An Introduction to Shi'i Islam
by Moojan Momen
Contemporary Iran and the Revolution
Contemporary Shi'ismThe 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 seen.
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.
The Constitutional MovementThe 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.
Rida Shah PahlaviWhen 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.
Muhammad Rida ShahAfter 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.
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.
Religious Developments in the 1960s and 1970sHowever, 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 education.
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 Westernisation.
Iran: the 1979 Revolution and After
The 1979 RevolutionBetween 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 employees.
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 begun.
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 will.
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 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 RevolutionBazargan, 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. 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 elements 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 Party.
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 mosques.
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. 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 ' at-taqlid. 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 thus 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. 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 RevolutionAlthough 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.
It can be said with 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 and 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.