lebanon for a new supra-confessional
approach. Parallel to this, however, as-Sadr's supporters
created the Amal, a partly-political, partly-military Shi'i
organisation. Although as-Sadr was successful in mobilising
the Shi'is of the south, his success in the Biqa' valley was
less marked. The Biqa' is notably less religious in its
Shi'ism than the Jabal 'Amil. In the past there have been
few notable ulama from this area compared to the Jabal
'Amil, and the usual Shi'i commemorations of 'Ashura, etc.,
are celebrated on a more modest scale. As-Sadr's appeal to
religion was therefore less effective in this area.
  Then in August 1978, while on a trip to Libya, as-Sadr
mysteriously disappeared. The Libyans have failed to account
satisfactorily for this


disappearance and it must be assumed that the Imam was
killed either deliberately or accidentally.
  The disappearance of Imam Musa as-Sadr led to a
considerable amount of confusion among Lebanon's Shi'is,
particularly as it was closely followed by the Iranian
Revolution and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
After the beginning of the Irano-Iraqi War, the situation
became even more confused with the pro-Khumayni Amal
organisation battling against the Lebanese branch of the
Iraqi Ba'thists in the streets of Ba'albakk and Beirut.
There was also fighting between the Amal and Palestinian
guerillas in south Beirut and southern Lebanon in April 1982
just prior to the second Israeli invasion. The Shi'i
militias around Ba'albakk have been considerably reinforced
by the Iranian military units stationed there. Many of the
recent terrorist episodes directed against Israeli and other
foreign forces have been attributed to Shi'i groups and in
particular one called the Islamic Jihad.  At present the
leadership of Lebanon's Shi'is is in the hands of a small
group of individuals. Nabih Birri is head of the politico-
military Amal organisation; Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shamsu'd-
Din holds a degree of religio-political leadership as Deputy
Chairman (the Shi'is have not as yet accepted Imam Musa as-
Sadr's disappearance sufficiently to allow his replacement
as Chairman) of the Shi'i Supreme National Islamic Council;
Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Amir Qabalan is the Shi'i Mufti. Considerable
power, however, still remains in the hands of the old
families of feudal overlords and notables, such as the al-
As'ad family in the Jabal 'Amil and the Hamada in the Hirmal
area.[11] Rapidly increasing in importance is the Hizbu'llah
party under Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlu'llah which is
closely aligned to Khumayni's ideology. The question of how
many Shi'a there are in Lebanon is politically sensitive. As
has been mentioned above, the Christians have maintained a
political hegemony on the basis of the National Pact of 1943
which in turn was based on the Census of 1932. Although all
attempts to have another Census taken have been blocked, it
is almost universally acknowledged that, in the intervening
period, the Shi'a have grown proportionately more than the
other communities and are now probably the largest group.
The present estimated population of Lebanon is 3,500,000.
The proportion of Muslims to Christians is much disputed but
a 60-40 split in favour of the Muslims seems to be widely
accepted by independent authorities. Of the Muslims, the
Shi'a probably represent 45% with the Sunnis 35%, Druse 17%
and the remainder 'Alawis, Isma'ilis, etc.
  An-Nahar, Beirut's most prestigious daily newspaper,
quoted on 5 November 1975 the following estimated


Total Population:   3,258,000      Percentage of Total

  Christians:       1,250,000           38.4
  Muslims:          2,008,000           61.6
  Shi'a:              970,000           29.8
  Sunnis:             690,000           21.1
  Druse:              348,000           10.7

Another more recent estimate gives the following

Total Population:   3,575,000      Percentage of Total

  Christians:       1,525,000           42.7
  Maronites:          900,000           25.2
  Muslims:          2,050,000            7.3
  Shi'a:            1,100,000           30.8
  Sunnis:             750,000           21.0
  Druse:              200,000            5.6

  One area of Shi'i concentration is in the south of the
country. Tyre (Sur) with its hinterland, the Jabal 'Amil, as
far north as the Litani River is predominantly Shi'i (80%),
with Bint Jubayl, Mays al-Jabal and Tibnin as the important
inland Shi'i towns. Further north, Nabatiyya is the largest
Shi'i centre in the district centred on Sidon which is 60%
Shi'i. To the east of this area, the proportion of Shi'a in
the district centred on Marj 'Ayun drops to 40% and al-
Khiyam is the only important Shi'i town in this region.
Although the district of Jizzin which includes the village
of Juba' is historically important, it is now predominantly
Christian with only 13% Shi'a.
  The Shi'is in Beirut live predominantly in the southern
suburbs around Ba'abda. Although earlier in the present
century, the Shi'is constituted only 5% of the population of
Beirut, recent events in south Lebanon have resulted in
large numbers of refugees moving into the Beirut area with
the result that Shi'is are now probably the largest
religious community in Beirut. There is a small Shi'i
population (7%) in the Kisrawan area, in the districts
centred on Jubayl and Qartaba, including the resort villages
of Afqa and Laqluq on Mount Lebanon.
  The other main Shi'i area is the northern Biqa' valley
stretching from Ba'albakk to Hirmal, both of which are
important Shi'i towns. This area is 70% Shi'i. Further south
in the Biqa' valley there are a small number of Shi'i
villages in the area around Zahla.
  The disturbances in Lebanon in the last decade have almost
certainly made differences to the above figures (and to the
map on pp. 270-71) which are calculated on the basis of the
Censuses taken in 1921 and 1932. The area around Hirmal,
for example, which was 70-80% Shi'i, is now almost 100%
Shi'i due to the emigration of Maronites from there.



Once Lebanon had been carved out of the former Turkish
vilayat of Syria, there remained few Twelver Shi'is in the
new state of Syria. Of the estimated 50,000 that remain, the
majority live in villages in the region of Idlib to the
south-west of Aleppo and in the region of Azaz to the
northwest of Aleppo. These are the remnants of the once-
large Twelver community centred on Aleppo that existed until
the 12th century. There are also a few Twelver Shi'i
villages in the area of Hums and Hama.
  The present regime that controls Syria is dominated by the
'Alawis (see p. 58) who predominate in the Latakia area of
Syria and are considered heretical by many Muslims. In order
to bolster the legitimacy of the regime, the 'Alawis sought
and obtained from Imam Musa as-Sadr, the Twelver religious
leader in Lebanon, a legal decision that they are a
legitimate Muslim people.


It is almost impossible to estimate the number of Twelver
Shi'is in Turkey. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly,
the official censuses make no differentiation between the
various Islamic sects. Secondly, writers on Turkey usually
make no attempt to differentiate between the various Shi'i
sects but lump them all together as 'Alevi'. Thirdly, the
Shi'is themselves probably recognise no distinct boundaries
between the various sects and groupings. There are four main
groups of Shi'is in Turkey: (a) the Arabic-speaking 'Alawi
(Nusayri) community (see p. 58) centred on the Mediterranean
coast between Antakya and Mersin; (b) the Turkish-speaking
Turkomans who are scattered in villages throughout Turkey
but especially in a band from the north of Ankara to
Erzincan. These are mainly Bektashi, while some still use
the name Qizilbash; (c) the Kurds, who are mainly Ahl-i Haqq
and predominate in south-east Turkey; (d) the Adhari (Azeri)
Turkish refugees from Russian Adharbayjan.
  Of these Shi'i groups all accept the Twelve Imams of the
Twelver line. The first, the 'Alawis, would be considered
heterodox by most orthodox Twelver Shi'is although it is
reported that they send students to the religious colleges
in Najaf and Qumm. Among the second group can be found small
numbers who call themselves Ja'fari and must presumably
therefore be orthodox Twelvers but, in general, the standard
of education among them is so low and their contacts with
the rest of the Twelver Shi'i world so limited that they
have little in common with the wider Twelver community. The
majority of this second group subscribe to Bektashi and
other similar doctrines and would clearly be

[Pages 270 and 271 contain a map of South Lebanon.]


considered heterodox. The third group are also considered
heterodox 'extremists'. Only the fourth group (who are not
in any case native to Anatolia) can be considered an
integral part of the orthodox Twelver community.
  It has been estimated that some 15% of the total
population of Turkey (i.e. 7,000,000 people) are Shi'i. But
of these, probably only about I, 500,000 can be considered
orthodox Twelver Shi'is.


The Shi'i community in Bahrain began the 20th century in a
very oppressed situation, dominated by the Sunni tribal
hierarchy that ruled the island. In 1919, however, the
British, who had established themselves as 'protectors' of
Bahrain by a treaty dating from 1861 and who had given
themselves wide powers of dealing with all foreign subjects
on the island in 1904, began to intervene actively in the
internal affairs of Bahrain. One of the first measures they
undertook was to institute administrative reforms, such as a
court system independent of the ruling class's authority.
These changes were much welcomed by the Shi'i community but
sparked off a major episode of Sunni-Shi'i conflict in 1923
in which several Shi'i villages were attacked. However, the
perpetrators of these attacks were brought to trial and for
the first time public law, rather than the private law of
the ruler, was seen to be applied. The authority of the
ruling Sunni al-Khalifa tribe had been limited and the Sunni
attempt to disrupt this process overcome. It is somewhat
ironic that at the time that the mujtahids of Iraq were
issuing fatwas against the British in Iraq, the Shi'a of
Bahrain were looking to the British as their protectors.
  By 1932 a number of other abuses by the ruling classes,
such as forced labour and the right to raise taxes on their
estates, were abolished and these also principally benefited
the Shi'i peasantry. In 1934 and 1935 the Shi'a protested
vigorously against what they considered to be discriminatory
actions by the court system against them. Much more serious
was the uprising in the mid-1950s. This began in 1953 with a
series of Sunni attacks on Shi'is and culminated in a
sectarian clash at the oil refinery in 1954 followed by a
Shi'i attack on the fort to free some Shi'i prisoners that
were being held there. After this, the Shi'is joined up with
a number of Sunni Arab Nationalists and a widespread more
general movement aiming at political reform emerged. There
was continuing political tension between the ruling class
and the Nationalist reformers throughout 1955 and 1956 with
periodic violent clashes. Then in November 1956), following
the Suez crisis and further violence in Bahrain, the
government stepped in strongly and arrested all of the


leading nationalists, imprisoning some and exiling others.
  Although the Nationalist movement had been crushed, the
episode created pressure on the ruling al-Khalifa shaykhs to
introduce some reforms and eventually, after independence
from Britain in 1970, Shaykh 'Isa permitted the election of
an Assembly to determine the Constitution. This Assembly was
elected in 1972 and sat in 1973. Fourteen Shi'is and eight
Sunnis were elected but the ruler negated the Shi'i
advantage through his appointment of eight additional
members as well as the decision that the eleven Cabinet
Ministers, also selected by the ruler, would have full
voting powers in the Assembly. The Constitution was decided
and in December 1973 there were further elections resulting
in the formation of the National Assembly with thirty
elected members and fourteen Cabinet Ministers acting ex
officio. Hasan Jawad al-Jashi, a Shi'i, was elected Speaker
of the Assembly. In 1975, however, in the midst of a clash
with the government over security laws which the government
was trying to introduce without the Assembly's approval, the
Assembly was dissolved and the brief experiment with
democracy ended.[14]
  In 1971 the Shah of Iran formally gave up Iran's long-
standing claim to sovereignty over Bahrain and this move
eased tension within Bahrain where the Shi'is were under
suspicion of being sympathetic to Iran's claims (some 10% of
Bahrain's Shi'is are of Iranian origin, having been resident
in Bahrain for many generations, while there are some 5,000
recent Iranian immigrants).
  After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, however, Sunni-Shi'i
tensions re-emerged. On 14 July 1979 Ayatu'llah Muhammad
Sadiq Rawhani, a senior member of the Iranian ulama, stated
that the previous withdrawal of Iran's claim to Bahrain had
been made by an illegitimate regime and was therefore
illegal. Although the government of Bazargan immediately
repudiated this, his government fell shortly afterwards and,
since Khumayni has never pronounced on the issue, it remains
'in the air'.
  On 20 September 1979 Hujjatu'l-Islam Hadi Mudarrisi and
Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Razzaq Jawahiri, Khumayni's representatives
in Bahrain, were arrested and expelled. Following this, all
books and magazines from Iran were banned and pictures of
Khumayni in public places were torn down. In December 1981 a
Shi'i plot to overthrow the government was discovered and
some 73 people from the village of Jaw went on trial in
Spring of 1982. Clearly the Bahrain government is nervous
about the implications of the Iranian Revolution for its own
Shi'i population which have been and continue to be an
under-privileged section of society. There has been some
attempt to improve relations with Iran and ambassadors have
been exchanged but Bahrain remains very guarded in


its relations with Iran, especially after the start of the
Irano-Iraqi War, and is clearly seeking to shield its own
Shi'i population from being influenced by the Iranian
  Bahrain, at present, has a population of about 290,000.
Just over half of the population (55-60%, i.e. about
160,000) is Shi'i. The Sunni element of the population is
mainly urban and strongly represented in the armed forces
and the government. The Shi'a are the rural population,
mainly peasants working the palm estates, and fishermen. In
the 20th century large numbers of Shi'a did migrate to the
towns and are increasingly represented in the professions
and the lower echelons of the administrative bureaucracy.
But in the main the Shi'a occupy the less-skilled, lower-
income occupations.

Saudi Arabia

The Shi'is of Saudi Arabia live predominantly in the al-Ahsa
(or al-Hasa) province. At the beginning of the 20th century
they were living under the comparatively tolerant Ottoman
Empire. Then in 1913 the Wahhabis under 'Abdu'l-'Aziz, ibn
Sa'ud, reoccupied the area and the Shi'is were once again
subjected to the harsh, puritanical, anti-Shi'i ideology of
the Wahhabis backed by the fanatical Ikhwan tribesmen. By
1925 ibn Sa'ud had taken Mecca and Medina and the Ikhwan
damaged the important Shi'i tombs in the latter city and
were only prevented from destroying the tomb of Muhammad
himself by the personal intervention of ibn Sa'ud.
  The harshness of Wahhabi rule was, however, considerably
relaxed when, in 1929-30, ibn Sa'ud turned on the Ikhwan and
destroyed them. From that time onwards, although open
manifestations of Shi'ism are still prohibited in Saudi
Arabia, the Shi'is are not molested.
  The discovery of oil in large quantities in the Shi'i
province of al-Ahsa in 1938 changed the face of this area.
There was an influx of foreigners and an introduction of all
of the paraphernalia of Western (American) civilisation. The
indigenous Shi'a only benefited to a small extent from this
change. Some 8,000 of the 19,000 workforce of ARAMCO (Arab-
American Oil Company) are local Shi'a but they are mainly
employed in menial positions.
  There are thus grounds for discontent among the Shi'a of
al-Ahsa and there were demonstrations in Sayhat and Qatif in
1979 after the Iranian Revolution and in particular after
the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by a group of Sunni
fundamentalists on 20 November 1979 (the first day of the
15th Islamic century).
  The Saudi government has clearly been worried about the
possibility of Shi'i unrest in its vital oil province. It
has increased security in the al-Ahsa


province and has steadily been deporting Iranians whether or
not these have been involved in political activity.
  The population of Saudi Arabia is officially estimated at
seven or eight million but is probably closer to five
million, of which one million are immigrants. The Shi'is of
al-Ahsa province probably number in the region of 200,000.
In addition there are about 50,000 Twelver Shi'i immigrants
from India, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran (there are also
probably some 50,000 Isma'ili Shi'is and 200,000 Yemeni
Zaydi Shi'is). Thus Twelver Shi'is probably number some 5%
of the total population but a much greater proportion in the
vital oil area.


In early 1979, shortly after the climax of the Iranian
Revolution, there were Shi'i demonstrations in Kuwait. The
Shi'is were protesting at being, in effect, second-class
citizens with little share in the country's government or
oil wealth. On 24 September 1979 Hujjatu'l-Islam Sayyid
'Abbas Muhri, who had recently been appointed as Imam-Jum'a
of Kuwait by Khumayni, was arrested and together with
nineteen others deprived of his Kuwaiti citizenship and
expelled. Simultaneously all photographs of Khumayni were
collected from shops and other public places and destroyed.
Muhri went to Iran where he began to broadcast to the Gulf
in Arabic promoting the Islamic Revolution. In November
1979, after the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by
Sunni Islamic revolutionaries, there were further Shi'i
demonstrations in Kuwait.
  The government clearly remains nervous about the
possibility of the importation of the Iranian Revolution, as
witnessed by the deportation of numerous Iranians. In
December 1983 a series of bomb blasts in Kuwait was
attributed to a Shi'i group.

Although Kuwait is predominantly a Sunni country, the Shi'i
tribes of southern Iraq and the al-Ahsa province of Saudi
Arabia overlap the borders of Kuwait and enter the country
in considerable numbers during their seasonal migrations.
Thus it has been estimated that some 20% of Kuwait's
indigenous population is Shi'i. About 60% of Kuwait's
population are immigrants and an estimated 20% of these are
also Shi'i including a large Iranian community (1975 Census:

Total (1980 Census)                     Estimated Shi'is
Indigenous Population      562,065
     Estimated 20% Shi'i                     112,000
Immigrants                 793,762
     Estimated 20% Shi'i                     159,000

Total                    1,355,827           271,000


Some have, however, estimated the proportion of Shi'is in
Kuwait to be as high as 50%.

Other Gulf States
Although there are few indigenous Shi'is in the other Gulf
states, the native populations of these states have in any
case been inundated since the oil boom by large numbers of
immigrants, among whom are many Shi'is. Thus, for example,
so prominent are the Iranians among the merchant community
in Dubai that much of the commercial transactions in the
Bazaar is carried out in the Persian language. The Shi'is in
these countries used to keep a low profile keeping all Shi'i
observances in private and practising taqiyya. They have
become a little more assertive since the Iranian Revolution
of 1979 but most of them are in a vulnerable position, being
liable to deportation by governments nervous of any
disturbing ripples from the Iranian Revolution across the
  From the figures of Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Indian and
Pakistani immigrants it is possible to form a rough estimate
of the numbers of Shi'is in each of these states:

                       Total Population    Estimated Shi'is    Shi'i %
                        (1979 estimate)                        of Total
Qatar                       250,000             50,000           20
United Arab Emirates        900,000             60,000            6.6
Oman                        800,000              1,000            0.1

India and Pakistan

In 1907 an All-India Shi'a Conference was established and
thenceforward met annually. It devoted its attention to
community projects (schools, hostels, orphanages, etc.) and
to religious instruction. In some provinces there are also
provincial Shi'a conferences.
  Between 1904 and 1908 there were frequent Sunni-Shi'i
clashes especially in the United Provinces area. These
clashes were occasioned by public cursing of the first three
Caliphs by Shi'is and their praise by the Sunnis. Such
public demonstrations were banned in 1909 on the three most
sensitive days: 'Ashura (10 Muharram), Chihilum (40th day
after 'Ashura) and 'Ali's death (21 Ramadan). Intercommunal
violence resurfaced in 1935-6 and again in 1939. Many
thousands of Sunnis and Shi'is took to the streets on these
occasions despite bans on public demonstrations.

When the issue of the separation of India and Pakistan came
to the fore in the 1940s the Shi'a were at first reluctant
to entrust themselves to a


Sunni-dominated state of Pakistan and so, in the main,
opposed separation and supported the National Congress Party
  For the first decade of Pakistan's existence there was
comparative peace between the Shi'i and Sunni communities.
The first President of Pakistan, Iskandar Mirza, was a
Shi'i. But the recent events in Iran have served to
intensify Sunni-Shi'i differences. The present Pakistani
regime has attempted to Islamicise itself and, as part of
this, tried to organise state taxation on the basis of
zakat. This brought the Shi'is into the streets to protest,
as they paid zakat to their mujtahids. The state was
eventually forced to alter its original plans, to allow for
this. Since this episode there have been several occasions
when Sunni mobs have descended upon Shi'i Imambaras and
mosques and have destroyed them, especially in Karachi where
the population that moved there from Oudh appears to have
renewed its traditional Sunni-Shi'i feuding.
  The total number of Shi'a in India and Pakistan is
difficult to estimate since they do not exist as a separate
identifiable community as in most parts of the Middle East
but are intermingled with Sunnis and many practise taqiyya
of their beliefs in the presence of the Sunni majority.
There are moreover some difficulties of definition in that
there appear to be large numbers who participate in the
Muharram ceremonies, for example, and who venerate the Imam
Husayn, but who are not otherwise identifiable as Shi'is.
British censuses that attempted to differentiate Shi'is from
Sunnis in the early 20th century are thought to have grossly
underestimated the number of Shi'a on account of the
practice of taqiyya.

Estimates of the proportion of the Shi'a of India vary from
between ten and thirty-five per cent of the Muslim
population. There are an estimated 80,000,000 Muslims in
India; thus the number of Shi'a maybe between 8,000,000 and
28,000,000. The lower estimate is more likely to be the more
correct one.

The centre of Shi'ism in India is Lakhnau (Lucknow, the old
capital of Oudh or Awadh). Here there are two religious
colleges and the Madrasat al-Wa'izin, a college for
preachers. There are also Shi'i schools, secular colleges
and publishing houses in this city. Most towns and cities in
southern Uttar Pradesh (the former province of Oudh) have
large Shi'i communities: Faizabad, Kanpur (Cawnpore),
Varanasi (Benares), Allahabad and Jaunpur. There are also
important Shi'i communities in the following cities: Bihara
province: Patna and Muzaffarpur; northern Uttar Pradesh:
Meerut, Saharanpur and Amroha; Andhra Pradesh province:
Golconda and Hyderabad; Gujerat: Baroda and Bombay (Khoja
converts). In the Punjab, before the partition of India, the
Shi'is were probably the largest religious community after
the Sikhs and are estimated to have constituted 20% of the
population, but most of these


Shi'is are now on the Pakistan side of the frontier. In
Kashmir the district of Baltistan with its capital Skardo is
predominantly Twelver Shi'i and there are also many Shi'a in
the Ladak district centred on Leh. In Nepal there are
reported to be small communities of Twelver Shi'a in Ram
Nagar, Bhutaha, Harnagara, Kaptanganj and the Bhokhra
panchayat of the Sunsari district in the eastern region.
  The Shi'a form an estimated 15% of the 80,000,000 Muslims
in Pakistan. This gives a figure of about 12,000,000. The
most important Shi'i area in Pakistan is the Punjab centred
on Lahore. There are also large Shi'i communities in Sialkot
and Khairpur. But after the partition of India a large
number of Shi'is from Oudh moved to Karachi and this city
now rivals Lahore as the centre of Shi'ism in Pakistan.
Several of the tribes of north-west Pakistan, the Turis and
part of the Bangash in the upper Karam, are Shi'i as are the
Hazaras who live predominantly in Afghanistan but are to be
found in large numbers in Pakistan now because of the
situation in Afghanistan. The number of Shi'is in Pakistan
has also been swelled by refugees from Iran. The refugees
from Iran and Afghanistan may have increased the number of
Shi'is in Pakistan by up to 1,500,000.


Afghanistan is predominantly a Sunni country and its
population has something of a reputation for fanaticism in
its Sunnism. Therefore the Shi'is have always kept a low
profile, especially in the towns. Among the tribes in the
Afghanistan bordering Iran (the Firuzkuhi and Jamshidi
tribes) and also in the city of Herat, there is a
substantial number of Shi'a. In addition, the Hazara tribe
of the Hazarajat (numbering 80,000-100,000) and some of the
mountain Tajik tribe are Shi'i. In Kabul the descendants of
the Shi'i Qizilbash who came with Nadir Shah live in the
Chindawal quarter of the city. An estimated 6% or 1,320,000
of Afghanistan's 22,000,000 population is thought to be
Twelver Shi'i. However, many of these (perhaps as many as
one-half) are at present refugees in Pakistan and Iran.


The USSR has a large Muslim population and a considerable
proportion of these are Shi'is. In Central Asia some of the
urban Tajiks are Twelver Shi'is, and descendants of Iranians
who settled in cities such as 'Ishqabad Bukhara and
Samarqand in the 19th and early 20th centuries form small
Shi'i communities. But by far the largest number of Twelver
Shi'is is in Azerbaijan (Adharbayjan) SSR where an estimated
4,000,000 of the total population of 6,000,000 are Shi'is.


  A qurultay (council) of Muslims of Transcaucasia, convened
in Baku on 28 May 1944, recognised the Shi'is as a separate
community and created a joint Sunni-Shi'i Muslim Central
Religious Administration. In Central Asia a similar qurultay
in 1943 recognised the Shi'a as a fifth orthodox school of
Islam, alongside the existing Sunni schools of law. Since
the 1979 Revolution Iran has been aggressively beaming
revolutionary radio broadcasts to these areas and it remains
to be seen what effect this has.


Twelver Shi'ism was brought to East Africa in the middle of
the 19th century by Iranians who came to serve the Sultan of
Zanzibar and by Indian Khoja merchants. The Indian Khoja who
settled in large numbers in the last half of the 19th
century were Isma'ilis but included a number of Twelvers.
The Twelvers petitioned Shaykh Zaynu'l-'Abidin Mazandarani
(d. 1309/1892) for a mulla to guide them and Sayyid 'Abdu'l-
Husayn Mar'ashi-Shushtari was sent in 1885. Later Sayyid
Ghulam Husayn also came from Hyderabad.
  Up to the time that the third Agha Khan, Sultan Muhammad
Shah, visited East Africa in 1899 and 1905 there had not
been much distinction between the Isma'ili and Twelver Khoja
but, on the Agha Khan's orders, his followers separated
themselves and the Twelvers found themselves cast out of the
community with no mosques, cemeteries or meeting places.
However, they rallied around and with help from India
organised their communities.
  From Zanzibar and other coastal towns like Mombasa, Tanga,
Dares-Salaam, Lindi, Lamu and Bagamoyo, the Shi'a spread
inland during the 20th century reaching Nairobi, Arusha,
Bukoba, Moshi, Murunza, Kampala and Songea. In smaller
numbers they even reached Usumbura in Zaire by 1920. In all
these places they mainly engaged in trade and the size of
each community varied from thirty to several hundred.

In 1945 the first effort was made to create a regional
organisation when a delegate conference was held in Dar-es-
Salaam. Following on from this, an organisation called the
Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Ashari Jamaats of Africa was
formed. The Supreme Council of this body consisted of the
following representatives: Mainland Tanzania 26; Zanzibar
and Pemba 4; Kenya 10; Uganda 15; Zaire 1; Rwanda-Burundi 1;
Somalia 1; Mauritius 1; Malagassy Republic 4; and six others
nominated by the President. The representation from each
country was proportional to the number of Shi'a there.
  The Federation has standardised the syllabus of religious
instruction and promoted social, educational and other
activities throughout the

[Page 280 contains a map.]


area. In 1964 the Bilal Muslim Mission was set up at Tanga
to teach native Africans and a number have become Shi'is.
Five of these went in 68 to Najaf to study there, later
moving to Lebanon and Qumm.
  The largest Twelver community is in Tanzania and numbers
some 10,000; Kenya has 3,000. Uganda did have some 4,000 but
under the regime of Idi Amin most of these were expelled.
  In West Africa the Lebanese emigrant community that
dominates the trade of most of the area is composed of
Christians and Shi'is. The latter predominate in Sierra
Leone and Guinea. Although Shi'is probably do not number
more than 20,000 their importance in the economic life of
West Africa far outweighs their small numbers.

America and Europe

During the 19th and early 20th centuries large numbers of
Lebanese emigrated to North and South America. Among these
were a small number of Shi'is. In the United States their
centre is in Detroit and they number some 50,000 The Shi'i
communities in North America and Europe have been
considerably increased by the influx of Iranians. Up to
these numbered some 40,000 in the USA and between 7,000 and
15,000 in each of France, Germany and Great Britain. (The
number of Shi'is in Britain was increased considerably after
Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda.) Since 1979,
however, there has been a very large increase in the number
of Iranians, mainly as refugees. Reliable estimates are
difficult to obtain but it is estimated that there arc
probably 200,000 Iranians now in North America (100,000 in
Southern California) and 100,000 in Western Europe,
principally in France and Spain. Ethnic differences
(Lebanese, East African Asians, Iranians) and political
differences among the Iranians have prevented much
cohesiveness among the Shi'is in Europe and North America
although a number of 'umbrella' organisations have been set
up. The Muhammadi Trust in Britain and the Mizan Press in
California are publishing some Shi'i literature mainly in
the form of translations. In South America, apart from the
Lebanese Shi'i migrants in the southern half of the sub-
continent, there are also some Shi'i migrants from the
Indian subcontinent in the former British colonies of the
West Indies and Guyana.

The Shi'i World

In each of the foregoing sections of this chapter an attempt
has been made to estimate the number of Shi'is in each
country and region dealt with. In most countries, no
accuracy can be achieved because official censuses do not
exist or do not single out Shi'is as a separate category.
Bearing in


mind the severe limitations of all such figures, Table 11 is
a tentative attempt to estimate the total world Shi'i
population in the year 1980:

Table 11: The Distribution of Shi'is throughout the world in 1980

Country        Total          Muslim         Twelver Shi'i  Twelver Shi'is
            Population[15]  Population[16]   Population[17] as % of Total Pop
Iran            38,492,000    37,694,300     34,000,000          88.3
Pakistan        82,952,000    80,320,350     12,000,000          14.5
India          547,123,000    80,540,000     10,000,000           1.8
Iraq            13,145,000    12,589,200      7,500,000          57.1
USSR           268,115,000    30,297,000      4,000,000           1.5
Turkey          45,363,000    45,018,000      1,500,000           3.3
Afghanistan     22,038,000    21,855,280      1,300,000           5.9
Lebanon          3,360,000     2,000,000      1,000,000          29.8
Kuwait           1,439,000     1,368,600        270,000          18.8
Saudi Arabia    10,900,000    10,768,000        250,000           2.3
Bahrain            294,000       279,310        160,000          54.4
Syria            8,536,000     7,645,850         50,000           0.6

Other Asian countries                           300,000
Americas                                        270,000
Europe                                          100,000
Africa                                           40,000
Australasia                                      10,000

          Total world population             4,374,000,000
          Total Muslim population              723,000,000
          Twelver Shi'i population              72,750,000
          Percentage of world population               1.7

Iran: the 1979 Revolution and After

The 1979 Revolution

Between 1973 and 1977, although there were few disturbances
in Iran that would be serious enough to feature in the
world's press, there was increasing discontent seething
below the surface. The grandiose promises made by the Shah
following the oil price rises in 1973 gradually turned into
a nightmare of corruption and inflation. Attempts to control
inflation and trim budgets to the falling real value of oil
led in 1976-8 to a large rise in unemployment, particularly
among the unskilled and semi-skilled. The two major urban
terrorist groups which had been in existence since the 1960s
(the Marxist-oriented Fida'iyan-i Khalq and the Islamic
leftist Mujahidin-i Khalq) suddenly increased in activity.


  During this period between 1973 and 1977, the Bazaar and
religious opposition continued covertly through distribution
of Khumayni's writings and tape-recordings (particularly
after the resumption of pilgrimages to the Iraqi shrines in
1976); through allusions made by preachers and particularly
by the rawda-khans (implicitly identifying the Shah's regime
with the Umayyads who had caused the death of the Imam
Husayn); by boycotting the Din-i Dawlat structure and by
continuing to support the traditional ulama financially.
During 1977 there was a noticeable relaxation of censorship
by the regime. This may have been caused by the initiation
of President Carter's human rights policy with its attendant
threat of withdrawal of American support from regimes that
violated human rights. There had also been much pressure
from international organisations such as Amnesty
International and the International Commission of Jurists.
The Shah's illness with a lymphatic cancer may also have led
to a weakening of his usual iron grip. He appeared to bow to
public pressure and sacked Amir-'Abbas Huvayda, his Prime
Minister, in August 1977, but little changed as the cabinet
of the new Prime Minister was almost identical to that of
his predecessor.

The result of the relaxation of censorship and a few human
rights concessions by the regime was an immediate increase
in the amount of protest material circulating and a
subsequent heightening of the feeling of discontent. Almost
every section of the Iranian population had grievances
against the Shah's regime by 1977. The ulama were alarmed by
the increasing encroachment on their income and field of
action by the Din-i Dawlat structure, the laws being passed
by the regime which they considered anti-Islamic, and the
wholesale importation of Western culture; the students were
unhappy about government interference in the running of the
universities and in the curriculum; the farmers and peasants
had come to see that the propaganda of the White Revolution
did not match the realities, the policies of the government
were in fact favouring agricultural imports rather than the
peasant farmers, many of whom drifted to the cities and
became construction workers or unemployed; and the business
community, the civil service and most of the middle class
were unhappy about the increasing inflation and the
pervasive corruption. Something of the complete
disillusionment of the populace can be judged from the fact
that in the last local elections before the Revolution, in
Tehran, a city with 4,500,000 population, the top candidate
received 7,000 votes. Thus with the relaxation of
censorship, there were growing demands for reform and still
greater freedom.

An incident in August 1977 when a number of slum-dwellers
protesting about evictions were killed in clashes with the
police increased tension. Then towards the end of 1977 the
Shah's regime tried


to put the lid back on. Repressive measures were once again
taken against a number of opposition leaders. On 23 October
1977 Khumayni's son died under circumstances that led many
to assume the involvement of SAVAK. There was a
commemorative meeting in Tehran at which police clashed with
mourners. A short time later large crowds attending a poetry
recital began shouting anti-Shah slogans and there was a
further clash.
  On 31 December President Carter visited Iran and expressed
his support for the Shah. This, together with an ill-
conceived article on 7 January 1978 in the semi-official
newspaper, Ittila'at, attacking Khumayni in an undignified
and obscene manner, led to a protest by several thousand
students in Qumm on 9 January calling for the restoration of
the Constitution, the re-opening of closed universities and
religious colleges and the return of Ayatu'llah Khumayni.
Police opened fire on the demonstrators causing much loss of
life (no accurate figures are available but as many as 70
may have been killed).  The massacre at Qumm more than any
other episode initiated the events that led to the overthrow
of the Shah. Khumayni responded predictably by calling for
the overthrow of the Shah, but the importance of this
episode was the widespread public indignation caused and the
fact that it caused even the moderate Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari to declare the Shah's government non-Islamic
and to call for passive resistance.  These Qumm massacres
initiated a pattern of events in which one massacre led to a
commemoration of the martyrs after the traditional forty
days which in turn led to a further clash, further deaths
and another fortieth-day commemoration. At first these
fortieth-day commemorations were local and sporadic but as
time went by and the protests gained momentum, they became
national and well-coordinated. On 18 February the fortieth-
day commemoration of the Qumm massacre resulted in rioting
and deaths in Tabriz (as many as 100 may have been killed).
On 30 March the fortieth day of the Tabriz killings saw
demonstrations in several Iranian towns.
  In Yazd perhaps as many as 100 were killed by troops
firing on people as they emerged from one of the main
mosques of the town. For the next fortieth day there were
demonstrations in many towns on 8-11 May.
  There was something of a lull in June when the fortieth
day was commemorated by strikes and staying at home rather
than street demonstrations but this was to be merely the
prelude to an intensification of the protests during the
holy month of Ramadan which began on 5 August that year.
There were continuous demonstrations for most of that month,
particularly after the Abadan cinema fire on 19 August in
which over 400 lost their lives.
  In desperation the Shah made Ja'far Sharif-Imami, a
politician with


some religious credentials, Prime Minister. Sharif-Imami was
given leeway to make concessions to the opposition. A
Ministry of Religious Affairs was set up and the Ministry of
Women's Affairs disbanded, casinos were closed, a number of
notoriously corrupt officials were dismissed and a number of
Bahá'ís expelled from their jobs.
  Ramadan ended on 3 September and on the following day, the
Islamic festival 'Id al-Fitr, there was a large, peaceful
demonstration in Tehran. There were then several further
demonstrations until the government banned demonstrations on
7 September. On 8 September, Black Friday as it came to be
known, another demonstration in Tehran was fired on by
troops and several hundred were killed. There was an
immediate reaction by the crowds and the government imposed
martial law on 9 September and detained opposition leaders.
  Until this time there had been, in effect, two separate
protest movements: the religious protest initiated by the
ulama after the anti-Khumayni articles in January, and the
political agitation for greater liberalisation. From
September onwards these two movements became increasingly
merged and began to attract even middle-class support, thus
broadening the basis of the protests considerably.
  October saw the beginning of a major use of the strike
weapon. Large sections of the work-force went on strike,
including the economically important oil-workers and bank
  On 6 October Khumayni was expelled from Iraq at the
request of the Shah's government, and moved to France. This
proved another major miscalculation by the Shah's regime in
that from his residence at Neauphle-le-Chateau near Paris,
Khumayni was better able to communicate with his supporters
in Iran as well as being in a better position to obtain
publicity in the world's press and radio (in particular the
BBC's Persian service which was eagerly listened to by the
people of Iran and frequently broadcast Khumayni's
statements). Addresses by Khumayni would be taped in Paris
and then, via the telephone, transmitted to Iran where they
were again taped, reproduced and distributed in large
numbers. The Shah tried to compromise with Khumayni and even
announced that he was free to return to Iran. Both the Shah
and the National Front sent messengers to Paris to
negotiate. But Khumayni announced that no compromise was
possible and he would not return to Iran while the Shah
remained in power.
  On 6 November Sharif-Imami was replaced by a military
government headed by General Azhari. At first the latter had
some degree of success. He managed to get the oil-workers
back to work and the demonstrations died down. But then a
general strike was called for 26 November and the
demonstrations began again. One group particularly hard hit
at this time was the Bahá'í community. Not only was it being


attacked by the demonstrators urged on by the ulama, but it
was also subjected at this time to a violent campaign
against it organised by the Shah's secret police, SAVAK, in
order to try to shore up the regime's Islamic credentials.
  It was clear to all that the month of Muharram with its
Shi'i commemorations was to be the major test for the
government. The month began on 2 December. Almost at once
there were major demonstrations, while at night large
numbers defied the curfew. The government attempted to
negotiate but the opposition was now dictating the terms.
There were massive demonstrations on the day of 'Ashura (11
December); more than a million people are estimated to have
been on the streets of Tehran alone. More mass
demonstrations, a hardening of the oil-workers strike and
guerilla assassinations of government figures and foreign
technical advisers followed. Towards the end of December the
opposition groups began taking over institutions and
government offices. The troops, increasingly isolated,
either turned more brutal in their attacks on unarmed
civilians, causing numerous deaths, or began to desert in
increasing numbers, handing over their weapons to the
revolutionaries. It became common to see youths dressed in
white deliberately trying to provoke the troops into
shooting them; the Karbala theme and the Shi'i exaltation of
martyrdom came very much to the fore.
  on 29 December Dr Shapur Bakhtiyar, a long-time opponent
of the Shah's regime and formerly one of Musaddiq's aides,
was asked to become Prime Minister in the hope of appeasing
the crowds. But it was too late for even such a dramatic
gesture to have any impact. The momentum of revolutionary
fervour caused the crowd to turn even against Bakhtiyar for
the simple reason that he had reached an agreement with the
Shah. The only question now was whether the military would
stage a bloody coup in order to reassert order. Bakhtiyar
persuaded them not to do this and also persuaded the Shah to
leave the country on 16 January. Bakhtiyar tried to block
Khumayni's return but to no avail.
  On 1 February 1979 Khumayni returned triumphantly to Iran
welcomed by an estimated crowd of two million. Bakhtiyar,
having tried to keep up a pretence of being in power for
several days, finally gave Up on 12 February and fled
abroad. The Revolution was complete and Khumayni was de
facto ruler of Iran. The Vilayat-i Faqih (see p. 196) had
  Two years previously, almost no-one, not even the
opposition, could have predicted the fall of the Shah's
regime so rapidly and so completely. It is of interest
therefore to examine the factors that led to the success of
the 1979 Revolution as compared to previous upheavals:
1. The Shah's lack of resolution. During the crisis that
lasted from late 1977


until his departure in January 1979, the Shah displayed an
uncharacteristic lack of resolution in dealing with the
situation. At each stage he vacillated and did too little
too late, neither being firm enough to crush the opposition
as he had done in 1963 nor making enough concessions to
satisfy them or at least to split them. It may be that, as
has been suggested, the Shah's illness or the drugs being
used to treat it made it difficult for him to think clearly
in the crisis, or alternatively that as he knew that he was
dying he did not wish to cause a blood-bath which would have
made the transition of power more difficult on his death.
  It may also be that the Shah felt somewhat insecure as to
whether, if he acted firmly and many lives were lost, he
would receive the backing of the USA where Carter was in the
full swing of his human rights policy. Although it has been
said that Carter let the Shah down, it is difficult to see
what America could have done, once events were in train,
that would have saved the Shah. Any direct interference by
America would only have increased resentment. Although
Carter was probably instrumental in encouraging the protest
movement by his human rights policy, once the pattern of
protests was under way nothing that Carter could have said
or done would have saved the Shah.
2. The transfer of the allegiance of the middle classes. It
is doubtful whether the Revolution would have been
successful if it had merely remained a protest of the
religious classes, the Bazaar, the university students and
the unemployed as the upheaval of 1963 had been. The
movement towards revolution really picked up momentum when
the middle classes began to desert the Shah. This happened
particularly from the late summer of 1978 onwards. The
reasons for this switch are twofold. Firstly, the optimistic
promises that the Shah had made about the country's future
were all beginning to look very hollow by 1977-8 and there
was much discontent about corruption and inflation.
Secondly, the intellectuals of the Revolution such as Bani-
Sadr and Shari'ati had succeeded in presenting an Islamic
ideology that appeared modern, liberal and appealing by
contrast to traditional Islam. By suppressing all free
political discussion in the country, the Shah forced the
middle classes towards religiously-oriented opposition as
that was the only form of discussion and protest left.
3. Khumayni's leadership. The religious opposition was only
one of many groups that were actively working against the
Shah, and in the 1960s and early 1970s it seemed much more
likely that a leftist movement would overthrow the Shah or
that the liberals would wring concessions out of him. It was
mainly Khumayni's leadership that set the religious tone for
the Revolution. Khumayni succeeded in imposing his
leadership on three main groups: the religious leaders, the
political opposition, and the mass of the lower classes.


  Firstly, he united the religious leadership behind him
politically. The Shi'i mujtahids have been notorious for
their factionalism and stubborn independent-mindedness
Therefore it speaks highly for Khumayni's abilities that he
was able to unite this disparate body behind him and get
them to emerge from their traditional reticence to indulge
in political activity. Secondly, Khumayni was able to unite
the various opposition groups, most of which had very
diverse political aims, behind him in a concerted drive to
get rid of the Shah. Had the revolutionary ideology been
expressed in political terms, it is doubtful if it would
have had the mass support that it did. on the other hand,
the organisational abilities of the political opposition and
the military abilities of the guerilla groups undoubtedly
played an important role in the revolutionary process.
Thirdly, Khumayni was able to inspire the masses of the
people with his leadership. He succeeded in casting the
struggle against the Shah in cosmic terms in the minds of
the people and especially the poorer classes. The Revolution
became a struggle between good and evil; it became the re-
enactment of Karbala. Suddenly the wearing of the
traditional chadur (veil) or the plain sombre dress with
head-scarf, instead of being regarded as a symbol of
religious obscurantism and reaction, became the symbol of
protest against the regime and was adopted by many middle-
class university students. Thus the language and imagery of
the revolution became predominantly religious rather than
political. By stating that Khumayni succeeded in imposing
his leadership on these three groups it is not intended to
imply that he deliberately planned this or did anything to
attract these groups. Rather, he led the way and once the
others saw that he was succeeding, they fell into line with
him as the only way of ousting the Shah. His stubborn
refusal to compromise on his demands forced the other groups
like the National Front to fall in behind him, thus ensuring
that the Revolution went all the way to toppling the Shah
and did not come to any compromise short of that.
4. The Karbala factor. Perhaps the critical deciding factor
in the Revolution was the way in which Khumayni was able to
grip the imagination of the masses. Khumayni's role in the
Revolution became the embodiment and fulfilment of numerous
Shi'i themes on which the people of Iran had been raised
from childhood. The whole struggle became cast in terms of
the struggles of the Imams against their enemies (the
constant theme of the rawdas) and, in particular, the battle
of Karbala. The Shah and his powerful army were cast in the
role of Yazid and the Umayyad troops while Khumayni became
the Imam Husayn leading his people against overwhelming
odds. The banners in the demonstrations proclaimed:
'Everywhere is Karbala and every day is 'Ashura.' The
demonstrators killed by the Shah's troops were designated as
martyrs (in parallel with the Shi'i martyrs at Karbala and


elsewhere) and were buried in special cemeteries. Khumayni
in distant Paris was also like the Hidden Imam sending his
messages through special representatives. Stories circulated
among the crowd that Khumayni had dreamed that he would be
buried in Qumm and therefore it was inevitable that he would
return to Iran. As the momentum of the Revolution increased,
the anticipation of Khumayni's return became like the
anticipated return of the Hidden Imam; no sacrifice was too
great to help to realise it. Then came the day of Khumayni's
return--the anticipated parousia. The crowds were shouting
for 'Imam Khumayni' and were confident that a new age had
dawned with justice for all. Anyone who broke ranks with the
Revolution and opposed Khumayni after his return was likened
to the Nakithun (those like Talha, Zubayr and 'A'isha who
broke their allegiance to 'Ali and fought against him at the
Battle of the Camel). The commonest charge made against
those executed by the Revolutionary courts was that of being
mufsid fi'l-ard (a corrupter upon the earth) a vague and
indefinable charge which, however, had strong Qur'anic
overtones. Thus the Revolution became one long enactment of
Shi'i themes and even the major participants in the events
became more carried along by the momentum of the roles they
were playing than able to initiate actions of their own free
  Immediately after the success of the Revolution, there was
an effort to cool religious fervour. It was firmly stated on
several occasions that, of course, Khumayni was not the Imam
but the use of the designation Imam Khumayni continued and
so subsequently it was announced that Imam here was being
used as meaning leader of the people--a usage familiar
enough in Arabic but not hitherto made in Persian. Khumayni
has also allowed the designation of Na'ib al-Imam (Deputy of
the Imam) to continue[18] although it has been less used
recently. If by this designation is meant the traditional
Na'ib al-'Amm (general representative, see p. 190) of the
Imam, then it applies equally to all mujtahids and Khumayni
is not even sole marja' at-taqlid. If, on the other hand, a
special representation of the Hidden Imam (Na'ib al-Khass)
is intended, then this indeed is a radical change, for there
has been no Na'ib al-Khass since the beginning of the
Greater Occultation (see pp. 164, 190). One suspects that
Khumayni's aides would give the former interpretation but
that the masses of the people infer the latter.

After the Revolution

Bazargan, Khumayni's appointee, took over as Prime Minister
on 12 February 1979. But soon it became clear that there was
a secret government in parallel, in the shape of the
Revolutionary Council and the local Revolutionary Committees
that were to a large extent directing


the course of events. The identity of the members of the
Revolutionary Council and the exact nature of its activities
was to remain undisclosed to the public Until early 1980 but
it is now known that this Council was set Up, on the orders
of Khumayni, in late October 1978, to coordinate the
Revolution and to study and supervise what should be the
form of government after the departure of the Shah.
  At first this Revolutionary Council was composed only of
radical ulama such as Ayatu'llahs Mutahhari, Bihishti and
Musavi-Ardibili as well as Hashimi-Rafsanjani and Bahunar.
When Ayatu'llah Talaqani was freed from prison in November
1978, he became Chairman although in mid-1979 when he became
unhappy with the direction that the Revolution was taking,
he ceased to attend. Later a number of lay figures such as
Engineer Bazargan were added. In the final stages of the
Revolution, the Council was in contact with Bakhtiyar,
foreign ambassadors, and the army, while constantly
receiving instructions from Khumayni. Thus it is clear that
it must have made a major contribution to the comparatively
non-violent transfer of power and the forestalling of an
army coup.[19]  Although the Revolution had a clear aim, the
ousting of the Shah, its ideology was far from clear and in
some respects impractical. Everyone was in agreement that
they wanted an Islamic government, but there was no
consensus as to what an Islamic government was. Khumayni's
concept of Vilayat-i Faqih was that the Constitution and law
of the country is already determined by the Islamic Shari'a
and only requires interpretation by the mujtahids and a
planning council, also under clerical control, to determine
priorities. There was really no place in Khumayni's original
scheme for any political parties, parliament or other
democratic elements. But there was no consensus even among
the ulama that Khumayni's views were correct.
Shari'atmadari, Talaqani and others favoured a
constitutional democracy, patterned along the lines that
Na'ini wrote of at the beginning of the 20th century, with
multi-party political activity.
  This split was reflected inside the Revolutionary Council
where, although Bazargan had left the Council on his
appointment as Prime Minister, he had been replaced by a
number of Khumayni's lay associates from Paris such as Bani-
Sadr, Yazdi, and Qutbzada, who together with Ayatu'llah
Talaqani were in favour of democratic government, while
Ayatu'llah Bihishti and the other radical ulama wanted to
pursue a rigidly Islamic policy along the lines of
Khumayni's Vilayat-i Faqih However, the assassination of
Ayatu'llah Mutahhari on 2 May and the death of Ayatu'llah
Talaqani on 10 September 1979 greatly strengthened the hand
of the radical ulama on the Council.
  The first clash between the radical and the liberal democratic


on the Revolutionary Council came over the wording of the
referendum which was held on 31 March 1979 on the question
of whether the people wanted an Islamic Republic. Ayatu'llah
Talaqani and the liberal democrats (as well as Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari) wanted the people to have a free choice
between several types of government in the referendum. But
the final wording of the document gave only a choice between
monarchy and an Islamic Republic.
  The second major area of conflict to emerge was over the
question of the Constitution of the new Islamic Republic. A
draft Constitution, very similar to the 1905 Constitution
(but without the monarchy), which had been drawn up largely
by the secular democrats on the Council, was published in
June 1979. But the draft was to be subjected to scrutiny by
an Assembly of Experts and the radical ulama succeeded in
getting a large number of their supporters onto this body.
In order to facilitate this, the radical ulama had formed
themselves into a political party, the Islamic Republican

The final version of the Constitution that was published on
4 November 1979 was therefore much closer to what the
radical ulama wanted. It contained provision for a supreme
clerical guide, the faqih or rahbar (leader), who together
with a twelve-member Council would supervise the election
and dismissal of a President and could veto any legislation
of the National Assembly deemed to be contrary to Islam. It
was, of course, a foregone conclusion that Khumayni would
occupy the position of supreme clerical guide. The
Constitution was approved by a referendum in December 1979.
This Constitution was opposed by the National Front and by
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari. The latter protested that the
concept of Vilayat-i Faqih was not indisputably established
in Shi'i jurisprudence, nor was there only one marja' at-
taqlid--indeed, if anything he was senior to Khumayni. It
should also be noted that the Constitution represents a
considerable compromise from Khumayni's original stance in
favour of those wanting more democratic elements. What is
not clear is whether this change of mind by Khumayni
occurred in Paris under the influence of lay democrats like
Bani-Sadr or whether it occurred as a response to what
Khumayni found on his return to Iran.
  The strain between the moderates and the radicals built up
during the whole of 1979. In April 1979 Shari'atmadari's
supporters formed a new party, the Islamic People's
Republican Party in opposition to the radical ulama's
Islamic Republican Party. Ayatu'llah Sadiq Khalkhali, one of
the radical ulama, attacked Shari'atmadari publicly for
dividing the Islamic movement and provoked pro-
Shari'atmadari demonstrations, especially in Adharbayjan
where most of Shari'atmadari's supporters live. This unrest
continued for much of the year despite a much publicised
reconciliatory meeting between Khumayni and Shari'atmadari


on 18 June 1979 at the home of Ayatu'llah Gulpaygani in
Qumm.  The Revolutionary Committees that were set up in
every town to keep the Revolution on its Islamic course soon
became an alternative government to Bazargan and his
Cabinet. These Committees began executing hundreds of
people, some on comparatively minor charges and some without
trial. It became clear that Bazargan's government was unable
to exert any control over these Committees.  Although
freedom of speech and freedom of political activity had been
one of the rallying points of the Revolution, it was soon
evident that this did not include freedom to criticise the
new regime. Those who spoke out against the actions of the
Revolutionary Committees or against the restrictions that
were being imposed soon themselves became victims of those
Committees. The National Front disappeared from the ruling
coalition and the liberal National Democratic Front headed
by Musaddiq's grandson was suppressed in the summer of 1979.
Shari'atmadari's Islamic People's Republican Party was
outlawed in December 1979 and several of its leaders
executed. Bazargan's government became increasingly blocked
in any action that it wished to take by the radical ulama's
Islamic Republican Party, which effectively controlled the
national Revolutionary Council, the Revolutionary
Committees, the Revolutionary Guards and most of the
  The situation of two governments in parallel was ended
shortly after the take-over of the American embassy and the
start of the holding of the American hostages on 4 November
1979. Two days later Bazargan resigned and the Revolutionary
Council took over as the government with Ayatu'llah Bihishti
as secretary of the Council becoming defacto Prime Minister
of the country.
  Bihishti and the Islamic Republican Party suffered some
temporary setbacks between November 1979 and January 1980.
In the first place, the students holding the American
Embassy hostages refused to submit to the Revolutionary
Council, nor did they consider themselves part of the
Islamic Republican party. They maintained they were
following 'the line of the Imam (Khumayni)'. Bihishti and
the Islamic Republican Party had always considered
themselves the true followers of Imam Khumayni and were
somewhat dismayed when Khumayni refused to adjudicate on
which group was following his 'line'. The question of 'the
line of the Imam (khatt-i Imam)' and who was truly following
it became a very heated point of discussion for many months.
The second set-back for the IRP came when Khumayni decided
that the ulama, whose function he conceived to be
supervising and guiding the government, could not themselves
be candidates in the Presidential elections, thus barring
the way to Bihishti's candidature. To make matters worse,
when the IRP did eventually choose another candidate,
Khumayni disallowed him on


the grounds of his being found to be not of Iranian origin.
Thus the IRP was only able to field a weak candidate for the
Presidential election that was held on 25 January 1980.
  Abu'l-Hasan Bani-Sadr won the Presidential election and
was instated by Khumayni on 4 February. However, Bani-Sadr
had no real party political machine and in the elections for
the National Assembly, the IRP by a number of tactics, such
as announcing the need to screen all candidates on their
Islamic credentials and pre-Revolution activities and
suspending elections in some areas because of lack of
security, succeeded in winning 130 of the 270 seats. This
gave them a majority in the Assembly since 30 seats could
not be filled because of unrest in Kurdistan and elsewhere.
The Assembly began to function on 19 July 1980.
  However, it is clear that there was among the people a
growing disillusionment with the Revolutionary Government.
Of a total electorate of about 24,000,000, about 20,400,000
had voted in the referendum for the Islamic Republic in
March 1979; 14,000,000 in the Presidential election of
January 1980; and only 6,100,000 in the first stage of the
National Assembly elections in March 1980. After this
punitive measures were decreed for failure to vote and
numbers rose again.
  During the summer of 1980 the split between Bani-Sadr and
Bihishti widened. Bani-Sadr had the support of most of the
middle classes, the liberals and left-wing elements,
especially among the students, the army, and urban women,
all of whom were alarmed at the prospect of clerical
domination. But they were poorly organised compared with
Bihishti's supporters who included the radical ulama,
controlling most of the mosques, the Revolutionary
Committees, Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic societies that
had sprung up and now dominated many universities, factories
and government offices and a group called the Hizbu'llahis
(Followers of the Party of God) which was in fact only a new
name for the street roughs (lutis, see p. 199) who had
always had a close relationship with the ulama. Bihishti's
IRP control of the National Assembly effectively blocked all
of Bani-Sadr's political initiatives.
  On 17 June 1980 Khumayni tried to bring the two sides
together in a 'charter of unity', but on the very next day
Bani-Sadr's supporters revealed details of tapes made of a
prominent IRP member discussing how to disrupt Bani-Sadr's
control over the government.
  Although Bani-Sadr had initially had Khumayni's full
support, at this critical juncture it became clear that
Khumayni himself was not at all happy with the progress of
the Revolution and that a degree of tension was building up
between him and Bani-Sadr. Khumayni had envisaged an end to
the complex, bureaucratic, Western-oriented state apparatus
of the Pahlavi era, and its replacement by a much smaller
number of administrators whose chief qualifications would be
piety, Islamic knowledge,


and justice rather than technical or managerial expertise,
and who would be readily accessible to the people. This was
Khumayni's vision of returning Iran to governance in the
mould of the Imam 'Ali.[20] But in practice, Bani-Sadr had
found it impossible to make any progress on this front and
even notoriously corrupt officials from the previous
administration had found their way back to their old posts
as it was found that the administration was grinding to a
halt without their expertise.  Another aspect of Khumayni's
thinking that caused tension between him and the liberal-
democratic elements that formed the majority of Bani-Sadr's
supporters was Khumayni's insistence that there should be
ideological unity within the Revolution. Previously, as long
as one observed the outward dictates of the religious law,
orthodoxy of one's belief and thinking were not considered
to be a matter of concern. But now, Khumayni was insisting
that to be a Shi'i involved not only observance of religious
law but also that one's thoughts must be moulded by the
socially-active Revolutionary ideology. With Shi'ism now
rigidly defined, for Khumayni, in terms of both action and
ideology, any opposition, dissent or deviation must, by
definition, originate from outside Shi'ism (i.e. from US
Imperialism, Zionism, etc.).  Khumayni decided to give a new
impetus to the Revolution. In his Naw-Ruz (Iranian New Year,
21 March) speech, he called for a purge of the universities
which had become increasingly dominated by left-wing
elements. As a result, the Islamic Student Societies took
over the universities and closed them down on 4 June until
the 'leftist' and 'un-Islamic' elements could be screened
out. Then in July there was a drive to screen all government
offices and eliminate anyone whose pre-Revolutionary
activities were considered to be unacceptable or who were
found to be Bahá'ís. There was also a drive in the same
month to get women to wear the veil. Unveiled women were
attacked in the streets by Hizbu'llahis.  It was probably
only the start of the Irano-Iraqi war on 22 September 1980
that saved Bani-Sadr's government from collapse under all
these pressures at this time. Certainly control was
increasingly slipping away from him as it had with Bazargan. 
During the last months of 1980 and almost the whole of 1981,
the major drama that was being played out in the streets of
the cities of Iran was the battle for supremacy between the
left-wing Mujahidin guerillas and the Revolutionary Guards
backed by the IRP. on 21 November 1980 Muhammad Rida
Sa'adati, the leader of the Mujahidin, was sentenced to ten
years imprisonment on a charge of spying for Russia. During
1981 the Mujahidin staged several major demonstrations with
as many as 10,000 participants but increasingly they were
set upon by Revolutionary Guards and Hizbu'llahis and
eventually, after Bani-Sadr's fall, they went underground.


  During May and June 1981 the gradual erosion of Bani-
Sadr's position reached critical proportions. In late May,
Khumayni made a speech in which he criticised him. This was
the signal for his enemies to move in. During the first week
of June several members of his staff were arrested and his
newspaper closed. By 14 June he had gone into hiding, hoping
to rally support. On 22 June Bani-Sadr was formally deposed
as President, thus completing the triumph of Bihishti and
the IRP. Bani-Sadr and the Mujahidin leader, Mas'ud Rajavi,
fled to Paris which now ironically became the centre of
groups opposed to Khumayni.
But Bihishti's triumph was to be short-lived. On 28 June
1981 he and seventy-five members of the IRP were blown up by
a bomb at the IRP headquarters. With Bihishti's death went
the only figure who looked likely to be able to emulate
Khumayni in political adroitness and leadership. Now the
question of the succession to Khumayni became problematical.
But the immediate problem was the Presidential election to
replace Bani-Sadr. Despite their losses in the bombing and
other assassinations that occurred with alarming frequency
throughout that summer, the IRP were able to reorganise
themselves with great rapidity and their candidate, Muhammad
'Ali Raja'i, received an overwhelming majority of the votes
cast. Following this another leading member of the IRP,
Muhammad Javad Bahunar, was made Prime Minister, replacing
Raja'i who had occupied that position. Khumayni's initial
policy of not allowing clerics to hold executive
governmental positions had been visibly faltering for some
time and the appointment of Bahunar, who was a member of the
ulama, marked its final demise.

On 30 August 1981 another bomb blast killed Raja'i and
Bahunar. Following this, in October, another cleric,
Khamini'i, was elected President and Husayn Musavi was
appointed Prime Minister.

Throughout the whole of 1980 and 1981, Khumayni's
relationship with the other major Ayatu'llahs had been
deteriorating. Shari'atmadari's Islamic People's Republican
Party had in December 1979 threatened to take power in
Adharbayjan, and Khumayni asked Shari'atmadari to disperse
his followers. After this the IPRP was outlawed and several
of its leaders executed. Shari'atmadari was thus effectively
silenced and, although subsequently frequently named by
opposition groups as a figure-head around which a liberal
democratic movement could be launched, he himself refrained
from public political activity.

The two senior clerics of Mashhad, Ayatu'llahs Qummi and
Shirazi, delivered several attacks on the Revolutionary
regime in the spring of 1981. Other senior clerics such as
Ayatu'llahs Zanjani, Baha'u'd-Din Mahallati-Shirazi and
Shaykh 'Ali Tihrani have also voiced opposition to Khumayni,
the IRP, the Revolutionary regime and the concept of


Vilayat-i Faqih. At Qumm Ayatu'llahs Shari'atmadari and
Gulpaygani were thought to be opposed to the IRP's
domination while Ayatu'llah Mar'ashi-Najafi tried to
maintain a neutral stance. The senior Ayatu'llahs were hit
financially when it was announced by Khumayni that the
payment of khums and zakat should be made to the Imam-Jum'a
in each city, an official appointed by Khumayni. If this
measure were universally followed, the other Ayatu'llahs
would become unable to finance their students and their
charitable works and would thus lose influence.
  Then on 10 April 1982 it was announced that a plot had
been discovered to overthrow the Islamic Government. Sadiq
Qutbzada, formerly Foreign Minister, and Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari were accused of being the instigators. Later,
in an unprecedented development, Shari'atmadari was declared
to have been formally stripped of his position as marja '
One issue that came much to the fore in 1982 and 1983 was
the discussion over the Hujjatiyya Society. In the 1950s
this movement had been started by Shaykh Mahmud Halabi in
order to persecute and harass Bahá'ís. During the Pahlavi
era it had confined itself to this and was called the Anti-
Bahá'í Society. But after the Revolution it began to take a
wider, more political stance and assumed its new name.
During 1982 and 1983 it was claimed that many members of
this society had infiltrated the IRP and the government. It
would seem, although this is a point that requires further
careful analysis, that the intense discussion that went on
about the Hujjatiyya at this time was an indirect way of
conducting a debate about the concept of Vilayat-l Faqih
(for no one would have dared to appear to be openly opposing
Khumayni from within Iran). Whether the issue was raised by
the opponents of Vilayat-i Faqih in order to see what
support they could raise, or by the supporters of the
concept in order to flush out their last remaining
opponents, is not clear. But in any case, the Hujjatiyya
were said to be opposed to the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih
and after many months of debate, the final victory of those
opposing the Hujjatiyya Society (i.e. supporting Vilayat-i
Faqih) was signalled by the fact that Shaykh Mahmud Halabi
was ordered to leave Tehran and retire to Mashhad.
In late 1982 it was announced that elections were to be held
for an Assembly of Experts who would deliberate on the
question of the succession to Khumayni. Elections were held
on lo December 1982. This Assembly has considered a number
of different proposals including the appointment of one
named individual as Khumayni's successor or the possibility
of a council of mujtahids to take over the role. The
deliberations of the Assembly were, however, upstaged when
Khumayni, with great ceremony, sent them his sealed will


effectively forestalling any final decision being made until
his death.
  A few days after the elections for the Assembly of
Experts, on 17 December, Khumayni put forward what has
become known as the Imam's eight-point decree. This decree
was made in response to increasing complaints about the
arbitrary nature of the proceedings of the Revolutionary
Courts and the Revolutionary Guards. It laid down a number
of principles which were intended to check abuses.
During February 1983 the leaders of the communist Tudih
Party, the last remaining active non-government party, were
arrested and the Party disbanded, leaving Iran effectively a
one-party state.
The Islamic Republican Party, although virtually
unchallenged in the political sphere, is not as strong as it
would appear to be. A number of factors have contributed to
its decline: Khumayni himself has recently shown no
enthusiasm for the party but has rather tended to refer to
the 'Party of God' (Hizbu'llah);[*] several other
influential figures such as Ayatu'llah Hasan 'Ali Muntaziri
(widely regarded as a possible successor to Khumayni) have
followed this trend; the party's leadership has never really
recovered from the decimation it received at the hands of
the Mujahidin and it has no one with the charisma of
Bihishti; some of the principal figures in the party appear
to be intent on setting up independent power bases; some
groups such as the 'students following the line of the
Imam', who had previously aligned themselves with the party
are now pulling away again.[21]
With the Revolutionary government much more secure than it
has been since the Revolution, it has turned its attention
to a number of other issues. Although the war with Iraq
occupies a great deal of attention, the regime is also
providing a great deal of support for the Shi'is of Lebanon
in their conflict. At home, due to the shortages caused by
the war and the poor state of the economy, the mosques have
been able to consolidate their control over the population
in that all rationing and relief supplies are distributed
from there. A major drive has been launched to try to harass
and pressure the Bahá'í community into recanting their Faith
and converting to Islam, but thus far few Bahá'ís have done
so and the measures taken have produced widescale
condemnation from such bodies as the United Nations Sub-
Commission on Human Rights.

Developments in Shi'ism since the Revolution

Although it is perhaps too early to state for certain what
permanent changes will remain in Shi'ism as a result of the
1979 Revolution, the trend of the changes can already be
discerned. It can be stated with ' This is not a reference
to the Hizbu'llahis (see p. 293) but rather to the idea that
the divisiveness of political parties has no place among
Muslims who all belong to the Party of God.


reasonable certainty that Khumayni's Revolution will be seen
as the final stage in the working out of the Na'ib al-'Amm
concept. The right of the ulama to take over the religious
functions of the Hidden Imam (the right to collect the zakat
and khums, the right to lead the Friday Prayers, etc. ) and
to give judgement on religious law through the use of
ijtihad which had been gradually assumed by the ulama over
the centuries and which had been confirmed by the Usuli
victory over the Akhbaris was now completed by the victory
of Khumayni's concept of Vilayat-i Faqih which gave the
ulama the right to deputise also for the political functions
and authority of the Hidden Imam.
  It may be argued that the triumph of Khumayni's views is
not yet complete and several of the most influential of the
traditional ulama have expressed doubts on the subject. But
one of the most surprising features of the last few years
has been the ease with which many of the junior ulama have
felt it possible to ignore the views of such senior figures
as Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari, who was the most influential
marja' at-taqlid prior to the Revolution. Others have put
into practice the idea of splitting the function of the
marja' at-taqlid; thus they follow Khumayni in political
matters but one of the other maraji' at-taqlid in religious
matters. It seems clear that among the present generation of
students who are receiving training in the religious
colleges at Qumm, most accept Khumayni's views and the
Vilayat-i Faqih will become an established doctrine within
the next generation.
  In parallel with this doctrinal development there has been
a rapid and far-reaching institutional development.
Previously Shi'ism had prided itself on its lack of
institutionalisation. It had been very much a personal
individual religion. There was no stress on attending the
mosque even for the Friday prayers. Individual ulama rose in
station according to personal charisma rather than any
institutional structure. Following the Revolution, the
mosque has become the centre of social life and is used not
only for religious purposes but to distribute welfare
supplies and even ration cards. The Friday prayers are now a
major event in the week and attract hundreds of thousands in
the large cities. The address at the Friday prayers has
become an important politico-religious organ for carrying
forward the Revolution, and government announcements are
frequently made through this medium. There has evolved in a
remarkably short time a formal hierarchy among the ulama
with prefixed designations (see p. 206). There is as yet no
institutional procedure for ascending the hierarchy but no
doubt this will come soon for, with the announcement of
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari's removal from the office of Grand
Ayatu'llah and the more recent (September 1984) decree from
Khumayni stating that certain persons who had been calling
themselves Ayatu'llah were not entitled to that designation


should henceforth be called Hujjatu'l-Islam, there is an
unspoken assumption that it is possible to regulate such
matters institutionally rather than leaving it to public
acclaim. Nor is it yet clear what the implications are of
the fact that the prefixed designation of Ayatu'llah has
been dropped for Khumayni and he is now universally called
Imam Khumayni. Does this imply the creation of a new level
in the spiritual hierarchy above Ayatu'llah al-'Uzma (see p.
206) or is it merely an indication of his political
function?  Further evidence of the rapid
institutionalisation comes with the election of the Assembly
of Experts to decide on the successor to Khumayni. Once
again this represents a formalisation of what in previous
generations had been left to public acclaim. The future will
undoubtedly see a much greater development of this process.
  The relationship of the individual believer to his
religion has also undergone something of a change. The ulama
have come to assert much more of a priestly intermediary
role. It has become much more difficult for the individual
to pursue a direct relationship with God. Whereas previously
it was sufficient to conform to the precepts of the
religious law and the individual's religious and political
opinions were his own affair, what is now being increasingly
insisted upon is a complete conformity, in both ideology and
action, to a single view of what Shi'ism is.
previous chapter chapter 13 start page single page chapter 15 next chapter
Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .